10 months late but I am finally making it to MEXICO! August 2015 marked 12 months on the road and Mexico marked my 12th country. It was a big moment!
I had dropped Purtell off at the airport in Belize City and then our cab driver dropped me off on the side of the highway promising a bus would arrive shortly. About 2.5 sweaty hours and a lot of doubting later a bus finally arrived! This was a local bus and many people found it quite strange for a gringa to traveling alone, especially on the local bus. It was fine. I made friends.
A very nice family helped explain to me what was happening when we arrived at the border. There was a lot of shouting. Apparently there is quite a bit of trade happening between the Belizian and Mexican border. Need a tv? New bras? Christmas stockings (in August)? This is the place. Tourist buses get taken to a separate terminal but I was right in the mix with the locals. Me and my giant backpack made our way through the crowd and into the passport check line. When I got to the front the immigration officer gave me a weird look and told me in Spanish that I was in the wrong line. Why because I’m a foreigner? He said no, because you’re blanca! Um.. seriously, I can’t be in this line? Hahahaha, no mija, is joke, is JOKEEE! Local bus, huh? Dale. The real bummer was that by arriving in the wrong terminal I had quite a hike to actually leave Belize and enter Mexico. This included crossing a huge bridge without a sidewalk by foot. Again, people were surprised but a sweet old lady literally took me by the hand over to her family. I spoke with grandchildren and they said just to stay with them and I would be safe. Up side.. I got a great shot of the Welcome to Mexico sign! It’s weird to think about now but at the time I didn’t even phase me. Me and my new Mexican family were just walking across a 4 lane bridge, NBD. Just a normal day in the backpacker life.
I had about 5 days to relax before my parents arrived. I wanted to just take it easy. My dad had read about a place that he thought I would like – Bacalar, Mexico. Bacalar is literal paradise. There is a giant fresh water lake with 7 shades of blue. There are even sink holes in the lake that you can scuba dive in. You can sail, kayak, swim… water babies will be in heaven. I stayed at a tiny little posada – think cheap B&B. The owners were lovely. The people were interesting. The water hammock is my new happy place. The only downside.. it was so HOTTTT and there was no AC. During the day it was fine because you just jumped in the the cool water. Night was a different story. At best I slept 3 hours a night. Everyone did. We had 1 fan for a shared room with 8 people. I stuck it out 3 days and while I was so sad to leave I was too exhausted to stay! I would love to back in the future but I will bring some friends and definitely pay for a place with AC!
From Bacalar I took a (tourist) bus up the coast. Arriving in Cancun and immediately taking the ferry over to Isla Mujers. Mujers is beautiful but also superrrr touristy. I stayed at another cheap hostel but had learned my lesson and got a room with AC! I had a couple days so I just wandered around, went to the beach and ate a whole lot of fish tacos. There are several great scuba and diving sites in Mujers but I didn’t check that out this time. Low on funds and uber lazy. It super easy to get down to Cancun and while it’s not my favorite place in Mexico I will definitely go back! Mujers would be a fun place for a girls trip so hopefully that will happen some time in the future. :)
The day had finally come… my parents arrived!! I was so happy to see them! Lots of hugs and snuggles at the airport. They had rented a car and from there we set off for the first stop on our trip. We went to Isla Holbox. Holbox unlike Mujers is super chill. It reminded my parents of Lake George in the 70s. There are significantly more Mexican families on vacation then foreigners on the island which is a vibe we enjoyed. There had just been a huge rain storm before we arrived and several of the sand roads were under water. The island doesn’t have cars, just taxi golf carts so we loaded up the cart with our stuff and headed out. At one point our driver was bombing down a road that looked swamped. I asked him if we were going to make it and he basically just shrugged and said let’s see. We didn’t. It was hilarious. My mom and I had to crawl out the back and slip and slide around a lake size puddle. My dad and driver just hit the gas and went for it! They made it that time – just a little submarining necessary.
