Mexico to Belize border crossing
We woke up feeling fresh and excited for the next country. We gathered our packs, said our farewells and hiked up the road to the collectivo pick up point. Expecting to wait half hour or so, we were greeted by a collectivo within 20 seconds of arriving. Today will be brilliant!!
Our plan – head to Chetumal, get some shopping, border cross via bus to Belize and continue down to Orange Walk where we have accomodation booked. Easy. 3 hours max, including delays at the border.
Reality is a dish best served hot, sweaty with a side salad of good ol’ fashioned corruption. Here is what happened…
We excitedly and optimistically jumped into our collectivo to Chetumal. As we came into Chetumal we had the plan to go to Walmart for “all we could possibly need” because, well… it’s Walmart! We passed a big shopping plaza with what looked like a lot of stores that we might be looking for, but we continued. Hearts set, until the collectivo turned a corner away from Walmart. Quickly jumping out, realising we had a 4km hike to Walmart, we decided to brave it.
As we dried our sweat out on the walmart aircon, we felt accomplished! We’d lost about 3 tacos each and felt good, kinda.
We got most of what we needed, apart from the gold dust SD CARD reader adaptor that we needed for the iPad. The very same one Alice’s Dad tried to encourage us to take, but “knowing better” and believing in the power of wireless technology we instead decided to spend our time on expedition through Mexico to find one.
With no luck in Walmart, we cheated and got a taxi to take us to an electronics store that didn’t exist (thanks google maps) and then back up to the Plaza Las Americanas that we originally passed up.
Great. Just as we expected. Two hours and a lot of effort wasted.
Right, we had found everything. Let’s get on the bus and call it a day. We walked the 1km to the ADO (bus company) to find out there were no buses heading to Belize for the rest of the day, but the local buses would be, and for a $30MX fee, a taxi driver would drop us at the public bus station. Oh and the public bus station was back down past Walmart! As it had started to rain we jumped in a cab and headed toward the bus station.
Our friendly taxi driver explained to us that even though everyone had said the buses would take us all the way to Orange Walk, they wouldn’t. They would only take us to the border and everyone was lying to us. He offered so kindly to take us to the border himself, for cheaper than the bus for $250MX (about $20NZ). We declined, as we sensed he was full of crap. Sure enough, he didn’t like that answer and dropped us 1km away from the local bus station, which Alice found out from a very drunk guy on the street, and his helpful sober friend.
Christ. Packs on, that taxi driver was called a lot of names on the walk to the bus station.
Finally we made it, jumped on the bus and settled in. Next minute, we noticed a lot of women coming on the bus with a lot of shopping. There were only women on our bus (other than the driver and conductor). We found out that Belizeans come up to Chetumal for the day to do their shopping as it’s far cheaper. They took everything out of it’s packaging and tried to hide the more valuable items that they obviously didn’t want to pay tax on going back into Belize. They bought loads of sweets and small packets of chips/crisps to fill the top of every bag to hide other things. We spoke to a woman behind us who said the tax they charge varies depending on who you get on the day (and how corrupt they are).
Alice watched a woman stroke the bus driver’s shoulder and handed him a package which he hid under his seat. Let’s just pretend we didn’t see that.
We get to the border. Now we are prepared with a pre made flight itinerary saying how we have paid our Mexican exit taxes and do not need to pay at the border. There are a lot of forums and groups that have conflicting ideas on this “border scam”. Some say you do have to pay if you fly in, then leave by land. Some say you don’t. Some say even if you’ve paid the taxes, you will will be asked to pay again and this is a scam by border agents pocketing money.
So we tried and failed, handed over $30US each ($533 MX) as the border control had the precious Australian passport in her possession.
Annoyed but aware of the situation, we left it be. We couldn’t really do anything but today couldn’t get worse.
Oh but it did. We got off the bus at the Belize border, went through passport control who asked me a thousand questions at the sight of the AU beauty that is my passport. When the UK passport was flashed, she turned into our best mate. We exited border control to join the rest of our bus crew, waiting for our bus. And waiting… and some more waiting. As buses who definitely were behind us in the queue passed through we knew there was a problem. We over heard a group, including shifty McGee who had hid something under the driver’s seat discussing something vigeriously, looking a wee bit worried.
Another bus driver approached us at this point and offered us seats on his bus as ours, well ours was not coming as it was found with contraband. A lot of stories went around, drugs, Avon books, books with cut out holes in. Either way. Someone had to pay $1500 Belize ($750 AU).
We turned down the initial seats offer from the new bus as we had already paid our fare, and thought he was just trying to get a couple extra fares. After about 45 minutes of more waiting, it turned out… our bus really wasn’t coming through. We decided to abandon the couple of dollars for the fare and jump on the next available bus. That way we could get away from the situation of angry belizeans waiting for the bus and the possible drug cartel/ tax fraud that might’ve been unfolding.
We were quoted $250 peso (we hadn’t yet got belizean dollar as it was the weekend – all banks were closed). Bit pricey but we wanted to get the hell out of there and get to the end of this day. As the bus assistant took our money and gave us our bus tickets, that were written in English, Alice decided to give the ticket a read. “ the highest figure shown on this ticket is the amount you should have paid. Please check to make sure it is correct” as plain as English written on a bus ticket, we should have paid $5 belizean. $92 peso. Well, he got a mouthful as he handed Alice back out $250 and somewhat apologised.
We had had enough but we were across the border and on it way to Orange Walk. Certainly not Alice’s worst border crossing nightmare but one of my first and I now see why you have to pretty much leave a day for any border crossing regardless of the distance.
Finally we arrived, tired and relieved and desperate for a shower. We were approaching our accomodation when a man ran out from this car wash on the corner toward us “ HELLO GIRLS! Welcome to Orange Walk…” I was furious. If this guy starts trying anything I swear! “.. you must be looking for Ricky’s!” We were “ let me take you there.” This genuinely nice guy walked us across the road, wished us a happy Travel in Belize and that was it!
Finally we had arrived, 8 hours later and a few bucks less.