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PLAYA DEL CARMEN

OUR FINAL DAY ON OUR G ADVENTURE’S MAYAN ENCOUNTER

sunny 37 °C

There wasn’t much to report yesterday given we spent 12 hours traveling! It really wasn’t as bad as expected but at one point we did considering trying to fly. We left Caye Caulker at 7 am by boat back to Belize City. From there it was a 2.5 hour drive in a crowded hot mini van to the Mexican Border, another 30 minutes to the closest town, Chetumal and then a 5 hour ride on a really nice public bus to Playa Del Carmen. From there just a 10 minute taxi ride that should have been 3, if all 3 taxi drivers didn’t get lost looking for our hotel. I felt great upon arrival given that I slept on each of these modes of transportation, except the taxi.

The border crossing was mostly uneventful. At every Mexican border they have a random scanning system. Each person, after clearing the immigration steps must push a button which either turns green for go or red for further inspection. I was towards the end of the line with 13 others having gone ahead, all of which received the green “carry on” light and were waiting in anticipation for the person with the red light. Of course that turned out to be me. I was encouraged however from the cheers by my crew as soon as the red light illuminated and my search was without incident, unless you count the officer questioning my pure cocoa powder and confirming with a taste.

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We arrived in Playa Del Carmen at 7:30 and after a quick clean up, went out for supper. It was also decision time on how we would spend our last day. It was tough because there was an opportunity to swim with the whale sharks, the largest fish in the sea. It sounded really cool but required more time on a bus and not much chill time. We decided instead to spend the day exploring Playa del Carmen.

Although our first impressions did not impress we had a pretty good day. Playa del Carmen is by far the most touristy spot on our tour and if you keep to the main streets downtown you would think you were in any American city with stores like Forever 21 and Victoria Secrets. We did however manage to wander through some side streets and find a little gem for breakfast. We were charmed by George who assured us he could provide a terrific breakfast super cheap. He did not disappoint and the charm of this place, filled only with locals was delightful. The only negative was the instant coffee so I swapped out for tea which turned out to be flower blossom tea. After taking our order the first time we received a free local drink made of the water or milk drained from rice, sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I quite liked it but Gayle wasn’t so fussy so only had a few sips before George finished it off. He then came back apologizing for forgetting our order, explaining it was a bit of a night the previous evening and his memory was hurting. We ended up with a delicious breakfast and lots of entertainment.

George

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His Grand-daughter

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We spent the rest of the morning walking around 5th Avenue poking in and out the shops. The options were typical Mexican junk or overpriced American brands but we managed to find a few little purchases. I really didn’t do any shopping on this trip. Besides not needing a thing, handicrafts were surprisingly quite expensive. It was so outrageously hot today we had to escape the sun and what better solution than a $25 70 minutes massage. Gayle who is not nearly as addicted as I, rarely indulging, decided to join me for a couples massage. It was really terrific. After that, Gayle went on her way and I stayed for a pedicure. It is has been a long time since I had a pedi with so much love and attention. I can’t think of a better way to have avoided the heat although I hear the whale sharks were pretty amazing.
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Cigar Roller

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Street Food

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Lunch involved many of the necessary food groups. Chocolate and coconut frozen banana.

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From then it was back to the hotel for a swim in the pool. While cooling, it was not so relaxing, with a pool full of kids playing ball and a hotel under heavy construction but pleasant and refreshing all the same.

So we are headed out shortly for our final supper with the gang and then it is off to the airport in the morning. Yet another wonderful holiday with another wonderful friend. As always, feeling blessed.

Posted by curlygirl 17:16 Archived in Mexico Tagged del playa g adventures carmen massage Comments (1)

BUTTS UP AND PANTY RIPPERS

A DAY OF CAVE RAFTING AND CELEBRATION IN THE CAVE BRANCH RIVER

sunny 32 °C

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We have had the most wonderful day with perfect weather. There were three options for the day. Two were cave climbing excursions and the third, the more leisurely, was a cave tubing tour. We went with option three which meant we didn’t have to be ready until 10:30 am. This gave us time to have a leisurely breakfast although we are seriously missing the Guatemalan coffee. We decided to walk back down to the market and to the river where we swam yesterday so we could take a couple of snaps.

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It was close to 11 am before we headed off on our 1 hour drive to the Cave Branch River. Our day of tubing started with 45 minute hike in beautiful jungle, crossing the river and into some small limestone caves.

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From there we hopped into our inner tubes and basically floated with headlamps into two large caves. It took about 3 hours to get down the river and over two hours of that was in the dark. It was so much fun. There were a few shallow spots that required us to bring our "butts up" but otherwise was relaxing, peaceful and a welcome break from the high humid temperatures.

There are few words that captures what these pictures show. I took the risk of taking my camera in a dry bag and periodically, using one hand to grab a few shots as we bobbed and spun around.

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I even managed a selfie, although I clearly lack the skills of my travel companion Gayle who has mastered the art.

