A Travellerspoint blog

A guac smashing road trip...

...and punch bugs gallore!

I think the thing that I love the most about travelling with Felix is that we both travel quite similar (very laid back, go with the flow) and are very prone to some very spontaneous snap decisions (that may or may not be the most thoroughly thought through ideas). Case in point was the morning after our first night in Bacalar, when we were trying to decide if we should stay an extra night or bus it up to a local fishing village an hour or so north. I cannot recall who, but one of us made a passing comment about how it would be so much easier if we just had a car and we could come and go as we pleased and not have to rely on the rigid bus timetables. Half an hour later and Felix had secured us a vehicle in Tulum which we were due to pick up the following day at 11am. Well, there´s that...hello road trip! Now we just have to figure out how to get to Tulum...

The road trip itself was an absolute shit show on wheels (and I mean this in the best possible way). It was completely ridiculous and totally insane but honestly one of the most exhilarating and most fun snap decisions that I have ever made. We had absolutely no idea where we were going, living completely in the NOW (something that both of us have ironically been trying to do having both separately read The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle - a great read...highly recommend!) and basing our decisions for the day the morning of (or sometimes the night before) based on the ¨vibe¨we got from the town once we had arrived. It is for reasons like this that in just over a week we covered just shy of 3,000kms. But I wouldn't have done it any other way. And even though we spent countless hours in the car, I had never felt more alive (and had more fun).

As we had hired a manual, and it had been a long time since I had driven one (aka not since bashing around in the paddocks in dad´s ute), it was decided that it was probably better that Felix drove (but I was happy to take the reigns if he ever felt the need to be a driving instructor!). So because poor Felix was burdened with the grand task of chauffeuring the precious cargo (aka me) across Mexico, I took it upon myself to wear many hats as his co-pilot for the insanity that was our Mexican road trip. As well as being the Chief Navigator, I was also the Chief Avocado Smasher (we didn´t always have time to stop and eat so I was making guacamole on the road as we were driving...and it was pretty bloody good if I may say so myself!), DJ, Chief GoPro video maker (and after viewing the footage, it´s definitely not one of my fortes!), and all round banter specialist. The tunes were blaring, there were countless dance-offs in the car and general all round ridiculousness. Crazy Gringos.

The great thing about doing a road trip in Mexico, is that you can make stops are you please (want to see that sunset?, ok, let´s pullover!) and get to see some amazing countryside, as well as make impromptu detours as you feel fit (included in these impromptu stops were plenty of stops at the local juice stands. I had the best pineapple juice of my life at one of them...I still think about it!!!!). The bad thing about doing a road trip within Mexico is that there is a lot of corruption with the police force. Border crossings were rarely an issue, but we were definitely challenged a little at the impromptu ¨checks¨that the police would make randomly on the highways. After a couple of instances of having to pay-off some police officers a little more Pesos than we would have liked, we finally wised up, cleaned out our wallets (leaving all the money under my seat) so when the police officer would try and charge us some ridiculous fee, like $3,000MXN, we would simply open our wallets to them and show we only had $50MXN between us....¨Officer, do you take credit card?¨. We got sassy, right back at them! Of course this was all done in Spanish (and quite often we played the ¨I don´t speak Spanish¨card, even though we both knew full well what they wanted). In most instances, the experience was more frustrating than scary and in general, most police officers were decently reasonable (even though they were doing something completely illegal). One particular occasion, that still makes me laugh was when one particularly corrupt police officer in Tabasco decided that Felix driving without a shirt (we had just had a swim at a local beach) was incredibly offensive for him and that we needed to pay a $1,500MXN fee for offending him so greatly. At this stage, we had our game plan with ¨no tenemous dinero!¨down, and eventually after a solid 15 minutes of bartering with him, finally got him to agree to let us to go the nearest ATM and return with the cash...You can imagine exactly what we did...we high tailed it over there and safely crossed the safe haven of the Campeche state border...so long suckerrrrrrrrrrr! A win for the good guys!

For those of you who are avid road-trippers, you will know that road trip games are imperative! To my absolute horror, Felix had never played the punch bug game! Those of you who have been to Mexico, there is an over-abundance of punch bugs present. Or as Felix accurately described, ¨Mexico is the place where punch bugs come to die¨. Honestly, on a bad day, you would probably see at least 15! It´s insane. And as you all know, the punch bug game results in punches...so besides our usual ridiculous silliness, we also spent the journey punching each other as well! And then the game morphed to include combie vans (which escalated into flicking too!). Let´s just say, that I will never feel easy around a punch bug or combie van again...and we were both sporting some pretty decent war wounds from our games!

Bacalar - Chetumal was our first port in Mexico after our boat from Caye Caulker. From Chetumal, we took a taxi for about half and hour to the tiny town of Bacalar. Bacalar is famous for its beautiful cenotes. For those of you who don´t know what a cenote is (I didn´t), it is a natural pit or sinkhole that results from the collapse of limestone that exposes ground water. Our hostel, Tortuga, was situated on Laguna de Bacalar which is known as the lake of the seven blues. We made excellent use of the hostels kayak while we stayed there. A very tranquil setting.

Tulum - we made our way to Tulum via bus (Mexican buses are freezing, always pack a sweater!). It was an uneventful trip for the most part (with the exception of one random Mexican man pulling our a machete on us at a taco stand). We were´t really sure what he was getting at as he wasn´t being aggressive, was he showing us is machete? Or did he want us to buy it? The taco stand people weren´t too fussed, clearly he has done this before! On the recommendation of some Portuguese friends from our stay in Bacalar, we stayed at a rather glamorous campsite across the street from the beach at Tulum. The following day, we picked up the car, had a very unexpected encounter with Sven and his mate visiting from the UK (tourist trail is small!), went to Akmul to snorkel with the turtles and we were off for our first stop on the official road trip...

