A different type of travel

Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Mexico  , Yucatán,
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

First off, I know that I'm cheating. I've been back in DC for over a month and it finally took three sequential snow days to put me on task to report on "down south". Now before I forget, here's the summary of 15 days in Mexico and Belize. Second off, I'm hoping that this entry will provide fellow travelers with some useful nuggets of information.

It had been two years since I'd left the country. Two years since I'd put on my old awesome Osprey backpack or used my passport. And for Christmas and New Years break, Ashley, Adam and I took off an ungodly amount of time (2 weeks) to backpack select parts of Mexico and Belize. And two weeks truly is an ungodly amount of time considering that I took all of 4 days off of the previous work year. On December 22nd amidst white flurries and dirty sludgy snow, the team was ecstatic to leave the cold of DC for the warmth of Central America, beers, backpacking, and relaxation.

So, like all good backpacking trips the planning for the jaunt down south was minimal. Adam and I had each bought the requisite lonely planet, but aside from perusing a dozen pages or so, I knew nothing about the region. Upon our arrival in Cancun, we hadn't decided upon our day's ultimate destination, let alone a hotel and so the random decisions of where to go at what time began:

1) Valladolid: Even though the name "Valladolid" for some reason makes me think of aliens, we chose Valladolid as our first destination. Valladolid made sense as it wasn't Cancun and was close to Chichenitza, one of the few sites we had selected to see. There's little to report on Valladolid aside from the fact that they have super delicious breakfast street food. This little tid-bit is terribly important since one of my favorite things while traveling is eating the street food. For this reason, Bangkok might be my favorite city on earth because of the vast arrays of delicacies that you can find just about anywhere. Back to Valladolid; there's not a ton there, but it's easy to get to and easy to leave.

2) Chichen Itza: I'm embarrassed to say that upon arriving at Chichen Itza I was overcome with my world-traveler snobbyness. Chichen Itza is one of the best known mayan ruins of the Yucatan. Made up of 9 main structures and having once been at the center of the mayan world, any appreciative tourist should be impressed. I suppose Chichen Itza didn't have much of a shot when compared to the likes of Ankor Wat and Machu Pichu. The best part of visiting this ruin though is that we arrived at 8:45 am, before the hordes of other tourists (this is a MUST by the way), and had the place to ourselves. We had time to stroll, take funny pictures of ourselves, check out the observatory (pretty awesome. continuously mind blowing that the mayans' astronomical knowledge is on par with ours), and locate the local cenote. Luckily we made it out right on time as the masses were descending.

3) Merida: Merida was one of the only towns on our formal itinerary. This is because we had wanted to base of sorts to celebrate Christmas, and we'd also heard fantastic things about the weekend market, something that we didn't want to miss. Thanks to Ashley we had a bomb-ass hostel (Nomades, http://www.nomadastravel.com/) and I wouldn't have wanted to stay anywhere else. We had a room to ourselves and were a short walk to the city center. Without a doubt the highlight of Merida was spending an afternoon at the market (not the weekend market but the covered everyone-goes-there market). So as a day's activities we headed off for the market with empty bellies and went taco stand hopping. It was fantastic! One taco stand would have beef. The next would have shrimp. Some were fried. Some were grilled. Some were spicy. We took a shot at finding the most delicious nachos in the world. By that point I was pretty stuffed but the nachos were well received. The funniest part of our time in Merida was our Christmas Eve journey/ adventure to Uxmal. Uxmal is another mayan ruin, about 40 mins bus from Merida, which promised a nighttime light show on top of ruins. So we jumped on the bus, sat for about an hour, arrived at Uxmal, sat and watched lights while deafened by a spanish narrative for another hour, walked out to the road, prayed to god that someone (preferably the bus) would pick us up, waited, got on the bus, and returned to Merida. On a last note, Progreso (the local beach) is pretty great. If you walk far enough down the beach and if you want it bad enough, a coconut adventure could be in store.

3) San Ignacio: After 14 hours of bus rides, San Ignacio was our first Belize destination. To get to San Ignacio, we passed through Campeche (MX), Belize City (BZ), Belmopan (BZ), and then finally San Ignacio. It was incredible what a difference there was between the two countries. I was expecting to be sad to give up Spanish but it turns out that Spanish is almost as much a lingua franca in Belize as in Mexico. San Ignacio isn't fantastic itself but there's a little town, Bullet Tree, a 10 minute drive away, which is great. We stayed at Parrot's nest which was wonderful. Unfortunately it rained quite a lot which put a damper on our trip to Caracol and the waterfalls. Caracol was another set of ruins (we're starting to be experts). If it hadn't been raining the waterfalls would have been one of the most beautiful and fun things that I'd ever seen. Too bad.

4) Caye Caulker: Our new years destination. You learn quickly while traveling Belize that the tourist only hit a couple of Belize spots, namely San Ignacio and the cayes. Caye Caulker is the more relaxed of the two cayes (Caulker and Belize city) although there's plenty of activity. We decided to stay at the cheap and seemingly great backpacker spot, Bellas. At 26 years old we were definitely the oldest there and could be outdrunk by anyone else there. The hostel proved this true on the first night that left Adam sick on the beach and on the bunk beds. He slept on the top bunk...a little dangerous for me and Ashley below. Highlight of Caye Caulker is this man Juni. He's 70 years old, the oldest man on the island, and has spent his entire life on the island watching and learning the environment. Among the dozens of diving/ snorkeling trips that go out, his is likely the only "spiritual" trip. I think spiritual is probably the wrong work but it's probably hard for Juni to separate himself from the others. Juni is a man who is wise, with a capital W, and was able to captivate all on his boat with his stories and knowledge. Like a kind and knowledgeable grandfather, you just want to ask Juni questions about everything.

5) Tulum: What a beautiful beach. And how sad that the weather turned shitty right after we arrived. If was kindof the M.O. of our trip that we kept being chased by bad weather. Highlights of Tulum were sneaking into the ruins of Tulum and being kicked out and diving the cenotes although the dive shop was quite sketchy.

6) Isla de Mujeres: Our last stop was to see one of Adam's long time life friends, Michaela, who was on Isla with a group of friends and fiancee! The biggest shock here was that Adam, Ash, and I had just spent two weeks on buses and in hostels with puke on the floor while this other group (granted a couple years older than us) had spent the week in a swank huge house on this island. It was quite a wake up call on how different people travel and I think we're all ready to make the switch. As great as two weeks of backpacking was, the thought of being in one nice place for a week had lots of appeal.

7) Home: Getting of the Mark train back to DC's Union station, I think we were all in awe. We'd spent the last two weeks seeing ruins and oceans but damn union station and DC architecture is beautiful. It's grand. I love DC. I have a fantastic apartment and was ready to be back.

Lessons learned:
1) Drink Sol beer.
2) If you're over the age of 25, it might be a good idea not to stay in hostels with 20 year olds who can seriously out drink you.
3) Rent a jeep in Belize and drive around.
4) Rent a jeep/ van and drive it down the coast of Mexico
5) Stay in city of Tulum instead of the beach (unless you want to spend $200 or more)
6) Let your family know your itinerary so that they don't freak out and think that you were kidnapped

Considering that I just used a year's worth of vacation, I don't foresee much travel in my near future. Until whenever that is, travel hard!

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Randy Miller on

As an American living in Merida Mexico now for 11 years, I can certainly say that this beautiful city must be on every travelers to do list. For more info visit www.TravelMerida.com

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