How do you get from Belize City to Cancun, Mexico? The easiest way is to take the direct bus. The more adventurous can, however, hop on a classy former US school bus, which takes around eight to ten hours. If you’re a refined gentleman adept at killing time, this poses no challenge.
Step one after our week of island shopping was leaving the hotel we’d been staying in for the last few days. The hotel was called “Bachelor’s Inn”. Despite sounding like the kind of haunt at which rakish men-about-town might hang out, it was in fact a rather dirty place run by a Chinese Jehovah’s Witness. The Jehovah’s Witness in question was meaner than Scrooge, and would not hesitate to cut our electricity off if we paid so much as a minute too late. I never knew my knowledge of Chinese would come in so handy, although I was humbled by my lack of scriptural vocabulary.
We headed to the bus station, which was a classic third-world type affair. Street food abounded and a parade of smoke-belching school buses chugged in and out. Whilst buying some refreshments, a lady came up to me and inquired as to my destination. When I replied I was getting on a bus, she invited me to her home. I declined, saying I was with my friend. After some confusion surrounding a number of topics, chiefly my sexuality and level of tolerance for other ethnicities, we concluded the conversation amicably and I took my leave.
Welcome to Fabulous Orange Walk
I had let my colleague at Cuban Pioneers Alistair plan our journey, and for some reason he opted for us to go to Orange Walk. The town was a two-hour journey closer to the Mexican border, and a new place to check out. We booked into a hotel called “Lucia’s Guesthouse”. My colleague warned me it might be a bit more highbrow than usual, as it had a swimming pool. On arrival, we found out it at least had a sign for a swimming pool. In place of the actual pool was a dirty hole — anything but highbrow.
Exploration of the town involved a street hot-dog and finding the only place with Wi-Fi: the Chinese restaurant. Every Chinese ‘local’ I met hailed from the province of Guangdong. I asked all of them if they liked Belize; all said “no”. Horses for courses, I guess. As for spending a night in Orange Walk? There really isn’t any reason to travel to Orange Walk, Belize. It’s not the most awful stopover on the way from Belize to Mexico, though.
The next part of our journey involved compromise: one of my least favourite things to do. Would we stop in the coastal town of Corazal, or go to the Corazal Free Trade Zone and then onto the Mexican city of Chetumal? In short I lost said argument, and we headed for the Free Trade Zone.
The Corazal Free Trade Zone
The Corazal Free Trade Zone is a piece of no-man’s land in between Belize and Mexico that nationals of both countries can visit and buy things tax free. Sounds great right? Well it is great if you want to buy fake football shirts, rubber rings and cheap but sexy undercrackers. If you were thinking more along the cheap electronics-type angle, though, you would be sorely let down. Unsurprisingly my knowledge of Chinese came in handy here, and I did buy a lot of football shirts. With its often-empty buildings and signs for goods that clearly were not there, it was hard to tell if the Free Trade Zone was a shadow of its former self or a rising star. Either way, two hours was more than enough time there.
Mexico might be next to the US of A, but when it comes to prices it might as well be a million miles away. When we learned a taxi to next town of Chetumal would cost a mere $7 for the forty-minute jaunt (including the border crossing) we jumped at the chance no longer have sweaty arseholes. The border between Belize and Mexico was friendly enough, and I’ve certainly been through worse.
The Weird and Wonderful Cuisine of Mexico
Our hotel in Chetumal was definitely an upgrade from the horror of Orange Walk, with the AC and “Disco Jesus” being particular favourites. We headed to the seafront to the check out the bars.
This was also a chance for me to sample the local street food (watch this space for a street-food blog coming soon). I opted for a safe sausage and chips, whilst my colleague went for the “chamoyada”. What is that, you ask? Some unholy concoction including mango, salt, strawberry, spices, tomato, and possibly clams. Y’know, the standard weird sweet/salt/savoury-type thing you will only ever find in Mexico. An acquired taste, we were told. Alas, neither of us acquired the taste on this particular trip. What is there to do in Chetumal? Aside from eating weird food at the seafront, not much.
The next part of our trip was going to be the short journey from Chetumal to Tulum, but this is Mexico! The bus in front of us broke down and we had to take their passengers, so two hours turned into four hours.
Hung Soldados and a Death Threat
Feeling a bit like playing hotel bingo, we checked into a place called the “Ruta Maya” by the bus station. Heading out we saw a place advertising strippers for only a fifty-peso cover charge. They did indeed have strippers, and I’m here to attest that you cannot unsee a well-hung Mexican soldier.
On returning to the Ruta Maya an English guy approached me to tell me he had to leave the hotel as “the mob” were threatening to come and kill him. This had alarmed the nightwatchman somewhat. The English guy and his German girlfriend were quite normal, so I stayed to help and we called the police. Tulum’s finest said it was probably a scam, but the couple moved anyway. The next day we all sat having a drink with the manager, who couldn’t quite believe what had happened the night before. The only conclusion we arrived at, was that the guy on the night shift was an idiot. The couple were refunded and even came back to stay at the hotel. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
Tulum is a pretty cool town – tons of elephant-pants-wearing tourists doing the bar thing, great street food, and, if it’s your thing, some ancient Mayan ruins.
Living Hollywood Style
Time waits for no man, so after two nights we jumped on a bus to Playa Del Carmen. Playa Del Carmen is a stone’s throw from Cancun airport, and the last stop on our journey. This time we decided we would Hollywood it and get a private apartment with a shared pool. As luck would have it, we were the only men staying there.
With enough stories under our belts and no interest in seeing spring breakers playing beer-pong, we whiled the night away with the chicas by the pool. We spent most of our time doing what I think the cool kids now call “digital nomading”, but for us merely meant settling the accounts from the last tour.
Cancun airport has a night lounge – well deserved after two months of travel through the Philippines, Hong Kong, Cuba, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico. And now to England for a good kebab.