Mahahual - a gorgeous little fishing village that had us drive three hours in the direction we had just come from (Bacalar), but was certainly worth the backtracking! Despite it being known for being a sleepy fishing village, there was actually a Señor Frogs, and anyone that has been to Cancun before knows how rowdy this establishment can get! Fortunately for us, it was the low season, and I don´t think it was even open (or at least we didn´t hear it, we were next-door!). The next morning, after a quick run to the local tienda for our guac supplies, we hit the road...en route for Palenque!

Palenque - we decided to drive straight through for the eight hour journey to Palenque. We spent the night in a small hippy village called Panchan that evening and visited the Palenque ruins the following morning. Palenque was a great experience and I much preferred to to Tikal. Not that Tikal was bad, but we had an amazing guide and were lucky to be one of the few people in the ruins at the time. It certainly made the experience feel a lot less manufactured! Following Palenque, we went back into town for a quick bite and then hit the road for San Cristobal.

San Cristobal - thankfully we opted to stay two nights here in San Cristobal. And what a temperature change! Situated in the mountains, it was one of the first times I had genuinely felt cold since leaving Guatemala during a few of the rainy days that I experienced at the lake. It was definitely a welcomed change (although arriving in jean shorts and a tank top definitely was a shock to the system!). We stayed at a great hostel called Puerto Viaje which was by far one of the best hostels I´ve come across in Central America. A very cool vibe, cheap, and amazing food! Felix randomly ran into a friend from his stay in Xela (I seriously need to visit this place! Xela people are everywhere!). A few bevies later and it was bedtime.

The next morning after a killer breakfast, we hit the road again (not for a new stop but to do some sightseeing) to visit San Juan (a local village) and then Canyon Samuriya. We spent that evening by the campfire at the hostel chatting with the fellow travellers. We rose early the next day and after a quick visit to the local markets for guac supplies, we hit the road for Paraiso.

Paraiso - we didn´t arrive at Paraiso until the sun was setting. It was a race to find the beach for a quick sunset swim. The beach wasn´t nearly as beautiful as the pictures on Google, but it had surf and was the first time that I have played in surf for a long time! Paraiso it not on the tourist trail, so we definitely found ourselves the sole tourists in a town of locals, which was quite refreshing despite all the bizarre looks we received. While hanging out in the main square, we met Andres and his sister Beatrice, who took a liking to us and struck up a conversation with us. Andres was studying English at university and we were more than happy for him to practice with us. Unfortunately his sister, Beatrice didn´t speak English, but we were able to chat a little with her in some pretty basic Spanish (and Andres translated a lot once our conversation deviated!). Following our chat in the square, Beatrice and Andres took us to the best taco and gringo place for dinner - delicious!

Campeche - a gorgeous town and reminiscent of a very pristine and well preserved version of Antigua in Guatemala. Our first order of business here was to sink a few beers after the hectic drive from Paraiso where we were constantly pulled over and asked for bribes. While we escaped unscathed, it is still takes a bit of an emotional toll. That evening we splashed out for a ridiculously expensive dinner. Three courses including ceviche, a steak and dessert, all washed down with Chile´s finest red. Another giant contradiction to how we have been previously travelling (which includes lots of cheap street meat tacos and making homemade road-guac in an attempt to save as much money as possible) and then we go and blow about a weeks budget worth of food in one sitting. Sometimes you have to indulge and pretend like you are on a normal vacation! We washed down our expensive meal with a few Mezcal martinis and with our wallets a hell of a lot lighter, we passed out by about 9pm. Road trips are exhausting!

Merida - we didn´t do too much in Merida aside from spending an inordinate amount of time at the local mall (I bought a MacBook) and unfortunately did not have any ID present at the time of my first attempt to purchase so we had a couple of trips. We spent the afternoon after our arrival (once we finally arrived at our hostel after some critical navigational fails on my part...the whole one way street thing is so frustrating, odd streets going North-South, and even streets going East-West...let´s just say it took me a long time to get my head around it, and we did quite a few circles!). We sampled some local Campechan fare, and it was delicious. The next morning, we awoke early for our trek to Cancun (not without stopping in briefly for Chichen Itza).

Cancun - I much preferred the ruins of Palenque to Chichen Itza. Don´t get me wrong, Chichen Itza is in exceptional condition, but you are among hoards, and hoards, and hoards of tourists. And these days, every now and again, I find it difficult to be amongst the masses at tourist traps. I much prefer the local adventures that I seem to find myself involved in, or just winging it and seeing what happens when I visit a place. But aside from paying the obnoxious fees to get inside, it was all very nice and well maintained. As we felt too skint to pay for a guide after the hefty admissions, Felix took it upon himself to do an interpretative guided tour for us. It was completely off the wall and ridiculous, but highly entertaining (and we did get a few laughs from people who were eavesdropping nearby).

It was about an hours drive from Chichen Itza to Cancun. Our mate Sven, was back in town and had offered to let us crash at the place he had rented. We closed out our fabulous road trip with a wine and cheese party on Sven´s balcony while watching the sunsetting...all very sophisticated for a bunch of punter backpackers! Moments like this, I will treasure forever. It´s not everyday that you make friends that you truly connect with on the road, so when you do, you are always grateful.

And so concludes the most epic road-trip to date...I will be very hard pressed to top it...but as always, I´m up for the challenge. Next up Cuba...words cannot express how excited I am for this!!!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are.

