Bold Backpacker Balks at Border Bullies

BETHEL GUATEMALA — A backpacker frustrated with corruption at the border and being taken advantage of decided to make a stand today at the remote border crossing from Guatemala into Mexico. The fee at issue was very minor, only $5us, but it was principle, reports Wren Schultz, that made him refuse to pay.
   Many countries charge an exit fee upon leaving their borders. Some charge this fee only when leaving via airplane and some at all border crossings. When flying in and out of a country, the exit fee is often included in the price of the ticket.
   Just two days previous, Schultz, a self-styled traveler "in the know", paid $18.25us to cross from Belize into Guatemala. "In Belize, the price was clearly marked and they even gave me a receipt," Schultz reports. "The guys in Guatemala just whispered among themselves and made vague threats."
   Schultz reports that the rest of his busload of mostly backpackers unquestioningly paid the fee. "The border people

Across the border, after the attempted bullying and a 30 minute boat ride
claimed that their system was down, and that is why they couldn't scan our passports or even let us talk directly to the border agent," continued Schultz. When he asked for a receipt, or to see an official form proclaiming the fee, a series of first unofficials, then officials came out to hem and haw about why neither of these things existed, and what would happen if he didn't cough up the money.
   A similar $3us fee was requested at the entry point 2 days earlier, which Schultz paid, claiming he was caught off guard. But after thinking about it and hearing about other travelers' experiences, he was ready.

   In the end, he got his passport stamped along with everyone else. "I think I might have also seen the border agent give me a knowing you-caught-us-good-for-you smile," Schultz said, obviously pleased with himself. The threats of accumulating a ridiculous fee for when he next returns to Guatemala will likely be shown false if he ever decides to return.
   Schultz does admit that the border agents were just trying to make a buck and were actually very friendly about the whole thing.

Wednesday March 17 2010File under: travel, Guatemala

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Un-Belize-able

Belize is a country that I've never known much about, except maybe the requisite traveler knowledge of where it is and what they speak here*. I'm afraid I will leave the country knowing only marginally more.

I've chosen to spend my few days in Belize out in the Northern Cayes* instead of exploring inland where jungles, caves, rivers, etc. are found. There is just something about sandy beaches, slow Caribbean life, and ocean breezes. So in lieu of adventuring with jaguars, monkeys, and who-knows-what reptiles, I walk around, read, eat, swim, and chat up my fellow travelers. Oh, and I take some pictures too: requisite self-timer beach shot, almost spoiled turned artsy shot, beach palm, good advice that I take as often as possible, and more friendly advice.

Perhaps I will return to Belize some day to expand my knowledge beyond the Cayes. Or perhaps I will return someday to each johnny cakes, drink fresh pineapple juice, and wonder at the beauty of the Caribbean sea. They both sound pretty dang nice.

(Alternate post titles considered: Jeez Belize and You Better Belize It)
Friday March 12 2010File under: travel, Belize

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Feelin the Vibe

Conveying the vibe of a place—how it feels to be there—is something that is hard to do via any medium: words, pictures, even video.

Sure I could tell you that here in San Pedro, Belize there are more golf carts on the roads than cars, an equal mix of English and Spanish on storefronts, and coconut palm lined paths right on the beach. I could further go on to describe how friendly the people are, and even offer an anecdote of being helped (without ulterior motive) by 3 people within my first 15 minutes of being here*. But you still wouldn't get the full vibe of this place.

Feeling a place's vibe is a lot of what traveling is about for me. Sure I like to see the sights, eat the food, and meet the people, but all those things can be overshadowed (both in a good way and a bad) by the vibe of a place. As for the here and now, I've done found myself a place with a wonderful vibe. Now I'm going to head out and enjoy it.
Wednesday March 10 2010File under: travel, Belize

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Travel Quote for Monday - Length vs. Width


