A Travellerspoint blog

Back in NZ

failing to settle!

The shuttle to the airport was late, the flight was late but we were still in LA with plenty of time and sat around for a bit longer yet for the flight to NZ. It actually feels quite good to be getting on an NZ flight and almost belonging somewhere. It’s a very long time since we’ve belonged anywhere so perhaps it will be ok. Lots of the people in the airport and on the plane talk real funny! The flight was really comfortable and its one of those airlines that still does things properly (although probably only on long haul flights) – we got free meals and drinks including wine, free blankets, pillows and headphones and movies and sweeties when we came in to land. We didn’t get very much sleep though because we were both a bit stressed and starting to wonder what we’ve done. Any sense of belonging fled when the flight landed and we went into duty free and I discovered I don’t understand the money at all and had to convert everything to pounds to understand it. The people look different as well as talking funny although I can’t quite explain how – they just don’t look like Scottish people. We had another 3 hours sitting in the airport for the flight to Palmerston after clearing customs and giving them the half a Belizean beach form our tent and using their shoe cleaning service(!).
Over the last week or so we’ve been starting to panic a bit about the return to NZ and have been changing plans a bit. Last Thursdays plan was to settle in NZ and build the new house, Fridays plan was to move to Barrow in northern Alaska (I found a lead on a job there on Alaska airlines), Saturday it was to move to Vancouver then back to Scotland, Sunday was to just keep travelling and moving across the world every couple of years, Monday was to settle in the house in Petone, Tuesday was to just go straight back to Scotland, Wednesday was undecided (we slept for most of its 3 hours across the pacific) and Thursday was just very confused. Poor Steve had a hard time keeping up but was feeling as confused about what we’re doing so just went along with the plan of the minute although he wasn’t quite so keen on the Alaska one!
We finally arrived in Palmerston North at nearly 1pm a bit exhausted. Lucy met us at the airport and we just spent the rest of the day relaxing and catching up. By 6.30pm I was convinced at was nearly midnight and having already fallen asleep in the bath gave up the fight and went to bed. Steve lasted till 9pm. I was wide awake and ready to start the day (having had a very solid 8hours sleep) by 2.30!
Friday was a day of getting chores done. We went looking for cars without a great deal of success and I spent the afternoon having my hair cut and coloured. Then we just had another nice quiet and short evening with Lucy. On Saturday Ross came round and we all had breakfast together. He is a fully grown man now and a very very nice one and is just great with his mum. Lucy drove us round to more car yards and by lunchtime we were all exhausted and I was very depressed. What we can afford is not what fits with the idea of having a better lifestyle in NZ. We stopped in town for a very nice lunch at a café which is a bit more like an improved lifestyle. Certainly they can do some very good food here (we had pumpkin and chilli soup and potato wedges) – although it was not cheap. We stopped at one more car yard after lunch and things started to look up. We found a wee 4wheel drive with roof rack and room for a bike rack so we took it for a test drive and I really liked it. It did rattle a bit but otherwise seemed like a pretty good deal and is going for a service on Monday so we’ll look at it again on Tuesday. So things started to feel a bit better. We got fish and chips for our dinner and drank wine and had another fairly early night (still waking up at 2-3am).
Steve and I went into town on Sunday morning while Lucy went out to breakfast with Ross and saw him off on the plane back to university. We looked at kayaks and gear (not cheap although we’re not actually planning to buy new) and got a few more chores done like conversion plugs for our US and UK appliances and my nettle tea. Palmerston North is really a pretty happening place now (it used to be a sleepy wee backwater) and the town is really dynamic and there are lots of great cafes and the central square is very nicely landscaped. Robin and David drove up from Wellington to have lunch with us and Lucy at the same café we went to yesterday and we had another very nice meal. Then we went back to Lucy’s and loaded most of our stuff into their van as they had very kindly offered to deliver us to our house in Petone. The drive south was really pretty and the landscape here is quite spectacular although very different to anything we’ve seen in a very long time. There are some pretty funny shaped hills because they haven’t been eroded over millennia by glaciers but only pretty recently by volcanoes, earthquakes and rivers. That means the shapes of the hills are much sharper and more jagged. Its also very green and there are trees everywhere and the fields are really green. The pretty wooden farmhouses look quite rustic and the whole effect is rather nice actually. We stopped at Steve’s mum’s at Plimmerton to collect her car because she’s away for a week then got to Petone late afternoon. Going back to the house was very interesting. We were expecting it to be a wreck and its pretty untidy on the outside but you can still see where the gardens are – they’re just a bit overgrown but the yard is otherwise fine and the house just needs a good coat of paint. Inside its very tidy and almost exactly as we left it except for a few scratches on the paintwork that will be very easy to touch up. However there was no fridge, no bed, no desk and the washing machine has had its electric cord cut and we’re not sure what’s happened to all those things. The carpet is also pretty worn and actually got holes in it in a few places upstairs. The fridge and the bed were the most immediate problems and we managed to find some old foam squabs in the store cupboard in the garage. They are a bit mouldy but actually made a very comfortable bed. Looking through our mail we found my university fees which were a lot more than we expected and including a late fee because they were sent out while we were travelling with only 2 weeks to pay which of course has long expired. We went to the supermarket and got something to heat up for our dinner and found that food is comparatively much more expensive than in the UK. So we felt like our lifestyle idea was rapidly going down the tubes. The oven also appears not to work properly as only one element works and it took over an hour to heat up to warm our quiche. We sat on the floor in the lounge and discussed our options and going straight back to my job in Scotland looked pretty appealing. Both of us had walked through the house and our first thoughts had been to sell it. We don’t seem to have any emotional connection to it at all.
The first thing that had to be done on Monday morning was to get me to the hospital for my occupational health screen and I had been told I couldn’t start till that was cleared next week which was a bit of a financial crisis. However the lady there told me I should be able to start on Wednesday although she wondered if I really should (she had made the mistake of asking how everything was going and I’d burst into tears). Steve went to Robin and David’s to get our old phone and the keys to the storage unit and then looked at cars. He found a fairly good looking and reasonable car which would be cheap to run but still had a roof rack that we could put kayaks on, so we took that for a test drive. There were a few things wrong and they said they’d fix them so we’ll look at it again then. The financial crisis has forced us to abandon the 4wd in Palmerston as well as the fact that Robin and David’s van is actually very much quieter although bigger so the noises were more than just being a fairly open vehicle. We spent the afternoon doing trips to the storage unit collecting boxes and anything that would fit in mum’s tiny car. We were quite pleased to find a hoover (although it took another 2 days to find the hose and attachment for it). We were hoping to find pots and cooking implements but that also took another 2 days. Dinner was the instant variety from the supermarket again and pretty late by the time the oven heated up after we did our final run from the storage unit just as it got dark. It gets dark here about 6pm and light again at 6.30.
Tuesday was more runs to the storage unit, cleaning of the house and a trip into Lower Hutt to get phones and a few other things sorted out including renting a fridge and a washing machine. We also got pets – 2 tiny little goldfish – because the one thing I had found was a fishbowl and at the same time Steve was looking at a page in the paper that was offering a free fish. We named them both Bob (if you’ve ever asked a fish what its name is, it just says ‘bob’) and by the end of the day they were happily swimming round in a bowl in the kitchen amid the chaos of boxes everywhere and the bench covered in things waiting to go through the dishwasher. The fridge and washing machine were delivered in the afternoon so we could finally keep some yogurt for breakfast and get some clean clothes. However dinner was still instant because there were still no pots and also we were pretty tired.
We realised in the morning that clean clothes had been a little overly optimistic because we had forgotten that the absence of central heating in most places in NZ means things don’t dry overnight on a clothes horse and really have to be hung outdoors (and it had been damp for a couple of days). Steve took me in to work and my day was fine. It is not as great a job as I was expecting because all the things that were in place last time I was here and that I was involved in setting up 8 years ago, have all fallen apart and we need to start from the beginning again with a set of fairly new and some old and disgruntled nurses, fairly inexperienced therapists and fairly limited leadership. However the people are very friendly and the department is great and it was great to catch up with some old friends. The really traumatic thing of the day was finding out that one of my friends on the community rehab team had resigned. That not only means I won’t see so much of her but also that’s a job I’ve been saying for 4 years that I wanted so there was some soul searching to be done. I sat on the internet and looked at land in the evening and found that we probably could afford some land in the south island. Our theory was that if there was any possibility we would stay in Wellington I should apply for that job but if we were going to leave fairly soon I’d just stay where I am and not rock the boat. We did a couple more runs to the storage unit (Steve had already done some during the day too) and then the supermarket which was a little less depressing because we started to find some things that are cheaper than the UK so I guess we’ll just have to spend a while looking at what things we should and shouldn’t buy.
On Thursday at work I got to treat some patients and that was much better. Then it was another couple of trips to the storage unit and an evening spent polishing furniture. All our wooden furniture has survived really well and its actually rather nice to polish it because it looks so beautiful afterwards and it definitely needs it before we use it. However there is rather a lot to be done with 8 chairs, two small tables, a large table with 2 extra leaves, the bed, bedside cabinets and 2 dressers. We do have some really beautiful stuff and its starting to be rather fun unpacking boxes and seeing what we’ve got. I guess that means I’m settling in a little bit too and don’t feel so out of place. I still have no desire to stay in this house but feel that we will be ok in NZ. Everything we’re organising around the house is with a view to selling it although it will probably be at least 6 months before we put it on the market. We had fish and chips for dinner which was very tasty and pretty cheap – it cost about the same for both of us as it would for one in the UK so perhaps we should live on fish and chips!
Friday at work was fine and Steve had a productive day and bought our car so we went up to Lucy’s in our own car after dropping his mothers car back at her house. The car is a Nissan Pulsar and is a silver 5 door hatchback. The traffic coming up the coast was terrible and ended any ideas we’d had of staying in Wellington but moving up the coast. Steve had also been to the wine cellar and got some of his wine out so we had a nice bottle in the evening with lucy and another 4 dozen very nice bottles that need to be drunk in the house. I’m now managing to stay awake till 9 or 10pm and not waking again till five so am starting to feel a bit more rested – aside from the exhaustion of a new job and spending evenings carting boxes and cleaning. It took me about 5 days to get over the jetlag and start sleeping reasonably – I must be getting old.
Saturday was a nice sunny day and we had a nice lazy start with Lucy.

Posted by lyndalb 11:49 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

L.A. on

chilling in the Baja then back to NZ

-17 °C
View UK to NZ on lyndalb's travel map.

At LA Duncan collected us from the airport and took us back to theirs for the night. It was great to finally meet them and we had a very nice, if rather short evening chatting. Unfortunately the next morning we had to leave for the airport again at 7.30 am so didn’t really have much of a visit. We stopped at the bagelery for breakfast, which had more varieties of bagel than I’ve ever seen in my life. We had a garlic one with jalapeno cream cheese and a cranberry with strawberry cream cheese which were both really tasty. the flight was no hassle and only 2 hours but the Mexican immigration at the other end was like being back on the Costa del Sol in Spain. We waited in line for an hour and a half and were fully expecting that by the time we also waited in line for shuttles etc it’d be pretty late by the time we got settled. We were pleasantly surprised and were at the resort and settled by 5.00. The drive down was really pretty and the landscape here very different to the Yucatan. Even from the plane it was pretty cool to see the huge areas of nearly flat desert then all of a sudden we were in mountains but still really dry and covered in huge cacti. The coast is actually a lot like the Costa del Sol too including all the posh resorts that are gloriously green and lush amid this arid desert. Our resort is on the pacific coast and we were a bit disappointed to learn you couldn’t even paddle in the ocean but when we went for a walk down there we realised why. The beach right at the ocean is really steep (above that there’s a huge wide flat area of beach) and the rip was very strong and the seventh wave would easily knock your feet out from under you and drag you in – so I was happy not to go in the ocean. There are plenty of swimming pools and they are gloriously warm so I don’t even really feel I’m missing out by not swimming in the ocean. The pools are also very very beautiful and have swim up bars and several levels and Jacuzzis and fountains and lots of loungers. Our room is very nice with 2 extremely comfortable double beds and there is even a pillow menu in case the one you have doesn’t suit!! The bathroom is pretty big with a very nice shower and we have a deck with a view of the ocean so we’re pretty comfortable really. Unfortunately Sunset beach actually doesn’t get really good sunsets because they are slightly behind the hill so we don’t need to be somewhere every night to watch the sunset again. We had dinner at the bistro, which was much better than we were expecting although rather overpriced. We just had a pizza and a fish fillet and both were very nice. After dinner we finished off unpacking and then went for a Jacuzzi, which was fabulously warm, and it was really nice in the dark looking at the stars. The pool was also all lit up and looked gorgeous so we had a wee swim after our Jacuzzi then went to bed.
We managed to haul ourselves out of bed by 8.00 on Friday to do yoga down on the beach. It was quite odd to be looking at the Pacific ocean and knowing that all we have left to do is cross that wee ocean then we can have a go a settling for a while. I’m actually starting to look forward to it. We went to the timeshare presentation for free breakfast and a look around all the posh places here and ended up as timeshare owners. Seems like a pretty sound financial investment to Steve’s financial brain. Although we don’t intend to come back here in the next 10 or so years the rent we get will actually pay for what its cost us. I went to a cooking class at lunchtime which was a bit disappointing because we made spaghetti and tomato sauce but I got free lunch anyway and a couple of decent tips. By the tie we both got back to the room and rested for a bit and got organised it was time to be down at the main pool for me to do a towel folding class and steve to swim and sunbathe. The towel folding was cool – we made baskets, shirts, an elephant, swan, crab and turtle and I won a free drink for making the best towel in the test at the end! Then it was time for water volleyball, which we both played. It was good fun but got serious after a while when they were playing for free drinks so I quit on the basis that I was preventing the rest of my team having a chance at the free drinks because I was only there for fun and am pretty useless. So I sat on a lounger and watched the rest of the game, admiring my thin fit and tanned husband and chatting with one of the other volleyball wives – a hard life really. A carnival cruise ship went by so we sat in the Jacuzzi watching it and got told there were some whales out there too. I saw a big splash from a whale and a couple of spouts but not actually a whale but its nice to know they’re there and we can just keep and eye out all the time. We had a fairly early dinner – again pizza but this time with sushi – and again very nice. They seated us at a private outdoor table and it was lovely and romantic and we could watch for whales. Its quite remarkable in a resort this size that we actually feel special – all the staff smile and go out of their way for you, the golf carts run around and will take you anywhere and the guys seem just delighted to be able to take you somewhere. The whole place really is very impressive – and our standards of luxury have gone back up to at least where they were before the mexico trip, especially after seeing the really posh timeshare houses they have on the hill up here! After dinner we did a bit of grocery shopping then sat on our deck with homemade cocktails and watched the world go by as it got dark. There were even bats flying around so it was pretty neat and felt very luxurious. We had another soak in the Jacuzzi before bed.
Saturday morning was an equally slow start with yoga on the beach again then breakfast on our deck. It was a fairly busy but slow day with beach volleyball which we both played. I was lousy of course and just played for a little while but steve played quite a lot and his team won the tournament. Then we had relax by the pool and had lunch on our deck. Steve went and played water volleyball again and won a free drink while I went up to the lobby and did some internet stuff. We had a short Spanish lesson then had more pool time and tortillas and beans with guacamole on our deck for dinner and cocktails while we watched the sunset. We had another Jacuzzi and a wee swim before bed.
Sunday was a start of pure luxury after yoga, a Jacuzzi, and a bit of laundry. We had champagne brunch at the nice restaurant down by the pool and our table was outdoors with a beautiful view of the pool and the beach. We felt like we were in an advert. The waiters were great and just kept filling up our glasses with champagne (actually a Mexican methode champenoise which was excellent) and looked after us really well. The food was a buffet of cruise ship proportions and all excellent. We took just over 3 hours for our brunch in which time all the tables around us had changed twice but we just wanted to linger and eat little bits very slowly rather than stuffing ourselves in a short time. We probably ate about the same as most people but enjoyed it a lot more. We started with a seafood appetiser including lovely big fresh prawns, smoked salmon, sushi, calamari and ceviche. Then we had a nice fresh plate of tropical fruit and a main course which was hot things like Mexican omelet, fish, and all the regular breakfast stuff like bacon, waffles, sausages. We indulged a bit and had 2 desserts because we’d been looking at their cakes in the deli and they all look really nice, so we tried tiny little bits of 10 cakes altogether between us! We had a short siesta then got organised and got the free transefer bus into the sister resort in the town. From there we walked a short distance along the beach to rent kayaks and had 2 hours paddling out to El Arco and around the bay. It was simply glorious with really stunning scenery, mostly quite fun water and we got to spend 20 minutes playing with some seals in the water. They were just followi9ng us around and popping up and down checking us out. The down side was the amount of water traffic and it was really like running a gauntlet to get across the bay with water taxis, shuttles and lots of speeding jetskis. Jetski riders are the snowboarders of the sea and a menace to the human race – far too many of them are just real arses. One actually tried to tip us out of the kayaks and sped straight at us and turned at the last second just about 2 feet from me which got us thoroughly wet and rather nervous about him coming back again. After we ran the gauntlet back again we had a stroll around the town which is pretty touristy but they’ve done a really nice upmarket job of the mall and its very nicely landscaped. We achieved our goal of finding some reasonably priced shrimp tacos which were as good as we’d been told and enough of a snack after our huge brunch. Then we had a look around the other two pueblo bonito resorts and felt rather smug that were are at by far the nicest one. We go the shuttle back again and went down to the pool to take some pictures in the sunset light then went back to the room for cocktails and relaxation.
Monday was a pure relaxation day with no activities on and we spent the whole day either relaxing by the pool, on our deck, in the Jacuzzi or in the pool. We had take out pizza on the deck for dinner – it’s a great pizza they call ‘a la Lerry’ and is shrimp, goats cheese and artichoke. We got a little sunburnt which puzzled us a little because we hadn’t the day before despite spending much longer in the sun and also the parts of us that got most burnt were the most tanned parts not the very white parts. The Jacuzzi thermometer had bust and it was above safe temperature so few missed our bedtime Jacuzzi and just had more cocktails instead.
Tuesday morning we had to leave so it was a bit sad but we woke early and went for a walk along the beach for sunrise then had breakfast on the deck and up to the pool for a swim and Jacuzzi. We got all packed up and checked out at 10am and the rest of the day was just sitting around waiting for flightrs and connections. The shuttle to the airport was late, the flight was late but we were still in LA with plenty of time and sat around for a bit longer yet for the flight to NZ. It actually feels quite good to be getting on an NZ flight and almost belonging somewhere. It’s a very long time since we’ve belonged anywhere so perhaps it will be ok. Lots of the people in the airport and on the plane talk real funny! The flight was really comfortable and its one of those airlines that still does things properly (although probably only on long haul flights) – we got free meals and drinks including wine, free blankets, pillows and headphones and movies and sweeties when we came in to land. We didn’t get very much sleep though because we were both a bit stressed and starting to wonder what we’ve done. Any sense of belonging fled when the flight landed and we went into duty free and I discovered I don’t understand the money at all and had to convert everything to pounds to understand it. The people look different as well as talking funny although I can’t quite explain how – they just don’t look like Scottish people. We had another 3 hours sitting in the airport for the flight to Palmerston after clearing customs and giving them the half a Belizean beach form our tent and using their shoe cleaning service(!).
Over the last week or so we’ve been starting to panic a bit about the return to NZ and have been changing plans a bit. Last Thursdays plan was to settle in NZ and build the new house, Fridays plan was to move to Barrow in northern Alaska (I found a lead on a job there on Alaska airlines), Saturday it was to move to Vancouver then back to Scotland, Sunday was to just keep travelling and moving across the world every couple of years, Monday was to settle in the house in Petone, Tuesday was to just go straight back to Scotland, Wednesday was undecided (we slept for most of its 3 hours across the pacific) and Thursday was just very confused. Poor Steve had a hard time keeping up but was feeling as confused about what we’re doing so just went along with the plan of the minute although he wasn’t quite so keen on the Alaska one!

