Our trip to Belize was only going to be a visa run. We needed to reset our C4 visa before moving on from Guatemala to Honduras, and Belize seemed like a good (albeit pricey) place to do it. We thought we would go up to Caye Caulker, and then work our way back to Placencia to catch the Friday ferry to Puerto Cortes, Honduras. The ferry would only take about 4 hours. Simple enough, right? Wrong.
Problem #1: The Friday ferry from Placencia was busted.
After being less than enamoured with Orange Walk and Dangriga, we arrived in Placencia about 10 days into our stay in Belize. This was a Tuesday. The boat left on Friday and we were told by the lady selling lunch on the dock that advance tickets were unnecessary.
Always ones to double check facts, on Wednesday we decided to check that we wouldn’t need advance tickets. A quick stop at the tourist centre taught us that the ferry was being repaired and would not be running on Friday.
Problem #2: Our visas were about to expire
We actually quite liked Placencia and figured we could just stay there another week, which would also give us the opportunity to check out the nearby Cockscomb Wildlife Reserve. Alas, our visas expired on Saturday due to a fairly rookie mistake on our part… when we entered Belize, we told the immigration official we were planning to stay about 2 weeks. So he only gave us 14 days on our visas, instead of the usual 30 days tourists get. As a result, extending our stay in the country would cost us $50 BZ ($25 CAD) per person for visa extensions. We tried calling immigration to see if they would waive the extension fee since they would only be extending within the time frame of a normal visa, but they clearly told us that wouldn’t be possible. So we needed to leave the country on Friday.
Problem #3: Chartering a boat from a “boat guy” that really doesn’t want to go is a bad idea
On Thursday, we ran into a couple of European ladies we had met on the bus to Placencia. They had managed to find a guy that would charter a direct boat to Utila for $300 BZ/$150 CAD per person (our first Honduras destination) that would bypass the need to take a bus, a water taxi, a land taxi, another bus, spend a night in La Ceiba, and a morning ferry to Utila. Skipping all that would cost $50 more per person than not, and the chartered boat was going to leave on Friday.
Since everyone else in the group had much stricter schedules than us (as in, they had a schedule), their preference was the charter boat. Since we kind of like checking out the countryside via bus, and don’t mind spending a night in a gateway city, we wanted to save the $50 CAD per person and take the extra bus, water taxi, land taxi, bus… etc.
Unfortunately, we were the deciding factor for whether the tour operator was willing to take his boat out on the water (without us, there weren’t enough people). Feeling kind of bad for everyone else, we negotiated a lower price for just the two of us, so we could be happy taking the charter boat, the tour operator could make a little money, and everyone else would get to save at least one transportation day.
I know what you’re thinking… how is that fair that we got a lower price than everyone else for the same trip? The socialists in us hated the idea too, but the cheapskates in us allowed it to happen. After all, we were totally happy taking extra buses and boats and for everyone else, they were paying the same price they had agreed on earlier.
The plan was to meet up Thursday afternoon, so we could go to the mainland to get our exit stamps in our passports. After meeting up twice and being sent away twice with different excuses, along the lines of “one of my captains is out fishing so we can’t go right now”, we were finally told to meet again at 8 am on Friday. We’d do the passport stuff in the morning, on our way out to Utila.
This set off flashing warning lights: If we met the tour operator at 8 AM and he had yet another excuse, we would have missed the 7 am bus to Dangriga and lost our only chance to catch a boat out of the country. This objection didn’t seem to bother him though. He promised he would work everything out with his captains and would come to our hostel to confirm all the details that evening.
At about 8:00 PM Thursday, there was still no word. So we borrowed our hotel owner’s phone and called. That’s when we found out he wasn’t willing to go for the price he had already agreed on. So the charter boat was cancelled.
Problem #4: I think all of Belize runs on “island time”
Come Friday morning, we woke up early, caught the 7 am bus to Dangriga and arrived hours before the ferry departed. It was indeed running and it was a beautiful, sunny, calm day. We bought our tickets ($120 BZ or $60 CAD per person) and were told that immigration would be there in about an hour. We left our stuff with the boat and got some breakfast. An hour later, we went back to the ferry and waited for immigration. And waited. And waited. One hour became two, but finally, immigration showed up, took everyone’s cash, and stamped our passports. We were finally on the boat.
Problem #5: You know it’s not a good thing when someone has to get out of the boat and push
As we were leaving the Dangriga harbour, the boat got caught on a sand patch. It took a few attempts to remedy this situation.
Attempt #1: The captain attempted to manoeuvre the boat back and forth to get free. This didn’t work.
Attempt #2: They sent this poor guy out into the water to push. He made several attempts and was aided by the shouted instructions of the many bystanders on the shore.
Attempt #3: Everyone was sent to the front of the boat. This didn’t work either.
Attempt #4: Once the guy gave up pushing, he walked the anchor waaayy out into the surf.
They rounded up “all the strong guys” to stand on the front of the boat and pull on the anchor rope. All this accomplished was pulling the anchor back in.
Attempt #5: I’m not sure exactly what combination of pushing, pulling, and engine manoeuvres did it, but we were finally free of the sand. Success! A cheer rose up from the crowd on the boat.
Problem #6: Guess the engine didn’t like the sand much
Our boat had to stop mid-ocean twice due to engine problems. At one point, they changed out the propeller. I don’t even know what happened the second time… the rolling waves and my stomach were too busy battling it out to look up and see what was going on. I did master my new zen approach to avoiding seasickness. Mike doesn’t understand it, but for some reason if I close my eyes and just let my body move with the boat I don’t get sick. Oh, and Oreos help too. Mike tells me that we started with three engines, and when we got to Puerto Cortes, Honduras, we were down to just one.
But we got there! We finally spotted Puerto Cortes. The trip ended with us setting foot on land. Hello Honduras!!!
Note: After all of that, we still hadn’t made it out to the island of Utila. We managed to get ourselves stuck in La Ceiba for two nights waiting for the ferry start running again due to bad weather. Aaaahh, the joys of travelling during rainy season…