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The day ended at about 5:30, just in time to get back to the hotel for the happy hour drink of the day, “Panty Rippers” which ironically is made from my favourite liquor, coconut rum. Did I mention the poster in the door of the hotel from lobby that lists why beer is better than woman? Political correctness has not yet arrived in San Ignascio.

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We have really enjoyed the relaxed vibe here in this town and this evening we enjoyed a great meal down town while being serenaded by the town piper. We also met a few other colourful characters along the way including our cabbie who assured us the men are best in Belize.

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We are headed out on the local bus at 7 am tomorrow. That aught to make for a good tale tomorrow.

Posted by curlygirl 20:50 Archived in Belize Tagged san cave g belize tubing ignacio Comments (2)

WALKING ACROSS BORDERS

TAKING THE SHORT BUS IN BELIZE

sunny 30 °C

With a much shorter journey on our plate, we were able to sleep in a little, relax, drink the wonderful Guatemalan coffee and explore the island of Flores. We both woke shortly after seven and took our time having breakfast overlooking the waterfront. There is nothing nicer that sitting outside on a beautiful day, overlooking the water and drinking perfect coffee. We then headed off for a walk around the very small colourful island. The architecture is almost like Antigua but on steroids. Sadly, it is slowing sinking and some roads were impassable. It was incredibly hot and humid so we decide to hire one of the little boats and drivers to take us around the island by water. It was really lovely and relaxing.

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At 10 am we met in the lobby and headed out for our two hour drive to the Belize border. The crossing was pretty simple since our guides took all our passports in for our Guatemalan exits stamps and then we simply walked across into Belize. I think that is a first….walking across a border.

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Welcome to beautiful Belize! It might sound a little crazy but things felt instantly different here. A slight breeze came up, keeping me cool and not so disgustingly sweaty, and even on our short 20 minute drive to our hotel in San Ignacio, the landscape seemed different. I know I shouldn’t judge too quickly and perhaps it is just this town but it seems a little less developed here which came as a bit of a surprise. Maybe the bigger surprise was the Guatemala was more developed than expected. Our guide has told us that Belize is very relaxed. That was also immediately evident when our ride from the border was a little late and when this bus pulled up with a true dude who reminded us to relax a few times.

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What was there to worry about? We had perfect transportation riding in luxury with reminders to “buckle up” even if there were no seat belts on board.

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After grabbing some lunch we watched a presentation on the options for tomorrow and settled on a plan. Once everyone was sorted out, most of us took taxis into the town to swim in the river. The weather was perfect today. Warm and breezy. Still it was refreshing to swim in such a beautiful environment. Sadly there are no pictures because we were afraid of leaving cameras on the shore. I really wanted my camera in the local fruit and vegetable market because it was so colourful. We may have time to go back tomorrow.

It was a really nice and relaxing day and after some time to chill we went to the hotel restaurant for drinks and dinner. There maybe one thing nicer than coffee in the morning. I think drinking the best mojitos EVER while a warm breeze blows on you might win the prize.

Our hotel

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Oh, and they speak English here although I find myself trying to insert a scattered Spanish word here and there and use my best travel sign language even when communicating in my mother tongue,

Posted by curlygirl 21:39 Archived in Guatemala Tagged g belize adventures flores Comments (0)

TIKAL ME ELMO......

NOT SO FUNNY WHEN YOU HAVE ANTS IN YOUR SHOES

overcast 30 °C

Greetings from Flores, Guatemala and our final stop before crossing into Belize tomorrow. We have had an incredibly long but rewarding day traveling and visiting Tikal, one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization.

Our day started with a 6:30 departure where we all piled into the boat and back to our van. It should be noted that I am so committed to my blog that I am included all these terrible pictures of myself in never before seen tank tops (ugh!). We were all very discouraged by the weather as we headed off on our four hour journey to the ancient Mayan site. The rain barely let up the entire drive and we couldn’t imagine having to trek through these enormous ruins in the rain. Andrew, our guide encouraged us not to give up as the rains often stop and clear as quickly as they start. We were only 20 minutes from the site when the skies cleared and made way for a spectacular afternoon. I am taking some credit for that because I have been incredible lucky since purchasing my super dooper rain poncho and not yet needing to take it out of the original packaging. I even lugged it around with me out of superstition and that lucky poncho did not let me down. Although it wasn't terribly hot the humidity was brutal and I was soaked by the time I got home.

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We had an amazing guide Migal who was very passionate about the 30+ years he had spent guiding in Tikal. Tikal is an UNESCO world heritage site that originally had more than 3000 structures and the city of Tikal covers more than 16 square kms. During our five hour visit, we were able to climb both the highest temple and one with the most amazing view of the plaza area.

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Did you know Guatemala means land of many trees? We certainly saw why today since there are more than 300 varieties of trees in the park. It is the largest tropical rainforest in Guatemala and Central America. It also has 333 species of birds, 54 mammals and 38 species of snakes. We saw the fruit loop bird. Actually two different types of Toucans. Amazing!