Posted by lyndalb 29.09.2007 11:46 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Guatemala, Belize & Mexico

the last leg in Central America

-17 °C
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We woke fairly early on Sunday but just rested in bed till nearly 7, then got up & had freshly squeezed freshly picked orange juice on the Maya mound. We then had breakfast of eggs, beans, cheese & fruit. Then David sat with us pointing out the different birds for a while & we saw lots of beautifully coloured ones, some lorekeets, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and although we heard the tucans they didn’t actually show up. David also took us on a wee walking tour in the jungle to look around the Maya site & point out lots of interesting plants & birds. We collected some food along the way & then looked at his artefacts from the site. He doesn’t believe it should be excavated but preserved as it is & all the artefacts remain right here rather than in museums. I can see the point, however he also plants trees in the site, which will continue to destroy rather than preserve it & he has artefacts from other sites. There was another site across the river, within view of David’s site, which he saw stripped, the artefacts sold to museums, then the site covered over in dirt to allow farming. That seems worse doesn’t it? He has a couple of flint blades & arrowheads ( the flint here is pretty rough though), some jade beads, whorl spindles & a very very cool mould for a tiny mask.
We reorganised our packs – partly to get rid of a half a Belizean beach and partly to make sure we had no scorpions - & then sat in hammocks in the shade & relaxed. Fortunately it’s an overcast day & a bit more breeze so the heat is not nearly so terrible.
We spent most of the day in the hammocks with breaks for washing clothes, lunch, swimming & sitting on the mound watching birds. The laundry was an interesting experience as it involves only river water & not even any soap. It particularly amused me when I washed something with a label that said wash separately that a river in the jungle was perhaps not quite what they had in mind. However the clothes were a lot cleaner & better smelling than when we started & that’s what counts. Late in the afternoon as we were preparing to move location to watch sunset, big black clouds rolled in accompanied by thunder & lightening in the distance. The sunset never happened & instead we had a wild storm. The wind really came up & everything around the camp got put away & buttoned down. We then sat on the mound & watched it roll in until the rain started in those huge splushes you associate with tropical rainstorms & then in poured. The thunder & lightening was almost constant & crossed right over us & rolled away again. The rain stopped, wind dropped & all was calm again & the whole thing was over in 2 hours. We had dinner & watched the lightening carry on in the distance for an hour or so & then went to bed (after checking for scorpions, spraying, shaking & inspecting all bedding).

Monday morning was overcast again & we watched birds, had breakfast & lazed around reading & watching the world go by (it goes very slowly in the jungle) until 10:00 when there was a sudden & unBelizean scurry of activity & the car arrived with a canoe for us & to take our bags away. We got packed up & organised & into the canoe to paddle the 14km back to town. It was a pleasant paddle although we didn’t see much wildlife – a few toucans (who are quite entertaining to watch & very pretty) & other birds, iguans & butterflies. I’d seen a river otter the other day so the wildlife count wasn’t bad although we’d hoped to see monkeys & tapir. The river was quite populated & not as jungle like as I’d imagined. The sun came out so it got pretty hot & we stopped for a couple of swims to cool down. We also stopped for the rainforest medicine trail, which was something of a let down. It’s a self-guided trail with cards & the office was closed for siesta so we just walked it looking at plants which were labelled. Unfortunately there were no fruit or flowers & I didn’t think it was well set up. Still at least what we saw was free. We got back into San Ignacio at 3:30pm & collected our bags from David’s office & he phoned Elvira’s guesthouse to check for a room for us. The room was great. It had a flush toilet with a seat (although I still long for a toilet where the plumbing can handle toilet paper too), a shower (although no hot water – hot water is overrated in this climate), a ceiling fan & so a constant breeze, a clean floor with no sand & no fear of scorpions & no need for a mosquito net, & a comfy bed & a light.
It was pure heaven & I just lay in the bed & read a book while Steve went out to do a few chores. Then we both went for a stroll around the town, which was small & fairly uninteresting, used the internet cafe to deal with some more chores & let everyone know we survived the jungle, & got cornchips & beans & pineapple for our dinner. We had a relaxing evening eating dinner & enjoying our luxurious room & being able to read after dark (which is about 6.30 or 7pm!!).

We had a fairly slow start to Tuesday morning & was lovely to wake up not baking hot. We had pinwheels from the bakery & pineapple for breakfast. Once we were packed up we got a collectivo taxi to the border (26km which cost $B5). The last part of the ride was along the Mopan River which was gorgeous. Through the town of San Jose Carrera there were folk swimming & doing their washing & just generally congregating by the river – a really nice scene. We also passed the ruins of Xuantinnach which we could see up on the hill & is reached by a cute cable ferry across the river. The border crossing is lengthy & complex – 2 Belize checks & 2 Guatemala as well as exit charges & entry charges, but not at all problematic. We got ripped off on the Belize side by money changers but it was easier than worrying about trying to negotiate in Spanish across the border. We got 3.35 & should have got 3.45. We had a few issues with buses because we thought they were regular & the next one was 1pm (it was 10:30). We nearly paid $US10 for a minivan but at the last minute got rescued by a local minivan rather than the tourist one, which cost Q20 ($US3). It was going to Flores & dropped us at Ixlu, which is about 2km from El Remate, so we hiked. Fortunately it was not too too hot & we got escorted by a couple of kids to the place we wanted, which was a nice ‘hostal’. We had a bunk room to ourselves with a bathroom ( the slightly more primitive kind again). We spent the afternoon relaxing in hammocks & swinging chair on the deck, I had a siesta & Steve looked around the town a bit. We ventured out to Cahui restaurant (just across the road) for dinner. I had a big plate of vegetables which looked disappointing (it was called a vegetarian platter) but was great because I haven’t eaten vegetables in ages. Steve had big round corn chips, one each with beans, salsa & guacamole. Ordering food was quite difficult & most of the menu we didn’t have any idea about. It must be the first time we’ve been to a country without some prior research about local foods & specialities, & it’s apparently completely different to Mexico. Now we’ve turned into the sort of tourists that look for the English translation & I feel really bad for that. Guatemala is also not a place to come without speaking Spanish – its really embarrassing. Although the locals here are all extremely friendly & really want to help it seems a lot more difficult to get by without much Spanish.
El Remate is a wee town stretching along the road to Tikal & by the shore of lake Peten Itza (on which Flores city is further down). It is lined with traditional craft stalls, restaurants & accommodation, but in a very rustic low-key way. There is a recreation area beside the lake on which people, wild horses & all manner of domestic animals roam side by side. We met a nice Aussie guy at the restaurant who’s also in the hostal & swapped stories , persuaded him to go to Belize & gave him our book for the evening. We sat out on the deck in the hurricane lamplight & hoped it would cool down enough to sleep, then eventually went to bed anyway. It was pretty warm & the chickens here can’t tell time – they started crowing at 2am.
The shower turned out to have hot water after all but was one of the electrician’s nightmare variety we’d been hearing about. There’s a large collection of exposed wires wrapped around the showerhead & you have to reach up into them to adjust the temperature. A bit scary.

We got up at 5am on Wednesday & got the bus to Tikal. By 6:30 we were wondering around the ruins. Tikal is huge. The archeological zone is huge & is contained within a national park that is all jungle. So the wild animals are free to wander everywhere. There are lots of native species wandering about including jaguar – although we never saw any. We did see a big troop of ring tailed lemurs, several toucans pretty close up, some other amazingly coloured birds & tonnes of lorekeets, a family of spider monkeys feeding in the treetops with a really cute baby playing around, wild turkeys which have amazing colours & some pretty huge insects, including a colourful ant about an inch long! The trails between groups of buildings are all jungle & it’s pretty thick off the trails. It’s very easy to see how the temples got lost here – even more so than Uxmal. In fact it seems impossible that they were ever found! We came around one corner & saw men in camouflage with machine guns, which I found rather nerve wracking given it was the middle of the Guatemalan jungle & we were the only tourists for a mile or so. The ruins themselves were absolutely stunning. The temples were hugely tall & steep & we could climb most of them. We climbed all we could except temple V & some were definitely a bit nerve wracking. Temples II, IV & V had wooden scaffold staircases up them because the stone was too eroded, so our real climbing experience was the Great Pyramid. This, & most other buildings where you were climbing rock, the steps were about the height of my knee, so it was pretty hard going. Coming down was worse of course. The views from temple IV & The Great Pyramid was truly stunning. We were looking over miles & miles of dense jungle with these spectacularly tall temples sticking out above the canopy. Early in the morning from temple IV the mist was rising off the jungle & the sun struggling to come out in patches & it was awesome. We were really fortunate with the day because it stayed overcast for much of the morning with the sun just breaking through to light up photos rather than shine on us. So it was not as hot as we’d expected, which was just as well because as it was we drank over 3 litres of water each by 2pm. There was also a good amount of shade, being in the jungle, & a nice breeze at times. As it was it must have been nearly 90 (or 35 °C). We walked everywhere the site had to offer so got plenty of exercise. Structures that in the Yucatan we would have got really excited about & taken lots of photos of, here were just nameless minor groups & in context were not worth the photos. That in itself was pretty impressive. Because it’s much older than Chichen Itza or Uxmal & in deeper jungle it’s not as well preserved & most of the detail is gone from the temples. However the size & shape well & truly makes up for it. We went into the museum afterwards & looked at the artefacts they had found which were gorgeous. Some of the glyphs on the stellae were beautiful & very well preserved & there were also tiny bones decorated with intricate drawings & glyphs in red & lots of beautiful pottery & ceramics & incense burners of fabulous carving, Chac figures in all sizes & forms.
We got the bus back at 2pm & spent the afternoon in hammocks trying to escape the heat until we had a craving for beans & tortilla which the people at the hostel kindly made for us (since we couldn’t buy them in town anywhere). They were great & then they also ran us a ‘jacuzzi Maya’ – a concrete tub filled with cold water – totally redefined luxury again! We sat in our Jacuzzi under the stars with an orange juice watching another lightening storm till bed time.

