My sister and I visited San Miguel Mayan Village in Belize during our sojourn through Central America. We met the locals, learned some of their language, visited a cave, heard their stories and shared their food, but we almost didn’t make it.
We arrived in Belize from the south, via Guatemala. We smashed through the choppy swell during the boat ride to Punta Gorda and, after becoming completely caked in salt and spray, we realised why we’d been given a tarp before the small boat left Puerto Barrios under bright blue skies.
The captain seemed to be at war with the waves. He bashed into the swell and ran over something with a fin, but neither slowed him down.
Wet and bedraggled, we disembarked in Punta Gorda, Belize, and set about locating a bus.
We were then met with another surprise. We mustered up our best traveller’s Spanish, honed through months on the road, to enquire about a bus to San Antonio. No one responded to our Spanish. They all spoke English – with Caribbean accents. It was a big shock, but a welcome surprise and it should have made our task much easier. Should have.
We eventually ascertained that a bus was heading in our intended direction at about 12pm. It was 11.50am.We threw our packs on and raced to the bus terminal – or rather the vacant patch of grass and dirt where the buses congregated. Alas, we missed all of the buses heading towards the villages.
A friendly conductor advised us that we could take a bus to Belize City, then ask to be dropped at an intersection out of town, where we could connect with another bus to San Antonio village, which we had decided to visit.
A bus took us towards Belize City, and it dropped us at the aforementioned intersection. However, the intersection appeared rather isolated and the only building of any note was a petrol station.
The gentleman behind the counter turned out to be German, and he informed us that the next bus would not pass through until 5pm, many hours from now, and that even if we did arrive at San Antonio, there was nothing there anyway.
Waters were further muddied when the German advised us against hitching, which had remained on our list of possibilities, because it was too dangerous and that someone had been killed in these parts recently attempting to hitch. He then tried to impress upon us the futility of venturing to any of the Mayan villages, and that he knew of a charming lodge between the intersection and Punta Gorda. Conveniently, the lodge happened to be owned by a chap who also happened to be German and happened to be in son or brother in law.
Lodging with a random German in the middle of Belize is not the experience we were seeking. The lodging, the German and the experience may have been quite pleasant, and one must remain open to happenstance when backpacking, but we were confident we would enjoy a fulfilling experience at a Mayan village.
Thus, our next move took us back to Punta Gorda. Yes, after hours of discomfort, confusion, sweat and an insistent German, we were back where we started.
Sustenance was called for, and acquired. We fattened ourselves before approaching the task at hand.
After some harried traipsing through the unappealing ‘Fat Point’, we gleaned from various sources that it was in fact possible to take a bus to San Miguel that afternoon, and stay in the village that night. Yes, San Miguel, not San Antonio as we had planned – but saintly nonetheless. We hoped Anthony would not be upset at our decision to ditch him and stay with Michael. Surely, as a sanctified, omniscient being, Anthony had seen the concerted and honest effort we had made to reach him.
Some time later, the bus to San Miguel greeted us, as did a rather confused conductor. He was the same conductor who had shepherded us aboard the bus to Belize City hours earlier.
Another bumpy bus ride eventually transported us to San Miguel. It was dark when we arrived and the guest house was completely closed. Finally, a Caribbean accent emerged from the darkness and welcomed us to the village and the humble abode which would accommodate us for the next few days.
Dinner was soon available and was much appreciated. The day had been long, hot, humid, frustrating and dirty. We were glad to avail ourselves of the humble bathing facilities and join one of the families for dinner.
A young child smiled at us shyly before scurrying across the earthen floor and seeking refuge in the folds of his mother’s dress. His mother greeted us and invited us to rest on the stools which circled the dining table – in fact the only table in the room.
Our host stoked the small fire one last time and soon supplied us with a wholesome meal of tortillas, beans and vegies. We chatted briefly with our hosts but struggled to hide our yawning and were soon encouraged to return to our quarters for a long-awaited rest.
Breakfast was taken early the next morning, and in the house of a different family. This pattern was deliberate and continued during our stay, and allowed us to meet various members of the community. The variety was positive, even if every house appeared to contain tortillas, beans and a shy, smiling child.
A hearty meal was necessary, for the day ahead was full and rewarding…
Images: Rachelle Blake