7. Puerto Escondido

Days: 25
Yoga classes: 4
Bathroom doors: 0

Another ‘character-building’ night bus down and we arrived at Vivo Escondido – a hostel recommended by several people in San Cristobal building high hopes. The first thing we noticed was the communal area complete with table tennis table, swimming pool and bar area with a help-yourself beer fridge; strong start. Walking through the large building garnished with vibrant murials we were lead to the back where our private room was outside, padlocked and amongst the staff washing area. The room was basic but clean and spacious, then we noticed it. IMAG1570The bathroom didn’t have a door. With both of us recovering from San Cristobal’s stomach curse, I threw my hands over my face and thought – this is going to be intimate! Although the room was dowdy the rest of the hostel and the friendly people certainly made up for it. We headed straight to Playa Carrizalillo and slumped our weary bodies on two sun loungers repositioning the parasol to shield us from the sun’s burning glare. Although not a huge beach, and not as well-known as Playa Zicatela ten minutes away, it had a wonderful fun atmosphere and was a fantastic people watching spot. After perspiring for a sufficient amount of time, we hop-scotched over the scorching sand and plunged into the surprisingly warm sea. Our guidebook had warned us about how strong the currents can be in the area and whilst it was safe to swim at Playa Carrizalillo we instantly noticed how fierce the pull was from the waves. Put it this way, my bikini bottoms were peeled off as I attempted to clamber out of the waist deep water much to Seb’s amusement.

As we steadily climbed the thousands of steps away from the beach we reached a strip of cafes and restaurants of varying cuisines, budgets and clientele leading us to our hostel to shower and revive. Earlier in the morning we had seen the hostel offered free Yoga classes on the rooftop and although tired I thought this would be a great opportunity to de-nightbus. IMAG1585Seb had never been to a Yoga class before and although my Mum runs her own Yoga business I have only managed a few of her classes without being sent out for giggling. She always emphasised the importance of the setting for Yoga; her small classes are held in a log cabin with large windows overlooking a garden full of trees offering tranquillity and personal attention. The setting became particularly important to me when I persisted through a Yoga class of 16 in a grey gym in Stratford, East London as a woman ordered Warrior poses like an Army Officer. I delve into to this to try and illustrate the setting we experienced in Puerto Escondido and the significance it provided. Four of us placed a brightly coloured mat facing Megan, our instructor from Jersey, and a view of the horizon from four stories high. Megan’s gentle tone and clear manner allowed us to indulge in finding calm and stretching our tired torsos in ways that felt like they may have never been stretched. As we arose to a standing position we saw the sun setting and the sky become stained with purples, pinks and oranges. After 50 minutes we obediently laid down and began relaxation, Megan then one by one firmly pulled back our shoulders and softly rubbed lavender and bergamot on our temples igniting such a sense of calm and contentment I haven’t discovered in years. I left in a pleasant daze and returned every evening of our stay.

On Monday morning Seb was keen to begin the set of 5 surf lessons which I had offered for his birthday, he joined our new friend Sam, from Aberdeen, and went to Oasis Surf School and booked in for the week. IMAG1573Their first lesson was at Playa Carrizalillo so I joined them on the beach and watched with anticipation from afar. They were joined by about 8 others with 1 instructor for 1-3 people so at points it was hard to tell who was who but every now and then I’d see a flash of familiar bright blue trunks and either cheer or commiserate depending on the outcome of his wave catching ability. For a first go, he did incredibly and although I didn’t watch the last few lessons, I heard he improved. On the third and fourth lessons they were taken to La Punta on the south side of Playa Zicatela. Known to have more of a hippy vibe, we checked it out in the day time and confirmed the waves were much bigger and much stronger. Playa Zicatela – in the middle of the La Punta and Playa Carrizalillo – is world renowned for the “biggest and scariest waves in the world” including the infamous pipelines especially in July and August. No one was swimming there and only a few seasoned surfers were seen.

Our hostel, as mentioned, was very sociable and hosted some wonderful people. One evening after returning from having a pizza we were soon roped into a drinking game providing nostalgia of University antics. It wasn’t long before I pulled an Ace from the pack of cards and the group chanted for me to jump in the pool as per the prestigious rules scrawled on the back of a receipt. Respectfully and after a significant amount of encouragement (and beer) I obliged! IMAG1592At 11pm the owners said we needed to move on in line with an agreement with their neighbours and there was only one place to go – Salsa Night. I dried off, threw on a dress and jumped into the first of three cabs taking us to the strip near Playa Zicatela. Observing the locals impressive Salsa moves I suggested a round of Mezcals along with the 2-4-1 mojitos to supply some Dutch courage. After 20 minutes Seb and I were attempting our strongest salsa moves which probably looked like two people walking in the opposite direction trying to get past the other but fun was had! The bar was set on three levels with a small incline offering enough difference for each platform to have its own purpose; a place to buy drinks, a place to dance and observe or a play to sit and chat. The decor was a mix of wood, browns and greens; half covered, the other exposed to the night sky. It was understated and of course so different to bars in London – the best part was people watching.