Thursday morning was a slow start. I hadn’t slept well – having nightmares about getting lost in Guatemala on chicken buses & all sorts of other dreadful things to do with buses. Fortunately our involvement with buses for the day was uneventful. We got a collectivo into Santa Elena at 9am & found our way to Flores across the causeway. Flores is tiny & quite pretty. It has lots of brightly coloured buildings & was a very happy town – I’m sure in part because it’s now Easter holidays for everyone – except the people in tourist shops, hotels & restaurants of course. It’s probably similar to how Mont St Michel was hundreds of years ago with a small church on a little hill on a causewayed island & a supporting village around it – before the 2nd & 3rd & 4th layers got added and the hill higher & higher & more touristy. It was a very pleasant place to do some shopping & some of the handcrafts were gorgeous. We got some souvenirs for ourselves & some gifts for friends & felt we did an ok job of getting a good price for us while still being fair to the people that made them (or at least sold them). We were very happy with our purchases although spent more than we planned. We had a good look around the town at the same time & had a good lunch although a bit expensive. I had some vegetarian enchiladas & Steve had Mexican pork.
We met some Americans who have travelled lots of places without ever speaking or understanding anything other than English. They rely on peoples goodwill & unfortunately didn’t make me feel any better about my lack of Spanish – although that improved quite a bit today. We saw quite a lot of people in traditional costume, which was lovely. The collectivo back at 3:30 was packed – 21 people in a wee minivan – but quick & we were back at the hostel soaking in the ‘jacuzzi’ by 4pm. The rest of the day was spent in hammocks just chilling out. However the evening became a bit stressful when we discovered that not only would there be very few buses the next day but also they’d be packed because half of Guatemala wants to go to Belize for their Easter holiday. The people from the hostel shone through yet again & got us booked on the early tourist bus from Flores to Belize City & although it cost $US20 each at least we’d get there. That all got sorted by 10:30 & then we had to get some sleep before another 5am start.

Good Friday.
Yoga seems to have gone by the wayside between lots of early starts and small rooms with no other space & biting insects. Another 5am start didn’t help. The bus finally arrived at 6:10 rather than 5:30 & was a Guatemalan style express bus. The word express does not give any indication as to the quality or standard of service, nor to the speed of the vehicle. It only refers to the fact that it doesn’t stop very often – except for military roadblocks, animals sitting in the middle of the road, speed bumps & its tyres falling off. The scenery as we left was beautiful in the early morning light & it had rained overnight so everything was looking quite clean and lush rather than dusty & bits of mist drifting in the vegetation – it looked very rainforesty. The border crossing was again long & complex but uneventful other than being charged the imaginary but customary undefined amount simply for being white & a tourist. That happened all the time in Guatemala especially on buses – there was the actual fare, the canny tourist fare & the gullible tourist fare. We got off the bus at Belize zoo & went in to try & get accommodation but they were not working. We ended up going down the road (3 miles) to Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. We tried to get a bus there but none came & we eventually got a lift for $B5 on the back of a pickup. The security guard at the zoo organised it for us & he & the girl at the zoo reception had been really helpful. Monkey Bay was very relaxing. There was a girl there (Nell) who we’d met briefly at Gales Point & we spent a lot of time chatting with her & Jacob the assistant manager. It was a pretty rustic place (back to long drops & scorpions – fortunately this time in someone else’s bed) but had a decent library so we spent the afternoon in hammocks in the shade relaxing & reading. We had arrived by midday & had lunch with them – which at $B12 was the most expensive rice & beans we’ve eaten. Apparently they usually have more but because the owners were away the staff were just having simple meals & unfortunately not able to charge us any less. We were glad we chose lunch because dinner was $B16 & just a bowl of lentil soup!! Jacob gave us a bowl each anyway because we’d been for a walk with him & Nell down to the river to look for wildlife at dusk & got back a bit late. There had been more gossiping than wildlife watching but we saw lots of birds & Jacob pointed out some interesting plants & there were frogs & some huge fireflies. We gossiped for ages over dinner, which was just beans & tostadas before it got supplemented. Then everyone else headed along the road to the pub & we went to bed.

Saturday morning was overcast & it rained a bit during breakfast. The night had been uneventful in terms of beasties aside from insect bites & again we’d slept in a bit. It’s a nice friendly atmosphere & a bit sad to leave but we aimed for the zoo again. This time we managed to phone & book but waited for ages for a bus. It became apparent why when the San Ignacio to Belize cycle race came by, which took up the whole road for a considerable distance with cycles & support vehicles. We were happily watching that when we noticed a bus in the middle of it & scrambled to catch it. It was cool following the race in the bus & we watched the stragglers go by when we got off 3 miles later. We spent a fair chunk of the day at the zoo (which was free for the day because we were doing a night tour). It’s a really good zoo with just species of animal found wild in Belize & all in really good habitats. We also got really close to the animals, which was great but a bit nerve wracking when I had my face 2 feet from a black jaguar’s face! All the animals were pretty active except the grey fox & a couple of nocturnal ones. The agouti we never saw in his cage either but there were several running round wild. We saw spider monkeys, 5 species of cats (jaguar, puma, ocelot, jaguarundi & marqay cat), toucans, macaws, river otters, harpy eagle, lots of pretty parrots, Jabairu stork & April the tapir, who is the national icon of Belize. The surroundings were lovely too & almost a botanical garden with forest areas, savannah & lots of beautiful plants. After we finished looking around we got collected & taken over to the Tropical Education Centre where we were staying for the night. We were delighted with our cabin, which was fully mosquito screened including a balcony with a hammock & chairs. It also had a fridge & microwave & was on stilts over a pond! It was fantastic for bird watching, and during the afternoon we saw lots of birds, lots of turtles, fish & a baby crocodile. The only thing on the chart that we hadn’t seen was the boa constrictor – uh oh! Unfortunately we had no food to cook (actually no food or money) so had to have dinner at the centre (which we could pay for later by credit card) but it was a good & filling dinner. We met Christine (a nurse from Seattle) & Bob (her dad) & they took us over to the zoo in their car after dinner. The night tour was cool but I think we’d been really lucky during the day that all the animals were active as they weren’t more active at night. The spider monkey & cats were all in cages in case there was a power cut & they got through their electric fences in the night. Necessary, but a shame. We got to stroke a spider monkey’s tail & also saw a few of the nocturnal species like anteaters & night walkers, who walk around the wire of their cages upside down! There was another big group with us who were a bit loud so we didn’t see as much as we could have, but it was still cool. I’m very glad we didn’t do it before we were camping in the jungle because the tour made it really apparent how little you could see the animals unless they were facing you & your torch was on them – or in many cases they came to the keepers call! The black jaguar at night was very very impressive. We had decided to stay another night because our cabin was so cool so we could unpack & settle a bit – although still slightly nervous of scorpions, so we kept our bags closed & shook our clothes & the sheets before getting into bed. This time the bed was empty.

We slept in a bit on Sunday morning, then walked the native trail, which was rather nice. It was a bit hot for wildlife spotting though, although it was only nearly 8am. Its also a shame that these places that are supposedly education centres don’t tell you that you need a guide card to follow their trails & otherwise it just says the name of a tree or “stop 12”. We’d even asked about the trails & got told it goes from there & it’s marked. Christine & Bob came by while we were having breakfast & offered us a lift to Belmopan as we needed to do a cash machine & grocery run. We waited for them to pack up & then went to the zoo for the saga of them trying to pay & decided ourselves to get enough cash so we didn’t have to walk to the zoo in the morning to pay by credit card. They dropped us at the bus station in Belmopan & we got some cash & groceries although almost everything was closed, so we were lucky there was a Chinese supermarket (which are always open). Belmopan itself was open & spacious & pleasant to walk around although deathly quiet other than the churches. The town was a bit of a mistake – they moved the Government there in 1990 after hurricane Hattie destroyed Belize city & assumed it would grow to 30,000, but no-one other than Government workers wanted to live there 7 so far it has only reached 7000 – which is why its open & spacious. We got a bus back again & settled in for an afternoon of heavy duty wildlife watching from our balcony. The turtles are so cute & easy to watch & we saw a tiny baby. We also discovered that the baby crocodile also meant a mother crocodile – who was about 6 foot long. There was another baby later who was only about 6 inches long & very cute. Also lots of birds including a beautiful bright and very tiny kingfisher & a couple of nests of flycatchers – they have nests like weaverbirds hanging down from a branch like a fruit. We had pasta & veges for our dinner & rather a lot of it, then checked on wildlife in the pond which had all gone to sleep, so we did likewise.

Monday (Easter Monday – apparently not such a big deal here) was really just a long travelling day – 13 1/2 hours. We left a 7am & hiked out to the main road to get a chicken bus, which pass every half hour. Just over an hour later one came by so we were a little behind schedule. However we got into Belize City, got a taxi to the Marine Terminal & still had to wait till 10:30 for the bus north. It was the same run as we got from Flores a couple of days ago but a much better & faster bus, & after a very easy border crossing got into Chetumal at 1:45 (although it was actually 2:45 because the time had changed in Mexico). Then we got on a first class bus to Playa del Carmen at 3:30 & decided that was going to be the wrong decision because we’d arrive in the dark in a strange town with no-where to stay in the high season, having already been told the hostel was full. We met a nice Dutch American on the bus called Robert & made a plan together with him. However we arrived & decided it was perfectly safe to walk & headed for the hostel anyway. We checked out a few places on the way just in case & there were plenty of vacancies. The hostel had a room for $US35 but only for 1 night & with a shared bath, so we took our chances elsewhere & got a nice room in a great location with private bath for $40 (a very good price for Playa). Its actually a very comfortable town – very touristy & lots of English spoken. The streets were bustling with restaurants & tourist shops & it was all brightly lit & with tourist police around it was a place I’d feel safe on my own at night. So it turned out to be the right decision after all because it meant we’d get to relax on the beach tomorrow rather than travel for 6 hours on a chicken bus. We had dinner in a nice wee restaurant with Robert, which was run by a Dutch guy who moved here in hurricane season & delayed the purchase of the restaurant by several days waiting to see if it was hit by the oncoming hurricane. Steve had calamari & I had tofu fajitas 7 both were good. Then we went back to the hotel & slept - I think we should have been out on the town instead but that’s not my scene at the best of times never mind after 13 hours travelling. The room was nice & cool & quiet.

