Chapter 3. Guatemala
(Bert) We warned everyone about the Chetumal Pemex as being blatantly fraudulent, so we are all on our guard. We would avoid it, but it has been the only station large enough for our vehicles and gasoline is almost half the price in Mexico as Belize, so we need to fill our tanks. Strangely, as in other years, the operators at the diesel pumps seem honest, but that is not the case at the gasoline pumps. Enthusiastically, the attendants greet us and motion for me to pull into position. I quickly get out and stare at one pump as the operator is about to zero the meter. Out of the corner of my eye I notice another operator trying to get my attention, pointing excitedly toward my front tire. I resist and continue staring at the meter. The pump operator has his finger on the switch and now he too motions to the other man, trying to get me to take by eyes off the meter. It doesn’t fool me and I keep staring at the meter until he recognizes his first trick fails and he zeroes the meter. I continue watching the meter until he finishes and I pay him 650 pesos, plus a small tip.
I pull out of my spot just as Mike pulls in. He had been in the adjacent spot and now moves over to the one I vacate. Mike tells me they began filling his tank and then the pump stopped and the attendant attempted to restart the pump. Mike was wary and refused to let him restart the pump and instead paid him what it registered. At the second pump they attempt to divert his attention and do for a second, but Mike thinks they didn’t have time to play the trick. Meanwhile I go to Mark’s pump station and here the attendant gets him to double pay, also restarting the pump and writing the previous meter amount on his palm in ink. Mark keeps his attention focused on the operation and probably pays the proper amount. I give the attendants a bit of a fright when I return to the pumps and take flash photos of them and write something in my notebook.
Later I hear that John, who is in the next group of RV’s as we leave, also had tricks played on him. He handed the attendant three 200-peso bills and reached into his wallet to get a 20-peso bill. Deftly the attendant dropped one of the 200-peso bills behind the pump, while John’s eyes were focused on his wallet. When John handed him the 20 the attendant showed him only two 200-pesos bills and asked for another. John refused, throwing the 20 at the man, angrily telling him no more and no propina. This year, I don’t think anyone in our caravan overpaid for their fuel, although we know they may still have gotten by with one other scam: adjusting the pumps so they put out 5-10% less fuel than registered. These cheats have operated for at least the eight years we have refueled there, but we saw a new station a mile away and we will use that one next year.
(Shari) Looking out the window, I see sunrise come up over the sea. I take my cappuccino out under the palapa and enjoy the early morning, but too soon it is time to depart. We are traveling in rig order today with Bert and I taking rigs 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and Tailgunner Bob, #2, taking 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. At the border we park along the side of the road, I gather all the passports and visas and walk to immigration. I am informed that I need to pay 100 pesos per person to get a double entry stamp. I explain that we had never had to do that in the past. The clerk gets a little irritated with me and talks to a friend. I hear the same story and I give the same answer. The two then talk to a third. Again the same story until I finally agree to the 100 pesos since we are at a standstill. They stamp a passport and then keep it. I tell them I need it and I grab it back. I ask what about all my other people. They tell me to go to another window down the block. I do this and am told to go to yet a third window. I do this and the man says that I do not even need anything stamped to go into Belize. I am just to go. So I radio the group to come on up and as they pass me by, I hand them their passport and visas. Three of us get across before a guard stops Tom and Charlu and then Dorothy and Ralph. I hear on the personal radio that Tom’s passport has been confiscated and that they want to take Ralph’s too. Ralph just stonewalls and says that he does not understand and keeps saying talk to his Jeffe (boss). Meanwhile I talk to the man that told me to go through and at first he does not understand that our passports have been confiscated. Finally he comes out of his booth, slams the door and storms off to the other guards. I eventually get an apology from the three guards as they tell me they are new and don’t know the procedures. Yea, I bet!
In any case we are in Belize. Here with our border information sheets all preprinted, our wait time is nil. We sail through the paperwork and then inspections. I do loose three apples but I can understand their concern for fruit flies. The U.S. is concerned about that also. Our insurance paperwork is also ready for us and we are finished within 2-1/2 hours. Quite remarkable and a new speed record. Two borders down and ten to go. I have no idea what will happen on our way back into Mexico. We were never stamped out, nor stamped double entry. I guess the Mexicans have no idea where we are. We lead our group of six to the small grocery store in Corozal to replenish our supplies. I buy 5 half-gallons of One-barrel Rum. That, and all tequila should suffice for all the planned group parties for the next 2+ months. I love that stuff – even, or should I say especially, straight on the rocks. We will also use some for making fruit slushies when the temperatures are high.
We get to Orange Walk and find no electricity at the campground. Bert takes R-Pup-Tent to arrange the boat trip tomorrow and I sit in the shade of Lee and Pat’s rig. Gilford is feeling poorly and is napping. Judy and Joanie do wash. The heat exhausts me and I just sit after arranging laundry pickup and hopefully propane delivery. At 6, we are to have another LEO but apparently the electricity is out throughout the area and the food is not ready. Bert conducts a bird count by flashlight and candlelight and by 6:45 all is ready. We eat delicious fried chicken, mashed potatoes, chips, shrimp on a stick, refried beans and the biggest bowl of rice and beans I have ever seen. All are hungry as food is passed around the table at a pretty good clip. We eat it all up except the rice and beans and top it off with bread pudding. Back at the rig, still no electricity so we put on the generator for a couple of hours. The air conditioner works good and it is nice and cold by the time we hit the sack.
