Dear my Lonely Planet: Central America on a Shoestring,
Why have you lead me astray? You disappointed me this past week at the Mexican/Belizean border crossing.
I love you, I nurture you, I pull you out of the depths of my bag when I’m in a pinch, and yet you disappoint at the weirdest times. You’ve got ten different hostel accommodations for some random, Podunk towns, but yet a mere paragraph about the actually fairly confusing border crossing between Mexico and Belize via Chetumal.
But also, you know, thank you LP, because you make me realize that sometimes you are not my travel bible like I so often joke…generally, there’s always a local standing right next to me willing to impart the information you so coyly keep to yourself. I’m learning to rely on you less and less LP, and that’s probably a good thing.
With lukewarm love,
My Border Crossing Debacle
The whole guidebook debate crops up on travel blogs every now and again, and I’ve always been pretty avidly in the guidebook toting category. I nearly always have one somewhere in my bags, and surprisingly often it has really provided some key information at opportune times.
But on the other hand, guidebooks also give a false sense of security as well as take out some of the adventure – and hey, this is all about the adventure and personal interactions right?
Here’s the deal, when I arrived at Chetumal, Mexico I expected the border crossing to be incredibly straightforward like the guidebook indicated. But I arrived after 4pm and there were no longer first class busses leaving the terminal for the border.
There was also no other information about what to do at that point.
Picture me now frantically flip through the Chetumal section of the Lonely Planet. Hmm. The barest mention of another bus terminal.
Just a tad perplexed, I began to look at the accommodation section of the guidebook with two other Americans who were now in the same boat as myself…and standing there with the exact same guidebook.
Fast forward a few minutes and we are now hunting down locals and taxi drivers for tips. They come up with nothing. The taxi driver (naturally) wants us to cab to the border for US $20 – instead we ask about this elusive second bus station, get a noncommittal shrug and a general point to walk “a couple kilometers in that direction.” Oh, and for the record, all of these exchanges took place in Spanish (thankfully my high school Spanish trickling back!).
We actually then had a grand mini adventure asking locals for more directions along the way. Rather than just following the instructions mapped out in the LP, we are now forced to hunt down a way to cross the border into Belize. Locals pointed up the “bus station” and when we arrive at the indicated lot there is one single lone green school bus a bit ways off.
We glance toward it, wondering where the bus station is. Then the bus starts moving out of the parking lot and our instincts kick in – the bus driver leans out, hollers “Belize” in a quick and questioning manner, and then rumbles to a stop as we jog to the doors and haul ourselves onto the last bus crossing the border for the day.
Is this the biggest adventure of my life? No. But it sure was a lot more fun when we hunkered down in the seats, high-fived each other, and then jostled with the motion of the school bus all the way to the border – some cash changed hands (Mexican exit tax) and a couple new stamps in the good ‘ole passport, and 20 minutes later we had reached our destination…without even a second glance at the LP that day.
I’m still carrying my LP, and it’s likely that I won’t go guidebook free anytime in the near future, but I actually like the freedom of figuring it out myself sometimes – much more self-empowering, and more fun to boot!
Crossing into Belize from Chetumal, Mexico
So, let me just clarify this border crossing for anyone following the same path – there are two bus stations in Chetumal, the main big bus station for ADO and first class buses and a smaller one, El Nuevo Mercado Lazaro Cardenas. The smaller one, it’s not actually a bus station per se, but rather a small market with an open lot in front that holds the chicken buses. If you arrive after 4pm into Chetumal and you are heading into Belize, you take a local chicken buses across the border – they go all the way to Belize City (stops at smaller towns along the way) and are actually cheaper.
It’s a cinch, really. It just got pretty tricky because the taxi drive was keen on selling us the taxi fare to the border or finding us a place to stay and the LP severely downplayed the second bus terminal, indicating that it wasn’t significant at all in getting across the border. It’s actually pivotal if you arrive in the late afternoon (by the way, the border crossing is actually thoroughly covered in the Belize and Mexico separate LPs, just not the Shoestring one!). Cheers!