Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Mexico 2010 -Doug and Gail on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico

Mexico 2010

http://picasaweb.google.ca/frizzledr/20100221Mexico# is the location of all our photos. Try the slideshow button on the upper left.

Mexico 2010

[Doug here] It was supposed to be my ‘beach and beer’ year; the year that I get to go South, to an all inclusive where I can just relax, get bored and have a few drinks. But I let Gail plan the trip, though she had no time left with the cafĂ© opening, and her work. But plan she did, with three hotels stops, sweatlodge, ecotour and Mayan massage; oh, and we needed a car!

By the time we got to our first hotel, I had to make a protest —I took up smoking again! But even that did not slow Gail down. By the end of our 14 days we had over 1500 km on the rental Chevy! So much for ‘beach and beer’.

[Gail here] Excuse me but Doug had been smoking long before Mexico. He just could not bum cigarettes from anyone he knew so he had to buy them for himself! And the days of ‘All Inclusive’ may be over. Also take a look at the pictures lots of beach and I assure you he had lots of beer!

Brian was kind enough to take us to the airport for departure at an ungodly time in the premorning. Our flight was 2008 kilometres; the flight video told us, and we covered it in four and a half hours sitting in the tiny seats of our charter. Arriving, we found EZ car rental’s representative, and were whisked a few kilometres from Cancun where the car was waiting. After a half an hour we were on the road heading due south, for 4 ½ hours we looked out for speed bumps and signposts, just stopping in Tulum for pesos at Scotiabank and a poor meal. The roads are incredibly straight and level. (The highest lookout in Yucatan is 42 metres, the top of the ruins in Coban.) Only one speedbump, did we fail to recognize in time; these speedbumps (Topes) can be fatal for your car!

Just about dark we arrived at the Balumku Inn on the Beach in Mahahual. Jezz was I tired after that 4 ½ hour drive where nothing was familiar. We were greeted by Alan, who with partner, Carol, who was in TO, owned the hotel. Alan happened to have beer and cigarettes, so I was okay soon enough. Gail and I agree this was the best hotel, and most interesting location of our itinerary. Supper was at the Travel Inn.

I was up at dawn, it was warm and the beach was deserted except for the birds, just beautiful. When Gail got up of course she wanted to walk all the way back to Cancun just for the beach and the exercise. Every morning the staff at Balumku prepared a great breakfast made to order; it was also a social occasion where the visitors all compared notes and weighed options for their day. It was interesting that just back of the beachfront road, all of the trees and plants had died back, presumably because of the hurricanes. Just off the main wharf in town, a modern sailboat was sunken; Alan said it had been just in front of his place.

[Gail again] I do have to confess; it was a ten kilometre walk. You can walk a long way on these beaches.

For lunch we located a cozy pub along the maelstrom and had delicious shrimp ceviché with a few beer before nap. Just after, one couple from Hungary showed us a conch that he had found while snorkeling, Alan said that live ones are very rare. The diver did swim out and replace the shell after the photo op. Mahahual was a fine small town still with lots of Mexican flavour, fine restaurants and enterprising locals. Another feature of Mahahual was that there was one section constructed exclusively for cruise ships. When they were in port, this section was suddenly open for business; otherwise it was abandoned although they were the newest and finest buildings in the area.

After only one day of beach and beer, Gail ushered us off to Lake Bakalar and the town of Chetumal. It’s very hard to find any good maps of anything in Yucatan. We got totally lost many times in our trips and we were not great at getting directions either, but that is part of the fun. Gail swam in the Cenote Azul. The Museo in Chetumal was closed, on Monday when we found it!

[Gail here] The weather was lousy, overcast and windy; a good day for a road trip.

The second night, the residence next door was abandoned except for their two dogs, one of which barked all night long! This behaviour continued every night they were absent but I found our ear plugs after the first night and we were fine. Due to some medication I imbibed, I never did experience much problem sleeping anywhere. The dogs next door were very beautiful and friendly in the day —we think one dog was fearful in the night when left alone. Apparently the owner would leave the dogs on their own for weeks at a time.

One restaurant became our favourite night place, 100% Agave serves Mexican food has four young waiters, and the owner greets and hosts everyone. The food was cheap, very good and authentic.

The new camera worked great everywhere though there was a learning curve and sometimes the batteries failed at the worst of times. We met many of the guests and Gail, of course became a travel agent. One section of beach about 5 kilometres south of hotel was particularly attractive, secluded and with no beach grass, it became a favourite hangout for us on beach before beer days. I should mention that you will see a lot of plastic and rubber items in the deserted beach photos —remember that everything that washes away eventually is deposited along the deserted shores and there is no one cleaning up these beaches. We are recommending that Sperry invest in some land there!

After another, one, beach day, Gail decided it was time for a drive and snorkeling —this time half an hour south is Xcalak. We took a boat ride with two trainees and a driver. Belize was just an arms length away as we travelled through the mangroves finding a ‘train’, canals, poison trees, abandoned ferry crossings and a military base on our way to snorkeling. Of course, I took so many photos and video on the way to our swim that my battery died just as I entered the water! Beer followed!

It became a minor lust to take pictures of the cruise ships, their passenger occupation of Mahahual and their false paradise with Starbucks, etc. One ship even had a waterslide starting up in the topmost funnel. In the real town, iguana, termites, ants and sand craps were a constant hunt. Dogs slept anywhere —most commonly in the roadways. They could never be run over; they had all day to move since you had to travel at 20 km because you had to navigate through all the potholes in the roadways. One little girl even challenged me to be a matador as she drove her bike at me repeatedly bringing ovations from an adjacent building crew.

