The sound of things

Sometimes one’s destiny is not determined by fate, but rather by the way it sounds. And by that I mean my destiny. When it lends itself to a rap song or a rhyme, I’m there like a bear. When it takes two takes to try and pronounce, it’s on my to-do list.

Take ‘Chichicastenango’ for example – it sounds way more exciting than ‘Witbank’. A pint of ‘Old Speckled Hen Ale’ alludes to drunken bar banter and funny hats, and I would rather book into the ‘Lavender Circus Hostel’ than ‘The Backpack King’. And the short bursts of vowels in ‘Bacalar’ was the deciding factor for choosing this lakeside spot as our first destination in Mexico. Travelling can be that simple.

When we eventually got to Bacalar (pop.11 000) we couldn’t wait to eat, drink and be merry because Mexico, my friends, is the land of milk and tortas. Because our day started at 6am (and after we had to take a taxi-boat to get a bus to cross a border to get onto another bus just to wait for a bus that didn’t arrive), we swapped the ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ around and bought a gigantic bottle of Sol. We were so excited after that bottle of beer that my brother even decided to wear his snorkelling goggles to town.

The only way to eat in Mexico

As you might have noticed by now – I do love me a good helping of something delicious. So it’s really a no-brainer that the consumption of Mexican food is crucial to my existence as an unsuccessful blogger and traveler. We kicked off our Mexican taste adventure with the best thing since buttered bread – the antojito food vendor. Antojito* means ‘little whim’ and if you’re in the mood for a quick bite before a bigger bite presents itself, these little whims are the way to go.

So with our second taste of proper Mexican mole poblano, neatly tucked into two thin layers of wheat tortilla, we realised that we might never, ever, go back home.

Mole poblano is a rich chocolatey sauce, made with four types of chilli, seeds and nuts, spices and tomatoes and a whole day of undivided attention. The list of ingredients is twice as long as those seen in The French Laundry cookbook and one needs the patience of a saint during the preparation. This decadent sauce is then served with a perfectly boiled chicken. Or in between two wheat tortillas. And even inside the crusty crunch of a buttery pie. Amazing.

However (spoiler alert), we traveled the whole of Mexico in search of the perfect mole, but nothing can ever compare to the mole poblano I had at El Mexicano in Nicaragua. Nothing.

Back to my original story. After a couple of antojito mouthfuls, we walked around the town square twice and sat down to a plate of chilaquiles: fried corn tortillas layered on a plate with sauce, chillies, cheese and very, very pink chorizo sausage. It was okayish (however, that’s not what my stomach said later that night).

Things to do in Bacalar

Bacalar is fun. There’s a lukewarm lagoon, an old fort and the largest cenote in Mexico. Now cenotes are quite cool – these giant sinkholes are the result of collapsed limestone bedrock, exposing the groundwater as pools of crystal clear water. Cenotes are also really important in the Mayan culture – they believed that these sinkholes and underwater caves were the home of their rain god, Chaak. But is was also the scene of sacrifices and water hole chit-chats, as it was an important source of fresh water for the Mayan people.

Cenotes are also very, very deep. Cenote Azul in Bacalar is a cool 90m deep – that’s about 25 stories deep. And deep enough for me not to go in.

While I chilled with the rest of the 5 year olds, the Husband and Brother swam across.

>gasp<

But this, my dear friends and the 15 other followers I don’t know personally, was only the first of many cenote adventures. My swimming talent also makes a guest appearance in some of these adventures. But more on that later.

I think it’s time for some photos.

*A little taco, quesadilla or tamale are good examples of antojitos, but the Queen of Little Whims is by far the torta. In fact, tortas are so delicious that I’ll rather spend a whole blog post on them.

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Getting ready for a grand night out. Grab your goggles and don’t forget your duck face.

