...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.
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!
Bacalar again...seven colours of water...spectacular!
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...
Cheese! One of my more impressive accidental photobombs!
Swimming with turtles...unbelievable!
Me gusta tortugas!!!
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!
Palenque...exceptional and by far my favourite ruins that I visited!
Me pretending to have an eye for photography! Palenque again..
Me at Palenque.
The church in the main square at San Juan (a tiny Mayan village just outside of San Cristobal)
Fruit and Veg Markets in San Cristobal
Look at all those chickens! Kind of remind me of rubber chickens...San Cristobal markets again.
Punch bugs everywhere! Walking around San Cristobal
View of San Cristobal from my hostel window
Safety first at Cañon Sumidero...eejits!
Our boat captain for the ride through the canyon...what a boss!
My camera is full of these photobombs...lucky me! So many picture perfect moments....RUINED!!!!
This is how you eat guac and drive...well done Feliz...you can do two things at once!
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...
My fave photo of the trip...this dudes were such legends! We got some great GroPro footage of them cruising along
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...
Sunset in Campeche.
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.
The streets of Campeche
Chilling in some dude´s lap...Campeche.
Campeche in the morning...more bugs! I love Mexico!
Beautiful Campeche...such a photogenic city! Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous...