25 - student - NYC That's all for now.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Worst Vacation Ever (Day 4) : Out of the Embassy, Into the Jungle

If you're keeping up with the saga you'll recall that today was to be the last full day of our trip. The plan we had orchestrated for the day involved a morning snorkeling trip which we had scheduled through a private friend of one of the Mata Rocks staff members. He was to pick us up at 7am. We wanted to get in a nice long snorkel at Hol Chan Reserve, pet the sharks, kiss the rays, etc...

We woke up early and got our stuff together and then went out to wait at the dock. 7am. No one shows up. 715am. Still nothing. 730. I know island time is slower, but this is beginning to try our patience. 745. We go inquire with one of the staffers. She calls the guy. His wife answers. Boat broke down. He's not coming. Well, nice of him to let us know. Too late to schedule a replacement.

We make the best of it. There was a kayak rental place down the beach a spell which we took advantage of and had a nice little time.

At this point in our trip the endless parade of horribles had just become funny. Really, there was nothing left to do but laugh at the situation. It wasn't life threatening. It was just a vacation. And hey, if you can get through this with a girlfriend/boyfriend, you can get through anything.

So we hopped on the water taxi back to Belize City around 11:30. We then took the now familiar stroll down the lane past the drug dealers and snake picture guy on our way to the embassy. Once we arrived, thankfully, we only had to wait about 15 minutes before they hooked us up with our temporary passports. No problems! Too good to be true. So we were all set. All we needed to do was go back to where we had lunch, find Jimmy and go tubing.

Jimmy was nowhere to be found. There was another man, however, another tax driver he said. Jimmy was not here today but he knew Jimmy and he could help us out. I asked him if we could go tubing. He said sure, but not today if we wanted to catch the last taxi back to San Pedro. What if we left right now I asked him.

"No way. Couldn't do it."

But, I told him, Jimmy told us it could be done easily, just yesterday. You could see the mental calculations churning in his forehead. He was thinking: Hey, I haven't made any money today and here are two Americans offering me $150. Why not?

"Yeah. No problem. We can do it."

It was almost 2pm.

You may ask yourself how we could possibly be so stupid as to believe that this was going to work out. After everything we'd been through... you'd think we would have learned. You could ask yourself that. You could ask me that. And this is what I'd say:

"I don't know. I. Really. Don't. Know."

We got in the taxi and drove out of town. We made a brief stop at an ATM so that I could pick up some cash to pay him with, because I had a feeling we might feel a little rushed at the end of the trip.

The driver, I've forgotten his name, was very friendly. He told us about the history of the island as we drove into the jungle. One particularly interesting anecdote surfaced when we told him we were from New York. One of his children had moved to Brooklyn actually and been shot in the face. At the tender age of 18. He was returned to Belize where he was brought to the ocean and submerged with raw liver covering the wound in his head. And now the boy is the happy father of four children.

The trip to the tubing drop-off point took a long time. Too long. Around 45 minutes in I began to get very nervous. It was 245 and we hadn't even reached the destination yet. The driver kept smiling and telling us stories, while Jeanine and I merely exchanged knowing looks of desperation. Why did we put ourselves in this situation?

It was around that time that we turned off the highway. "This," explained our driver, "is why many taxi drivers don't make this trip." I couldn't imagine what he meant. But then I realized. We were on a gravel path. It must have done quite a job on his little van's shocks. From the feel of it, frankly, I was doubtful that there were any shocks left. We were driving excruciatingly slow. We had to. It was a very bumpy ride. And it was taking forever. We only had a few miles to go, he told us. But it took almost 20 minutes.

It was 310 when we arrived.

I did the math in my head. 310 now. Drive takes a little over an hour. Last water taxi leaves at 430. We have to leave to go back now. I mentioned this to the driver.

"You told us we'd be back for the last water taxi."
"Yeah, I guess not. But the last plane leaves at 5:30."

That was our only option left really. And even then it would be pushing it. We got out of the car and our driver went looking for a guide. He found one he knew and I tried to explain our situation.