 

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Three people. One happy place. Salut!
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And here lies Chilaquiles. The friend of many a Mexican, but not my stomach. Needless to say, I still ate it all.
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Our friend Sol taught us how to order a cold one in Israel, Egypt and Croatia.
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The brave cenote swimmers.
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Travelling on a budget means a lot of walking along the side of a highway.
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Who needs a roof over your head when you can sleep in stocking-like stretchy tents. #bedouinbunking
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Our little kitchen, with one knife and..no that’s all. We had a knife. And a really cool table cloth.
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A street where flags flap and tails wag.
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After asking whether they have beer and ordering three, the owner ran across the road and then another road to buy three beers at another restaurant.
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This is what The Bearded Wonder looked like 95% of the time. #stillawesome
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No man’s an island

To travel = to see brand new things every single day. A new bed, a new grocery store (or hut) and a handful of new people. Like the local dive shop guy who repeats the same tip* on dealing with mosquito bites (and then realising that he’s in fact not the dive shop guy but just a crazy guy who hangs out at the dive shop).

Or the Asian shop owner who rings up your order with a Belizean Creole twang. There’s also the German hostel owner who reminded me of Annie Lennox and the mama who sells Johnny cakes prepared by her Hispanic chef.

You take from these people, you eat their food and you sleep in their beds. Every single day. And sometimes you just walk past them, but you will remember them for the rest of your travelling days. One such memory is the little girl with a head full of beaded braids who walked past us in Belize City shouting ‘Hello there white people!’ Her mom sniggered, and we did too. I still do, actually.

My favourite part of all this newness is when you accidentally peek into a layer of society you never know existed. Like the Mennonites.

According to Wikipedia, the Mennonites is an Anabaptist religious group with members from different ethnic backgrounds, but also a religious denomination and ethnic group >insert confused expression here<. Basically, it’s a group of people who left Europe during the 16th century because they believed that only adults could decide whether to be baptised or not. Back in the days that point of view got a lot of people in trouble, so they left Europe and settled as farmers and carpenters in different countries across the globe. Like Belize.

So while we waited for a bus to take us to the Mexican border, we saw a couple of Mennonite families at the bus station. The tall men and boys, dressed in denim overalls, checked shirts and straw hats were waiting for the bus next to the long dresses of their mothers and sisters. Quiet, subdued and at home amidst the rowdy bright souls of the Caribbean. And I thought to myself “this is why I travel.” To see new things, unexpected things and things that are so out of place and at home at the same time.

The world is really big, and even if you travel every single day of your life, you’ll never really know it all.

Onwards and upwards

Let’s move along, before my introspectiveness gets the better of me. So Murphy’s Law of ‘Trying to Travel on a Schedule’ sticked out its long hairy leg and tripped us. Our trip from Belize City to Bacalar, Mexico was supposed to take us say, 5 hours. It didn’t.

We were stuck on a chicken bus for the better part of the day. As one would say in Creole ‘Wi no reech deh kwik kwik.’

If the driver drove any slower, we would have gone backwards. However, that was still manageable. What wasn’t, was the happy but drunk rasta at the back of the bus slurring insults at the slow poke bus driver and spilling rum all over my only clean shirt. Actually, that was also fine because it was funny for the first 10 minutes.

The bus that left the bus station looong after our bus departed eventually caught up with us. Then I actually considered to ask the rasta man for a sip of his lukewarm rum.

We got to the border, and for the sake of brevity, here’s a bullet list of things that happened:

1. We had a polite fight with the immigration official because he only gave us a 30 day visa;

2. I completed the wrong section of my lengthy visa document and had to queue again for what felt like hours (it was probably 10 minutes);

3. Customs wanted to check my bags for large wads of cash and narcotics;

4. Due to numbers 1, 2 and 3, Mr Slow Poke Bus Driver took off and left us at the border.

Stuck. That’s about it

Usually, one can easily walk across a border. With one foot in front of the other and bright eyes filled with adventure. But not when you want to go from Belize to Mexico. When I asked the friendly customs guy who checked my bag where the pedestrian crossing into Mexico is, he just shook his head. The customs guard also shook her head. And after a lot of shaking and not really getting anywhere, we were told that you can’t cross the border on foot. Seeing that Mr Slow Poke Bus Driver suddenly sped off into the sunset, we were stuck.

