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Goodbye Mexico, Hello Belizean Paradise


View World Tour 2022 on Glichez's travel map.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Today's only plan was to get from Cacun to the town of Playa del Carmen, which is roughly an hour to the south.   There are several shuttles that offer the transfer service, but they cost $60-$80, which is outrageous.  Instead, I booked a ticket on the ADO bus line, which runs from downtown Cancun to Playa del Carmen.

Since I was staying in the hotel zone in Cancun, I planned to take a taxi or Uber to the bus station downtown.   I quickly ruled out Uber after reading about the difficulties with the service in Mexico.   When I asked about a taxi at my hostel reception, they said it would cost $60 to the bus station, which I thought was ridiculous and untrue.   I tried contacting several taxi services in the area, but none of them had taxis available near me.  

So, I had to take the local bus to downtown.  It was easy enough to flag down the bus along the main boulevard, and the driver dropped me right next to the bus station as well.   It was just very stressful to do it all last minute.

I waited roughly an hour at the bus station before boarding the bus to Playa del Carmen.  The bus was rather empty, though it reeked of piss.  I was eager to get off the bus once we arrived, around 15:30.

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The starting point for my guided tour through Central America was a hotel/hostel a 5-minute walk from the bus station.   I got checked in and was walking to my room, when I slipped on a small puddle of water and banged up my toe (small cut, lots of bleeding).  Thankfully I got it cleaned ad bandaged right away.

The hotel room... was so-so.  It was a hostel room, with four of us on the tour sharing the room.   I don't have high expectations for hostels, but this one was below where I would normally stay. 

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I passed the rest of the afternoon reading ("The Fountainhead") and relaxing.

The tour group all met up at the hostel bar at 18:30 for our orientation meeting.  Our tour leader, Hugo, seems very nice, funny and knowledgeable.    The group has people from all over (Germany, Netherlands, Iceland, Canada, and one other American).  

After the meeting, we went out for dinner at a local restaurant the Hugo knew about.   I ordered a burrito, which was delicious!   After dinner, some in the group went out drinking, while I went back to the hostel to rest.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

I was up at 06:00 this morning so I could join two other people from the group to go to the Tulum Mayan ruins.   Hugo was organizing a full day tour to the ruins and some cenotes (swimming holes), but it was rather expensive.   Most of the group was joining Hugo, but Stan, DiDi and I decided to visit the ruins on our own.

We walked over to a small local shuttle stop where we caught a collectivo van.   It was full of locals heading from Playa del Carmen to the city of Tulum.   We rode for roughly 40 minutes and then the can dropped us on the side of the road, across from ruins entrance.  We walked about 1km to the ticket office and set off to explore the ruins.

Tulum is a smaller complex than Chichen Itza, but it was no less stunning.  They are located on a small cliff overlooking the ocean.  The beach area itself was closed, so we were unable to walk down there for pictures.

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We spent about an hour wandering about, seeing dozens of lizards along the way.  We also ran into Hugo at one point, but the rest of the group was elsewhere in the ruins.

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After taking the van back to Playa del Carmen, we made a quick stop at a supermarket to get some snacks before heading back to the hostel.   I spent the remainder of the afternoon reading some more before walked around the town. 

At the beach, some street performers were playing music and swinging about atop a very tall pillar.  It was mesmerizing to watch.

At the beach, I ran into Taylor from the group and we walked around a bit.  We then met up with some others from the group and went out to get churros for a snack.    The poor woman running the churro shop, called The Fucking Churros, was overwhelmed by our large group, but she made some excellent churros!

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At our briefing meeting that evening, we were told that we had an early departure the next morning, at 06:00, to head to Belize.   I skipped the group dinner tonight and just had some nachos at the hostel bar before bed.

Monday, June 6, 2022

This morning dawned early and it was a struggle to get up and get going.   I'd packed the night before, so it was easy to simply head down to the meeting point.  There was no breakfast option for this morning as everything was still closed, but we were told we'd stop at a grocery store along the way.

