Central America Journal
Monday Feb 21, 2005
Our flight back to Cancun arrived late in the afternoon and it took a little longer than anticipated to get through immigration, customs and pick up our rental car. Welcome back, we might as well get used to it as crossing land borders with the truck will probably take longer, much longer.
We decided to use a rental car for our first few days back so that we could run errands, and more importantly, so that we had something to transport our bags and boxes of supplies for the Fuso.
We arrived back at Mecoloco, the trailer park where we had stored the Fuso to find the vehicle in perfect condition. It was already getting dark so Don climbed up on the roof to pull up the cover, while Kim made sure that it wasn't catching on any corners. After temporarily storing the cover on the rack above the cab, we checked the battery voltage - 12.7 volts, excellent! We then reattached all the battery cables and reset the fuse box and turned on the lights. Yeah, everything worked! Then, as we didn't have any food in the fridge, we went to a restaurant for a great dinner.
Today we went to town and ran errands. We bought groceries, went to Home Depot for a few things for the Fuso and got some money at the bank. By the end of the day we were exhausted and went to bed early. The next couple of days were spent fixing or futzing about on various things for the truck. We knew we'd need a week to get things up to speed and to drive the distance to the Belize border at Chetumal, Mx. By the end of Thursday we were ready to go!
Getting an early start, we hit the road by 8:30 am - rush hour. We managed to get across town fairly easily and headed down to Tulum. We stopped for lunch, bought a few more things at the grocery store and hit another internet cafe to make sure all was OK with the website. Unfortunately we found that our Info-request page was not functioning. We don't have an email link on the website because spammers use "bots" and "spiders" that search out email addresses, then they send tons of unwanted spam to that address. So we get around this by using a form for first time visitors to send comments to us. Well, with the form malfunctioning we are likely missing out on many emails. We're working to get this straightened out and hope to have it all running by the time we enter Belize.
We continued back on the road, driving through a few cloudbursts, until we reached the Laguna Bacalar. The drive was pretty boring, just two lanes bordered by jungle and very few towns. Bacalar is a small town on the shore of a huge freshwater lagoon that is fed by a series of cenotes, one of which is just offshore in front of the campground.
We relaxed for the day either swimming or paddling our inflatable kayak around the lagoon. The cenote nearby drops to a depth of nearly 90 meters. When we paddled across it, the water depth went from from a few inches to a sheer drop off where we couldn't see the bottom. The drop off had several old dead trees that had fallen from shore and tipped into the cenote. They looked really strange, they appeared to be growing downward into the depths of the cenote.
This morning before breakfast, we took the kayak out for another spin. This time we turned north and followed the coastline a little ways. We also crossed over the lagoon to explore a small island. Surprisingly though the water was crystal clear, we didn't see any fish larger than a couple of inches long. That might explain why we never saw any fishing boats on the lagoon.
Leaving Bacalar later in the morning, we drove to a Maya ruin called Kohunlich. We had lunch in the parking lot then went in to explore the ruins.
The buildings and pyramids, although not on a scale with places like Palenque or Uxmal, are very interesting. The builders here rounded off the corners and used false columns around the doors. The most interesting feature was the Pyramid of the Masks. The masks are 3mts (9ft) tall and flank the central staircase up the front. The masks were preserved as a later ruler enlarged the pyramid covering up the mask under an additional layer of rocks.
We spent our last night in Mexico at a campground on the shore of Chetumal Bay where we met up with a couple we met in Bacalar. They are traveling the world with their two young children.
Today we crossed our first new land border into a new country for us, Belize. We had expected to get an early start as we had heard that it could take as long as 4 hours to do the paperwork to leave Mexico and enter Belize. Like most good plans it didn't work as planned.
We ended up getting a later start, then decided to stop at a grocery store to stock up on provisions. Our thought was that Belize imports most things and that costs could be higher there. So by the time we got to the border it was nearly lunch time.
Leaving Mexico took all of about 15 minutes. Since we are not planning on returning to Mexico we had to surrender our import permit for the expedition vehicle and have our passports stamped by immigration. Then we went to drive over the bridge to Belize. However, another immigration officer didn't realize we had already got our passports stamped so he demanded we hand them over despite our protests. He then brought them back to the office where Don had to go and take them off the official's desk.
So here's how we entered Belize.
Right after we drove over the bridge there was a small building that housed the office where we had to buy vehicle insurance. The cost was $28us a week or $60us a month. Since we will be in Belize for as much as 3 weeks we purchased a month policy. There are money changers located right there, so we changed our Pesos for Belizian Dollars. We then had to drive to the buildings housing immigration and customs. Along this stretch are 3 casinos, with more being built. Apparently many Mexicans visit on the weekends to spend their money. But first we had to make a quick stop to have our tires sprayed with insecticide, and pay $10b, or $5us for this service.
We drove to the immigration office where we walked in and walked right out with our passports stamped. Then we had to drive next door to obtain an import permit for the vehicle. After waiting 5 or 10 minutes an officer came to review our registration and to issue the required document and to stamp Don's passport with the vehicle permit. Then a customs officer inspected our vehicle. We didn't have to provide them with any copies of any documents. This was interesting as we have heard that other borders will require loads of copies.
It turns out that they don't allow importation of cheese or meats that don't have an inspection certificate, nor fruit. Since we had just stocked up in Mexico we were concerned about having much of our food confiscated. Luckily the inspector just told us to dispose of everything properly. The next border we'll have to be more careful about what food products we cross with. I'd recommend not stocking up with meat before crossing.
The best thing about this border crossing was that everyone we worked with were friendly and welcoming. The reason things take time is that everything is hand written into log books manually without the use of computers. Even with this, we went through all the requirements in only an hour and a half.
We then drove down the road to Corozol Town where we got some money at the ATM, visited an internet cafe and found the Caribbean Village RV Park to spend the night. The RV Park appeared to be abandoned but we decide to stay anyway. Later we found the owner who collected some money from us for the night. I guess he decided that he would make the same money whether or not he kept the park fixed up, so he chose not to keep it up. Later we walked through the streets of town as our welcome to Belize.