It was the right time to leave Caye Caulker, but I would miss it nonetheless. I hope that wherever I end up has an essence of it or at least has something the same very close by. It definitely had an energy and lifestyle speed I never want to be too far from again. I was completely unwound and ready, yet again, to move on.
However, I had to make a choice on my next location. I was getting the ferry from Belize down to Honduras to avoid a massive coach journey and a lot of borders. However, where I stayed for the week or so before the crossing was up for debate. I had a few choices.
I could stay in a place called Hamilton which I had had heavily recommended, or I could stay in Placencia, which absolutely nobody either recommended or spoke badly about because nobody knew where it was. My boat would leave from Placencia, but Hamilton, which was on the way, sounded nicer.
Being Belize, almost everywhere down the coast has been Americanised in both ‘Culture’ and prices. Finding anywhere even close to $25 a night was hard. Nevertheless, I found a spot in Hamilton, to the north of the town, in a beautiful-looking beach house. It was right on the coast, and I could have a private room for cheap-ish.
I took a little look at the reviews, and I’m glad I did. They were hilarious. Apparently, the woman who owns it; a white woman who looks to be about 80, with blue-washed hair and bottle-bottom glasses, is known as the Witch of Hamilton by the locals. She often sexually harasses the guests by speaking about her husband in incredibly racial sexual terms and often loses her temper with the various guests. To give her some credit, though, she is apparently a mean cook, although she charges way over the mark for her food. And you don’t have the option to cook yourself; she closely guards her kitchen. I imagine she doesn’t want to see the baby bones she has in her cauldron.
The room itself is apparently only semi-private in that there is a walk-through, and the wall is only a half wall into the rest of the place. So basically, it isn’t private. I messaged her nonetheless to see what was up. She was phenomenally slow to respond and text back at the weirdest hours. I decided that maybe that it wasn’t the one, sometimes you just got to listen to the reviews and avoid the Beach Witches.
Placencia was the best option, and honestly, it was perfect in the end. I stayed with another American immigrant, of course, and pretty much had the place to myself the whole time. The spot was called Anda Di Haws Hostel, and it was actually very literal. The owner had, once upon a time, owned a traditional Carribean house on stilts. After buying some land closer to the sea, she decided that rather than sell the house she had, she would just move the whole thing to her new lot.
Under the house, where the stilts used to be, she built a hostel. It consisted of a long kitchen along the front of the building and then one large open room with bunk beds in the back. A third of the bottom floor was still open, and it held hammocks and a table. The house was almost directly on the beach, and it was surrounded by a huge array of different trees and plants.
Pandora, the lady who owns the place, has the kind of American drawl you only get from laughing through smoke for too many years. I love it and was hardly surprised when one evening, she came down and got me stoned as fuck. We chuckled away into the night until she decided, after telling me the history of her moving house, to show me around her garden. She was incredibly knowledgeable and loved her plants with all her heart. We had a great time together, and she riffed perfectly with my stoned brain. If she was 20 years younger, I think I would fall in love.
She was one of the rare exceptions when it came to Western immigrants, though. I spent an evening or two out on the ‘town’ taking in the sights and seeing if there was any life to speak of around the spit of land that is Placencia. There wasn’t. In fact, I was worried I would witness a death most evenings.
The people that ran the bars, and small restaurants, are all aging white Americans, and some of them are seriously fucking old. On one particular evening, I popped into a bar in the traditional Belizzian open-fronted style and realized there was a wedding going on. I craned my neck to see who the unlucky couple were and looked deep into the rheumy eyes of a man no younger than 120 years old. I doubt he looked back, and even if he did, I doubt his porridge brain could differentiate me from the stool I was sitting on.
His wife was perhaps as old as he was. She was a Belizian woman wearing a wedding dress that had seen more use than the pint glass I was sipping from. My immediate thought when seeing a man that old getting married is that there is a treasure hunter on the other side, but these two seemed equally matched. Her smile I initially thought was a sad acceptance of a life with a shrivelled bag, was actually more likely the blissful ignorance of not-so-early onset dementia. The first dance had me reaching for the AED over the bar.
The rest of the places I drank were run by other Americans with at least a few more years left in them. However, they have the habit of speaking about the locals, and their in-earshot staff, as though they are an amusement. They refer to them as though they are either entertainment (Look what so and so can do, isn’t it clever) or as separate entities to be disdained. It was disgusting, and I couldn’t spend time around it. I had been warned about the racist capitalist colonialism that existed along most of the coast of Belize, but seeing it up close was unpleasant.
I kept myself to myself, did a lot of writing work, drank plenty of rum in my hammock, and swam in the beautiful blue Caribbean every day. Somehow, I was the only one in the room for almost the entire week, and it was perfect. Would I recommend Placencia as a holiday destination? No. Did I have a lovely peaceful time there? Yes.
