Chicken Buses in Belize and Guatemala

Sunday, May 14, 2000

It has been quite a while since we communicated. We have arrived in a marina - El Tortugal - and have been very busy with boat projects and,recently, a trip.

The marina is small and friendly. There are,at present, 12 boats here. There is electric power, potable water, showers and a nice palapa with a large propane stove and picnic table for a work area. All of these amenities for only $120/month. Our cruising friends who pay marina fees in the States or in Canada will greatly appreciate the reasonable rates here. It is difficult not to be in a marina at those rates, especially since we want to do a lot of traveling inland this summer.

The "Chicken Buses" is the affectionate name that the cruisers give to the local buses. We have yet to be aboard one that carries livestock, but expect that we will have that pleasure one day. The buses are very inexpensive; although not the tops in comfort or atmosphere. During one of the legs of our recent journey, we had to stand for two hours and standing room was "packed". Feet were often stepped upon thus the need for sturdy shoes.

Because Satori still has electrical problems, we decided to travel back north to Belize by public transport to see our friends, Kathy and Abby from Dartmouth, N.S. They were vacationing at a resort on the coast of southern Belize. The first leg of the trip was to be by boat from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala to Punta Gorda, Belize. We spent the night in Puerto Barrios in an ticipation for an early departure.

We traveled to Puerto Barrios with an American friend, Joe, who has lived in Guatemala for years at a time and speaks lovely Spanish. Joe struck up a conversation with the young girl who operated a refreshment stand and discovered some interesting facts. She works at the stand six days/week for twelve hours each day. For this work she earns an equivalent of $13.15! It was a sobering fact to us as I'm sure it is to you.

The port towns of Belize and Guatemala are largely influenced by a Garifuna population, also called the Black Caribs, people of mixed South American Indian and African blood. They lived initially on the island of St. Vincent as free and independent minded people. In the 18th century the Brits took care of that and transported them from island to island in an effort to subdue them. What a difference there is in Puerto Barrios on the coast and Fronteras where the marina is. Here the people are primarily decended from the Mayans and are very timid and conservative. The women are usually barefoot and wear a traditional skirt of woven material. They wear a plain underblouse which is covered with a lace top. Their hair is black and shiny - usually very long. They often carry huge bundles or plastic buckets on their heads filled with tortillas or other food to sell.

In Puerto Barrios, and also the southern cities of Belize, the Garifuna are happy, outgoing and very loud. The women wear shorts, pants, short skirts or (in general) whatever pleases them (but they all have shoes!) The chicken buses were alive with the loud talking and laughing of the people. How strange to experience such different cultures in such a close geographic area. We did meet up with our friends and enjoyed two nights and a day with them. Went to the Jaguar Reserve but did not see any jaquars - in fact very little animal life at all.

When we left K&A, we went back into Guatemala via the Mayan city of Tikal. With 10 hours at Tikal we were able to see nearly all the temples, a truly magnificent place to visit. It is hard to imagine that they have only uncovered a very small fraction of the buildings. Everywhere one looks there are big hills with trees growing on them - each one the site of yet another temple or lodging. Most of Tikal has been dated from about 700BC to 800AD high upon hills which elevate the sight from the dense jungle rainforest at the lower levels. There are many deciduous trees that have deposited leaves over the years offering peaceful surroundings filled with the sounds of parrots and other wildlife. We saw fox, cotimundi (a little like raccoons), toucans, parrots and Motmots. These are as large as a turkey but resemble a peacock. Their faces are light blue and they have an outrageous motion and noise that sounds as though they are belching. If any of you ever get anywhere close to Tikal, we feel that it is a "must see" for everyone.

We were gone for only six days but it felt like much longer. We learned some things about traveling by bus through the countryside and will be sure to remember them for our trips this summer. We must bring sink stoppers to wash out our clothes and a line and pins to hang them. We were lucky to find even one small towel rack in the rooms. We must wear much sturdier shoes and heavy socks - even if our feet sweat. The bugs seem to head straight for the feet and ankles for their feasts.

Satori was quite safe on our return. Last night we experienced the first of the Suribanami. I am definitely not sure of that spelling. They are fierce storms which kick up on the lake with little or no notice. Last night's storm brought welcome relief to the dry season here.

As always we look forward to hearing from all of you when you have a few minutes. We are at work on completing the needed repairs to Satori - all six of the glow plugs in our engine were burned out. The reasons are yet to be discovered. We will be here at El Tortugal Marina most of the time.

That's all for now.

Jane and Sander Aboard Satori