Dates visited: April 1, 2015 – April 5, 2015
I fell in love with San Pedro
Warm wind carried on the sea, he called to me, “Te dijo te amo”
I prayed that the days would last
They went so fast.
Tropical the island breeze
All of nature wild and free
This is where I long to be
La Isla Bonita.
When Madonna crooned La Isla Bonita back in 1986, I used to think San Pedro was some hunk who she was courting. But as I started planning this trip, I discovered that San Pedro in the song was this amazingly beautiful paradise of a town on the island of Ambergis Caye in Belize. And after spending four glorious days on this island, even I would have been inspired to belt out an entire album!
I made it through the wilderness
Somehow I made it through
We rented a car (with a driver) to get from Tikal (in Guatemala) to Belize City (in Belize) since we had a plane to catch from Belize City to San Pedro. The journey was alright, through hills, small villages, but the most interesting part was at the border of Guatemala and Belize. We had our car drop us at the Guatemala border, and there was another driver waiting across the border, in Belize, to drive us to Belize City. So while the luggage transfer happened effortlessly, we had to stand in a long long long serpentine queue to get our passports stamped. As we stood in the queue, the Belizean driver called me to the side and in a low tone said, “This line isn’t going to move. For twenty-five dollars, I can get you across right away.” I was aghast and I refused saying, “No, thanks. I want to get my passport stamped for the exit and entry.” “You don’t understand,” he continued, “we will do this legally. I know the immigration officer so I can ask him to stamp the passport.” It soon dawned upon me that I was being asked to bribe a corrupt officer so I put my foot down and walked away from this driver, asking him to wait for us on the other side.
Like a virgin, hey
Touched for the very first time
Well, well, what do you know! The queue just refused to budge and our Belizean driver wasn’t kidding when he had proposed bribing his contact (the immigration officer) to breeze through the formalities. It was another three hours of driving from the border to Belize City with the last flight for San Pedro leaving at 5:30 pm. We had reached the border around noon and I had left in sufficient buffer to make it to Belize City, but by 1 pm, we had barely moved. And I kept seeing other tourists being escorted by their drivers right to the front of the queue, and that was the last I saw of them on the Guatemalan side! By 1:15 pm, I started getting anxious and after several discussions with Prachi, we decided to take a bite of the forbidden fruit. I called my Belizean driver and told him that I was willing to pay $25 to get across. “No problem,” he said, “Give me the money and all your passports and I will be back.” “What??” I shot back, “There’s no way I am handing over our passports to you. I will come with you and that’s final.” He wasn’t too happy and begrudgingly asked me to wait… …and he never returned! So now, it was a race against time! Every minute that we did not move ahead, triggered several panic attacks. We kept cracking jokes about how much of novices we were at trying to do the wrong things. Finally, at around 2 pm or little after that, we made it to the immigration check. And I realized that the reason for the queue moving so slow was that each immigration officer (and there were only two of them) had his own set of Belizean drivers that he had made arrangements with so people were continuously being ushered through at the expense of us folks who had stood in the line. And the reason that our Belizean driver had not returned was that by that time, his contact (immigration officer) had finished his duty! Anyway, it was quite a nerve-racking ordeal but we survived, and the driver was able to cover a lot of ground and we made it in time for our flight to San Pedro.
If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be
It would be so nice
And so our San Pedro holiday was back on track. However, our plane to Ambergris Caye (San Pedro is a town on that caye) was a Cessna 208B, a ten-seater single-engine aircraft much to Prachi’s chagrin. Since Prachi suffers from motion sickness, she detests small planes that have a higher chance of turbulence but I was able to talk her through her discomfort by asking her to focus on the fact that it was a short fifteen minutes flight. And just when she had made her peace, we found out that the fifteen minutes flight included a short stopover at Caye Caulker! That just drove her nuts because despite having flown to so many countries, she still absolutely abhors take offs and landings! I had used up all my cheer ammo so there wasn’t much I could offer in terms of “look at the bright side… …” so I passed on that responsibility to Rohan. And he took that as his personal mission and made sure he kept his mom in a good mood for the duration of the flight. Yes, I actually have a picture of Prachi smiling in the flight! 🙂 And thus began our San Pedro holiday. After a different kind of sightseeing experience in Guatemala, we were going to celebrate Belize… …
Beauty’s where you find it
Not just where you bump and grind it
Soul is in the music, oh
That’s where I feel so beautiful
Magical, life’s a ball
So get up on the dance floor
San Pedro is a sleepy little town, and unless you holler or break into a dance in the middle of a street, no one will even notice you. It’s very unassuming and just perfect to chillax. Beauty is just about everywhere… …on the beach, among the rolling waves, in the green trees, within the Belizeans, in their bicycles, pretty much everywhere you look for it. We stayed at the most awesome location on the beach at Ramon’s Village Resort. Our room was about 100 ft away from the Caribbean sea and the only thing that got between us and the water was two perfectly placed hammocks! Our daily routine was to crawl out of the bed at a snail’s pace, eat a smashing meal at a relaxed pace, play on the beach like time doesn’t exist, lie in the hammock like worries don’t exist, absorb the beauty of the place without any bias, appreciate the people and the culture without any prejudices… …and then rinse and repeat. I have spent several wonderful beach vacations in various countries but San Pedro just delivered something extra special.
We could snorkel right off the hotel pier and that proved to be a huge hit with Rohan… …especially since we saw so many colored tropical fishes, stingrays as well as huge starfishes, but the biggest hit of all was noticing a skillfully camouflaged flatfish shake itself off the sand, reveal itself in its full glory and dart away. We took several long walks on the beach, and one particular weekend afternoon (Easter), the locals were out partying, dancing to foot-stomping music, and binging on food and alcohol. It was such a festive atmosphere! People laughing, clapping and cheering. You just did not want to be anywhere else. And to channel my inner Madonna one last time, I can only belt out these lyrics to make my case about why you have to visit San Pedro at least once.
Music can be such a revelation
Dancing around you feel the sweet sensation
We might be lovers if the rhythms right
I hope this feeling never ends tonight