The travel in Central America never ceases to amaze me. It doesn’t matter if I am traveling to a town in the same country or traveling to a country three borders away, the travel time will no doubt take a minimum of eight hours. There are many ways to travel throughout Central America…None of them will be quick or easy.
Mexico seemed to have the most organized travel out of the five countries I visited in the last six months. In Mexico I could walk up to the ADO bus station look at departure times and purchase my ticket. These buses were usually on time and were always direct. The other option in Mexico was the Collectivo. Collectivo’s are how locals get around and are significantly cheaper. The Collectivo “bus station” is a section of the street where these mini micro buses pull over and you find one headed in the direction you are going. It is a little more difficult to travel far in the collectivo’s when having bags as there is not much space in them. The ADO buses are proper buses and have space underneath for baggage. We had planned on taking the bus the next morning from Tulum, Mexico to Belize City, Belize. However when I went to the bus station the night before to purchase tickets I saw that they had a bus leaving at eleven p.m. for Belize City. We bought tickets and ran back to the hotel to pack. Crossed the border at five a.m. and arrived in Belize City around eight. That was a nice nine-hour bus ride.
In Belize I headed straight for Caye Caulker so being on an island I did not need anymore transportation than my Chevrolegs I brought with me. The water taxi was fairly quick it only took forty-five minutes. It was easy to book travel here as well. I used a travel agent and paid a little more than I should have but it was still only thirty dollars to get from Belize to Guatemala. The bus was small and had no air conditioning but it served its purpose and I made it safely.
The travel in Guatemala is by far the most fun of any country. There are essentially three options pay high gringo prices for a direct micro bus or a proper greyhound type bus, or travel with the locals via chicken bus. The micro buses are nice for a few reasons you are guaranteed a seat, they are a direct route, and most of the time will drop you off at your hotel. The downside to these buses is the cost. They can run anywhere from thirty dollars up to seventy dollars one way. The chicken buses are in my personal opinion the way to travel.
A chicken bus is an old bluebird school bus that they have transformed into a fusion of art and transportation. These old school buses are chromed out and painted with exotic art to stand out from the others. The chicken bus station is a place of organized chaos. Buses are everywhere and being a gringo I am immediately surrounded by men asking where I am going. Sometimes I tell them and other times I wander around until I find the bus I want. The stations are typically located next to an open air market where I can purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and of course fried chicken for the ride. The buses have two people working on them one is the driver and that’s all he does is drive. The other guy is working his ass off. He is climbing up on top of the bus tying down bags and throwing bags off before the bus even stops. The same guy is climbing over people collecting money. He has to remember every face and who has paid and hasn’t paid. I know your thinking big deal a bus doesn’t hold that many people. Think again! Normally there are two people in each seat but not in Guatemala those seats normally hold three and sometimes four! The chicken buses are extremely cheap, a ride in a micro bus that would cost fifty dollars cost around five dollars with the local transport.
If you would prefer to travel in comfort you can find a bus station in the bigger cities and book on one of the big travel buses. These buses usually have air conditioning and sometimes are playing movies. Now that does depend on the bus and the company. Some of the buses will over sell their tickets on a non air-conditioned bus. I had both happen to me. One was extremely enjoyable the other I had to sit in the aisle on a four-hour bus ride. Needless to say I wasn’t super stoked about that.
I left Guatemala for Costa Rica by plane. Traveling by plane is similar to everywhere else not much different. The one major difference is the price. Where most other travel is relatively cheap travel by jet is rather expensive. It’s important to shop around when looking for flights here. Also keep in mind that most of the airlines do not have deals with the online booking agents so contacting them directly is usually what gets you the best price. Once arriving in Costa Rica I was in shock at the price differences. Costa Rica is expensive. It cost me twenty dollars to get from the airport to the bus station. The bus was relatively cheap around ten dollars for a two-hour ride.
Leaving Costa Rica headed back to Honduras was the same bus route back to the airport but then had to fly to El Salvador and then to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. From San Pedro I caught another flight to the island of Roatan.
One thing I have learned is that travel here will ALWAYS be a day long adventure. You will no doubt run into cancelled buses, changed routes, overcrowded benches, babies puking, and lots of body odor. So pack a lunch grab your camera and take a chill pill cause it is going to be a long day. It may sound strange but I enjoy how it is not an easy task to get somewhere. It’s all of the hiccups and strange customs that make the travel memorable. Whether I am hanging out the door of an old school bus going forty miles an hour down a road in Guatemala, sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned bus watching The Punisher, or laying in the aisle cause there are no seats left I find that it is the adventure I remember, not how much of a pain in the ass it was. I appreciate the small things. Travel in Central America can be cheap or expensive but no matter how much you pay you are guaranteed an experience you will never forget.
Unlike my other long bus rides where I buried myself in the pages of my book, this time I watched The Punisher, in Spanish of course! I have already seen the film a few times so I thought what the hell, I could either read my book or try to pick up the local language. I think I fooled the Guatemalan man next to me into believing I spoke fluent Spanish. At some parts I would look over at him and we would share a man’s moment of guts and glory. The movie finished and then guess what The Punisher 2 came on! Now this I could not watch. Five hours later the bus arrived in Rio Dulce. The bus emptied out and everyone crowded the luggage holds underneath holding out tickets, shouting, and pointing for their bags. I sat back waited for calmer waters and then effortlessly lifted my bag onto my back, walked across the street to the Sun Dog Cafe and phoned my hostel for a ride.
Aside from a few, all of the hotels/hostels are located on the river and are only accessible by water taxi. Luis the taxi operator from Hotel Kangaroo (my hostel) pulls into the dock and I toss my bag in the boat. He is in his mid twenties and from Mexico City. Pulling out of the dock we cruise past a small island with pelicans perched on top of the trees. It’s a beautiful sight and I take a mental photo. Luis is standing behind me hammering down on the throttle of the outboard motor as we pass under the massive archway the bridge forms. We veer off of the river and head back up into the mangroves winding our way past private residences with fancy yachts. It’s a totally different side of Guatemala than I am used to and I find my self thinking about the unequal distribution of wealth in the country… and in the world. In moments like these I feel defeated, it seems like there will never be an end to it. Maybe I am young and naive or maybe I just long for a better way of living for all mankind.
The mangroves are thick and the waterway comes to a head, we split to the right and arrive at Kangaroo. I am a little unsteady on my feet as we unload the boat and it makes me realize how long I’ve been on dry land. I am ready to get back to the ocean, back to diving, back to my garden of eden. Checking in is no problem and the lady is super friendly. I take my bag upstairs, change shirts, and head out to the deck. The deck sits on the water’s edge and hundred feet across on the other side is a family enjoying their last days of Semana Santa. The children are playing some sort of “king of the kayak” game while the adults sit around a table enjoying conversation. My mind wanders and I can’t help but think of times with my extended family. I have nothing but fond memories of our get togethers but at the same time I feel a sense of sadness. I realize how much I took for granted. The family vacations, the reunions, the times we were able to run around and be fools. Why can’t those times last forever? “Quieres algo de beber?” I’m brought back to reality when the waitress ask me what I would like to drink. I respond “Un limonada con soda por favor.”
I see a kayak coming around the corner with a couple paddling their way back to the dock. I say hello as they walk on past into the hotel. After a while they come and join us on the deck. We have some dinner, exchange some stories, a few laughs, and make a plan to visit the hot springs the next day.