Mel xx

In case my description of the insanity that was our road trip was not clear enough...this is what 3,000kms looks like on a map! Ridiculous and completely insane but by far one of my favourite experiences of my travels thus far...this is what it´s all about...sometimes getting a bit loco and doing something completely spontaneous!
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Beautiful Bacalar...
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Bacalar again...seven colours of water...spectacular!
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Good morning Tulum! Unfortunately we didn´t spend a great deal of time here but did manage to nip down to the beach after breakfast...
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Tulum again...
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Cheese! One of my more impressive accidental photobombs!
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Swimming with turtles...unbelievable!
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Me gusta tortugas!!!
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Mahahual
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Mahahual
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And this little gem made it all possible! She may not look to flash but she had some character about her (and took an absolute beating as Felix had some minor problems spotting the ¨boobs¨ aka speebumps, the signs in Mexico for speedbumps look like a pair of boobs, hilarious!
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Palenque...exceptional and by far my favourite ruins that I visited!
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Me pretending to have an eye for photography! Palenque again..
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Me at Palenque.
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The church in the main square at San Juan (a tiny Mayan village just outside of San Cristobal)
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Fruit and Veg Markets in San Cristobal
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Look at all those chickens! Kind of remind me of rubber chickens...San Cristobal markets again.
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Punch bugs everywhere! Walking around San Cristobal
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View of San Cristobal from my hostel window
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Safety first at Cañon Sumidero...eejits!
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Our boat captain for the ride through the canyon...what a boss!
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Beautiful canyon...
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My camera is full of these photobombs...lucky me! So many picture perfect moments....RUINED!!!!
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This is how you eat guac and drive...well done Feliz...you can do two things at once!
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Mel´s road guac...not always the easiest to make...especially when you are driving through the mountains! Safe to say that the car was returned absolutely covered in guac...mmmmmmmmm...
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My fave photo of the trip...this dudes were such legends! We got some great GroPro footage of them cruising along
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Sunset swim in Paraiso. Another googlemaps fail. We were quoted to have a four hour drive from San Cristobal and it ended up taking us closer to seven but fortunately we made it in enough time for a quick dip...
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Paraiso.
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Sunset in Campeche.
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You know the quote, ït´s not over until the fat lady sings¨?! Well I found her, here in Campeche on a date with the hubs...she didn´t sing a note.
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The streets of Campeche
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Chilling in some dude´s lap...Campeche.
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Campeche in the morning...more bugs! I love Mexico!
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Beautiful Campeche...such a photogenic city! Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous...
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Posted by melpage 09:52 Archived in Mexico Tagged cancun tulum palenque campeche chichen_itza merida san_cristobal bacalar paraiso mahahual Comments (0)

Two Aussies, an Englishman and a Swede go to an island...

...and it was paradise on earth

It wasn't until I was actually on the pontoon on the way out there that I came to the realisation that I was going to be the lone woman in the group for our stay, which at that stage was going to be for anywhere from four days until a week. Hmmmm, was this going to be a huge mistake? How many times am I going to have to play ¨ear muffs¨?! Now, having lived the experience and in writing this, I can assure you that it is a resounding no. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far, and something that I will always reflect back on fondly.

The decision to go to the island was a very last minute one. Felix had spoken to me about his interest previously when he had heard about it when we were in Rio Dulce in Guatemala staying at the Round House but at that stage, it required a week time commitment and as I wasn't a diver, I wasn't sure I really wanted to waste a week being secluded on a beautiful tropical island (yes, I realise how ridiculous that sounds now that I am repeating it). I guess maybe I was all islanded-out after my stint in Bermuda? Anyway, I politely declined the invitation from Felix but it wasn't until we came across Mauro, the Italian who had been travelling through Central America via motorbike (awesome stories!) and he had the bright idea of getting a group together and seeing if we could haggle our way down to three to four nights, that the idea sounded far more appealing and something that I could tolerate (I know, I really need a big forehead slap for that!). After some keen negotiating by Felix through a series of phone calls with the owner of the island, we had ourselves a deal! But quite ironically, the price wasn't quite right enough for our ideas man, Mauro, so he bailed. Oh well, at least we still had the dream team!

Our island, Glover´s Atoll, is a small island that is located about 45km off of the coast of Placencia. It takes about 3 hours on the pontoon to get out there but is well worth the trek. The scenery was absolutely stunning (some of the bluest water that I have ever seen) and if it can get any better, we were escorted by a pod of dolphins who were racing us in the boat (this also happened on our return journey too). Incredible! Our resort was on the North East Caye and is a family run resort. The island itself is absolutely tiny (about 9 hectares) and is filled with approximately a million coconut trees. As Belize´s most remote Atoll, you have the opportunity to view some of the worlds most pristine reefs. The diving and snorkelling is truly exceptional!

As part of our sweet deal, Felix was able to secure us a self-contained cabin on stilts over the gorgeous blue water. Because we were on a budget and the hut was self-contained, we had decided to cook all of our meals ourselves (except for the final meal, which we decided to splurge and indulge in some local lobster, which was out of this world!). Cooking our meals was a bit of an adventure and as we had to be prepared in purchasing our groceries prior to our arrival, it resulted in us having to be very creative with our meals (especially when we had realised we were missing a few key ingredients!). And with a million coconut trees on the island, all meals revolved around some form of coconut! We also had to contend with the lack of modern kitchen appliances, which made for some very interesting improvisations, but nothing that we couldn't handle when we made an effort to think outside of the box!

After the first night or two, we began to operate more or less like a family unit. Everyone in the family had their chores or responsibilities. Felix was the Head Chef, Chang-Bang was busy making delicious side-dishes (like coconut rice and coconut potato salad) or inventing delicious beverages (like the Chang-High and Chang-Bang, it´s because of this we ran out of booze on day two...rookie mistake! Always triple your order!), and I wavered between being the dish washer, Chief Coconut Cracker and the Su Chef. And as for Sven, I´m not really sure what his job title was. He floated in-between a few (and was also working remotely at the time also). He talked a lot. So I guess he was our Commentator? Regardless, with everyone fulfilling their duties, it was smooth sailing all round, and nobody went hungry.

Aside from our culinary adventures (and in my case, a few flops in the kitchen - who knew that preparing coconut milk overnight would result in some very rancid coconut oatmeal!), the first few days were filled with lots of reading, swimming and tanning. Felix and Sven, who were already avid divers, went out on a few dives, while Chang-Bang and I held up the fort. It was a tough life. But somebody´s gotta do it!

One pivotal moment in our stay was when Sven made the grand announcement that he was a certified Dive Instructor and would be very happy to teach Chang and I for free (as long as the folks at Glover´s didn´t mind renting us the equipment). With a generous offer like that, we ecstatically accepted! And from there on out, our days were actually quite busy, involving lots of time in the water and a bit of study.