Sadly our hostel didn’t have room for us to extend our stay so we moved a bit further away from the beach to Puerto Dreams. Although there was no pool, it was newly renovated so had a wonderful clean interior, roof terrace, big rooms and…a bathroom door! I loved it. On the Friday night it was St Patrick’s Day so with a big grin Seb brought over my Corona which was Fairy Liquid green, “here you are” he delighted. We soon met the girls behind the playlist consisting of The Corrs, Bewitched, The Cranberries and of course Boyzone – all the Irish classics. IMAG1596When the Spice Girls came on, Seb was visibly tense and I checked in to see if he wanted to meet up with people from the other hostel, “no its fine, I’m totally fine,” I knew he was secretly loving the carefree pop blaring out and even caught him singing along with perfect lyrics. It was Ladies Night at the club in town and we knew our friends from the first hostel were heading down so we joined the five girls we just met and jumped into a taxi for a free drink at a beach bar / club.

Our last evening in Puerto Escondido consisted of mixed emotions, we had fallen in love with the town but needed to move on and keep travelling. We headed to another beach to release baby turtles into the sea in order to support reproduction. This happened everyday at 5pm and attracted several tourists and locals to help. I wasn’t entirely convinced of the ethical duty it sustained but having been I was reassured that the humans involved had a strong moral compass. The lurking birds however took their opportunity to swoop and snatch the vulnerable turtles after their dangerous journey from sand to shore. As the throws of sand from humans waned, the birds picked them out of the water. Most frustratingly we learnt the birds can’t even eat them so they die without purpose. Many survive and due to the frequency of their release, the turtle population is far better protected with this initiave. The next morning we headed for Manzunte, a small town nearby…

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6. San Cristobal de las Casas

Days: 17
Crocodile sightings: 4
Cathedrals climbed: 1

Sleepily we introduced ourselves to the other residents at Roscoe’s Backpackers meeting young people from America, Canada, Germany, Portugal and the UK amongst other nationalities and backgrounds and were soon told of ‘The Walking Tour’. After a simple breakfast included with our room, we set off to find the town square and join the free Walking Tour at 10am. IMAG1539A large group gathered and then two Mexicans asserted themselves as the guides, they themselves surprised at the large turnout. One guide explained we would split in two; one English speaking tour and one Spanish. Both would be very relaxed and offer a cultural insight to the city informing of us their recommendations of where to go, eat and drink, see and do as well as soft social and political commentary. Looking at his watch he confirmed it was 10am and therefore we would need to wait another five or so minutes to ensure we did not start on time in line with the Mexican way of life! The tour lasted over five hours including several tasting stops; coffee, soup (apparently 24°C is cold) and at the end Pox – pronounced posh – which is a strong spirit made from corn. We visited two cathedrals and paid MX$10 to climb to the top of one to capture panoramic views of the whole city. Whilst making several friends on the tour, we stretched our hamstrings and promised to reunite with the group later in the evening at a craft beer brewery.

Through chatting to several people, we realised that most travel from Mexico City to Cancun or elsewhere opposed to our reverse route, whilst this didn’t allow us to meet up with people further along our path, we gained several great recommendations for where we are going from those who have just been. Before re-joining our walking group in the evening, we stopped off on the main pedestrian street for a bite to eat and a beer. Peering at our neighbours drinking red wine, we discussed how our previous locations have been so hot, beer was often our first choice. IMAG1547Intrigued as to what Mexican wine tastes like we asked the two girls and boy next to us and they recommend the Merlot. Two glasses and an invitation to the craft brewery later we returned to our hostel briefly to change into jeans for the first time since England. It felt good! We headed over and one by one formulated some of the tour including our new Dutch friends from the wine bar and were quickly introduced to a rainbow of Mexican spirits. Undecided whether I would rather understand their Spanish descriptions of the shots or if I was blissfully ignorant, after one too many I called enough enough and insisted we eat some dinner. Five of us wandered to a nearby restaurant, recommended on the walking tour, and enjoyed a lovely meal with every intention to return to the bar. Inevitably a day of walking, an array of alcohol and a large meal sent us straight to bed seeking a pillow not pox!

