Time Is Relative In Belize
“How long will the drive take from Tulum down to Belize City?” I asked our friend Phil, who’d volunteered to give Lief and me a lift down the coast.
“Hard to say,” Phil replied. “It all depends on the border crossing. It can take 10 minutes to get across…or it can take two hours…”
Crossing a border by land in this part of the world can be an adventure. What questions will they ask? Will they want to search your vehicle? Your bags? Take you aside for a private conversation during which someone might be looking for a little something on the side?
“About a year ago,” Phil continued, “I’d driven from Belize to Cancun in a hurry. I was running behind schedule and raced across the border, happy that they didn’t pull my truck aside for inspection.
“On my way back to Belize a few days later, though, I realized I had a problem. I’d managed to drive across the border from Belize without getting an exit stamp in my passport. No one stopped me on the way out, no one asked any questions, and I was in such a rush that I didn’t think about it.
“Back at the border trying to get back into Belize, though, then I was stopped. ‘Where is your exit stamp?’ the guy wanted to know.
“‘Somehow I neglected to get one,’ I explained.
“‘Do you understand that the fine for this is US$1,000?’ he asked stoically.
“‘Listen, though,’ he continued, ‘maybe it doesn’t have to come to that. Why don’t you take this away with you,’ he said, indicating my passport, ‘and then come back with something inside. We’ll go from there.’
“I walked over to the side of the room and had one of those moments of truth. Should I pay the guy off…or take my chances on having to pay the US$1,000 fine…
“I put US$20 inside the passport and walked back over to the guy, placing my passport on the counter in front of him. He picked it up and looked inside.
“‘I don’t think you understand,’ he said. ‘It’s Christmas time. And I’m going to have to share this with all the guys here. I think we’re going to have to do better than US$20.’
“‘Well, sir,’ I began, ‘this isn’t really about the money. This is about the principle. It was an honest mistake. I just passed through quickly earlier in the week and forgot about the stamp. I come and go across this border all the time. I’m very actively invested in your country, with three different property development projects. I’ve been doing business in Belize for many years. So, again, this is about the principle here. It’s not about the money.’
“‘Right now,’ my friend on the other side of the immigration counter replied, looking straight into my eyes, ‘it’s about the money.’
“How could I argue with that? I put another 20 dollar bill in the passport, and my new friend seemed happy.
“‘Next time you come through, you look for me,’ he told me. ‘You’ll have no problems from here on out…'”
We had no problems yesterday. Our lady immigration officer waved us through (after, yes, stamping our passports). Likewise, the lady customs inspector. She waved us through after asking but a couple of questions half-heartedly. She didn’t seem overly interested in getting up from where she sat. It’s hot in this part of the world, and the immigration and customs hall at the Mexico-Belize border isn’t air conditioned.
From the border it’s an hour-and-a-half to Belize City. Driving in to town just as the sun was setting last night, I felt nostalgic. I came to Belize City for the first time about 25 years ago. I’ve returned at least two-dozen times since. Belize City today looks exactly the same today as it did two-and-a-half decades ago. Nothing changes in this town. “The good news from Belize is no news from Belize,” jokes a local friend.
Yep, Belize City was a dump 25 years ago, and it’s a dump today. A remarkably down-at-the-heels place as desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint today as it was when I first set eyes on it all those years ago. Few other places in the world are as reliably or as appallingly shabby.
But that’s Belize City. Belize City appearances aside, this little country is more appealing right now than ever before in its history.
Belize has been enjoying average growth rates of 6% per year for the past six years. Its economy is no longer supported entirely by timber, chicle (the stuff they use to make Chiclets…it comes from a tree), and bananas. Today it also includes revenues related to tourism, real estate, financial services, and oil.
The real reason, though, why Belize is so interesting today to the would-be expat and investor is because it has managed to remain well under the world’s radar. As banker Peter Zipper explained to the group assembled in Belize City today for our Live and Invest in Belize Conference:
“In today’s world, small is good. None of the world’s bullies are paying any attention to Belize because there’s just not enough here to get their attention. Bigger fish to fry elsewhere.”
Meaning the good news from Belize remains: No news from Belize.
And everyone down here in Belize likes it that way just fine.
Continue Reading: Safety Concerns Traveling In Belize City And Belize