Staying on that small island was definitely an incredible experience. Almost like something out of Survivor (but obviously a lot more comfortable. We had beds, groceries, and a gas burning stove...it was hardly slumming it!) And as we had to be Captain Organised (one Captain hat that I am still mastering...still on Captain Obvious) in arriving at the island and have all of our groceries with us, this definitely forced us into becoming quite creative with our meals, and towards the end of the week, when our supply was low, it got to be very basic. Ughhhh, coconut rice again?!

But it wasn´t all bad, Chang managed to score us a Barracuda one night after one of the other couples that was on the island who had gone deep sea fishing decided that it was too small to fillet (actually, quite large, fed the four of us!) so we had a side of pan seared barracuda steak with our vegetable curry (courtesy of Felix...insanely delicious!). And in an effort to not waste anything, we used the left over Barracuda carcus to attract a lemon shark and some nurse sharks to come into shore. We had lots of different sea life circling our jetty that evening, including a squid...which I had never seen before! Entertainment at it´s finest!

Even though towards the end of our stay, I was beginning to miss the comforts of living on land a little bit, I could not help but be secretly pleased when our planned departure from paradise was delayed by a night due to a passing storm. It was definitely a very eventful evening, so much noise (and so much lightening!), very little sleep, but it meant that we could spend one more night on the island...and keep living the dream. A dream that i was not quite ready to give up! And very fortunately, as we were out of food (and it was slim pickings at best towards the end of the week), the crew at Glover´s put on our meals for the extra night and day. Not only were we totally provided for, but we were also out of the kitchen...YAY!

What an epic week that it was...lots of stories, lots of laughter and memories that will last a lifetime. My only wish is that if I am ever stranded again on a tropical island again, that my company is half as good as these lads. It´s funny, you go into things like this thinking that you know someone, or enough about them to have an indication of who they really are, and then you have a few really honest moments with them and everything changes. You find that there is so much more to them than what was initially presented to you. I guess that is what happens when you start being present. Absolute gems, THANK YOU BOYS!!!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are.

Mel xx

The homestead for the week...we got up when the sun rose, cooked all of our own meals and were usually passed out at about 9pm...totally native! And I loved every minute of it...
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The sunrises were amazing...
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Good morning world!
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Our beautiful island home...Glover's Reef Atoll
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Gorgeous sunsets...
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This is what happens when Felix has too much time on his hands...Mr Coconut says congratulations...for Chang and I passing our PADI Open Water Diver course! Woo!!!
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A simple life...I miss it
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We got plenty of visits from all kinds of marine life...the spotted rays that circled our dock were my favourite...
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Sven really likes to be naked. A lot (but you'll notice that clearly he doesn't like to sunbathe naked). Eye contact in the homestead was at all times imperative. And he also likes to swim naked with sharks and a gutted barracuda in his hands...crazy kid!
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Good morning (or maybe it's a goodnight...who knows!)
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The island is inhabited with a million coconut trees...which means there are heaps of coconuts! We lived and breathed all things coconut for a week. It was glorious. I drank at least three every day...not to mention the kilos of coconut shavings that I probably consumed daily! I learned how to crack my own coconuts too, so it was definitely a very self satisfying exercise.
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Family photos....Chang-Bang, Me, Sven & Feliz
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Our Boy Band photo...doing the danger sign in diving "chat". Please excuse Sven´s crotch region...
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On our way home...
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And this pic basically sums up the entire week...it's tough being the only chick sometimes...nothing like a surprise throwing off the boat!
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Channeling my inner photog...quite a speccy pic of Chang-Bang, I think...
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And because I promised to give credit where credit was due...thank you Felix...

Look Mum...I'm a real scuba diver! About 20m under...
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Home is where the heart is...
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Beautiful.
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And to think that I thought I would loose my mind stranded on an island...I could really get used to this...
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One of the funniest things that I have ever seen...
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Bliss.
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On our way out to our first official dive...EXCITING! Chang-bang...oh so gangsta!
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Spazzing out...
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Wow...the tranquil waters of Glovers...
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Posted by melpage 08:16 Archived in Belize Tagged glover's_atoll Comments (0)

Beautiful Belize

Why was I not so fussed about this place?!

And off to Belize we go! Felix and I took a boat from Livingston to Punta Gorda (Belize) at about 7.30am. Our Captain, Jose, and his first mate, "Big Boy" took us there on quite a large boat despite the fact that Felix and I were the only ones on it. They clearly were not going to make any profit on this run! Jose and his first mate were certainly quite the characters for the journey. Jose first introduced "Big Boy" to us as Big Boy, and subsequently erupted into laughter. We of course laughed too, as Big Boy was very small (muy pequeno), and as we also have similar jokes like this in English, it made sense to us. A few moments later, they then turned to me and asked (this is all done in Spanish by the way, neither of them spoke English) what big meant. Hmmmm, clearly what we thought was the play on "big" was clearly lost on them! I then translated it for them and then they started laughing.

About an hour later, we arrived into Punta Gorda. It must have been a slow morning for Belize as were the only ones in immigration and I politely had to interrupt one of the officials from the latest episode of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" to come and stamp us through. The folks in immigration were quite possibly the nicest people that I have come across while travelling. Very helpful, offering us tourist advice, advising on the best places to change our money and even offering to escort us to where the best breakfast spot was. Most definitely a complete change from my experiences in Bermuda, where I felt like I was some kind of criminal being interrogated as to where I was, what I was doing and why I am trying to come back to Bermuda...and then there was the hefty surcharge that was levied on all my newly purchased goods abroad...ouch!

On the advice of our new friends at immigration, Felix and I headed to Grace's for a hearty breakfast that included "fried jacks" (a local delicacy), and is essentially a fried piece of dough that is quite fluffy. It's a little bit sweet, but surprisingly when paired with an omelette, quite delicious!

Now that I am in an English speaking country, after weeks and weeks on end of wishing that people could at least understand some English (I'm very proficient at Spanglish now, I might even dare to say fluent!), I cannot seem to stop speaking Spanish. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been reminded by the locals, "excuse me ma'am, remember that we speak English here in Belize!¨. Quite funny, but I suppose in a way, it's progress on my part. It's also very strange to see the Mayan-looking descendants and have them come out and speak English to you right off the bat. Especially when you are used to them speaking the "clicks" of the Mayan languages.

