"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Belize...Puhhh-lease - Western Caribbean Cruise - Day 5

Well, as my friend, Craig, said recently, the law of averages had to catch up with us one day after all the great tours we have had during our many travels and Belize was it. No doubt about it. What a freakin' mess it was almost from start to finish. This was easily the one port all four of us were looking forward to visiting the most, and the tour we all chose first and foremost of all the other ports was here: tubing a river through limestone caves and then zip-lining through the jungle.
Here's a timeline of how the whole crazy day went:

8 AM - We tender in from the ship with no problems to meet our tour rep at the port before the 8:20 meeting time. Here's a good time to interject that the port was pretty dirty and uninspiring to say the least.

8:30 to 9:15 or so - according to our printed reservation the tour was to start at 8:30, but instead we stood around for 45 minutes in front of the tour operator's little open-air office sucking in fumes from three large buses idling nearby while a lot of disorganization and confusion among the tour operator employees went on about us. We finally had to turn into "ugly Americans" as a full hour approached of standing around to demand to know "what the Hell is going on?" Our first answer was "Five meeeenutes! Five meeenutes" which turned out to be 15. Our second time asking and getting the same answer plus the promise that we were going on a "private" tour (which we didn't request). Our reply was that "Well, in six minutes we want our money back" (cash transaction in a Third World country - fat chance of that, but it was our only move). Here's a good time to interject that the little tour operator office was near "the gate" to the rest of Belize City which is fenced off from the port. When we say gate and fence, we don't mean a little white picket one designating the port from the streets beyond, we mean a 20-ft. high medieval-looking thing on rollers that looked like it was designed to keep King Kong's little brother out. Every time this gate rolled open scary-looking hawkers would yell at the tourists standing around to take horse-drawn carriage rides, city tours and other various activities. 9:30 - A very young Belikian named "Jason" was finally assigned to our "private" tour (everyone else got on those buses whose fumes we were were inhaling). Along with us came three giggling Asian college-age girls who had just walked up (must be nice not to wait in bus fumes) another older employee hitching a ride and another young Belikian who was in "training." Jason leads us through the great hulking gate (oh, hooray!) for a 5-minute walk through dirty streets and seedy people staring at us until we reach the van. The van was new...back in the 80's. We climbed aboard and we were off with the announcement that it would be an hour-long drive to the river caves. An hour? It says nothing of that on the website and now we've wasted an hour standing around. We made that point out loud and were told not to worry because we had plenty of time (we would hear this BS many times today). This would be a good time to interject that our cruise ship would leave at 4 PM and the last tender was at 3:30.

10:30 - After a 45-minute ride through Abandoned-Car Hell complete with a "police check-point" and dudes with automatic weapons, the van which had been making a weird noise for about 10 minutes, is pulled over on the side of the road...completely overheated...yep, we paid $100 a head for this nonsense, ladies and gentlemen. Jason hops out without a word and gets antifreeze or water in an antifreeze can from the back and starts pouring it in the radiator. He seems very prepared and expectant of this scenario. We sit there for 20 minutes or so letting the engine cool down. A bus pulls in behind us and a couple of Belikians get out and lend Jason a hand. Still not a word spoken to the customers inside the rather warm van. Here's a good time to interject that the jabbering Asian girls are not from a cruise ship. They are staying in Belize and could care less what time they get back...i.e. they are having "like, the best time everrrr."

11:15 - We finally pull into the park where the caves are located and hop out. We are asked what we want to do first and since we have no idea what is where and how long the tubing and/or zip- lining will take we opt for the tubing. We are marched over to retrieve our old black inner-tubes and smelly head-lamps with weak batteries. Here's a good time to interject that other groups not on a "private" tour had nice new clean modern tubes made just for tubing and that weren't recently on a '91 Nissan Maxima, bright LED head-lamps and even safety helmets. It was a 30-minute-plus walk to the Caves Branch of the Sibun River put-in (that was on the website and expected at least) and along the way we were asked if we wanted to tube through one cave or two - again, we weren't told how long either would take so we just said "ONE!" in unison.

