AC Team – Semuc Champeyons!

A travelling tale.

We were excited to travel on to Lanquin to see the amazing Semuc Champey – the highlight of many a traveller’s trip to Guatemala. Amazing stepped pools carved out of limestone by a huge river, bright blue and transparent. Caves you can tour through by candlelight. A look-out you can hike to. “Exciting”, “Stunning”, “Scary”.. we read.

Our expectations looked like this:

The day started without incident. The shuttle picked us up at 8am for the 8 hour journey. We’d paid a little more (Q50 each) to get an AC van, 8 hours seemed worthy of a little comfort. 6 others joined us and off we went.

After a couple of hours the bus boards a ferry to make a short hop across a river. And 30mins after this we get to a group of men who have put rocks across the road. The driver chats briefly, they move the rocks and on we go. A girl who can speak Spanish asks the driver what the blockade was for, he doesn’t know. But 10 minutes further, there is a bigger group of men and a larger blockade. Again, they open it for us.

We come into a little town and we’re pointing out to each other that the town is absolutely FULL of men. No women, just hundreds and hundreds of men standing around, chatting, eating at stalls, sitting on the grass verge. It is really eery.

After various mobile calls, the driver stops the van and announces “There is a protest, we cannot get through. It will last 5 hours. There is a lake nearby that we can go to. We’ll just wait for another tourist bus behind us and go together.”

8 of us are a bit surprised, but think it might be fun to hang out by the lake. We get there and set out sleeping bags and sarongs to sit on. The locals are swimming, washing clothes in the lake and mostly staring at us wondering why Gringos have visited for the day. There is rubbish everywhere, a couple of horses grazing, pigs shuffling through litter – but the lake is quite pretty. We share fruit, crisps, drinks that we had for the journey, introduce ourselves (Kitto, Sophie, Ed, Maisie, Ben, Chardae, Emily and Jim), play cards and laugh – A LOT. Lucked out on the funny bus. The second class citizens (the non-AC shuttle bus gang) had gone a different direction further down the hill by the lake – like a strange social experiment we’d established two camps, with us looking down at them.

After an hour or so the 8 of us go into town and get lunch from a stall, and the boys amazingly find beer (no alcohol was being sold because of the incendiary nature of an inconvenienced and angry male hoard). Sophie (our designated Spanish speaker) talks to some ladies that tell her the protest is actually going to be between 3 and 5 days!! Oh. No. Most people are on a tight schedule and want to get there the same day, no one wants to spend days on a shuttle bus. And so, the big debate ensues with the drivers:

  1. Can we go another route? No, there is only one road.
  2. Can we go back? No, the ferry is closed as part of the protest.
  3. Can we get through by any means (i.e. bribery)? No, rocks will be thrown at us.
  4. Can a shuttle from the company meet us at the other side? No, its not their problem.

The best idea seemed to be to drive to the main blockade and see if we can bribe anyone, or simply pick up a lift from someone stuck the other side of the barrier (ideally a tourist shuttle). Sophie, Ed, Ben and Chardae leave us behind to check this out, and find us a cattle truck driver willing to take us all (including the other shuttle bus) to our destination that day. Hurrah! We decamp from our nice AC van, backpacks on, walk across the protest line and haul ourselves into the truck. Off we go! Roaring with laughter, hip-hooraying Sophie, Ed, Ben and Chardae as we pull away, and welcoming a gang of locals who jump on board, sitting on the sides of the truck… abandoning their own protest.

Everyone had contributed Q100 to pay the driver, and with the left over kitty we stopped to buy beers and crisps. So, as the sun set, you could hear the chorus of 23 Gringos chatting – “THIS is amazing”, “I love it!” –  choruses of songs as we all sang – and the regular chorus “I need the loo!”. Was pretty glad for the first loo stop… OMG! An entire day without a loo at a bad time of the month. At the risk of too much information… it was at the side of the road, I did see a tarantula run for his life, I’m thankful for wet wipes and apologetic to any road-sweeper (I can’t imagine there are any TBH).

We sweep through villages singing at the top of our lungs into the darkness. Not the usual way you travel Guatemala at night as a foreigner, its a dangerous country. We admire a lightening storm we can see in the distance, amazing fork lightening. We stop for dinner in a medium sized town.

And then…. the rain comes.

At first its not too bad, you imagine a shower and think “its warm, no matter”.

But then it buckets down – yes, it is as if someone is throwing a bucket of water on you continuously – for another 3 or 4 hours. I’m not sure how to describe it, other than imagine you jump in the swimming pool with your backpack on. That’s it.

We have no choice, we have to keep going. We can’t go back, only forward. There is nothing around, only little villages with no sign of life. At first spirits are still high, Ben and Ed are joking about being the worst tour guides ever for taking us on this tour. We climb around mountain passes, illuminated fleetingly with the lightning (along with the drop to the right into nowhere), and the cattle truck 4-wheel drives its way through rivers that were once dirt roads. Thank God for a big truck I guess.

Eventually everyone is silent, each steeling ourselves against the elements… there is no point doing anything but huddling for warmth and plumbing your inner reserves of resilience.

And on… and on… and on…

We did make it. After a slightly heated conversation with the staff who gave our room to someone else despite our protests (they had to later switch), we got into a room. No electricity, no hot water, no towels. Using our head-torches, we pulled a few sodding things from bags (passport, money) to try and dry them, attempted to ignore the ants and cockroaches, and got into bed to try and warm up.

I wish I could say this arduous journey was worth it, that Semuc Champey was wonderous, but the rain continued all night and all the next day. No tours running. No chance for drying anything in the dank air (pretty much everything but our clothes was soaked, and the clothes are mostly dirty at this point). Difficult choice to make. Stay one or more days and hope the weather clears, put up with the cockroaches in the room and unreliable electrics … vs cut your losses and get out of there. We booked the shuttle to Lago de Atitlan for the next morning at 8am.

The electricity did come back on about 3pm so we managed to get all our clothes into the laundry, and met the AC gang again for cards and beers in the evening. But it proved to be a good decision to up and off the next day – the day was still overcast and rainy, and whilst a few of the gang stayed and did a cave tour, they said it was fairly dangerous, the blue pools were brown and I believe you couldn’t swim because of the fast flowing water.

Weather 2 – Jimily 0

Although.. as it turns out… we met some awesome people and we all met up at Lago de Atitlan a few days later. As they say, the journey is as important as the destination.. and this one was definitely worth it, just not for the reason we’d expected.


Click on the photos in this slideshow to browse the pics…. 😉




Professional Tikal-ing

From Caye Caulker we spent the best part of a day on boat (8-9am) and then bus (10.30-4.30pm) to get across the border and to Flores in Guatemala.

After boarding the bus we had a nice introductory speech to give us a flavour of what we’re in for in Guatemala:

“The driver is not allowed to stop anywhere but in St Ignacio for the ATM, the border, and Flores. He is not allowed to pick anyone up. He will be fined $400 (US) if he does.

You have to pay an exit tax 37.50BZ each, that’s why we normally stop at the ATM.

I advise you to change all your last BZ to Quetzals because BZ is useless in Guatemala. Lots of people will approach you at the border to change money, it won’t be the best rate but we advise that you actually use them.

Don’t leave anything on the bus while you go through the border. Your bags down below are fine, they won’t be tampered with – but don’t leave anything up here (we’ve seen things go missing).

It is illegal for the Guatemalan officials to ask for an entry tax at the Guatemalan border, and I used to advise against doing so (its a scam) – BUT, we are now finding the officials don’t stamp your passport (or put the wrong date on it) if you don’t pay. So now, I know you have your principles, but I advise you just to pay the Q20 to save any hassle – and to check your stamp!

Last thing, if you need the bathroom – go this side of the border, its clean. I won’t say anything more.”

Well, OK. Interesting.

As we near the border, the driver stops so his mate can get out and pick up his laundry. Hmm. Then he stops again so his mate can pick up a sack of potatoes. Ahem.

We get across the border with no issues, the bus waits while you pay money at different counters and get passports stamped.

We’re a bit apprehensive now we’re in Guatemala, there are stories of hold ups and robberies of tourists – but not normally on this size bus. Still, money belt on, cards hidden in secret pockets etc. The tarmac road turns to dirt track for a good few kilometres as we travel through lush green landscapes, forests and lakes. The stray dogs everywhere don’t seem perturbed by the 47-seater bus hurtling towards them (we find out later that this makes for some interesting road kill discoveries).

As we near Flores, the driver takes the third exit on a roundabout to stop at a particular petrol station (i.e. goes back on himself). A van and 2 tuk tuks are waiting. 3 people get on the bus and go right to the back, then start bringing down boxes and boxes and bags and bags of goods, and piling them into the tuk tuks. This went on for a good 10 minutes, so much stuff had been hiding down the back of the bus its a wonder any passengers fit in.

Eventually we get into shuttle vans to take us across the short stretch into the middle of Lake Petén Itzá, and into the tiny town of Flores. Very cute, you can walk around in about 15 minutes. Hostels, hotels, restaurants mostly.

We wanted to book a tour straight away so tried the local ATM to get some money for food + tour. Not working. The tour company dude took us back across to St Elena to try ATMs there, no luck. After trying 5, we returned back  – apologising to the guy who’d been driving us to each in turn, and vowing to come back to him when we found money.

Bit concerning not having any money, at all – but the hotel accepted credit card and we managed to find street food for £2.50 (for us both) to fill us up. Thank god we changed our Belize dollars at the border to get some spending cash. And Praise Be! for Guatemalan cheapness.

We did eventually find money the next morning in the local ATM, but too late to take the tour. So, with cheap beer in front of us… we thought we’d just relax, check out a few bars on the island and look at the view (which included an ‘arco iris’ at one point! Rainbow!).