Monday. Mezcal, Merlot and mushroom pasta swirled the perimeter of my stomach as I grasped the water on the bedside table. “Seb, it’s 8.15am!” he leapt put of bed and rushed to the reception to book a last minute place for a Canyon tour. We had heard good things but had to try again for 8.30am to see if there was space. Two of our new friends were coming too and it was set to be a fantastic day out on a boat. Ah, a boat – sudden fear of combining rough water with a hangover was soon alleviated with logic – it should be calm water and cool in the canyon. IMG-20170324-WA0011We packed our jumpers and discovered our friend was ill so we clambered into the mini van and made the hour journey, almost all downhill, to the Canyon. On boarding the bus (not in the ticket information / guide) they informed us the Canyon is around 45°C, we should wear hats and apply mosquito repellent. First thoughts; how helpful and timely. When we arrived there was of course a huge hat stand filled with sweating tourists, I joined them and bought the cheapest hat I could find for MX$50 (£2) and risked not buying more insect repellent. We lathered on suncream like milk on cereal, grabbed a life jacket and gingerly jumped into the boat with thirty or so other tourists ready for their day out. The open boat sped off at a good pace only slowing at points of interest, the first being vultures. Around six hunched and scuttled along the dry ground by the water reminding me of the latter scene in The Jungle Book; we marvelled, photographed and sped off again. The tall walls of the Canyon steeped over us, using grandeur to intimidate those who passed through. Then pointing and gasps filled the boat, there it was, stop number two – a crocodile. The prehistoric beast sprawled it’s full length on a bank surrounded by naive birds, it’s mouth ajar displaying bone-crunchable teeth whilst maintaining a deathly stillness. Tension consumed us as a bird neared close to the jaws – “WILL IT SNAP? WILL WE WITNESS IT SNAP?” – total stillness responded our eager questions and alas, the boat sped off. We saw several another crocodiles, birds with a wingspan as wide as a sofa soar above us and of course, more and more of the Canyon itself. Requiring windscreen wipers for the amount of sweat we perspired, we returned to the dock after a two hour tour and not one mosquito in sight.

After the boat tour we were then taken to a small, nearby town for an hour where we missed the breeze of the boat and melted like the mango ice cream we purchased in desperation. Not wanting to have a sit down lunch we slouched through the town and found a street food vendor. Having heard about the hygiene in the region being poorer than most and applying the logic of 45°C heat, chicken empanadas and no fridge, I declined their bargain offer – Seb ‘Stomach of Steel’ Elliott rolled his eyes and accepted. We boarded the bus and began the incline all the way to the heights of San Cristobal. IMAG1562After a shower and rest at the hostel, we headed out for a low key evening meal and an early night. We went to a fantastic restaurant and had one of the best meals in Mexico to date – competing with the culinary delights of Bacalar – I had flank steak tacos and Seb had something with every kind of meat you can imagine. Full and satisfied we headed to bed. The next morning, you guessed it, Seb became incredibly poorly. After a forceful request to leave, I explored the city solo whilst Seb continued to be ill for the entire day. We spent the evening in the hostel, Seb recovering and me on hand for anything needed. The next day was night bus day and after a slow, cautious morning we realised that several people in our hostel were also ill. In fact, since leaving the hostel we’ve heard about 12-15 cases of San Cristobal related illness all of whom had street food. Our last day consisted of walks to the market and a visit to the textile museum before boarding our 14 hour night bus to Puerto Escondido. The sharp winding roads tested both of our stomachs but by morning we made it and walked off the bus covered in relief and coastal sunshine.

5. Palenque

Days: 13
Birthdays: 1
Mayan temples climbed: 7

After two awful nights sleep in Bacalar I was hopeful our delayed overnight bus to Palenque would provide an ideal slumber land, as comfortable as the buses were – we were even given water as we stepped on – I just couldn’t find the right position to allow me to sleep for what felt like the whole night. Arriving at 7am, we had a 4* hotel booked for £20 a night and we couldn’t wait until check-in at 3pm so when the receptionist told us our room was ready immediately, tears of happiness and relief streamed down my exhausted face. I hadn’t showered without feeling dirtier afterwards or with fresh towels or enough shampoo for about four days so I threw my rucksack on a side table, removed everything and had the best shower of the trip followed by an instant two hour nap.

IMAG1483Resembling a human woman again, we explored the town of Palenque with ambitions of seeing the waterfalls in the afternoon and the ruins the next day – Seb’s birthday – leaving for San Cristobal in the evening. Then, Seb’s researching skills came to fruition as he discovered a tour which takes us from the waterfalls to San Cristobal for an extra MX100 (£4) rather than coming back on ourselves, with further relief but more determination and energy to hold back tears of joy, we settled on having a ‘pool day’, ruins as planned on Seb’s birthday then a trip to the waterfalls on Tuesday with the end stop in San Cristobal. We booked a wonderful boutique hotel for Seb’s birthday night nearer to the ruins and leapt downstairs to be horizontal on a sun lounger and order afternoon cocktails. Bliss!

