|The “tenders” that took excursion passengers from the Celebrity Equinox and other ships that were anchored in the bay due to shallow waters at the pier. We took this photo from our tender which was much larger with a double deck and steep steps to the 2nd level where we sat during the 30 minute ride.|
|One of six single lane bridges we encountered on the Hummingbird Highway, the almost four hour drive from Belize City to Placencia, a narrow peninsula on the Caribbean Sea|
|The beach at our cottage on the Caribbean Sea.|
|A banana plantation along the Hummingbird Highway. The blue plastic bags are used to protect the banana from insects instead of pesticides.|
A few years ago, I had trouble going to a Minnesota Twins ballgame, the ride in the car, sitting in the bleachers, the stairs up and down. I was falling apart. Now, less than two years later, I’m hauling my share of carry on bags, up the steep steps to the second level of the tender for a 30 minute bouncy boat ride in choppy waters from where the Celebrity Equinox anchored out at sea, too large to dock at the pier.
Thank goodness for discovering that food played a huge role in my chronic pain syndrome, now all but gone, making it possible for me to be a participating partner in our upcoming years of world travel. For this, I am very grateful.
However, my newer state of being doesn’t diminish my persistence in getting things done and getting them done right. This morning, still on the Equinox, with all of our bags packed and ready to go down to deck two to await our departure on a tender, we waited to hear from the Celebrity’s Immigration Officer, Jennie.
Her objectives, after my careful instructions were to accomplish a few things:
1. Acquire visas for us for at least the one month Belize offers with the availability of applying for the remainder of our stay.
2. Get us and our bags safely off the ship on time to meet our private shuttle driver Abraham at our prearranged 12:30 PM at ship terminal #2 who’d be waiting for us holding a sign with our name, to begin the four hour drive to Placencia to our awaiting little beach house.
3. Avoid us standing in a lengthy line behind all the passengers who were going on excursions in Belize City and avoid all the passengers waiting for us to get our luggage loaded on the tender. Passengers didn’t have luggage, just purses and bags to carry the loot they’ll purchase on shore.
We each had heavy computer bags, Tom’s two-liter duty free bottles of booze, bottles of water for the road trip, my overloaded handbag and a heavy bag with all of our prescriptions and preventive medicines that I always keep in my possession.
While I was at the guest services awaiting our stamped passports Tom was upstairs in our cabin on Deck 10 lining up the luggage for the soon-to-arrive porter with a cart to take it to the tender boarding area.
If timing went as we’d planned, we’d be at Terminal 2 in Belize City to meet driver Abraham promptly at 12:30, head directly to the Fed Ex office to return the XCOM Global MiFi to San Diego and begin the long drive to Placencia.
At 11:30, Jennie frantically arrived at the desk to tell me our passports were approved by the Belizean Immigration Officer who had come aboard at 10:30 and we were set to go. She handed over our two passports, wished us well and dashed off.
Still standing at the desk, I knew I’d better check the passports. The visas in both of our passports read: 6/2/2013. In US speak that means, June 2, 2013. In Belizean speak that means, February 6, 2013. He’d only approved one week!!! Now what? I took a deep breath. Stay calm, I hollered at myself in my head. Summoning a guest service rep to go find Jennie again, I waited impatiently another 10 minutes.
Showing her the dates on the passports, she became embarrassed and flustered, mumbling something about the Belizean Immigration Officer having gone to eat at the ship’s buffet. In a firm but diplomatic voice, I asked her to please go interrupt his breakfast kindly asking him to extend the visa to 30 days, giving us ample time to apply for an extension by mail while in Placencia.
Aware of the clock ticking, Tom appeared at my side, ready to head down to Deck 2 to our awaiting bags and to board the tender. Moments later, Jennie appeared again with the passports in hand, showing us that she had in fact, interrupted his breakfast as he gave us the 30-days visas. Off we went down to the gangplank and boarding area to about 100 passengers in line waiting to board the next boat.
Asking Tom to get out our two “Priority Tender Passes” only to discover moments later that most passengers in line also had a “Priority Tender Pass.” Oh, how I had thought we were special! Ha!
By now, it was noon. Surprisingly, the line moved quickly as passengers swiped their “SeaPass” ID cards into the slot. As we moved up the line, I started asking staff personnel about our luggage. “Where did they put our luggage?” No one answered until we reached the point of swiping our cards in the machine.
A loud siren started blaring as soon as my card was read. The same happened to Tom. We were immediately whisked aside to curious onlookers who were trying to assess our “crime” only to discover that they were being alerted to the fact that we were getting off the ship and not coming back. Steps away from boarding the tender we were approved to depart after a phone call was made.
I continued to ask about our luggage. “Where is it?” I harped again trying to sound friendly. Tom had already reminded me about my persistent manner to avoid coming across as “the ugly American” making endless demands.
A uniformed man appearing to be a police officer for the ship stated with raised brows, “Your luggage went on an earlier tender. Its at the pier waiting for you.
“Is someone watching it?” I asked.
