Saturday, December 29, 2012

Corozal Free Zone --Belize Border Crossing--it's different this time...

After 6 hours of travel through Mexico--we were actually looking forward to returning to Belize. Intrigued by the "Corozal Free Zone", we thought we'd take a break and walk around. We parked at The Princess Casino---yes, a casino--table games, machines that take US dollars or Mexican Pesos, a restaurant, track betting---there's another casino, Las Vegas, on the other side of the zone.
Anyway, we walked down the main street of the zone, only about 1/2 way--it was Christmas Eve and very crowded! Bought 2 bottles of Concha y Toro Shiraz--have not seen it in Belize--everything else you can get in Belize, even though you'd pay a little more.

Not sure why a tourist would go into the zone--if you have to leave Belize first, it costs $35bzd to exit the country, then you can get into the free zone. I'm not sure what you'd actually purchase that would save you the $35 exit fee. Belizeans are "not allowed" into the free zone. But we think there's a way to go into the zone without leaving Belize--gotta investigate this further.

So we decide to immigrate into Belize. We go through the same rigmarole as the last time--park the car, enter the Immigration building, get a 30 day stamp--we were told to make sure to get a  stamp prior to the 30 days expiration, then we went to the Customs desk....

The lady took our passports and asked about the car. Yes, we drove it into Mexico, yes, it is in the parking lot. She proceeded to ask us why we did not check out with the car when we left the other day? We explained we thought we did...went to the other building, paid our exit fee and left...No, No, No! We did not return to the Customs desk, in this building to exit with the car...this was not explained to us! Ah Oh--we're in trouble!! She sighed, "I'll let it go this time, but next time it will be $500 fine and full duty on the vehicle"---we must have a stamp placed over the car's entrance stamp to cancel it's separate entrance/exit from the country.

She again explained the procedure as she handed Larry the form to sign--indicating he understood the process...this event would be documented in their "daily diary" so that next time they will see we had "firm notice"---it'll be on our "permanent record"!!! So now did we have anything to claim??? Yes, 2 bottles of wine. Another sigh, "The Corozal Free Zone is for export only, nothing can be brought into the country" but since you came from farther that Chetumal, I'll let it go this time." I offered to pay duty--No.

So with knees shaking, we left the desk. Larry went back to get the car, I walked through to wait for him on the other side of the fence. After I got into the car, I was putting his passport into my purse and noticed my passport was not there. It had to be back at the Customs desk! Crap!

You cannot get back into Customs without leaving the country and re-entering! So, I boldly walked into the Emigration side of the building, told them that I needed their help--my passport was at the Customs desk...I got to use the "authorized only" hallway and proceeded immediately back to the Customs desk. I was greeted with a confused look by the woman who had just castigated us--I asked for my passport, her face blanched as she rifled through the books and ledgers on her passport was on the bottom of the pile! She handed it back to me, meekly----now we're even!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Port Loyola, picking up our shipped crate and storage facility

We had not heard from our shippers about the (8'x4'x4 1/2') crate that we sent via Caribbean Shipping in November. Decided we should call....lo and behold, the crate had arrived 12/11 and we were just in Belize City the 13th!! ANYWAY...

Back to Belize City we go. The scenery hasn't changed along the Northern Highway in less than a week, so the 2 hour trip lasted the full 2 hours.

We had an address for the shipping agents, who receive and do all the paperwork to process the shipments. Paid our $14bzd and were handed our paperwork-a "Dock Receipt". Make sure you have a Bill of Lading (with itemized contents in Belize dollar estimated value--you'll need this for Customs at the dock). HINT: Undervalue everything that is used (used=opened boxes or little or no resale value) anything new, it might be a good idea to have the receipt. 

I've gotta stop here, paperwork should be addressed in it's entirety--many trees are killed in the name of bureaucracy in Belize; along with blue and black stamp ink...EVERYTHING "official" from shipment paperwork, insurance, passports and even raffle tickets (yes, raffle tickets!) are stamped! Mostly round stamps, only the  passport ones are small rectangles. 'Nuf said.

This is the procedure:

1) Proceed to Port Loyola (down Central Americas Blvd. ends in a "T", through the fence/gate straight ahead, bear right to the security checkpoint. Present Dock Receipt. **Make sure you have the tools necessary to open your crate, if needed, we had a drill to unscrew ours!