My parents and I actually stayed at a hostel. Pretty bad ass of my parents! They did get a private room and I stayed in the dorm. The hostel was great but LOUD. They had live music every night which was a lot of fun. That first night we went to a rather nice seafood restaurant. Grilled lobster and spicy margaritas… not the life I was use to! Well… maybe the marg part. Anyway, as we were sitting there in a lovely outdoor patio, under twinkle lights and giant palm fans when my parents realized that the man at the table next to us was not wearing a shirt or shoes. Hahaha. Welcome to Mexico! Even the fancy places are quite casual. One of the things I loved was all the incredible street art on the island. It seemed every corner we turned on the way back to the hostel there was another incredible mural. That night we got back to the hostel and there was a full salsa band playing. We had night caps on the porch, listening the music and looking up at the gorgeous sky full of stars.
Day two we wandered around and a found a place where you could rent loungers for the day. The cabana boy told us it was actually only for hotel guests. I asked really nicely, explaining that my parents were here for vacation and it was would be so lovely if we could just rent a space for day. He caved! For $10 we rented two giant sofa loungers, a hammock and a canopy covered swinging beach bed. My parents were shocked but again.. welcome to Mexico, it’s the good life for cheap! The water was really calm and a nice temperature. I gorged on the twizzlers, cheese-its and the People magazines they brought me! That night we had dinner at a cute little restaurant. All of a sudden a 4 person Mexican folk group started playing guitar and singing. The woman had an incredible voice, the man was a very good guitar player. Dinner and show! Such a good day!
Holbox was a pretty quick stop for us because after two nights we were back in the car headed to the Tulum area where we rented a house. We had great little house. Two bed rooms, decent size splash pool, full kitchen and living room. Again, super reasonable cost – cheaper than a hotel. It was in a safe little community. It was sooooo nice to be in a house again. Even though it wasn’t our home it was so comfortable and easy. I loved it. We used our house as the home base and went out exploring everyday. While we were there the Caribbean was dealing with a major sea grass problem. Certain beaches were covered in it. Still swimable but it certainly took away from the gorgeous turquoise water. Thankfully we had a car so we were able to explore. That whole coastal region of Mexico has tons of naturally formed, fresh water swimming holes called cenotes. Each cenote is different shape, size, temperature and feel. Some are above ground, some are below ground in caves. We explored a ton of them! There was a tiny one right down the street and a big one with a zipline 10 minutes up the road from our house. We love to snorkel so we got to do that a ton.
We went to one underground cenote and hired a really nice college kid as our personal guide. He took us all through this incredible cave. There were times where could all be together and other times when we had to go single file. We had underwater flashlights because it was super dark in parts of the cave. There were stalactites and stalagmites – giant formations that grow from the ground up or from the ceiling down. We were in a bat cave! Ah! Batssss! It was all really impressive. A different day we just went for a drive and looked for signs. We found a sign for a cenote and when we drove up a guard stopped us. This was part of a tour and it was only for tour buses. I used my nice gringa-that-can-speak-Spanish trick and asked pretty please. He radioed into his boss and we got permission to go in! At first it was super crowed with two tours buses but within 10 minutes all the buses left. It was just us and a sweet little Mexican family. This place was a naturally formed island with a moat. How cool! The other one that I really loved reminded me of the Everglades. It was freshwater but you could scuba and go through a channel and end up in the ocean. So cool! The current really pulled you through so it was super easy swimming. The water would go from crystal clear to hazy and that was where the fresh water and salt water were mixing. You could sort of taste it in the water. About half the time we were swimming on top of people scuba diving which was also very cool to see!
We didn’t spend all our time in the water. Tulum is a lovely little town. We walked around and shopped. It was a Mexican Christmas at the OD house for sure!! We had some really good meals. Jim is the ultimate wanderer and Sheila and I can happy pretty much anywhere. It makes for good vacationing. So on one of his many strolls my dad found some guy grilling squid on a tiny weber grill in the street. Let’s check it out! Turned out to be a great little lion fish restaurant and the chef was trying out new menu items. We got to sample and give opinions on the new items which was fun. Lion fish are predatory fish that are not originally from the Caribbean. They were brought over from SE Asia and are killing off tons of local fish and plants. Not good. They are also crazy poisonous and can kill you if they touch you! Local communities are trying to figure out a use for the fish and realized if prepared correctly they can be safely eaten. Lion fish tacos for everyone!