“Yes, madame, it’s in the hands of Celebrity personnel.” he reassured us. We boarded the tender hauling our multiple carry on bags to that second story when we barely found two seats next to one another.
Squeezed between several passengers, a lively conversation ensued with the passengers around us, fascinated that we were getting off the ship to stay in Belize for over two months. I appreciated their enthusiasm but my mind was on the luggage.
Finally I relaxed to enjoy a lovely woman sitting next to me, a world traveler from Germany, an archaeologist. The 30 minute ride flew by, wind and sea spray splashing around us in the open air boat as we chatted on about science, paleontology and the caveman. Quite interesting! I could easily have spent hours with her.
Exchanging business cards, we promised to stay in touch via email as she was very interested in reading our blog as I was interested in hearing more about her family winery in Bordeaux, France. As she dashed away, she threw her head back to shout to me, “Come to visit us at our winery in Bordeaux.” Whether said flippantly or sincerely, I momentarily relished in the prospect of spending time at her family owned winery.
Moments later, we were being herded off the tender all the while looking for our multiple orange bags. After a lengthy walk on the dock, we discovered a Celebrity “tent” with cups of water accompanying the goodbyes from the uniformed staff. Our luggage was no where to be found. The Celebrity staff member who was dressed in a uniform was apparently a police officer who led the way for us to follow him.
Madly searching for our bags in the crowded terminal, we also had an eye out for Abraham and his sign with our name. There he was. No luggage. A row of van drivers were desperately trying to move through traffic and get their loaded vehicles on their way.
In what was a wild flurry of activity, as Abraham joined us in the search for our bags, there were two vans in front of ours, all blocking traffic. Suddenly, we saw ORANGE!!! Our bags were in a van we had not requested, not Abraham’s van! The doors were being shut and it was ready to drive away. We both yelled, “Stop!! Those are our bags!” Stop that van! The van stopped and minutes later, a load of about 25 bags in the rear of a huge van were being unloaded to get to our bags which of course were on the bottom of the pile.
The other awaiting van in front of the van with our bags took off with passengers and luggage, on their way to the airport. After unloading the “wrong van” we discovered were missing three large bags, two orange, one black and they were on their way to the airport.
It was sunny, humid and 90 degrees. Pushy, pushy, pushy. But, nice, nice, nice. We managed to convinced the other van driver to contact the airport van to turn around in crazy traffic and road construction and come back with our three bags. Yes, our bags ended up in two separate vans, neither of which we had requested or desired.
After what seemed like an eternity, we had all of our bags in Abraham’s van and we were on our way to FED EX, arriving a good 20 minutes after leaving the ship terminal through bumpy dusty unpaved roads in some of the poorest areas of Belize City. Oh, oh, FED EX had moved. They are now within a block of the ship terminal. We’d have to turn around and go back.
“Oh, no,” I persisted, “is there a UPS or any other shipping company near us now?”
Abraham quickly answers, “Yes! How about DHL?”
“Yes!” I chimed in, “DHL it is!” Minutes later we were standing at the DHL desk watching the rep look up rates in an old fashioned book as opposed to a computer. Thirty minutes and $72 US later, we were out the door, insuring the package for $800.
And so began the almost four hour drive down the Hummingbird Highway. We went through six, yes six, one car width bridges. We encountered washed out roads, cracked broken pavement, scary single lane passing, slow semi trucks up the steep winding hills, slow drivers, crazy drivers, winding and mountainous roads.
We encountered cows in the road, cows in the pasture eating real grass, roaming free, chickens wandering in fields, pecking at natures little tidbits, soft billowy clouds over the sea, endless rows of banana trees and more orange groves than I’d ever seen growing up in California. Endless coconut trees lined the hills and valleys, a lush forest of Mother Nature’s untarnished bounty of its fruits of the land.
Shortly before we arrived at the cottage, we asked Abraham to stop at a grocery store to get us through the first few days until we figure out transportation. He gladly obliged while we dashed into the little store. Shocked by the prices and knowing there was another bigger grocer a mile from the cottage, we opted to purchase bare necessities, food for breakfast and dinner.
Much to my delight, the steaks were local grass fed, from the farm where I had observed the cows grazing, the brown eggs were organic, free range and cage free at $2 a dozen. The produce, although limited in its selection was fresh and had that “just picked from the field” look.
When the cashier rung up our groceries, it totaled $114. I was sadly disappointed this small amount had cost so much. Tom nudged me when he saw the look on my face, ‘That’s Belizean dollars. Its actually about half of that!”
At 5 pm, we arrived a the Little Cottage with the good directions provided by the owner. We were tired, hungry and anxious to see the beach house and get situated.
We weren’t disappointed. The house, situated on the owner’s property only requires walking the length of the small ocean front lot to the Caribbean Sea.
Today, we’ll do laundry, in piles from the most recent eight day cruise which must be dried on a clothes line (no dryer), unpack only what we need, figure out transportation and spend as much time outside enjoying the ocean breezes, the breathtaking scenery and the unfamiliar sounds from birds of unknown origin.