Forty eight hours give or take of turquoise blue water and we dropped anchor on Belize’s largest island – Ambergris Caye. How’d it go? The first day was brochure perfect sailing and then evening hit and it was sell this stupid boat sailing. Day two conditions improved a smidgeon, but we were ready for land. Rig up the yellow quarantine flag, drop the dinghy in the water, hunt around for a pair of flip flops, and head to shore.
Obstacle number one was to clear in, Immigration here we come. A cute little cafe advertising homemade waffles with fresh fruit and cream might of waylaid us – gosh how I miss my waffle maker! Bellies full, we are back on track…..except the Immigration Office is not up a spiral staircase across from Fido’s Bar like the guidebook states it is. And this is where it starts to go downhill. A block into our office searching Hoss slides on a ginormous pile of dog shit! We’ve been known to occasionally forget our shoes when heading into town, glad today was not one of those days! After a few bleeps and some crafty removal techniques we’re back underway. We managed to locate immigration, pay our BZ$100 (the exchange rate is BZ$2=$1USD), stamp the passports, hope we don’t smell like dog shit, and receive instructions to visit Customs. The journey begins – Customs literally passed us from one desk to another and then back to the first desk, it seems nobody wanted to work this day. The Customs Officer took his BZ$100 and told us we must go see the Port Captain and then return. the Port Captain of course is on the other side of the island. While getting shuffled around we met another sailing couple who were checking out, after introducing ourselves we decided to share a cab and swap stories. The Port Captain was simple – pay more money and get another stamped piece of paper. Back to Customs and wouldn’t ya know it, the officer who drew the short straw and was helping us, the same one who sent us away but told us to return, was gone. And nobody seemed to know where he went. So we waited, and waited, we waited some more. Once it became apparent that we weren’t going to leave, someone managed to locate our missing officer. ‘You must go downstairs, hurry’. Huh? Just downstairs our missing officer was sitting in a golf cart (the main mode of island transportation), ‘get in, we must go inspect your boat’. Ok? After giving him directions to our dinghy, the three of us pile in and headed out to the mother ship. Weird. We climb aboard, he makes himself comfortable in the cockpit, and goes through a list of rules. ‘I need to inspect inside’. Down the companionway we go, ‘hmmm, nice boat’, he opens a cupboard here, looks in the fridge, opens a closet there, ‘let’s go back’. If you say so. Putt, putt back to the dock. ‘Now you have to go see Quarantine’. The Quarantine Office is closed…..of course, but there’s a number to call. Well, if only I had a Belizean cell phone! Two gals in a convenience store took pity on us, contacted the officer, and we hustled back to his office. He starts his charade with ‘Belize relies on tourism, so glad you’re here’, his narrative continues with the importance of officials being legit. This is nice, we’re happy to be here! ‘So, I’ll have to inspect your boat’. Then it gets worse ‘actually, you’re supposed to bring your sailboat to the other side of the island’ (this would mean a trip of 34 nautical miles and a very uncomfortable anchorage). Lastly, ‘I will need to relieve you of any fresh produce, meats, and liquor aboard your boat’. Now, wait a minute! ‘Your quarantine fee is BZ$20 and I would like BZ$100 for lunch money’. That’s $50USD for lunch? Where he heck does this guy go for lunch? He wasn’t kidding. Hoss misunderstood him and tossed BZ$120 on the desk, officer handed me a receipt for only BZ$20. I showed Hoss receipt. How bad did we want to keep the food on our boat? We haggled, Hoss took back half of the lunch money. And that is how we paid our first bribe. Belize is the 8th country we’ve sailed to on our sailboat and it’s the first bribe we’ve paid!
Business wrapped up, the officer offered to give us a lift in his golf cart – it turns out all those rights and lefts we took walking to the Quarantine Office put us smack dab in the middle of what he referred to as ‘The Hood’. A little disgusted (remember this was the one official who valued the importance of tourists supporting the Belize economy, the same official who has free lunch for the rest of the week) we declined and walked ourselves away!
We walked right to a beach bar ‘two Belikins please’. Watching the waves, waiting for a cold one, a bird flew by and shit on me! Well, shit!