Belize, this gem of the Carribean, may be on your bucket list. Mis Casas, our current home is only about 80 kms from the border so we took advantage of visiting this country combined with prolonging our Mexican tourist visa.
Our new friends Didier and Antonella agreed to look after the house and the animals while we’re away so we set off on Wednesday. Our plan was to return later that day or the next day so we went completely unprepared for a longer stay. We left the car in Chetumal and took an old school bus, called Blue Bird to Corozal in Belize.
Already at Mexican border when we handed over our Mexican tourist visa, officer cleverly noticed our fast approaching visa expiry date. He started questioning, so we told him the truth we’ll need more time in Mexico as we’re cycle tourists and want to wait for the rainy season to pass.
“Ok, but you can’t come back to Mexico in less than three days in order to get further 180 days of visa.”
As you can’t find these three days in any official documents (please correct me if I’m wrong), we were completely unprepared for this and he wasn’t willing to show us where exactly one can find this information. After some time he got quite bored with us questioning him and changed his tone.
“How do I know if you’re not illegal workers or drug dealers. I’ve got pictures in my phone, too,” when I showed him our Instagram account.
He wasn’t bothered at all when we told him we have dogs in Mexico who are waiting for us and we don’t have anybody to look after them for so long.
We decided between us that we were going to try to come back earlier anyway. At that point we didn’t know what’s waiting at the Belizean border.
When coming to the country, you need to fill a tourist card with your details and details of your stay. We weren’t sure how long we were gonna stay after all, so we put length of stay 0-2 nights. We shouldn’t have.
The booth person took us through a long corridor to meet a supervisor. It was middle aged angry looking female.
“I know what you’re doing. You’re using MY COUNTRY to get the Mexican visa!”
I really hate when it comes to this proud nationalist talk so I started explaining that of course we’re planning to return to Mexico but we also want to visit Belize. She wasn’t in a mood to listen. Super clever Belizean witch told us we had to make a reservation (and that we had to pay for it) for three nights in Belize otherwise she would deny us entry into the country.
Just to help you getting into the scene better. You’re passing through this long corridor by the female and male detention, feeling like you have done something terribly wrong. No! You just tried to visit a country, spend there some money and somebody is ordering you how long you have to stay. She must be really bored with her job and her life to do this, bloody witch.
We made some phone calls to make sure doggies will be alright as we could see there’s no other way than to play her game. The guy at the tourism desk even suggested we could go back to the Mexican border control and pay a bribe to get the extension but we really didn’t feel like supporting corruption that’s already everywhere. We made the reservation (without paying as the cheapest hotel didn’t want any pre-payment). And we decided we’re gonna use our three days to do at least some travelling around.
We passed by the detention areas again.
Handing her the reservation note: “Did you pay?”
“No, there’s not an option like that and guy from tourist board in front told you last time, it’s not possible.” (clearly we are not the only ones bullied here)
“I need to speak to my colleague what he thinks. Wait outside.”
Like little kids who have been a nuisance in the kindergarten. Like medical students when waiting for outcome of our exams. Standing in the corridor, waiting for the sentence.
Her male colleague came out and told us he granted us a week in Belize but we had to stay at least three days. I told him: “Do you really think I want to face her ever again and come earlier?”
“You would be surprised how many would do that.”
“I don’t know if to call it stupid or brave,” Tom said.
They made a note into their computer system and returned our passports. We went to catch the bus as our original one was gone already of course. One of the taxi drivers tried his luck by telling us that the bus waiting there wasn’t going to Corozal. “We’ll ask anyway.” Guess where the bus was going. You won’t get your business done by lying, guys…
In 10-15 minutes we were in Corozal. It started raining like crazy on the way there but by the time we reached the town it was gone only with the thunderstorm in the distance. We found hotel Mirador. Because we made a plan that we explore around a bit, we told the receptionist we’re not going to stay all three night and she was ok with it. Apparently, we aren’t the only ones forced to make these reservations at the border.
OK. We were in Belize. For three days. The only clothes we had we were wearing. No toothbrush. No swimsuit. A camera with two lenses. One small backpack. And now be brave and make an adventure. When border officers give you lemons, make a lemonade.
One important fact about Belize if you’re planning to travel there. Atlantic Bank doesn’t charge any fee for money withdrawal from ATM. Yeah!
We went to get some food. You wouldn’t call Corozal particularly vegan friendly town but we wanted to give it a try. We entered Zoe’s Cuisine. The waitress came to us with such a sad and bored face as if she watched Titanic hundred times in a row.
“We have only chicken and chicken.”
“Do you have rice and beans?”
“Yes, we do.”
“Great so some rice and beans with any veggies they can find in the kitchen.”
That’s how the waitress discovered what vegetarian means :). Or maybe she didn’t consider rice and beans being a meal at all.
We returned to the hotel and started working on our plan for next days. We couldn’t stop thinking of dogs, of us not being with Lolo to celebrate three years of him joining us, how we don’t like being here under these circumstances. But what could we do? We were trapped in the Carribean paradise and sitting in the hotel room won’t help for sure.
