Chetumal Travel Blog

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Chetumal, a Caribbean coastal city bordering Belize, is drab and excruciatingly hot by day. Unless you're lucky enough to be in a bank, swanky hotel, or a freezer in the sketchy backstreets (which unfortunately comes with the bad luck of being a dismembered corpse), you're sweating faster than you can replenish. My bed, in our fan-cooled sauna at Hotel Ucum, is an ever-damp sponge, unable to dry in the pervasive humidity, all the clothes I've worn since yesterday morning moist rags. My urine is fluorescent, a melted crayon colored sunset. Showers are illusory, precipitation masking perspiration.

The city is far more appealing at night, slightly cooled by sea breeze and the descended infernal sun. Lighted shops, bars, and restaurants glow and beckon, decorative lights in Mexico's colors adorn posts and light fixtures lining the streets, luminescent leftovers from independence days celebrations. Street vendors materialize, unanimously competing for the bacon-wrapped hot-dog market, which, apparently, is thriving.

Stomachs grumbling, Jackson and I scoured the streets, many of the comida corrida lunch spots having lowered their metal garage-door store fronts. After retracing our steps, having walked over a mile past hundreds of hot dog vendors and little else save the tacos and tortas we've gorged upon for weeks, our shirts glued to our backs anew, we entered the closed-air market we'd eschewed at lunch. The peripheral stand was visibly open, a few customers scattered about the plastic tables. We walked to the kitchen window to verify they were serving still.

Before we were able to attract the attention of any attendant, I heard a whisper to my right, turned and saw an elderly woman not so much inviting but demanding our presence. She stood shrouded in shadow, obscured by posts running from floor to ceiling, some illicit dealer arroz y frijoles and who knows what else, maybe tacos of shredded tourist fresh from the freezer. We approached apprehensively, noticing she stood in front of another kitchen, smaller and less aesthetically attuned, a one-woman dining operation. Of the many things she said, we divined, as much from the menu as her words, that she was eager to cook us platters for 50 pesos apiece. We acquiesced to her enthusiasm, promised plates of carne asada and bistec, which ended up looking identical, with salad, papas fritas, plátanos fritos, arroz y frijoles.

The lights flicked on and grandma worked into a frenzy, slicing, dicing, and frying her way into our hearts. A true home-cooked meal emerged fifteen minutes later with a basket of fresh, hot tortillas. The plátanos fritos I crazed cost us a few pesos more, so we ended up paying 60 pesos each. When dropped 150 pesos for her kindness and efforts you'd have thought we'd saved her children from imminent death and bestowed riches immeasurable, bowing her head up and down, stammering exaltations, gesticulating towards the heavens. Wearing broad smiles and distended bellies, we sauntered back to our hotel, having promised grandma we'd visit La Peninsula again next we return to Chetumal.

Dan and Shannon, biker friends we made yesterday -- riding all the way from Asheville, NC! and about the only other gringos in town -- left for Belize this morning. We're awaiting our bus to Belize City, hoping we don't have any holdup at the border, getting conflicting information since yesterday about an exit form we may or may not need (Update: we had no problem crossing). My initial impressions of Chetumal were too severe, but it's not a place I need more time to see.
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photo by: Vlindeke