No room, said the bus driver. Illegal, actually, said the ticket agent for the water taxi. “But I am willing to pay extra to throw it on board,” I had told both of them when trying to take my bicycle back home with me . Still, no.
Things have indeed changed over the past 10 years in Belize. I had carted a stove on a bus, crammed a bicycle into the rear extreme of one and stacked 120 pounds of luggage behind the rear seats as well. When space was an issue, passengers would creatively stack themselves between cargo or lean against it while the driver went about getting to the next desitnation.
And I think only once before have I heard someone say that something is illegal in Belize.
My dilemma? I had just hopped the cheapest boat ride across the lagoon from my village–bike included–in order to extend my passport another 30 days, which is something I will have to do until I can apply for residency. It is a tedious errand at best, and easy to forget as one who is actually living in Belize and no longer playing tourist.
I chose the boat ride, about 10 minutes, because it is much cheaper than driving 42 miles each way with Belize gas rates hovering around $12 Belize per gallon ($6 U.S. per gallon).
My miscalculation? On our way across the lagoon I had been told by the skipper who piloted the boat from my village that he would not be taking the boat back to the village until early evening. It was 7 am when I boarded and I did not want to stay in Independence–where the immigration office was located–all day. Not exactly a tourist village, Independence is most noted by my fellow villagers for its pharmacy. I know from firsthand experience that its eateries and other hangouts are, well, forgettable at best.
My morning skipper, who either disregarded or knew of no law regarding boats and bikes, said I could probably “negotiate” my bike on board with the water taxi company for an earlier return to my village. A passenger concurred. I thus had my mind on doing exactly that, especially since I had some freelance work waiting for me at home.
When I arrived at the Hokey Pokey water taxi in Independence I favorably looked upon its posted schedule which indicated the next departure to Placencia, four miles north of my village, to be at 10 am. A 40-minute wait, so not bad, I thought. They had a beverage and snack bar beneath the shade of their roofed patio. I bought a cold beverage for my wait and then proceeded to the ticket counter where the man cited the law about water taxis and boats.
When’s the next bus leave from here? I asked. He said 10 am. Only a five minute bike ride. I headed to the bus station, where my wait would be about a half-hour. When I received the driver’s unapologetic news, I considered waiting for the next bus an hour later. Perhaps it would have space for a bike or a friendlier driver. Maybe both.
Then another thought emerged. I could get a head start by pedaling onward until I reached a bus stop where one of the later Independence departures might board my Bianchi commuter bike and I.
The Park Avenue, which I purchased from a bicycle shop on one of the hilliest of hills in Seattle, is practically an extension to my feet. I used it five days a week for most of the 54 weeks in a year to get to work and back in Seattle. When I bought it, the salesperson said she used hers as a commuter bike up and down Capitol Hill, where I lived at the time, and noted its versatility on hills, as commuter bikes go anyway.
I have never been disappointed my bike’s agility or versatility, whether climbing Seattle’s notorious hills or plodding the flat, sea-level expanse of the Placencia Peninsula.
Getting back to my Plan B, or C, actually, I figured if someone were waiting at one of the two or three shel
tered bus stops along the 42 miles, they could give me a rough guess as to when the next bus was to arrive. I had enough water in the day-pack on my back to take me quite a ways without dehydrating.
I pedaled an unknown number of miles in the 88-degree Fahrenheit heat to the first bus stop. Not a soul there. A few more miles or so, again, not a soul. But I knew I was close to a village called Georgetown because of some familiar landmarks I had seen when driving. I knew of a little cafe a couple miles beyond the village. I think this is when I resigned myself to the ambitious but masochistic idea of just stopping at the cafe and pedaling the rest of the way home. Though my Bianchi was six years old, I had great faith in it. I knew it was up to the task without ticking me with a breakdown. It was well oiled and the tires full.
All I had to question was my endurace, as I had not rode it more than 10 miles for more than a year, well before I left the states. Workouts: nonexistent during my new habitation in Belize. Despite the odds, I just told myself, “It’s doable, Brad. C’mon. Belize is as flat as a blue crab that strayed across the road at the wrong moment.”
Once at the cafe, I asked the gal, a cousin to one of our neighbors in Seine Bight, if she knew how far I had come from Georgetown. About four miles, she told me. And how far to the Placencia Peninsula junction? I asked. Maybe eight miles, she said. I knew it was 20 mile to my village from the junction. In my mind, this cold-turkey marathon ride on anything but cold pavement was becoming a glass half full. But, upon rising from the stool where I ate some nondescript nachos and drank a bottle of water, my legs stiffly opined that the glass was half empty.
Logged into my Belizean brain–sometimes much more prudent than my American cranium: Don’t stop and sit down after logging 20 straight miles on a bike, no matter how straight and flat the terrain, especially in tropical temps.
Still no commuters at the bus stops, still no buses passing by, I was in home or bust mode. Despite my Park Avenue’s indifference to a set of buns that were burning with pain on its seat, it rendered nary a protest of clicking chains, hitches in gear shifts, or squeakiness in general. If my legs can only get me there, I thought.
During the entire journey, I would think of stopping to take this or that picture. When I had reached mile eight or so past my biggest milestone, the Peninsula junction with the highway to Independence, my weary butt, legs, arms and hands pulled over to the side of the road on the prompt of seeing a coatimundi swagger out of the brush in mid-afternoon. The long-tailed animal, roughly the size of its relative, the raccoon, is not usually seen out this time of day, but there it was, posing on the shoulder of the road as if it wanted to be photographed.
I pulled out my camera, turned the bike wheel toward the animal, sometimes referred to as a hog-nosed coon, and made two or three pedals toward it before realizing it was just as interested in a closer view of me as I was with it. These sinewy omnivores sport tremendous teeth and jaws, making them difficult prey for even the top of the mammal food chain in Belize, the jaguar. It’s auxiliary defense mechanism are non-retractable claws that help them descend trees headfirst. It was exit, stage right, for me in the nascent stage of a potentially injurious gravitation.
Next benchmark, the Plantation, an enclave of well-healed expats, many from Texas or with connections to Texas. Here, they built mega-houses with tall towers and voluminous windows, stairways and garages that line man-made canals on fill dumped into and along the shore of the Placencia Lagoon. I was only six miles from home at this point, my legs burning more than ever.
Next benchmark, Maya Beach, another expat enclave a little less ostentatious than the Plantation. I was only three miles from my home at this point. I reached our yard and was somehow able to dismount the Bianchi upon reaching the gate, a mere eight yards from the bike’s garage, our laundry room.
Addled, I methodically raised each foot up the steps to our deck where my wife was peeling some plantain for the evening’s dish, hudut, a Garifuna specialty.
I asked her if she knew how far it was to Independence from our village. I had never paid attention to the odometer in our van when driving there. She didn’t know.
After a hardy glass of water and some chow, I sat at my computer to browse for the distance between Seine Bight and Independence. A Belizean travel site indicated 42 miles by road. My mind said it didn’t really matter, but when conferring with my body, it curtly added, “Do a little more homework on travel arrangements next time.”