Friday

Belize Survivor, part 58

After the river-ferry crossing at Tampico, the look of the landscape became more inviting. Gradually, the dry flat lands gave way to curving hills and abundant greenery. As the road wound through the areas near Poza Rica and Papantla, Alexis finally saw lush jungle for the first time. Instead of the blazing heat, the rickety van and its occupants found refuge in the cool of the tree-shaded roads. Pulling over at a roadside stand to buy some fresh juice, they noticed that the men wore long white shirts and white cotton trousers. They were a physically beautiful people, immaculately clean. One of them saw the Americans and approached the vehicle.

"¿Piña pie, señor?” he said. ¿Señora? Solo catorce pesos, one dollar. ¿Quiere pie de piña? Barrato. ¿Lo quieren?"

"That means pineapple, Max. Ooh look, a pineapple pie. Mmm, it looks good.”

"Señora, señora," interrupted another man, as he too crowded at the door of the van. "¿Quiere vainilla? Tengo vainilla para vender." He quickly opened his palm to reveal a scorpion! Alexis nearly jumped out of her skin until she realized it was some kind of seed pod. When he gestured that Alexis should smell it, she realized it was a vanilla bean, the pod from a special tropical orchid used to make vanilla extract.

"¿Otra forma? Tengo otra forma tambien. Solo tres pesos cada uno," said the little man. He pulled out another vanilla bean work-of-art, this one in the design of a crucifix.

It was an interesting choice of styles – a scorpion and a crucifix, obviously two important influences in their everyday lives. Alexis took one of each and the pie too, and hung the crucifix from the rear view mirror. When in Rome…she thought.

She sat back and smiled to herself. Feeling much better, she was looking forward to spending the night in the little coastal village of Tecolutla, where Max had promised they would treat themselves to an actual restaurant meal and a clean hotel room for the night.

The old step-van persevered southeast, passing alongside the coastal city of Veracruz and going through small villages with exotic names like Alvarado, Lerdo de Tejada, and San Andreas Tuxtla. Alexis studied the map, knowing that soon they’d have to make the big decision.

“It shows here that there's a fork in the road at Acayucan. At that point we can go south to Guatemala City and on to Costa Rica, or continue east through the Yucatan and on to Belize.”

"How far is it to Acayucan from here?" Max asked.

"Mmm. Looks like about seventy-five kilometers, less than forty miles. That doesn't give us much time. And once we head east to Belize, it's pretty much cut off from the rest of Central America. It looks like there is only the one decent road that comes in from the north. Amazing. And there's only one single skinny red line that leads from the west of Belize into Guatemala. And nothing to the south either; no roads down there at all,” she emphasized. “Probably just heavy jungle. It'll be a tough decision to reverse once we make it."

"That's true, but if we go to Costa Rica, then for sure we won't go to Belize. If we go to Belize first and don't like it, we can always go on to Costa Rica."

"Belize is a lot closer to the States," Alexis reminded him. "It would be much more expensive to travel back from Costa Rica."

"So who wants to go back?"

"Don’t be like that, Max, my parents are there. Even if we set up permanently in Belize or Costa Rica, I'll want to be able to come back to see them."

"We haven't even gotten there yet, and already you're talking about coming back."

"No, I’m not,” she protested. “I just want to consider all the factors."

"Yeah, right,” Max said, sarcastically. “You're real good at soft adventure inside the U.S. Once you’re the foreigner, you’re a wimp."

"Come on, please. Let's not fight."

There was silence for a good five minutes before he spoke again.

"Well, I still think we should go to Belize first. Then we can see if we like it." There was no point in arguing.

Of all the spectacular country they'd seen in Mexico, there was an incomparable magnificence in the rugged beauty just before Acayucan. As the narrow road curved treacherously along the hairpin turns, precipitous cliffs dropped off into the gorges on either side, and the heady perfume of orange blossoms from the nearby groves sweetened the early morning mist. Reaching the fork in the road, they bore left without hesitation and continued due east, bypassing the route that would have taken them south across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and on to Guatemala. Descending rapidly from the highlands, the old step-van trundled towards a black smudge that lay thickly on the horizon. The closer they came to the coastal city of Coatzacoalcos, the more the air reeked of the petroleum emissions belching from the smokestacks of hundreds of oil refineries. As they reached the city itself, the thick smoke engulfed their vehicle. There was no longer a sky above them, only the choking purple-orange haze from which there was no escape.