2) Park in the lot to the left. Enter the green building on your left--cashier---pay delivery fee (ours was $140bzd).

3) Go to the small yellow building labeled "Port of Belize", sign in at the desk --have driver's license available to exchange for a visitor's pass--go to the  main "shed".

A word of advice here---most of the people inside the "shed" do this for a living and it was funny to watch as they sent Larry back and forth between the windows--not getting anything accomplished! Keep a sense of patient and keep asking "What is the next step?" Belizeans are not good at explaining more than one thing at a time.

4) Inside the "shed" go to the 2nd bank of windows, present paid port fees and bill of lading. Follow the progress of your shipment on the tv board--it indicates the "status" (customs or delivery) and your "checker's" name.

5) Once it enters "Customs", go to the 1st bank of windows and have an agent check the contents. This is when you gain access to your shipment, have your tools ready! When our crate was evaluated by the agent, it was designated as "household goods"---there must be different categories for different shipments....

When we opened our crate, there were a couple of dock workers who peeked in and noticed my husband's 2 bicycles (1 road and 1 mountain bike) they immediately and excitedly  began discussing the bicycling races in Belize, inviting him to join them. They even took him back to their office to show him pictures of a custom painted Cannondale road bike on their computer. These guys could not do enough for us! we departed with "see you on the road"!

6) Present the Bill of Lading--with the estimated value of the contents clearly marked in Belize Dollars!!! Follow your agent back to the Customs window. Our duty charges were calculated at 41.4% of the estimated value....we estimated $500bzd value, import duty was $100bzd, environmental tax was $10bzd, GST on landing charges was $20.92, General Sales Tax was $ the amount we paid on a $500bzd value shipment was $207.17bzd. And your paperwork gets stamped.

7) Be sure to get a vehicle pass at the Customs window so you can bring your vehicle to the "shed" to pick up your shipment. More stamps on more paperwork.

8) Return to your vehicle, queue up to enter the "shed", pull up and the dock workers will load the vehicle.
**NOTE: There are several pickup trucks waiting outside the fence line who will transport your stuff locally....your checker will hook you up with a reputable guy.

Our crate and one of the bicycling guys

Now, where to put the "stuff"???  Storage facilities in Belize are virtually non-existent! But, we found a gringo-owned one about 9 miles from the port! Edgar's Mini-Storage, located in Vista Del Mar subdivision near Ladyville---these are 10'x20' spaces in a pre-fab building with garage doors, on a concrete slab, fenced/barbed wire surrounds the area... provide your own lock....not climate controlled...discounted price if paid for 1 year in advance....owner lives nearby.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mayan Ball Game

The day after the Mayan ceremonial dance, we were invited to attend a demonstration of the ancient Mayan Ball Game. In ancient times, this game was played in a ceremonial ball field typically adjacent to the temples and/or temple plaza. The losers of the game were often sacrificed.

The Shaman calls the game to begin, pomp and circumstance follow with a procession of the costumed dancers, copal incense galore, 2 teams of players all accompanied by ongoing drums, flutes and chanting. The softball sized rubber ball is batted around - reminiscent of volleyball warm-ups - for the first round. The Shaman then begins a new chant and the game begins. The ball is "served" after kneeling and then bounced off the arms of the players, back and forth until someone can score a "goal" by hitting the ball through the ring suspended on the side of the court. It was explained to us that the Mexican Mayans played without using their arms or hands - the ball was bounced off their hips, while the Guatemalan Mayans only used their arms and hands.

Unfortunately, the first game was played in darkness with vehicle headlights as lighting and therefore made it unable for us to photograph. Sorry!

We were then treated to yet another game--a ring on a stand was brought into the ball court, the female attendants lit the ring on fire, the players returned to the court and the ball itself was also lit on fire. The sides took turns serving the ball either to be volleyed or hit through the ring for a score.

Mayan Dance Ceremony at Palenque

As we left the ruins at Palenque on the Eve of the end of the calendar, we noticed a group of people dressed in traditional Mayan ceremonial costumes gathered near the entrance to a housing community. We stopped and were approached by the Shaman who invited us to attend their ritual dance.