 

One Piná Colada and Tequila Sunrise later we were playing cards, eating guacamole (now a daily ritual) and enjoying the amenities of being in a hotel. Soon my winning streak was interrupted by an American gentleman in his sixties who introduced himself, shortly followed by his inquisitive wife. It wasn’t long before we received an abridged life story; missionaries from Utah who have been coming to Mexico for over 20 years holding trips for kids and adults and currently live in Villahermosa. IMAG1510A brief exchange of our story was told, although oddly when we mentioned #Brexit they were out of the loop completely. We gave a rapid overview evading the ‘details’ of Johnson and Farage, then the inevitable question arrived. “So what is the feeling of our new President back in London?” quizzed the man with a Utah drawl. Seb and I glanced at each other then back to the American, “um,” I started, “I think London is predominantly a Remain city which therefore doesn’t align with many of Trumps views…” Seb agreed adding to this notion before I concluded, “so I think it’s quite negative from what we’ve seen and heard…” Politely nodding, the American appreciated our diplomatic but honest approach and explained how Trump is a new breed of President, how he is offering America an escape route out of a winding spiral of destruction and how where he comes from, everyone is thankful he’s President. The American emphasised the importance of the coal industry and how Trump has offered to re-visit this and how he was particularly riled by Obamacare which had quadrupled medical bills for hard-working people like himself and those in his town. It became an interesting trade of different but respected opinions, perhaps a taster ahead of our month in America.

Back to Palenque and what we really came here for, the renowned Mayan ruins. On Seb’s 28th birthday, we enjoyed a large Mexican breakfast and discussed his mixed emotions of excitement for his birthday but slow acceptance of being firmly in the late twenties category, much to my amusement. We hopped into a taxi to deliver our bags to our new hotel, which was beautiful – a huge step up from any accommodation we had stayed in so far and still as much as a Travelodge in Rugby. Avoiding the inviting pull of the cascading infinity pool in amongst a setting of dense jungle trees and plants, we got a collectivo to the ruins and began our day of exploration.

As with most attractions in Mexico we waded through an ocean of hard-selling tactics and money-making ploys to reach the entrance of the ruins. We were instantly blown away by the temples in front of us. IMAG1487We climbed the Templo de las Inscripciones and peered inside it’s cold, damp interior; low, narrow corridors lead us to a tomb and small rooms which were netted off. The smell was prominent and cemented the notion that what we were standing in is thousands of years old. After a more cautious clamber down the fragmented steps we climbed six or seven more temples each a different structure with unique inscriptions of serpents, jaguars and Mayan life. The temples are set within the jungle which made for a more mystical exploration around the grounds, so many brightly coloured birds, vibrant flora and fauna and echos of howler monkey’s calls. After several hours of scrambling stairs in the scorching sunshine, we retreated back to our new sanctuary and cooled off at the poolside with a birthday cocktail to quench our thirst.

IMAG1515Tuesday morning awoke us gently after a restful sleep, we bargained with the hotel manager to reduce the waterfall tour price by MX200 each and set off in a mini bus to the first waterfall, Misol-ha. The 12 seater ploughed through corner after corner, ascent after descent; holding a tight grip on the handle in front of me we arrived after an hour with a strong appreciation for being flat and still. We explored the powerful waterfall for an hour including a torch-lit trip into a cave, ducking for bats. The waterfall was impressive but the tourist packed, narrow path distracted us from pure enjoyment. Reluctantly we returned to our seats in the mini van, took a deep breath and continued our journey to the second waterfall; Agua Azul.

En route, we maintained a fast speed, rapid ascent and continuous sharp cornering through the region of Chiapas. It became apparent Chiapas is a poor area in Mexico to the extent that as we neared to Agua Azul we were barricaded by a village who were peacefully protesting. They had not had teachers for three months and desperate for their children to return to school, they asked for money to be let through for this cause but also had signs and letters raising awareness to the Secretary of Education about their situation. After a 20-30 minute delay they removed the blockade and allowed us through. Many houses were unfinished and of poor structural quality, we were warned not to eat meat whilst there as hygiene is low and many children as young as 4/5 years old were constantly pleading with us to buy whatever they were selling.

IMAG1525Although difficult to put this aside, when we arrived at Agua Azul the waterfall offered such natural beauty we were helpless but to focus solely on the view. Almost completely unpolluted, the water was a vivid turquoise with white cascading water crashing down from several low falls. We stripped off and plunged in to the surprisingly cold (fresh!) water and used ropes to pull us through. The water is known to have strong currents so we cautiously swam around the corner and witnessed the vibrancy from a captivating perspective. We had three hours to explore the much bigger Agua Azul however we wished we could have stayed longer.

