1. Air travel. Oh yeah, I remember that! You don't get on a bus but instead fly through the air in a pressurized metal tube. And get harassed by the petty indignities of airport passage... security screenings, higher border crossing fees, angry airport employees who resent you for your very existence, irritated sunburnt American tourists. Good times!
2. Meeting up with friends, yay! On the other end of all this fun was a rendezvous with my friends from DC, Josh and Kathryn, who ::ahem:: were the only ones brave enough to meet up with me on this junket. I was really looking forward to seeing them.
3. Someone else in charge. For the first time on this trip, I was relinquishing the project manager role and handing over all responsibility to J&K, who'd made nearly all the arrangements for the next few days. Even though Josh had sent me all the information about the resort we'd be staying at, and various transfer details, I'd decided to just show up. It was a deliciously guilty pleasure to not know exactly what was coming next.
So, I said goodbye to Utila and Alton's, and made my way to the airport. Annie, the marvelous travel agent Alton's works with, had brilliantly booked me a direct flight from Utila to Belize City, allowing me to avoid taking the ferry to La Ceiba *and* saving me some money in the process. I LOVE this place! The taxi was a bit late, and then the guy stopped at his house for "just 20 minutes" to hang out with his wife and kid and have a cup of coffee. Ehm, excuse me? My flight leaves at 7:30! It's 7:15 now! No worries, he assured me. They'd called the airport and the flight wouldn't be leaving until 8am. The airport is "muy pequeño, muy pequeño. Está bien." Right, I'm sure the airport is quite small, but I'm not sure what that has to do with me making my flight. But if you say so, I'm sure it'll all be fine.
We arrived at the airport -- HAH! more like a short tarmac strip with a forlorn shack at one end -- and in fact the flight didn't arrive until after 8am. I sat in the taxi for a while and got completely eaten alive by mosquitoes. One last fond farewell, thanks so much. When the plane touched down, the taxi drove over onto the tarmac and helped me load my bag in. Nobody even asked for my ticket. We just took off. Beats the hell outta the torturous security line at Dulles, I'll tell ya that!
Well, it turns out the concept of "directo" is about the same with planes as it is with buses. You may stop a few times and pick up or drop off people, but you probably won't need to change vehicles. We touched down on Roatán, in La Ceiba, and also in San Pedro Sula before heading onto Belize. At La Ceiba we actually had to get off the plane and go through customs, immigration, and security. All at an incredibly rushed clip because the flight was about to take off again any minute! No stress there! I'd totally forgotten to save enough Lempiras (Lemmywinks!) for my exit tax and had to hit the ATM. While there I noticed that it also offered an option for dollars. Hmmmm, this might be a good time to replenish my supply of greenbacks. The Atlantic Airlines rep was hovering nervously over my shoulder so I didn't take as much time as I should have, and failed to notice that even though I selected the "dollars" option, the machine asked me for the amount in Lempiras. Rookie Mistake! So I was a bit shocked to see a big pile of Lemps come spilling out of the machine. There was a bank nearby but it wasn't open yet, and I had to get a move on. So I took my wad of Lemmywinks and hoped I'd be able to exchange it later. I still have 'em, if anybody's interested in some cambio action.
Next step was immigration, where I had to fill out the usual inane form and get a new stamp in my passport. I was once again rushed enough not to notice what page the woman had actually placed the stamp (Rookie Mistake #2! you know better by now!) and so got to stand there nervously while the security staff paged through every single sheet of my passport looking for the damn thing. And just as I was going through the security machines, I realized I'd forgotten to take out my Swiss Army Knife and pack it with my checked stuff. Rookie Mistake #3! Of course they confiscated it, which was no big deal because I can easily get another one when I return home. But it was completely unnecessary. Thank god I am sure J&K will be bringing their own corkscrew with them. ;)
Finally, I was able to get back on the plane, and there was no more drama until we reached Belize. I had a few hours to kill before Josh & Kathryn's flight arrived, so I sat up in the "Waving Gallery" and caught up on my journal entries. Or at least tried to. Didn't get very far due to a handful of distractions. First, an entire Belizean extended family gathered to wave goodbye to Auntie Somethingorother. A dozen children screaming and waving in unison. It was most amusing. Next, THE biggest bug I have ever seen (even bigger than the cucarachisima in Tortuguero, people!) flipped over on its back on the ground in front of my picnic table. I don't know what this thing was, some kind of beetle or something. Its flat back looked like a huge brown leaf, at least three inches long and almost as wide. Its creepy hairy legs wiggled furiously in the air, as it attempted futilely to right itself. I couldn't take my eyes off it, and I couldn't believe nobody else noticed it. The Belizean family tromped around it, oblivious. I was sure some small child would accidentally get too close and have his or her foot swallowed whole by this monstrosity. After a few minutes, I was almost rooting for the thing to get upright just so I could see what the hell it was. Alas, a guy noticed it and scooped it up between two pieces of cardboard and took it away. Bummer.
And finally it was time for the flight from Miami to arrive. I waited with all the other anxious family members, hoping to get a glimpse of my friends so I could wave to them as they walked from the plane into the airport. Unfortunately I didn't get to wave like an idiot because they didn't look in my direction, but I did manage to give them each a huge hug and kiss once they made it through immigration and customs. Yaaaaaaay! Friends from home! It was a bit surreal to have these two worlds collide in the middle of the Belize City airport. But I was thrilled to see them.
We hopped a quick Mayan Island Air flight to Ambergris Caye and were greeted by a taxi from our resort. Following a quick supermarket stop (gotta stock up on wine, don'cha know) we caught a private boat to White Sands Cove, an absolutely beautiful resort on the northern end of the Caye. Those of you who have been following along with my adventures will understand when I tell you just how exciting it was to have a hot shower with actual hot water! Not to mention two, count 'em, two fluffy towels to use after said shower. And a whole different set of beach towels! Plus, water that could be drunk directly from the tap. Oh, the luxury of it all. Yes, this'll do.