Not long after breakfast, we boarded a local bus, which is not far off being reminiscent of a chicken bus in Guatemala, for Placencia, where we were going to be staying one night. It was a smooth enough ride, with many stops and lots of people but definitely an entertaining ride as the Garifuna tunes were pumping (or perhaps blaring is a more accurate description). About an hour and a half later, we arrived at Indepencia.

Placencia is a very small village that is only accessible via a water taxi that leaves from the coast of Indepencia. When the sun is out, it's incredibly hot in Placencia. We arrived in the mid afternoon and the sun was strong. It was certainly quite a mission trying to lug our bags around while we found some accommodation for the night. There are a lot of American expats that live here. Some are retired, and others are here working in various industries. It was a nice spot, and the locals are very friendly. One local told me that the Main Street in Placencia is in the Guinness World Records for the narrowest Main Street in the world (yet to be confirmed on my part).

Once we had checked into our new digs, we went for a walk along the beach and not long later, low and behold, we ran into Chang and Sabrina! Small world on the backpackers route. We spent the afternoon and evening with them drinking the local brew (Belikin). Belikin is quite a nice beer and in my opinion, and a hell of a lot better than the Brahva that we were sometimes forced to drink in Guatemala when there was no Gallo, Victoria or Moza on offer (Brahva tastes like water). I also had a crack at the local Garifuna drink called "Bittaz". I believe that Bittaz is a local rum that is mixed with herbs. To put it mildly, Bittaz was foul. I hate wasting a drink, so in an attempt to salvage the better part of a full bottle of Bittaz, I mixed it with the the best mixer that I know, Coke. And even after mixing it with the best masking agent on the market, I still couldn't get it down! Rough.

That evening, the Awesome Foursome stumbled across possibly the best meal restaurant in Belize; a very understated shack called ¨Mary´s¨. Mary, the Head Chef and Owner, is a woman that is larger than life itself but is an absolute delight and puts so much love and passion into her cooking. The four of us feasted on all kinds of local delicacies, ranging from shrimp coconut curries, to fried conch. Bloody sensational, and the perfect way to close out Placencia (and I am ignoring Mary´s empty promise to open early for us for breakfast...rejection is harsh!).

The following morning, on the cuff of being stood up by Mary for our final Placencia breakfast, Sabrina, Chang and I sombrely headed to the bus station to catch the next bus to the Hopkins Junction. Felix had decided to hang back for an extra night for some reason. I personally believed that he wasn´t quite ready to say goodbye to Mary just yet. In my experience, one meal feels just so unfinished! The ride to the Junction was relatively uneventful. We met a really nice Danish bloke who was also going to Hopkins and also planning to stay at the Funky Dodo. It is customary (per the Lonely Planet and all the locals that we spoke to), that once you get the bus to the Hopkins Junction, you then hitch the 4km it is to the town itself as the buses are highly irregular going into the town from the Junction. After almost an hour and a half of waiting, and feeling a little hopeless as cars kept ripping past us and leaving us cloaked in a thick wave of dust, we finally caught out lucky break with two lovely expats in a giant truck. We loaded our gear and ourselves in the tray, and we were off!

I absolutely adored Hopkins, it was very raw and just felt real. There was no glitz or glamour to the place. What you saw was what you got. The town itself is quite random, very spread out long dirt road that stretches for about two kilometres. The shops and restaurants are not concentrated in one main area, just small clusters in various chunks down the road. It certainly is not the smartest lay-out, but was great exercise and going for a stroll on my first morning was the best way to discover all the hidden gems this funny little town had to offer. There were some great local eats (we got to taste more Garifuna delicacies, although none topped the Tapado soup!), with my personal favourite being my discovery of Caitlin´s Bakery on my first morning. Talk about striking gold!

The Funky Dodo Hostel itself is quite funky (clearly suitably named). It´s a stones throw away from the intersection of the Junction Road and the Main Street, and about a block from the beach. It was self catering and even had a pool (blow-up! But it still worked!). Marlon, the manager, who was originally from Guatemala but had lived in Belize for a number of years, was an invaluable resource and always made sure we were comfortable.

We met all kinds of great fellow travellers here. So many interesting stories and random travel plans. First, there was Marcus from Sweden (who we later christened Sven, appropriate!), who had been in Belize for quite a while on an extended travel plan. He likes to travel very slowly (I am talking years in one country), you could say the man is thorough! Anyway, he was in Belize at a nearby community that some of his friends have started up, sort of a sustainable living community in the Belizian jungle. Then there was Mauro, he was an Italian that had been motorbiking through Central America on his way down to South America. His photos and stories of the places he visited were amazing. I was particularly enthralled with his tales of Cuba, a destination I was going to in November. Then there was Mel and Joel, two Aussie mates who were also making their way south on an extended trip. They both grew up together in Albury and were absolutely lovely (also the people that I would later spend Christmas and New Years with! It´s never Xmas without a few Aussies). And finally, an Argentinian, Gabriel, who had also travelled on his motorbike from Alaska all the way down the West Coast. The stories that Gabriel and Mauro told were amazing and certainly made me envious...motorbike license next maybe?! You´ve got to be ok with being alone with your thoughts for long stretches, ey?!

Needless to say, not only was it an absolute pleasure to be in such a great little village, it was also the tremendous company. So many days and nights filled with some really interesting and rich conversation, and lots of great tales of travel. This is what I love!

It was from Hopkins that Sven, Chang, Felix and I ventured to an island called Glover´s Atoll for a week in paradise. But that story is for the next post! Stay tuned.

Following our stint in paradise, we returned to Hopkins for a few nights before we got a case of the itchy feet again and made the executive decision to head to Caye Caulker (but sadly without Sven, who had to go and meet up with a friend, but would later see him down the line).

