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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San Cristobal, Mexico

Apologies again for the late update. I have been having the BEST time and the internet connections haven’t been so good! I shall endeavour to update you rather rapidly. Please note that my phone was recently stolen in Mexico so I have zero pictures of these places until I manage to grab some from other people.

To get to San Cristobal we decided to take collectivos to keep it cheap rather than getting the ADO bus. This meant we had to get two: one from Palenque to Ocosingo, the second to San Cristobal. This was a 4-5 hour drive in total through the mountains of Chiapas, and what a drive it was!

The views were absolutely stunning. Mountains rose all around us as we made our bumpy way up winding roads. You think pot holes are a problem in the UK – they have nothing on Mexico. Roads were crumbling and, in places, falling away down the steep drop beside us. The driver had to adopt a less than safe tactic of driving on the wrong side of the road towards blind bends to avoid sending us to an alternate doom! This only added to the experience.

The hills and mountains were littered with small villages and the occasional lonely hut. Children bounced on huge tyres by the side of the road, many of them caked in mud from the small streams that crept towards the roads. Old men walked bare foot up the mountains with sticks that would rival Gandalf’s staff, huge sacks upon their shoulders full of god knows what – probably corn, palm leaves, or merchandise for their shack shop by the side of the road. Chicken buses packed with men, women and children zoomed past us as the collectivo struggled to climb. Balloons hopelessly clinging to the side of the vehicle as it went. There were groups of people running with blazing torches, followed by chicken buses full of people dressed in the same way – most bare foot, white tops with an imagine of the Virgin Mary or some choice words to celebrate her. Upon arrival in San Cristobal we realised this was the start of the week long festival for the Virgin Mary. These large groups of people were making a pilgrimage to San Cristobal. This meant one thing, there would be parades, there would be music, in other words – a week-long fiesta!

I can’t begin to explain how beautiful San Cristobal is. It is a colonial city of around 186,000 people. Its cobbled streets are lined with buildings of every colour. Cathedrals and churches stood tall and dominating in small open squares. Music blared from, well, everywhere. Groups of people danced around the streets in traditional Chiapan dress. Colours, aahh the colours! I cannot do this place justice with the written word so, if you’re ever in Mexico, make sure you go to San Cristobal!

Our hostel – Rossco Backpackers – was a treat. They had a fire pit that brought people together every night. The dorms were clean and the beds were amazing. At first I questioned the need for a sheet, a blanket AND a duvet, but the first night there confirmed that it actually got pretty chilly and it was great to sink beneath the cozy layers each night. I say this, but I actually only spent one full nights sleep in that bed – too much partying. We met some fabulous people and took advantage of the buzzing party atmosphere at night. Most nights I did not get to sleep until 5am. But you don’t want to hear all the details – everyone knows I like a good party! One thing I will say, is that my Spanish is significantly improved with alcohol and I managed to hold a few conversations with locals in the bars. Yes! I am now fluent in Spanish…

The hostel offered some rather cheap tours so we took advantage of them. We took a tour to the Canyon del Sumidero. This was overwhelmingly beautiful. This involved about an hours drive to a town called Chiapa de Corzal, and then we hopped on a boat that would take two hours to drive up and down the canyon. We saw iguanas, crocodiles, vultures, and spider monkeys. The shitty camera strikes again and I could not get photos that were good enough to share. Unfortunately, amongst all this beauty one thing stood out to me. In certain parts of the canyon, the river battled with a trail of litter, and this strangled the banks of the river in places. One croc that we got quite close to was surrounded by plastic bottles and other rubbish. Humans are poison.

The second tour we took was to the Cascada El Chiflon and the Lagunas de Montebello. It was around a 3 hour drive which took us right to the Guatemalan border. We went to the waterfall first. Hungover and, therefore, extremely dehydrated, we started the long and steady climb to the top of the waterfall. Again, my words cannot describe this properly. Small pools of bright blue water lay at the bottom of the falls. The water crystal clear. The main waterfall roared and spat at us. There was a main view point here, but then we found that we could climb higher, a path that not everyone took, as you can imagine. So we climbed again. Sweat and alcohol dripping off us. The view from the top was worth it, a view of the valley and the small blue pools meandering through it. I’m gutted to have lost the photos of this place. The climb meant that we did not really have time to swim in any of the pools as we had to make our way to the lakes.

By the time we got to the lakes the clouds had descended and visibility was poor. They were still impressive but we will just have to google images to see their full glory! One of the lakes lay across the Mexican-Guatemalan border. On water, this was marked by a rope and some buoys. On land, it could be distinguished by tall, white, stone columns every 100 metres or so. We spent about 15 minutes in Guatemala and then headed home. Customary border photos were taken! Obviously! Alas these, too, have been lost.

Our remaining days in San Cristobal were filled with partying and wandering around the fantastic markets. One market for artisans and the other for fruit, veg and Christmas decorations! The fruit and veg market was incredibly claustrophobic. As we squeezed through the tiny aisles, walls of exotic fruits around us, our noses were filled with the most amazing smells. True to my tummy, as always, we followed the smells through dark alleys that opened up into small eateries and grill bars. Being late at night we were unable to get food as they were closing up. We didn’t return because there was always some other new discovery that satisfied our rumbly tumblies.

During our last few days in San Cristobal, I met a fabulous group of people that need an especial mention: Liv, Chris, Emily, Sera and Karen. Mostly Aussies apart from Liv who is from Bristol. We gelled instantly. These people are some of the most open, honest and friendly people I have met. I cannot put my feelings for this group into words – again! A mixture of silliness and fantastically deep conversations ensued.

We spent a few crazy nights together and then it was time for Mike and I to leave for Guatemala. But there was something stopping me. I could not leave these amazing people with whom I was having so much fun! They told me they didn’t want me to go and asked me to go with them to Palenque and Tulum. I thought I would grab the opportunity with both hands. I felt like I was betraying Mike a little but thankfully he was very understanding. He left for Guatemala and I stayed behind.

The next day we had to say goodbye to Chris who, sadly, could not come with us. So the five of us left for Palenque on the night bus the following evening. I hear you questioning this decision: Frankie, you’ve been there, done that! But we had a completely different experience. So I shall be writing a brief post about Palenque once more.

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