Renting a Car in a Third-World Country

Terri and I are all about supporting local businesses when we can, so when it came to renting a car for our road trip through Belize, we took the advice of a friend who lived near Belize City and rented from a local company. Excited to get on the road, we were perhaps not as cautious as we should have been when we signed on the dotted line.

Car guy: You are ready to go. Here is a cellphone, a cooler and a map.

Terri: We get a cooler!

Vanessa: We get a map!

When we go to get in the car, we notice that ALL of the inside indicator lights are on—important ones like the engine light, brake light, oil light…you get the idea. So, discretion being the better part of valor, we get back out of the car to talk to the car guy, who is studiously ignoring us, despite the fact that we are standing in front of him.

Terri: We think there’s a problem. All of the car lights are on.

Car guy: It’s fine.

Vanessa: I’m pretty sure it’s not fine.

Car guy: It just got checked out. My guy says it’s fine. If you have any problems, you have a cell phone.

Terri: And a cooler.

Vanessa: Maybe it’s just an electrical short?

Car guy: It’s fine.

Vanessa: Or maybe it will stop in the middle of nowhere, and we will die a horrible death.

Car guy: You have a cell phone.

Terri: Thank God we have a cooler.

So still dubious but pretty much stuck, we take off on our road trip, which involves driving Belize’s four major highways—which are, in truth, its only highways. The scenery is gorgeous, which is a problem, because it distracts me from noticing that Belizeans LOVE speed bumps, which I hit, hard, at almost every opportunity. And each time that we hit a speed bump, the radio comes blasting on, which we find hysterical for the first hour, and not so much after that. The car, which should have been repossessed, is simply possessed.

Terri decides to distract us by pointing out landmarks.

Terri: Hey! There’s a G&T Bar. Maybe that stands for gin and tonic.

Vanessa: I’m thinking Gutted Tourists.

Terri: There’s a sawmill….and a slaughter house…..

Vanessa: There are far too many weapons on this road.

Terri: There’s a guy on a bike. And he has a shovel. Seriously, why is the guy carrying a shovel?

Vanessa: Normally, they’re carrying machetes.

Terri: I’ll go with the shovel.

We make good progress across the country, relieved that no new lights have come on while we’re driving (as if there were any lights left), until we come to Punta Gorda in the Toledo District, where we’re planning to spend the night. At this point, we’re not even surprised to see a prancing herd of goats in the road coming toward us, as well as a car in the other lane.

Terri: Aww, look at the goats! They’re so cute! You should probably slow down a little bit.

Terri: Seriously, you’re getting really close. You’re going to hit the goats.

Terri: VANESSA! WHAT THE HELL? YOU NEED TO SLOW DOWN.

Vanessa: (lots of cursing) WE HAVE NO BRAKES!

Through some miracle, the car coming toward us (and its panicked driver) passed us just in time for me to swerve into his lane, narrowly missing sideswiping a goat, whose hair is probably still embedded in the frame of that cursed car. We drift into a parking lot of an auto supply store—the only auto supply store in southern Belize, mind you—where we try to use the cellphone. Which doesn’t work. And did I mention that the cooler was empty?

After a slight tantrum in the parking lot (mine), Terri suggests we go in the store and borrow a phone. I call the car rental agency, who informs me that we have brakes. I tell them we do not. They tell me that we do. I repeat that we do not. Then Terri, who is normally Mary Sunshine, puts out her hand.

Terri: Give me the phone.

Vanessa: But I…and then they…and I….

Terri: Give. Me. The. Phone.

So I’ve heard the expression “going all New York on someone,” but I’d never actually seen it in person. And it is scary. Like nuclear plant meltdown scary. I’ve blocked most of the conversation out of my mind at this point, but some choice bits included “Do you know what would happen if we’d hit those goats? I’m in the car with an animal rights activist!” and “No. We will not wait here to make sure that your car will not get stolen. It NEEDS to be stolen. I HOPE it gets stolen. It DESERVES to get stolen.”

So we catch a ride to our eco-lodge and wait a couple hours for their mechanic to come pick us up and trade us cars. Which he does.

Leaving us with a battered SUV with 100,000-plus miles. And no transmission.

If You Go

Rental Cars

Should you decide to tackle the roads of Belize and prefer a vehicle with brakes, a working transmission and without warning lights blazing, we suggest checking out these websites where you’ll find reputable internationally known rental car companies that are conveniently located at the Phillip Goldson International Airport in Belize City. Seriously, check them out so the poor goats in Belize have a fighting chance:

Hertz

Phone: +501 225 3300

Hours of Operation:

Mon – Fri 8:00AM – 5:00PM

Sat 6:00AM – 8:00PM

Sun 6:00AM – 5:00PM

Alamo

Phone: +501 223 0641

Hours of Operation:

Mon – Fri 9AM-6PM

Sat 9AM-6PM

Sun 9AM-6PM

Budget

Phone: +501 225 2280

Hours of Operation:

Mon – Sun 8:30AM–4:30PM