Cab-sharing in the jungle with cheapskates



Like sex, travel teaches the unwary to choose partners wisely. Experience has taught us there are consequences for careless selection of travel companions – especially activities involving money, like cab-sharing in port.

Early in our cruising career, we found ourselves docked in Belize City with Princess. We wanted to see the ancient Mayan Altun Ha ruins, but were living on a budget, and were relatively inexperienced travelers.

We met a fun gay couple early in the cruise. As relative newbies to travel, we listened with admiration to their tales of visits to far-flung destinations. Their extroverted personalities turned their travel anecdotes into performances which captivated our imaginations.

However, these two flamboyant extroverts also shared a surprising preoccupation with penny-pinching. They lived in a tiny apartment in a major city, saving every dime for travel. Their habit of volunteering the details of their money-saving hustles would have shamed even my depression-era parents.

Unfortunately, we failed to heed the warning signs. When they asked if we might consider sharing a cab ride to the Altun Ha site, we jumped at the chance.

Cab ride through the jungle

At that time, Belize City was full of what looked suspiciously like imported cars stolen from Southern California. The taxi stand was littered with battered white Toyota Corollas of about the same vintage and state of disrepair. Our cab-sharing companions jumped into the worst-looking car. We reluctantly joined them, and the vehicle took off in a cloud of noxious exhaust fumes before we could tell the driver our destination.

The five of us bounced around like rubber balls crammed into the car as it jolted over uneven pavement. Our chain-smoking driver swerved and dodged on the highway, seeming to enjoy the sight of her passengers cringing in the backseat. When the car turned off onto a bumpy, rutted trail into the jungle, Mark and I looked at each other, certain that we would soon die.

To complete our discomfort, the car’s air conditioning didn’t work and our chain-smoking driver filled the cab with noxious fumes. We all sweated copiously in the tropical heat as we made our bobble-headed way through the hot, sticky jungle. Now and then, we saw shacks along the road, their residents calling to our driver. The word “kidnapping” flashed into my head. Having grown up gay in the Midwest in the 1950s and 60s, Mark and I both developed PhD-level skills in denial, so we firmly ignored the possibility of danger.

Suddenly, the cab pulled into a clearing. The stunning ruins of Altun Ha appeared as if out of nowhere. The driver arranged to return to pick us up after we explored the site. As she drove off, we assumed that, except for a bumpy return ride, the rest of our day would be uneventful.

We nearly forgot about the ride as we climbed the ruins and learned as much as we could about the fascinating culture that thrived in the region. The city is said to have been occupied for nearly a thousand years ending about A.D. 900. (If you haven’t visited this site yet, add it to your bucket list. We don’t regret our excursion there, in spite of the discomfort and expense involved).

We finished our visit to the site and our driver appeared exactly as promised. We breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we’d let our fear and uncertainty get the best of us.

The disappearing act

Our return trip to the port brought more bouncing, smoky, humid discomfort. Our driver again lurched down lumpy jungle roads, seeming to narrowly avoid accidents at every turn. But we were entertained by Cheap and Cheaper as they regaled us with a chronicle of exotic trips to the Middle East, Africa and Asia. We figured that we’d misjudged the couple and thought about a time later in the cruise when we could get together again.

Just as we arrived at the port, Cheap and Cheaper tossed us half the cabfare. Then they pulled the most impressive disappearing act since Endora from Bewitched. Leaving the entire tip to us, the men ran up that gangplank at breakneck speed. We later wondered if they donned disguises, or hid out in the cabin for the remainder of the voyage, since we never saw them again.

We love meeting other LGBT folks while cruising — it’s why we started this blog. However, we’ve learned that, as with so many other pleasure-oriented activities, it’s best to have an upfront discussion of who pays for what.