Whenever I think of reunions, I immediately think of the opening scene in Love Actually – the movie I force the Husband to watch every December. Because there really isn’t a happier place than the arrivals section at an airport. All of a sudden those stiff aeroplane breakfast eggs are a thing of the past as hordes of groggy looking people meet up with their friends, family, lovers and the driver with the ‘Mr Von Hoogenboesem 4 pax’ sign.
A week after we said goodbye to my Brother, the Brother-in-Law – who lives in Canada – arrived in Mexico to join us on our grand adventure for a couple of weeks. We were so excited about his arrival, that I decorated a packet of churros with birthday candles. (Sometimes, it’s just not worth it to go into the details). The Husband went to pick him up at the airport, while I decorated the churros. Big hugs, bigger tears (on the inside) and lots and lots of beer ensued. We talked about EVERYTHING, including the weather, because the Brother-in-Law was as fair skinned as an English lady after the Canadian winter. We also talked about our plans for the days ahead, which involved the following:
Catching a ferry to Isla Mujeres
Doing absolutely nothing on Isla Mujeres
Catching a ferry back to Cancun
La Isla Bonita
Super cheesy headline, but Isla Mujeres sure is beautiful and super chilled. We’ve been to lots and lots of islands during our trip, but Isla Mujeres was special. It wasn’t as busy or commercialised as the other islands, the swimming was easy and the Brother-in-Law treated us to three nights in a fancy hotel – imagine that: our very own bathroom, white sheets and a bar fridge. How luxurious!
The island also has this really cool vibe. Giant murals adorn the walls on every street, the sandy beaches are as white as the Brother-in-Law’s inner arm and all the rich and annoying people were partying on their yachts away from the beaches, so that was awesome. We snorkelled, we drank beer, we watched schools of dolphins cruise past our balcony and we were merry.
Being the intrepid travellers that we are, we also wanted to see what lies on the other side of the island (actually, we knew what was on the other side – it was a lighthouse at Ponta Sur). So we hired some bicycles to go and see for ourselves. We were the cool cats on the block, with our snapback caps and gangster bikes, me slow poking behind the boys and cruising along the potholed streets of the island.
Did we get to Ponta Sur? Uhm. No. We had to return the bikes before the end of the day, and my slow poking wasn’t really helping. So while the Brother-in-Law scooted ahead, the Husband and I cruised past an interesting variety of holiday homes. Big ones, small ones, scruffy ones, empty ones and one filled with lots of snotty nosed children and chickens.
Long story short, he almost got to the other side of the island. And it wasn’t like he had to collect a pot of gold or something. It was just a short adventure fuelled by that lovely curiosity of a traveller.
We went to Isla Mujeres to do nothing. And that we did. To waste time just being, really is precious.
What’s that you asked? Photos? But of course! What’s more, I’ve even edited a video! Lucky you!
From day one I realised that my life would never be that of an extra in a Peter Stuyvesant cigarette commercial. No waterskiing with Ken lookalikes or sharing of cigarettes with trust fund kids from Santa Barbara wearing pink golfers. I’m just not cool enough. And I start to hyperventilate when my feet can’t touch the bottom of the swimming pool/dam/ocean, which pretty much puts me straight into the loser camp, with my collection of library cards.
And that’s why Cancun was such a non-event for me. And unfortunately, we had to spend a lot of time there, due to its transportation hub status. Or whatever. We also had to dorm it, and I’m still struggling to erase the stale boy breath that somehow never left our rooms from my memory. We stayed at one hostel, but slept in 4 different dorms – the first dorm we shared with my Brother, a Chinese lady who couldn’t speak a word English or Spanish (and who had a fondness for boiled eggs), a handful of emotionless gawky German teenagers and a girl with smelly feet. We all shared a bathroom and a shower inside the dorm. Then we moved to a private room for two nights (for our own sanity), but we still had to share a bathroom and a shower with two guys who shaved a large dog in the shower every morning. Then we moved to our third dorm the night the Bearded Wonder’s brother flew in from the Great White North, and there we met a super friendly guy with ginormous snow boots, for in case a snowstorm hits Cancun. He didn’t leave the room once. I think he was waiting for the storm to hit. Or something. There we shared a bathroom with a couple from across the hall. She threw up every morning. Then we moved to another dorm before we left for Cuba. By then, all our fellow travellers started to look (and smell) the same. It was like a Melrose Place for people with stinky feet and unplanned pregnancies.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a quick look at Cancun, seeing that this is a travel blog.