At around 5.30pm we once again set off in the mini van, this time to San Cristobal de las Casas, a large town apparently 2-3 hours away. To describe this part of the journey briefly I would say I have a new respect for being alive. Seated on the back row with the overflowing luggage tipping over us, not one passenger spoke for the entire (5 hour) journey, I believe this is due to everyone concentrating so much on not reacting to the vertical drop several inches away from the speeding van wheel as it took repeated corners. Not only was the darkening drop outside growing in intimidation but the road surfaces were so poor and bumpy there was not even an opportunity to try and be unconscious until we, remarkably, arrived. However, we did arrive, at 10.30pm and in one piece. We hailed a taxi and discovered our hostel, thankful for a hot shower in a now cold town, we washed the fear away and dived into a welcoming bed.

4. Bacalar

Days: 10
Colours of the lake: 7
Mexican haircuts: 1

During the pleasingly comfortable four hour bus journey we watched Tom Cruise save the world again with a surprisingly suitable Spanish accent and shortly arrived in Bacalar. Jumping off onto a main roadside we befriended a solo traveller and split a taxi to the lake.IMAG1475 I need to explain at this point that any preconceptions of a lake, especially a British lake, need not be applied to this Mexican treasure. You could be forgiven for thinking it was the Caribbean sea as the scale and colours combine to create a delightful spectacle of nature. We settled in to the Blue Monkey hostel which whilst inside was as basic as a cardboard box, outside the garden stretched onto a pontoon inviting us to dive into the sea, sorry lake, which is what we did immediately. Known to be a lake of seven colours, we swam in the clearest section and within an hour knew we wanted to extend our stay.

With a strong appetite for kayaking, we embarked on a fluorescent green vessel and spent an hour marvelling at our surroundings. With success we managed to stay in our kayak unlike the German couple we witnessed instantly capsizing and unable to return to theirs until back on land; they took it well and laughed throughout the ordeal. Several other water-based activities were on offer to which Seb naturally wanted to undertake all of them. IMG-20170311-WA0000He settled on a three hour paddle boarding tour of the lake which started at 6am on our last day in time for sunrise and covered three key points; two cenotes and a pirate ship. I experienced a ten minute taster of paddle boarding on the second day, starting on my knees (as advised) I maintained balance and was encouraged to try standing. Glancing at Seb gliding across the water as elegantly as a figure skater, I agreed. Immediately my legs transformed from sturdy human flesh and bone to the consistency of a mango smoothie. Remarkably I paddled without falling for at least 2-3minutes before retreating to the security of the kneeling position. Assured the water in the afternoon is much more difficult to navigate and balance on than the calm of the morning, I reluctantly also signed up for the tour with Seb the next day.

After kayaking we were ready for lunch and discovered a lovely wood-laiden cafe about 5mins from the hostel – every table an oiled chunky trunk of a tree. IMAG1470Serving exquisite cactus tacos, plantain juices and other vegetarian delights, our initial impressions of Bacalar being eco-friendly and holding strong hippy vibes were gradually being confirmed. The cafe we enjoyed so much was also a hostel, with Seb aware of my thoughts of our cardboard box, we enquired about our second nights stay and snapped up their last Cabana. “How cute!” I thought naively.

Most residents at the Blue Monkey hostel were male and largely held a love for magic mushrooms, one so much so his magic mushroom trunks matched his magic mushroom tattoo… Seb displaying his beaming grin soon made friends in many languages including two lovely French guys and a weed farmer from Oregon who recommended a place to eat for the evening, Seb dragged me – ever the sceptic – to a fantastic Pizzeria and had me eating my doubts. Although we were in Mexico, Kenny from Oregon insisted the Italian run restaurant was worth a visit and he was right! The evening from topped of by several musicians busking as we eat our large chorizo covered pizzas with a particular highlight of the last ‘act’ who were a charming couple who met in Argentina. One French playing the violin and one Argentinian playing the guitar, they addressed the crowd in Spanish and English to recall their story and purpose; they had walked from Argentina, busking along the way, in order to discover the different music styles in the continent. Well we were astounded.

Our next meal out differed slightly, perched on two stools in the blazing heat we sat by the local Policia at a quesadilla stall on the main square and hoped we ordered what we intended to. A young man aided our broken Spanish and handed our requests to an older lady who prepared the meals from scratch.IMAG1472 Impressed we watched her spread the dough and flatten it in an iron clamp creating a long, narrow shape eager to be filled with cheese, avocado and frijoles. The centre of Bacalar was small, square and maintained the relaxed vibe of the lake; not too busy but with enough people to watch the world go by, it was obvious why many stayed far longer than they intended. For me I found Bacalar so relaxed after three full days I needed to either commit to a semi-vegetive state or get up and move on.

