Hello Friends and Family,
Here are the details of our bus trip from the Rio Dulce to Cancun. Normally when we return to the US for the summer, we make the five-hour trek by bus from the Rio Dulce to Guatemala City, stay overnight and fly out the next day.
Discovering that the air fare from Cancun to Indianapolis was about half the price of Guatemala City to Indianapolis, we decided to fly out of Cancun. Getting to Cancun would be an adventure taking us through inland Guatemala to Belize and up the Yucatan Coast to Mexico and Cancun.
The first leg of the trip was a three-hour trip from Fronteras to Flores. We had our choice of three bus lines. The Linea Dorada bus was supposed to be first class, with a bathroom and a stewardess, so we decided to go in style.
The bus was scheduled to leave Rio Dulce at 3:00 p.m. on Monday. We actually left at 4:15. The bus itself was OK, but not plush. The bathroom was kind of nasty. The stewardess was a guy who looked like he had slept in his clothes and he didn’t offer us any drinks or snacks. Bah! Humbug!
Going up the first hill after we left Fronteras, it was obvious there was something majorly wrong with the bus transmission. The driver tried and tried and tried to slip it into whatever gear he was looking for, but there was only a loud grinding sound. Finally, he got it into gear, but the grinding noise continued off and on for most of the trip, every time we went up or down a hill, which was most of the trip.
Even with the gear problems, I was comforted by the fact that the brakes seemed to work well. However, about half way through the trip, the brakes developed a loud squeaking noise whenever he tried to slow down. Probably from over-use because he couldn’t use the gears to slow down. So much for a comfortable feeling.
The countryside didn’t vary much in Guatemala. Lots of dirt poor homes near the highway with chickens, pigs and horses. Every home had clean laundry drying on lines and fences. No matter how poor they are, Guatemalans wear clean clothes. There were scrub trees and small hills, with limestone outcroppings in every direction. Not much soil over the limestone means little agriculture. The jungle has been cleared and herds of Brahman cattle are everywhere.
We arrived in Flores after dark and had no trouble finding a taxi who took us to the San Juan de Norte bus ticket office to reserve our place on the bus to Belize City in the morning, then to our hotel very close by. The Mayaland Plaza Hotel was a very attractive place with a beautiful pool and hot tub in the central courtyard. The room was clean and neat, but not fancy. The only minuses were an ice cold shower that never warmed up and a loud, rattling air conditioner, mounted too high on the wall to be adjusted. It was either on (room too cold) or off (room too hot). But what can you expect for $40 a night. We felt we got our money’s worth. The dinner in the hotel restaurant was very tasty and the free “continental breakfast” the next morning was great…. scrambled eggs, toast and fresh fruit.
The bus to Belize was actually one of those tourist buses…smaller than a regular bus but larger and more comfortable than a van. This was the most interesting leg of our trip…half in Guatemala and half in Belize. The countryside was varied and we enjoyed the ride. Farm animals seemed to roam freely and the bus had to stop, sometimes very quickly, once for a cow, another time for a horse, a pig, and finally a duck.
The border crossing was much too complicated. When we got a few miles from the border, our bus was boarded by staff from the San Juan del Norte Travel Agency, who offered to exchange our pesos for Belize dollars. I didn’t check to see what their exchange rate was, but as eager as they were to exchange money for us, I’m guessing they were making a good profit.
We departed the bus with our luggage and went through the check-out from Guatemala (no charge). Then we had to walk about a quarter mile across the border and check in to Belize (again, no charge). The signs said that Belize officials would check our luggage, but they only asked if we were carrying any fresh fruit. We could have been carrying drugs and guns. I guess we looked innocent. While we were checking out and checking in, the bus driver moved the bus to the Belize side and had some lunch. All in all, it took about an hour to go through that whole process, including waiting for the bus driver to finish his lunch. (In his defense, he was going to be driving another five hours to Chetamul.)