Next day was fairly difficult. Groan. Eventually made it out for cheeseburgers so we could take our malaria meds, but otherwise the day consisted of watching the Grand Prix and Netflix, and wondering why we bought Bacardi Breezers home when neither of us like them and we have no fridge. Also surprised by how many people in Flores knew us after our bar crawl… restauranteurs were asking “where were you, you said you’d come back?” and the shop security guard was smiling and chatting… ha ha ha.

Monday we were up at 4am to get off to Tikal. After what must be the typical start (2 boys weren’t out of bed in time for the shuttle and had to be woken up,  4 people hadn’t brought enough money to get into the park etc) we started the tour about 7am.

Incredible place. Think Tikal ranks second on our tour of Mayan Archeology sites. Can’t quite beat the beauty and decoration of Uxmal, but Tikal is special for the different thoughts it evokes. You find yourself less in contemplation about the scale and achievement (although it is most definitely there), less in wonder at the sheer number of buildings in such a small area (which is more impressive than Chichen Itzá) but rather in that childlike excited reverie borne of finding a lost civilisation subsumed by the jungle and shrouded in mist.

The jungle setting and the amount of buildings clearly evident but not yet rescued and restored make you feel as if you are the discoverer, you’re there at the moment when this incredible place was discovered. And it wasn’t just one discovery, the first explorers would have found pyramid after pyramid after temple after temple here. It really is an indulgence of archeology. I feel like we’ve overdosed.

We had a little game of Hide and Seek while exploring – we were the only people at many of the sites, exciting! Spot one of us in each of these photos.

And some other photos….


As I’m writing this blog I’m somewhat ironically also reading this article on my mobile, while Jim reads the news on his and checks out reviews of places to eat in San Pedro:

Travel has become another exercise in narcissistic presentation, one more way of desperately extracting some semblance of uniqueness out of your otherwise soul-crushingly mediocre existence.

In a homogenising, fast-paced world, our appetite for foreknowledge has demystified foreign places. Yet the axiom that all ‘travel’ is transformative persists.

The writer does extoll a view that we’ve also started to form through meeting other travellers on this same well-worn trail, and the amount of people in our social circle who have been here before us and comment on the photos we share. Its why this feels like a holiday, not a transformative experience. You can make everything ‘safe’ by reading a hundred blogs and reviews before you start. And the well-worn trail gives rise to international food, established tourist services, the opportunity to buy most of the stuff you can get at home… the opportunity to get away with speaking English.

The advice seems to be to try ayahuasca instead.

And yet, we’re happy to be on the well-worn trail. We don’t need this to make us interesting (I hope). Its more about a change from monotony, letting the brain do something else other than forcibly work at the same thing day-in day-out, fire different synapses, be creative, learn something new. Who needs uniqueness, I’d settle for a break.


I Don’t Belize It!


1. Snorkelling (for us, anyway)

We arrived in Caye Caulker at the same time as a cold front. Overcast first day was fine, we watched Eng v Slovenia in the sports bar and chatted to people, and then enjoyed our beautiful accommodation (Maxhapan Cabanas) and the cheap coconut rum we bought in one of the many Chinese-run supermarkets on the island (strange cornering of the market!). We extended our original 5 night booking to 7, imagining we had plenty of time to get out on a tour. In particular we wanted to go out for the day on a sail boat to Hol Chan, Shark Alley and Coral Gardens.

Second day was full on storm, again not a concern as we were recovering ;-).

Third day was hot but windy – we tried a bit of snorkelling up at “The Split” between North and South islands, but the water was very murky and the current strong so couldn’t really see much.

The remaining days have been either full on storm (when the tours don’t run), or its still too rainy and choppy for us to enjoy one. Seen a good few people using their initiative and simply cycle around in their wet suits.

Weather 1 – Jimily 0


2. Eat expensive food

We’re over-budget. We’re not quite sure by how much because we are in the more expensive countries, but we’re concerned enough to enact some spending cuts (or, as Dan calls it, our “Mozzterity Package”).

2 meals a day are at home (bread + philly cheese + chilli sauce + pringles = fine at any hour!).

Other Budget Choices:

  • Breakfast: the only breakfast we’ve eaten out was a Fry Jack – traditional Belizian cuisine and naughty! Fried bread with any combination of eggs, cheese, chicken, beans and ham. You know its bad if your hands get covered in grease as you eat it. Yum. 3.50BLZ (there are 3 BLZ to a pound).
  • Lunch: jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheese at the Sports Bar (about 12ish BLZ – expensive!), or lovely lamb pitta with herbs and salsa at Alladin’s, up near the Split (13 BLZ) – they also do a lovely fruit smoothie. Highlight, however, was fried chicken at Syds (9 BLZ) – so good we had it two lunchtimes in a row. Delicious quarter chicken in breadcrumb coating, mash and coleslaw. “Pick at the bones way longer than you should” kind of good.
  • Snacks: There are a few vendors that cycle or push their carts around a route up and down the island. We’ve heard the Tamales Man (“hot tamales, hot tamales”) from our cabin at the weekend, but never actually tried one. Shame. We’ve also heard (and now tried) the “Meat pie, meat pie” man – he does a meat pie for 1 BLZ each (you’ll need 3), and a lovely banana cake for 4 BLZ. Apparently there are others but we haven’t seen them. Rain might be involved here.
  • Dinner: Bit too expensive for us. Most expensive was on our first night at Little Kitchen. We had lobster (Jerk and Creole) with rice and beans and plantain for 25BLZ each. Cute place though, looking at stars. Everything else seemed to be shut and it was only 9pm (eat early here). We also had red snapper (in delicious coconut curry sauce) and barracuda steaks at Enjoy Restaurant for 20 BLZ each. Ostensibly cheap, especially for seafood, especially compared to London – but that tells you the nature of the budget cuts!


3. Celebrate Garifuna

The 19th is a public holiday in Belize to celebrate the arrival and settlement of the Garinagu here. We asked a few people about it and apparently “it is not celebrated by everyone but by some”. We dolled up on the evening prior to see what was going on – our “landlady” had her two friends over and were doing the same – but everything seemed pretty quiet to us, plus it was raining, so we came home. We did have a choice of Pizza Caulker, which looked busy but we’d read terrible reviews of the owner, or I&I Reggae Bar and then Oceanside (the only “party” options it seems). Plied with enough booze we probably would have done all of this – but, alas, sensible Mozzterity terms are in play. Rain might also be involved here.

Our Landlady and her giggling friends rocked up about 2am in the morning so clearly had the inside knowledge!

We heard the music and drums somewhere in the distance all through the night. Nice someone was getting down.


4. Speak Spanish

Belize used to be British Honduras, so yes – everyone speaks English. Its a lovely Caribbean lilt with spanish and local dialect thrown in, in the same sentence it seems! Nice change but our tiny Spanish vocab is already diminished. Hey ho. On to Spanish lessons!


5. Breathe Traffic Fumes

No cars! Everyone cycles bikes, walks or uses golf buggies. No fumes! Sometimes no shoes. Very cool.


6.  Hang Out at the Lazy Lizard

This place sounded awesome. A bar right up at the Split. During the day we’ve read how people hang out on the wooden piers and drink a beer, sunbathe and snorkel. And then hang out at night, drink a beer, listen to music and fish. This sounded like the kind of place we could spend a lot of time at and have a laugh. But, alas, Lazy Lizard has been shut down. Why??? A “load of shit” was the reason proffered by a couple we met who work here running tours. The building is still there but no one is allowed to do business in that area now since the land was sold and permission to put up a hotel there was granted. Despite a lease already having been granted to the people running the Lazy Lizard. Lots of palms greased in this part of the world.. and not just because Fry Jacks are a traditional dish.


7. Meet People

I find the lack of going out, going on tours and budget does limit your chances to meet people doing similar. Plus the crowds we see out having dinner or in the sports bar seem to be older tourists rather than, err, backpackers. Not sure we’ve actually qualified as travellers yet.

Oh yes, and one of our Mozzterity cuts is to drink rum at home. Hmmm.


8. Take Photos

I find the lack of going out, going on tours, budget and sunshine does limit the use of your camera. Waiting for that sunny day to show the place and your activities off in a good light? Oh.


9. Miss out on Staying at Maxhapan Cabanas

Thank goodness we are staying somewhere so utterly charming, for 55US per night, with an owner (Louise) who does everything herself and is incredibly sweet.

The cabins are perfect – hot water, good wifi, cable, clean beds, microwave and fridge, plenty of space, verandah with chairs and hammock – its hard to fault. Plates and cutlery would be awesome, but you start to pay more money for ‘full kitchen’ style cabins.

On our first day Louise didn’t just clean our room, but she tidied all our things and hung our clothes up. She says “that’s all part of the service you get here”.

Bikes also included for free and two beach towels for $5.

So, we were able to treat this place like home for a week and take a break from rushing about or moving. Doing lots of research of next steps and future countries, reading, watching films. Lovely.There’s nothing like a tropical rain storm for a bit of introspection and relaxation. We must be the least adventurous backpackers Louise has ever met.

… AND! Yes, you can flush your loo paper down the loo at Maxhapan! Bonus. Took a while to remember :-/


10. Go Fast

Motto here is “go slow”. So I think we’ve achieved something in really immersing ourselves in the culture whilst here. Riiiiight???


Picture 1 of 26

Mexican Border

Don’t Say No to Cenotes!

Cenotes (see-no-tays) are peculiar to Yucatan and Quintana Roo in México, and are sink holes bored out by water and erosion of limestone. Gateways to an underworld of drowned caves, stalactites and stalagmites, and strange animals.

We booked a car and visited three in a day.


Grand Cenote

Quite busy with people as its a do-able cycle from town. But still amazing. Cool water that’s crystal clear, tiny fish swimming right up to your eyes, terrapins & catfish. You swim through gaps in rocks and through caves, nervously peering over the drop-off and down over the precipice to nowhere. #shudder


Casa Cenote

Casa was very different. Looks like it could be a river, but you drop into the water over a massive underwater cave entrance.

There were lots of people learning to snorkel in the open water, its about 8m deep (outside of the cave, that is).

There is a connection to the sea, and the water is lined by mangroves, so there are a lot more fish. Hundreds and thousands of little fish hiding amongst the mangrove roots, incredible sight.

Jim doing well with life-jacket, but went quite far and no one else around so we turned back.


Dos Ojos (Two Eyes)

Cave 1

There was a gold line from the entrance that went off into the darkness to nowhere, by which the divers can feel their way if required. Watched a group go off into the darkness and into a tunnel. Scary!! The two caves are connected via some tunnels.


Cave 2

Much bigger, very dark so we were following people with lights.


In the evening we went to Tacqueto (another cocina economica) for dinner. Run by Mom and Pop, they take you into the kitchen and show you what they’ve cooked that day and you choose. We had albondigas (meatballs) in spicy sauce, VERY tasty. They treated us like royalty, grabbing our phone and taking photos of us… so we took some of them. Sweet.


Turtle Heads

Took ourselves off on Tuesday via Collectivo bus to Akumal.  Collectivos are amazing, why aren’t these in other countries? 10-seater (ish) bus that runs a fixed route, but waits to be full before leaving and can divert (slightly) to drop people off wherever they need. School kids, chefs & other tourists on ours. 30 pesos to Akumal from Tulum (about £1.50).

Hired some gear (snorkels and flippers) and waded out into the sea. And there they were! Saw a stingray first, but then a little turtle! You can’t believe what you’re watching. You do feel slightly removed because of your mask, like a TV screen, and yet there you are.  Swam about looking at a few more, but saved the best for last.

I was de-steaming my mask bobbing about with my head out of the water, got it sorted and ducked my head under to find myself almost upon massive turtle, made me jump! Could reach out and touch him, but reversed a bit to let him to eat his sea grass. Had two massive free-loaders on his shell.. one yellow, one blue. Mesmerising looking at turtles, they’re very serene. Especially love it when they come up to the surface for air and you see their little heads pop out of the water.

Didn’t have a camera but I’m fairly sure this is the chap!

Ate a lovely cheeseburger we’d had a hankering for at a hotel restaurant. My snorkel mask lined face slowly subsiding…

We invested in our own snorkel gear the next day, figured would come in handy in many countries en route. Also tested my Spanish out buying tickets to Chetumal to get to Belize. “Puede decirme cuanto es para Chetumal”, “Quiero comprar”. And was understood!

Then… off down the beach again, on bikes again. Tested out the snorkels to Jim’s absolute delight.

Jokes of the Day

Stop asking me to repeat & correcting my Spanish. I wasn’t expecting the Spanish inquisition.


“Talking about budget, have you got enough money to buy bread on the way home?”
“Think so, if not we’ll have to do a raid on a bakery. “Give us all your dough!”


“You’ve got the best part of ginger hair you won’t lose it and you won’t go grey. You’ll look young!”
“Yes, they’ll be in the board meeting saying, where’s that 55 year old whipper snapper?”
“And I’ll say ‘I’m here and I’m actually 57’. And then I’ll ask ‘Actually, what am I doing in this board meeting? Oh yes,  anyone want tea? ‘


Names for Shops:

Ginger Hair Specialist – “Ahead of the Game”

Bike Shop – “Peddling our Wares”


‘That’s How I Like My Women’ Joke of the Day

“Do you think I could get ‘New for Old’ for you on my insurance policy?” <shudder>

“Are you cold? Or just scared?”

“Cold AND scared.”




Bog Standard Days

Woke up early on Sunday to watch the Grand Prix. Noticed a bad smell. Not Jim, this time. Drains overflowing.

Went to eat while room was cleaned before we could shower; El Mariachi Loco put the racing on for us as we ate desayuno. Bonus.

Returned to a clean room, but sewers still funky so went off to hire bikes and visit the beach again while a plumber was called. We were a bit stinky, but who cares right… only going to the beach?

Rode into town & booked a tour for Monday (Akumal + Cenotes) with a guy called ‘Bogdan’. Do you ever feel circumstances conspiring to compel you towards toilet humour?

Jim tried his first sea wee… hilariously awkward;

“Where do you do it? Are you doing it? Right now? Urghhhh, get away from me!!!”

Chaffed our way home with wet bottoms on bike seats.

Plumber had established a ‘big job’ was needed. Apt. So we were moved to another room – this time our own bungalow, thatched roof, fridge, table etc. Nice swap so we weren’t at all unhappy at having to move 😉

Wrote some b(l)og posts from like agggesss ago whilst Jim sat next to me snoozing in the Secret Garden on couches. Nipped out for tacos at Chiapaneca, super cheap and help yourself to salads and salsas.. managed to overload my tostada with the spiciest salsa and had to sit for a while whilst my brain function returned post-chilli freeze.

Drama of the Day:  did Jim throw away his cotton bud, he can’t remember?

Woke up the next day to birdsong and dogs barking with the ‘Where am I?’ feeling… in México! Awesome! Love it.

Ate an amazing breakfast at Rincon Pablano to set ourselves up for our tour and went to the Tulum Dive School shop to get going. After an hour waiting we cut our loses. Left a note with the girl in the bar next door, joking that it was Monday morning and maybe Bogdan had overdone it on Sunday. She said “Well he drinks EVERY night, and a LOT, but is always here at 7am”. Not very encouraging when we’ve booked a tour snorkelling through caves. Came back to Secret Garden (via bike hire shop) and chatted to the owner Joshua for a while about things to do, life etc. He came from Mexico city for a week, and is here 7 years later with his own hotel. A common story we’re hearing. He recommended we ditch the tour, hire a car and visit beaches and caves by ourselves.

A few hours later Bogdan showed up to apologise; “I’m so sorry, I was in another town and my car broke down and my phone died. I had to walk 50km”. We laughed – he wreaked of alcohol. Riiiiight. Its lovely when you can afford to simply be amused by stuff like this. We have days to play with, so got our deposit back.

Hired bikes again and hit the beach, again.

Each time we hire bikes they are 20% better. Those in the know go for no brakes (just the old school back-peddle to stop type, the ones with brakes never work), no mud guards (which drag on the wheels and make it 10 times harder) and a basket for wet towel and drinks.

Chatted about the massage on offer at the beach – looked great. I wonder why no one does professional tickling…

Finished the day in the garden with tequila (called “Jimador”, because “everyone adores Jim”.. apparently) and beer, writing the day’s events (well, last weeks’) and chilling out. Lovely. Manager’s dog joined us for tequilas, we’ve named him Sir Winnalot – the Tequila Hound.

‘Just How I Like my Women’ Joke of the Day:

“The Spanish call rum ‘ron'”.

“Two Rons don’t make a right. Two Ronnies. Do RonRonRon, you do RonRon.”

“Coming thick and fast these puns.”


Melon Spoons

Spent the morning in Valladolid. Mostly by/in a glistening pool.

At breakfast Jim pointed out the pumpkins on the palm trees aligning the garden “Look at those pumpkins!”. Ha ha ha ha ha. I had woken him up early, admittedly. And apparently they’re dangerous…

Don’t you know that coconuts kill more people every year than sharks and irons combined?

Straight-faced lying, can’t beat it.
Tunich Beh Hotel Pool

Tunich Beh Hotel + Pool

The Rare Valladolid Coc(k)oon

The Rare Valladolid Coc(k)oon

Decided my hair need a bit of an update. Had already purchased some red hair dye. Fun trying to interpret spanish instructions, but by the power of YouTube I got the dye on very easily. Waited. Then had to wash it out in a shower that you could not detach from the wall. The shower basically resembled a gruesome murder scene … soooo much claret, everywhere!

I Know What You Valladolid Last Summer…

After some frantic washing of walls and mopping of floors.. think I got away with it.

Beat a hasty exit. Boarded a bus to Tulum.

Dye was still coming out 3 days later.

Arrived mid-afternoon. Lovely town set pretty much on one main street, which seems to change its clothes every time we walk along it. The shops are crammed together along the stretch and are open at different times, so morning, noon and night are totally different. Good sales tactic from someone at one of the many ‘Mexican Art’ shops…

“Come in and buy some stuff that you don’t need!”

Sat for some beers watching the passing traffic, ate pasta (yep, traditional. Ahem), and ended up at the Mojito Bar. All the while we talk about how strange it is to be here, and seeing so much.. and after reading a LOOOONG email from Chris about highlights of Central and South America, realising there is still so much to do.
Pre-Mojitos, Believe it or Not

Pre-Mojitos, Believe it or Not

After recovering from the cheap Mojito bar rum hangover – via a supermarket visit and breakfast made in room, followed by snooze – we hired bikes and rode along to the beach (takes about 10mins). Sat in the shade of palms, very quiet, brilliant turquoise water the temperature of a bath. There are lots of resorts along the beach, all (thankfully) low rise, but everyone gets the same view, millionaires and backpackers alike. A slice of paradise.
Guacamole, Sol and Habanero Salsa at Tulum

Guacamole, Sol and Habanero Salsa at Tulum

Suffice it to say, we might be a little over-budget. Ahem. Into second half of month budget and we’ve only been here just over a week. Eyes on how to economise.

Next morning, still eating our supermarket hangover buys, we cut up melon with Jim’s swiss army knife and used the skin to scoop up some yoghurt I’d bought (forgetting we don’t have cutlery). Melon spoons!

We only had two nights at Mango Tulum so we packed up and moved to the other end of town for a different perspective. Thought we got a cheap deal (£20 a night), turns out it is actually per person, so we’re back to our rookie mistakes.

3 pieces of advice.

  1. Check the price you’re paying for your room when you put down a deposit. #fail
  2. Eat more often at Cocina Economica (we chose Dona et Tina for lunch, asked for Menu del Dia and got some lovely roast chicken, rice and black bean sauce – £3.50 each, ish.)
  3. Beers are cheaper if you a. drink them at home or b. ask for a deal (lots of places do 5 in an ice bucket for a discount).

Jim’s bucket list:

2 Buckets por favor


We haven’t entertained the 4th piece of advice that doesn’t involve beer. Yet.


Ate THE BEST tacos at Taquerias Nero by the ADO bus station. “Pastor” pork (cooked on a spit), and they slice bits of pineapple in, add fresh coriander and onion mixture, and put it on 2 tortillas (the second comes in handy because you spill so much out of your overloaded first). Come with choice of habanero salsas, and radish/onion/cucumber slices.
Yum yum pig's bum, literally

Yum yum pig’s bum, literally


Two rounds of these please!

Two rounds of these please!


“Is it a site or a local dish?” – Marian Penny 2014

What did we fancy after visiting Uxmal and Kabbah? More Mayan Ruins!

Bused second class with the locals from Mérida to Chichen Itza. I am totally paranoid, kept checking at each stop off that no one was stealing my bag from the bus hold. Gah, exhausting.

Stayed at Villa Arqueologica which is actually in the park, so a mere 5min walk in the morning to get to the ruins. Got there early, a very good plan. At 8.30am the hawkers are just setting up, and the tour buses have yet to come in. Probably only about 40 people walking the site. By 11 it was mayhem. Just like a theme park.

Its not so much the decoration at Chichen Itza so much as the scale of the city and number of buildings that makes an impression. There are 3 zones of buildings and 2 cenotes.. plus a million hawkers lining the paths between and hundreds of tourists.

In order of preference:

1. The main event: El Castillo

El Castillo with a helpful woman showing scale

El Castillo with a helpful woman showing scale


El Castillo looking small

El Castillo looking like hawkers’ tat

Imagine the heads bouncing down from Toltec sacrifice, and the crowds roaring.

2. Quidditch: The Giant Ball Court

Need a broomstick to reach this hoop

Need a broomstick to reach this hoop


Ball court is much bigger than Uxmal.. 8 metre high rings. Interesting carvings depicting a team captain being beheaded – the winner or the loser?

3. Does what is says on the tin: Wall of Skulls

Wall of Skulls

Let’s remember those that lost their heads


Spent the rest of the morning by the pool – hot stuff this history business.

Got a taxi to Valladolid in the afternoon – REALLY lovely spanish house hotel in a colonial town.



Our street


Walked about and had burritos on the square. Very pretty colonial town, but not sure there’s enough here to hold interest so kinda good we’re moving on.

On seeing a bar in an apparently dry town (well, clearly reserved town), and in the style of “going OUT out” courtesy of Micky Flanagan, Jim says

It’s a bar on the corner, a BAR bar.
Bar bar blacksheep have you any booze?
Yes sir yes sir, three kegs full

Didn’t go out though. Fell asleep in the enormous and comfy bed. Zzzzzzzz.

Oooooxmal and Kabbahhhhh

Took our first tour today. Well worth the money (500 pesos each – about £25), we were picked up from our hotel and driven about an hour and a half to Uxmal.. the guide talking about Ruins and Mayan life along the way.

Uxmal is impressive. And beautiful.

Get ready for some facts.

The awesome size and adornment of the buildings with carving and sculpture is remarkable. The Puuc style seems to be large, sturdy foundations and beautifully rich decoration towards the top of the buildings.


Uxmal Nunnery

Uxmal Nunnery

 (Mum, you can click these pics to see full size detail…. 😉 )

Lovely Uxmal Decoration

Lovely Uxmal Decoration


Uxmal Governor's Palace

Uxmal Governor’s Palace… where’s Wally?

You find yourself trying to imagine what life there was like, and comparing it to what was going on in Europe at the same time to give a baseline reference point. We were medieval, building churches and suffering the black death. The Mayans were building amazing temples and cities from stone without steel tools or the wheel. The Mayans also built temple upon (literally) temple – the name Uxmal refers to being thrice built – so the sheer effort involved in the endeavour defies comprehension. To top it off, Uxmal is also not in proximity to any fresh water source, the Mayans created “Chultuns”, underground water reserves to collect rainwater, in the shape of a water bottle to minimise evaporation. Impressive.

The similarity in both cultures would seem to be the worshipping of deities in order to cope with and attempt to influence the limited natural resources on which the harshness of life was predicated. Europeans spent time and energy on religious buildings religious art and ceremonies. Mayans too. The Rain God Cha’ac dominates much of the rich decorations at Uxmal, alongside the Sun God (represented as a macau). They also had a thing for serpents and jaguar. I suppose these days we worship technology and that’s where our human endeavour to control, harness or mitigate our reliance on nature is focused.


Cha’ac (Rain God)

Our Mayan guide was clearly very proud of his culture and achievements. En route he explained the importance of chaya maya, a plant that they drink the juice of mixed with other fruits for its medicinal properties. He told us that the habernero is important; 0 chillies for breakfast, 2 for lunch and 1 in the evening. Apparently the mayan languages were once banned from schools, but these days they are trying to encourage the speaking in schools in order to preserve it. Mayans live(d) in thatched huts in family enclosures, the married sons returning with wives and children to live with parents.

Also according to our guide, Uxmal is the most beautiful of all the ruins in Mexico…. and, based on a sample of 3, I can see what he means.

The other astounding thing is the amount of the city that still remains as rubble in the jungle. Its a jigsaw to find and fit back together, and it seems the government invests on a piecemeal basis over decades to restore it in installments. They use the original stones but with modern cement. Mayans used a sort of glue they made from honey, resin from the trees, egg shells, water etc – and small bits of stone wedged in to maintain position.

So, the tour took us around all the buildings, from the Magician’s Pyramid with its amazing sonic effect (you clap, it squeaks back at you) and on to the Nunnery, then the ball court (looks like quidditch would go down well), the House of Doves (my 2nd fav, it features a series of windows that create a serpent on the lawn before it at winter solstice), the main Pyramid (which we climbed!) and the Governer’s House (I think, which is my favourite – imposing, ornate).

Up and Up

Up and Up

Atop the Pyramid

Atop the Pyramid



Climbing a pyramid seems like a massive privilege after visiting other sites. They stop people climbing the Magician’s pyramid, and at all other Mayan sites, because it is either too dangerous (our guide saw a girl bounce down the steps to her death) or it degrades the site. But we were allowed up. Going up 65 steps wasn’t bad, easy actually. Coming down wasn’t quite so easy – the vertiginous effect makes you doubt your ability to balance, but after a slow start and learning to walk diagonally it was OK. Plus they say only the top 2 tiers of 5 is now visible above ground, so let’s give thanks for that!

Bouncy bouncy down the steps

Bouncy bouncy down the steps

We also visited the nearby site of Kabbah. Much smaller but another set of fine buildings, one of which would have had 240 Cha’ac images adorning its facade (sadly only about 20 have been restored). There was a straight road between Uxmal and Kabbah, a remaining arch is located nearby indicating the start of it – they think Uxmal controlled a number of satellites like it).

Cha'ac Sculptures

Cha’ac Sculptures

Final stop was for lunch. Number 1 Sopa de Lima!! Also had pollo pibil which is the chicken version of the traditional cochinita pibil – pork cooked underground in a recado of sour organges and achiote. Its the region’s most famous dish and pork is the main source of protein for Yucatecans. In Maya, pib means a hole in the ground, and cooking al pibil is a technique that has been in use for centuries in the region, to cook all kinds of meat underground, wrapped in banana leaves.


Daze of the Dead

Jim woke up a new man following our Day of the Dead celebrations. Hair. Gone. It seems he’d managed to stay up until 1 or 2 am and shave it all off.

I was having an almost literal Day of the Dead, reading and snoozing most of the day away. Lazy bones.

Daze of the Dead

Good day to research next steps and make some bookings.

Ventured out in the evening to eat at El Trapiche. I’m still on my ‘Sopa de Lima’ Tour of México, so that did me with some Panuchos. Jim had a burrito. £15 with 3 beers. Not toooooo bad. Sopa de Lima rating = 3 out of 5. Not as good as La Chaya Maya.

We walked out to Paseo de Monteja for a look. Took a while to find it, you’d think technology would help rather than hinder but Jim’s google maps download was upside down and had no street numbers. Gah! Regardless, obviously a lovely big boulevard with incredible huge mansions in various states of repair. Most beautiful was Museo Regional de Antropología. Extremely quiet on the road, just a few traffic wardens and couple of tourists.
Paseo de Monteja Building

Home on Paseo de Monteja
Sunday we wandered to Zocalo to see the market that pops up. Various stalls selling Mayan stuff, hats, jewellery, etc. Particularly enjoyed the single guy with amp and mike in the centre of the square, giving us a rendition of.. something. “Mex Factor”.
Jim bought me a cow horn ring for 20 pesos (about a quid, and the asking price) and then felt terribly guilty about how much work had gone into it and that a pound couldn’t nearly be enough.
We laughed at a paint shop blaring out dance tracks. There’s an interesting marketing technique in Mexico where any and all shops place a massive speaker right in the doorway, facing out to the street, and play their music as loud as possible. Waldos on Calle 61 is a clear winner in the volume stakes. Jim joked about the paint shop being

…the new purple turtle, but now available in a rainbow of colours


We sat a while in la Plaza Grande and were approached by some teenagers who wanted to practice their english. They filmed us as they each took turns to stand in front of us and ask questions like ‘How long are you in Mexico?’, ‘What do you think of our city and culture?’, ‘Where do you live?’, ‘What is your culture?’ etc. We finished by waving into the camera and saying hi to their teacher Jessica. We wandered off and they came and found us again for a group photo. Aw, cute. Imagine we’ll be having to do that when we do our Spanish course in Guatemala!

By the way, what is our culture? We both described the melting pot of other cultures in London as a response to this. Cop out?

Returned later that night and found a large group dancing to traditional music, mostly the older crowd. Promptly finished at 8 and they started to disperse and wander home.

Looks like night of the living dead….

Still no public drinking or smoking, just traditional music and good, honest fun. Very endearing.