Aside from staring at the beauty of the lake, my favourite part of our stay in Bacalar was the food. Another restaurant recommended by Kenny was called La Playita and easily offered the best setting and food we’ve had in Mexico to date. IMAG1480At the back of the restaurant was a cream, shingled area amidst a mini jungle of overlapping trees, lanterns and soft, soul music leading us to our wooden table with peeking views of the lake between leaves. We ordered a tuna cerviche tostada dressed with sesame seeds and avocado, along with Chipotle shrimp tacos – the largest, juiciest prawns around – and tomato, mozzarella and basil empanadas. All of this washed down with a beer, good conversation and a cheers to our food critic Kenny made for a delightful evening. So delightful in fact, we went again on our last night and ordered the same!

After three full days, I was ready to leave even if it was on an 8 hour bus journey. Our second night in the Cabana provided an appalling nights kip so happily I felt prepared to sleep on any form of bedding given to me – coach or carpet! Our two hour late but first class coach took us through the night to Palenque via Chetumal just in time for Seb’s birthday.

3. Tulum

Days: 8
Shots of Mezcal: 4
Sun cream bottles used: 2

We arrived at our last pre-booked accommodation – Harmony Glamping Boutique Hotel – in our hire car and followed a gravel path to the reception (a hut) in the midst of pebble-lined trees and garlic bulb ‘Belle tents’. After adjusting to not having an en-suite (apparently not essential when travelling) we settled in for our three night stay and checked out the communal area by the pool. imag1443It turns out the small cafe is a regular hangout for locals and seasoned travellers alike, the food on offer was fantastic quality and served in an inviting, rugged setting – just what we were after. A particular highlight was a playful introduction to a gorgeous black kitten; naturally we named him Carlos after the bartender who gave us our first beer of the trip in Cancún.

Following a surprisingly comfortable nights sleep in our tent I bargained with Seb to have a relaxing day, a day to reflect on the start of our journey, a day to restore ourselves and prepare for the undecided path to Mexico City – after all this is our big holiday! imag1461He happily agreed (phew) and we cycled on possibly the worst hire bikes we’ve ever ridden towards the beach, clanging over the pitted road is one thing but these rusty old boys didn’t have working brakes and with Mexican driving etiquette surrounding us it was terrifying – or exciting, depending on your outlook…

We arrived! We made it alive! Tulum beach was much smaller than we expected and enclosed by hotels and beach clubs, nonetheless a few hours spent bracing the windy, blissfully unaware our sun cream was failing us, we sizzled in the blaring heat. Tulum seemed a young town with many cool bars, restaurants and tones of an East London familiarity; by the beach (25 minutes cycle from the main ‘strip’) this continued with the addition of boutique jewellery and clothes shops and such like – quite fancy indeed. Restraining from having beachfront hotel envy, we enjoyed a Mexican platter for lunch which was divine.

By this point in the trip my body clock was dutifully waking me up several times in the night and my stomach / subconscious anxiety (who knows!) allowed me to only eat one or two full meals in several days. imag1441Feeling relaxed I enjoyed a third of lunch compromising of guacamole, steak strips, juicy prawns – both chargrilled – fried fish and cheesey quesadillas; delicious. Over our meal we exchanged our reflections so far and agreed how lucky we are to have such an opportunity as this. Remembering grey views from our offices, wishing 5.30pm would come quicker as if it were stuck in traffic, we discussed how to make the most of our trip for both of us. With differing experiences, preferences and comfort-zones (mine abandoned at Heathrow) we are both mindful of the challenges we face, as with most couples travelling together. *Touches wood* so far we have agreed and compromised where best amicably and respectfully with no big disagreements of our route so far.

Having said that, by evening we were both keen to meet some people; fellow travellers to gain ideas and recommendations or just good company. We stopped for one cerverza at a small bar on the strip before dinner and soon overheard rare English accents in a sea of American or Spanish tones. I’ll point out we weren’t just seeking English friends, but the trio of a travelling couple and a visiting friend joined us for what transformed from one more beer before dinner to three hours, four mezcals and several rounds of ice cold cervezas – no dinner. 20170228_212952Mezcal is a Mexican tequila-esque drink which has can been consumed as a shot served with orange segments or sipped depending on the quality, apparently it when things are good – you drink Mezcal and when things are bad – you drink Mezcal. Suffice to say, it’s bloody brilliant but two or even three is enough! Bidding farewell to our new friends, I stressed the importance of needing food immediately to Seb in a desperate quest to soak up the indulgent alcohol digested. The only places open were more casual tacqueiries whereby Seb liaised with our waiter in Spanish to provide with whatever tacos he had left. It turns out he had three chorizo and two cow brain tacos left. I was so hungry and in need of substance, I ate it much to the comic surprise of Seb. This was several days ago now and he continues to enjoy reminding me of it.

The morning after the night before brutally woke us to instant dehydration and deep gratitude for the fan in our tent. We gingerly escaped through riddles of zips, agreeing to have a gentle morning and cover up our now highly visible sunburn. Once our fear of the sun lessened we cycled on the second worst bikes we’ve ever ridden to the Tulum ruins. imag1458Smaller and less famous than Chichen Itza our expectations weren’t high but we were still keen to go. Once through the gate and ignoring the initial tourist sprawl of Starbucks, Hagen-Daaz and other overpriced establishments, the ruins were indeed not ruined by the tat as we found at Chichen Itza but instead offered a spacious, lush green environment in which to gawp at the incredible structures, and of course plentiful iguanas. We took in vibrant jungle-like trees, bright birds and a vivid turquoise coastal backdrop. This is where we both chimed “oh that’s Tulum beach,” realising we had visited a small hotel orientated beach the previous day!

Ready to move on from Tulum after three nights we caught our first bus ride and headed 4 hours south to Laguna Bacalar…

2. Valladolid and Chichen Itza

Days: 5
Iguana sightings: 12
Carnivals inadvertently attended: 1

After spending our first few days on the coast we rented a car to avoid the tours and headed inland to a new time zone in the Yucatán region. The pastel washed town of Valladolid offered a lived-in, friendly feel with far less tourists; relief. We parked up after an eerily lonely journey on the straightest road I’ve seen we headed out to the main square in search for some cheap tacos – this was our first taste of authentic Mexico and it was delicious.imag1403 Our afternoon activity was determined from the outset by Seb, we were going swimming in a Cenote and he couldn’t wait! Unsure of what to expect after Seb’s description of “well it’s a big, dark pool you jump in to… underground…with stuff hanging down!” admittedly I was more hesitant than he. We headed 5km out of town to the larger Cenote Dzitnup where my anxiety spiked as we were stopped by the Policia who warned us not to go to the Cenote due to a conflict between the owners and the locals – the army were en route to contain anticipated violence. It was an easy call, we turned back. 20170226_152219Disappointed, Seb suggested we call in at the smaller Cenote Zaci in town. Refusing a life jacket on the basis of being too proud, we jumped in to join everyone – most wearing life jackets – and what seemed like hundreds of catfish. There were no safety instructions, life guards or obvious tourists, just a crowd of locals and travellers hanging out under the stalactites; two thirds of the Cenote underground with the rest drenched in glorious sunshine.

Still adapting to the time difference(s), we returned to the town square in the evening for a quiet, small meal and an early night. Instead we happily found ourselves on the corner by one of four stages setting up for the evening carnival! A collection of costumes paraded past us from emojis to Cubans infused dresses to a terrifying and somewhat politically void group of men who painted themselves black with chains around half of the group’s waists. 20170226_213822The latter aside, the atmosphere was jubilant, family-friendly and full of vibrant culture. We stretched our voices and sang along to a feminist band on our corner stage who donned an eclectic mix of fancy dress from fluorescent wigs, dress with public hair sewn on and a male drummer with a sequinned bra. The celebration pushed our tiredness back to at least 9.30pm where we eventually succumbed to our lovely hostel Casa Hipil ready for an early start in the morning.

We set off after a much needed slumber to the local market to purchase food supplies for the day ahead. Arrivingimag1413 early to avoid the coach loads of tourists we glided through the ticket office equipment into the world-renowned Chichen Itza – 1000 year old Mayan ruins. The experience was incredible, to witness an area whereby a community built and lived on such solid, intricate stone was truly a wonder to see after such a long time. The only thing which removed the magic slightly were the forceful market traders offering everything from t-shirts to tattoos.

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Wilted by the harsh heat, we bid farewell to the twelfth or fourteenth iguana we marvelled at and battled our way through the offloading coaches to the safety of our car. Here we set off to Tulum for a three nights stay back in Quintana Roo. Not before another Cenote dip though! We braved a visit to Dzitnup were the trouble had thankfully evaporated. We soon appreciated being turned away and subsequently directed to Cenote Zaci as Dzitnup was a hard-selling taut zone. More expensive, busy and with continuous packages / deals / parrot-photo-offerings we escaped after a short dip and continued on the road.

1. Cancun to Isla Mujerés

Days: 4
Hours ahead of GMT: 5
Iguana sightings: 2

We arrived after a great but very much eleven hour flight into Cancún; the tourist centre of the world. imag1375As we piled into a shuttle bus to take us to our hostel, we drove past miles of huge, white hotels containing as much charm as the lime green ‘I ❤ Cancun’ trucker hat littered across all the gift shops. Gucci, Starbucks and the Hard Rock Hotel were amongst the disappointing recognisable brands drowning the beautiful beaches behind them. Relieved we were only staying for one night, our hostel was a refreshing contrast to the super-hotels we had spent the last 20 minutes gawping at. It had wonderful character, friendly staff and was awash with vibrant colours offering a clear feeling we were far away from the greys of beloved London.