Caye Caulker is a party town. Period. It was nice to see, but if you are looking for a tranquil and beautiful island, you certainly won´t get that (harsh, yes, but I think a huge part of my judgement is due to being completely spoiled the week prior on Glover´s Atoll - see my separate post for that amazing week!). Having said that, I did have a great time and met some fantastic fellow travellers, I just got to the point where I felt as though I had overstayed my welcome (after Bermuda, there is only so much of being cooped up on a small island filled with booze that I can take!). It was certainly a very booze-ladened adventure, which isn´t always bad, just wasn´t what I was after at that point in time.

Chang, Felix and I, at the recommendation of Joel and Mel, stayed at Dirty McNasty´s Hostel. Contrary to the name, the hostel was a far cry from being dirty, or nasty for that matter. It offered a fantastic cooked breakfast in the morning and free rum punch in the evening after 7pm. As far as I was concerned, it was a win, win. The first few days we stayed in Caye Caulker were a wash out (and also was the result of us staying much longer than originally anticipated). As such, we spent the majority of the time lazing around the hostel, playing pool, and of course all kinds of drinking games. In brief moments of sunshine, we were able to go and have a few beers and some ceviche down at the Split. The Split is famous in Caye Caulker and is appropriately named after a hurricane came through and literally split the island into two pieces. There is now one completely inhabited part, and one habited part. The Split is the go to place for sunning yourself and drinking in the sunshine. There really isn´t another place on Caye Caulker to just soak up the sun!

Along with ensuring that we stayed well hydrated at the Split, the three of us also were sure to take full advantage in using the hostel´s free kayak and went on several adventures out at sea. Chang wasn´t nearly as enthralled in the kayak as Felix and I. I think a pivotal moment in his distaste for it was when Felix capsized it on purpose, right off the shore of The Split. Of course stuff went everywhere, and I was for the better part almost drowning as a result of being in fits of laughter. Chang was quite displeased with the whole production and stormed off in a huff, leaving Felix and I to de-capsize the boat. The next day, Chang left (but I assure you it had nothing to do with the capsizing incident as he explained later, he just had some personal things that he needed to attend to).

And then there were two. Well, even though Chang left us, it didn´t put too much of a damper on our good time. Felix and I still continued to have all kinds of fun-filled adventures. We made the very foolish decision to kayak around the entire island, not fully appreciating the size of the island and also the fact that over the half of the journey would be done in a savage head wind. It was definitely one of those ridiculous moments where you feel so helpless and feel so dumb for even attempting it (I am going to die at sea!), but at the same time are completely cracking up with laughter at how absurd it all was and that it´s fun! We were at it for the better part of about three hours and I cannot even begin to describe the faces that the locals pulled at us while we were paddling with all of our force into a gale forced wind by the ferry dock and going absolutely nowhere. Soul destroying! But made for a great story, and certainly quite a few well deserved beers.

The following morning, we finally got around to planning the snorkel trip that we had been talking about all week (I tell ya, times were lazy, lazy, lazy in Caye Caulker...but mostly because of the weather!). On the advice of some Canadians that I briefly met in Hopkins, we were to find a Belizian man called Stan (ok his name wasn´t Stan, it slips my mind right now but I´ll update when I remember) and he would hook us up with an all day adventure of snorkelling, fishing and then a barbecue later in the evening where we got to eat what we caught (fingers crossed we caught something or it would be a very sad barbecue!). We had an amazing day at sea where we got to see heaps of fish, have a crack at spear fishing, regular rod fishing and I even got to meet a random lobster diver out at sea...underwater! Quite unexpected when you think it´s a member of your group! But he let me dive down with him to catch lobster, awesome! Felix and I were also joined by three lovely German fellas who were out in Belize and Mexico on a quick three week jaunt. Sometimes you get envious of people on these quick stint trips, they can travel so differently, and drop cash without thinking or weighing up a variety of alternatives. Perils of longterm travel! Always weighing up the alternatives, and deciding what you will forfeit in the future to do this one thing that you are desperate to do. It´s hard work!

Anyway, the Germans were great company but our day was far from complete without our fearless captain, a man who rocked an ombre hairstyle better than Khloe Kardashian and was not far from being fluorescent orange (he was so tan), Ninja. Ninja was a legend and one of the funniest blokes that I have come across in my travels to date. He had a free flowing blonde ombre´d mane with long and lustrous curls. He was incredibly skinny, leathery, didn´t have too many teeth left and wore his bright blue Speedo with authority. My biggest regret of Belize was that I didn't get a photo with Ninja, the man had presence! Most of the time I found him inaudible, his accent was so thick. But on the brief moments where I actually understood what he was saying, I was always laughing. He was a funny bugger! I think my favourite Ninja moment of the day, was right after he brought us out to his boat (it was really just a rickety old punter boat with an engine) was in the beginning of the trip as we were patiently waiting on the jetty with all of our stuff. The five of us were politely engaged in some general ¨get to know you¨chat until we could´t ignore what was happening a few boats down any longer. Ninja had been a few boats down for quite sometime and there had been a repeated banging. When asked if everything was ok, he responded in a thick Belizian accent, ¨Nah...alright man...forgot me keys so breakin open de lock¨. I couldn´t hide my giggles. I knew it was going to be a great day. And great (and fruitful!) it was. Even I caught a fish (and a real one!).

We closed out our time in Caye Caulker with the local Halloween Party down at The Split. It was a great way to finish it off, there was a dance floor with some crazy disco lights and all the cool Halloween-esque hits that you would expect. I made a point of drinking my fair share of a drinking known as the Lazy Lizard, which was a local drink at The Split and eerily reminiscent of a drink concoction that I made during Schoolies when I was 17. And here I thought my days of pounding back Midori (yes, I know, vile) were over?! Safe to say, at 30, I am almost 95% sure I will never have a drink with Midori in it again. Revolting...but hey, was good at the time!

At around 6am the following morning we boarded the ferry to Chetumal, Mexico. Catch ya round Belize...and Hola Mexico!!!!!!!! Looking forward to these Day of the Dead celebrations!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are.

Mel xx

Captain Felix...assisted by first mate Juan...enroute to Belize! Love that moustache!
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The Belize version of Chicken Bus...good times. Especially with the Garifuna tunes blaring. And no, the bus´s name is not James...name of the company!
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Hello Indepencia
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Indepencia
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Punta Gorda
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The tranquil shores of Placencia, and shortly before we randomly ran into Sabrina & Chang.
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Felix attempting to give Sabrina, Chang and I a demonstration of how to crack a coconut (something that he allegedly learned during his travels through Asia). I´ll give him an A for effort (he was at it for a longgggg timeeeee), but that coconut remained uncracked (and I believe may have even been thrown into the ocean in a fit of rage). Coconut 1, Felix 0.
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Placencia
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Placencia
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Wall art in Placencia
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John the Bakerman...
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If you are ever in Placencia...do yourself a favour and go and seek out Mary...she runs a hut called "Mary's"...go figure. Sensational food! So flavoursome...delicious!!! Best coconut curry of my life. And if she tells you that she will open early for breakfast for you, don´t believe her! We boarded our bus to the Hopkins Junction, slightly broken hearted!
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Hopkins. Didn't come overly "rated" by other tourists, but I loved it. I was supposed to spend a night here, ended up spending four in total. Very relaxed. Lovely people and very local. Perfect combo, if you ask me...
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Hopkins
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Hopkins
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Hopkins
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Hopkins beach...not the nicest beach I've been to but decent enough. Except for the slaughtering I took by the sand flies. Beware, they are LETHAL all throughout Belize. I thought I had bedbugs at one point! I´ve never been so itchy in my life. Word on the street is that if you coat your legs in baby oil, it makes it impossible for them to bite you. Sadly, I didn´t find this out until the evening before I left. Hindsight.
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Hopkins and my pal, Bella. Most beautiful dog ever. She escorted me everywhere from the hostel. Loved her.
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The ladies of Hopkins. Beautiful people.
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On the recommendation of Caitlin, of Caitlin's Bakery, an establishment that I discovered early on that sells amazing fruit smoothies and the best chocolate zucchini muffins you have ever tasted, we went to this "Keep Hopkins Clean" barbecue fundraiser. Best barbecued chicken of my life...these Belizians really know their way around a barbecue...delish.
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Sunset in Hopkins.
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Love this place.
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The Split at Caye Caulker. Where all the cool kids hangout...lots of sun, booze and sandflies!
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More of The Split.
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Wandering the streets of Caye Caulker...on a photographic mission.
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Just for laughs...the Caye Caulker Fire Department...legit!
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Strolling the local neighbourhood in Caye Caulker.
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Boat at the Split in Caye Caulker.
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Posted by melpage 17:18 Archived in Belize Tagged caye_caulker punta_gorda placencia hopkins Comments (1)

Wait, am I still in Guatemala?

...real Garifuna territory

Livingston is like no other place that I have visited in Guatemala. It is a bit of a mission to get to, but if you are feeling adventurous and don't mind getting down to the nitty gritty, it's well worth the trek. You can only get there by boat from either Rio Dulce or Puerto Barrios. Gary from Kangaroo had organised for Felix, Ed & I to take a transfer boat from Rio Dulce which lasted about two hours and included a little tour of the River. Such a beautiful part of the world!

Livingston itself is basically a giant marsh. It is really sticky and the air is hot and thick. It is a raw experience and very far from the manufactured tourist experience that you sometimes get while you are travelling. Even though it is more hard going, it was certainly refreshing because it felt all the more real. The culture and heritage are rich, and if you don't mind getting back to basics, it is an authentic experience. The laid-back village is renown for its Garifuna people who settled here and are of West-African descent. The people originally came to the Caribbean Island of Saint Vincent but subsequently escaped and then mixed with the local (and now disappeared) Arawak people, and eventually settled in Livingston (they are essentially "shipwreck slaves"). Their culture and lifestyle is vastly different to the other parts of Guatemala, which makes it such a treat to see! Wait, am I still in Guatemala?!

First impressions of Livingston were interesting (I would be lying if I didn´t say that I was doubting as to why we decided to have an overnight and not just a day trip). I believe that by reiterating my initial comment upon arrival, "shit, I'm glad you guys are with me" to Ed and Felix, adequately captures the intense arrival process. When you arrive at the dock, you are greeted by packs of local Garifuna hustlers trying to offer you tours, hotels, drugs, anything else that you can think of. It had been a long time since I had been properly hustled and when you combine that with the thick hot air and trying to navigate disembarking a rickety old boat with a giant backpack and a small pack, it was overwhelming. To put it mildly, I felt a little out of practice. Fortunately, a representative from our hostel was waiting patiently for us at the back of the pack and we were off (and unscathed).

Aside from the intense arrival, the rest of Livingston was very low key (the arrival was a far cry from its true representation!). The people were very friendly, and we never faced an issue we could´t handle. In hindsight, the experience of the hustlers wasn't all that bad, but I guess just a huge contrast to the tranquil experiences I had been having to date. It was definitely a shock to the system. But hey, we all need to make a living, right?

Our hostel itself was nothing to write home about; it was located in a swamp and a short walk from town, but the atmosphere, the volunteers and other travellers were great. And to be honest, what I have now discovered, that is all that matters.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in hammocks and reading books in between spurts of socialising with other travellers. It was the ideal lazy day. In the late afternoon, Felix and I decided to go on a walk to discover what was on offer in Livingston. I would be lying if I said it definitely was a bit rough and very run down, but in the roughness there was a great deal of raw beauty. Now, this is what travelling is all about.

That evening, Felix and I ventured into the town for some traditional Garifuna cuisine (when in Rome, right?!). We were advised to try the Tapado which is rich coconut based soup that is made with whole fish and topped off with lime juice. We paid extra coin for the "especiale" Tapado which in addition to the fish, included a whole host of different seafoods, including octopus, sea snail, mussels, calamari, conch, and topped off with plantains. Once you add a little bit of hot sauce, you have quite a finger licking good meal in front of you! Following dinner, we made our way back to the hostel and chilled there for a while before I sent myself to bed.

The following morning post brekkie, Felix, Dylan (a friend of Felix´s from previous travels that we ran into in Livingston) & I ventured back into Livingston for our final look around before we boarded another short boat ride back towards Rio Dulce to a hostel called Roundhouse. During our venturing, we came across a local Garifunian bloke called Philip "Polo" Flores, who was a local musician that also moonlights as a tour guide through the Garifuna village and also hands out flyers for Roundhouse (fitting!). After a short discussion with Philip about where we had been in Livingston and what we had seen, Philip had advised us that we had failed to see the real local Garifunian village (as most tourists do because it's a bit complicated to get to!). It was definitely a very interesting experience and I was so happy to have met him (he's a local legend!).

Post our tour with Polo, we made our way back to the hostel and waited for our pick up for Roundhouse. We weren't sure how long we were going to stay, but were definitely keen for a couple of nights of relaxation before making the trek to Belize.

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are!

Mel xx

The shores of Livingston...definitely not a swimming beach (in my opinion, although the locals swim). I took a few creative liberties here and showed the nicer photos of the water.
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Beach bars
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Local boats at shore
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Four little piggies on a trot and a falling down house...this is what I love! All the amazing things you spy when you travel the road less travelled...
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The local laundromat...communal living!
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All I can say is YUMMMMMMMMMMM! So rich, so decadent...maybe I should´t have split it??? We should have gotten our own...perils of being a lowly backpacker!
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The streets of Livingston
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More of the streets...
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It is customary in Guatemalan culture to have a large procession of people when you mourn the death of a family member/friend. I didn´t know this at first and was wondering why there were so many sad people following a ute around the town.
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Me and my best mate, Polo...what a legend!
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Polo´s village...still facing the effects of a hurricane that tore their village apart a few years back. Very sad. As well as facing issues regarding their housing, they are also facing serious health issues regarding diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis, etc.
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Look at those cheeks! Guatemalan kids are the cutest!!! This little cutie was all smiles for me as we were following her and her mother back to our hostel.
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Posted by melpage 10:15 Archived in Guatemala Tagged livingston Comments (1)

Now that´s one sweet river...

...what a stunning part of the world!

We didn't arrive at Rio Dulce until the early evening after the sun had already set, but even in the darkness, you could tell that this was a very sweet spot in Guatemala. The city of Rio Dulce is nothing to write home about, just another Guatemalan city, but there are a couple of lovely restaurants and bars that have some prime locations right on the river.

We had booked a couple of beds in at "Kangaroo", which is an Australian and Mexican run hostel that is about a 10minute boat ride from Rio Dulce. Gary (the Aussie), had informed us to go to the Sun Deck Bar, which was right on the river and they would call him to collect us when we arrived. I was not even half way through my Corona when he showed up. How is that for service?!

Gary and Graciela have owned and run Kangaroo for the past eight years. Gary is an ex builder from Australia who moved over to Guatemala about ten years ago and is about as Australian as you get (hearing him speak Spanish with such an Aussie accent was quick an experience...do I sound that bad?!). When he saw the property go up on the market, he jumped at the chance to buy it as he saw its potential. When he purchased it, it was nothing but a few reinforcements into the river (there is no land on the entire property...you are literally on a deck over the water! A very interesting way to live!). Now there is a huge wooden cabin which includes the restaurant, dorm facilities and the main lounge. Out the back are about five smaller private cabins and a hot tub. With a set-up like that, it is very easy to lose a couple of days relaxing here! Not only are the location and facilities fantastic, but so is the food. Graciela prepares some amazing Mexican dishes (let's just say I well and truly broke my no more tortillas for a while rule!). It certainly has gotten me very excited for visiting Mexico.

We were also very fortunate to come across some really lovely fellow travellers during our stay. There was Ed from New Zealand (who I actually knew from San Pedro), Ihban from Israel (not actually sure if that's how you spell her name), Chang from Perth (who was a friend of Felix's from Xela), Sabrina from Germany (who was travelling with Chang), an Israeli couple (don't think I ever caught their names even though I spoke to them quite often! Happens way more than I would like to admit!) and an Israeli family with three small children. Through and through, it was a lovely group of like minded people who just wanted to relax and enjoy everything that this beautiful region had to offer.

Gary is definitely a people person and goes above and beyond in accommodating his guests and advising what there is to offer in the area. He recommended the group to begin our full day in Rio Dulce with swimming in the agua caliente (hot water) waterfalls of Finca el Paraiso and then to El Boqueron where we can canoe through a gorge and swim in the river. After his thorough sales pitch, it didn't take long for him to convince the group that this is what we needed to do! And even though this new plan required us to change our plans and stay there an extra night (we had initially planned on one), it was well worth it!

Our final day, we packed up our things and made our way via the 9.30am water taxi to Livingston. Until next time Rio Dulce...

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are

Mel xx

Our neighbours at Kangaroo...everything on stilts! Amazing!
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The ¨backyard¨
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The big smoke of Rio Dulce!
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We took a collectivo for our day trip to the waterfalls and the gorge...yes, I am serious! The clown car was in full effect. I coudn´t believe how many times we stopped to collect more people! People on the roof. Random children in our laps. It was hysterical! Cheap, fun and clearly the only way to travel within Guatemala...
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I spied this lovely lady on our hike to the agua caliente waterfalls...gorgeous.
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Agua caliente! It was a lovely afternoon dip!
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I am not sure what type of ants these are, but they are everywhere in Guatemala and are mesmerising to watch! They are always carrying leaves, and always in a line, and I have absolutely no idea what they do with them...they had quite an audience watching them! Ed, Felix and I were captivated for about fifteen minutes! Simple minds.
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Our mode of transport into the gorge.
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Stunning gorge...
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Kangaroo on the water...
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Castillo de San Felipe...St Felipe´s Castle...Ihban, Felix, Ed and I took the kayaks out for a fun ride over to check out this pre-classical castle that was built in 1644.
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Lillies on the river...
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Posted by melpage 09:26 Archived in Guatemala Tagged rio_dulce Comments (0)

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