Gangsta Ferrying to Punta Gorda

The boat is near full when we arrive and Phil and Sarah seem visibly disappointed that all the seats in back are already taken. Those are the best spots, they tell us, so we hastily hand over our luggage to an attendant and lay a few possessions over the first row of seats.

There is some additional time for us to spend some quetzals on water and snacks. There are some weird cigarettes in Guatemala called After Hours, so I buy a pack just for kicks.

market by dock at Puerto Barrios
market by dock at Puerto Barrios

The launcha, not surprisingly, doesn’t launch at 10:30, and we can’t quite figure out why but we just want to head out. Phil and Sarah suggest that perhaps we should spend the night in Hopkins, a one-street garifuna village along the beach about 3 hours north of Punta Gorda, where they got married.

If it’s your last night, Sarah reasoned, you don’t want to spend it in Belize City.

Cyn and I are flexible at this point, and we readily agree. Rick, who had been considering going to Livingston to see a garifuna village but decided for Hopkins instead, is already in. Let’s do it, I say.

It is perhaps 11 or 11:30 by the time we launch off.

away we go!
away we go!

At first, we are comforted by the light rumble of the motor as we sail past the beachside Guatemalan hills to the west. Again, we see the familiar clouds swirl over the rounded peaks. The drone of the engine makes me sleepy, and I put my head down into my arms, draped over the pseudo-bench in front of me

I am rudely awakened by sea spray. One light splash, and then ten minutes later, another.

What the hell, I think.

I look up to see a Guatemalan boy sitting on the helm of the boat tossing down large, black strips of tarp.

This is just like what they did on our launcha ride from Utila, Sarah says. Apparently, you hide underneath the tarp to protect yourself from the water.


the tarp umbrella the tarp umbrella

Good thing the boy had tossed down the tarp when he did because soon, the sea gets rough and the sea spray becomes constant. I told down the front of the tarp with my left hand and pull at the back with my right. I can feel salt water rolling down the tarp, down my arm and onto Cynthia’s back. There’s not much I can do.

Looking behind, I see Rick, sitting all the way to the left of the second row. Each time the boat bounces, he is hit with another splash of sea water. His face and clothes are already drenched.

Cyn , Sarah and I duck under the black tarp, with is punctuated by small air/light holes. It almost looks like a night sky, less the edges of tarp that keep flying up in the wind. Every 10 or so seconds, as the boat violently jumps up and slams down, we hear the splash of water crashing on plastic.

Damn. I think.

I feel like we’re stowaways, sneaking across the border, Cynthia says. From then on, no one can really sleep so well, and the hour long ride seems to go on forever. All the while, we never quite rise out of the tarp long enough to see any of the scenery fly by. It’s not until we can see the lush greenery of Punta Gorda approaching that we finally unravel ourselves from the tarp. Both Phillip and Rick, who have been sitting on opposite edges of the boat, are drenched.

Punta Gorda approaching
Punta Gorda approaching

And you wanted to sit on an edge to take pictures, Sarah laughs.

It is 12:05 when we re-remerge into the basking sun after clearing immigration.

Welcome to Belize
Welcome to Belize

Not being able to quite figure out if we’ve missed the 12 p.m. chicken bus to Dangriga (which stops at the dirt road you have to take to Hopkins), we wait on the side of the road.

did we miss it? I'm not sure?
did we miss it? I'm not sure?

There are apparently many Chinese people living in Belize, Sarah and Phil tell us. So many, that in fact, they set up their own communities and anger the Belizeans. In their eyes, the Chinese open stores and restaurants and collect money from the locals but give nothing back to the community.

Yea, that sounds about right, Cyn and I say.

And here, lo and behold, across the dusty street from where we are waiting for a bus, we see a Chinese restaurant connected to a small deli.

The sun is literally scorching, and I can’t believe that it’s actually gotten hotter despite having moved further north. I tell everyone that I have a bottle of Flor in my bag still, and I take it out for a celebratory drink with Cyn and Sarah.

celebratory drink
celebratory drink

Meanwhile Phillip, who is excited to be back in the land of One Barrel, has already run into the deli with Rick to buy some of the award-winning Belizean elixir. They come back minutes later, and before we know it, their two bottles of One Barrel are unscrewed as well. We have a small celebration in the street.

Because Sarah tells me that Hopkins is very small, I decide that I should load up on a bottle of One Barrel as well. I am surprised when I walk in that the girl behind the counter is Chinese. Although everyone speaks English in Belize, she seems to speak very little.

When I get back outside, it soon becomes painfully clear that we have indeed missed the 12 p.m. bus, however, and the next bus will not come until 2. We move all our things to the proper bus station, about 2 blocks away, and groan.

Could we just take a taxi? I ask How much do you think that will cost?

Sarah and I walk back to the main road. A garifuna man, who has been washing a truck, whistles to us. Hey! Come here, he says, gesturing. I try to ignore him for a minute, but Sarah approaches him, so I hesitantly follow.

What are you waiting for, he asks.

We need a taxi, Sarah says. We’re trying to go to Hopkins.

There are taxis by the Central Park, the garifuna says. I’ll take you there.

No, it’s okay, Sarah says. I know where the park is. We’ve been here before.

The garifuna is insistent, but before he can walk anywhere, a red Nissan taxi zips by. He waves his hand, stopping the taxi. There already a patron inside, an Amish looking fellow, but the cabbie, upon hearing that we’re going to a destination 3 hours away, sees a cash opportunity and promises to be back soon.

When he zips off, the garifuna turns to us, asking for a tip.

What for? Sarah asks. No.

The garifuna curses a bit, but there’s little he can do, so he walks away for a bit muttering.

We sit in the sidewalk, drinking some One Barrel and waiting for the taxi to come back. By the time it does, it’s already 1:20… Only 40 minutes to go before the chicken bus runs.

$300 Belize, the cabbie says to us.

No, no, that’s too expensive, we say.

It takes a bit more haggling and the taxi driver goes down to $280.

That’s nothing! I say. And it’s not. The exchange rate is about 2:1, so he’s essentially gone down $10 US.

Sarah is a bit calmer, saying that we have to consult the others.

Stay here for a minute, she says. We’ll be right back.

We walk back to the bus station where Phil, Rick and Cynthia are sitting, sipping on One Barrel out of cups and Coke bottles.

Phil, I think you should talk to him, Sarah says. Reason with him, man to man.

She turns to me explaining that Phil had expected 200-250 Belize. The bus ride would probably cost us about 14 or so Belize a person, but who knew how long it would take. At this point, she just wanted to get there and hopefully make the sunset.

Phil and Rick are soon walking back and we see the taxi turn the corner to come for us and the bags.

We got him down to $240, Phil says.

It’s not bad.. About 48 Belize a person for a direct trip to Hopkins, right to Jungle Jeanie’s door.

How you all doing? The cabbie says as he steps out.

Good, and you, I say, holding up my smiley face cup of One Barrel and Coke.

Not as good as you man, he says.

One Thought to “Gangsta Ferrying to Punta Gorda”

  1. i’m usually not a blog-reader, but i liked your stuff, thanks!

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