It turns out Getting to Chetumal is the easy part. I followed a gringo couple into the station and found out they were heading to Belize as well. A quick check of the board indicated a disheartening lack of Belizean destinations. A conversation with a ticket attendant informed us we had to head to the "other" station to get into Belize. How the hell are you supposed to know this stuff? We picked up another tag-along traveller, and all four shared a quick moving taxi to the other station.
Pulling up to the station, I felt equal parts amazement, reluctance and excitement. The "station" was simply a dirt lot outside a market with about 5-6 gaudily-painted school busses. And when I say school busses, I mean that some of you reading this (myself included) may have ridden on one of these busses to grade school at some point in your lives. Fake leather bench seats, the little two-button push up windows, etc. We jumped out of the cab and asked where the busses were going. Fortunately, all of our destinations were available on one bus, so we all jumped on. Oh, and no paying your ticket ahead of time. You pay once you get going.
There were a few others on board as well, some locals, and a trio of bald Italian dudes in the back. Once we got going, I got to meet my compatriots - (and I'm probably going to get this wrong - please correct me when you read it guys) Ian and Adrianne were a couple from Ontario heading to Orange Walk, and Shannon(?) was from Toronto? Don't know why I didn't write that down. Sorry in advance.
The bus was outfitted with a really nice sound system which the oversized driver controlled. We listened to a medly of Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, Shakira, a whole bunch of reggee from UB40 and assorted others, and a bunch of Spanish music which sounded exactly the same.
The border crossing into Belize was pretty easy. First you have to "depart" Mexico at one station. There is a 100 peso charge if you leave Mexico and want to come back on the same tourist card. Since im a one-wayer, i saved a few. The entry into Belize was easy - English is the national language, as it was a British property until 1981. Side note - we saw a couple groups of Mennonites crossing into Belize as well. I dont know why i thought it so strange - Id pegged the Mennonites for a pretty static group for some reason.
As we continued, it became clear our bus turned into a local transit system. We started picking up everyone and thier aunts, uncles and brothers on our way in. I bet it stopped 40+ times all said and done. We packed over 70 men, women and children on that sucker at one point. As we progressed, we dropped off Shannon in some coastal town, and then Ian and Adrianne in Orange Walk. Pretty much every time someone got off, the back door opened, and some bags were transferred. Every time i heard the buzzer, I prayed someone didnt take mine. After a while though, you just get used to it, and hope for the best.
We drove through sunset, and it got dark. And by dark I mean pitch black. It was cloudy, so there werent any stars or moon. When you drive on the highways in the states you notice lights all along the highway, and again off of it - the lights of farms or houses or whatever. Not here. When youre on the highway, thats it. However, we kept stopping to pick people up! They would just stand on the side of the road and literally flag the bus down with a flashlight.
We pulled into Belize City about 9:30 pm or so. And let me tell you, you dont want to spend a lot of time on your own on the streets of Belize City after dark. Sketch-frickin-y. I got a cab with a cool old man whose name i forgot, and went to my hostel. It was a fairly sketchy looking place as well, but it was recommended by the guide book, so i went for it. It was run by a family of Chinese folks, who were as pleasant as can be. They let me to my room - It had a private bathroom and a shower! And, the real jackpot was that it had a T.V. in it with American Cable TV. It didnt take me long to settle in.