After a jubilant first £1 beer and pizza to share, we became immediately tired and just about made it back to the hostel, surrounded by a bewildering main road which seemed to lack in distinct lanes or rules. Come morning we eagerly set off to Isla Mujerés for a weekend of purity, peace and paradise.

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The 20 minute water ferry lead us to the island which was far bigger and more established than we envisioned. We soon stumbled across our second hostel (a slight set back from the first) and hauled in our over-packed bags to relieve our shoulders. By 10.30am we were firmly positioned on Playa Norte beach, mesmerised by the clarity of the lapping sea and feeling the warmth of soft sand between our toes; this was the moment we had been waiting months for.imag1382 A quick walk around soon revealed that our remote paradise was actually incredibly touristy too, in fact it was full of American visitors and as such meant every shop, bar or restaurant was targeted at the newbie; English translations, European menus and hefty prices. We made the most of the idyllic setting and hired a golf cart for a quick whizz around the island and booked a snorkelling trip for the following day. After a fantastic (albeit hipster) breakfast at Rooster we embarked on a tour of an underwater museum with just one other family. On with a life jacket which reassuringly strangled rather than hugged me, I gingerly jumped – well more placed myself – into the Caribbean Sea and stuck my head under the forceful waves to witness a glorious depth of clear sea, shawls of fish and intriguing Mayan statues. imag1384After an affirming gasp for non-snorkel oxygen, I quickly plunged under again to understand what was beneath us, can I really see moss-ridden statues of people, a Volkswagen Beatle with fish swimming through it’s windows and some kind of house? The snorkel tour was breath-taking, especially when a large wave washed over us. After 20 or so minutes of taking in the underwater world the ignored ‘please don’t get seasick, take medication’ sign at the shop lingered in my head. Rapidly the strong waves became overwhelming and nausea struck. Unfortunately (but reassuringly) S felt the same, as we retreated to the boat he looked as white as the inside of a lychee. We both clung to the knowledge we would soon return to the security of land and this feeling will soon cease. Pleasant distractions helped too in the form of flying fish and pelicans sharply diving for their dinner.

When our balance and steadiness finally restored itself after 30 minutes or so happily on land, we reconvened and wondered out to the town of Isla Mujerés on our last night there. imag1393We sat with ‘dos cervezas’ on a wooden swing in a beach bar whilst the sun painted the sky orange before sinking into the horizon. Both filled with appreciation of our scenery, we clinked our Coronas “to us” and left the darkening beach to find food.

Keen to avoid ‘the strip’ but one of us (S) also desperate for quite frankly anything to eat we hastily stepped into a French restaurant which served us snapper; overpriced and along with its accompaniments drowning in oil. With the feeling of a newly-serviced bike in our mouths, we agreed to steer clear of touristy places and seek a more authentic taste of Mexico. Onwards we went to Valladolid, Yucatán…

Packing up.

Packing up.

It’s a Monday. While recent unemployment eases the familiar grief of the weekend, our eagerness to pack up, set off and explore is rife. With three days until our flight to Cancun my rucksack is nearly packed and the remainder prepared in my head. I am confident I have it covered with a rough categorised packing system. S has not packed, nor will he until Wednesday afternoon. He is taking the “I’ll see how I feel on the day” approach and I am equally confident in his system – it always works out!

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Packing is tricky when it comes to a two-month travel trip / life-move over five different countries. We begin in Mexico during spring which will be, as my dear Mum would say, “hot-hot”. During our journey from Cancun to Mexico City, we are keen to hop over to Caye Caulker, Belize and Flores, Guatemala before retreating to Mexican soil. This will also be “hot-hot” however, our time in the West Coast of America will be a varied sprinkling of solid warmth to cool evenings, especially when camping in the Grand Canyon (as you do). We will then arrive in Vancouver with just our travelling possessions. So how do we pack, without pulling ourselves to the ground like a dropped ice cream?

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Our main decision is to not ship our belongings across the pond, with hefty prices we would rather spend the money on new clothes and rent a furnished flat. I have also heard the stories about winter in Canada. I’m just not confident my three year old London coat will do the job; I am thinking a duvet-coat or something prepared by NASA…

Aside from inevitable back issues, I am keen to pack (fairly) lightly to allow for unusual Mexican market purchases. I love nothing but exploring a town or city by perusing the markets, avoiding the main tourist segment as much as possible, and seeing what represents them and the surrounding vicinity. Market traders are often warm and chatty and happy to display their colourful collection of cultural treasures – I can’t wait!

We said our farewells to family and friends at the weekend and with our bags pack (for one of us!) we just have a few lose ends to tie up before we set off on our big adventure; the first for us as a couple!