I arrived at the ferry station in San Pedro around 7:20, and there was already a huge line for the 8am ferry. I knew we wouldn’t leave on time. The line to check-in outside was pretty rough, because the sun was already really hot on this day, even for the early hour. Once you got inside, you had to pay $20 US/$40 BZD to exit Belize, get a passport stamp, then wait to get on the boat.
I slept for more than half of the ride, so it must not have been too uncomfortable or bumpy. The ride was nearly 2 hours and cost $40 US one-way.
The employee on the boat was exchanging money (at a not very great rate), but he was the only show in town, so he could get away with it. There were no changers on either side of the process. I was feeling cautious with my cash, since it had to last until I got a new card, but I wasn’t going to be allowed to pay my Mexico entry fee in BZD, so I bit the bullet and got a little less than 90% of the going rate for pesos.
On arrival in Chetumal, all baggage, backpacks, purses—everything!—gets laid out for sniffing by dogs. Don’t even think about trying to bring drugs with you on this ride. Even fanny packs were put in the inspection line, plus the dog is sniffing you as you walk past to enter the customs building. I walked quickly to get to the front of the line for passport control/customs, but this wound up not mattering in the end. After going through passport control and getting my bag, I realized that any transportation I needed to Cancun was going to wait until every last person from our boat had gone through the line, so I just had to sit and wait.
There is a bus company out front, and it costs 504 pesos to Cancun. Since I was first, they didn’t have any change, so they only charged me 500 pesos, so that was the one benefit of getting through the line quickly. The bus company was so eager to get every last person’s business that they were shuttling people to an ATM a few blocks away in a free taxi, just to make sure you could buy their services. This is also the ATM people had to use (no free ride here) when needing cash for their entrance fees. Leave your bags and passport, walk 3-4 blocks, come back to do your official business.
Once everyone was rounded up and tickets were purchased, I started wondering where this bus was at; we were divided into groups by destinations (Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen) and put in taxis. I assumed we were being shuffled to the bus station, but after we asked some questions to the driver, we realized that we were just taking the taxi all the way to Cancun, which is about 4 hours. Super weird. We couldn’t figure out this “convoy of taxis” system they used; it blows my mind. We stopped once for a bathroom/snacks stop, but that was it.
True to the irony of the situation, the taxi dropped us off at the ADO bus station in Cancun, just like the bus it was pretending to be.
I had only booked one night at the hostel, because I figured that was all the cash I’d have by my arrival, so I walked the few blocks from the bus station to Hostel Quetzal and checked in/explained my ATM issue to the nice French dude working the desk. He said it wasn’t a problem and extended my reservation for another few days, telling me I could talk to the owner the next day, probably pay with a credit card, and to not cough up all of my money to pay for the hostel right now, just the first night, so I had money to eat.
I was aware that this was a “party hostel” when I made the reservation online, but it was also close to the bus station, had a pool, and included free breakfast & dinner (and they specifically mentioned vegetarian options), which were all things I needed, because they were free, and I wouldn’t be able to use an ATM for a few days.
The first night, a bunch of people hung out in the pool and just talked until late, so that was pretty awesome. It’s a good vibe. We also checked out what was happening at the nearby park, which turned out to be the Miss Quintana Roo contest, where the winner goes on to compete for Miss Mexico. Interesting.
I woke up Monday morning and talked to the owner about my ATM situation; I saw a credit card machine and asked if I could just extend my reservation until Friday, since it would be a few days before my new ATM card arrives, then probably another day to figure out getting to Cuba, and she was super easy-going about the whole thing. I now had a guaranteed place to sleep for the next few days, so I was stoked how easily this was working out without being able to access cash.
Monday was a prelude to how my days at the hostel went: lay around the pool in the morning after a no-vegan-options breakfast but free coffee, gather up some people to walk over to the taco stands on the other side of the park for lunch (dirt cheap and really delicious), then head to the beach for a few hours in the afternoon, which was a 50 cents US bus ride each way, plus free beach access. Cheap and enjoyable. We’d return in time to shower off the sand & salt before dinner at 8 each night, which was always in a group, always included a free shot, and always earned me a friend from the person sitting next to me receiving mine as a 2nd drink.
That night, some people asked me if I wanted to go out with them, which I wasn’t super excited about, plus the clubs all cost money to get in, and I was on a very limited budget, until my new ATM card came, so I sat around with people at the hostel all night.
Tuesday: lather, rinse, repeat the schedule from Monday. I also did some laundry after coming back from the beach. Clean clothes are great when traveling.
Wednesday: lay around in the morning, my ATM card comes (yay! I took out money for food and buses), then I talk to some travel agents about Cuba tickets. The prices they offered were much more than I’d seen online, but I still thought I could find a good deal by just showing up at the airport to make a deal on the day I wanted to go. There was an Australian girl at the hostel who also wanted to go to Cuba soon, so we made a tentative plan for Thursday: if some money I was waiting for showed up in my account, we’d go to the airport Thursday morning ready to buy tickets & fly. Otherwise, we’d go ready to buy tickets for Friday.
Wednesday night was interesting. I went out to a dance club with people from the hostel and got in free after swearing at least 20 times that I wasn’t going to drink any alcohol. I honestly thought I’d only stay an hour, since I was getting up at 7am to head to the airport, but I stayed until they closed at 4, because we were having a blast. While getting ready to go, I managed to knock over the TV in the common room at the hostel, and it felt right on my bare feet, smashing my big toe and causing a gnarly wound/decent amount of blood. I washed my feet in the shower then continued with our plans to go out. Of course, people stepped on my foot at the club, so that was interesting and turned my toe a serious purple/black/blue. However, I actually had a ton of fun at the club. I actually enjoy dancing and hearing new music, I just wish it wasn’t usually mixed with obnoxious drunk people. A British kid from the hostel drank way too much, and getting him home and keeping him upright was a pretty serious task.
When I got back to the hostel, some of my roommates had just gotten back and showered, and others weren’t back yet, so I was able to finish packing and get things organized with the lights on. Going to sleep at 4:30 for a 7am alarm was daunting, but I got up without issues, checked my bank account, and BOOM! The money was there a day early. Cuba was a real prospect for today. I packed excitedly, drank a few cups of coffee, then met the Aussie in the lobby. I was paid through Friday, so I told the hostel employee that we may or may not be back, and to not give away my bed until after 3pm, if we weren’t back at that point.
We walked to the bus station, bought one-way tickets to the airport, and prepared for the next great adventure.
Next up: airport shenanigans for getting to Cuba.