September 26th, 7:30am
Fifteen team members arrived at the Indianapolis airport with 60 bags of luggage—44 bags of donated items, 15 personal bags, and one guitar. Each bag was color coordinated, labeled, name-tagged, taped and checked, thanks to our luggage coordinator Peggy, who, incidentally, was full-body searched at every single checkpoint ☺
We got everything and everyone through the gate and waited for almost 2 hours to board the plane. We used the time to bond, eat donuts, prepare, eat donuts, go to the bathroom, eat donuts, play cards, eat donuts, go to the bathroom, eat donuts, and bond more.
The plane left at 10:20, and the flight was fine. We had a layover in Houston for about an hour, flashed our passports, loaded a super-small plane with roll-up stairs and flew about 3 hours to Belize City.
When we were landing, I remember looking down and being unable to fathom the amount of undeveloped land, the massive spreads of swamp, the little clusters of villages in between swamp and jungle, and the 300 different shades of green. It was beautiful, but scary how unpopulated a place can be when you’re used to people everywhere. I felt sad peering down because America will never have that kind of undisturbed beauty, and Belize seemed like it might be lonely.
When we landed, I video-taped the sign that said Bienvenido a Belice and then took a picture of the customs sign that said something-something no pictures allowed. The “no pictures allowed” part I read last, after the picture was taken, and I was immediately approached by 2 customs officers who searched through my camera while I tried not to pee my pants in fear of being sent straight home. Before I actually left the airport that afternoon, my camera had been searched 3 times and I had been questioned by 4 different customs people. Lesson: no pictures in customs.
An hour later, Hugo, our assigned driver from Cahal Pech, loaded our luggage into a pickup truck while we stood around peeling off layers of clothes and chugging bottles of water. Belize was the hottest hot I’d ever felt, like sitting in my car on a 90-degree day with the windows rolled-up. They said our bodies would adjust. I wanted to be naked, like, immediately, and I never stopped wanting to be naked until we landed in Houston 12 days later. It’s just the truth.
We hopped on the bus and drove out of Belize City toward San Ignacio, the town where we would be staying for the first 7 days. We sang from the airport all the way to San Ignacio with our own special rendition of “This is the day” and just kept adding our own special verses like:
This is the bus, this is the bus…
This is the team, this is the team…
Hugo is the driver, Hugo is the driver…
And then someone held up their Pepperoni Combos and sang:
These are the Combos… that the Lord has made… uh, yeah. You know the rest.
About halfway through the third song, Hugo joined in and Carole started passing out donuts. Like, she pulled the boxes magically from her carry-on, and the trip’s fave one-liner: “Never-ending box of donuts” was born. (Seriously, where did she even get those donuts?)
As it got dark, we began to quiet down and notice our surroundings: banana stands, concrete houses, plywood houses, finished houses, houses in progress, houses of sheets, houses with electricity, houses without, one-roomed stores, Fanta stands, Alka-Seltzer storefronts, lots of people sitting on porches, lots and LOTS of roaming, skinny, slow-moving dogs. I think we all realized separately, together, we were in a new place.
We drove through San Ignacio, which a beautiful cluster of stores, fruit stands, bus stops, fountains and houses on brick-paved streets, overlooking the Macal River and the outlying villages. Lots of places had party lights strung, the circle in the middle of town faced a wall that said “Welcome to San Ignacio” and there was a little sign in front of the bridge that led to the sister town, Santa Elena, and in front of the soccer fields next to the road we turned on, that said: Jesus Christ, Lord of Belize.
Cahal Pech, which means “Place of ticks” was the name of our hotel, and also the name of the Mayan ruins that sat at the very top of a hill overlooking San Ignacio and the outlying villages. We started up the hill toward the hotel and could hear the bus struggling, so we go really quiet, and I think most of us prayed silently as the bus roared, and then heaved, and then slowed, and then teetered and then died. Hugo reversed the bus down the hill and pulled into the gas station. Apparently the bus can only get up the hill on a full tank of gas, although, having been up the hill on the bus with a full tank of gas, I imagine its usually a 50/50 chance. I closed my eyes and imagined that God was pushing us and our 50 million pounds of luggage up the hill with His pinky finger. And then we made it.
We cheered for Hugo, unloaded our luggage, found our roommates, ate a delicious fettuchini dinner made by the hotel staff, got our instructions for the next day and called it a night. I think we were all asleep by 9 o’clock. Ashley was my roomie. I miss her a lot.