On Monday morning, I made my way with all my bags to the dock. It was hidden behind a warehouse and took some finding. The boat was bigger than I imagined, and it slowly filled up with tourists and locals all trying to make their way to the next port. After a few small checks, the driver turned his tunes up, and we blasted into the Carribean once again.
The music on the boat was so loud that I had to sit directly next to whoever I was trying to talk to. I met two Danish sisters who were both heading to the same Island I was, but just a few days early. We managed to have a shouted conversation over the 7 am, ear-splitting, mariachi music, but honestly, I was running myself horse just trying to be heard.
The trip was so simple. We left the first dock in Placencia, then docked again just down the coast. Here we had the most simple deport check I have ever had. We had to get off the boat onto a mud road, stand in a tent, and show a guy with a laptop our passports and pay the $5 fee to leave. He told us that because he was feeling generous, it was going to be slightly less than usual. If I ever doubted that the fee was nothing more than an extortion, then this closed the question.
Regardless, we were on our way, and the trip was a delight. It took only a few hours of skipping across the gulf to get to the other side. It may have been more expensive than the bus by a tenner or so, but it saved me possibly permanently crippling myself into the shape of a prawn. Every new gust of salty wind that ran through my hair reminded me of what a good decision I had made. The views of the land were spectacular, and the entire journey, sandbanks and reefs were visible under the clear waves.
The other side was the welcome to Nicaragua that pretty much summed up the whole mainland for me. We pulled into an almost abandoned fish market amongst the stink of centuries of fishgut-soaked concrete and cat shit. The second we stepped off the boat, we were harangued at great length by sweaty, gold jewellery-wearing men trying to buy our currency and offer us phenomenally overpriced taxis for obscene distances. We had to wait for the immigration office for quite a while, and they didn’t once give up. Can’t knock their business sense, perseverance is key.
The immigration office was slow. It was slow because, like all immigration offices, it relies on the internet to reference global networks to check that none of us are on wanted lists. However, as I mentioned, the immigration office was literally built into a fish market. The Internet here was beyond spotty, in fact, I am almost certain that just getting a guy to run back and forth between embassies would have been a quicker solution.
The two immigration officers tried to distract from the fact they were completely offline by asking almost endless questions, many of which clearly had nothing to do with immigration. “What was your favorite part of Breaking Bad” she asks as she repeatedly hits the refresh key on her 1999 CRT block monitor. “Hmm, okay, and, what, would you say, is the thing you are most excited to eat in Nicaragua” as she tries to distract from the fact that she is hard resetting her PC by directly unplugging it from the wall.
Immigration took a hilariously long time, and I think in the end, they just pretty much gave up because I have had a problem crossing borders ever since then. Something doesn’t add up, and I am almost certain it is because of that herring-smelling office.
I had already done my research on the best way to get from the fish market to the big city of San Pedro Sula, and I wasn’t going to get corralled into an overpriced taxi. What I did end up managing to do was haggle a price with the biggest, most blinged-out guy there to fit myself and 5 other women into his proposed vehicle to drop us at the bus station. The vehicle turned out to be one of his mates pick ups and it only had three seats.
Myself and the two danish women piled into the back with all the bags. The trailer was already full of shit, and the added bags had us sit pretty much at the level of the lip. He didn’t hang around, either. One of the women who was sitting on a spare tire almost left us as we went over a speed bump. The slight softness of the tire turned the whole seat into a hydraulic launch pad. If I hadn’t grabbed her ankle as she bolted into the air, I think she would have been left as a smudge on the concrete behind us.
He didn’t drop us at the bus station, instead, he gave us the Delux service and chased down the correct bus, pulled it over, and piled all our stuff on board. It wasn’t even 10 am by this point, I think, and the day was already loose as fuck. The bus to the city was going to take a few hours, but it was air-conditioned. The usual crowds of food sellers kept us fed with coconut and other treats, and for me, it was the last leg, at least for a few days.
Nicaragua was a bleak opposite of everything Belize and Guatemala had been. This was the third world I imagined when thinking forward to it earlier in my life. It was incredibly dirty, and poverty was glaringly obvious everywhere I looked.
This didn’t stop me from having a flaming argument with the taxi driver who dropped me off at my hotel in the capital city. He had charged me over double what the fair should have been. It was only after I had dropped my bags, had a shower, and laid naked under aircon for an hour that I realised what I had gotten so angry about only really equated to about a quid. It had been a long day, and I am nothing if not a fighter for justice and fairness.
I had made it to Nicaragua, and I was ready to welcome James.