The shuttle van we had was highly uncomfortable for everyone.  The seats were narrow with hardly any legroom, which was an issue for many of the taller people.   The AC was also rather weak, so we had a rough drive ahead of us.

After driving for two hours, we stopped at the grocery store, which had a limited selection of food.  Our break lasted 15 minutes before we climbed back into the van for the remaining two-hour drive to the border with Belize.

Crossing the border was much faster than anticipated, thankfully!   The customs officers didn't search out bags, which saved us a considerable amount of time. 

Our van left us at the Belizian immigration office and we met up with our new drivers on the other side.   The two new vans were smaller, so we had to split up the group, but they were much more comfortable for the three hours it took to reach Belize City.

We arrived at the ferry terminal at 13:00 and caught the 1-hour ferry to Caye Caulker at 13:30.   Upon arrival at the island, we first walked to a local restaurant to place an order for food (our first real meal of the day), and then we continued to the hostel for check-in while our food was prepared.

The hostel here has only three rooms for our group, so all six of us men were roomed together.  Needless to say, it is close quarters.  The hostel is located right on the beach, but unfortunately the beach is coveted in seaweed at the moment.

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At 16:15 we finally had our meal at the restaurant; I had chicken fingers with coleslaw.  It was so good!

With our early dinner concluded, Hugo walked us through the small town.   There are no paved roads or cars on the island, save for the golf carts.   The island itself is only six miles long, with a canal called "The Split" diving it in two.   The area we are in is only two miles long, so the orientation walk was short.

The walk ended at The Split, where we orders some drinks (I had a piña colada) and we sat along the water.

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A few of us went back to the hostel to sleep, while some others went out for drinks.  Unfortunately, the door to our dorm room was very squeaky and I woke up each time someone came back throughout the evening.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

This morning I was woken up repeatedly as some of the guys got up at 5am, to watch the sunrise (I believe).   It was not a good night of sleep, so I struggled to get going this morning. Most of the group was going on an all day snorkeling trip, which didn't interest me much, so I opted to just spend the day relaxing around the island.

My first stop was Errolyn's House Of Fryjacks for breakfast, where I had a fry jack filled with egg, ham and cheese.  It was delicious and the perfect way to start the day.

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Afterwards, I went to a nearby cafe to have some coffee and spend some time reading.  I spent several hours there before heading down to the Split.   I had a drink at the Lazy Lizard, which was just ok.  The bar was overpriced for my taste, but the views over the water were quite nice.

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My next stop of the day was another little coffee shop called Ice and Beans.  I had a Nutella Frappuccino and a small bag of their mini-donuts.   This too was right on the beach, and there was a refreshing breeze blowing that cooled me down while I relaxed.  I spent much of the next few hours wiring this blog entry and doing a bit more reading.

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Returning to the hostel, I took a much needed, and refreshing, cool shower, before spending some time recouping after the hot day.  Between yesterday and today, I think I over did it in the sun and didn't hydrate enough.  Added to that was exhaustion from several nights of poor sleeping.  I had a headache and I felt utterly drained.  I drank oodles of water over the course of the afternoon and evening to help recover.

Much of the tour group was meeting Hugo at a restaurant for dinner, but I opted out of it.  Instead, I went to get some ice cream from a local shop.  I ordered a waffle cone with a scoop of Baileys ice cream and a scoop of caramel crunch.  It was the perfect treat for the evening!

I spent the rest of the evening relaxing at the hostel before going to be early.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

I woke up around 06:00 this morning feeling refreshed and fully recovered from the previous day.  I was glad of it because I was worried that I may have gotten sick, which would require a PCR Covid test per the tour company's policies (and I'd have to pay for a private room until the results came in). My worries were unnecessary thankfully - I wasn't sick at all, just heat exhaustion.

A few of the guys and I headed over to Ice and Beans for morning coffee.  No one had any definite plans for the day other than to go slow and relax.  Julian, Jules and I then went to have fry jacks for breakfast.  This was their first taste of a fry jack and they enjoyed them as much as me.

We parted ways after breakfast: they returned to the hostel, while I went to do some more reading.  Today was cooler than yesterday, which made relaxing more enjoyable. 

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Thursday, June 9, 2022

This morning was another relaxed affair, with out departure from Caye Caulker scheduled for 10:30, leaving us plenty of time for breakfast. 

Stan and I walked over yo have fry jacks and then went to Ice and Beans for some coffee on the beach.  Several other people from the tour were there as well, so we spent some time chatting about what we'd been doing on the island.  

The ferry ride back to the mainland was chopper than the ride over, but thankfully I didn't get seasick!   Once back on land, we boarded two small vans for the two hour ride to San Ignacio.

San Ignacio is a small town that many tourists visit in order to visit some of the natural sights in the area.  For tomorrow, we had the option to pick between four different cave experiences, but they didn't particularly appeal to me or my interests.

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I went to have a banana smoothie at a small cafe in the town square during the afternoon.   I needed some time to myself as I was not having a good day. I think the heat and exhaustion has just finally caught up with me.  I was hot, tired and a bit cranky when we arrived today.  Then we discovered that the hostel in San Ignacio has the AC on only in the evening, so we had nowhere to get a brief reprieve.  I'm not the only one in the group who was upset.

The entire group met at 17:30 to head to a local Mayan village for the evening.  This is one of many local projects around the world that the tour company supports and brings their tour groups to visit.  This village is focused on reviving Mayan cultural traditions, especially the pottery, which was lost for a long time.   We were given some background on the village, as well as an explanation about how they make the pottery.  This was exactly what I've been wanting on the tour: I'm getting to learn about the people, the history, and the culture!

Then we had the chance to make our own clay pots using the coil technique.   I was reminded of art class in elementary school!   We all had great fun attempting to make pots.   Some in the group were more successful than others.  Mine turned out so-so: it looked like a pot, but there were so many cracks in it that it would never hold much water. 

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Finally, we had an included dinner at the village, which consisted of vegetables, beans, tortillas, chicken, and a fruit drink that tasted like cherries.  It was delicious - I could have happily had a second helping!

It was 21:00 by the time we returned to the hostel.   We had been told that the AC would be turned on at 19:00, but that hadn't happened, resulting in our rooms being nearly 30 °C (85 °F).   Unfortunately for us six guys in the group, we were told that the AC unit in our room was not very strong.   The manager set it to 19 °C...

We spent some time hanging out and chatting in the lounge area, waiting for the room to cool down.   By the time I went to bed at 23:00, our room hadn't cooled down at all.   I lay in the bed in just my boxers, sweating profusely: the pillow and bed were quickly soaked with sweat.  Stan was in his bed, which was directly under the AC unit, and he felt the same as me.   We managed to get the AC fan to move, so it would occasionally blow the hot air across those of us in the top bunks.   We were all in for a very hot and restless night.

Friday, June 10, 2022

This morning began early as everyone had big plans for the day. Several people were going to the Crystal Caves excursion, which involves hiking and crawling throughout an extensive cave network, while a few others had opted for the ATM cave adventure, where they would swim and hike throughout the caves.

A group of eight of us decided to visit the nearby Xunantunich Mayan ruins. We met at 07:30 to wait for the local bus that would take us the 20 minutes to the site of the ruins. When the bus arrived, I was surprised to find that it was an old school bus, just like from elementary school. The ride over was quick and easy, and soon we were dropped off by the small ferry that would take us across the river. The ferry itself was tiny and operated by hand crank and pulleys on two ropes suspended over the river.

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Once across the river, we began the mile-long walk uphill to the ruins. The walk was pleasant and we got to see lots of cows grazing in the nearby fields. The weather was already hot and humid, so we were all sweaty by the time we reached the ruins themselves.

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The Xunantunich ruins were spectacular!! From the first view of the various temples and buildings, I was stunned and in awe. Unlike at Chichen Itza, we could climb and walk around almost anywhere we wanted at the ruins. There was a small area that was being actively excavated and we spoke with one of the volunteers there for a little bit; she told us about their work and what they are studying within the ruins.

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Then we began the climb up the huge temple. We had to use the original steps that the Mayans built for the temple, which were tall and steep. We could stop at various different levels along the way to admire the view over the ruins. The final section was a bit scary for me due to my fear of heights. There were no guardrails or anything, just the steep steps going up and up. I took my time and two of the people with me (Julian and Helen) were very kind to me, offering a hand up so I'd feel more secure. The climb (and the fear) was well worth it though: the view over the ruins and the surrounding forest was breathtaking.

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The climb back down was equally harrowing, but I clung tightly to the one railing that ran down a different staircase and inched my way back down. Having seen the ruins, we walked back down to the ferry and waited for the bus back to town.

Once we got back to San Ignacio, we went our separate ways for lunch, planning to meet back at the hostel later in the afternoon. I had a chicken quesadilla and an iced coffee (which came with ice cream inside the glass!). It was refreshing and gave me some much needed energy for the rest of the day. The afternoon was a relaxed affair, just hanging out around the hostel and not doing much. I made a run to a nearby ice cream shop at one point.

At 16:45, three of us (Julian, Jules, and me) went to a chocolate experience nearby. This proved equally as interesting as the ruins from earlier in the day. The people running the company are Mayan and they still farm the cocoa beans in the southern part of Belize. We were given a brief history of how the Mayans used the cocoa bean, before the tasting portion began.

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Up first, we picked out a raw seed from one of the large cocoa bean. The seeds are somewhat slimy, but entirely edible. The raw bean itself had little flavor; it wasn't good or bad, but apparently the Mayans used to eat the beans quite a lot.

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The next step was trying the beans after they've been roasted and had the skin peeled off. We got to eat the dry, roasted bean, which had a bitter tastes. The flakes of the skin are called the nibs, which we were able to try as well (again, bitter).

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The ladies at the center then gave us a demonstration on how they would take the roasted beans and grind them up into a paste. They were very fast with the tools and I was amazed to see how much moisture was still retained by the beans. We all had the opportunity to try grinding up the beans into the cocoa paste. The beans were finally starting to resemble something like chocolate!

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Once the beans were thoroughly ground and the paste was formed, we were given small spoonfuls of the paste in our bowls so we would try it – very bitter! Hot water was then poured over the paste and we mixed it together. The water made the paste into a drink, but did nothing to improve the bitterness. Then some honey was added, which made it sweet. Finally, some spice was added to the drink, and it finally resembled what we know to be chocolate. It was still bitter, but no more than a 70% dark chocolate candy bar. We were told that the Mayans would add whatever they had available to the drink, not just honey, etc.

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The final drink was to demonstrate how Europeans used to drink the chocolate when they were first introduced to it. Again, we got the cocoa paste with hot water, but this time nutmeg and allspice was added to it. The drink was still too bitter, so we added some honey to it. It was a good drink, but the first one was still better.

This concluded our chocolate experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed it!

When we returned to the hostel, it was time for dinner. Jules had organized the efforts to cook a dinner for the entire group at the hostel, buying the ingredients for pasta carbonara at the local supermarket. He was brilliant in the kitchen and it was fun to just hang out and bond more with the group during the evening. There wasn't a serving bowl large enough for the pasta, so Jules improvised and cut apart a water jug! The pasta itself was very good – Jules is a talent chef! Hugo bought some rum and made us all some rum punch to enjoy with the meal.

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By bed time, we were all very tired and we needed to get to sleep early for our early departure for Guatemala in the morning. The AC in our dorm room was still very poor and it was another hot, sweaty, and restless evening.

Posted by Glichez 14:07 Archived in Belize

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