macado's se asia adventure I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

29Dec/090

From Cozumel to Ambergris Caye, Belize

Woke up at 4:30am to catch the first ferry at 5am to Playa del Carmen. I booked the 6:20am ADO bus ticket from Playa Del Carmen to Chetumal yesterday for 223 pesos (~17USD) in advance in Cozumel. They run approximately every hour and the journey supposedly takes about 4.5hours.

I arrived at Playa Del Carmen at around 5:45am just in time to watch the sun come up and take few pictures. Found a street vendor across from the bus terminal selling tortas for 25 pesos; pretty decent too (pretty sure they were pork but I can't be 100% sure). Of course I didn't realize that I was at the wrong bus terminal. The ADO bus station across from the ferry terminal does not go to Chetumal. You need to go to the main one on Avenida 20 to catch the bus. This was easily remedied by a 20 peso (~1.5USD) taxi ride or a short walk. I didn't want to miss the bus so I opted to take the taxi ride. If you're not an idiot like me you might as well just walk.

I arrived at the main ADO bus station at around 6:15am which was just in time to catch my 6:20am bus to Chetumal. Bus was completely full so I am glad I had bought my ticket yesterday otherwise there would have been very limited seating. You can easily purchase your bus ticket ahead of time at the ADO terminal in Cozumel or Playa del Carmen. I highly recommend this. ADO also allows you to pick your seat when you purchase a ticket so I was able to get a window seat at the front of the bus however usually if the buses are empty you can sit in any seat. They'll also usually make one stop or two stops to grab a quick bite to eat.

The bus of course left on timely Mexican fashion at around 6:30am and was pretty uneventful; I slept the entire way. We arrived at Chetumal bus terminal a little after 10:45am. So four hours and 15 minutes total travel time including stops.

The most interesting thing was when I arrived at Chetumal bus station I discovered that they had recently started running a new ferry called San Pedro - Belize (Express Water Taxi) for 30USD. I believe the Belizean attendant stated that this ferry started Oct 30th of this year. The great thing about this ferry is that it bypasses the trip to Corozal entirely and leaves from the Chetumal Maritime Terminal (Terminal Maritima de Chetumal) which is only a 20 peso taxi ride away from the ADO bus station. It's amazing that 20 pesos in Cozumel would barely get you two blocks while in Chetumal it seemed like we could go for miles. I split the taxi with a guy I met on the ferry named Bart so the tax ride really only cost about 80 cents USD. Bart is retired and lives permanently outside of Playa del Carmen and is just visiting some friends in Ambergris Caye in Belize and is then off to Honduras.

Unfortunately bypassing Corozal at the Belize border means that it was almost impossible for me to convert my Mexican pesos into Belizean dollars. This could be a huge problem as pesos are practically worthless in Belize unless you need toilet paper. Actually, it would be useless at toilet paper too since Mexican pesos are plastic. I tried at least 4 banks in downtown Chetumal and none of them had or would exchange US dollars The Belizean attendant at the ferry told me about one place in Ambergris Caye called Milo's that would exchange currency but probably at a huge cost or terrible exchange rate. Make sure to have US dollars if you're going into Belize and skipping the Corozal border crossing otherwise it will be almost impossible to change your pesos into dollars. I stupidly had most of my currency in pesos because I wasn't sure how long I would be in Mexico and hate getting charged ATM fees. Luckily Bart was able to exchange about 200USD of my pesos into dollars so I should be good for a while until my direct deposit goes through on Wednesday.

Mexican customs and immigrations at the Marine terminal is basically 1 guy in a booth. There were maybe 7-8 people in total taking the ferry. The "border patrol" consisted of looking at your passport and stamping it. Not much in the way of questions. The Mexican army also briefly stopped by. They had a drug dog however I use that term very loosely since the dog appeared to be a very young golden lab. He looked like he would rather play fetch than look for drugs; very menacing indeed.

The ferry departed on time at 3pm from Chetumal; It took approximately 2 hours. The water looked like glass and was as calm as could be. The blue-turquoise waters are absolutely stunning in the sun. By the time we approached Ambergris Caye around 5pm the sun began to set. Belizean customs on Ambergris Caye was slightly larger than Mexican customs at the Chetumal Maritime terminal. It consisted of one small room on a dock with about 2 immigration officials. All they basically asked was if you had been to Belize before and how long you were here, stamped your passport and sent you on your merry way.

I missed the last ferry to Caye Caulker so I had no choice but to stay on Ambergris Caye. Me and Bart decided to get situated and sat down at a bar for our first Belikin beer (The national beer of Belize). The exchange rate is 1USD to 2BZD. The going rate for a Belikin beer seems to be about 4 Belizean dollars (2USD). Not quite as cheap as Mexico but still decent. The average beer in Cozumel cost 20 pesos (approximately 1.50USD depending on exchange rate)

There were hawkers all along the main street trying to solicit business for hotels. It seems most of the places were full or so they claimed. We walked around to a bunch of places that wanted to charge anywhere between 60 to 100 Belizean dollars. Finally we stumbled onto Ruby's which is a budget accommodation right on the water. Bart had previously tried to email this place earlier and they informed him they were full however once we arrived we discovered rooms were available for 60BZD a night (30USD). Me and Bart shared a double so it only cost 15USD/night. Not exactly the Hilton and a little rundown but well worth the price, especially for the location which is right on the main room and also on the water.

Bart had been to Belize many times previously but had not done so in a few years so he had the general layout of the island. We bar hopped to a few places along the beach and found the price of Belikin beer to be pretty consistent at 4BZD (2USD). Restaurants however were a different story. A lot of them seemed to have meals priced around 20-50BZD. Not exactly cheap by budget standards. We decided to eat food from the street vendors and found a little hamburger stand which sells burgers, burritos, hotdogs and pork chops. Burgers were 5 Belizean dollars (2.5USD). Really good burger with onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato, hot sauce, etc. Burritos were about 4 Belizean dollars (2USD).

Spent the night walking around to some of the beach bars and meeting all the local expats of the island. Ambergris Caye too seems to have quite a large foreign community though since it's quite smaller than Cozumel it's really easy to know everyone. With only about 11,000 people you're bound to bump into the same people. I am thinking of staying in Ambergris Caye one more day to explore then taking the ferry off to Caye Caulker. I hope to do at least one day of diving tomorrow. Haven't decided if I will stay in Belize for the New Years or head to Guatemala. There is something very nice about not having to speak in broken Spanish and being understood. All the locals here speak English (or some sort of derivative of Creole/Spanglish).

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