LIVINGSTON, Guatemala- I just withdrew 2000 quetzales out of an ATM in Livingstone, Guatemala. I will remain in this country until this money is gone, then make way for El Salvador. It would be a fool’s move to pay $50 for me and my wife to take a one hour boat ride just to turn around a month later, repay this amount to return to where we are now. t would similarly be foolish to travel only a couple hundred kilometers away, do a little circuit, and pay $75 in taxes. It would also be a silly endeavor to travel to a different country and have to pay three to four times as much for accommodation and food, when the region I am in right now is very similar.
After a few days of sitting on the doorway to Belize, I have determined that the expenses associated with traveling there are too prohibitive to undergo. For the third time in four years, I have snubbed Belize in preference for its much cheaper neighbors. To do otherwise at this juncture could be considered irresponsible.
The kicker: A 25 USD exit tax. Times this amount by three, for me, Chaya, and baby Petra, and I am looking at paying out $75 for another nothing.
The kicker: The one hour boat ride to Belize from Livingstone costs 25 USD per person. Times two, I am looking at $50, include the return trip, the total will be $100.
The kicker: Thirty US dollars seems to be considered cheap for a hotel room.
To travel to Belize from Guatemala my family will be looking at having to pay 175 USD off the top, and this is before we consider paying triple the prices we are paying in Guatemala for accommodation and food. All of this just to travel in more or less the same jungle we are standing in now.
At least I tell myself that the region is similar, though I know that it is probably not so. The person who says that life is similar on either side of a border has obviously not crossed many in their time. Borders, even the arbitrarily drawn or recently created ones, are often big dividing walls between people and places that are surprisingly contrasting. It is often amazing how quickly culture and places can change in the span of a handful of kilometers and a single border:
Montenegro is vastly different than Croatia, Albania a different land than Montenegro; Ecuador and Peru have similar cultures, but once you cross the border you know that you are in another place; southern Yunnan province of China and Laos touch each other flush but are decades apart, and walking across the border from the Dominican Republic to Haiti is like stepping onto a different continent. Even on childhood trips to Canada — which was only a little over an hour from where I grew up — it was always overtly obvious that I was someplace new.
Borders are sometimes created along pre-existing cultural and geographic lines and sometimes they are drawn more or less arbitrarily and create new cultural lines in the process. Iraqi Kurdistan is vastly different than the Kurdish regions of Turkey, the Mongolians in Inner and Outer Mongolia. People often overlap borders, but there is something about a national frontier that is often solid: one group is on one side, another on the other. Crossing a border will almost always provide a new experience, crossing a border with often provide a traveler with a view of a new face — if not the face of a new people, than the face of a new land.
I like to cross borders — even going to a country for a week is give a clearer impression, a feel, of what is there. I would not mind crossing all of the borders this planet has to offer just to see what is on the other side, but these ends will have to remain for another day: I will probably not break the plane of Belize, again.
I would love to go to Belize — it seems to be an odd sort of country — but right now, when my young family is living off of a single, very slight income, it would not be a good move. The cost for boat transport and exit fees alone could pay for nearly an entire month of living in El Salvador.
When we set out for the Dominican Republic at the beginning of February, it was with the knowledge that — if we tighten our belts — we have just enough money to last for one year of traveling. I have one year left to make enough money off of this website — I do not want to shrink this buffer any further by making a jaunt into an expensive country when there are other far cheaper, good traveling paths before me.
If I want to travel, I need to think about money. All the time, I need to keep track of how much money I have, how much I am making, and how much I am spending. Right now, traveling with a family has been like ladling water with a sieve, far too much of my travel funds are slipping through the holes, and not enough is making it to my mouth.
I am aware that this entry may provoke a wave of angry comments from Belizeophiles who feel they must stick up for their dreamland against all criticism. These people will call me cheap, and tell me that I am missing out, and that Belize doesn‘t want me and my cheap ass, dirty family anyway. They will tell me that when they visited Belize three years ago for one week they thought it was paradise, and that anyone too cheap to tread on their fantasy land is not worthy of its romantic splendor.
And they will probably be correct, I will miss out.
But I have the resources to travel perpetually around the world if I travel carefully. I do not have to go home, and I am only able to do this because I recognize that paying $75 in exit taxes, $100 for two hours of boat transport, and $30 for hotel rooms needs to be avoided at all costs. I can travel because I know how to save money. I can travel because I am disciplined. I am cheap. I work hard to make the money I have, and I want to get the most out of it.
I would much rather travel mindful of my economic parameters than work 90% of the year at a job while dreaming about traveling. If I worked 350 days a year, you better believe that I would give zero thought to money during my vacation — I would go to Belize, enjoy the country fully, and not flinch while slapping down $75 in exit fees and $100 in boat transport. There are different ways of traveling — life is an endless round of give and take — if I want to live within my means, and continue living how I do, I need to make sacrifices: there are some countries that I must prepare to go to. If I was on vacation, you better Belize that I would be on that boat tomorrow morning.
For now, unless I get a wonderful offer for work in the country, Belize is out — snubbed for the third time.