It's much like the Native American ritual dances, the colors, animals, skulls and glyphs adorning their faces, costumes and headdresses obviously significant. The conch shell is blown to announce the beginning of the dance, while participants form a circle to the beat of drums and maraca-type shakers and the tune of flutes, surrounded by the smoke of copal resin incense, the dancers, with their shell anklets, brightly colored costumes and headdresses - dance.  Sometimes in unison, sometimes alone the ritual ceremony sweeps the participants into a frenzy that then calms and ends with all in a kneeling and bowed position.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Art In The Park

Once a month, Corozal's town square becomes a-buzz with local artisans. Dubbed "Art In The Park", this after dark showplace of local talent features such items as: jewelry, raffles benefitting various charities, woodwork, original paintings, crafts, and food vendors galore (I do think food preparation is an artform!).

This month's entertainment began about 7:30p.m. and featured a local group/band done good, known as the Corozalsa--they are freshly back from a gig on Ambergris Caye--and entertained us royally! The music and songs brought out the salsa in the best of us!

We sat along the wall that fronted the stage and even though we have only been here for 2 weeks, we already saw people we knew and were then introduced to more! What a friendly place to be!

A seemingly meek Belizean couple sat next to us, the wife was coerced into buying a balloon sword from a passing child collecting for a dance troupe and the husband began to drink his Belikin(s). As he imbibed, he became more friendly, grinning, laughing, chatting it up with whomever walked by. So the Corozalsa's began to play and the salsa got him....he asked every female in the vicinity to dance--all refused (including his wife and me), so he decided to dance alone. He did a fine job staying on his feet while gyrating to the beat. Soon enough, 2 young women moved into his territory...fatal mistake. He jiggled over to them and began dancing behind one of the girls - she politely moved away, grinning as she moved. He followed, continuing his salsa assault-she laughed, embarrassed, he was now on a mission; he pursued, smiling, laughing and losing his dance steps as he continued. Finally she fled the area, girlfriend in tow. He barely missed a beat and honed in on anyone even slightly showing an inclination to dance. His wife and I laughed out loud at his antics! What a jolly drunk!

All too soon the band took a break - after 1 hour of continuous music! So we bade farewell to this month's Art In The Park-next month we'll take photos!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Only the 2 of us in the congregation!

The little Anglican church we found on the Bay-St. Paul's By The Bay- had an 11 p.m. service on Christmas Eve and a 9:30 a.m. service on Christmas Day.

We opted for the 9:30a.m. service, arrived at 9:25a.m. only to find we were the only people in the congregation! The priest, Padre Juan from Sta. Elena, and 1 lay person were the only "clergy". We were told that most of the congregation attended the bi-lingual service on Christmas Eve. The priest did not speak English very well, but offered to have the service and communion. We decided to stay and wound up being readers for the Old Testament and New Testament lessons! The sermon was very short--as he was embarrassed with his limitations speaking English.

"Whenever 2 or more are gathered--I will be there also" - it was a sweet service.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012 Happy New Mayan Bak'tun To You!!

It's raining and pouring here in Palenque today.

Pastel ponchos were sold by vendors at the entrance resulting in a mass of humanity, resembling dyed Easter eggs, ebbing and flowing through the drenched temples and plazas. The rain was relentless, continuous, sometimes drizzly sometimes torrential downpours.

Hundreds of people had made the trek, walking, hitch hiking, driving, biking, pretty much all modes of transportation were used to get here. 

We alighted atop the steps of El Palacio with our ponchos and umbrellas, facing the entrance, and were entertained for about an hour and a half with a variety of sights. Some "connecting" with a deeper consciousness, some tree-hugging, some wandering, some lost, some seeking something, some just there to be there for the new Bak'tun, some-I still don't know why they were there.

Evidently, there was misinformation given/received by some of the pilgrims--has to do with 11:12 a.m. and the winter solstice. Several tree-hugging and chanting ceremonies began around 11:12 a.m. local time...their error in calculating the solstice is that it is based on GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) which is 6 hours ahead of local Palenque time--their ceremony should have begun at 5:12 a.m. Maybe that's why it was raining so hard---the Mayan Rain Deity, Chaak, was making a statement!

Enough of my ramblings--please enjoy the photos of this New Bak'tun Day!!

Shaman lead group
Temple of Inscriptions and Plaza

Communing with the glyph
A Captive

Fog creeping around Foliated Cross Temple


Time out??
Tree hugging

Yes, Virginia it is a poppy