Every day we did encounter the police, military, civil, traffic and tourist police were encountered anywhere. One scam was speed traps, where solitary, paved, straight roads could have posted 20 km speed limit (Grant Line, our street, is 50 Km/hour). We got a speed warning on one road when we were looking for a place to turn around!

Tulum town is not on the waterfront, but the hotel we stayed at was much cheaper than the hotel string along 10 Km of sandy beach leading from the Ruins at Tulum to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to the south. The town had some character and some good restaurant choices. Our hosts were great at mapping out the good stops near Tulum. Featured restaurants had Asian, Mexican, Mexican Fusion, Argentinean and Californian Mexican foods. After a week I hungered for a good burger at the Buenos Aires; it was perfect with a couple of beer and Gail had great Argentinean wine with her meal.

There is no doubting that Tulum beaches are wonderful but at this time of this year the hotels were crying for action to pick up. One night we did go salsa dancing down on the beach; that drew a crowd!

Our trip to the Biosphere was terrific although we were late because we got lost getting there. Here is a website featuring many of the possible finds. Our kayaking guide in the lagoon was Antonio, a passionate northern Mexican. This was his first day returning to work —just back from three weeks of nature studies himself. Our trip lasted for six hours and concluded with a terrific meal of chicken at the biosphere’s restaurant. For us the osprey nest and the pink flamingoes highlighted the voyage (after Antonio); though we did enjoy the exercise and the smell and feel of the silvery mud underfoot. After the meal we were free to enjoy the beach and a swim.

Our room, this time had a fridge, a coffee maker and a television; most of the free time Gail read drank wine while I imbibed my medicine. (Actually I read three books as well.) Gail found a recipe for Mango Margaritas and promptly had to test at each inn in Mexico. One early evening Gail went to a sweatlodge on the waterfront. The Asian Mezzanine had good food but it was badly spoiled by first a table of 20 with the loudest woman laugher in the world. When this table adjourned their meal, the remaining patrons applauded their retreat! Then we immediately found that the table behind Gail included one young couple, the girl spent a steady hour berating the young man she was with. One day we spent just walking the streets of Tulum with a short trip to Akumal Beach. By the time we arrived at the bay, it was near four; the beach was crowded, nobody was obeying the snorkeling rules. I was very skeptical but we rented gear anyways. After swimming for ten minutes we saw lots of turtles (200 lbs+), fish and coral out further. It was amazing, after forty minutes we had to return the gear but we got lots of underwater shots.

Gail did too much shopping in Tulum but we did manage a side trip to the ruins of Coba (we had seen the ruins in Tulum on a previous trip). They should always have maps of the ruins available to tourists; eventually I dug one up at the canteen by the main pyramid. We enjoyed the five kilometers of walking adding on a forest road walk just for birds and exploration on yet another wonderful warm day. Gail hiked up to the top of the main pyramid. One has to be humbled by the works of the indigenous pre Columbian peoples of America. Their works are so staggering and we know so little about them.

On the return trip, I think we stopped at the majority of souvenir shops, acquiring a good haul of trophies, everything but the bathroom sink. We eventually concluded that the best value in Tulum was the Taco shop (Salsalito). In Canada and the USA, tacos are often ‘hard shell’ creating a mess everywhere. In Mexico they are made with corn based tortillas, these are soft and the filling is wrapped inside so there is no mess when we handle and eat them, how clever!

[Gail here]I really love the Mexican sinks but they are hard to transport.

At this point I should mention that I did consume a few beverages while away. My personal favourite was Leon, but there was also Superior, Modelo, Double X or Dos Equos, Sol and Corona. Sol and Corona are flavoured for the addition of lime, but lime usually topped all beers. Gail, in the meantime made it her mission to sample all of the margaritas along our route —all kinds of wonderful plain and fruit concoctions. Her favourite was the mango margarita —hmm, that goes with her work, doesn’t it?

The further you are from Cancun, the less enterprises made use of Visa and such cards. Even the state owned gas stations required cash. Most places required cash payments but ATMs were fairly common in most towns. Interestingly, Scotiabank was the least easy to use of the ‘bank’ machines. I never had to resort to a non-bank (white label) ATM.

Puerto Plata was our third and final stop. Gail chose a beachfront hotel in this quaint village; it is about 20 km from Cancun airport. Janice and Tim Ainsworth and us had stayed in this wonderful location years ago and it had not lost anything over the years. When we were last here the streets, buildings and beach showed the wrath that Hurricane Dean. Many new hotels, condos and homes had been added along the shorefront to the north however. During the three days we spent here, we refreshed at lots of the old haunts from years ago and walked most of the old and new town. The bookstore ‘Canadians’ updated us on the history of why this restaurant went downhill and that one is new, so we felt like home again. Gail tried a Mayan massage, back and beyond the highway, claimed it was a best ever.

[Gail here] I tried to talk Doug into a massage with no luck. It was the best full body massage yet, with the masseuse walking on my back, too!

That concludes this tour; maybe next year will be that ‘beach and beer’ year. As always the people were wonderful, the culture was challenging and it humbles us that the world is so large and with such a rich history. A little adventure adds to our life experience.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.