The best (and only) thing to do in such a case is just to hang around. Drink what’s left of your water, and hang around. Better days or a bus driver with empty seats is bound to come along.

The moment we were at one with being stuck, another chicken bus came along. And wouldn’t you know – it had empty seats.

The bus dropped us off at the side of the road in Chetumal, and after waiting for an hour for the bus to Bacalar, we took a taxi. But we had to wait for the taxi to fill up.

Bottom line 

To travel is to give over to slow poke drivers and grumpy immigration guys, to buses that disappear or never arrive. To smell (unwillingly) like rum and suffer from bus-bum-cramps. To sit next to conservative European farmers and rowdy Rastas. And to buy 2litres of Sol beer to go with your first Mexican sunset.

*How to deal with a gazillion mosquito bites: Just buy a bottle of rubbing alcohol and get rubbing. It really works. However, do not attempt to use rubbing alcohol as a fire lighter.It doesn’t work. 

Picha taim!

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Our early morning departure from Caye Caulker. That’s my brother walking next to me. 🙂
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En route to Mexico. See that guy way at the back with the white hat? That’s the rum-drinking-insult-swinging rasta.
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#mexicanborderselfie

 

>and then, there was nothing<

A moment of silence in honour of my latest blog post that got lost in cyber space. It took me about a week to write it, and now it’s missing. And it was such a good one. I wrote about my brother coming to visit us in Belize, and all the fun we had doing nothing but hammocking around. I had some pretty good stories in there – tales about snorkelling, mosquitos, overpriced beer and trying to find lunch in one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

So for my sanity (and yours, because I’m quite mopey and annoyed at the moment), I’ll just share this short video I made of Caye Caulker. Oh yes, and a video the Husband made of his adventures in diving. Maybe I’ll add a couple of photos as well, because what is an island getaway without ‘wish you were here’ kinda snaps?

(And kids, remember to save your work at regular intervals. Being lost without words is just not worth it.)

The video the Husband made detailing his underwater endeavours.

Go Down Below

The video I made with whatever content I could find on our cameras.

Caye Caulker - Belize

 

And my happy snaps:

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This my friends, is Belize City. A little on the dodgy side, but I can definitely recommend the Johnny Cakes (little coconut bread rolls filled with mince or chicken or whatever is in the shop owner’s fridge).
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A treadmill in an empty lot. Just one of the many surprises Belize City has up its sleeve.









 

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This is me wearing my best travel clothes giving a hug to my brother, who was still wearing his Johannesburg winter clothes. The poor boy suffered those first couple of hours.
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En route to the islands. Blue is definitely the word.
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Just as we were about to get our snorkelling on, the weather took a turn for the worst. Coincidentally, the clock also struck beer o’clock at that very moment. Lucky us!
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They might look big, but those bottles are smaller than the average bottle of beer on the wall.
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A happy selfie with Mr Brother on the left and the Bearded Husband on the right.
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Caye Caulker’s main street and main man.
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Caye Caulker is quite popular with divers and snorkelers. This here is the Brother on his way to dive the Blue Hole. He went all bubbly with excitement.
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The Blue Hole should actually be called the Black Hole, but with a bit of editing I managed to find the shark in the photo.
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A stingray showing of his belly.
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I really, REALLY, like the little purple fish with their rave club tails. (The Brother took all the underwater shots. I had a date with Harry Potter on the hammocks that day.)
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And this is what’s happening above sea level. Caye Caulker doesn’t have a beach, so everyone hangs out at The Split (the place where the island is split from its swampy mangrove cousin).
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I love this image. I really do.
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Fry Jacks with beans and a wedge of cheese. #rastachef #yum