LIFE IS SHORT, MAKE IT WIDE

Staying at a hostel in Valladolid, Mexico, I met an older traveller about whom there was a lot I admired (and aspired). His business card fancies him as an "entrepreneur, adventurer, traveler, troubador, eccentric" and from the few days we hung out, it all seemed true enough (and then some; I'm looking forward to reading the book he wrote*). At the top of his business card was this phrase: "life is short, make it wide". He also had a very well written song that said the same. I thought it was as good a quote as any to add to my Monday traveling quotes series, to be reminded, whenever I have occasion to review past posts, to do just that—make it wide.
Monday March 8 2010File under: travel, quote

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Comunicacion

Q:What do you call someone who can speak 3 languages?A:Trilingual
Q:What do you call someone who can speak 2 languages? A:Bilingual
Q:What do you call someone who can speak only one language? A:American


Yesterday, I was complimented on my Spanish. Granted it was only after I complimented him on his English. Still, it felt good. Practicing my Spanish was one of the main reasons I chose to come to Mexico this travel season.

While I was in Japan last year, I remember really admiring my American friends' ability to communicate with the locals in Japanese. As Americans*, we don't have the multi-lingual head start that many Europeans or others have. This ability to communicate with more than just my countrymen led me to the decision to really focus on keeping up my Spanish.

Since being here, I've had two really rewarding conversations, ones where I know that I've conveyed myself well, proving to myself that, in a pinch, I can get my point across. In one instance, I saw a guy with jugglers on this shirt. I asked him about it and we ended up talking circus talk for the remainder of the bus ride. In the other case, I conducted "small talk" with a barber who cut my hair.* *

In a few short days (maybe tomorrow even), I will cross the border into Belize and be back in an English speaking country. This last week, while I've proved to myself I retained more Spanish than I thought, but I didn't get as much practice in as I wanted. Luckily, Guatemala and returning to Mexico are on the agenda.
Sunday March 7 2010File under: travel

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9016 Words About Chichen Itza





Since a picture is worth 1000 words, here's my wordiest blog post yet. Enjoy. (We did.)

Thursday March 4 2010File under: travel, Mexico

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Oh Mexico



Oh, Mexico
It sounds so simple I just got to go
The sun's so hot I forgot to go home
Guess I'll have to go now

Tuesday March 2 2010File under: travel, Mexico

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Scrapbalking

At one point in my life, I aspired to become a scrapbooker. I had seen some really great scrapbooks (remember?), so I started saving all the necessary scraps of paper, ticket stubs, maps, pictures, etc. I put them all in a nice pile to be dealt with later*.

Well, since now piles are needing to be dealt with, I thought I would make a scrap-scan and call that as close I'll get. Besides, there will be more ticket stubs, scraps of paper, maps, pictures, etc. The real fun, for me, is in obtaining said scraps anyway.

(Most of these scraps are from my SE Asia trip and various trips east in 2008)
Wednesday February 10 2010File under: travel, misc

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Canyonero

This road trip has been a great one for outdoor places. Sure I've seen some cities (or at least little bits of them): San Antonio, New Orleans, Vegas, El Paso, etc. But the parks have been the real stand outs. In each of the 3 main parks we've visited, the best scenery in my opinion has been the canyons.

* Big Bend National park in southwest Texas: I would love to spend more time there. It's really got some great geography.

* Red Rocks near Las Vegas: a great scenic drive even if you don't get out of the car. If you hike around a little, it gets even better.

* Death Valley National Park: lots of desert, but some of the narrow canyons are pretty freaking spectacular too.
Tuesday January 5 2010File under: travel, USA

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Another Roadside Attraction

Traveling the back roads of America far outweighs interstate travel, if you ask me. Sure it is a little slower, but seeing real towns instead of exit ramp after exit ramp of the same chain stores makes it all worth it. Passing through Eastern Oregon on a small back road recently, I came across this gem that I just had to share.

There was no plaque or explanation. Just a bunch of license plates nailed to a fence and fence posts. Upon closer inspection, I noticed there was a can of nails and a hammer for anyone to add their own contribution. Erica and I both did our part*.

When we stopped in the next town*'s little cafe*, we asked about the art installation up the road. They didn't have much to offer in way of explanation but did point us to another similar attraction in the next town over.

Yep, back roads America: I'm a fan.
Sunday January 3 2010File under: travel, USA

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