A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: SamJohnston

Fabulous Flores

Flores and Tikal

We had all been excited about visiting Flores and Tikal for sometime. Our tour leader David was from Flores and had started his tour guiding as a local guide at Tikal. So he had told us lots about it. On Saturday we got a transfer the 1/2 an hour from San Ignacio to the border. We exited Belize and entered Guatemala without any hassles. From the border we got a private transfer all the way through to Flores, about 4 hours away. On route though we stopped by our guides aunties restaurant where we got to first sample the Guatemalan beer, Gallo. She was also a cook on the series of Survivor Guatemala which was filmed nearby so there were a few things from the show around the restaurant.

We reached Flores which is a small island in the middle of Lago de Peten Itza. We checked into our hotel just across the road from the water and went out for lunch with everyone. We then had free time to explore the island and relax. That night David picked us up in his ute which we all piled into the back of to the journey to his mothers house. Here we got to meet his mother, brother in law and nephew and see where he grew up. We then went to his house where we got to meet his lovely pregnant wife Nesli. They had cooked us a delicious meal of chicken pepian with rice. We also had Agua de Jamaica which is a local drink made from hibiscus flowers and was really tasty. It was a really great experience to visit David's house and see where he lives. It wasn't something he had to do and we were all really touched he had invited us. We had another interesting drive back piled in the back of the ute before heading to bed for our early start the next morning.

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On Sunday we were up early for our trip to Tikal. We were picked up at 5am and were driven for about an hour to the site. Once we arrived we had some sandwiches for breakfast before entering. It is best to visit early in the day so you can see wildlife and before it gets too warm so it was still quite early when entered. We walked for about 1/2 an hour through the dense jungle where we were able to spot some endemic turkeys, coatis, parrots and both spider and howler monkeys. The sound of howler monkeys added a strange vibe to the place. If you have never heard them they make this eerie roaring, screeching noise. Not a sound you would expect from a monkey.

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We soon arrived at Temple 4 and climbed to the top of it. Temple 4 is one of the largest and at 64m high we had a great views across the jungle in front with the odd top of another temple poking through the surrounding jungle. From here we were able to get a look at some toucans and falcons in the surrounding trees. We sat there for a while watching the mist clear and the sun become brighter. Definitely an amazing experience and viewpoint.

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We then explored the rest of the site with David telling us interesting facts and history of the area. We ended up at the main plaza where the postcard Temple 1 is situated. It is quite a tall and narrow pyramid and was interesting to see how the Mayan architecture and construction had evolved during their empire. Newer temples were narrower and taller, just like modern sky rises. After quite a few photos of Temple 1 we explored the necropolis and acropolis areas on either side of the Great Plaza. We also got to witness some indigenous people performing a Mayan ceremony. They still practice some ancient ceremonies and there was even a designated area where they carried it out wearing traditional dress. Tikal is very beautiful with ancient Mayan temples scattered through the thick jungle. It definitely makes for a mystical experience.

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After a very interesting morning we returned to our van for a trip back to Flores. By this stage it was really warm so we were glad to have air conditioning. We also did a quick stop off for some coconuts which made the journey a bit easier. Alex and I got dropped off on the mainland in Santa Elena just before the bridge to do some shopping and visit Pollo Campero, the Guatemalan fried chicken chain. It was quite tasty and we were also able to get grilled chicken as well so it wasn't too unhealthy.

That afternoon we just spent relaxing before exploring the food markets set up in the afternoon next to the waterfront. We got a couple of tasty tacos as an entree. The tortillas in Guatemala are different from Mexico and were quite thick in comparison. We then went to a nice restaurant where we got delicious frozen mango margaritas and a platter for 2. Once we were done we headed back to the food markets to try some of the local cakes for deserts. It was lovely to sit on the waterfront while we ate.

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The next morning we had enough time to head out for a good breakfast before we were picked up for our next journey. We didn't spend a long time in Flores but it was really fantastic and great to visit Tikal.

Next stop the river of Rio Dolce!

Posted by SamJohnston 19:49 Archived in Guatemala Tagged flores tikal Comments (0)

You Better Belize It!

