Writing about a lost day in Paradise is kind of like writing about inefficiency in government. It is hard to make it sound new or interesting.
Just the same, yesterday was sort of a lost day during which I traveled great distances and accomplished very little.
I hitched a ride to San Pedro Town with Rose in her golf cart, on her way to her 10 a.m. Pilates class at Zen Belize. My plan was to catch the 11 a.m water taxi to Belize City. By any international standards I was way too early which means I had plenty of time for a banana-coconut colada smoothie and banana muffin with black coffee chaser at Latitudes Cafe.
Actually, I take back what I said. I was productive.
While sipping on the smoothie an alert came up from skyscanner.com for a trip I plan to take in July to Pittsburgh for a family reunion. On Monday, the cost of a roundtrip ticket from Belize International to Pittsburgh had dropped a whole $141, to $595.
I excitedly texted Rose but she was only moderately excited about the price, pointing wistfully to a Cancun-to-Pittsburgh alert posted (for some reason) in UK pounds, at 292 pounds. “It looks good,” she wrote. “If only the British pound price was the dollar price.”
OK, I know a “meh” when I read one.
Yesterday, Skyscanner came through. The BZE-to-PIT price dropped an additional $248 — $389 in two days! — a roundtripper for $348! It is not exactly “if pounds were dollars” but could it get much lower? I doubted it.
I pulled the trigger and began scanning the airline options. Not great. The first ones were 20-hour flights with two layovers before hitting Pittsburgh. But Skyscanner lets you filter your search — by airlines, flight duration, times of departure and number of stops. You can then sort your results by price, trip time, departure time, airline and stops.
It didn’t take long to nail down the quickest flights at the optimum times. I even nailed the return flight to coincide with the arrival in Belize of my oldest son, Brendan, his wife, Cami, and grandson Brody so we could all fly over to Ambergris Caye together.
With flight insurance, ticket, taxes and a service fee, the total price came to $374 round trip. (The Skyscanner price actually dropped another $7 this morning but, hey, I’m not greedy. I think I got a great price during the busy summer vacation season.
I attribute the price plunges to the start of the hurricane season in Belize and something we in Belize are calling the “Southwest Effect.” You see, Southwest — the one-time low budget airline — begins flying into Belize on Oct. 15. (Tickets are on sale now.) Historically, Southwest Airlines comes into a new market with ridiculously low prices to “introduce” itself. Other airlines, which might have had a monopoly on the route, begin slashing prices in an attempt to out-Southwest Southwest.
The slashing never lasts long. Enjoy it while you can.
A friend who wrote about business issues for decades says the old Southwest Effect is as dead as the airline’s reputation for being a budget carrier. It is true. Unless you get an on-line ”Fun fare” weeks and months in advance, Southwest can be expensive.
Ah, well. Bring it on Southwest. Welcome to Belize. Give us some of that low-budget “love.”
The San Pedro Express water taxi is another good deal if you live here. With a $10 locals SPE ID card, a round trip ticket to Belize City is $48 BZD ($24 USD). If you don’t mind riding for 90 minutes over blue-green water, past mangroves islands, under a warm tropic sun.
Unless it is cloudy and raining. As it was, off and on, on Tuesday.
My doctor’s appointment wasn’t until 2:30 p.m. so I walked across the street from the water taxi terminal and ate an uninspired but cheap ($8 BZE) fried chicken and steamed rice lunch with a Fanta orange drink at a chinese restaurant.
The original plan was to check in with my doctor at 2:30 p.m. for a preliminary, stay overnight in the city at Chateau Caribbean and get some serious testing done on Wednesday morning before returning to Ambergris Caye.
My good doctor had no plans for conducting tests on Wednesday.
“How about July 1?” he asked.
“Why am I here?” I asked. “We could have done this over the phone.”
“Certainly we could have,” he replied as if, geeze, everyone knew that. (Except, apparently, me.)
I shrugged. My friend Stephen has an expression that frees you up from such frustrations: “This is Belize.” After which you expel an exhale of resignation and get on with life.
The cab ride back downtown from the hospital was $7. It has been variously $7, 8 and 10 depending on the driver. This young fellow was keenly interested in the the concept of meters and dispatchers, which I described from my youth as a cabbie in the Washington DC area.
To salvage the trip I went into Brodies, a kind of supermarket/department store, to stock up on prescriptions, which are considerably cheaper than on the island. I’m not even out of the cab and some guy is right up in my face demanding either money or a sandwich from the Brodie’s deli counter.
“I’m just going into the pharmacy,” I said.
“I’ll be waiting for you out here,” he said rather unpleasantly.
And he was. Most aggressive panhandler I have ever encountered, and that includes New York City pandhandlers. He stayed with me for a full block, shouting in my ear that I either buy him a sandwich or give him money.
I’m not proud that I didn’t give in to his pushy pitch and not ashamed that I failed to help someone in need. It was just a street thing. Happens less when the city is full of cruise ship people and more when the season begins to wane, as it is doing now.
Back at the water taxi dock I had a half-hour to kill before the next boat left for San Pedro. I spent most of it talking with a couple from Los Angeles who were on their way to an island wedding, after a couple of days in the jungle.
“It will be different,” I assured them.
Even though rain clouds hovered between Belize City and San Pedro, I chose a seat on the bridge. I just needed the open air and roar of the wind. It is like a cleanse. Like facing full into a storm and daring it to do its worst.
The worst this day was a chill wind and light pelting of rain. It felt really good.
Rose happened to be in town and met me on Front Street. We gave the LA couple a lift to the Coastal Express dock. Only a few blocks but they had plenty of luggage. Next stop for us was the Sand Bar on Boca del Rio, to order a shrimp and white cheeze pizza to go and a couple of “white and lights” while we waited.
In the fading light, the storm clouds on the horizon seemed to roll through in endless shades of gray. Some make land and drop a little rain. Others roll on toward the mainland.
Change is indeed coming. In the weather, and I can’t help but feel in other ways. Hurricane “season” began on June 1 and the pros are predicting little action. Sceptics point out that you only need one hurricane.
The high season is officially over and I’ve heard very mixed results from local businesses. Lots of people, many say, spending fewer dollars. It could be a difficult off-season for many.
Even though summer here can be spectacular, and less-expensive, the visitors are fewer and you can see that around town already. Even some part-time expats are leaving for their homelands, too.
Belize is beginning to feel like it really is a foreign country, in all the right ways.