The first problem was entirely my fault. We'd planned to take the water taxi from Grand Caribe to town instead of walking since we needed to catch such an early ferry to Chetumal (7:30 am). All the southbound water taxis go past Grand Caribe's dock at 40 minutes after the hour, except one. I didn't pay attention and was thinking the first taxi of the day would pass at 6:40 am. So, there we were, out on the dock at 6:35 am -- quite early for us to be up and about -- and my heart sunk when I saw the posted schedule and realized that the early ferry would have passed by at around 6:25 am, not 6:40.
We had no real choice than to start walking the two miles to the ferry terminal, as we figured a land cab might not even make it up to Grand Caribe in time to get us there. So walk we did, and it was already sweltering, especially at the fast pace we were having to keep. We were hoping that maybe a golf cart would go by and offer us a lift, but the only one we saw was just ahead of us on the road. If we'd been one minute earlier getting to the road, we might have been in luck, but as it was, we weren't passed by a single vehicle before we reached the bridge into town -- guess it was just too early.
I called Bill on our cell phone and told him where we were. Plan B was that if we missed the 7:30 ferry, we'd walk around to the other ferry terminal on the lagoon side of Ambergris Caye and take the more expensive 8am boat instead. Fortunately, we did make it to the ferry terminal in time (though drenched with sweat) to fill out our exit paperwork and board the boat. And in actuality, the boat didn't leave the dock until 8 am after all. It's very possible that they post a 30 minute earlier departure to make sure that passengers are there in time to fill out the paperwork.
On the boat we filled out our entry papers for Mexico, which were all in Spanish. Fortunately, one of the ferry employees was available to assist. The audio-only Spanish lessons we'd been taking didn't quite prepare us for everything on the form, but with his help, we got it done.
Here are some of the sights we saw during the 10-minute taxi ride to the mall.
Finally, we made it to the right place and paid our fare (taxis are cheap, cheap, cheap in Chetumal!) While Debra and Bill were checking their suitcases, Barry and I proceeded to Immigration to check out of Mexico. The Immigration officer just shook his head when he saw our papers. He told us we were supposed to have paid a $25 US exit fee (per person) at a local bank. What?! We had done our research ahead of time and knew that there was NO exit fee for folks staying for less than seven days and returning to their country of origin. We tried to reason with the officer, but he would have none of it. When Bill and Debra arrived, they were told the same thing. One of the ferry employees was there trying to expedite things as we were now past time for the boat to leave. He agreed that we should not have to pay the exit fee, but his hands were tied.
Finally we were told to walk over to a bank, pay the fee, and come back with the receipt. The ferry worker said "Hurry" as we hustled off. A local was going with us to show us where the bank was. I was wondering if this was all some elaborate scam that they were all in on together. Even the local agreed we should not have to pay. It was really sickening. We've all read and heard immigration horror stories, but no one expects it will ever happen to them.
As we walked down the road, the ferry worker came calling after us. There was no time for us to get to the bank, and a young lady working with the Immigration officer could take our money and get us our receipts "later" (ummm, right...). So, we had no choice. We turned around and headed back to the immigration office. I waited outside while Barry did our business. He came back out with our passports and quickly hustled me down towards the boat as quickly as possible, leaving Bill and Debra behind to check out. I thought he was acting a little strangely, but I didn't understand -- I figured he was just pissed off, as we all were.
When we got about halfway down the promenade and no one was within earshot, he told me that he didn't pay. He said there was a lot of confusion in the office, so he just got the stamp and high-tailed it outta there! I have to give him credit for that bold maneuver; after all, we were in the right, and he was simply trying to avoid being scammed.
Unfortunately, it didn't work out as the young lady working with immigration and the ferry worker ran to catch up with us and said "He says you didn't pay." Since there were men with machine guns standing near the boat, Barry had no choice but to give them the money. It was worth a try, right?
Debra and Bill reluctantly paid as well, and we all made it onto the boat without being thrown into a Mexican prison. We were all angry, though, since we knew we'd been taken. Another passenger on the ferry approached us and asked if we'd had to pay -- turns out they tried to make her and her husband pay as well, but somehow they got out of it. She said the officer was extremely rude to them. Apparently they are pulling this scam on everyone with a US passport, but some manage to get out of it somehow or another. This couple had been coming from Cancun so possibly had a slightly different situation than ours that he let slide.
Unfortunately, this incident ended the trip on a bad note. At the time I swore I'd never go to Mexico again, but since I've had time to cool down, I now think I'd go -- but not for less than seven days. If I know I have to pay the fee by law, I certainly don't mind paying it, but I strongly object to government officials taking advantage of visitors (especially those who have just spent good money in their country) and breaking their own laws. Infuriating!
Here is what we came home with: