The sun had just set as we packed up the car with our scuba gear. We had the most amazing day, full of adventure. We were headed to San Ignacio that same night, about a two-hour drive, and little did we know, we had a few more adventures to cram into this already exciting day.
As we drove out of Placencia, Tony commented that we only had about a half tank of gas. I told him there were a few gas stations along the way, and that we would stop as soon as we could. There weren’t a lot of gas stations on the map, so we wanted to make sure we filled up as frequently as possible. At this point, it was only about 7 pm, so I wasn’t concerned. But after finding that the first and second gas stations were both closed, we started to get worried. We were now over an hour into our trip, on a back country road, climbing into the mountains, with not a gas station in sight. The next one on my map was over 50 miles away. And it’s not like we were passing cars frequently as we drove along. We were literally the only car on the road for miles. In the dark. In the rainforest. I started to mentally prepare myself for the fact that we might be sleeping in the car, taking turns to make sure we wouldn’t be mugged.
We drove for what seemed like days, in the dark, on a narrow road. Ironically, we passed dozens of pedestrians walking along the sides of the roads. Many had children with them, and it occurred to me that they were walking in 90+ degree weather not by choice, but because they didn’t have cars. It was a Saturday night, so I assume many were out and about, much the same way my family and friends would be.
I knew Belmopan was close by, and had several gas stations, but I had no idea if they would be open. As we drove into the town, also the capital city of Belize, we stopped at the first gas station. There were two attendants sitting by a pump. We pulled up and they asked how much fuel we needed. Whew! They were open! “Do you take Visa?” Tony asked. We had used the last bit of our cash for dinner. He responded yes and we told him to fill the tank. After several attempts to pay, with several different credit cards, the man informed us in very broken English that the credit card machine was broken. (As a side note, Belize recognizes English as it’s first language. But as we got further inland and closer to the other countries in Central America, we found that Spanish became more and more prominent.) Tony started conversing with the two men in Spanish, explaining that we didn’t have any cash, and the next thing I knew, one of them was getting into the car with us. Tony got back in the car as well and told me, “One of them is going to go with us to the ATM to get cash so we can pay for the gas.” So here we are, in a completely strange city, at 10 pm at night, driving with a Latino gas station attendant to the bank. He was seated directly behind me and right next to our luggage, which was a bit strewn about due to our scuba adventures earlier that day. I listened carefully to the man’s movements, thinking about what was in our luggage that he might want to take. He was still as concrete.
Tony started chatting with him in Spanish, asking him about his life and what brought him here. We learned that he was from Honduras and came about 20 years ago to Belize. He married a woman from Guatemala and they have a house and family in Belize now. He told us about the two different cultures in Belize – the blacks and the Latinos (his words) – and had some very strong opinions about each. He told us that he is a security guard for the business across the street from the gas station, and often came to hang out at the gas station with his friend, who was working there. He seemed like a very genuine man who had an interesting life story. But the small town farm girl in me wasn’t very comfortable having him in our car.
Fortunately, the ATM was nearby. I handed Tony my ATM card and mouthed my PIN to him. He took out just enough money for the gas and we headed back to the gas station to drop our new friend off. We handed him BZ$100 (US $50) and he told us to wait just a moment. When he returned, he handed us our change – a whopping US $1 – and thanked us for our business. I was relieved to have this over with and made a mental note to never run out of cash in a foreign country again.
Just another twenty minute drive and we arrived in San Ignacio. It was a sizable town compared to what we had seen, and the streets were bustling with weekend activities. Young adults strolled the city and cars drove furiously through the streets. It was a chaotic and messy town. Our hotel was one of the only places to stay, and ironically, is the same hotel that Queen Elizabeth stayed in years ago. Belize is a former British colony, and the Queen is still the President of Belize. The British refer to Belize as the British Honduras.
As we were checking in, the receptionist told me the room was downstairs, about 20 steps or so. It was very late at this point, and there weren’t any other rooms available, so we told him it would be no problem. We just wanted showers and a bed at this point. And so we started the journey down the concrete stairs. Tony bounced me going down, but the next day, I crawled up. I wonder, a lot, when it will become impossible for me to do these types of things. I know that my health and mobility will only get worse, and I try to remember and take advantage of the fact that I can do things – like climb cement stairs – now. Tony and I agreed that there’s unlikely a single elevator in Belize, and I am grateful that I am able to visit it now, while I can.