We had a good sleep & slept in Tuesday morning, then had a glorious day doing nothing with no stress except where to eat dinner. We started with a walk along the beach, which is lovely but very built up. It got nicer the further north we went & after all the really posh resorts the beach got quiet & calm. We went back to the hotel & got our swimming things & went back to the far end of the beach. We sunbathed for a while, then had a swim & sunbathed again. The water was lovely – a little too warm to be refreshing but very pleasant and at least cooler than the sun. Although we’d got back from our initial walk by 9:30 (unadjusted time) which should have been fine, we’d both got a bit burnt. The sunbathing time, with lots of sunblock on, added about the right amount of colour to tan the bits of us that hadn’t been exposed during our first walk, but my shoulders, chest and upper back developed an internal heating system. We had a siesta between 12 & 4:30 to stay out of the heat then looked around the shops. We saw some of the things we’d bought in Guatemala for 3-4 times the price & lots of other overpriced stuff. We just strolled around looking at restaurants until a reasonable time to eat. We did make one great discovery, which was a Maya chocolate shop. They had drinking chocolate powder, chocolate bars, hot chocolate & cacao beans. They let us try the cacao beans & their (hot) chocolate Maya, which is made with chilli powder, vanilla & orange essence & was the most amazing chocolate we’ve ever tasted. We bought powder, beans & a small bar for our dessert. For dinner we had stuff from a specials menu, which was cheap & had a free drink (I had a mango daiquiri & Steve had a caipirinha, which is crushed fresh limes with sugar & Bacardi & soda). I had fish fillets with mashed potato & veges & Steve had spinach & cheese quesadillas with guacemole & beans. Every component of both was great & we were very pleased. When we got back to the hotel & had our chocolate for dessert we decided to go back for more in the morning. We’d already decided to have a chocolate Maya to drink after breakfast anyway because it was so great bit it looked like becoming an expensive stop. However the guy had been great about giving us tastes & telling us about how to use the stuff. It was a bit warmer overnight (especially with internal heating).

Wednesday morning was another slow start. We didn’t have to leave for the bus till 11:30 so went for a walk on the beach & a wee rest in the sun & a swim in lovely warm water again, but much more waves. Then we went for hot chocolate Maya, which was still fabulous. Back at the hotel we got packed up & walked the short distance to the airport bus stop, but we were dripping by the time we got there. Fortunately the rest of the day was (at least partially) air-conditioned. The bus to the airport took an hour, then we thought there was a problem with our flight, but fortunately it was just a trainee on his first day & had to keep going off to check things out. The flight from Cancun to Mexico City was 2 hours, then Mexico City to LA 3 1/2 hours. Mexico City is the biggest city on earth & certainly looked it from above & consequently I have no desire to go there.

Posted by lyndalb 29.09.2007 11:31 Archived in Belize Comments (0)

