Don't think about the end
08.05.2011 - 19.05.2011
Belize is a tiny English speaking country on the Caribbean coast known from a tourism perspective for its diving and snorkeling. It’s typically considered sensible to steer clear of Belize City itself as much as possible due to the crime and head straight for the much safer islands an hours ferry ride off the coast.
Anna, Jess and I arrived late into Belize City, spent the night and caught the first ferry the next morning out to the Cayes (islands). We didn’t have a booking when we arrived and spent the first hour and a half in the sweltering Caribbean sun looking for something suitable – well the girls did, I stayed watching the bags at a café sipping a glass of ice cold water.
We eventually found a really nice studio apartment, which was perfect for the three of us, we paid more than we wanted to but we even had a tiny swimming pool, which returned huge dividends over the next six days.
The garafuna / rastafarian influence is really strong in Belize and the Cayes (especially Caye Caulker) play that up for tourists. The buildings are brightly colored, the streets are paved with sand and the island’s motto is “go slow”.
The often dreadlocked locals are friendly and are constantly trying to engage you in conversation, normally to either sell you something, dive trip, pretty shell, marijuana, or to chat up the girls. Being back in a country that speaks English proved to be great for organizing but we suddenly realized that we could no longer feign ignorance of the street vendors pleas for custom.
Anna decided to get her PADI certification while on the island which took up most of her time during the day. Jess and I took a more relaxed approach and spent quite a bit of time lying in the sun, swimming and the obligatory snorkeling trip.
The snorkeling was definitely hands down the best we have ever done. We went with a group called Ragamuffin tours who run a full day tour sailing out to three dive sites on well loved, brightly painted yachts. They feed you decent sandwiches for lunch and provide lots of rum punch and ceviche for the journey home.
The great thing about snorkeling in Belize is that the reef is so shallow and the life so abundant that dive tanks are not really required to get amongst things. Over the course of the day Jess and I saw a Manatee (sea cow), nurse sharks, sting rays, eagle ray (a massive ray), grouper, moray eel, three of four turtles feeding on sea grass and of course countless schools of tropical fish. Anna saw similar things on her dive course so didn’t miss out.
After six days on the island we headed back to the mainland. We parted ways with Anna at the Belize City airport on her way back to Sydney and caught a bus towards Mexico.
Arriving in Mexico we were running out of time, our flights to New York left from Cancun in a week and seeing the whole country was obviously not an option.
After having heard rave reviews about the place (from Marzena and Kuba) we decided to spend the time we did have in Tulum, a town on the Yucatan Peninsula, south of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
Tulum itself is really split in two, the beach with its small, boutique resorts and the town itself which is set 4km or so inland and has most of the restaurants, shops and permanent residents.
The beach itself manages to maintain a laidback feel that the Miami like tourist traps further up the coast have lost. The resorts (of which there are many) are still reasonably rustic, providing thatched roofed cabanas often without electricity. The sand is pristine and it was a delight to see scores of Pelicans feeding just outside the breaking waves.
We decided to stay in the town of Tulum, as sacrificing the beach front location meant we were able to get a much nicer place and be much closer to the to restaurants and shops. On reflection the decision to stay in town was a pretty good one, as we were able to access the beach easily on bicycles from our hotel and when we got there could hang at one of the beach clubs, relaxing on loungers and sipping ice cold Coronas or Dos Equis. The restaurants also turned out to be great and we were able to eat some good Argentinian steaks, some decent French food and hands down the best ceviche we have ever had.
The great thing about Tulum was that there were plenty of things to do other than the beach. We spent a day SCUBA diving in huge limestone cave systems called Cenotes, some of which go for kilometers underground (we went about 50 meters). Although this was really great, it was a little scary in some places and I think the consensus was afterwards that we would generally stick to the ocean in the future.
We also hired a car and checked out two major ruins sites in the area. The first was Chichen Itza, the biggest Mayan ruins site in Mexico. It was impressive and the huge stone temples are definitely worth seeing but overall it couldn’t quite foot it with Tikal in Guatemala. While the close press of the jungle and the accompanying wildlife at Tikal had given you a real sense of exploration the wide open spaces and completely over the top souvenir shopping at Chichen Itza prevented any real intimacy with the site. That isn’t to take anything away from the building themselves which are amazing and remarkably well preserved, it’s just that tourism seems to have a got a little out of hand.
The second set of ruins was in Tulum. Set right on the coast overlooking the ocean, the contrast of the ancient castle against the aqua of the ocean is truly magical, especially early in the morning with the sun rising to the east across the ocean. You can swim (and we did) at the little beach right below the old castle surrounded by cliffs and huge iguanas basking on the rocks in the morning sun – a very pleasant way to start the day.
It was with heavy hearts that we left Tulum and Central America behind and headed up the coast to catch our flight to New York. In many ways this was the end of our trip, as although we still have a week left before arriving in London New York is likely to be another beast altogether - last update from there.