A tale of two cities
So Cancun is basically made up of two parts. The first part is the infamous Hotel Zone, with 300 odd hotels and other things one would expect a Hotel Zone to have. Like massive malls with international brands (yawn), clubs (not cool enough), and rows and rows of informal traders selling those neon CANCUN CANCUN CANCUN shirts (not drunk enough).
But the beaches on that side are spectacular (if you’re not travelling during hurricane season).
Then on the other side – the dodgy end if you must – lies, well, the other side of Cancun. The normal side. The side where real people live, eat and do their hair. And because we spent our days wandering the streets, we got to know this side really well.
Hello downtown Cancun
When travelling (on a budget), you tend to check out things you won’t normally check out back home. Like cemeteries, plain Jane neighbourhoods and markets selling socks and nail clippers. And to some this might sound boring as all hell (not that hell is a boring place), but I’ll forever be intrigued by the way in which people in foreign countries live their lives. Even though everyday life abroad is very similar to the everyday life back home, there is a foreign je ne sais quoi that I love. Take for example the ever travelling school child. In every country we’ve been to, school kids are always on their way to school, no matter the time of day. Do they start at different times? I don’t know. Did 20 moms forget what time school starts? I don’t know. Did they all get lost on their way to school and so they spend the rest of their days wandering hopelessly, trying to find the school? I just don’t know. And it’s this not knowing that’s absolutely wonderful.
All these unanswered questions can make one hungry, so we spent most of our time at the local food market – a big square lined with loads of food stalls and a happy gaggle of churro and marquesita trucks. Oh marquesitas! When we first saw these cheese-and-Nutella crispy pancakes, we were both seduced and repulsed by it. But when we got to know these troopers a little better, we were hooked. See, a marqueasita is a crispy waffle, rolled up like a pancake and stuffed with Nutella/jam/caramel sauce and cheese -not the gooey quesadilla type of cheese, oh no. A nice sharp little number, grated and feathery. My goodness. It’s the perfect sweet crunch, earthy cheese and heavenly chocolate combination. And of course, the churro trucks didn’t escape our patronage. So after we’ve surrendered ourselves to cheesy quesadillas, meaty nachos and mouthsful of torta, we went straight for the sweet, comforting arms of Mother Mexico’s desserts.
So here’s a list of things to do/not to do when you’re stuck in downtown Cancun because you need to catch a ferry or plane or catch someone who just got off a ferry or plane.
Avoid Mercado 28 – the mothership of all things touristy and CANCUN CANCUN CANCUN shirts,
Don’t avoid the food market (but avoid the pickled cactus quesadillas),
Take the bus to the hotel side of Cancun, but don’t get off. It’s not worth it. The bus loops, so you can just sit and stare out of the window and imagine what it must be like to sleep in a proper hotel bed, with proper sheets and your very own shower, a nice thick robe and a continental breakfast with fresh croissants,
Go to the hairdresser. After 6 months of not blowdrying my hair, I needed a bit of TLC. Post-blow dry I felt (and looked) like a pedigree Afghan hound.
Right. I’m not going to go on and on on how my blog ended up being that benchwarmer kid who never gets to play ball.* Nope. I’m just going to make a beeline for our adventures in Mexico, as the best of our days were spent under the Mexican sun. Mind you, it was actually cloudy and rainy half of the time, but even then Mexico still takes first prize at the Best Country Ever To Just Hang Around and Be Happy awards.
From Playa del Carmen, we took a ferry to Cozumel. And even though the Cozumel-Playa ferry looks like something the US Navy might use to conquer a developing country, we were still pretty much packed like a bunch of sardines in a massive floating tin can. Which is all fine, because by then our rear ends were used to sitting snug – come chicken bus or little boats over high waters. However, this time around our fellow passengers weren’t chickens, potatoes or Mayan families returning from the Sunday market, but rather a drove of Ironman athletes.
Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
But wait, there’s more. Besides this conglomeration of the super fit, we were also graced with the presence of a gaggle of 40-year-old damsels en route to a girls weekend. And imagine their surprise (and our horror) when we all realised our onboard entertainment was an Elvis impersonator. I’m not going to elaborate any further because words really cannot explain how absurd that whole experience was.