Belize

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On Friday morning we got a taxi to the market at 8:30 & waited for the Belize bus, which turned out to be 9:30, not 9:00. On initial impressions the bus didn’t live up to Mexican standards despite being an express bus. Express was not a word that should be used to describe it at all. It was ok as far as the border & border formalities were easy – just involving getting off the bus with our luggage twice. Once we reached Corozal in Belize we had to change bus and all of a sudden it was a wee local bus that stopped at every corner & the air conditioning consisted of open windows. However we got to Belize City & got a taxi across to the Marine Terminal (Express buses are supposed to shop there so it’s a shame we didn’t have one) & got the 3:00 water taxi to Caye Caulker. It’s an open boat & with my hair whipping in my eyes on that & the bus, by the time we got there I had 2 very sore & 1 red & swollen eye. However Caye Caulker is pretty & very, very laid back & friendly. We left our bags & walked along the beach (the main ‘road’) to Lorraine’s guesthouse & got the last room. The ‘taxi’ that offered to take us got there just after us so we felt pleased with ourselves. By 4:30 we were sat on our balcony looking out through coconut palms to the turquoise sea. We walked into town for a look around till it got dark then got our dinner & went back & ate it on our balcony in the breeze (tortillas & beans of course – but with fake cheese for variety). It was a pretty hot & uncomfortable night on a very hot foam mattress & we discovered on Saturday morning that there was another, much more comfortable mattress underneath, so discarded the top one. We had breakfast & walked down to the south point of the island & back, then lay in hammocks for a while, had a swim, then headed for town again. It’s a funny kind of island because although the whole island is white sand, the ‘beach’ is very shallow & covered in turtle grass, so you can’t walk or swim out from the beach. Each hotel has its own pier that guests can swim off but if you’re not staying in a beachfront hotel there is only one small swimming beach at the north end of the island. We walked up just in the shallow waters edge & found out about a snorkelling trip, then carried on north, discovered a great sailboat camping trip for 2 days, and carried on to the north tip deliberating about it. 40 years ago the island was hit by Hurricane Hattie, & it split it in 2, with a really deep channel. It’s called the split & is the swimming beach. We sat & had cinnamon buns under a coconut tree with toes in the water just on the other side of the island, which is much calmer & much more what we expected of a Caribbean island paradise. The more inhabited east side is where the main wind hits so is always a bit choppy & turtle grass is continually washed up on the beaches. So it wouldn’t be great swimming anyway. We had a nice swim at the split & swam right across it to the mangroves on the other part of the island. We snorkelled a bit but there wasn’t much to see – although apparently enough for people to be hiring snorkel gear. We have ours, which is not very good but cost $3 for a mask & a free snorkel from Carnival. We share that & a pair of goggles & it’s enough for pottering about. Then we walked back to our cabin & had corn chips for lunch & just chilled for a while out of the hot sun. It’s amazing that pelican & frigate birds flying close by & fishing right in front of us has become just quite normal, although still fascinating because they look so prehistoric – especially flying. We headed back to town when the heat went out of the sun a bit, having discovered we’d both got burned on our tops only despite having tonnes more sunblock there than anywhere else either, so don’t know what happened. Having decided & booked the sailing camping trip we discovered it would cost a fortune to get off the island we were finishing on, so went to cancel it, then found we actually finished on a different island so it was all on again. A bit of an emotional roller coaster with that decision! Then we went for dinner at Wish Willy’s, which was basic but good & a big improvement on tortillas & beans! We met Doug & Barb from Chicago & had dinner & chatted with them. They had supposed to be kayaking for a week but he had a wee heart problem on day 2 so were here instead. They gave us a bunch of supplies they didn’t need anymore too, which was lovely.
Sunday was a nice lazy start having had a much cooler & more comfortable night. We discovered daylight saving had changed so it was actually just after 9 we dragged ourselves out of bed. After breakfast we went & sat in chairs on the beach for the rest of the morning. I finally painted a picture & then a pelican came along & sat on a post in front of me posing so I had to draw him & then paint him too. He flew away before I was ready to paint his colours so I just waited for another one to land there – imagine the luxury of having nothing better to do than wait for a pelican to land to see what colour his feathers are. I discovered pelicans are all very different & have very distinctive colourings & started to be able to identify individuals. We had a snack lunch on the beach & after exhausting the possibilities for pelican watching headed into town. We planned to rent kayaks from 3-6 & explore the backs of the islands but the woman we planned to rent from was pretty unhelpful. We found another (cheaper & friendlier) place but they only had one single available so we went for a swim at the split again & snorkelled some more. We found a wee road & walked part way up the north island too, which felt like intrepid exploring except that there were quite a few houses & we turned around at the first sign of biting insects. Snorkelling across the split we could even see the foundations of houses that had been there before the hurricane & the gorge that it gauged was pretty deep & also stretches quite a way out either side of the island. The other single kayak was back in so we decided to go for a wee paddle up the back of the north island & to watch the sunset. The back side is all pretty dense mangroves & we went into one wee channel & nearly got eaten alive by mosquitoes so beat a hasty retreat. However it was an interesting paddle & then we paddled about the split for a while waiting for the sunset. It was worth waiting for because it was a vibrant orange fireball sinking into the blue ocean. I love the bit where it finally sinks & we listen for it going “sizzle” as it disappears in the water. We took the kayaks back, went home & got dried & went to go out for dinner. The restaurant we wanted to go to, Syd’s, still wasn’t open so we ended up with takeaways on our balcony, but it was good to eat something other than tortillas & beans.
Monday was a reasonably early start & we went up & got the kayaks again & went around the back of the south island. We paddled for an hour & got nearly to the bottom then did a bit of snorkelling from the kayaks in some lovely clear water near some dead mangroves. There were lots of pretty little fish. We did a bit of sightseeing on the way back but it was a fairly steady paddle into the wind & current. Just as we were getting back we found a “parking spot” where tours go to see seahorses & that’s what had been recommended to us to do from the kayaks. We thought that was pretty silly because it was basically right in town. So we returned the kayaks & went swimming & snorkelling. We didn’t see any seahorses unfortunately but did see lots of really pretty little fish & the really stunning habitat of the mangroves underwater. It was simply gorgeous although very tiny. It was hard work too because the water was very shallow & we had to try not to disturb the bottom & stir up silt. And our cheap mask seemed to stop working& just leaked all the time. By the time we got out from swimming & walked back home at 12:00 we’d been exercising (although not vigorous it was certainly steady work) for 4 1/2 hours. So we’d earned our lunch and after getting changed, walked back to the top of the island again for lunch of grilled snapper, rice, beans & fried plantain (green banana kind of vegetable). It was delicious & the setting was great. We were up on a deck on the beach with a great view up & down the island – a great spot to watch the world go by. Then we spent a while in town doing chores – email, posting, bank etc, before walking home again. This time we went for a walk in the mini-reserve, which shows the ‘caye littoral’ forest & was very pretty & very dense. Then it was time to walk back to the top again for our briefing for the sailing trip tomorrow. All the people going seem really nice & it sounds like a great trip. We got takeaways for dinner again & packed our bags ready for the trip.
Tuesday morning was an early start. We watched the sunrise, which was really pretty, then packed up and walked back to the top of the island to surrender our packs into the stowage of Ragga gal at 7:00. Then we had breakfast on the dock & watched the world go by & finally got under way about 8:30-9:00.
There was not enough wind to sail all the time & we had to motor for quite a bit of the day. However, when we were sailing it was divine. We also fished a bit & the guys got a tuna, which we ate immediately as sashimi. That was definitely the best tuna I’ve ever tasted. Most of the day was spent just relaxing & chatting. All the folks on the boat are really nice & a big range of age/experience/culture. We saw several big schools of tuna when we were outside the reef and three turtles, lots of flying fish. We stopped for snorkelling at Gallows Point, which was the best snorkelling most people had done in Belize, so we were happy we made the right decision not to pay a lot for a snorkelling trip as well as this. There were amazing purple fan corals, orange & yellow elks horn corals & fish in every colour imaginable. For a while I watched a big fish with fluorescent blue fins & at one point it went into a hole & chased a bright green & bright yellow fish beside a really pretty pale blue one. So much colour in one small space was amazing. There were also little neon ones, black & yellow stripy, blue & yellow stripy & a big red one with orange fins. We had lunch on the boat after snorkelling – fish, rice & potato salad, then sailed along the marine highway – a big wide stretch of sand in the middle of the coral. We caught a couple of Spanish mackerel for dinner & stopped at English Caye for a wee walk around & swim. It was the lighthouse & pilot station, & really just big enough for the few necessary buildings. We also collected an anchor there, because ours had vanished overnight! Then we went on past Goffs Caye – which is a tiny sand bank, a few trees, & a bar for the cruise line guests – to Rendezvous Caye, which was our home for the night. It is about 20m wide & 50m long, & has 8 coconut trees & 3 mangroves, & is pure white sand with gorgeous turquoise water all around. We beached the boat & tied it to a coconut tree, set up our tents, then watched the sunset. It was another of those divine globes sinking into the water, but even more amazing to watch from a deserted island. We had our dinner – mackerel, rice & potato, & ceviche with fresh tuna to start. I can’t imagine a more idyllic setting or day. We got up for a while in the middle of the night & just watched the stars & the coconut palms waving & the water lapping. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life & it was simply awesome.
Wednesday morning was a truly idyllic start. We got up & watched another gorgeous sunrise. Did yoga on the beach with pelicans fishing a few feet from us, crabs scuttling about their morning business, & pure peace & quiet. We watched an osprey just 50 feet away for a while, then dropped our tent & just chilled on our beautiful island. The pelicans had pretty easy fishing & were great to watch. We had breakfast on the boat, which was interesting because we were beached, & every time someone moved we tipped precariously. Once the boat was packed up we pushed off & headed out for the day. There was no wind at all so we had to motor all day, although the sail was up for shade. The plus point of the weather was that the sea was so flat and a truly gorgeous colour. It was exactly the mental image I had of the Caribbean, but in the mental image you could sail as well as have flat sea! We could also see the bottom a lot of the time, & saw lots of starfish, rays, pretty coral, barracuda & one nurse shark just by our snorkel stop. The snorkelling off Coleman Caye was just amazing. The coral was stunning again & there were big clumps that came quite close to the surface in very clear water so you could be really close to stuff just from the surface. I saw some amazing fish, including a stick fish that’s related to a seahorse, a couple of barracuda, some big angel fish and some beautiful rainbow fans, like anemones, and I swam with a big school of fish. Steve had also been snorkelling in the morning at Rendezvous Caye & had seen a huge eagle ray & some other cool fish. I was having a lot of trouble snorkelling so just went in for short spells, then got out again for a while. We had lunch on the boat, which was just sandwiches. We got to Tobacco Caye about 3:00 & got organised & the boat unpacked. There was a dock & it’s a pretty populated island, although very small & still very beautiful. Although its stunning, it took a few of us a wee while to do the mental shift from what we had last night to an island with lots of buildings & people. Steve went snorkelling again with a bunch of the others & saw some nice stuff, but not as good as earlier. I needed to stay out of the heat a bit, so painted a picture & chatted with folk. In the end I didn’t go in snorkelling. There was another gorgeous sunset – this time behind the Maya Mountains in the distance, but reflecting in the sea. We watched it from the beach & the dock with a rum punch or seven. Dinner was great again – this time shrimp, because our fishing had been very unsuccessful. We spent the evening just all sitting on the dock together chatting & telling stories & drinking rum punch.
We woke in time for the sunrise on Thursday, which was pretty stunning – the reverse of the glowing globe sinking into the ocean – but also with the reef in the foreground. We watched pelicans fishing & the world going about its business from deck chairs on the beach. The business being fishing – these little boats with 8 or 9 guys living on them, & 8 canoes, & they go off for the day, anchor the boat & fish from canoes up to 3 miles all around the boat. After packing up we had breakfast of fried tortillas, scrambled eggs, beans and plantain, with everyone on the dock, then left them to catch our taxi. It was pretty sad saying goodbye because they were some great people.
Ethan – an ecoforestry grad who’s very ecologically minded, & Paul from Portland, his uncle, who’s quite opposite in many ways, travelling Central America for 6 weeks.
Bryan, a physician assistant from Boston, who’s taken 18 months off to travel around the world.
Mike from St Louis, who got fired as a bartender & is on his first trip outside the US.
Heather & John & their 8 year old twins, Elizabeth & Carl from Michigan, who lived in Mexico for 3 years, & struggling to settle again.
And a Swiss couple, Chantel & Beat, who are travelling Central America for 4 months.
The taxi was quick (40 mins) & we walked through downtown Dangriga to the bus station. It was a very dusty but friendly town, & our timing for the bus was very good. They told us they go up the Coastal Highway & would drop us at the junction to Gales Point, so we were surprised when it only cost us a dollar. We’d been told to get a taxi into the village of Gales Point & it would be about BZ$5. A taxi pulled up & he said it would cost us $25. Unfortunately he was Mexican (Aztec actually) & didn’t speak much English. He took us around the corner to his friend & we discovered that we were at the start of the coastal highway & more than 4 km from Gales Point. She thought it was about 6 miles & we agreed to pay the taxi $30, which she thought was fair. Our alternative was to wait 5 hours for a bus that would go up the highway. After the taxi went back for gas we set off. This taxi would never have been aloud on the road anywhere else – even Orkney – never mind being a taxi. There were 4 huge cracks down the windscreen & it was a pretty beat up old vehicle that rattled & clanked a lot. The driver was Franco, & was in Belize to learn English, but didn’t seem to like Belize much & thought the roads were terrible. He was certainly right about that & the Coastal Highway is unpaved & full of ruts & holes. It was also about 26 miles to Gales Point, & Franco didn’t know the way, & couldn’t read the signs, so we had to help him. He was pretty cool, & treated it like an adventure, but was a bit worried about the fact he was going to run out of gas. At one stage he stopped the car & went to turn it off but the key had fallen out. We got there eventually, gave him $40 & helped try to find him some gas. We think he got some from the lodge up the road & then parked beside the campground where he’d dropped us & had a siesta – for 6 hours! We, & the people who live there were wondering if he was dead but he eventually left. The camp is lovely & run by Jill (American) & Emmett, who makes drums and teaches drumming. We got set up & then went down the road in search of lunch, which ended up being cookies because that was all the shop had that didn’t need cooking. We booked dinner for 5pm at Gentle’s Cool Spot & they agreed to make us Seray (which was why we needed to book). Then we spent the afternoon just relaxing watching the view from the tent, which was stunning. We looked over the lagoon to the mountains, which are really undulating jagged shapes & we could see 7 layers of hills. The village is very “off the beaten track” & is a dirt road & shacks, but very, very friendly. Some folks gave us some cashew fruit to try (& in return I treated their daughter, who had had a horrific injury to her hand & been given no advice or exercise, but told it would be crippled. I doubt it should be & hopefully made a difference). I never knew cashews had fruit & they were quite tasty. The nut is encased in a pod that hangs down under the fruit & contains toxins until it’s roasted. They char them over iron on a fire then scrape off the charcoal to get one nut.
Our dinner was fabulous – Seray is a coconut milk, plantain & fish stew & we tried some local fruit wines with it. We had a cashew wine which was very sweet & a bit like sherry, & a serosie wine, an herb that is supposed to be a good blood tonic, and almost like a beer. Both were very good, & we chatted with some folk who were working at the manatee research station at Tiger Point, which was only accessible by boat. We got back just in time to catch the end of the sunset over our lovely view & just sat & enjoyed the dusk for a while. Emmett lit the fire & we joined him for a drumming lesson. We learned a couple of rhythms of traditional local music & how to do basic base tone & slap sounds on the drum. We did a pah pah ta-ta-ta & a pah ta ta doom bah doom bah doom bah – called bruckdown rhythm. It was pretty cool sitting around a fire looking up at the stars & playing traditional rhythms with an amazing drummer. He showed us a few other drums & explained how a group & the rhythms are structural. Then we had a wee glass of his cashew wine, which was much drier than Gentle’s, & we liked it better. Jill joined us & we just sat around the fire gossiping till everyone was tired (about 9pm!).
The tent was fairly hot overnight despite a good breeze & we woke with the light at 5.30 on Friday. The sunrise wasn’t much because it was overcast& we struggled up & had showers. It’s interesting that our idea of luxury has changed because this shower was fantastic. It was a pipe coming out directly above you in a concrete tub & was only cold water, but it didn’t smell awful & was lovely soft water. I managed to comb my hair easily afterwards for the first time in weeks. We had got us & everything covered in a thick layer of dust in the taxi yesterday & it was good to get rid of it for a few minutes – until our clothes went on. We had breakfast of snack bars (from Doug & Barb at Caye Caulker) at the table by the lagoon & then went up to Manatee Lodge for a manatee tour. We had to drop off the manageress of the lodge at Tiger Point first so got a little bit extra tour. Then we tied up at the warm freshwater spring where the manatees like to play. We saw lots & lots of them but not very close & they mainly only surface their noses for a couple of seconds, although a few floated on their backs for a few seconds. It was pretty cool to see them, but rather expensive – cost us $55 US. Then we chilled out at the camp for a bit & went to Gentle’s for lunch. We had fried fish with rice & a noodle soup stuff with coconut milk. We finished lunch about 2pm & walked down to the store & back for water – an hour walking in the hot sun – so we needed a rest. We sat at the table by the lagoon in the shade & breeze, then found a shady spot & played tent petanque for a while. I painted another picture & then we watched the sunset. It was not quite as pretty as yesterdays & the hills were a bit hazy so had less layers, but still pretty stunning. We put long pants & sleeves on to protect us from the sandflys – too late for Steve, already had 90!!! Bites just on his back as well as numerous on his legs. We were too late for dinner but the fabulous Alita made us something anyway. She apologised that we had to wait while she made flyjacks & fried fish, which was great. The atmosphere here is just so great. Everyone is really friendly & happily go out of their way for you. The culture is quite different as it’s a kriol village & everyone normally speaks kriol. It’s the kind of experience I would have loved to have had in the Louisiana bayous, but here it’s much safer. It’s cool that you go to the restaurant & eat whatever they’re making, rather than choosing from a menu.
We decided the tent was breeze proof because we took the fly off & faced the door towards the breeze & still none seemed to come in, so we were cooked again when we woke at 5am to go & catch the bus. The bus ride was an experience. Jill calls them chicken buses, which is a good description. Lots of folk got on from the village & there was a wee bit of a party atmosphere with everyone chattering excitedly in kriol, & we were the only white people on the whole journey. The scenery was stunning as the coastal highway is largely in the jungle with wee rickety wooden bridges only just wide enough for the bus, & no railings. It’s also the main route used by trucks from Belize City & they kick up a huge dust storm. The taxi the other day had to stop because we couldn’t even see where the road went. The hills are really rugged but all rounded, steep & sudden & covered in jungle. The plain in the middle is mostly jungle but opens up occasionally into orange groves. We got off the bus at the junction with the main road & a bus to Cayo (San Ignacio) was waiting so we ended up there by 9am, which was about the time we’d been expecting to be in Belize City bus station. We found David’s Adventure Tours & waited for David to sort us out for the jungle camp. We did a bit of shopping in the meantime & managed to replace my worn out shorts and longs pretty cheaply. We looked around the market, which had lots of fresh fruit and veg & some spices, but unfortunately not really any “value added” food or products. We got sorted and up to the jungle camp by 12.30 & were cooling off in the river. The camp is on an unexcavated Mayan site & is very basic. We crossed the river on foot because it was really too low for the canoe, & hiked up a really steep hill. Our room was in a thatched cabana with slat windows & a concrete floor & 2 stable doors, but reasonably breezy & they told us we might need a blanket at night, which would be lovely. It was a really hot day today – somewhere in the 90’s but a low is expected tomorrow, which would be good as it was too hot for me by 9.30! The river is very cool though, & we cooled off quickly. There are little fish that seemed to like to nibble our legs (not piranha!) The river rose by about 6 inches while we were sitting there, which was quite disturbing because we were at least a hundred miles upstream. David told us it’s because there’s a dam upstream. We had some corn chips and beans for lunch, then a wee siesta, had another swim & did a bit of laundry in the river. Then we sat on a Mayan mound and watched the birds – lots of pretty colours, and pretty colourful butterflies too. Unfortunately the sunset was a flop. We watched and then helped Julia make tortillas. She makes a mixture of flour, salt, baking soda, a stuff like lard, and water, then forms little round balls & leaves them to rise a bit. Then they get put on a greased board & pushed out by hand into perfect rounds. Julia makes it look really easy & mine had holes in & weren’t an even thickness & not quite round, although I did improve over the course of doing half a dozen. Then they get lifted off the board & plopped onto a hot griddle for a few minutes on each side. There’s no electricity here so she cooks over a wood fire in very traditional ways, which was neat to see, but it was wilting hot in there. So I had my wee spell as a good Mayan wife & made tortillas for my husband & he appreciated them. I had fried fish for my tea & Steve had pork, which were both good & accompanied by macaroni cheese & mashed potato. We went to be not long after dinner & I asked about scorpions & got told there were none. A couple of minutes later I had to go ask again because there was one in my bed when I lifted the sheet. David sprayed the magic spray that gets rid of scorpions. It probably has marijuana in it like his (very effective) mosquito repellent & itch treatment. It was a pretty hot night again despite there being a bit of a breeze and a thunder & lightening storm & some torrential rain. I didn’t sleep well between the heat, being bitten by bugs (which I assume was a flea because we had the mosquito net up) & fear of the scorpion still being under the bed.

