The world has changed in the last 17 days since Gretchen and I returned from our spring trip to Belize. Our travel plans took us through airports, and customs checkpoints, that are becoming more difficult to traverse with every passing day.
On Wednesday March 11th, Guatemala closed their borders to travelers from European countries, Iran, China, South Korea and North Korea. When we left the US on the 17th of February, the Coronavirus was a distant problem. Something to be aware of, but not yet a close personal concern.
We returned to a world that was witnessing the rapid spread of the disease, with the result that we are currently on a self-imposed isolation in an attempt to prevent ourselves from contracting the illness.
I have to admit that I am glad to back home at this point in history, and not experiencing the rigors of foreign travel under the pall of the spreading disease.
But, let’s go back in time to the trip.
Months ago, Gretchen and I signed up for a National Geographic trip called “Wild Belize Escape: Wildlife, Reefs, and Rivers“. I’d like to say we did extensive research and based our decision to go based on the merits of this trip over other options. The truth is more mundane.
Gretchen is an elementary school teacher with limited, predetermined, schedule breaks that limit when we can go on a trip like this. I was holding the catalog in my hands and asked her when her next school break was. I then checked the catalog for something that matched. There was one trip – this was it.
I signed up that night, and impatiently waited for our departure date to arrive.
Days 1 and 2, LAX to Miami, then Guatemala City, and Puerto Barrios, where we board the National Geographic Ship Quest
On the morning of Monday 17th of February, Gretchen and I started our trip to Belize by flying to Miami (AA 1454) and spending the night there. The plan was to make the trip more enjoyable by avoiding an overnight flight direct to Guatemala.
We started meeting up with fellow passengers in Los Angeles, and that continued at every stop. It was fun to meet everybody gathering from various parts of the country to be our shipmates for the next week.
We stayed at the Miami Airport/Blue Lagoon Hilton. The hotel is a short shuttle ride to and from the airport. The area was very tropical feeling and had actual bananas and coconuts planted as landscape material.
The next morning it was a quick breakfast at the buffet (very nice) and then back to the airport to catch our flight to Guatemala City (AA 2241). We met many of the people that we were going to spend the week with while waiting to board our flight.
Once we landed in Guatemala City, we were greeted at the airport by friendly National Geographic staff members and escorted through the terminals to the ticket counters for our charter flight to Puerto Barrios; a busy port town on the north coast of Guatemala.
This flight was a little more exciting. It was in a smallish 30 to 40 person prop job. Something I hardly ever get to ride in. It also flew at lower altitude so it was easier to survey the ground below us.
The coast eventually filled the small window as we headed out over the ocean and then made our turn south to land at a military airstrip. The fact that we were on a military base became more apparent as we were escorted from the plane to our busses. Young, armed, Guatemalan soldiers were making sure we didn’t slip into their country illegally.
We exited the base escorted by police cars to make sure we didn’t exit the bus as we made our way through the town. It’s hard to have any idea what the town of Puerto Barrios was like from our bus seats. I can say it was busy, with lots of cars, and especially motorcycles. I thought the ride was interesting, but I did not see any place on our route where I would have been comfortable getting out and walking around.
Our first official stop was at immigration to show our passports and get stamped. Then it was back on the bus, complete with escorts, to the port where the National Geographic Quest was waiting for us.
We were greeted on the hard near the ship by more friendly NG staff where we checked in and surrendered our passports to the ship purser. The purser held on to the passports for the duration of the trip until we disembarked in Guatemala at the end of the trip.
At this point, we were escorted to our home for the next week, Cabin 310, and given a chance to relax for awhile before the mandatory safety briefing up in the lounge. When the safety briefing over, we were handed glasses of champagne, served canapés, and introduced to the crew members and their functions.
Dinner was served buffet style at 6:30 and was nice. It was then off to bed to see what tomorrow would bring.
The ship and crew however had a long night ahead of them. from Puerto Barrios, the ship would head northwest to the Belizian port of Punta Gorda where we would officially pass through customs and enter the country. From there the ship would head east, and then turn northeast once outside Belize’s famed barrier reef.
Once past Glovers Reef Marine Preserve, we would turn northwest towards our planned morning snorkel spot at the southern end of the Turneffe Islands.
Links to other Belize Trip Posts
Days 3 and 4 – coming
Days 5, 6, and 7 – coming
Now, more than ever, we need to think of the future. The orange monster in Washington D.C. has bungled the response to the Coronavirus threat and endangered the lives of thousands of Americans. His tax reductions resulted in an economy that was on fire before the disease hit, and is presently collapsing under the added pressure wrought by the epidemic.
There is only one recourse – vote the scoundrel out of office (and hopefully put McConnell on the same bus). The damage done to our nation is criminal.
Vote! It matters.
Now here’s Luna.