In the Time of COVID. Day 34
April 21, 2020
Big Pontiac and the Thunderbolt
One terrific thing about being teachers is summer break. Once our last kid left home we were free to explore. A colleague of April’s was over the moon about Isla Mujeres , off the northeast coast of the Yucatán. It didn’t take arm twisting for us to decide on a 6 week adventure to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. It was early days of the internet, no cell phones, just a current copy of ‘Lonely Planet Central America’ as our guide post.
After a week on the island and a day trip to Chichen Itza we were ready to move on. In Cancun we boarded a bus to Subteniente Lopez, a town that straddles the Mexico / Belize border and is dissected by the Rio Hondo. The bus dropped us a couple of blocks from the bridge. It’s an odd feeling to roll your bags over a bridge that defines a frontier, leaving one country and entering another. Hoping the new country will let you in.
Unlike Mexico, Belize uses English, though Spanish is commonly used. As we made our way over the bridge we came to a duty free zone with 2 or 3 sad little casinos an a strip mall before the official entry to Belize. After the formalities, we walked further south. Now what?
Off to the side was an old Pontiac Bonneville Convertible. It had seen better days. A giant sat behind the wheel. He must of weighed 400 pounds. He was golden brown in the Afro-Caribe way and had a disarming grin on his face. “Where you headed folks?” We said ‘Ambergris Caye’. He said “You flyin or water taxi?” “Don’t know”, we said. “What do you think”? “The Thunaboat is a good time, don’t cost much, take you to San Pedro in the mornin’. Need to buy de tickets tonight.” “Were do we do that?” We asked.
“Come on I take you to Corozal down de road. We get those tickets and I know a place you can stay. I’ll come in de mornin n take you to the boat. 10 bucks”. We piled in. Though it was 13 kilometers to the boat pier, we must have stopped a dozen times. He was showing us off to his friends. He had costumers, He was Big Pontiac that evening. He’d honk and howdy his friends, they’ed howdy back. It was a big time. Not once did he get out from behind the wheel.
We bought our one-way tickets at the Thunderbolt shed and Big Pontiac, howdy’ed us a few times more to a little hotel that was clean, cheap and had chicken, beans and rice and a shower. In the morning he blasted his horn and off we went.
The Thunderbolt was a 35 foot plywood tank of a boat. Everyone had to climb down inside. There were little long narrow port windows on either side but the floor of the passenger space was well below the windows if you were sitting down. The seats were plastic lawn chairs, not screwed to the floor.
Besides us, there were a few other couples, some market people that were taking stuff to San Pedro, and then on came a group of American teenagers being herded by a youth minister. They were on one of those summer mission excursions. Sometimes you just can’t get away from folks like that. An hour and a half to San Pedro with a preacher stirring up those kids, singing those young life hymns over the roar of the engines.
The Thunderbolt had twin 60 horse Mercury outboards and once we left the harbor the pilot opened them up, the stern bit in and the bow rose up and the chairs slid back toward the wailing youth. The roar of the engines and the slapping of the bow over the waves jarred us but the youth minister cranked up his kids to sing over the noise. It was a hell of a time. Out into the Caribbean Sea , an hour and a half to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, out to the crystal blue waters of the biggest coral reef in the Americas. Out to a tropical island.