Monday, 20 May 2013


I am not sure if it possible to be completely taken with a country after a mere 11 days of travel but if it is then Belize is the one for me.
When I say that I had no pre-conceptions or notions of what to expect of Belize I mean it. We had only decided a couple of weeks before that our route would take us from Mexico to Guatemala via Belize and not the other way around so I hadn't really had a chance to read up on the country - I knew absolutely nothing, so imagine my confusion when I went to the bank just over the border and found a much younger and attractive Queen Elizabeth II smiling back at me!

Let's do us all a favour and summarise the key facts:
  • Belize is small - only 180 miles long and 80 miles wide
  • It is bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west and south and the Caribbean Sea for the entire eastern coast - contributing to the very laid back lifestyle
  • Unlike the rest of Central America, English is the official language although Spanish and Kriol are commonly spoken
  • The reason for this is that the conquering Spanish did not settle in Belize due to its lack of gold and very defiant indigenous Mayan population, so it was pretty much left to itself until the English colonised it in the 18th century when they exploited the country for its timber reserves
  • The English brought slaves with them and once abolished it was the newly freed people along with the Mayan's that shaped the country into what it is today - one chilled out place boi
  • The Belizean flag sums it all up and has both a black man and a white / Hispanic man standing either side of a tree in unity - one love!
With the short history lesson out of the way, let's pick up where we last ended.
We left Tulum for the Mexican border town of Chetumal and I didn't even think to sit back and savour what was to be both our last comfortable bus seat and air-conditioned first class bus.
Because we had done no research I fully expected to change buses at the Chetumal bus terminal and carry on the journey over the border via immigration and into Belize.
This was not in fact the case.
Instead, we had to catch a cab to the New Market (new in 1940) and board one of the many waiting chicken buses. Public transport for most of Central America is the chicken bus, a retired North American school bus used for shifting both people and livestock around. The buses are operated by 2 people - the racing driver and the 'helper' who takes care of ticket payment and arranging passenger luggage at the back of the bus via the skill we all call 'chucking it'.
As for the comfy seats and air con? We were back to basic travel now - no such thing as a comfortable seat and put the windows down if you're hot.

If I was initially clueless about Belize I knew I would be probably ok as soon as we got onto the chicken bus. The driver was on the bus DIY entertainment system trying out the quality of a pirate copy of Iron Man 3 (just in the cinemas now) and once that got the ok he put on the DVD for the trip - music videos of a lot of big booty shaking hoes with a bit of classic reggae in between at full volume.

Within 20 minutes of leaving we arrived at the border and this just added to my growing excitement of getting to this new country. Firstly we had to pay the Mexican's the equivalent of $30 each just for the pleasure of leaving (cheeky mofo's) whereas then passing into Belizean territory we got a "Hello", "Enjoy your stay" and a lovely brightly coloured tourist map with pretty pictures on it!

Back on the rickety bus over the dusty rough roads we made our way inland to the frontier feeling town of Orange Walk. The name sounds much nicer than the reality of the place we found ourselves in.
Leaving the bus and immediately feeling the heat wrap us up in its warm welcoming embrace I wished that we had pre-booked a room so as to avoid an aimless wander around the streets but this gave rise to our first and certainly not last contact with a very helpful local.
The first hotel that we tried was full but the receptionist gave us a complete run down of who else was full and who had rooms available; and so we ended up at Akihito - a Japanese owned hotel run by a Taiwanese conspiracy theorist. (He told me to enter false details on the form so that the government couldn't have the data)
There isn't really much of a need to describe Orange Walk Town for you because it didn't have any discernible features; it was hot, dusty, there were a lot of drunks in the streets and a high number of Chinese restaurants.
It shouldn't really come as a surprise when you consider the rest of the world but every supermarket and store in Belize is run by the Chinese / Taiwanese. I wondered how the Belizean man on the street felt about this and to quote Peter, our guide later in the trip:
"Yeah da Taiwanese own all da shops but dey also cook some damn fine fried chicken so it's good man"

Back to Orange Walk; we came here with the sole mission of seeing yet another Mayan ruin - Lamanai ('Submerged Crocodile' in Yucatec Maya). On reflection I am not sure why we are touring them all but we will visit another in Guatemala in a couple of days time!
After a little shopping around we decided on the tour supplied by the Lamanai Riverside Retreat, purely because they were located by Orange Walk's best feature, the river, and we could sit under an umbrella and sup on a bottle of Belizean Belikin beer.

The following morning we headed to the rendezvous point and began our day long tour to Lamanai, consisting of a 2 hour wildlife boat cruise followed by a tour of the ruins and lunch.
Coming along for the ride with ourselves and Carlos the guide was Matt and Adam, a father and son from Atlanta, Georgia who just flew in for the day from Belize's Caribbean islands, as you do. $150 return flight that takes 15 minutes one way whereas it took us 2 buses and a boat over a combined total of 5 hours!!
Kimberly (aged 70), her own cushion and husband Bob (aged 65), from California also joined us and something about her immediately rubbed me up the wrong way. It was probably the dodgy looking face lift and the fact that she got into the boat and said to me and AJ, "Morning ladies".
Yes the hair was down but I hadn't shaved and I am not a butch lesbian!!
I set her straight by saying "and man" but she dismissed me with a wave of the hand.

The boat trip along the New River to the ruins was an enjoyable affair - we saw crocs, snail hawks, black kites, kingfishers, iguanas, miniature bats roosting on a tree trunk, various fauna such as orchid and devils gut cacti, but the pick of the spots would have to be the expectant Spider Monkey who came aboard the boat to collect his daily banana.
We also passed by another of Belize's cultural surprises - a farm belonging to one of the numerous Mennonite communities.
Mennonites are essentially Amish (they are not but for this blog they are) and according to Wikipedia there were over 10,000 in Belize in 2008. Like the Amish they are self sufficient, they live a basic lifestyle and you can see them trading their wares with the locals in their funny hats, dungarees and beards all over the country. You can't trust Wiki but it says that the Mennonites birth rate is 42 per 1,000 whereas for the rest of Belize it is 30 per 1,000 - so who knows what the country will be like in the long term future - given that there are a lot of American's that are also settling here.

I digress.
Once we arrived at the ruins we were thankful that the tour was over within 45 minutes. Yes the ruins hidden in the jungles were nice and climbing the 3rd largest pyramid in the Mayan world was sweaty but enjoyable work but the sheer number of mosquitoes feasting on us made it all intolerable.
The site was only discovered in 1917 and amongst the many items found was an offering of jade, pearl and crystals all in jars atop a pool of liquid mercury!

Over a traditional Belizean lunch of rice, beans, curried chicken and fried plantains we got to know Kimberly and Bob a little better and they were now traveling through their 105th country and had been all over the world - plus having to pay $4,000 to get out of an Afghan jail because they exceeded their visas by 1 day!!
Just as we were about the leave Kim pulled Arancha to one side and like a random old granny let her in to her biggest traveling secret:
"Panty liners; they are a ladies godsend and will help you with excess wee drip and your sweaty bits"
We were given 20 minutes to relax before leaving and Bob of Bob and Kim set his stopwatch to make sure that he wouldn't miss the boat.
Kimberly also timed our journey on the way back - for some unknown reason.

That evening back in Orange Walk we were surprised to find that the entire town was crowded into the central square to celebrate Mother's Day (a different date for the rest of the world than the UK). I think only in Belize are some mothers called up to the front to see who can down a bottle of beer first.
I also had one woman tell me that I was handsome but with her gold teeth she looked like Jaws out of James Bond's Moonraker so I couldn't reply in kind.

We left Orange Walk Town and boarded the bus still unsure as to where we were actually headed to next so we left it up to chance and whatever information we could gather at our first bus change in the former capital of Belize City.
Of the possible destinations 2 of them appeared to be a trifle difficult to get to and given the temperatures we just couldn't be arsed with it, so we decided on Dangrega, the gateway to the southern Cayes (islands).

Belize City was once the capital city and was almost entirely destroyed in 1961 by a hurricane. In 1970 the government was moved to the new capital of Belmopan and we managed to pass through both the former and current capital cities in one trip without looking around either - apparently they are both crap anyway.

Our next stop in Belize, Dangrega was a very low key by the sea sort of place. Everything is still a little old school here so being a Sunday nothing was open as everybody spends the day with family. We made our way to the coastline and passed through the many wooden shacks that still adorn the streets of Belize some of which were belting out either Bob Marley (seriously, he is everywhere here and it totally fits the vibe) or Punta as we were now in the land of the Garifuna people.
(Arancha's new nickname is Gari in honour of this)

We came across Ruthie's Cabanas and Ruthie herself gave us the grand tour once she tore herself away from her chair on the beach and so we spent the night in a cabana (shack) right on the beach, had Ruthie do our laundry and that evening sat down in her kitchen to tuck into some home cooked rice, beans, curried pork (I swear it was goat), potato salad and chilli salad.
You would think that all that was enough to make Ruthie's Cabanas a memorable stopover but the evening was only just starting:
  • I rolled over on the bed to see a used condom on the floor - lovely
  • At 3am in the morning I woke up to what I thought was Arancha's sleepy hand tickling my stomach. I groggily looked down and saw that her hand was away from me and I could still feel something which was when I then discovered to my horror that I had a cockroach of considerable size walking up my belly towards my face!! I can proudly say that I did not scream but after Arancha helped me dispose of the critter every wisp of air that touched one hair on my body saw me jumping up to check
As you can imagine I was pleased to be leaving Ruthie's the next day but not just because of the roach; we were on the look out for a boat to take us to paradise.
Timing it perfectly we got to the correct coastal inlet as a little motor boat was just about to leave for Tobacco Caye, so along with an eastern European couple we jumped aboard and set out across the open ocean for the 30 minute journey which left us two and only us saturated.

Tobacco Caye - simply the most idyllic location I have yet had the fortune to reside upon. As we curved round the larger Man O War Caye we got our first view of Tobacco and I will have to say that it was a picture postcard - a small island on its own in a blue lagoon covered in palms and a few wooden huts.
Tobacco Caye is the size of about 3 football pitches and sits above part of the world's 2nd largest coral reef over crystal clear waters and is surrounded by thousands of shells - those huge ones that you see in old people's houses. I have never seen so many and shame on me because all I could think about was how much money was sitting there.
Mainly because we were marooned and were limited on choice we decided to treat ourselves and stay at the nicest place on offer and so began 2 all inclusive (meals) days of bliss idling our days away on the deck with hammock and sun chair that sat over the ocean watching the 4 foot southern rays glide by within touching distance as well as snorkelling.
During our thrice daily snorkel sessions we spotted all sorts of sea life amongst the dazzling coral such as squid, tropical fish, sting rays, southern rays, barracuda and hermit crabs.
Whilst on the island we had the good fortune to be staying next to a really interesting French / Brazilian couple who we will definitely be meeting up with in Brazil for Carnival. They were on the penultimate country of an epic 40 country world trip and when it comes to professional travel blogging these are the guys to come to. They are literally on the verge of making this wonderful way of life a profession and currently have articles published in their newspapers back home and visitors to their website numbering 20,000.
For anyone considering a world trip, this is the website for you:

I have talked about the dubbed Hollywood films that we have watched on the various buses traveling through Mexico and during these myself and Arancha have speculated about whether the actors who are the voice overs are stars in their own right ie. Brad Pitt's Spanish voice is used for every Brad Pitt film etc?
Well guess what - they are!
In one of those odd backpacker conversations we discovered that Alexis (of the Brazilian couple) was in fact a French voice over 'actor' in Brazil. He also told us that growing up in France there was a voice over star who died and when his next role came up and it was a different person doing the voice for George Clooney (let's just say it was him) there was an outcry because that wasn't George Clooney's 'voice'.
He also told me that when he first heard Sly Stallone's real voice after years of the French version he thought it was fake. Ha ha.

After 2 days of bliss and 2 fabulous sunsets, of which there would've have been more if they weren't fully booked we left our island getaway and made for yet another caye, Placencia.
Due to the mass development that threatens to overwhelm parts of Belize Placencia is now the caye that you can drive to thanks to the creation of a thin strip of land to lay a road upon its surface.
As we made our way through the building sites and exclusive housing estates for the rich American ex-pats we feared the worst but once in Placencia we were able to breath a sigh of relief. If there is to be an example of how to develop a sleepy seaside community to cope with an influx of tourism then this place is the shining example.
Where there would have been rickety wooden shacks there are now new colourful wooden shacks and where there would have been a sandy path there is now a simple wooden decked pathway adorned with helpful and tastefully coloured signs.
Our sole purpose for coming to Placencia was to snorkel with the spawning whale sharks and even though we knew that we were 2 weeks early for the full moon (the prime action day) we hoped that maybe there had been some sightings and the possibility of a trip out for a swim.

As is the standard way we had nothing booked in terms of accommodation but that really isn't an issue in helpful Belize.
A really cool Rasta guy who we would see everyday during our stay caught sight of us and told us about his friend who had a spare room in a house that he was renting and would we like to take a look?
Not one to miss out on a possible deal we agreed to take a look and 5 minutes later a huge American bloke turned up and introduced himself as Jeff Smith. It turns out that Jeff Smith was ex US army and had just returned from competing a security contract in Afghanistan. He was renting a great house close to the beach for 8 months because he was a tax exile and had no intentions of returning to the US until he had been away for long enough to be counted as living overseas.
If it wasn't for the room being a sauna and the size of a semi detached box room we may have taken it purely for how interesting a night on the beer with Jeff Smith could have been; imagine the stories, but there was also a part of me that was worried that big Jeff could still flip out with PTSD and put a rifle to our heads and take us hostage!
We thanked Jeff and told him we would look elsewhere and soon found a private and less sweaty room for the same price.
We spent the afternoon gathering info at all of the tour and dive shops and unfortunately for us it had been a slow whale shark season to date so we gave up on the idea of hanging around for a couple of weeks and there still being no certainty of a sighting - after all there is always a chance in Honduras!

The next couple of days passed us by and we didn't do a lot. We chilled on the beach, we swam in the sea to cool down, we visited the local bakery to buy fresh meat pies from James, we ate locally and had creole chicken from Omar and jerk and garlic beer BBQ shrimps from Del, plus we cooked our own meal one night and then found that some selfish prick had helped himself to our leftovers which were supposed to be for lunch and to make it worse he left the plate outside of our room!!
Overall, a nice 3 days apart from one incident:
Walking around to find a place to eat we came across a little doggy that had either just been run over or in a fight with another dog - it wasn't so much the obvious broken leg that disturbed us, it was the fact that one eye ball was completely hanging out!! It really turned my stomach and left AJ in a bit of a palava.
Don't worry readers, there were a number of locals on the scene and we could tell that somebody was being called to assist - my money was on Jeff Smith and his big gun!

We were somewhat over the beaches now so it was time to head west and inland to the forests and jungles. Our final town in Belize was San Ignacio which serves not only as the gateway to Guatemala but also the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve where you can undertake a number of activities such as river tubing, exploring caves and abseiling.
The chicken bus from Placencia to San Ignacio was packed and when I say packed I mean it; I was sharing a standard seat with a young Belizean couple and I reckon the sheer volume of bodies on the bus contributed to the radiator blowing just as we entered the outskirts of San Ignacio; but luckily for us we were only a short walk from the market place and town centre.
As we had missed out on the whale sharks we knew that we needed to partake in some sort of activity here to feel like we had given Belize a good go and after some price comparisons we decided to take a tour offered by the very chillaxed David and his Adventure Tours.
Once that was arranged Arancha went to the markets whilst I sat down at the river with the many families and let the fresh river waters wash over my dusty worn down feet.

We were expecting to spend the day in the Pine Forest Reserve with Dave but it was his sidekick Peter who took us out for our trip. Peter wasn't quite as Bob Marley as Dave but he was a funny guy and kept apologising for his hiccups that plagued him for the entire day.
It was really interesting listening to him talk about life and this and that and we were enthralled as he told us about the early life of his Mayan grandmother and African grandfather who came to Belize as a slave and ran off into the jungle to hide and set himself free.
The Reserve itself was an interesting place because in parts it resembled a savannah due to it being decimated by the pine bark beetle and fire that wiped out close to 90% of the trees!
Our day trip consisted of 3 parts:
  1. Rio Frio Cave - a huge cave that resembled standing inside St Paul's Cathedral
  2. Rio On Pools - naturally formed water pools with a river running through them and very slippery rocks linking them all that you can slide across
  3. Big Rock Waterfall - a 75 foot waterfall that crashes down into a pool that you can jump off of rocks into and fight the current to swim right up to and under the waterfall itself. Also, if you sat there for long enough the fish would come up and nibble on your dead skin.
Whilst at Big Rock I got talking to yet another American who was relocating to Belize and here is an account of our short but interesting chat:
  • He is an inventor from Maine who invented a water based paint and oil dissolver that is created entirely from plants and he sold the invention for a lot of cash
  • Obtaining citizenship for Belize is easy and cheap - you only need to remain in Belize for 1 year but can leave for a max of 14 days and the visa costs a total of $480
  • He is buying an acre of land for $40,000 in a self sufficient farming community - not quite Mennonite but not far off
  • There is a plant that can be grown in the country that you can pretty much live off - if times get really bad
  • He will buy a lot of his seed from some super seed company based in Florida - apparently they have seeds for 19 different types of banana and Dole have the rights to one of them!
Our final night in Belize was a simple but enjoyable affair - we ate burritos and watched the local music school concert. No lie, the kids had just finished playing 'Mamma Mia' on the recorder when the teacher announced that they were slowing it down now with a recorder rendition of that Westlife classic 'You Raise Me Up'. It brought a tear to the eyes!! Beaut! Not quite.

And that was that, our too brief a trip to Belize was at an end due to that fact that we really need to get a move on to get to South America before we blow the cash.
Belize - what a great place, fab happy smiley people and still untouched by tourism in so many ways; simply unbelizeable!!


Friday, 10 May 2013


Hello people. How's it going?
This post comes from our final port of call in Mexico, the very cool and laid back Tulum. All you need to know about this town for now is that I am hung over and I am sat in my hostel room that the owner excitedly told us was called 'The Blue Dream'. Oooooohhhhhhhh!!

So getting straight into it; we took the overnight bus from the boozy beach town of Zipolite to the central highlands city of San Cristobal de la Casas. By the time we had wasted the day to catch the 22:50pm bus our merry band of backpackers had increased to 5 people. Along with ourselves and Nick, there was now also Patricia from Italy and 'T' from Canada, who would be our travel companion for a further 5 days, and is to blame for my current state!

Overnight bus journeys are never pleasant, give me a sleeper train any day, but I have to say that the buses in Mexico are the second best that I have been on in the world (Malaysia holds the number 1 spot).
The seats are big, the air con works and they always show a few movies. It is amazing that you can watch a movie in Spanish and still understand it just from literally watching the action.
We arrived into San Cristobal the next morning after a decent 5 hours sleep which is definitely an achievement on an overnighter bus.
What to say about San Cristobal? Probably the nicest place that we have been to in this country and definitely Arancha's favourite city. Due to is location at 2,200 metres it is hot in the daytime but very cool in the evenings (you need a hoodie), it is based in the central highlands of the state of Chiapas meaning that the surroundings are mountainous lush green countryside and the city itself is a blend of hippie culture meets art with enough cafes dotted about the place so that you constantly walk around with an espresso buzz.
We only spent 2 nights here and we passed the time walking the streets, visiting the churches (of course), allowing Arancha to get her shopping fix in the Mayan markets and generally hanging around drinking and bumping into the many backpackers that all seem to be following the same route.

One excursion that we did do in San Cristobal was to take a boat through the Canon (Canyon) de Sumidero. The canyon which began its formation at the same time as the Grand Canyon, whilst not as impressive as its much larger canyon cousin was an awesome sight. The trip consisted of a 2 hour boat ride along the river in between the canyon walls that rose up to a 1,000 metres above our heads and legend has it that some of the indigenous Mayan's jumped to their deaths from the top of the canyon rather than surrender to the invading Spanish army!
Whilst we were definitely safe and sound in our speed boat we did have close encounters with crocodiles, a group of sunbathing vultures and spider monkeys that seemed both inquisitive and very relaxed to have a boat full of humans staring at them and taking hundreds of pictures.

On our final night we popped out for a drink and ran into 'T' who we told we were leaving the following morning to head into the jungle to visit the ruins of Palenque. As she had nothing planned she decided there and then to come along and so began our tour around 4 different sets of ancient Mayan ruins.
A little bit of background info on our traveling buddy - T is a Canadian native American Indian who when she finally stops partying for 5 minutes is supposed to be here to find a suitable place to open a bar - a seriously important contact to have!! Plus, she is great fun and a real character.

By mid afternoon the next day the 3 of us exited the bus in the jungle town of Palenque and were all slapped in the face by a wall of super heated air. The heat was oppressive and I was very pleased that we were only due to be here for 2 nights to view the ruins and then get the hell out ASAP.
T had read about a hostel that was only a 10 minute walk away from the bus station but even such a small walk became a trek in such temperatures and we all arrived looking like we had been for a swim. The actual hostel was very nice set amongst the backdrop of the jungle foliage with its private cafĂ©, bar and bbq area.
Partly due to the fact that we were sweating our nuts off (metaphorically speaking for 2 of the group; it was real life for me) we were up and out early the next morning and in a collectivo heading to the ruins before 9am. A lot of the people in the hostel had made the effort to get to the ruins for opening time at 7am to avoid the heat of the day but as far as we were concerned this was lunacy. Yes it was bloody hot by the time we left at midday but at least we weren't knackered as well.
As for the ruins themselves - majestic would be a good word to describe them. Every fantasy I had as a kid about discovering lost cities in the jungles were fulfilled in this place. The city was at its peak in the 7th century but after its decline the jungle moved back in to swallow what was there before and so it lay undiscovered for hundreds of years. The areas that have now been cleared and restored are a huge array of pyramids and temples some of which are massive and take a great deal of effort to climb under the glare of the punishing sun. The thing I find even more fascinating about all of these sites are that what you can see is only a fraction of what still lays hidden amongst the trees and vines. We spent a full 3 hours exploring the buildings of Palenque but it is estimated that only 10% of what is there has been explored and uncovered to date.
For me the Mayan culture is more about the wonder and an appreciation of the architecture rather than a spiritual experience (my spirituality is waiting for me to return to India and Nepal) but in Palenque I stood amused as I watched a group of American's meditating in the shadows of the main palace. Now I am all for getting in touch with nature and harnessing the energy of the earth but what I think is pure bullshit is the leader of the group becoming possessed by the spirits of the dead, chanting like she was having an orgasm and shaking all over like she was having an epileptic fit before passing out and falling back against the stone walls. I can't imagine what these suckers had paid to come on this 'journey' but what I can tell you is that for free I really enjoyed watching the show.

With the ruins done and dusted (so to speak) it was time to get out. We decided to head over to the west coast of the state of Campeche and visit the state capital of the same name and this involved catching an early morning bus.
This brings me onto the main thing I hate about hostel dorms. It was about 12:30am and the 3 young Europeans that we were sharing with came in and turned all of the lights on. Now I personally think that this is bad manners when you can use the light of your mobile to navigate about the room but overall it is not such a big deal. However, what I do think is completely selfish is to leave all of the lights on whilst you then head into the bathroom and have a 30 minute shower! Seriously, did your parents not teach you anything or are you just spoilt brats traveling on mummy and daddy's money?
Not one to let a slight pass me by (AJ being the same) we took great pleasure in rising at 7am, turning the air conditioning off, opening the curtains and also opening the windows to let the heat and mosquitoes in for breakfast before slamming the door as we left.
Yes it was petty and tit for tat but you get what you give. A'ight.

Next stop Campeche - we lasted exactly 20 hours. The Lonely Planet has thrown us a couple of stinkers but Campeche was the egg fart of the group.
The book's description makes it out to be a damn sight more worthwhile than the actual reality and maybe it would've been if we hadn't already walked around the streets of dozens of other colonial towns all painted in pretty pastel colours. It also didn't help that behind the fortified walls of this town we did not get the ocean breeze we were craving and when we finally did make it through the fort walls and over to the ocean there was no beach because back in the 1900's they decided take advantage of the fact that low tide would leave a few hundred metres of land exposed, so they built right out to low tides' edge meaning that the land stops abruptly at a sea wall.
Our hostel didn't improve our mood. How they managed to squeeze 3 bunk-beds into the room we were in I am not sure, but there were 5 of us in there and no air - it was not pleasant.
We arrived at 2pm, we explored the town, walked along the city walls, visited a museum and had a few beers. At 10am the next day we said our goodbyes to T and jumped on a bus to Valladolid. A very short and not all that sweet visit to Campeche - don't go!

As for Valladolid - you should go and upon arriving I realised that I had been here before on my last visit to Mexico 8 years ago!
Valladolid is another Mexican town like all the rest, it is based around a Zocalo (central square) but it feels somewhat more authentic and real. There aren't as many white faces hanging around and you feel like you have it more to yourself.
Our reason for coming here was that the town was located perfectly as a base to explore the ruins of both Chichen-Itza and Coba plus a few more sites if these two weren't enough.
We timed our visit to Valladolid to unexpectedly coincide with a festival so our evenings were spent in the centre of town watching the traditional dancers and folk bands whilst eating Nutella crepes.
We ate most of our meals in the Bazar Municipal - an indoor market as such which is all the more interesting because the food vendors are not allowed to approach you. In order to attract business they must remain behind their counter and shout as loud as they can and lean out as far as possible with a menu in the hope that you will choose them.
You feel quite guilty when you finally do make a choice but we made sure that we went to a different one each time so as to spread the wealth.

Early the next morning we jumped on the local bus along with the Mexicans and headed out into the middle of nowhere through tiny villages on our way to Chichen-Itza. Along with Tulum (my current location) Chichen is the most visited ruins in Mexico and the central pyramid is the image used in all the tourist brochures, so you have probably seen it.
I had been to Chichen-Itza before but I must not have done a great job of being a sightseer because I saw so much more this time. Probably something to do with not being hung over!
Whilst not as absorbing as Monte Alban in Oaxaca or Palenque the central pyramid along with the ball court of Chichen-Itza do make it a Mexican travel must. The problems with this location is that it is a favourite with the day trippers tearing themselves away from the all-inclusive luxury of Cancun and a result it gets busy and is also very commercial. The pathways are lined on either side with Mexican stalls selling tat at ridiculously inflated prices because holidaymakers have the spare cash to indulge in a spot of memorabilia shopping. Nobody cares to think that there are a couple of backpackers who need to make their money stretch for 18 months do they! Selfish.
Also, when I was here previously I was able to climb the pyramid and explore all of the ruins first hand, now it is all roped off so it feels more like being at a museum. I understand it is about preserving what is there but it is a shame nonetheless.
Another thing that did stick out about Chichen-Itza was that there must have been one iguana for every tourist - everywhere you cared to look there would be an iguana basking in the sunshine; some up to a metre long. I think we found them more fascinating than the ruins we were there to observe.

Our penultimate site of this ruins odyssey followed swiftly the next morning with a visit to Coba.
At the bus station we noticed a young western lad dressed in a suit and tie (it was boiling) and it was very clear that he was of the god persuasion. AJ told me to avoid eye contact at all costs which of course meant that I couldn't, meaning that he approached us.
We let out a sigh of relief as he only wanted to borrow a phone and not preach the gospel but once we told him that we weren't carrying one he still informed us that he was a Mormon working as a missionary to spread the word of baby Jesus.
He said that he was on his way to Cancun and I jokingly told him that there would be plenty of sin for him to work with there - he didn't laugh as such.
I am not even sure why he was in Mexico at all - the whole country is mad for god; who is there left to convert and to save?
So, once again we made our own way to Coba on the local bus but were a little perplexed when we were dropped off at the side of the road and stood there as the dust created by the departing bus billowed into our faces.
Eventually, with the aid of a very helpful map directly behind us we found that we were only a 10 minute walk away from the entrance to the ruins.
As with the rest, Coba is only partially exposed and much of it still remains hidden by the jungle but the best thing about this site is that you can hire bicycles to save you walking the 6km circuit around the ruins.
Whereas Chichen-Itza has been 'done up' for the tourists Coba feels more like it has been left as it was - a lot of it is crumbling away but you can still climb over everything and touch and feel it to get a real sense of where you are.
The central pyramid is also available to anybody who wants to make the effort to climb to the peak and the views out across the jungles are worth it alone. Descending the misshapen steps at a very steep angle is an all together separate mission and I have no doubt that there have been a lot of broken tourist limbs from this.

Having completed a busy ruins schedule we required a bit of beach action to recharge the batteries. (Seriously, it can be hard work!)
Due to time and money we forced ourselves to make a choice between 2 islands and Isla Holbox won. The only problem with getting here was that there was one bus per day and that bus left Valladolid at 2:51am. No idea why it is 51, why not leave 1 minute earlier and make it a nice round 50?
It was a choice between staying up or trying to get an early night so like the rock 'n' roll stars that we are we were in bed for 8pm and did manage to get about 5 hours kip before the alarm rudely awoke us at 2am.
The plan had been to stay sleepy and continue to snooze on the bus but how can you when the driver is belting classics out such as 'Eye of the Tiger' and 'We built this city on rock and roll' at 3am? The volume was so loud that is penetrated the ear plugs!
So we stayed awake and had a sing song.

Come 5am we had arrived at the still sleeping port of Chiquilla but fortunately it was only a case of waiting until 6am for the first ferry of the day over to the island.
As is always the case we saw a couple that we had seen in Palenque the week before so we had a couple of fellows Aussies to chat to. I count myself as a token Aussie as I have my very own Sheila!
What is weird though is that the Mexican's think I am Argentinian! I think it is the hair along with the head band I have taken to wearing but hopefully this will work in my favour when I am actually in Argentina so I won't get bullied over the Falklands.

By 7am we had woken a softly sleeping islander from his hammock and were checked in to our own thatched roof cottage in a lovely 'hostel' set in its own gardens. Granted it was a mammoth 5 minute walk from the beach (a blessing with what was to come) but it was exactly what we were looking for.

I can't say that we actually did a lot on Holbox. We spent our time walking along the beautiful white beaches, we observed the numerous birdlife that were not shy of humans, we watched the pelicans dive bomb into the sea to feed, we swam in the emerald green sea, we ran into a food vendor from the Bazar in Valladolid who recognised us and we finally got to cook our own meals after 3 months of eating out.
Overall is was a thoroughly pleasant and relaxing 4 days; apart from The Storm!
During the afternoon of our second day the wind had begun to pick up and the sea had gotten a little choppy but we didn't really think much of it. However, at approximately 8pm lightning could be seen in the distance and I said to AJ that we should head to the beach to watch the show over the ocean - thankfully she told me that she couldn't be arsed because about 30 minutes later the storm arrived directly overhead and it was brutal.
We looked out of the windows and couldn't believe what we were seeing. The palm trees were swaying from side to side, the thunder was deafening, the lightning was constantly going off and the rain was coming down in a sideways motion and within 10 minutes the grounds were flooded.
It was at this point that the thatched roof didn't seem like such a good idea and slowly but surely the rain began to come in.
An hour later we were huddled in the bathroom with all of our stuff because the main room was now under an inch of water and still the rain came down.
Eventually the storm did move away and so at midnight we ventured outside through the floods and the dozens of frogs that were having the time of their lives to sort out a new room.
I can't fault the owners in any way - once they arrived they set about immediately moving us and another couple to alternative rooms and we very happily found ourselves in the best room in the house. We were now in the penthouse and it was a sh*tload better than our previous room. Result!

Obviously we knew that the storm had been bad but it wasn't until the next day that we realised how bad it had been. The bone dry and dusty roads were now transformed into flooded clay walkways (it felt quite nice squelching between my toes) but when we got to the beach we were slightly taken aback.
There must have been a huge ocean swell because broken and upturned boats and fishing nets now littered the beach for as far you could see and all of the hotels had beds and mattresses out to dry in the sun - I think we were very lucky to have been located far enough away from the beach to practically get away unscathed and relatively dry!
Apart from the drama of the storm the rest of our time on the island passed by like the tick-tok of a hammock swing and so came the time for us to leave.
It was another early start and only one thing of note happened on our way to the ferry - I slipped on the wet clay with all of my bags and landed on one knee like I was about to propose. It hurt, Arancha giggled and 2 other people saw it which always makes it worse.

Next stop - Cancun. Oh dear.
I came to Cancun when I was 25 years old and I was a different person then. I was a standard holidaymaker on a fortnight away with no interest of exploring the country I found myself in. All I wanted to do was relax by the pool and get smashed before getting back to the day to day grind of going to work to pay the mortgage.
This is life and it is the way it is but thankfully for me that now seems like a lifetime ago and life is somewhat more of a pleasure these days.
Coming back to Cancun as a somewhat more enlightened traveller was not a pleasant experience. It hasn't changed in 8 years, everything is still the same, it is still full of American's, it is a commercial hell hole and it stinks. I know that I am being a travel snob about this but I can cope with everything that I have listed above, but what I can't abide is how Cancun treats everybody as a cash cow and shouts at you from their shops with an "Oi" rather than a "Hello". Wankers.
The price of food, drinks and general goods was astronomical. As a good measure of what I am talking about, a beer is 20 pesos all over Mexico but in Cancun is was 80 pesos in some places; you can buy a t-shirt for 60 pesos in other parts of the country but here I couldn't find anything for less than 1,000! It was crazy.
But the thing that annoyed me most was that everything was in US dollars. It took me ages to find an ATM that would actually dispense pesos. I am in Mexico, why the f*ck do I want US dollars? And do not try to charge me in US dollars with your completely ripped off exchange rate!

Ok, I feel better now. I have exorcised the Cancun demons!
Actually, our Cancun experience turned out better than you may have thought from reading my rant above.
We were north of the hotel zone in a more residential area and the hotel had a pool that opened up to a view over the lagoon. Being in a more residential area we also had access to more appropriately priced eateries and it is no lie that the two places that we went to had the best food I have eaten so far on this trip.
Rather than pay 300 pesos for lunch in town we had the most amazing fish and shrimp burritos for 40 pesos each - they were beaut. They were so good that I had fish for breakfast!
Also, the colour of the sea in Cancun is out of this world, it seems like it is almost luminous blue.

We did have one night out in Cancun and after a few drinks on our hotel balcony we jumped on the bus and found ourselves outside of Senor Frogs.
1 drink here was enough - partly because it was full of trashed kids gyrating on the stage to crap music and partly because 2 drinks set us back 170 pesos. As I mentioned, we are used to paying 40 pesos for 2 beers.
We decided to try out the rest of town but after 10 minutes of reps shouting at us to come into their club / bar we gave up. It just wasn't the place for us and is not a place conducive to being a backpacker - it is just too expensive and frankly too trashy. Maybe I have just changed and I am now scared that I am growing up?

Our final Mexican destination was Tulum and we boarded the bus relieved to be exiting Cancun and getting back to a more low key setting.
We had also been promised a good party by T in Tulum and seeing that Cancun was such a disappointment we were keen to get on it.
We knew T was about but we honestly didn't expect her to get onto our bus when we stopped in Playa del Carmen to pick up some more passengers! Such a small world.

Tulum is a fab place to base yourself in order to explore another set of Mayan ruins as well as a number of cenotes, a deep natural sinkhole / waterhole, some of which lie within caverns and can be entered via a leap of faith.
However our first day was not about sightseeing, it was about getting drunk. After checking into the Blue Dream we headed straight over to T's hostel and set about drinking the evening away.
All in all it was a great night, we met some good people and around 16 of us played drinking games which included necking shots of tequila with chilli powder. Just to continue with the 'small world' adage one of the group we were drinking with was a girl that Arancha has shared a room with at the beginning of January in Canada!
Due to effects of the booze the following day was a compete right off.

As mentioned we were partly here to complete our Mexican ruins tour and we definitely saved the most beautiful until last. The Tulum ruins, whilst not that large made up for this by the fact that they were built on a grassy knoll on the side of a raised cliff that look out through the palm trees and out over the turquoise Caribbean Sea and the world's second largest reef - you couldn't choose a better place to build your home and I bet the sacrificial virgins couldn't complain too much either!
As with Chichen-Itza it is over populated with tourists but it still didn't seem to take too much away from such a stunning place.
From the ruins it was also only a short walk down to the palm tree leaden powdery white beach that stretched out into the distance for as far as we could see and this would be where we spent the rest of our day.
For our final 24 hours in Latin America country number 1 we rented bicycles so that we could take ourselves on a tour of the cenotes.
Renting a bicycle to ride along a busy and dusty highway in the scorching heat was maybe not the best choice of transport to get ourselves over to the cenotes but given that we were visiting them with a view to taking a swim what better way to leave you in a position where you can truly appreciate the refreshing waters.
Cenote number 1 was the Gran Cenote - the largest and therefore most populated waterhole. To reiterate, a cenote is a deep pit / natural sinkhole and is something quite characteristic to Mexico. Essentially they were once underground rivers / pools flowing through cave systems but at some point in the past the roof 'caved' in. The results of these incidents are crystal clear natural swimming pools with a completely unique dynamic of you being able swim amongst fish and turtles through stalactites and stalagmites whilst having bats dangling and flapping above your head - I guess for some people this is not exactly the idea of a great afternoon out but for quite a number of people at Gran Cenote including us, it was.
After an hour of fun we jumped back onto the bicycles and headed to our second cenote of the afternoon, Cenote Calavera.
This cenote is not really on the tourist agenda which was great for us but a big mistake on their part. You enter as though you are passing down somebody's side gate to get to their back garden and after a couple of minutes the ground just drops away to a transparent liquid blue pit. Once the 3 cave divers in full scuba gear had departed we and one other American girl had it all to ourselves.
I did have a chat to the dive leader and he told me that the cave networks go on for miles and that you could actually swim from this cenote to the Gran Cenote in 2.5 hours - trapped underwater and underground for 2.5 hours? - no thanks!

Now there was a ladder down into the pool but given that the drop was more or less 3 metres a simple jump would suffice.
The other brilliant part of this cenote were the 2 potholes that also opened into the cavern from the roof and after much trepidation standing at the edge of a hole where the entrance had to be timed just right to avoid skin loss on both the front and back of our bodies we stepped out and dropped through.
Unfortunately Arancha's jumping was cut short via a slip on the rocks and a sliced toe but it didn't take away from a thoroughly enjoyable last afternoon.

So that's it, Mexico is done. We didn't really have any idea about what to expect from our first foray into Central America but it is fair to say that after 6 weeks spent in Mexico it is a great country and one of the easiest places in the world to travel around.
Looking back on all of the towns / cities that we visited they certainly all have similar traits and you could probably visit 2 or 3 colonial towns and that would be enough but with regards to the 6 archaeological sites that we ventured to I enjoyed them all. It is just a shame that they all fell into ruin and you are only left with imagining how they would have looked at their peak, but maybe that is part of the charm?
Palenque was the standout among the group but Monte Alban is right there on it's heels.
As for the natural attractions of Mexico the petrified waterfalls and canyon were excellent day trips and both the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines are fantastic in their own ways. It is crazy to think that having flown into Mexico City we missed out on exploring half of the country - who knows what other treats would have lay in store for us?
However, there is no use in looking back for now we have to look south as we cross the border into the land of dreadlocks and creole - Belize.

Hopefully I will have a clip to accompany this post ASAP.

ps. Massive congrats to all my peeps who are getting pregnant / had kids - what is going on?
Moggy, Polski, Bob, Egg and Lats plus your lady friends!