(Bert) From New River Lagoon, the stillness of the creek leading into the marshes and savannahs is matched by the quiet solitude of a setting sun at our backs and a golden glow on the tall grasses. Lily pads with white flower-bursts float listlessly. A Neotropic River Otter dives, leaving expanding rings in its wake. On the rigid reeds, clasp pink bubbles of snail egg clusters, the same snails that we have seen in the talons of Snail Kites. Our sought-after Botteri’s Sparrow does not appear; the trade-off is a Black-collared Hawk that swoops down on us, makes a pass at the lily pads and lands on a tall scrub nearby. Fortunately I have my camera at the ready and I freeze action with its claws extended, its wings braking backward and its eyes intent on the bare branch. It flies to an even closer bush as if showing off to us birders intently focused on it with binoculars. The next act is a Ruddy Crake Mark sees flying across the rivulet, ducking inside the dense reeds and brambles at the edge before the rest of us see it. John has a recording he plays and the crake is anxious to respond. We can follow its call along the shoreline as it moves toward the boat, sometimes bending a stalk or branch to betray its location, but giving a quick view of its body to only a few in our group.
We move on to Lagoon Creek, a passageway too narrow to turn a boat. With the sun below the horizon, darkness is closing in. We hope to chance upon an Agami Heron. Instead we hear a loud trumpeting call, reminiscent of Wood Stork in quality, but with the full force of a stronger player. I guess Jabiru and boat driver Elio concurs. We reverse out of the creek, enter the main channel and Elio accelerates towards Shipyard before the last light disappears, stopping only briefly when we see a Muscovy flying over the marsh and then cross the river in front of us. Fifteen minutes later, in near darkness, we hear loud calls coming from both sides of the river. No one recognizes the call, so Elio turns around and I aim my flashlight toward the sound in the mangroves. It’s a Gray-necked Wood-Rail calling to its mate on the opposite shore.
By the time we reach Shipyard, only the millions of stars light the night. I turn on my mega-lumen searchlight to scan the trees and Mark handles the one cabled to the boat batteries. It doesn’t take long for me to find a nightjar’s reflective eyes. Elio positions the boat and with a close look of the perched bird, as well as photos by Chris and me , we determine it is a Yucatan Nightjar. A little while later I find a Northern Potoo and this one is perched in open view. With my new Canon and its extended flash, my photograph is better than other years and I can make out more of the potoo’s wood-like plumage and stump-like posture. We find another potoo and another nightjar. The nightjar is harder to see, but I call it a Yucatan Nightjar based on its white undertail. I wish I would have photographed it because after referencing various field guides we later question whether it could have been a Yucatan Poorwill. The book references are inconsistent. The last bird of the day is a calling Pauraque as we pull into the dock at 8:30 PM.
(Shari) Gilford has recovered, but Mike is feeling poorly so foregoes the river trip today. Bob and I stay in camp also to do chores. I am just not up for a day of birding that starts at 6:45 AM and ends at 9 PM. Bob fixes Tom and Charlu’s refrigerator and I wash clothes. I sent out 20 pounds of dirty clothes and I still have that much to do by hand. We must be dirty people or else clean ones. I spend the next hour plunging my wash in a bucket of soap water, moving the wash to a bucket of clear water and using my wringer to get out the moisture before I hang it on a line strung between the rigs. Bob and I meet for breakfast at the restaurant and discuss the Guatemala border procedures. We still have no electricity and I use the O2 Cool that blows air over blue ice for two hours until the ice melts. I put more ice into the container but it is just too hot for the device to keep up. I give up and turn on the generator and air conditioner. By noon my wash is all dry. I spend the rest of the day correcting road logs (not much to do here since we have driven those roads so much), writing journals, deciding how much money I have to convert to quetzals at the Guatemala border and trying to memorize the border procedure and GPS tracks. The electricity comes back on about the time Sonia brings me all 100 pounds of wash. I pay for it and will collect from everyone when they get back. It looks like we have to go to Plan B for our propane refills. The truck never comes. I spend the rest of the day reading and watching the movie Superman 6 on my computer’s DVD player. I just finish the dinner dishes when Bert comes home. He tells me he had a good trip and I tell him about my day. We both are tired but it is close to 10 before we go to bed.
(Shari) Stopping at Amigos for our rest break, we say hello to Sue, the owner. She is happy to see us and tells us of a neat kayak trip sponsored by the zoo along the river. We plan to look into that trip for next year. We travel on to San Ignacio, stopping at the fresh produce market, which has moved across the street and seems to have more vendors, maybe because it is Friday. I purchase lots of fresh vegetables and can’t pass up the price of bananas and oranges: 10 for 50 cents and 8 for 50 cents, respectively. Broccoli is $1.50 per pound and green peppers are too. Lettuce is $1.25 for a big head of leaf lettuce. Belize is not known for cheap prices but I did not think I paid too much for what I got. We get to the campground before lunch, but find it muddy and rutted. I have never seen it like this and we are afraid that we might get stuck and many of us almost do. Apparently, the rainy season has not ended here either. Bert strings two sewer hoses together so that we all can dump before we park. I am a bit out of sorts today and complain to Bert about something and he asks what he should do about it. I say “nothing” that I am just venting and he says well he is dealing with sh__ right now. That breaks my mood and I start to laugh in spite of myself. We have a travel meeting early and discuss border procedures for Guatemala and I pass out a sign up sheet for two lunches and a bread order. At 4:45 we reconvene for one (actually two) of Bert’s bird talks: the second part of parrot identification and one on dove calls. I think people enjoy those talks; actually I do too. After his talk, we have a margarita maker full of piña coladas. Pat calls that little machine our guest of honor and it sure is in my book. It will do a whole host of different drinks along the way. Joanie and Mark invite us to go along with them and some others to a restaurant but I actually say no. I am tired and have some things to do before our border crossing in the morning, so we actually eat in again tonight.
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