It turns out the San Juan de Norte bus company that provides the bus service from Flores to Belize City also provides water taxi service to Caye Caulker and San Pedro out of Belize City. At the Belize check-in, we were approached by a young man who said he worked for the “other water taxi service” to San Pedro and Key Caulker. There is lots of competition between the two water taxi companies. The young man was disappointed to learn that we were not interested in a water taxi once we got to Belize City, but he turned out to be full of good information, providing us with a map of Belize City, marking the location of the bus station on the map, and telling us that the bus station was several blocks away from where the bus would leave us and it was safer to take a taxi. He even told us not to pay more than $7 Belize ($3.50 US) for the taxi.
We saw the first signs of agriculture when we crossed into Belize. There were lots of cultivated fields growing an array of vegetables and also several orchards. The fruit trees all looked the same but I never figured out what kind of trees they were. The countryside changed from scrub vegetation in Guatemala to more trees, even forests along the roadside.
The small towns we passed in Belize appeared to be more prosperous than those of Guatemala and we began to see factories and lots of well cared for homes.
We arrived in Belize City around 1:00 p.m., with four hours to kill before we needed to be at the bus station to purchase our overnight passage to Cancun. We found a bank machine and got some Belize dollars. Then we had nice lunch at a Chinese restaurant near the waterfront, where we were able to leave our luggage while we explored the area around the waterfront. We didn’t venture into downtown Belize City due to reports that it might not be the safest place for a couple of Gringos to wander around.
At 5:00 p.m., we took a taxi to the one and only bus station in Belize City and purchased our tickets for the 7:30 p.m. bus to Cancun. Dinner consisted of some of the oatmeal, peanut butter and coconut cookies I had baked before we left Mango marina and some ice cream from the restaurant across the street from the bus station. The bus station was an interesting place to watch people. We were approached several times by both children and adults begging for money. I did give money to a young man about twelve who had two younger brothers in tow. He asked for a dollar to get a bus ticket and some food for his brothers. Being a bleeding heart, I gave him the dollar and a little more. Other than folks wanting money, the rest of the travelers were mostly families, local students and traveling backpackers. The two hours went by quickly.
The ADO bus to Cancun was comfortable, on time, and only about half full. No transmission problems and no squeaking brakes. We arrived at the border with Mexico about 10:00 p.m. We got off the bus to check out of Belize and pay our $30 ($15 US) per person exit fee. Then we got back on the bus, crossed a river and got off the bus again to check in to Mexico. This time we had to take our luggage with us to be inspected. The check in process was quick, easy and free. I expected to have to submit our luggage for inspection, but actually we only walked by a group of police and then got back on the bus. Phil said later there was a drug dog next to one of the policemen, sniffing the bags as we walked by.
The remaining six hour trip to Cancun was uneventful, except that it was very cold on the bus. The driver said the air conditioner could not be adjusted. It was either on or off, and he left it on most of the trip. There was lots of shivering on the bus. The roads between Belize City and Cancun varied from narrow with bad pavement to wider with good pavement and finally, near the cutoff to Tulum, it became new four-lane divided highway the rest of the way to Cancun. The first half of the trip it seemed like we went through dozens of small towns, each with numerous sets of tumulos (speed bumps). The bus had to slow down for each one, which added lots of time to the trip. The closer we got to Cancun, the better the road.
We arrived at the Cancun airport around 5:00 a.m. (local time, 4:00 a.m. Guatemala time). It had been a long night and we didn’t sleep much. We had breakfast at the airport and our hotel, the Comfort Inn Aeropuerto picked us up around 7:30. They allowed us to check in right away and we spent the rest of the day napping, watching cable television and playing with our computers (in-room wi-fi).
The Comfort Inn was what the name says: comfortable. They offered a free breakfast, which scores many points for me in choosing hotels. The only drawback was that we were not close to much else, except a Burger King about a block away. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was nothing to write home about (although that’s what I’m doing right now), but it was not too bad.
We left for the Cancun airport at 1:30 for our 3:30 flight, first to Washington D.C. then to Indianapolis. Planes were on time and United Airlines impressed me with their wide aisles, friendly stewardesses and most important, they gave you the whole can of soda rather than just a small glass!
We arrived home safe and sound around 11:30 p.m.
And that’s the story of our last trip of the winter 2012 season! We’ll be back in Central America in the fall looking for new adventures. Until next time…safe travels!
Phil and Margaret McGovern