We liked that place but our favorite place was Capt’n Jacks. I had been thinking of going to Cuba which can be tricky. My parents encouraged me to stop in a travel agency. I did and while they were very helpful. In the end I decided it just wasn’t the right time for me to go to Cuba. On the plus side I asked for a local map and suggestions of local places. It took some coaxing but finally I got them to stop recommending gringo locations and instead just tell me where they went to eat. Capt’n Jacks was their favorite local hangout. I think we went 3 or 4 times in the week! By the end we walked in and everyone knew us which was really was fun. Great price, great food – especially the ceviche which I loved and my dad basically lived off of, eating it everyday! Super fresh, super delicious and very healthy.
My mom loves history and I love latin culture so we also wanted to visit ruins. We drove out to the Coba ruins. We wanted to arrive early enough in the day to beat the mid-day heat. A cool thing about these ruins is that they are fairly deep in the jungle but the area is pretty flat. They have a really good system where you can rent bikes or bike taxis. The bike people tried very hard to talk us into getting a guide. They said the bike taxi drivers don’t speak English and only speak some Spanish because their Mayan language is their main form of communication. Thankfully Sheila’s taxi driver was lovely and he and I were able to communicate in Spanish. Leo had only finished 4th grade before being pulled out of school to help support his family. He was very proud of his Mayan heritage and knew a ton about the ruins. We biked all around seeing lots of different kinds of ruins. There is a pyramid that they still let you climb which is very unusual in Mexico. By the time we made it there is had gotten HOT but I decided to suck it up and climb the pyramid anyway. Going up was actually easier than coming down! It was steeeeeeeeep. Thankfully there was a rope secured from the top of the pyramid – holding on was essential for coming back down!
We also spent a morning at the Tulum ruins. We got there nice and early as well because there is no shade at those ruins! To be honest I was a little underwhelmed. Tulum had long been on my must-see list and it wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. I somehow didn’t even end up with pictures! It was interesting but more crowded and I might have been ruined-out at that point. From there we did find a really nice beach resort. The security guard let us know that no coolers were allowed. Reasonable? Probably buttttt no cooler? That’s not the OD way. This poor guys was in a full uniform, standing a parking lot, dripping sweat and still super pleasant. We offered him one of our ice-cold beers. He said thank you but he couldn’t drink at work. We offered him an ice-cold Orange Fanta which he graciously accepted and we basically had a friend for life! He told me that he had to go to the other side of the parking lot. He wouldn’t be back for 10 minutes. If someone took a cooler backpack in at that time no one would know… Hahah, yes! Orange Fanta for the win! Another great day at the beach in a sweet little rental spot and a full cooler to keep us refreshed. A chill and easy way to spend an afternoon.
It was so great to have my parents in Mexico with me. I was really excited about Mexico so it was so fun to explore it with them. I saw so much more of the Tulum area then I would have without a car. I enjoyed playing translator and I think my Spanish helped us to see some things that the average tourist might not. They are both so go with the flow and because of that we were able to have lots of random, lovely days. One night sitting on our back porch my dad heard a sports announcer. Hey! Let’s get in the car and find what game they are playing. We ended up at a super local, utterly terrible baseball game. The athletic level was laughable but the people watching and crazy announcer sound effects were hilarious! Just one example of something I would probably not have experienced without them! I was so proud of them, both my mom and dad managed to make friends and have conversations with locals both in English and Spanglish! It was great to be able to show them a glimpse of my life over the past year.
I am super lucky to have parents who are supportive, trusting, adventurous and crazy fun! I love them so much and my adventure wouldn’t have been complete without their visit. Saying good-bye was hard but I was so excited to explore more of Mexico! After my parents left I had another 3-4 weeks to explore. More adventures to come!
Because she’s the greatest, here’s a little video of Sheila practicing her Spanish: