Thursday, December 29, 2011

Beachside to Swiss Family Robinson Hostels - Caye Caulker to Tulum

We woke up early to make our way to the water taxi office and then to the pier. Said our goodbyes to Blackie and made our way to wait for the boat.

The boat ride was relatively uneventful. Cleared customs in San Pedro, arrived in Chetumal and waited for our bus to take us to Tulum.

The Mexican buses were awesome in comparison to the little passenger vans we'd gotten used to in Guatemala, although extremely cold. Big cushy seats and movies (although in Spanish) to watch, it was living the lap of luxury after windy roads and broken down vans.

We arrived in Tulum late afternoon. Grabbed a taxi to take us to our hostel, Posada Las Mopaches, which was just outside of the town and right across the street from the Tulum archaeological site. When we came in we were greeted by the woman who ran the hostel - and not just a hello but full hugs and kisses.

Our bags were taken to be sprayed with pesticides before we went to our rooms while she gave us a run down on how things ran at the hostel. We were handed bike locks, reflective vests and keys and explained what to do with each. We were then given bicycle's to use to get in and out of town.

The hostel grounds were amazing. The rooms were all in Swiss Family Robinson style buildings, with tall thatched roof ceilings and screened in walls. Lots and lots of greenery and a few different common areas to enjoy.

The best part, however, had to be the multitude of animals that roamed about. 4 little Mopaches, from which the hotel takes it's name (Coati Mundi), 2 cats (one of which was an extremely affectionate siamese) and 3 very old dogs who did little more than lay about in the shade.

As should be obvious from all my other posts, I am no stranger when it comes to animals and take every opportunity to pick them up, hug, squeeze and what not.

We got ourselves settled in the hostel room, had (warm!) showers and headed out on our bicycles into town to explore, get some food and perhaps do some last minute shopping.

Dinner was enchiladas and mojitos. Meg opted for the chicken enchiladas covered in "red" sauce while I opted for the same but with "green" sauce. I'm still not certain what "green" really consisted of.

We wandered around, checking out various souvenirs and I opted to buy a hammock for myself, despite talking myself out of one every other day on the trip, entirely because it was my favourite colour.

As it got dark we realized we should probably get started on the bike ride home. Our bike lights provided little help in guiding us home and I was thankful for the bright and reflective vest that at least made us visible to the cars behind us.

Back at the hostel we got cozy in our room, took advantage of the free wifi and prepared our bags. We were leaving the hostel, checking out the ruins at Tulum and then catching the bus back to Cancun for the night before flying home. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Arm Lickers, Tag Alongs and Cat Cuddles - Belize

Freshly showered we wandered down the street to do a bit of souvenir shopping, snap some more photos and grab a drink. We passed a stall selling jewellery made from conch shells, so we stopped to admire the wares. We continued on our way and as we were walking a guy shouted out to me "Take my picture!" I laughed and told him I would when I came back. On our way back we took a different route and thus didn't pass him again. 

We settled for a drink near our hostel. The bartender told us they had a 2 for 1 drink special so we opted to try something from that menu. Not one to normally drink the fruity drinks, I told him to bring us whatever he thought was good. He disappeared, brought us back our drinks and we sipped them cautiously. 

It wasn't the drinks, however, that we should have been worried about. It was Richard. 

Richard, or Suitor #2 as he came to be called, was a regular around the bar. A laid back hippy type who had moved to Belize from California years ago, he was a self proclaimed polyamourist with a wife and a few girlfriends. 
Richard, sneakily taken with my ipod.

He wanted me to be one of his girlfriends.  

"You're the kind of girl who could drive me crazy!" he says to me. I laughed politely. 
"Is that a map of the world on your arm?" I confirmed that yes, I do have a tattoo of the world on my arm. "Is it real?!" he says to me. I assure him that it is, turning my arm slightly so he can get a better view. "Really?!" he says, reaching for my arm. I assume he's just wanting a better look. 

No, not a look. A taste. He licked my arm. As if that is a completely normal custom by which one determines the validity of a tattoo. 

I yanked my arm back. Wiped it on my side, made a mental note to disinfect it later. 

About 10 more minutes of awkward conversation with Richard and we left. 

We walked about 5 minutes down the street again and ran into the guy who had asked me to take his picture. "You keep walking by with that camera! When are you going to take my picture?" he asked. I laughed, said I would. He grabbed my hand and said he wanted a picture WITH me. So I obliged. Handed my camera over to Meg and asked her to take a picture of this strange guy. 

His name was Stephan, and he became Suitor #3. And, like Richard, thought I would be lovely to spend time with. A lot of time. Permanent time. He asked where we were heading after Belize and I told him Tulum. He said he would come with us. I told him that we were fine on our own, that he didn't have to do that, that he would be wasting his time. He wasn't convinced. 

I eventually pried myself away from his clutches and we made our way back towards the hostel. Along the way we found an adorable orange cat that reminded me of my mom's cat, Clyde. I picked him up and cuddled with him. From out of nowhere, a man said "You can take him home with you if you want".  

Of all my propositions of the day, this was the best option. Considering that I already have two cats, I declined. 

Back to the hostel we went, stopping for dinner and having an amazing bbq lobster feast, as well as picking up a can of cat food for Blackie. 

Once back in the hostel we curled up and read for a while. We gave Blackie her food and she rewarded us with more kitty cuddles. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Double Spayed Cats and Sandpaper Sealife - Belize

We had a relatively early evening due to the combination of a couple of bottle of Belikin Beer under our belt (try saying that 5 times fast!) and the extreme heat we were contending with.

Before retiring, however, we hovered outside the now-closed cafe across the street to take advantage of the wifi  (not the first time I've done this while travelling). While checking our emails and Facebooks, I was approached by a guy with long dreads riding a bicycle about 4 sizes too small for him. At first he asked me if I wanted to purchase any ganja, but once I declined he set out to try to woo me. Proclaiming all kinds of promises to treat me like I deserved, Justice (as he introduced himself) was dead set to keep me on the island. 

I, as is my nature, politely chatted with him and eventually excused myself. Meg, having managed to remain outside of the conversation, laughed at me once he was out of ear shot and we were on our way back to our hostel. 

Next morning we were up early and ready to go snorkelling. We'd booked a late morning departure that was to visit 3 different locations and have us back to the shore around 2. 

Meg and her shell phone

It's basically impossible to smile with a mask on your face.

Our guide was great, showing us lots of different sea creatures and enjoying the fact that I'm pretty daring and was willing to jump in the water first when it came to being able to touch sharks and sting rays. 

determined to pet a shark 

If you've never had the pleasure of petting sea creatures, the best way I can describe the texture of a shark is that it feels like it's covered in sand paper. Rays, however, feel basically like petting a semi-frozen chicken breast. Firm on the inside, but kinda slimy and squishy on the outside. 

Once back on shore we went back to the room and showered - and were greeted by an adorable kitten missing the top half of it's ear. The girl working at the hostel told us her name was Blackie (though she was really more of a dark brown) and that she was missing part of her ear so that they would know she'd already been spayed. We must have looked confused, as she went on to elaborate: the island is full of strays and they do free spaying and neutering. Blackie had been hanging around the hostel so the girl who worked there took her to get fixed, only to find (once they'd opened her up) that she'd already had all her parts removed. So, to avoid any further confusion, they clipped the top of her ear off. Poor Blackie, the double spayed, half ear'd cat.

We got changed and went out to take pictures and find a drink. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Just a hop, skip and a jump to our island paradise - Flores to Belize

Once again we were up early. The bus was due to pick us up around 7:30 in the morning and we knew we'd have yet another long day of travel ahead of us.

We opted for breakfast at the hostel while we waited, content to enjoy the last moments in Flores before heading somewhere completely different.

This bus arrived and we got on. As with all the other buses it was packed with other travellers on the same route as us. We made our way to the border, where we had to get off the bus, grab our luggage and make our way through customs before meeting the bus on the other side.

We were handed tourist cards to fill out, which were once again not in English, and the border guard seemed to find this quite amusing. (Not sure what it is with me, but the guys at customs always seem to find me thoroughly entertaining and laugh...)

Back on the bus we got, making our way to Belize City. There was a distinct change in landscape and architecture as we neared the city - gone were the wooden/tin shacks that we'd seen in the Guatemalan jungle and here were large wooden structures up on pillars, presumably to prevent flooding.
image courtesy of Google Image search
We arrived at the water taxi station and a man took our bags, asking if we were going to Caye Caulker. We purchased our tickets and waited to get on the boat. There are two main islands off the coast of Belize that people visit. The smaller, walk-it-in-20-minutes Caye Caulker and the larger San Pedro. Somehow, perhaps due to the massive amount of people attempting to get to the island at the same time as us, we ended up being put on the San Pedro boat, which then stopped at Caye Caulker.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't convinced we'd once again be without our luggage.

Once on the small island we set out to attempt to find a hostel. We had a few ideas but all of them were full. Eventually we settled on one, though I can not remember what it was called. Likely because there was confusion over whether it was called Jim's Guesthouse (it was not). Either way, it was a cute little place tucked back off the main strip with close proximity to a cafe with free Wifi and a bar around the corner.

It was incredibly hot on the island and we weren't sure if we were hungry. So, we decided to grab a drink at the wifi-cafe across the street and plan our next day and a bit. We split some lobster quesadillas and had a drink before setting off to book a snorkelling tour.

With only about 48 total hours on the island we knew we couldn't waste any time. Snorkelling was high on the list of things we wanted to do, as well as have some decent seafood dinner and just relax and enjoy island life.

Caye Caulker is actually an island that is split in half - it used to be joined but now there is a section in between where boats can pass through... not surprisingly it's known as "The Split". Snorkelling tour booked, Meg and I set off to wander the island and see what it had to offer. We walked up to The Split, stopping to admire some cute little sand crabs scurrying in and out of their holes in the sand. Due to the heat we opted to put our feet in the water and take in the sights before venturing off to find some dinner.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ancient People, Language Barriers and Coffee Shops - Tikal and Flores

We woke up early. Unfathomably early. 3:30 in the morning early.
We got dressed, headed downstairs and had to let ourselves out of the hostel, feeling bad because we had no way of locking the door again once we were outside. We sat on the stoop outside the hostel waiting for the van to arrive to pick us up, not 100% positive the bus would arrive.

Eventually, however, it did. We got on board and I immediately fell back asleep, as was becoming the norm when it came to me and buses. About an hour later we arrived at Tikal and waited for the group to gather. What was to be a "small" group was actually about 30 people. We were met by our guide who started us off on our walk.

One of the largest Mayan civilizations, Tikal is wonderfully preserved/restored, if not a complete maze if you're left on your own. Our guide, who's name I unfortunately forget, was hilarious. He got his information across by relating it to current day events and made references to Indiana Jones as well as Star Wars.

We were able to climb one of the high pyramids and were given an amazing view

After the tour we were able to wander around a bit before having to meet the group back at the cafe. Meg and I relaxed in the main square of the ancient city before venturing back to meet the group. While sitting at the cafe we amused ourselves by watching an enormous colony of ants work their way along the ledge behind us, through a sewer grate and back up on the other side of the walkway and into a different flowerbed.

I came across this list detailing our time in Flores... 

Shower. Cool Beans. Wander (find bank). Shop (buy snacks for tomorrow's bus ride). Wander (back to the hostel, try to pay). Shop (Souveniers). Mojito (Hard work, all that wandering). Shop (more souveniers). Cool Beans (dinner and free wifi). Wander (one last look at Flores).

Yup... that pretty much sums up the rest of the day, with the exception of it not detailing the experience of attempting to pay the woman at the hostel for our room. The hostel, as I mentioned, was above a restaurant. The women who worked there were very friendly and accommodating, however they knew very little, if any, English.

We wanted to pay for the hostel but we were having difficulty knowing how much we had to pay since when I'd booked it there had been a deposit. The older lady  quoted us the normal rate, but because I'd paid the deposit I didn't think that was correct. Between my flipping through my phrase book frantically and her not wanting to upset us, it was eventually decided that we could pay when the younger woman was back in the building. So we went out to wander some more.

Such a small little city, but very welcoming. We walked around the perimeter and watched the lightning of an impending storm in the clouds before seeking shelter at Cool Beans for one more serving of their amazing nachos supreme. Imagine our surprise when we ran into Teoma, a girl we'd made friends with a couple days earlier in Lanquin. We caught up on our days apart, enjoyed some drinks and eventually headed back to the hostel to get our bags ready for the next day.

So long Guatemala, we're off to Belize!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"I know I'm happy to be on the road again, but now I'm worried my luggage will fall off..." - Lanquin to Flores

Our ride from Lanquin to Flores was LONG. Incredibly long.

We were up early, ate some amazing breakfast at the hostel restaurant, and picked up our bagged lunches that we'd asked for the number before. Curiously enough, mine was tagged with "Aranna". Even when I write my name out, it is still somehow confused. 

We argued with the bus drivers that showed up to pick up passengers (all going to different places) about what bus we were to get on. Again, not having printed vouchers was becoming an issue. He didn't believe we had paid, I showed him the confirmation on my iphone. Eventually, however, it was decided we would be on the already very full bus.

The trip started out fine, slowed down by a street market but generally seemed to be making decent time. However, soon enough things slowed down completely. 

The bus started making questionable sounds and after a bit more driving we stopped on a gravel road in the middle of a banana grove to investigate. First it was assumed our tire was flat, but that didn't seem to be the case. I took a guess that it was the axle and it turned out to be the case. Without any other parts available, the rope that was currently being used to hold our luggage on top of the bus was removed and used to secure the axle until we could get to a garage. 

Back on the road we drove for about an hour. Tired and exhausted, the hungover other travelers were grating on our nerves (well, mostly mine, as Meg has the divine ability to not have to hear them). We came to a garage and pulled in. Somehow they had a part to fix the bus with. It took about 2 hours but they fixed our bus and we were back on the road, luggage once again secured and making decent time. 
back on the road, thank god!

11 hours later we arrived in Flores, a small town that is something of an island, although it is connected to the main land by a road. The town itself is comprised of 3 different towns, but we stayed in Flores proper. 

Once again, we were happy that we had booked our accommodation ahead of time, as it seemed to be difficult to find somewhere to stay. We opted to stay at the Hospedaje Yaxha, a small guesthouse situated above a restaurant. The people running it were expecting us, and though they didn't speak any English were happy to try to communicate with us. 

Tired and starving we showered and went for a walk around town in the hopes of finding somewhere open that we could get a drink and some food. We managed to find both at Cool Beans Cafe. The free wifi, cheap beers and amazing nachos were enough to entice us in. 

It wasn't a late night, however, as we were off to Tikal in the morning... and had a 4am wake up call to contend with.