"How long does the trip usually take?" I asked him.
"Hour and a half, give or take a little."

I did the math in my head. 3:15. Hour and a half. 4:45. Over an hour to drive back. 5:45. Last flight. 5:30. No good.

"Can we do it in under an hour?"

He pauses for a moment. Inspiration.

"Yeah. I think I can do that. I know a shortcut."

We grabbed our things, including our passports, which the driver insisted would be safe in his unlocked, windowless van. We'll take our chances with the river, thank you. Jeanine insisted on holding the water-tight bag with the passports. I had been officially deemed "irresponsible."

At this point, I should mention that I had recently torn my PCL - a ligament in my knee - only about a month before. I only say this because it becomes very relevant very quickly. Basically it meant that moving any faster than a brisk walk was quite painful.

We grabbed our tubes. Jeanine, our guide, our taxi driver and myself took off up the path. The nature of this tubing experience was that you carry large rubber tube up a steep jungle path to a point where you put the tube in a river and proceed to leisurely float down through a series of caves and small rapids, back to where you started. Unfortunately, the meaning of "leisure" had long since eluded us on this vacation.

Our guide insisted on doing his regular schtick but at an accelerated pace. We were basically jogging (in our sandals) and running along the path.

"This is a tree. This is where monkeys live. This is a bush. That's a rock. That's a hole. Look out for this. Look out for that," our guide spit out at a rapid pace as he jogged in front of me up the path. He was basically talking at an unintelligible speed between breaths as we hurried to keep pace. Our more than hefty taxi driver brought up the rear panting heavily, struggling mightily.

It would have been comical if it weren't so frenzied.

We did the 45 minute hike in 15 minutes.

We got in the water and sat in our tubes after a very frenetic tutorial on how to float properly. He had us hook our feet into the tube in front of us and face upstream. With our tubes all hooked in a line, our arms were free to paddle downstream. We paddled furiously down the river through the caves. Our arms were churning rapidly. Not leisurely.

I'm sure it was quite the image. Some sort of metaphor about people from the big city with an inability to "SLOW DOWN." But in any case, we were in a hurry. We did not want to be stuck away from our hotel and all of our things on the wrong landmass when we were leaving the next day. Plus, we had nowhere to sleep.

Whenever we got to shallow water and our butts began to drag on the bottom, our guide would jump up and literally drag us down the river. He would be half jogging as he took hold of our two tubes in either hand (the taxi driver would stand and walk as well) and pulled us heavily over the gravel bottom. It was quite painful really, but he was determined to show us the genuine experience I suppose. As if this was somehow more relaxing for us. But rest assured he was rewarded well for his effort to hurry things along.

At a certain point, I felt the charade was over and it would be best if we abandoned the whole "floating down the river" thing altogether. We grabbed our tubes and walked for the rest of the way.

As we returned to the taxi, our guide called out to his friends to inquire as to the time.


Under an hour. The guide turned to me and gave me a one-hundred watt smile as he put up his hand.

"One hour! My new record!" He exclaimed, almost giddy with delight.

I gave him the high five. He deserved it.

We settled up and returned to the taxi. 4:20. We put our things together and climbed into the car. The driver didn't get in.

"I'm gonna take a quick shower."

Apparently he didn't recognize the nature of the situation. He walked toward the showers and returned about 5 minutes later. Jeanine and I were trying to ignore the obvious. That we were quite likely to be royally screwed.

The ride back was the probably the most nerve-racking taxi ride I'm likely to ever take. And that's saying something if you've ever ridden around in a nyc cab. Of course the trip back down the gravel path seemed to take longer and minutes have never gone by so quickly as when I so resolutely stared down that clock face.

Our driver was almost deathly silent the whole ride back. I think he may have finally caught a whiff of our desperation. Finally the clock began its inevitable ascent toward 530. No civilization in sight.

He insisted that the airport was nearby. I began contemplating my options. There didn't seem to be any good ones.

5:27. Still nothing and from what I understood about airports, it's generally better to be earlier than later.



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