Posted by lyndalb 30.06.2007 18:04 Archived in Belize Comments (0)

Mexico

Yacatan Mayan sites

-17 °C
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Friday morning was a 5:30 start to get to the airport before the rush hour(s) got going & one of those waiting around days. We said goodbye to Sally at the house& George dropped us at the airport. The flight to Ft. Lauderdale was interesting in terms of peoples’ behaviour. We were astonished by the size & amount of carry-on luggage that people had & their absolute expectation that they should be able to put it wherever they liked with no consideration for anyone else being able to get luggage in. Fortunately we didn’t need to join the battle for overhead locker space – the security people had all kept saying “is that all you have”. I guess Florida is a place you need a lot of stuff. We never got to actually find out because we were only in Florida for less than 2 minutes! Our plane was late leaving Philadelphia due to being 20th in the queue and consequently arrived just as our flight to Cancun was due to leave – so we ran off the plane & 200 yards down the concourse & onto the next plane. The flight to Cancun was short & a nice comfy plane & we arrived not much late. We waited 30 minutes for the bus into town & then caught the 4pm bus towards Merida just as it was about to pull out. It was supposed to take 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours to get to Chichen Itza but took 4 1/2 and we had no idea where to get off or where we were most of the time so it was a wee bit stressful. It was interesting to look in the houses as it got dark and see how people really live. O saw very few couches and the ones I did see were mostly piled with stuff and the people were sitting or lying on hammocks. We passed through some very poor areas with people living in shacks and generally speaking it looks like the standard of living is pretty poor. We managed, with a bit of help, to get off the bus at the right place and find the posada we’d booked down a wee dirt track which is apparently a street. Fortunately he hadn’t given away our room despite being 2 1/2 hours late and it’s a nice wee tome with a bathroom, 2 big beds and plenty of space for luggage, a ceiling fan and comfy beds so that’s all that’s needed. A big improvement on Puerto Rico too because its much nicer than most places we stayed there and it cost only $20.
We got going reasonably early on Saturday morning to get to Chichen Itza before the heat and the crowds. It’s just a two kilometre walk form our posada and we stopped for breakfast on the way. Steve had a ham and cheese omelette and I had quesadillas -, which came with chicken. We’d decide not to eat poultry here because of the conditions the birds are kept in (alive and dead) and the risk of bird flu (I reckon a disease like that is probably around for 6-12 months before anyone catches it or it gets reported). However it looks nearly impossible to get a meal without meat in here and even the lime soup turns out to have chicken in it. Well I ate the quesadilla – and delicious it was too. We got to Chichen Itza at 8.30 and ended up renting a guide – Felipe – who was excellent although turned out to be rather expensive – I was thinking it was under $10 and a bargain and Steve was surprised that I was accepting $26!! Oops. However I was really pleased with our ‘bargain’ and we learned lots of stuff about Mayan and Toltec culture and history. We would never have seen half the stuff he showed us if we were on our own – like the details of the scenes on the ball court murals. You can see both teams of 7 and their dress being different for left and right arm and leg. The head of t he winning captain has been cut off but the losing captain and he is sacrificed to Chac – the rain god. You can see the blood spurting from his neck and turning into flowers & leaves & serpents. The Maya merged with the Toltec & also took on their god who was the feathered serpent & every equinox at sunset the light creeps down El Castillo from the serpents tail to his head at the bottom & symbolises him going down into the underworld, becoming the jaguar, & then returning up as the sun god or eagle. CA003.jpgThe feathered serpent is everywhere – the sides of the stairs of El Castillo (which is also a calendar) & supporting roofs and pillars. The acoustics in the whole place are amazing & if you clap your hands (in Spanish apparently because we couldn’t get it quite right) the sound bounces around the different buildings. The acoustics were particularly useful for the priests conveying messages to the masses & added to the effect of miracles (like the sun serpent). We went to the sacred cenote, which is a common feature of Yucatanean limestone landscape & the only source of water since it is completely flat land. They are basically limestone sinkholes & this one was only used for ritual and not for water – Chac is supposed to live at the bottom. Then we went along to the older – pure Mayan – part of the city, which had a lot of images of Chac & no feathered serpents. We could also go in some of the structures there & I was really surprised they had pointed ceilings. I guess in the UK all ancient ceilings are corbelled or arched & it surprised me every time I saw a pointed ceiling. There was also a nice example of how the used to build one temple over an older temple where one stupid archaeologist had used gunpowder to get in!! Apparently the city was abandoned every 52 years because the Maya believed the world might end then & if it didn’t they came back, built another temple & had security for another 52 years. We strolled around for a while after Felipe left us then went home for lunch (tortillas with refried beans & chilli & avocado) on our patio & a siesta. Then we walked back again & I did a painting of Chac & we looked for the sun serpent at sunset because we were only a few days after equinox. We got the tiniest glimpse but mostly the sun hid in the clouds. CA048.jpgAfter dinner back at the posada we returned again for the sound & light show which was pretty lighting but not exactly stunning & the commentary was not as good as Felipe. Having walked 10km in, to & from already & since it was dark we got a taxi home to bed.
Sunday was a nice lazy day. We had a long lie then caught a bus (which was over an hour late) to Cenote Ik Kil. It was really beautiful & lovely clear water with fish in it. CA052.jpgFrom ground level to the water was about 80 feet and there was a wee staircase tunnel down with viewpoints along the way. It got more beautiful the further down we went. There are vines & roots hanging down from the top right into the water & some of them make almost a curtain. There’s a huge rock overhang so the mouth of the cenote at the top is about half the size of the pool & when we arrived there were lots of birds flying around under the rock. They obviously nest there in the limestone crevices among the stalactites but they all disappeared when all the tourist buses arrived. We had to share the whole pool with about 5 other people to start with, then a bus arrived so we got out of the water & rested for the 15-20 mins they were there. It was glorious swimming in the cool clear water with waterfalls coming down from the sky – well from holes in the overhanging rock edge. Floating on our backs in the sunshine looking up at the hole and all the beautiful greenery, vines, waterfalls & birds was just glorious. It felt deep in the jungle for a few minutes despite the luxury resort built all around it back up at ground level. You could jump in from various heights up a small flight of stairs & Steve jumped from about 20ft, which was as high as you could go. We met a woman from Oregon call Susan who was staying across the road & we met her back at her hotel then got a taxi back into town for lunch with her. We had a great lunch at a nice restaurant for $6.50 each. I had spiced port sausages with rice & beans & the others had Yucatanean pork. It was all delicious & although I usually wouldn’t eat pork at least its now a better option than chicken. Vegetarian here doesn’t exist – especially with as little Spanish as we have. We showed Susan where we were staying then had a stroll down the town, which is pretty small & mostly closed for Sunday. Then we just chilled out back at the posada for the rest of the afternoon & chatted to our neighbours who were from Munich.
We had planned to get the 8:15 bus on Monday morning but were ready by 7:20 so thought we’d try for the 7:30. I think we actually caught the 7:00 (running late) just as we came out our road & everything went very smoothly. From Merida we got on a bus to Celestun on the Gulf of Mexico & on the border between Yucatan & Campeche states. We were in Celestun about the time we expected to be in Merida waiting for a bus – 12:30. Celestun is much more what I expected of Mexico – just a wee fishing village on a pretty beach. It happens to also have a national reserve lagoon & thousands of flamingos every summer so is reasonably touristy. In reality that just means it’s tidier than most towns & has hotels & restaurants – some of which even have the menus in English as well as Spanish. We got ourselves a room for $15, which is adequate & no more but 2 seconds from the beach. Of course the main reason for being here was the flamingos & after a bit of negotiating about numbers we got on a tour. The tour went from the beach20m along from our hotel & started by going a few kilometres along the beach then up the lagoon. Along the way we stopped to see a huge flock of pelicans, have a walk in a petrified forest & some herons & frigate birds. CA076.jpgThere were not a lot of flamingos – only a couple of hundred but you could see them from a long way off because they’re so bright. We didn’t get particularly close because if the birds get frightened they take off & some get killed in the panic. On the way back we saw quite a few osprey fishing, went through a pretty mangrove channel (which was lovely to do in daylight after doing it in Puerto Rico at night in kayaks) & then stopped at a freshwater spring in the mangroves. CA089.jpgIt was very beautiful & the water suddenly became very clear. We had a wee swim & the water was very salty other than right in the middle where it was ‘springing’. The final ride back along the shore was fairly bumpy but the driver read the waves like a book & it was good fun. We had a shower & changed & went to dinner 20m along the beach. We sat & watched the sun set into the ocean in a way it rarely does (at least that we see), through the coconut trees while we ate delicious seafood. We shared a shrimp cocktail (of the shrimp we saw them catching in the lagoon), a mixed ceviche with crab, shrimp, conch & octopus & a lovely crab dish. All were excellent & then we retired rather tired.
Tuesday was a nice relaxed start with a long lie, then a walk along the beach before breakfast. The fishermen were just bringing in their nets from the mornings work & we watched a couple. They have huge nets far out into the water with ropes at both ends to the beach. It takes 4 guys on each end to pull the net in & as it gets closer & makes a tight loop the pelicans start to gather & the tiny fish start to jump. There’s a pelican feeding frenzy for a while until the loop in the net is too small. By this time the men & the pelicans are working the same bit of water with the men flicking the tiny fish out of the netting & pelicans feeding on what they can or watching while they digest their feast. Then the boat comes along & the fish are bucketed into the boat. It was stunning – bright blue water, colourful boat, brown men in all manner of attire including jeans & co-existing really well with the pelicans & other birds. A real ‘National Geographic’ moment. And guess who didn’t have a camera! We caught the 9.30 bus back to Merida, which again was an interesting journey. Outside the bigger towns most people live in thatched huts & the landscape is very dry. I thought I saw mistletoe in the trees but that’s ridiculous. However the more I looked the more it looked like mistletoe so I’ll have to find out what it is. We got to Merida & checked into our hotel just off the grande plaza by 1pm & went out for a walk. But it was far too hot & crowded & noisy for me so I went back for a siesta while Steve had a look around & did some shopping. I ventured out with him once it cooled down a bit. Although the grande plaza is very nice & the buildings around it are stunning there wasn’t a lot to see away from that. There is some great architecture but mostly its just tired busy streets so we mostly stayed near the plaza & sat & people watched for a while. There was a Mayan drum group making a fascinating sound. The architecture of the cathedral & buildings around the plaza is very pretty & a peculiar mix of Mexican and European. We watched the sun set behind the buildings, then went back to our room for our dinner of tortillas & beans, this time with corn & salsa & corn chips. We went back out after dark for a brief stroll to see how pretty the plaza was lit up at night, which was quite lovely. I’m struggling with the culture because I can’t communicate & am not managing to learn Spanish at all. I can read a bit and understand a bit but just can’t remember more than a few words to speak.
Wednesday was a fairly early start again & we hopped on a bus at 8am to do the Ruta Puuc, which is 4 Mayan sites. It was a cheapie tour where the bus just took us to all the places – no guide & pay your own site entry, but $23 each cheaper than the next alternative I was really impressed by the bus – as with all the Mexican busses so far. If you want to get there in good comfort or on time then you’re in the wrong country but the drivers are excellent drivers, very helpful & they stop wherever you like. We stopped at Uxmal to let folk off & the driver counted up the remainder, rolled his eyes & went off in search of the stupid one who failed to follow instructions – later known as ‘Man with stick who was late every time’. Our first visit was to Labna, which had a palace with a few nice Chaac masks, an archway, which was beautifully decorated, & a raised white ceremonial road. Next stop was Sayil, which has a palace like the Minoan palace in Crete (lonely planet description but accurate) & some nice Puuc architecture. Then it was Kabah, which at first look was stunning. The palace of masks was lovely & made a spectacular site. It also had 2 atlases – male figures supporting columns – which are unusual in Maya architecture. The rest of the site was not as spectacular but had a nice palace, an arch (also rare in Maya architecture) that connects by a ceremonial road with another arch to Uxmal, and an unexcavated grand pyramid – i.e. a HUGE pile of rubble. We had been surprised at Chichen Itza how these places could remain undiscovered for so long but here they still have jungle around & we failed to see an excavated structure the size of a 3 storey apartment block until it was just a few meters in front of us. Uxmal itself was fabulous. CA120.jpgIt’s in slightly hilly & they used hills to advantage so there are a lot of very tall structures. Also a lot of Mayan stairs, which are beastly things because they’re so steep & narrow. We were allowed to climb the grande pyramid this time & coming down was a case of go sideways & keep telling yourself not to look down. The Magicians house was another stunning pyramid-like structure & the ‘nunnery’ (so called because when the Spanish discovered it they thought it looked like a nunnery) had amazing detail in the carvings of its façade. There was a temple of turtles with tiny turtle carvings around the top, the governor’s palace with more amazing detail & a disappointing ball court. The preservation of the detail of the carvings is far superior to Chichen Itza. We chatted with some Aussie girls on the bus & shared trip notes & tips & then when the bus got back to Merida we went straight back to our room & had tortillas with beans, corn & chilli for dinner. We just stayed in for the evening because it had been a very hot day & we were exhausted.
We had another long lie on Thursday morning and caught the bus at 10:00 to Chetumal. It was a first class bus & probably the nicest bus we’ve been on anywhere & the driver spoke good English & looked after us. We didn’t go through many small towns so it was less interesting & the down side of first class buses is they play action or horror movies very loudly on the TV & they are nearly impossible to ignore. At least they’re in Spanish so I didn’t understand the full horror. We got into Chetumal at 3:30 & got a taxi to the Ucum hotel in the centre of town & got a room for $20. It’s the first room we’ve had with a toilet seat & the hotel also has a pool, but the room was right on the road (2nd floor) & the mattress & pillows lousy. We went to the Maya Culture Museum for the rest of the afternoon, which was excellent. It is arranged on 3 levels reflecting the Maya belief of underworld, earth & heavens. The underworld had stuff about gods & beliefs, the earth section on everyday life & architecture & the heavens section about higher learning, calendar, counting & communication with the gods. It was very interesting. Then we had a dip in the pool for a while & had tortilla & beans for our dinner. I only had a few nightmares from the movies on the bus but it was a fairly hot & uncomfortable night.

Posted by lyndalb 30.06.2007 17:58 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

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