Herding Cats

This is a series of posts about Belize and Guatemala that starts here.

My post about overbooked flights coincided with the story of that guy who was dragged off the United Airlines flight. My bumping experience was different, to say the least.

Flying from Minneapolis to London, Delta picked me out of the crowd at the gate and told me I had to give up my seat.  I started to protest, when the gate agent said, “We’ll put you on another flight that leaves an hour from now … it gets into Heathrow an hour earlier,” she added in a low voice.  “And we’ll give you a $750 voucher.”  Still, my reflex was to open my mouth and complain but something stopped me.  “And we’ll seat you in first class,” she added.

“Um, okay?!” I said.  My luggage went with the first flight but that turned out okay, because I was staying on a farm in a remote village called Oddington.  If my bag had come with me, I would have had to schlep it on and off several trains and buses.  This way, the airline delivered it the farmhouse door the next morning.

You are probably thinking this story belongs with those mythical tales about unicorns, but it really happened.

I stood by the border agent’s booth in Belize for 30 minutes.  She granted me permission to use my phone to try to contact the tour leader, Mark.  I tried a text, then phoning, which later cost me $15, and I got voice mail.  I tried an email but my phone or the connection was too slow for it to send.

Two drunk Canadian women in their 50s came through and noticed me standing there.  I explained the sitch.  “We’re staying at the Funky Dodo Hostel,” one whispered loudly, six inches from the border agent.  “Tell her you’re staying there.” She fumbled in her purse and pulled out the address and loudly “whispered” it while looking in my direction with unfocused eyes.  The people behind her in line were getting irritated.  She repeated the address several times, then shambled away with her friend.

The border agent and I smirked at each other.  She made me sweat another 10 minutes, then led me over to another booth where second agent flipped through my passport, stamped it in the most bored, sarcastic way, and let me in.

It was a rookie mistake.  This was Mark’s first time leading an international trip, and someone at Wilderness Inquiry should have trained him on it. It wasn’t his fault.  But I should have known. Each of the nine other members of my group was similarly detained, so Mark had been waiting in the arrivals hall for four or five hours.

Well, we were finally all here.  The arrivals hall was chaotic.  The Belize airport was built in sleepier times, and now Belize is a hot tourist destination so it’s just too small.

Mark kept trying to round us up and get us into our 12-passenger Ford Econoline rental van.  This was complicated by the fact that we had a deaf woman among us, Trudy.  Trudy was a firecracker—in her 70s, maybe 5’ tall, divorced with four grown children, retired—she had traveled with Wilderness Inquiry to Peru, Australia, and New Zealand.  As I’ve written, WI’s thing is inclusion, which is great, but Trudy was all over that airport checking out the gift shops. Mark would yell after her, realize that was pointless, then yell at her interpreter, Emily, who was also with us on the trip.  Then Emily would march after Trudy and sign furiously.  There were others who ignored Mark throughout the trip.  Today was the first of many times we would wait for them in the van.  That sounds worse than it was; we were a pretty easy going group.  After all, we were on vacation.

At last, we were all gathered in the Econoline with our luggage and on our way to the Crystal Paradise Resort, 70 miles from Belize City and only about 13 miles from the Guatemalan border.  This would position us for the crossing into Guatemala and on to Tikal the following day.

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