Tulum had been a great place for a week. The margaritas are cheap, the sand white, the sky blue with a constant whisper of marijuana on the sea breeze. We'd had a nice cabana a short walk from the beach, and were spending afternoons reading in the sun and smoking the grass supplied by one of the staff. Myself and Kneehead hadn't bothered mixing much with others there, as a lot of people seemed a little cliquey and kept themselves to themselves. I was ordering yet another couple of margaritas one afternoon, when a lad ducked under the low palm-frond roof of the bar said Hello. The English recognise each other easily, I find. He introduced himself as Kim, and asked how long I'd been in the country. He and his girlfriend had done a tour of the States, and had just started in Mexico City; they were working their way to Costa Rica to fly home in a few months' time. He said no-one else had spoken to him in Tulum. I grabbed my drinks and told him to come over when he'd got his.
I chuckled at the fact they were from Bognor Regis (a small, unfashionable town in southern England). Myself and my mate Garfield were regular faces on the rave scene back in the early 90s. In those days, people would stagger over, completely off it on a variety of drugs, and start conversations at random with the sentence "What's yer name, where are yer from, and what have you had?" Standard. Everyone was pretty mangled in those days, before Ecstasy went shit. But we got sick of the formulaic ice-breaker, so we'd just make it up and say "My name's Dennis Nilsen, I'm from Bognor Regis, and I've had 10 Acid." They'd always laugh and say they'd never met anyone from Bognor Regis. Neither had I, until now. I'd attended a mate's wedding on the South Downs recently, and had considered a pilgrimage to nearby Bognor. Still haven't been.
Kim and Nicola were struggling a little, having no Spanish between them. They told us they were considering abandoning Central America and spending the rest of the trip in Thailand, where they'd started. I told them not to be so bloody daft, and that that was the easy way out of what would be a more challenging and worthwhile trip; anyone can go to Thailand. That's not travelling...it's a holiday. I think you have to get out of your comfort zone sometimes and, as they're setting up home in Brighton on their return, would they get the chance to come back out here, I queried? Maybe not. And they'd be missing some fantastic spots out here. Give it a month and see how you feel, I advised. Not that I'm any sort of travel guru, but I just thought they'd regret not giving the place a chance. Besides, they'd pick a bit of the lingo up as they went along, surely.
We would be heading the same way, over the border to Belize; we arranged to meet up on the islands. They went ahead, as they had a little less time to spare. Myself and Kneehead were a few days behind them and met them in Bacalar, but we headed for the border at Chetumal ahead of them, as absolutely nothing happens in Bacalar. It's an event when a bus goes through it. This has got to be the most relaxed border crossing in the world. Stamped out in a tiny office on a pier, and a couple of hours' boatride later we were pulling up on Ambergris Caye.
While waiting for Customs to open, we got chatting to a lone Korean female. Nice girl, if a bit mad, and had been travelling a while. She was first in the queue when the door opened. Asked for her visa, she explained to the stern woman that she didn't need one, as she wasn't North Korean. The officer stated she did need one, and the argument went back and forth a good five minutes. She was told to step aside and wait. I was next, and presented my passport and immigration with a big smile. She smiled back, transformed. Pretty hot actually, I thought as she fluttered her eyelashes and we flirted vaguely. I might like Belize. "Have a great stay" she told me, and I walked off down the rickety pier.
What was keeping Kneehead? He was there four times as long as me. Stomping down the pier, he was shaking his head. "Fancied you, I reckon...but didn't like my bloody tattoos...fuck's sake."
"Well I thought she was very nice...I'll have to keep my eye out for her around town."
"She was looking at my arms all the time, and grilling me about where we were staying. I told her I didn't know yet, and she said I had to tell them where I'd be living. What did you put as the accomodation address?"
"I put No sé" I laughed.
"And she just let you through? Bitch."
"English Charm, my dear fellow..."
Dumping the bags, we hit the streets in search of food. Walking up the main street, we were amazed at the sight of silver-haired people driving golf-carts. Lots of them. It was like a huge retirement home: Bournemouth with better weather. Constantly jumping out of the way of some manic geriatric Mr Magoo on his way to cocktails, we decided that this island was definitely not the place for us. This was reinforced when three middle-aged women, wearing the white yachty trousers Kneehead describes as Tena Pants (after the ad for incontinent women) slowed as they passed us in their cart; one gawped "Oh my gaawd...tattoooos!" in a Canadian accent. This, you can imagine, did nothing to ease Kneehead's mood. Neither did the smiling old folks dancing round to a rasta band, oblivious to the chatted patois lyrics about cocaine and ganja, lift mine. We agreed to head for Caye Caulker in the morning.
Belize isn't cheap. And, while having the most expensive breakfast this side of Knightsbridge, we were approached by a wild-eyed old man from the street. Barefoot, shabbily-dressed and obviously the worse for wear, he walked over and stood below our bench on the edge of the street. He put a tiny wooden whistle to his lips and played a brief tune, his expressive brown eyes wide beneath unruly hair. He reminded me of a bony Samuel L Jackson, in the scene from Pulp Fiction where we see the close-up of his drinking Brett's Sprite before exclaiming "That hit the spot." He started another short tune, and then started a ranting tale of how he'd fought for the US Marines in Vietnam. Likely story, I thought. I asked if he had any more tunes.
"What?!!" he shouted.
"I said do you know any more tunes?"
"Maaan...you tink I only got two tunes?" he growled, nostrils flaring.
"No, I was just..."
"Fuck you if you think a man like me only got two tunes. Why would I only got two tunes?"
"I didn't mean it like that, I only..."
He took a half-step backwards and regarded me with a frown of puzzlement.
"You curious. I call you Curious George."
"Fair enough" I laughed.
"You sound colonial. Where you from?" he narrowed his eyes.
Oh dear. I just wanted my breakfast.
"Hmmmm..." he appraised me. "I play ya 'nother tune, Curious George."
He piped up once more; I offered him a dollar I had spare. He squinted at his palm.
"Now where de fuck on dis island am I going to find a beer for a dollar?"
Kneehead gave him another. He backed up across the sandy street, playing as he went, his eyes never straing from me, the colonial oppressor, the whole time. Then he turned and disappeared.
"Interesting character" laughed Kneehead.
House remortgaged and breakfast therefore paid for, we headed for the dock. As our bags were being unceremoniously thrown into the boat (don't worry about the laptop, fella) a chap next to me asked how long we'd been on Ambergris. "Fifteen hours, mate" I told him. "That's pretty precise?" He sounded surprised. "Yep. I counted them." And off we went.