On Tuesday we left Tulum and headed for the Mexico/Belize border. We caught a local bus from Tulum to Chetumal. This took about 4 hours but luckily we had a stop where there were local ladies selling tacos. Not too bad for a bus snack! We had all opted to cross the border on the island of San Pedro then on the mainland. This option gave us a little bit of free time on the island and also what is suppose to be a much easier border to cross.

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Once we arrived in Chetumal we had some spare time so grabbed some lunch, tacos of course, before catching taxis to the port. At the port we exited from Mexico and boarded our boat to San Pedro. The boat wasn't very big but the ride was only about 1.5 hours.

San Pedro is the island that Madonna wrote La Isla Bonita aka "last night I dreamt of San Pedro", so we all had high expectation for a beautiful Caribbean island. We arrived in the port and went through immigration to enter Belize. We had about an hours spare time so wandered the very short distance into town. Unfortunately the town was really nothing fantastic. It was filled with golf carts and shops and wasn't the tropical island we had all dreamt of. Apparently other parts of the island are a lot nicer but we didn't have time to explore them. After a coffee it was time to get back on the boat to Caye Caulker. It was only about a 45 minute ride before we arrived but we had a beautiful sunset as we traveled along.

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Caye Caulker is a tiny island situated next to the second largest reef in the world, after Australia's Great Barrier Reef. It is only a small island and very laid back. We walked to our hotel which was on the waterfront. There are no cars allowed on the island so we only had to watch out for the odd golf cart zooming around. We dropped off our bags and then headed out for a walk around. For dinner we went to Roses Grill. Out the front before we sat down we selected our dinner from the stack of seafood next to the grill. I had a delicious fish kebab and Alex had a huge lobster. It was so tasty and fresh out of the sea only a few hours earlier.

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On Wednesday all of our group had decided to do a sailing and snorkeling tour. After a good breakfast we met our captain, Papa Joe and headed to the dock to find our beautiful sailboat. We had to wait a bit for everything to be ready so we sat on the pier dangling our feet in the warm water. There were so many fish in the crystal water it was great to watch and made us all excited about what else we were going to see that day. We then noticed what we thought was a rock moving on the bottom. On closer inspection we could see the rock appeared to have little flipper feet and was walking along. It was a really strange looking creature with no visible head slowing crawling along the bottom. We asked Papa Joe what it was called and he told us it was a highly poisonous fish call the Bat Fish but we all decided Bad Fish was a much better name. It was definitely a very unusual and ugly looking creature.

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We soon set off on our boat using the motor as there was not much wind at that time. We sailed through the beautiful aqua water until we reached the reef and our first stop of the day. This was our practice snorkel to get use to the currents and equipment before we headed to more dangerous spots. We all got kitted out and jumped into the water. I was last off the boat and was just about to follow the rest of the group when I saw something like a plastic bag float right past me. Turns out it was a Portuguese Man Of War jellyfish so I was really lucky to narrowly avoid it. The current was super strong in this spot so we had to constantly keep swimming to stop drifting back and onto the coral reef. The coral was beautiful but there weren't too many fish around.

After about 1/2 an hour we headed to our next stop, Shark and Ray Alley. When we arrived there though there were half a dozen other boats so we decided to head to our 3rd stop and stop back here on the way back. We were able to see some huge sharks in the water as we sailed along though which got some of us a bit nervous.

At our second spot we got ready and hopped in the water. The first few people got a huge fright though after hopping in and finding a massive grouper under the boat which slowly came out and swam around us. We then headed off with the guide for him to show us around and give us a tour. Firstly he lead us over to where a Sea Turtle was munching on some plants on the sea floor. He was just walking around having some lunch and it was so great to be able to watch him for a bit before he swam off. We then got to see a huge array of different fish including a green moray eel, barracuda, parrot fish, snooks, snapper, jacks and many more species. It was amazing to get so close to so many amazing fish swimming amongst stunning coral. We swam for about 45 minutes before returning to the boat for lunch. We had delicious fish burgers with fresh fruit while we watched the fish swim around the boat.

