Costa Rica in 24 hours, Panama, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala – how behind are we?!!?

Day 50 – Wed 27th March

Arrived in San Jose on the bus from David, very long, seemingly random and disorganised, border crossing – it seems a miracle that we managed to get through and back on the same bus – there seemed to be a lot of different queues, with occasional instructions to queue somewhere else, a bit of sniffer dog action, followed by more queueing and instructions to go ‘over there’ (very helpful). Happy to say that we made it, finally! Hotel in Costa Rica is nice, they give us a free welcome cocktail – looks like a version of a Tequila Sunrise, only sweeter, Keir has a beer, so I drink his cocktail too :)

Comic border crossing, followed by a fleeting visit to San Jose, Costa Rica.  We came, we slept, we caught the flight out of there.

Day 51 – Thurs 28th

Breakfast and then Mexico! Taxi driver tries to augment the fare by 13% because we want to pay in Costa Rican money – beware all, that everyone seems to give you their own version of the USD to Colon exchange rate – we find that despite the $77 dollars in fees and charges that Interjet charged us for the fare, we still have to pay another $58 to the Costa Rican airport, and we only get a packet of crisps and water on the flight; clearly this is why it was cheaper than the alternative airlines!

The usual money withdrawal issues at the airport, nothing worked apart from the Kalixa, lucky we brought 5 different cards…

Another fabulous hostel, Hostel Mundo Jovial Cathedral, right in the centre of town, and with a gloriously cheap bar on the top floor, less than £1 for beer, it is like University all over again :)

Felt like a whirlwind 48hrs, but suddenly we are 100’s of miles further North, sitting in the hostel bar overlooking the main square & Cathedral sipping chilled beer at 90p a bottle…. Have I died & gone ot heaven..?!

Day 52 – Fri 29th

Good Friday in Mexico City, we are delighted to find that most things are open – except the laundry, unfortunately – spent the day looking around the city, there are many beautiful buildings here, and the biggest square in the world (I think, don’t quote me).

We joined a free hostel walking tour to Chapultepec with Fernando from our hostel, followed by cuba libres and quesadillas with some lovely new people – I am happy to say that food is delightfully cheap and it doesn’t seem too difficult on my meat-free, wheat-free diet… Fernando also treated us to free tequilas in the hostel bar, a good day!

Tequila

Cool day in Mexico sitting seeing a castle (not… a fancy chateau in reality built for the one & only Austrian Emperor of Mexico!) & meeting cool people – Simon & Melodie in particular.

Day 53 – Sat 30th

Off to the Frida Kahlo museum in Coyoacan today, a long queue (unfortunately all the Mexicans are on holiday too), but interesting, as was the barrio in general. Then we made our way to the Aztec canals at Xochimilco for a ride in a Mexican gondola (tajinera), surrounded by Mariarchi bands, plant sellers, food venders and other assorted tradesman – I wonder if you could do all your shopping whilst water-borne?

Decided we were too lightweight and knackered for a very late night of drinking in Condessa – maybe tomorrow…

Frida you can keep, but the area (Coyoacan) was very pretty… & not surprisingly very expensive by Mexican standards I believe.  Tajinera was mad, fun – like Desperadoes goes waterborne… Mariarchitastic.  Place was full of drunk Mexicans partying & enjoying their Easter break – great fun.

Photos: Mexico City & Xochimilco

Day 54 – Sun 31st

Started the day by getting up early and having a row with the breakfast staff due to their utter rudeness and inefficiency – good Spanish practice – cheered up in time to see some of the museums around town.

Nice day chilling around the city & trying to prevent Tracey going Nuclear on the staff… even if they did deserve it! J

Day 55 – April 1st

Another early start, hooray! Caught the metro and then took the bus to Teotihuacan to save ourselves the $40 of a trip, I think the whole thing cost us $8 and luckily there seemed to be few people around. The site is very open (and super hot!), headed straight for the 32m Piramide del Sol, am hoping that my breathlessness is altitude related rather than simple unfitness…

Got back to the hostel for a desperately needed free shower and met up with our Mexico City resident and Angel Falls friend, Aron, who had just arrived back from Venezuela (very poor timing on our part!). Then zipped off to catch our overnight bus to Oaxaca, not so good, am not feeling so great, I suspect that I shouldn’t have eaten the lunchtime salad…

Tracey tours again proves to be a winner – getting us to the great Teotihuacan for thruppence ‘apeny.  My great plan to go straight to the biggest pyramids first avoiding all the overweight American tour parties’ works & we have them almost to ourselves.  The place is like two great pyramids placed on the surface of the moon. Hot, huge & hungry by the end of it.

Dinner with Aron, Simon, Melodie & friend was a lovely way to finish the day & Mexico City. We weren’t expecting much of Mexico City but ended up really enjoying it.

Photos: Teotihuacan

Day 56 – Tues 2nd

Well, I am glad we travelled ADO GL as I had a slightly unpleasant moment during the trip and was glad I only had to kneel on a nice clean, women only, bathroom floor during my bilious attack… Arrived super-early in Oaxaca, still feeling ropey, luckily our new room was ready for an additional nap. Managed to rouse myself with the prospect of sight-seeing about 1pm…

Oaxaca is beautiful with a lovely square in the centre, it also seems to be the world hub of wooden spoon selling activity, I was afforded the opportunity to buy more cucharitas (wooden spoons) than I could possibly ever use from a wide assortment of hopeful women and children within 10 minutes of arriving. Really, I DON’T NEED ANY!

The town was not only nice, but my saviour. The rather expensive wheeled rucksack, that I’d carefully researched & bought, crapped out on me when one of the wheels effectively fell off. Poor design as I politely pointed out by Email to the seller & producer of said product.

Managed to find washers, spacers & the correct size of Allen key &, along with my trusty new Swiss army knife (thanks Mum/ Dad, repaired said bag. I am feeling very manly today… what else can I fix..?!

Photos: Oaxaca

Day 57 – Wed 3rd

Monte Alban today, more ruins, more relentless lack of shade – though perhaps complaining about the heat when it has been snowing in London is a tad churlish… another overnight bus tonight…

Interesting ruins – far more amenable size than Teotihuacan.

Photos: Monte Alban

Day 59 – Thurs 4th & Fri 5th

San Cristobal de las Casas. Another cute cobbled street town with pretty colonial buildings. We really came here to see San Juan de Chamoula in the mountains, but it is also the Mexican centre for amber, plus turquoise & lapis lazuli it seems, who knew?

Took a horse ride up to San Juan with a monosyllabic teenager, perhaps we should just have plucked a random person from the street; I am sure they could have told us more about the town than our guide. Still, I suppose the budget nature of the trip meant that the agency needed to use child labour in oder to make a profit… The church in San Juan was amazing (sadly not allowed to take photos inside), the locals have merged belief in the catholic saints with their own religion, the walls are lined with saints in glass cases, the floors strewn with pine needles and candles, fabric hangs from the rafters and the people sit on the floor cleansing each other with herbs next to the odd sacrificed chicken. It was really amazing to see, though I cannot help worrying about the fire hazard…

Took the bus to Palenque and arrived very late, Keir’s rucksack wheel has broken again, he is not happy…

~~@@@@####XXXXX!!!!! Screw has come off the bag & axle has collapsed…. Caribee… you make rubbish rucksacks!!! Town was nice, but nothing to write home about… so I won’t! :)

Photos: San Cristobal de las Casas

Day 60 – Sat 6th

Had arranged to meet Melodie and Simon to do Palenque today, but we arrived somewhat late owing to my urgent need for breakfast, which turned out to be slightly ironic as they were staying in the same hostel as us… oops! We also bumped into Maaret, the Finnish girl we met in Oaxaca, staying at the hostel, I think everyone must stay be here!

Palenque was amazing, I think it is my favourite, more interesting buildings and a lovely jungle setting  … Another bus tonight, this time Merida…

Palenque ruins – fantastic jungle setting – best so far to date & great fun climbing around them & through tunnels with Simon & Melodie whilst talking in a mixture of French, English & Spanish. Liked the hostel & town as well – not very picturesque but fun.

Managed to get more washers, axles, nuts & bolts at a bike shop – who wouldn’t even except any money… so kind of them. Repairs are a bit Heath Robinson, but they’re holding together… idiotic design by Caribee… all they needed was a metal washer to spread the load around the axle point… cheap  cost saving.

Photos: Palenque

Day 61 – Sun 7th

Arrived in Merida, another attractive colonial town, very, very late due to the bloody ADO bus turning up an hour and a half late in Palenque, I am sorry to say that I became a little tired and emotional around 1am when it still hadn’t arrived.

Got to our lovely hostel (Nomadas) and signed up for a free cooking class to learn how to make corn tortillas. Apparently we use a maricona, ha ha, that is a bit too close to maricon, must be careful with that one :)

Loved the hostel in Merida – lots of cool people, nice pool & close to town. It was recommended by Simon & Melodie… think we owe them one.

Photos: Merida

Day 62 – Mon 8th

Decided to try a free yoga class today at 7:30 (I must really be feeling guilty about lack of exercise), then we headed off to Uxmal. Amazing site and I don’t think we saw more than 6 people the whole time we were there, now I am not sure if I prefer Palenque or Uxmal, though the former is much cheaper to get in! Very traumatic getting home though, we were told the bus was at 5pm, then someone told us 5:30…; at 6:15, after a massive row with Keir, I asked the hotel to call a cab, he told me the bus comes between 6:30 & 6:45. ******* hell.  Finally got home, both in foul moods.

Uxmal was beautiful – had the site to ourselves. V hot though. The Mayans in this part of Mexico carved the sculptures out of soft limestone, rather than made them out of Stucco, so they have survived in a far better state. Lots of geometric designs as well as carved faces & corner stones.

Massive row with Tracey on the way home whilst we waited for ever for a ‘Mañana’ bus.  My fault, so I’m grovelling for Britain… Brownie points at an all-time low… :(

Photos: Uxmal

Day 63 – Tues 9th

The plan was to go to Chichen Itza today, but unfortunately Keir’s navally trained cat-iron stomach has succumbed to what is locally known as ‘Montezuma’s revenge’. I decided it might be better for him and everyone else if he didn’t ride on a bus sans toilets for an hour and a half… Looked at some shops and re-planned instead :)

Spent the day laid up in bed… not sure if it’s ‘Montezuma’s revenge’, deli beli or Tracey’s Kismet…?!

Day 64, Wed 10th

Keir is feeling better, so Chichen Itza today! Dumped our bags in the free luggage storage (very handy to know that you can leave your big rucksack for free!) Very touristy, lots of hawkers and a few more people than we saw at Uxmal , but not too bad. No climbing on temples and no going inside though, disappointing. It is beautiful, but definitely not as exciting as Uxmal or Palenque.

Keir, in an unusually keen moment of research, had discovered that there was a cenote at Ikkil, a couple of kilometres away, so we snuck out and went there – it was gorgeous, a perfect circle cut out of the earth with a deep pool to swim in – before returning to Chichen for a late afternoon bus to Tulum.

Ikkil Cenote was the highlight of the day… v cool in both senses of the word! What made it even better were the little waterfalls dropping 10-12 metres into the pool on your head and the fish swimming around you.

Chichi was over hyped & full of tourist tours.

Ikkil Cenote near Chichen Itza (1)

Photos: Chichen Itza

Day 65, Thurs 11th

In a lovely hotel for a change, nice little bungalow rooms with a central garden and VERY noisy birds!

Decided to hire bikes to ride to the ruins north of the village – nearly acquired brakeless bikes by mistake; which, given my last experience at Fontainebleau when I managed to fall off 3 times, with associated grazes, would not have been advisable – Keir may have rescued me from certain death, and probably saved a few innocent bystanders too!

Tulum beach is stunning, we popped down to the sea for a quick dip half way through our visit –  much too rough to swim, but so beautiful – before riding off to the beach proper for a slightly smoother swim and a cocktail. I think this is the prettiest beach I have ever visited, and the bar had swings :).

Tulum was a lovely place – great little adobe hut bungalow that had birds tweeting from dusk ‘til dawn… think Tracey might get the shotgun out if they start too early!

Ruins were small, interesting & postcard picturesque… had fun jumping the waves on the beach.

The beach we rode to afterwards was sooo chilled – expanses of soft, white sand with pretty bars & cold beer in the dunes… have I died & gone to heaven?!

Photos: Tulum 

Day 66, Fri 12th

Last day in Tulum due to my relentless itinerary, so took our bikes down for lovely breakfast at Azafran and then to the Gran Cenote about 4km away, this would not have been so uncomfortable if my seat didn’t keep sinking and tilting down at the back… Luckily it was worth it! Not the perfect round sinkhole of Ikkil, but a wider area where we could swim through the cave (and bats) and see some little turtles, fab.

Nipped back for showers and check out and then caught the ADO bus to Chetumal and the chicken bus to Belize almost immediately afterwards. After congratulating ourselves on our good fortune we reached the border only to be told we had to pay departure tax to leave Mexico, now I had read about this, and supposedly it should be included in the airfare if you fly in. After some heated discussion, during which our luggage was chucked off the bus prior to it making a hasty departure, and the conclusion that we would not be able to prove payment (nor indeed pay, now that all of the banks were shut) the man let me write a letter explaining that we had paid and let us through. More excellent Spanish practice for me then! Walked across the border to Belize and got picked up by another bus to Orange Walk almost immediately – lucky!

Lovely day until the border crossing – but Tracey did a great job in arguing her point in  Spanish… all those years of practise arguing have finally paid off… Mum, Dad & Karen will be so pleased! J (think I’ve just lost all my Brownie points again!).

Day 67, Sat 13th

Trip to Lamanai, more ruins?, well this was supposed to be a spectacular boat ride, so, we thought it would be fun; it was nice, but not as incredible as the guide books had led me to believe. The river trip was pretty, the ruins too, and we saw a few howler monkeys and assorted birds, but it was not as spectacular as the Angel Falls boat trips, so I guess we are now ruined out and spoiled!

Enjoyed the boat trip… I would say that, I’m a sailor. Ruins were interesting but not sure it was worth the money nor the hype.

Day 68, Sun 14th

A lovely 4am chicken bus, in that ‘ish’ way that only developed countries seem to have. It came at 4:40. Actually not too bad as at least we were at the right bus stop, this seemed far from certain at the time, the bus came, and it was dirt cheap. We even managed to sleep a little as were lucky enough to get the seat near our luggage – just as well due to us having a tour at 8:15 and the bus arriving in San Ignacio at 8am… So, of course we were met by the dopiest receptionist in the world who didn’t have our booking, then gave us a room where he couldn’t find the key, finally someone else took over. (saying he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box was an understatement!) Luckily our guide was late.

So, today’s tour was the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave tour, I will let Keir tell you his ATM meaning… (google will reveal all…) with the interestingly named Carlos Panti. The tour was incredible, I cannot rate it highly enough, if you are In Belize, just do it, it is expensive, US$95, but we got to swim, wade and climb our way through a cave into a room with Mayan artefacts (and bones) that was pretty much as the archeologists found it. Carlos was a fantastic guide and it was really special to be able to walk into a place with 1000 year old relics. Sadly no cameras allowed after some tourist managed to smash a skull by dropping one, you’ll have to look it up on Wikipedia…

Are we mad, it’s 4 in the morning & we are standing on the corner of the street – where the hotel told us to wait for the through bus?  2 people have already told us it’s in a different place…

Fortunately they speak English here… so I can do the asking…. We are indeed in the right place as people start to gather… but ‘dis is Belize man, de bus don cum til later mun’… which indeed it did.

Cave tour was fantastic – one of a kind. Not sure you’d be allowed to do anything like this anywhere in the world. Carlos was deeply passionate about his history & conserving it… as well as a bit of a wag; so muchos fun!

 

Day 69, Mon 15th

And so to Guatemala…. Cabbed to the border and grabbed a colectivo for Qz30 (@£3) from Melchor to Flores, 50 miles for £3, take note London Transport! This was a super-quick border crossing, the cab took about 15 minutes and the actual border formalities about 2, there was hardly anyone there (if you are doing this, the colectivos stop at the first right-hand corner, and if you take that right there is an ATM 10- 15 minutes walk from there).

Flores is cute, set on an island (with a bridge) in Lake Peten, and it has tuk tuks. I wish we could stay for longer :)

Seem to be on a constant bus trip at the mo…. Like Flores though… more water….

Day 70, Tues 16th

Tikal, it is 100 degrees, but thank god there is shade. Pretty amazing, though we cannot climb up about 50% of the pyramids, that is actually ok, we were knackered at the end. Do temple IV first and the central plaza last, it was the most exciting bit to explore. We met a nice girl called Wysteria (unfortunate, but is it any worse than Tracey?) and saw some coatimundi (cross between & ant eater & a squirrel) and an oscillating turkey, bootiful.

Got the overnight bus to Antigua, Spanish lessons start tomorrow at 07:40!!!

Tikal was beautiful – very pretty & very extensive without being over large.  A combination of impressive restored pyramids & overgrown ruins that were still part of the jungle.

By the end of the day though we were exhausted & ruined out.  Poor meal there in a rubbish restaurant slightly ruined it (no pun intended!).

Day 71, Wed 17th

Well, that didn’t go according to plan at all… the Linea Dorada bus worked perfectly, but the so-called hour long ‘shuttle’ to Antigua that we bought ‘to save time’, turned out to be a colectivo that had to wait 2 hours in Guatemala City for another, very late, bus to arrive. So, we waited from 5:30 until 8am and then we left for Antigua…. great.

Spanish lessons started late, but at least we managed a couple of hours. I now realise just how much I have forgotten…

Antigua is very pretty, more churches, of course :)

Direct shuttle, my #rse!

Still, got to Antigua & hostel seems nice & started Spanish lessons… slightly scary!

Amabilia, my teacher is lovely… & fortunately, very patient.

Day 72, Thursday 18th

Spanish again today, Keir starts earlier than me, which means I get to have nice breakfast before school, this is good.

Had a free supper at school today, free Cuba Libres AND a free salsa lesson – lots of spinning, and a bit of sweating on my part – I really must be unfit…  Met some nice Quebecois Canadians, an interesting South African and a few Americans. I drank too much rum…

Not surprisingly, Tracey negotiated to start later (not that she mentioned it to me!). So, I’m up at 6.45 & hurry off to school whilst she lounges around in bed & has a leisurely breakfast!

We seem to have changed our location but not our situation…!

Enjoying Spanish lessons; having done French at school is a help & a hindrance… good with understanding the words but bad for the pronunciation.

Day 73, Friday 19th

Lessons in the morning, then lunch with kids from a local school, where our school is somehow helping…. Have done our good deed for the day :). Shopped around for transfers to Lago Atitlan tomorrow, and cake.

Dinner in Av. 5 Norte, which seems to be one of the more interesting streets, we were suitably entertained by a fantastic guitar-playing singer, lots of great Latin music, some Reggae and some Frank Sinatra – not sure the last was entirely successful, but his voice really suited the other two and anyone who covers “Chan Chan” is alright in my book.

Guitar player cool, school’s great – looking forward to a weekend round a reportedly beautiful lake.