Caye Caulker, Belize

Hola chicos! First of all I sincerely apologise for not updating my blog sooner. I realise that I have some real work ahead of me as I try to catch up. You will also have to forgive any detail that may be slightly inaccurate timeline wise – Belize was almost 4 months ago! 

The Split, Caye Caulker
The Split, Caye Caulker

So it’s out of Mexico and on to Belize. More exactly, straight to Caye Caulker as we didn’t fancy endangering our lives in Belize City. Caye Caulker is a small limestone coral island that is about 5 miles long and less than a mile wide, allowing for a fantastic, isolated feel. Most tourists only stick to about a mile of the island where the main “village” is. It is split into two halves; the north, and the south islands. Many state this is the result of a hurricane, others say that the hurricane created a small gap, and the water way that now flows between the two halves is actually mostly man-made.

To get to Caye Caulker from Tulum we had to take a 4 hour bus journey to Chetumal, Mexico, on the border of Belize. From there we paid to take a water taxi to Caye Caulker. Immigration took forever and before we got on the boat we all had to place our bags in a line and stand facing them. A sniffer-dog (official name!) was then taken up and down the line whilst men in military uniform stood around fingering their rifles. Considering other border-crossing stories I have heard during this trip, this did not seem too intimidating.

The water taxi then took us to San Pedro where we all had to get off. Our bags were also unloaded as they needed to sort who was staying on San Pedro and who was going on to Caye Caulker. We then had to stand in another line whilst we queued for immigration into Belize. Luckily, there was a shop selling beers so, naturally, we grabbed a few to make the wait a little more bearable – our first taste of Belikin, a Belizean beer, served ice cold to us by a 9 year old…

“You better belize it!”

Now a significantly smaller group, we piled back onto the boat to get to Caye Caulker. We arrived after dark and made our way to our hostel – Dirty McNasty’s!! Karen and Sera had booked to stay somewhere else for their first two nights on the island so we arranged to meet up later that evening for dinner.

Dirty McNasty’s is well known amongst backpackers in Central America. Almost everyone I have met who went to Caye Caulker stayed there. For $20 USD you get a bed in a 16 bed dorm, a hearty breakfast cooked how you like it, free rum punch from 7pm (as much as you can handle), and they also cook evening meals for the price of $10 Belize (about £3.50). Meals usually consisted of lobster or spicy chicken wings and chips/rice – Nothing to complain about.

You cannot easily forget the fact that you’re in the Caribbean on Caye Caulker. Every turn of the head provides a fresh glimpse of golf carts, coconuts, crystal clear waters, conch shells, hash brownies, reggae, slightly bleached dreadlocks, and of course, beautiful black skin. (Calm down mother!)

I immediately adapted to the island’s “Go Slow” motto and I found myself completely and utterly stuck there for much longer than the four days I had initially anticipated. A lot of my time was spent simply lounging around on rickety piers, reading books, and topping up the tan (I could have been mistaken for a local when I left – no jokes).

Other than this, Caye Caulker is popular for it’s snorkelling and diving. Having already tried and failed at diving, I decided to do some snorkelling whilst Sera and Karen were still with me. The standard tour on Caye Caulker takes you to three places out on the reef: Shark/ray alley, Hol Chan marine reserve, and the Coral Gardens. Unfortunately, it was not manatee season and we were not lucky enough to see any turtles but this did not ruin our experience. We saw so many different kinds of fish, my fave being the rainbow parrot fish. We touched nurse sharks and rays. We tried negotiating the small paths through the coral gardens – this proved difficult as the strong tides from the reef kept threatening to push us onto the coral. Not wanted to damage anything, I gave up and swam over and around. Anyone looking for a good tour guide should seek out Caveman.

During my stay on Caye Caulker, I befriended a local who offered to take me night fishing, along with a couple from Canada. My previous experiences of fishing (mainly carp) have been pretty boring so I was eager to try a different kind. With an ice box loaded with ice, rum, and mixers and, I suppose more importantly, two or three bags of sardines we set out at around 5pm to make sure we got to the right spot just off of the South island before the sun had fully set.

Our target: red and black Snappers, a very tasty fish that is sold everywhere on the island.

The technique: none.

I’m joking. Brandon, the local, caught nearly three times as many fish as we did so there was definitely some technique involved. We were using only a line and hook, loaded up with yummy sardines to tempt the fishies. We simply flung out the hook, grabbed the line that was left in the boat, and balanced the line on our hands and waited for a slight tug on the line. At the slightest pull, we would have to bring in the line as quickly as possible and hope that there was still a fish attached to the hook. It was a slow start, and we found ourselves getting a little tipsy whilst waiting. It was completely dark, save for the blanket of stars. We must have seen maybe 6 shooting across the sky. I fancied myself as an overgrown Tom Sawyer and held the fishing line between my toes whilst lying down and whistling. I’m cool. I know. At 11pm we set off back to the North side with a bucket full of Snappers.
There is photographic evidence of my successes during this escapade, but unfortunately the couple never emailed them over.

 I said goodbye to Sera and Karen on Caye Caulker. It was a fantastic way to finish a wonderful time together! They were headed back up to Mexico for New Years Eve and a festival in Tulum, whilst I remained on the island for their crazy party I had heard so much about!

That reminds me: Happy New Year to all friends and family across the globe!

My New Year’s Eve was craaaaazzy! Everyone on the island was shipped off to the South Side of Caye Caulker to a rather swanky looking hotel for a beach party. Big bonfires, fireworks, piers lit with fairy lights with huts and swings. A huge marquee signified the dance floor, and a bar that was in danger of toppling over from the eager piss-pots on the other side of it. Annnd… that’s all I remember. I have a very good feeling that I danced – A LOT, and I have a brief recollection of chinese lanterns failing due to strong winds which I think I found hilarious. All in all, a good way to start 2016 – don’t you think?

The rest of my time on Caye Caulker was spent renting bikes, drinking rum, swimming across the split, and eating lots of delicious food; jerk chicken, rice, lobster, ribs, wings. We even discovered a fantastic little place that sold amazing hummus and baba ganoush. Seek out Aladdin’s if you’re ever there! There is also a very nice Chinese place which was surprisingly cheap by Belizean standards.

Verdict: Go to Caye Caulker!

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Christmas Day, Mexico

Merry Christmas to all friends and family around the globe!

My Christmas was fantastic! I hope yours was as well however you may have been celebrating.

I did not expect to miss home during this trip but it felt extremely strange to be without my family. We aren’t too extravagant usually. A few prezzies and a lovely day spent walking the dog, eating great home cooked food, spending the evening in pyjamas watching films and snacking and drinking some more!

I am very lucky.

Despite being on a continent far away, I still had the warm feeling inside that is instigated by having familiar and loving people around me. I spent Christmas day with Sera and Karen – who, as previously described, are absolutely fantastic and extremely special ladies. We travelled from Isla Mujeres back to Tulum to meet up with some friends and we all went out for some food at a restaurant around the corner from The Weary Traveller hostel.

It was so fun! There was an incredible Mariachi band and we all wore HUGE sombreros which made us ridiculously giddy! A waiter then drew moustaches on Karen and Sara and they got up and danced in front of the band. The whole restaurant was highly entertained.

Tequila was poured down our necks, literally.

We then met up with some people back at the hostel for some more drinks and an early night – preparing to feel fresh for our departure from Mexico in the morning!

Mexico it has been an absolute pleasure and I WILL return!

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Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Still travelling with the Aussie girlies at this point! They had pre-planned their next stop to be Isla Mujeres. This is a place I missed out when I was in Cancún due to I don’t know what! So as I was enjoying being with Sera and Karen so much I decided to join them! – why the hell not, right?

To get to Isla Mujeres, we had to go back to Cancún to catch a ferry. This crossing takes about half an hour and is relatively inexpensive.

Isla Mujeres literally translates as Isle of Women, apparently named so when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century and they found numerous images of goddesses. I’m sure there are lots of other versions of the story as there seems to be for every place in Mexico.

We planned to spend 4 nights here in a hostel called Poc Na. We had been told it was THE place to be – and this appeared to be pretty accurate. The hostel itself has it’s own little restaurant and bar. It also has it’s own dive centre, an outdoor cinema, a spa, and it’s own private beach and bar complete with yoga classes and a volleyball pitch. They also provide live music and magic shows every other evening. Their main bar closes at 11 and everyone then makes their way through to the beach bar where parties continue until 3am EVERY NIGHT!

Needless to say, I don’t have much to actually write about during this post. No one needs to hear about any drunken antics.

I did, however, try my first ever scuba dive!!! This is something I have always wanted to do and the girls also wanted to do one here. It seemed like the ideal place to do it as there is an underwater museum just off the coast called Museo Subacuatico De Arte. This is basically an innovative project designed to counteract the effects of climate change on oceans and reef systems. Google it! I have no photos. It’s pretty funky though and the collections include a VW beetle sculpture that provides artificial nooks and crannies for marine life.

The actual dive was a bit of a failure as far as I was concerned. The team we went out with were fantastic and extremely supportive! I was, naturally, a little nervous but after a few skills tests in shallow water I felt my confidence building. Our dive was to only take us to 9ft but boy did I struggle! I have never had any problems with my ears but they were not for equalizing at all. I tried every technique on the way down only to be greeted with more and more pain…

I started to panic.

I was aware that everyone was down already and the other group on our boat was slowly making their way past me. I was torn between fear and determination. I’m sure you are all aware of how much I hate not being good at something. I wanted to cry. I started to heave into my regulator and this triggered the urge to remove it completely – what a fucking ridiculous idea 6 feet under!

The instructors were fantastic. Rikky stuck by my side for a while and was completely soothing with her patience and her eye contact with me. This made me all the more determined. She then had to leave me to join the rest of the group and complete buoyancy checks so Kevin took over. Kevin was my saviour! Gripping my hand the whole way and taking it so very slowly. Eventually, after several minutes my ears appeared to clear and I suddenly realised that I was at the bottom! Relief!! We shared a little celebration before making our way towards the museum.

Visibility was not at it’s best for our dive so suddenly, out of no where these statues loomed into sight. A surreal experience. A group of them stand together with a variety of expressions and stances, but all appear to be looking at you as you swim by. Fish dart and glide between them all, occasionally nibbling at the marine life that has adopted this new “home”. Before I knew it, our 40 minutes was up and we had to make our way up to the surface.

By this time the sea had become incredibly choppy and as soon as we clambered up onto the boat people were throwing up over the sides. I should mention here that despite the slight hangover we were each battling this probably would have happened anyway! I, somehow, managed to hold onto the contents of my stomach. But my ears – wow. I couldn’t hear in my left ear at all and I was aware of a very loud crackling and popping in my right ear. I was still in a small amount of pain as well.

We made our way to the next location for our second dive and I decided I probably couldn’t put my ears through it again so unfortunately, and now regrettably, I sat this one out. Along with two others, one with the same problem and the other who just felt too ill. Rikky had advised that the seasickness would be diminished once in the water again but this guy didn’t feel he could make it.

I realise that this sounds like a bloody awful experience. It wasn’t. I loved being down there in another world. It was incredible and it felt strangely intimate because of the experience shared as a group. I would love to be able to take it up as a hobby and potentially do my open water certificate but I’m not sure my body wants me to. I have been advised that it gets a lot easier with the more dives you do and many people have the same problem. Perhaps I shall try it again. Who knows!

It is something to tick off my bucket list either way! (I keep meaning to actually formulate a bucket list for this blog – I will get round to it soon!)

The rest of our time spent on this island consisted of wandering round a few stalls, lazing on the beach, making some fantastic friends, and partying until the early hours of each morning (the drinks were cheap so this wasn’t as extravagant as it sounds). We were also shown a fantastic spot for snorkelling.

I feel I should also bring up the story of the stolen phone and purse that many of you are aware of already.

One particularly fantastic night at Poc Na resulted in 15 of us not wanting the party to end at 3am. Skinny dipping was mentioned – my new favourite thing! Before leaving the hostel, I remember thinking I should put my bag in my locker – I didn’t need it! But suddenly, we were all rushed out of the hostel and I simply didn’t do it. Silly, I know! So we were all in the sea – starkers – and our clothes and bags were up near the trees, not far from the water. Some of us got out early and made their way back to the hostel. Another group then got out and were accosted by the Mexican police, 2 men and a woman. They were told to hand over their money or, if that wasn’t an option, they could pay with sex. Yes… sex!

Obviously, the girls handed over everything they had (about 700 pesos between them – £30) and made their way home, disturbed but relieved.

The rest of us were completely oblivious to the events that had taken place. By the time we returned to our belongings the police had gone through everything. Pockets were empty, phones were missing and bags had been raided for purses. I had a small amount of cash in my purse and two cards! Stupidly! I haven’t been carrying my cards around with me and have been keeping them locked up. However, I had taken both out with me that evening to book another night at the hostel and get some cash. What bad luck!

We went to the police station straight away in the hope that maybe we could get our stuff back, or at least pay a small fee for the return of the cards and phones. We were told to return in the morning. Karen and I made our way there early the next day and made a statement, the guy who dealt with us was very understanding but after a few hours wait we were told there was nothing they could do. They seemed to be aware of which officers it would have been and we were advised that they would lose their jobs – I sincerely doubt this.

Karen and Sera were absolutely amazing and I was so lucky to have them with me at that moment! I had a third card with me but Santander hadn’t confirmed that I was able to use my card yet. The girls did not hesitate to offer me whatever money I needed until I could access my bank and pay them back. My angels! It felt shit having to rely on someone in this way but I love them for it all the same!

We spent Christmas Eve on Isla Mujeres and we decided to splash out and go for a very lavish meal. Oh my! It was so delicious! I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but nearly all of us had steak, and it was huge and perfect and it cost us about £8. Win! An excellent way to start off our celebrations. We then continued to dance our way into Christmas Day with full bellies and tinsel in our hair!

Merry Christmas!!

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Tulum, Mexico

So we arrived in Tulum after a long night bus from Palenque. I took this joruney with Emily and our bus was nearly an hour and a half late from Palenque so we arrived mid morning. After heading straight to the Weary Traveller hostel (one recommended to me by the special papers handed to us in Merida) we were reunited with Liv who had left us just a day earlier. It had felt like a life time!

This hostel is pretty good! You can cook your own breakfast. They provide eggs, pancake mix, bread, jam, butter, cereal, milk. You can easily stuff yourself and not have to eat anything until evening. They also provide free rice, pasta and lentils for dinner. It had its own small pool and two large communal areas, hammocks, and a burn your own BBQ. Highly recommended!

We wanted a relaxed first day due to the tiring journey so we decided to hire bikes and cycle down to the beach. This isn’t too far, but it’s definitely not walking distance in the heat. The beach was beautiful! Gorgeous clear blue seas and white sands. We spent the afternoon there before going out for a fantastic Thai meal to celebrate Liv’s last night. She had a flight back to the UK the next day. We didn’t have the energy to party in one of the local bars after our meal, so Sera suggested we grab some beers and head to the beach. What an idea!

We were joined on the beach by three guys that were camping there. A German, a Chilean and an Argentinian. I’m struggling to remember their names. (Oops!) We talked, listened to music, kept a lookout for shooting stars. It was really special. At some point in the night we all stripped off and ran into the sea, most of us looked like we were still wearing underwear because of our white bits! Such fun! We stayed on the beach until maybe four or five o’clock before heading back to the hostel.

The next day we wanted to check out Akumal, a place around a half hour drive away from Tulum where you can snorkel with Turtles. We got there to find that they had closed off the beach, a move made by the government because the beach and a building on it had been bought by the Bush family. Locals were protesting and trying to fight for the reopening of the beach because that was where they made their livelihood: stall owners, tour guides, etc. We were given this information by a guy called Angel, who usually ran the snorkel tours. He was unable to work and did not know when the beach would be reopened. I have since heard that it is open again.

So Angel did not have any work for that day so he advised that he was able to take us on a snorkel tour of a cave and a cenote, one only open to 50 people per day and, therefore, not so well known. I still cannot remember the name of this place so I am unable to recommend it. We agreed on a price and jumped in a collectivo with Angel, joined by a couple from the States. The snorkelling was really cool! I did not know what to expect and supposed that we would just be looking at the fish in the cenote’s pool. However, a guide took us down with a torch and, once we were all in the water, he advised that everyone follow him in single file. We then found ourselves in a tight cave system and were having to squeeze ourselves between stalactites and the small space between them and the water. Underneath the surface, he pointed out other cave systems with his torch. A fantastic surprise experience! There are a lot of cenotes in the area surrounding Tulum. I’ve heard a lot are quite expensive to get into and then hire gear. One can only assume how busy the most well known ones are. We saw no other tourists on this particular trip.

That afternoon we wandered round the shops and found lots of gorgeous little trinkets. We immediately wished we had bought more stuff in San Cristobal because the price difference is insane. Tulum is obviously a more touristy destination so they can get away with it.

The next day we attempted to visit the ruins in Tulum. We arrived around half past 11 and the queue to get in was ridiculous. We arranged to return early the next day and spent the rest of the day on the beach. Easy life!

The ruins were worth it. I had considered myself a little tired of ruins but Tulum is very special. It sits on the cliff overhanging the beaches on that coast and was used as a port back in the day. I wish I had photos of this place because I took some decent ones! I will try and get some off the girls and add them at a later date. The site is quite small and was gradually filling with people as we left. It doesn’t take any longer than an hour. We then wandered around the markets again and then checked out of the Weary Traveller to start our journey to Isla Mujeres just off the coast of Cancún.

 

 

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Palenque, Mexico (Again!)

It is interesting how different an experience can be with different people. As I mentioned before I returned to Palenque (please forgive me but my time scales have gone out of the window. I’m sure you don’t care for specific dates anyway).

Myself and the four girls got a cabana together at Jungle Palace. We had taken a night bus from San Cristobal to kill off one night’s accommodation expenses. The girls wanted to see the ruins so I returned there with them. The weather had completely changed so the ruins stood against blue skies and majestic hills, rather than the eery experience I relayed to you before.

The surrounding area of Palenque boasts some extremely incredible waterfalls and people usually visit Agua Azul and Misol Ha. I had been told about a third called Roberto Barrio and, naturally, wanted to try there because there would be less people. It became a very special experience! We swam in the large pools the waterfall created. We jumped off the top of the falls into the pools below. The guys who took us in the collectivo to this place all joined us in the water. One of them showed us all the best bits of the falls.

At one point, our local guide told us to come right up close to a small section of the falls. He then asked us to swim through the water and we emerged in a small space behind it. He then pointed out that if we held our breath and swam under the rocks for about 1.5 meters we would emerge in a small cave. Feeling a little panicked at the idea that I could come up in the wrong part of the cave or get stuck under the rocks, I had to muster up the courage to do it. I’m extremely proud of myself for not writing this off. The cave opened up above me as I swam up into it. You could maybe fit about 15 people in there so it was quite cosy. The space was lit with the small bit of daylight that came from the hole we had entered. This probably doesn’t seem like much of an achievement but I remain proud!

The next day we took a tour through the jungle with a guide this time. He took us off the path that Mike and I had wandered down previously and showed us a few ruins that have not been excavated, and probably never will be. Tree roots crept through the stone formations, some no more than mounds of broken rock. Some of the archways remain intact showing just how advanced these structures were to have survived for over a thousand years.

After another fantastic visit to Don Mucho’s, we all paired off and travelled on separate night buses to Tulum where we would be reunited. I will try and add some photos to these next few posts when I collect them from the girls.

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