Next morning at 7am we took a boat to Sarteneja, little fishing village, half an hour boat ride from Corozal. It was supposed to be our midpoint between Corozal and San Pedro, from where we were thinking of taking a boat directly back to Chetumal. It was raining heavily while we were on the way and was just stopping when we jumped out on the pier. Rainy season clearly coming. There was nobody there. We booked a treehouse on airbnb last night so we went there. Our reason to visit Sarteneja was that the village was quiet, no tourists around and there was a manatee and monkey sanctuary called Wildtracks.
Unfortunately Wildtracks couldn’t give us a time for visit that day so we stayed in Sarteneja longer than planned and didn’t visit San Pedro on Ambergris Caye island. But after talking to few people, including volunteer at Wildtracks Jordan we bumped into in the village, we decided we’re not the right people for this tourist hub. We spent the day exploring Sarteneja which took like two hours 😀 and we got sunburnt as obviously no sunscreen was packed into the bag.
Next morning Wildtracks visit was cool but rather short. Jasmine was our guide. Most of the animals there were either rescued from the wild or from illegal pet trade. We saw little manatee Chiqui. Resident monkeys Niki, Pachuco and Rafiki who can’t be released back to nature for various reasons. They have many more animals but they are in the various phases of reintroduction process so you can’t get to them unless you work with them directly. They look after other animals in need as well as pekarees, deers and ocelot. They do incredible work and definitely deserve your love and donations so go to their website and be generous. There’s only about 2500 Antillean manatees left in the wild between Mexico and Brazil, from which 700-1000 live in Belize.
We would love to stay longer to see how they clean the pool for Chiqui or feed the monkeys but that wasn’t possible (?).
In the afternoon we took the boat back to Corozal, the ride was rather rough with me sitting on Tom’s lap as the boat was so full. Jumping on the waves while sitting on the upper deck is no fun for terestrial European. We couldn’t wait for the next morning to come to get to our dogs but were slightly worried mainly about the Mexican part of the process.
Oh, fools! We should have anticipated it’s not the Mexicans who hate us.
Arriving to the booth at the border, the officer is browsing through our passports for too long.
“There’s no entry stamp.”
We’ve noticed this in the hotel already but who knows which country gives you a stamp and which doesn’t.
“That means you had been denied the entry. You have to go with me.”
Wtf? We were denied the entry and that’s why you have got a note in your computer system we have to stay for 3 days.
Well known corridor, past the detention areas. Again standing outside, waiting for the supervisor to take us in. Wondering what we have done this time, apart from being denied the entry to the country, haha.
Entering the room. Bloody Belizean (b)witch is not there. But the guy is the most arrogant creature we’ve met in years. He tells us we haven’t fulfilled the requirement of 72 hours (are we playing some sort of a game here? there might be 1-2 hour difference). He doesn’t let us speak, seems happy with his statement and graciously says: “Come with me, I will let you go.”
He hands over our passports but when we open them, there’s no exit stamp. Now we know what he’s doing. Looking at our passports Mexicans will never know we were in Belize for three days. We try to speak to him but he completely ignores us and shuts the door of the booth.
Wow! Congratulations Belizean border officers! We met so many nice people in Belize but what we’ve had experienced at the borders is outrageous.
We know that if we leave now we will have to explain to the Mexicans what happened and why we don’t have stamps. And we really don’t want to get into that discussion. We just want our 180 days and continue our journey.
Googling Slovak embassy in Belize, based in Mexico. We just want to know if they can do this and what our rights are in this case. It’s Saturday, there’s nobody there. But we can call the emergency mobile phone. Guess what! Nobody is interested in emergencies on Saturday. Leaving couple of messages. We found a number for emergencies based in Slovakia, so we call on Skype. There’s a friendly guy there, who can’t help us much but gives us a different number, for consul in Mexico. Guess what. Nobody picks up the phone on Saturday and this number doesn’t even have a voicemail.
We are pretty scared now. Feeling like piece of rag. We can only dream about Schengen, our European Union and normal treatment at the borders.
Suddenly we can see a supervisor who was there on Wednesday when we entered the country and who dealt with us at the end when the witch asked him to. We approach him and he LISTENS TO US!
“Alright, I’ll look up your tourist cards.”
Time passes. More calls to the emergency number. Half an hour, probably more. We ask somebody else to remind Mr. Mark T. we are still there. She says yes, then doesn’t even bother looking for him.
We have no idea how much time has passed when he’s coming to us with our tourist cards.
“Sorry, I had to look for your cards. Give me your passports, I will fix them for you.”
He comes back with two stamps in each passport. Hand shake, he even smiled. Thank you Mark T., you’re the only normal person at that Belizean border.
We had our full story prepared for Mexican officers, with our website and two Mexican friends ready on the phone to confirm we’re really just cyclists and not drug dealers. But it went beautifully and they only asked us how much time in Mexico we wanted.
So dear children, what’s the lesson here?
Despite what mum and dad told you, truth may not be in your favour sometimes. And always take your toothbrush with you!
P.S. The embassy got in touch with us while we were waiting in the queue for Mexican immigration (the nice guy from Slovakian line must have called them). We called them back once we were done, thanked them and said everything has been sorted.