12:00 - The tubing was fun despite a few low spots where we did some butt-bumping and some rainy weather making the water somewhat cold. The cave we went through was completely amazing. The pictures and video attest to that. But overall, it was hard to even enjoy it fully with the looming time constraints, the worry about our mode of transportation getting us back to the ship and the lackadaisical attitude of our tour guide.
2:00 - After tubing the cave and hauling our tubes back to the parking area, we were asked if we were ready to zip-line!! In unison again we said..."NO!"...get us back to the boat NOW!!! Perhaps the perception that we were not having a great time finally sunk in with Jason by the look on our faces and/or the fact that we were so quickly ready to punt half of the activity that we had paid for because of sheer worry. He invited us to have some fruit and water from the back of a old station wagon sitting nearby. We were so hungry and thirsty that we did so without much thought that the fruit was warm and had been sitting there in the open for a long time or that the water was in little bags that you might see in a disaster relief station. While we stood around regretting our choice to eat the fruit, Jason and the other guy "in training" unloaded the Asian girls' stuff that was left in the van and we left. We doubt the girls had a clue we left or that their stuff had been put God knows where while they were gone. 2:15 - Somehow beer came up in the conversation on the way back and in delirium we asked Jason to stop and let us get some. He obliged and we all bought two Belikian beers each for the ride back at a little shanty/store for $2 American each. They were wonderful and quite effective on our warm-fruit-only stomachs. 2:45 He stopped again for us about half-way back for two more beers each at a "supermarket." What were we thinking? 3:10 We roll into Belize City limits with some relief, but what about city traffic?? 3:15 After barely speaking to us all day, suddenly Jason wants to get "tour-guidey" and show us ramshackle buildings in Belize City he thought we might have interest in on the way to the port. Unbelievable! We scowl and show no interest except in the time and he moves on. 3:24 We arrive at the dock FINALLY to get in line for the last tender back to the ship. Here's a good time to interject that a woman was selling Belikian beer near that line...you can guess the rest. EPILOGUE: This blog has always been about the positive things that happen in our lives and perhaps this blog entry doesn't even belong here. But, in hindsight, it was quite an adventure, the cave was amazing and does deserve recognition, and we did learn a lot about travel in not-so-organized places. We do blame ourselves somewhat for not doing enough research on this particular tour company and the state of Belize itself. We have now found entries on CruiseCritic.com and TripAdvisor.com warning about this tour company and Belize as well. We have added our own experiences as well to help other folks make good decisions in the future when visiting here. As far as the country of Belize goes, we just found it to be disappointing overall in appearance and character. We are quite aware of the struggles of Third World countries and weren't expecting it to be perfect, but there is a big difference between not having riches and not having pride. We reflect back to our visits to areas in Mexico, Turkey and St. Kitts where it is obvious the people and the nation are not rich by any means, but there was pride shown in most homes, businesses and attractions that were well kept, relatively clean and safe. That is not the case in Belize. As mentioned earlier, Belize City - the capital - is dirty, dangerous and depressing, but it also extends beyond the city limits and into the surrounding countryside at least as far as we went with junk cars abandoned everywhere, piles of garbage on the sides of the road and citizens who just don't seem to care that you are there unless they can get money out of you. It seems to be a very sad state of affairs in Belize in our opinion. And it's not like money isn't pouring in there either. We counted six other cruise ships at anchor when we left that evening. But where that money goes is yet to be seen by us. We have no desire to return to Belize despite reports of beautiful reefs for snorkeling and better scenery in the mountainous areas of the country unless sweeping changes occur.


Craig and Alison Harris said...

Not meaning to sound patronizing, but that sounds like a typical day in Sierra Leone. I was surprised you didn't get sick from the fruit and REALLY surprised you didn't get sick from the water. They told us in SaLeone never to drink water from bags! LOL.

Rob and Ashlee said...

Not meaning to sound even more patronizing, but you went to Sierra Leone on a mission trip, not a cruise (i.e. you were expecting hardship, confusion, etc.). The water bags were sealed and labeled (Aquafina I think). We were delirious, not stupid. LOL

Craig and Alison Harris said...

True, that. Nevertheless, we paid for services too, it was just in a different context. If you are on a cruise, I agree, you expect to avoid the worst of things like that. A few years and a few beers from now, it'll be a fond memory, LOL.