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It was then time for Shark and Ray Alley. It doesn't take a genius to work out what this entails but it is a huge gathering spot for reef sharks and sting rays. When we arrived most of the other boats had left so we had the place to ourselves. Nervously we hopped in and it wasn't long before there were some small reef sharks and rays swimming around us. Our guide caught a sting ray and allowed us all to touch it and see it up close. We were all very careful though to avoid the stinger. He even caught a small reef shark after which when turned upside town was very motionless. The grey nurse shark was quite rough to touch but as he was small it wasn't too bad and surprisingly not very scary.

David our tour leader then thought it would be funny to start feeding some of the other fish and he soon learned that if he threw the food near us it would cause schools of fish to ram into you. So we all got up close and personal with some of the other fish in the area. We then noticed under the boat a massive Sting Ray that must of been close to 2m in diameter. Luckily it stayed on the bottom but it was amazing to see. I would have loved to take more photos but not having an underwater camera really restricted us. It is really something I would love to get for future trips so it is already on my Christmas list :-)

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After swimming for a while amongst such amazing sea creatures it was time to head back to shore. I thought it would be really scary swimming in the open water with potentially dangerous creatures but it was really fun and exhilarating. On the way back the sails were put up and rum punch was served which made for a very relaxing and fun trip back. Some of the boat hands were fishing off the back of the boat and Sergio a guy in our group went to fish as well. Just as we were coming through the split in Caye Caulker he landed a big Barracuda. It was quite a big one and you don't want to get too close to the sharp teeth on them but it was cool to see one up close.

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After our awesome day out we headed back for showers before heading to the split to watch the sunset with some drinks. After the sunset we noticed some of the tables for the bar were in the sea so you could sit in the ocean at a table to enjoy your drinks. Despite none of us having swimwear with us we tried out the seats, trying to be careful not to get too wet. We then headed to a beach side restaurant for some dinner and drinks. Alex and I shared an absolutely delicious whole snapper.

After dinner everyone was in high spirits so we headed to the islands karaoke bar. It was basically empty when we arrived so our group took over the mic with fantastic renditions of Copacabana, Roxanne, Ice Ice Baby and of course La Isla Bonita. It was a really fun night and topped off a perfect day.

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Unfortunately on Thursday we had to leave Caye Caulker. After breakfast we caught a ferry to Belize City. It only took 1.5 hours to reach Belize City where we grabbed our luggage and headed straight to the bus station. The city didn't really impress me to much from the small amount I saw and I was glad not to be hanging around there too long.

As soon as we got to the bus station we jumped on the next bus heading to San Ignacio. This bus was an old converted USA school bus so we piled our bags at the back and got some seats. We were initially worried about the heat but as soon as we started driving and got some airflow through the bus it was fine. The bus ride took about 4 hours to reach San Ignacio. Luckily we had a quick stop in the capital of Belize, Belmopan which allowed us a toilet break and a chance to buy some lunch.

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We arrived in San Ignacio in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel on the main tourist street. We had a bit of free time so Alex and went for a walk to get some money out and for a coffee frappe. We met up with the rest of the group and were briefed on the activities for the next day available to us. We then went for a walk around town, which isn't that big so didn't take too long. We crossed the river to Santa Elena the town on the other side of the bridge for dinner. They are famous for their barrel grills here so we had a great meal of BBQ chicken, coleslaw, rice and beans.

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On Friday all our group had decided to visit the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) caves. The caves haves been listed as #1 in the Top 10 Sacred Caves to visit category by National Geographic (http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/top-10/sacred-caves/). So after breakfast we met Gonzo our guide. We drove through some extremely bumpy roads for over an hour to reach the carpark of the caves. Here we got kitted out with helmets and head lamps. As we would be going through caves and water we had to leave everything in the jeeps. As some of the artifacts have been damaged in the past from incidents with cameras we were also all banned from taking cameras into the cave. We then headed to the entrance of the cave about 1/2 an hour walk through the jungle with a few river crossings. After a bit of pineapple we were ready to head into the cave. Luckily for us the head archeologist Jaime Awe who studied the cave was there and gave his group and our group a bit of a briefing about his involvement and the protection of the cave and the decision to leave all the artifacts in place in the cave rather then remove them. He was filmed back in 1992 for the National Geographic documentary, "Journey Through the Underworld" so was a pretty interesting guy to listen to and learn from.

We reached the entrance of the cave where we had to dive into a pool of water and swim across 10m to the side of the cave. The water was quite cold so it was a shock at first. For the next 5 hours we explored the caves wading through water which ranged from ankle depth to chin depth. I was actually pretty happy for my height as if I was much shorter there would have been more parts I would have needed to swim through. After about 3 hours we reached the main cavern which involved climbing up a large rock into the cavern above. Up here we needed to remove our shoes and just wear socks in to protect the artifacts. We entered through a small opening to discover a huge cavern. All over the floor was pottery and bones. We were literally walking right next to these artifacts in the original place and location they were left and later discovered by archeologists. We were shown where a river use to flow through the cave and this was where Mayans performed religious ceremonies to please their gods. They use to also sacrifice people in this cave so after a while we climbed up a ladder in the back of the cavern to a higher platform. Here we were able to see 3 skeletons. The first one had a deformed skull which was common practice during Mayan times. The last skeleton was the most impressive as it had crystallised over time through the minerals in the cave and caused it look like a crystal skeleton. This has become quite famously known as the "Crystal Maiden" although know it is known to actually be the skeleton of a young boy. It was amazing to see and a bit disappointing that we couldn't take photos to show other people but if you are interested there are plenty online.

The cave itself was pretty impressive with a huge roof and stalactites and stalagmites. Before heading back we explored one last area which involved squeezing through a small hole on our stomachs. In here we were able to see a babies skeleton. After this we were all pretty exhausted after being in the cave for so long without food, a bathroom and being wet for so long. We headed out of the cave through a different path where the water was a bit deeper in sections. It was really hard to believe that the Mayans would have entered the cave thousands of years ago with nothing but torches to perform ceremonies. It was a really interesting insight into their life and also of the archeologists that discovered it, studied it and decided to leave everything in place for people to experience it in its original environment rather then behind glass in a museum.

We left the cave and had a well deserved lunch before heading back to town. After showers and a change of clothes we all headed out to a local restaurant for dinner. Both Alex and I got pork ribs which were pretty tasty.

Belize was an interesting country to visit and learn about. As a member of the commonwealth it has the queen on their money and strong ties to the UK. While it is a small country (approx population 350,000), it is very multicultural and has a lot of immigration so you have indigenous people, Caribbean people, Chinese people, African people, British expats, Amish and Mennonites all living together. It creates a weird melting pot but it works. It is a very beautiful country with lots of rural influences. For such a small country it provides lots of contrasts but I'm very glad we got to visit it.

Next stop Flores, Guatemala for the archeological site of Tikal!

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Posted by SamJohnston 19:50 Archived in Belize Tagged snorkelling san_pedro caye_caulker atm_caves san_igancio crystal_maiden Comments (0)

No tiburones ballena pero muy bonita playas

Playa del Carmen and Tulum

We left Merida early in the morning on Friday. We had all decided to stop off at Chichen Itza, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World on the way to Playa del Carmen. We left at 7am for the 2 hour journey. We knew it would be packed with tourists and stifling hot so wanted to make it there before it got too unbearable. With a few hundred thousand visitors each day we were somewhat prepared for the crowds as we entered the site.

We hired a local guide Carlos who showed us around the site for the next 2 hours. It is a really large complex made up of many temples. The main sight is El Castillo temple. The most fascinating thing about this is the staircases are built so that during the spring and autumn equinoxes the shadow of the staircase forms a serpent shadow which links up with snake head statues on the bottom of the temple. Unfortunately we weren't there during an equinox but the temple itself was still pretty impressive to look at.

Chichen Itza has the largest ball court of the Mayan kingdom as well. It was a huge field topped with viewing platforms. There were interesting friezes on the side of the court which depicted ball players using racquets and even some gruesome pictures of decapitated players with blood spurting out. Apparently sacrifice was part of the game played here. It is still debated whether it was the winners or the losers that lost their lives though. We wandered through the rest of the complex seeing Grupo de las Mil Columns, the great plaza, Templo de los Guerreros, Carcol and Edificio de las Monjas while Carlos told us various theories.

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By the time we finished it was so hot and humid we made our way back to our air conditioned van in delight. Our next stop was for a swim in another cenote. Ikil, unlike the other cenotes we visited was packed with tourists. While it was pretty it had a very public swimming pool feel about it. It was lovely though to be able to cool off in the water. Once we were all done we headed to a restaurant for a buffet lunch. We then had about a 3.5 hour drive along the Pan American highway to Playa del Carmen.

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We arrived there early evening and had about an hours free time before we had to meet for our farewell dinner. About a month ago one of my friends went snorkeling with whale sharks just off the coast of Playa del Carmen, so I knew that it was a must do activity for the spare day we had there. I had done a lot of research so Alex and I rushed off to a dive shop to book a tour in for the next day. It wasn't going to be cheap but would definitely be worth it to be able to swim next to the largest fish in the world.

The Central America tour we were doing is made up of 3 shorter tours so unfortunately we had to bid farewell to 5 of our travel buddies as Playa was the end of the 1st leg. We had a stroll along 5th avenue a hugely touristy shopping street and got to experience the extreme tourist side of Mexico. We then went to an amazing restaurant, Ajua. The food and service was amazing. Cocktails and drinks were delivered balanced on the top of the waiters head and they gave us puzzles to work out while we waited for our food. I had a delicious mixed fajitas with juicy prawns, beef and chicken. We all chipped in for a Mayan Coffee mainly for the show which consisted of 3 waiters, cascading layers of fire and a very tasty but alcoholic coffee. After dinner we headed to one of the many bars on the beach for a few more drinks. There was a live band and the place had a great atmosphere. As Alex and I had a very early start the next morning we headed to bed after a few drinks leaving the rest of the group to party.

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We were up at early for our 6:20am pickup on Saturday morning. We got picked up in a minivan and driven for an hour or so north to Puerto Juarez near Cancun. We arrived and had some coffee and cake while we waited in the queue to check in. Just as we reached the front of the queue the lady asked us to wait a minute. Then came the bad news. The port had been closed due to rough seas and no boats were going to be let out today. The seas didn't look too bad but with hurricane Irene off the coast of Florida apparently further out the waves were pretty bad. So bitterly dissapointed we had to hop back on the minivan for the drive back to Playa.

The dive shop was excellent and did a full refund on our tour. We had some breakfast and then went back to bed to catch up on some sleep. We then had a relaxing afternoon having fish tacos for lunch before going to the beach for a swim.

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That night was the official start of the next leg of the tour so we got to meet the 3 new people who would be joining the remaining 5 of us. We had a nice meal at a taco place across the road from Coco Bongo, where the famous dancing scene from The Mask was filmed. We then headed down to another beach bar for some drinks. Part of the bar was closed off for a wedding party but we got to see the couples first dance and enjoy the Mariarchi band that played. We then headed up the road to a small bar for some beers. We ended up with buckets of beers but the beers were Coronitas, tiny bottles of Coronas. Yes they were small but at least they remained cold while you drank them in the heat of Playa.

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On Sunday morning we had some free time. After breakfast and some coffee we just had a wander around the town and beach. At midday we walked across to the bus terminal where we caught a local bus down to Tulum. It was only about an hour away.

Our hotel was just on the side of the highway across from the entrance road to the ruins. After everyone got settled in we headed to a local restaurant for some lunch. Here I got nachos, the first I had really seen on a menu in Mexico. They were quite nice and the restaurant was fun with the owner giving us sombreros and a gaint Corona bottle to take photos with.

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Our guide had found us another whale shark tour leaving from Tulum which would give us another chance to go swimming with them. The weather was apparently better and while it meant another really early start we were ready to give it another go. So we booked it in and got all the details we needed for pickup.

We then headed down to the Tulum ruins. The site itself wasn't very big or as impressive as the other Mayan sites we have visited but what made it spectacular was the views over the Caribbean. From the cliff tops there are old temples perched overlooking the aqua green water and white sands. It was really a beautiful spot. After exploring the site we headed back to the hotel for a swim before we all caught a collectivo into the town of Tulum, 15 minutes down the road.

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In town we found a great little restaurant. Once again we were given somberos to wear. I guess it is something to do with being in a super touristy part of Mexico. We had a great piece of fish and delicous stuffed pepper with a few cocktails before heading back to bed.

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On Monday morning we left our hotel at 5am. We had to catch a taxi to a resort further up the road for our tour pickup. Now our pickup point was just really a bus stop next to the side of the highway. We arrived early and sat down to wait. After about 1/2 an hour we started to worry but in Latin America, sometimes they are late. After an hour we had almost given up hope and after 2 hours we knew our chances of swimming with whale sharks were over. The transfer just didn't come to pick us up. We didn't have a phone with us and the reception of the hotel was a few kms down a long drive. So we caught a collectivo back to our hotel. The tour agency wasn't open yet so we headed back to bed for some sleep.

We visited the tour agency and luckily the guy that booked our tour was not there. Not very impressed we spoke with the manager and got a full refund. I was really pissed off at their incompetency but all they did was apologise. I guess something in the universe was really telling us that we shouldn't go swimming with whale sharks. I'll just have to leave it on my bucket list for another time.

After our disappointing morning we didn't want to spend our last day in Mexico on a negative note so headed into town for some lunch. We got some fish burritos and fresh limonadas. We then headed to a beach not far from the ruins. It was a stunning postcard beach with white sand, palm trees and crystal blue water. We setup under a palm tree and spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing on the beach. With a few super strong margaritas we had soon forgotten about the mornings troubles.

That night we just had a local meal with various dishes made of tortillas, meat and salad.

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We had an absolutely amazing time in Mexico. The people, sights, food, drink and vibe was amazing and I would totally recommend it for people to visit.

Next stop Belize!

Posted by SamJohnston 09:01 Archived in Mexico Tagged tulum cenote playa_del_carmen chichen_itza whale_sharks ikil Comments (0)

Magical Merida

On Wednesday we left Palenque and the Chipas region of Mexico and headed to Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula. Even though we left early it was about an 8 hour bus trip so we arrived in Merida late afternoon. We went for a walk around town which had a beautiful square and then had dinner with everyone before heading to bed.

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On Thursday we had decided to do a tour with the rest of our group to a few of the local cenotes. There are thousands of cenotes or sinkholes located in this area formed when it use to be covered by sea. The Mayans saw the sinkholes as a passage into the underworld so they used it for religious ceremonies and for offerings to gods. So after breakfast we headed about an hour out of town.

We arrived and then boarded our transport to the cenotes. This consisted of a horse pulling a cart on rails. It was quite a fun ride but you really needed to hold on as we built up quite a bit of speed and there were a few sharp corners during the journey. After about 20 minutes we reached our first cenote. It had a big cave like entrance with a set of stairs leading down into it. We got ready and dove into the crystal clear water. With the lighting the water looked deep blue. We swam around for a while before going up the back of the cenote to have a look at the opening to an underwater cave. Unfortunately we couldn't go in as it is only for qualified divers but it was still a beautiful place to experience.

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We then hopped back on to our carts for the ride to the second cenote. This cenote had more of a closed entrance of about 5m in diameter. We were able to look through the hole to see the water about 10m below before we climbed down into it. Once again it was a stunningly beautiful place. We were enjoying swimming around when a couple of the boys decided to jump off the top of the cenote into the water below. Hosea went first and as soon as I saw the local guide swimming over to where he landed in the water I knew there must be trouble. He had dislocated his shoulder as the impact of the water threw his arm up and out of place. We helped get him out of the water where Diana inspected his arm. Luckily we had a doctor on our trip! It was decided to take him to hospital where they could get pain medication for him. So Hosea, Diana and our tour leader headed off to hospital.

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The injury put a bit of a dampener on everyones spirits but we still headed to the 3rd cenote. This one had a very tiny hole to enter, just big enough to fit through. It had about a 15m ladder to climb down before you reached a small platform. It was much darker in this cenote as there was only one small hole in the roof besides the entrance hole. But the shaft of light provided an eerie ambiance. We stayed in there for about 20 minutes until it started raining.

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We then headed back to the van and picked the other 3 up from the local clinic. Luckily Hosea's shoulder was back in place and they managed to get so pain medication for him. We then headed to a local hacienda for lunch. Hacienda's are traditional houses on agricultural estates. The one we visited was very beautiful. We sat in a big dining room overlooking the property. The specialty was rabbit so both Alex and I got it for lunch. It was really delicious. Afterwards we had a walk around the property which included a tour of the rabbit hutches where they farm rabbits for use in the restaurant onsite and to also to sell meat. It was a bit morbid looking at all the cute rabbits after having them for lunch but I guess that is the circle of life and they are so damn tasty.

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On the way back into town we drove down Paseo Montejo which was filled with stunning mansions.

That night we opened a few bottles of the Mezcal we had all bought in Oaxaca for some pre drinks in the hotel. We had our very tasty passion-fruit Mezcal and some of David's normal Mezcal with the worm. And yes I ate part of the worm! Alex also brought out one of the cigars we had from Cuba to smoke. We then headed out for another walk around town. While exploring we got to see the local souvenir of choice, highly decorated live beetles. Apparently you buy then to wear as a brooch! None of us were that hungry as we had a big lunch so just got gorditas which are tortillas stuffed with different fillings and sat in benches in the park and ate them. We then had a marquesitas for desert which was like a hard crepe filled with nutella. A perfect end to a wonderful day.

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Next stop the Caribbean beachside paradise of Playa del Carmen!

Posted by SamJohnston 16:56 Archived in Mexico Tagged merida cenotes gorditas Comments (0)

Ruins and Waterfalls in Palenque

We left San Cristobal on Monday morning and had about a 6 hour drive to Palenque. We arrived late afternoon to a very hot and humid climate. We checked into our hotel and then found a rooftop bar where we all cooled off with a few beers. For dinner we headed to a nice local restaurant where I had enchiladas for dinner.

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On Tuesday morning we set out for a day trip to visit the areas archeological site and some waterfalls. We started off at Palenque, a beautiful Mayan site located in the middle of the jungle. We hired an excellent local guide who lead us around the different areas explaining about the city, its rulers, religious ceremonies and the Mayan way of life. He really was a wealth of knowledge and was so passionate so I learnt a lot about the Mayans. We got to see inside the living quarters which even had toilets with running water and stone beds.

I asked about the end of the Mayan calendar which some people say when it ends on the 21st December 2012, the world will end. There really is no absolute proven theories but our guide believes that it might correspond with an astrological event with the alignment of the Milky Way. Nowhere in any of the Mayan literature that has been discovered does it talk about any disaster or end of the world, so I think we might all be safe. We did learn about the Mayan calendar which rotates in day cycles (Kins), then 20 day cycles (Unials), which then form 18 x Unial cycles (Tuns)which is kind of equivalent to the Gregorian year except there are 5 days left over. For the Mayans these days are unowned and is when bad things can occur. 20 Tun's then make a Ka'tun (7200 days) and finally 20 Ka'tun's make a Bak'tun (144000 days). The 21st December is just the end of the 13th Bak'tun and the end of the Mayan calendar. We also learnt about Mayan horoscopes and found out what we were and the characteristics of someone in that sign. I am Yax, which like my normal horoscope is a water sign and related to Mother Earth and the colour green.

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The site contains lots of inscriptions which archeologists have been able to decipher to understand in-depth information on the Mayans that lived here like rulers names, birthdays, marriages, wars. The greatest ruler here was Pakal and was where the debatable frieze depicting him riding a rocket ship was discovered.

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After exploring the beautiful site and climbing to the top of the temples for a great view across the jungle we headed to Misol-Ha. It is a huge waterfall that you could walk behind. We had a quick walk around the back of the fall before going for a refreshing swim in the lake below it. We then had lunch in a restaurant at the falls before returning to Palenque.

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That night Alex and I had a wander to the new part of town where we had some margaritas before joining the rest of our group for dinner at the same restaurant as the previous night. I chose chimichangas which were nice but a little too greasy for my liking.

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Next stop the Yucatan Peninsula and the White City of Merida!

Posted by SamJohnston 16:56 Archived in Mexico Tagged palenque misol_ha Comments (0)

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