Cozumel was nice. Not really charming or quaint, but nice. It has a massive supermarket (foreign supermarkets will forever captivate my imagination), middle-class neighbourhoods with walls and doorbells and loads of touristy traps. As you walk from the ferry port towards town you are bombarded with hordes of glass-bottom-boat-snorkeling-excursionists and scuba-diving-trip-advisors. And the reason behind our trip to Cozumel was exactly that – the Brother and the Husband wanted to dive. So while they signed up, I bought a box of wine.
The heat is on like donkey kong
Our hostel was nice. Not charming, but nice. It had hammocks, a pool and loads of nervous Ironman athletes when we arrived. We bunked with the nervous athletes, and in-between the carbo loading (us and them) things were all types of awkward and quiet. Besides, the Husband and Brother decided to take it easy as they paid a pretty penny for the scuba excursion leaving at sparrow’s fart the following day, so sleeping in wasn’t an option. So I finished the box of wine by myself.
The following morning, knowing that I had a WHOLE day to myself, got me all types of giddy. I could peruse the haircare shelves of the supermarket to my heart’s content, I could cheer on the athletes like a proud mother – I could even walk aaaaaaaaaall the way to the other side of the island and chill on the beach. And as I took my first step out of our air-conditioned dorm, the heat attacked my pretty tough South African skin like a dog with rabies.
Needless to stay, my citronella candle and I didn’t move an inch that day. No photographic excursions. No reading shampoo labels in Spanish. And definitely no walking to the other side of the island.
Later that arvie, the Brother and Husband returned from their scuba endeavours, a bit underwhelmed. The Husband was hopelessly yearning for his Utila diving days, and the Brother was still on a cenote high. And then one by one the athletes returned. Half dead. Parched. And with bottles of tequila. Apparently, there is no better way to kick the rusty Ironman’s behind than with a bottle of tequila. Which we were about to find out. But first we paid a visit to the local cantina.
Because I refused to move an inch the whole day, I had serious ants in my pants come dusk. And the cantina right next door was the best place to get rid of them ants. What fun we had! With every beer ordered, you get a lovely round of botanas – little plates filled with exciting things. First we had some nacho chips and salsa (always a winner). Then our charming waitress – who had a unique touch in the art of eyebrow shaping – plonked an assortment of fried things on little toothpicks, accompanied by a plastic bowl filled with mushy black frijoles, on our table. We tapped our toes to the lovely toe-tapping beat of the cantina music, whilst debating what the fried little things we’re so merrily consuming really were. More nacho chips made their way to our table of merriment, and after the second round of tequilas our waitress presented us with the pièce de résistance: a whole fish. Now how one eats a whole fish in a bar is another story. But we ate it with gusto and ordered another round to celebrate the wonder of the botana.
After nagging the Husband for hours to dance with me, the Brother offered to take me for a spin with his two left feet. When we got back to our table, a hombre with beer eyes asked me to dance. Or that’s what I think he asked. The Husband happily gave his wife of 2 years away to this complete stranger and had a lovely chuckle at my predicament. So I danced. It was awkward. And instead of cutting in, the Husband filmed it. How lucky can one girl be.
When we got back to the hostel, the Ironmen and ladies were having a hoot, so we joined in. After not drinking for a whole year, these super fit teetotalers partied like students on Spring Break. We went to a club. We had conversations that involved a lot of head nodding and big ‘I have no idea what you’re saying’ smiles. The Brother only returned the following morning.
Adiós Cozumel and Ironmen
And so our island adventures came to an end. Squashed in between many a hungover athlete, we made our way back to Cancun to bid my dearest brother farewell >insert sad face here<, and to await the arrival of the Bearded Wonder’s brother >insert happy dance here<.
*An analogy that describes my blog having to take the backseat while life happens. Quite rich coming from me, seeing that I’ve never played a team sport in my life. I can’t even catch a ball.
Sometimes all it takes is a quote from Dr Seuss to get back on track. Our trip ended on 13 January 2015 when we left New York City kicking and screaming. But not in a ‘we’re getting deported’ kinda way. More an ‘Oh, so this is the end’ kinda way. It’s sort of similar to that feeling when you finish a really good book. But like a really good one, at an odd time like 19:30 on a Saturday evening when you don’t really have plans for the rest of the night, but you don’t want to do something else. You just want to feel sad because you’ve finished your book.
So for the past 9 months I’ve refused to write about the rest of our adventures. It was too sad. Didn’t look at the millions of photos we took. Didn’t want to edit our video clips.
But now, after 9 months of getting over this breakup, I’m ready to share our stories again. They won’t be as detailed. But they’ll come from a good place. Because it happened.
As you might have noticed, we really enjoyed Tulum. But the open road of adventure waits for no one and there was an island waiting with our name on it.
Travelling like fancy people – by taxi
We were on our way to Playa del Carmen – the place of rich kids, pretty people, reality television crews and Walmart. And the easiest way to get to this mini Cancún from Tulum is by taxi. You can try to squeeze yourself, your backpack and The Satellite Sombrero in an overcrowded minibus filled with cheerful travellers with matching tattoos, or you could get a taxi.
Due to my budget conscious party pooper brain, I did force the Husband and Brother to give the overcrowded minibus a chance, because every peso saved is a peso gained. We waited for an hour, and when the same taxi driver drove past us for the hundredth time with a shrug that said ‘Are you sure gringos, I am going there now…”, we decided to go by taxi.
All them playas
Playa del Carmen is nice. But nice enough to stay for one night only because it’s just too touristy. You’ll see when I show you my lack of photos – there isn’t really anything to put a filter on.
So the Husband and Brother went for a swim, and during one of the Bearded Mermaid’s many water-based tricks (like holding his breath for way too long or trying to walk on his hands), he pulled an iPhone in a waterproof case out of the water. Oh how excited we all were!
We looked around for somebody with a ‘oh darnit, where did I put my phone’ expression on their face, but nope – nothing. And then, while I was trying to pull seaweed out of my braid, I realised that this is karma. My iPhone got stolen during a hike in Nicaragua, and now, it’s given back to me. With a complimentary waterproof case.
To make a very long and uneventful story short – that iPhone was (and still is) useless to us. It’s that stupid model with the built-in SIM, so you can’t get the SIM out to replace it with your SIM. And we obviously couldn’t crack the code. Thanks for nothing, karma. Pft.
At least it gave us something to do.
When that was over, we took the opportunity to peruse Walmart – yes, it’s a thing. There are LOADS of things and they even sell Hawaiian shirts for really really big people. Amazing.
We bought a whole chicken (and managed to ask the butcher to butterfly it in Spanish), bought a couple of beers, charcoal and corn – because there was a BBQ at the hostel. Yes friends, I do enjoy a salad, but after not braaing for 4 months, it was time.
Importer of firelighters needed in Mexico – apply within
The thing with trying to light a fire without firelighters is that it won’t light up. You can buy some sort of firelighter fuel at Walmart for 50pesos, but my party pooper budget brain said no.
So the Brother and Husband had to start a fire with ingenuity. The Husband took little pieces of newspaper, added a whole lot of patience and matches and tried to nurture the coals alive. The Brother took his deodorant and a lighter and tried to blast it alive. I dipped ten scrunched up pieces of newspaper in rubbing alcohol (a real winner when dealing with mosquito bites), and tried to set it alight. The newspaper burned around the alcohol.
In the end the little pieces of newspaper, matches, love and patience worked. And for the rest of the night, we discussed the massive opportunities that lies within the importing/exporting business.
Things we want to import into Mexico
1. Blitz firelighters
Things we want to export from Mexico*
1. Tinned chipotle chillies
2. Clamato juice
3. Gringas al pastor
*the further we travelled through Mexico, the longer the export list became
The next day
Playa del Carmen really wasn’t that exciting and the only reason we went there was to catch the ferry to Cozumel. I wanted to include Cozumel in this post, but because I can’t keep any story short, I decided against it.
I did however made another badly edited video for your entertainment titled ‘Things to do when you have nothing to do’.
One doesn’t just go to Mexico and not buy anything. Guatemala’s fabrics and bright baby onesies were hard enough to resist, and by the time we got to Mexico my suppressed capitalist tendencies couldn’t take it anymore. I had to buy something pretty. Not shampoo or cooking oil to last us 2 weeks. Something we don’t need, but want.
So we bought a three sleeper hammock (in black, of course) for 500pesos. Now I’m really awful at bargaining, because everybody (including the hammock salesman) has to eat. But I only had 500pesos in my wallet and, being the non-bargainer that I am, told the salesman that I can’t give him that little for something that is twice as expensive (and some more – the original price was 1200pesos).
So we walked out with said hammock and me apologising all the way. The Brother on the other hand, disappeared into the touristy knick knack shop next door and came out with the world’s biggest sombrero on his head. He paid a ridiculous amount for something that one can only wear at your distant cousin’s Mexican-themed housewarming party. And then nobody else will be allowed in the same room because that hat is just so darn humongous.
So we forced him to wear the sombrero the whole day. And that was our first 5 minutes in Tulum.
Things that are in Tulum, except for sombreros and hammocks.
– Amazing Beaches;
– Two for one cocktail specials on the Amazing Beaches;
– Ruins and bars (related and unrelated places of interest – it just depends on how hammered you get at the bars);
– More cenotes than I have guts;
– A seafood restaurant that is hands down the best in Mexico.
Let’s start with the Amazing Beaches
Tulum’s beaches are the stuff that screensavers are made off. They stretch from here to way way way over there, and the sand has the afterglow of a honeymoon. It’s amazing. The water is all turquoise and no action – perfect for drifting around for hours on end.
There isn’t a beach close to the town of Tulum, so you have to cycle there or grab a taxi. It’s about an 8km cycle, but if you’re cruising on a cruiser bike with the sun on your back, you’ll just never want to stop.
The one beach we frequented every day had this quaint little beach bar with one waiter and a barman. You know when people say they just want to bum out of the rat race and become beach bums for the rest of their lives? Those boys are living that kind of life my friend, and they’re living it well.
So in support of their beach bum spirit and two for one cocktail specials, we ordered Piña Coladas every single blissful day. And because we tipped him before he went off to make our drinks, he made them exxtra strong – and then you really only need one. Trust me.
Another picturesque thing those beaches are good for, is sunrises. So the one morning we got up super early, saddled up our bikes and hit the road to catch the first rays. It was dark as night when we rode down the street and the town was still snoring in unison. We turned a corner, and as we cycled past the local taqueria we saw two taco makers, grooving to super loud reggaeton while making the town’s tacos with this industrial looking taco press. That unexpected glimpse into real life Mexico made me smile all the way through my groggy morning self.
When we got to the beach, we felt like we were doing something illegal because we were the only ones there. And by ‘we’, I mean the Husband. The whole time he was worried that we might look dodgy (to the crowd of nobody that was wondering what our intentions were), and after going for a swim with the Brother, he was worried that we might look like illegal border jumpers swimming to Mexico from I don’t know where.
Yes, dear reader. That sudden burst of paranoia did not make sense that morning, and it still doesn’t.
So we waited for the sun, while being eaten up alive by mosquitos. And when the sun eventually poked its big head out of the Caribbean sea, it went for the comfort of a blanket of clouds. So we took a selfie and gave ourselves a pat on the back for getting up so early.
The cycle back was amazing though. We peddled through the foresty bit of Tulum just as all the birds were beginning to wake up. My oh my, it sure was pretty.
Ruins, bars and the connection between the two
We went to see the ruins. It was pretty cool. And even though I’m a massive fan of the Mayans and all the mysteries that surround them, after you third or fourth ruin they all start to look the same. So, that was that. There’s a little cove that’s only accessible via the ruins, and we ended up playing in the water until they kicked us out.
We also went to a bar to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. It was pretty neat – there was a musician with a sombrero bigger than The Brother’s, a woman wearing a twirly dress with a red rose in her hair (just like in the old movies) and a bar full of really drunk, really happy, people.
But we always tend to find ourselves on the periphery. I know loads of travellers who would go out to a bar, make friends, get matching tattoos and post pics on Facebook with captions like ‘best nite evurrr with these guyz’ and ‘4am at the police station lol’. See, that’s just not us. Not that we don’t want a best nite evurrr, we’re just not cool enough. And that’s also okay.
So the three of us drank rounds and rounds of cheap tequila, walked to the square to watch a mariachi band whereafter I got a bad case of the hiccups (which was our cue to waddle slowly back to our hostel). And might I just say – drinking cheap tequila with my two favourite hombres, definitely qualifies as a best nite evurrr.
The next morning my head was in ruins.
Stories about cenotes
Now I already told you about my first Mexican cenote experience where I, a grown woman, waited with the rest of the 5 year olds at the shallow end of the water. But, in Tulum I actually ventured deeper into these chilly sinkholes – armed with a life jacket of course.
The Gran Cenote is, excuse the cheese, a grand adventure. One gets to snorkel with freshwater turtles in water so clear, it actually looks like you’re floating on air. True story. You also swim through a bat cave, and when you get to the other side, you get attacked by mosquitos the moment you poke your head out of the water. Typical.
I remember thinking to myself, while trying to turn around in my life jacket so I could float on my back to look at the bats, that I need to take a mental picture of that specific moment – the water, the turtles, the bats and me – in Mexico.
Listen up – if you don’t travel, you should start to. It changes a person.
The Brother went diving at Dos Ojos and Cenote Angelita, and as a diver with a crazy love for coral and its inhabitants, he was completely blown away by the beauty of cruising through the tunnels and crystal clear water of Tulum’s cenotes. Post-dive and pre-tequila, he told us a couple of crazy stories about him squeezing through a tunnel for what felt like hours – with no turning back and very very little moving space.
Cenote Angelita is famous for this misty cloud phenomenon mid-water. A hydrogen sulfate haze is formed at the meeting place between fresh water and salty water. They call it ‘halocline’, but rather click here to read the correct description. Remember, these stories were told pre-tequila.
Hands up for the best seafood in Mexico hands down
We’ve had a lot of bad seafood in Mexico, but the best by far is at El Camello. It’s tasty. It’s real. And it doesn’t taste like the soles of your hiking boots. Order the calamari and light a candle for Neptune – it is beyond delicious.
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 – itsounds 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The video I made with whatever content I could find on our cameras.
There’s nothing like a good rhyme to kick off a blog post about a country where we almost got blown away by an almost hurricane. Luckily we weren’t swept into the Caribbean, but we were blown away by some serious good times because my brother came to visit! Whoot!
“Habla Español in Belize?” “Er no, we speak English”
By the time we crossed the border into Belize, we were well versed in answering border control questions in Spanish. So needless to say, we were a bit stunned when Mr. Border Control asked us about our family tree and future plans in English. It was the strangest thing – you cross one border in the middle of Central America and all of a sudden everything flops over to English. To be lost in translation for over 3 months makes one a bit oblivious to reality, because 90% of the time we actually didn’t know what was going on around us. While we were in Guatemala, the Guatemalan president declared a state of emergency – we only found out about it after our worried parents contacted us to find out whether we’re okay. Go figure.
Walking across the Melchor de Mencos border to the closest town took us about an hour, so at least we had time to shift our lazy brain gears over to English. From Benque Viejo del Carmen we took a bus to Belmopan, which is the (teeny tiny) capital of Belize. From Belmopan we had to wait an hour or 10 for the next bus to Dangriga, the beachside town I decided we should go to. Now the bus queueing system in Belize is totally different from the rest of Central America. Previously we just had to gun it, taking our backpacks off mid-run and swinging it to the bus wrangler who’ll tie it to the roof. In Belize you queue for the bus in a straight line. But the moment the gates open the polite line morphs into a Rorschach inkblot of people trying to squeeze onto the bus. Luckily we are well trained in the ancient art of bus squeezing.
Cabins in the wind
Dangriga was nice, but slightly odd. With a population of 9100 it’s the largest town in southern Belize and also the hotspot of the local Garifuna culture [Quick history lesson: the Garifuna people are the descendants of Nigerian slaves who were shipwrecked in the early 1600s. Over the years they fused into the Carib Indian communities and ta-dah! The Garifuna (or Garinagu as they call it) culture was born]. Amongst the Garifuna people, who are all tall, toned and pretty much catwalk material, are a handful of Asian shopkeepers, two lost Australian backpackers, a couple of Hispanic families and Ruthie – the owner of Ruthie’s Cabins.
Ruthie and her husband were lovely hosts. After booking into our cabin, we stayed for a little chat, but realised that even though they speak English, we can still only understand 50% of the conversation. Thanks to Wikipedia, here’s an example of Belize Creole:
English: “If the cow didn’t know that he could swallow grass, he wouldn’t have tried it”
Bileez Kriol: “If wa cow neva no ih cu swalla ɡrass, ih neva mi wa try it.”
So we smiled, nodded our heads and said yes to dinner the following evening. While we walked the only main street, we tried to tune our ears to the local dialect and compared prices between the different supermarkets. Basically, we couldn’t afford to buy any snacks, beer or cold drinks, because even though it looks like Belize is falling apart from the outside, it’s still pretty expensive. So I had a cheese sandwich at the only restaurant in town. We also met a super tall stringy looking guy called William – the local tour operator and stopping-for-a-lengthy-chat guy.
That night a storm the size of Canada broke loose. While our cabin swayed from side to side at 2am (Mother Nature always strikes at 2am), I worked on an emergency escape plan: put on shoes, grab passport and run when the roof blows off.
It didn’t blow off. The next morning William was waiting outside our cabin to shoot the breeze with us.