Our final supper in Guatemala was a real adventure. We went to a restaurant that serves local traditional food. Nothing that the Bailey’s wouldn’t try. Several of us ordered different dishes so we could share. Gayle had the local fish. I had wild boar and was able to try Armadillo and some large rodent. Not bad but no need to look up how to import any of those.

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Fortunately we encountered less dangerous creatures today although Gayle and I both, simultaneously while not standing near each other, got swarmed by small biting ants. As I was pulling off my sock to get the ones that had crawled inside out, I looked over to see Gayle with her shoe off. No one else got bitten. Talk about bonding. No ill effects from these bites.

We are both exhausted and need to get some rest so we will check in tomorrow from Belize.

Posted by curlygirl 22:33 Archived in Guatemala Tagged g adventures flores tikal Comments (5)

GOATS IN A BOAT AND KILLER CAULIFLOUR

VISITING THE TOWNS ON LAKE ATITLAN

sunny 28 °C

We had both really wanted to see Lake Atitlan but really were not sure if we would have the time before getting here. After fitting in most of what we wanted to see here in Antigua we decide to investigate getting a day trip to the lake. The organized tours would not guarantee that we would get back in time for our meeting so we opted to arrange a private van and driver and travel in style. I am still experiencing the hangover from my luxury tour of East Africa and not ready to completely abandon a bit of special treatment.

Our day began at 6 am with a 2 hour and 15 minute drive to Panajachal on the Lake. We did stop midway for another wonderful breakfast and coffee. The fried plantains and the oatmeal were the best. Lake Atitlan is known to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and is the deepest in Central America. Atitlan means "at the water". It is incredibly blue and is shaped by deep escarpments which surround it and by three volcanoes to the south. Lake Atitlan is further characterized by towns and villages of the Maya people. We visited three of these towns in our own private boat with our own private driver. Would you expect any different?

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The first ride on the lake was amazing and relaxing. We traveled for about 30 minutes until we hit Santiago. We were only off the boat seconds when we are offered an island tour in a tuk tuk. Settling on a price ($15) proved to be a great idea as we quickly navigated the town and its highlights. Our first stop was to see the lady who (supposedly) posed for the face on the 25 centavos coin. They told us about her traditional headpiece explaining that less then 20 % of the woman still wear these. She demonstrated how to make it and allowed us to pose with our own.

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Next stop was to see where the ladies gather to do laundry. Each day hundreds of woman come to wash themselves (I was careful to avoid those photos) and their clothes in the lake. I can’t imagine how they get it all home because it must weigh a ton. The fabric in their clothing is thick and heavy. I was fascinated by this and would have been happiest if I was allowed to pull off my shoes and wade in and help. Not that I care to adopt such a method at home. They only use local aloe vera to wash as to not contaminate the pristine lake.

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From there we went to the Catholic Church where we sat through a service with joyful song. The town has a 45% catholic population. It was so beautiful to see the sea of colours in the clothing across the congregation. The priest, with the assist of two cheeky boys walked through the church blessing people but did an abrupt turn once he came to me. Could it be that I am beyond prayer?

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At this point the winds had come up so we took a very very bumpy ride across to the next town and my personal favourite San Antonio. I think the most striking thing about this town was the sea of blue clothing. This was the least touristy of the three islands and all the woman and girls were dressed in blue woven skirts and tops with sparkling ribbons in their hair. Sadly for me, they were very timid and discrete and most refused having their pictures taken which I had to respect. We simply wandered around this small town and made our way to the churches that we saw as we approached the town. Getting there took us right through the local living. I was hoping to speak to some school girls but they took off at the sight of me, or perhaps my camera.

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Another ice cream business, bell in his hand.

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The next town was Santa Caterina. As with all the towns the streets were filled with shops of woven goods. We decide to sit here for a bit, enjoy the view and a light lunch. I really must stop being a follower or else Gayle will get me in trouble. After our super hike yesterday she failed again today. Before our meal we were presented with a nice bowl of vegetables. Cauliflower and what appeared to be bell peppers. I assumed they may be marinated just not so sure in what. So immediately following Gayle, I popped a big piece of cauliflower in my mouth just seconds before she began gasping for air and thrashing about for beer. This had to be one of the hottest things we have ever eaten. Not sure how you infuse that much heat into an innocent vegetable but lesson learned. Stop following Gayle’s lead and beware of what you eat.

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We took a short boat ride back to our starting point. One of the neatest things along the way was seeing all the fishermen in the carved out boats. Some even had goats on board.

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We got back to Antigua at about 4:30 and had time to clean up before meeting our tour. Our new hotel is lovely. Surprising we are the only Canadians on the tour with the biggest mix of nationalities that I have encountered. We have a couple from New Zealand, who along with Janet from South Africa have saved me from being the oldest on the tour. We have a group of young Irish teachers, a couple from Australia and 4 others from England. After a nice supper we opted out of the bar hopping and came back to our room. Tomorrow we have a 7 hour drive to the north of Guatemala and the Jungle. Not sure about internet there but will check in if we can.

It was a really terrific day.

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Posted by curlygirl 20:17 Archived in Guatemala Tagged lake g adventures antigua atitilan Comments (2)

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