Saturday, November 26, 2011

2011 Nov 21-24 Holbox (“hole-boshe”)

Before heading to bed the night before I had discovered that there were three times I could take the bus to Chiquila (a little town on the north coast, from whence the ferry to Holbox departed)- 7:30, 12:40 and 1:30. I wasn't positive which bus I would take but was going to try for the early one, meaning I had to be up around 7. I didn't really want to set an alarm because the alarm on my watch is set for 7 pm to remind me to take my anti-malaria meds and I knew if I changed it I would forget to change it back, but luckily the neighborhood dogs started barking right on key, as if the universe was telling me it was looking out for me!

Due to my poor memory I almost bought a ticket to Chiapas (which is a STATE, not a city, in southern Mexico that is probably at least 500 miles from here!) but thankfully the alarm bells went off when the lady asked if I wanted to go to Palenque (a city in Chiapas). Then, I nearly bought TWO tickets to Chiquila.   :D

Concepcion and me
On the bus ride a sweet Mexican lady named Concepcion started speaking with me and we spent nearly the entire 3-3.5 hour journey speaking Español! It was awesome. It was very frustrating at times, especially when the word I didn't know wasn't in either of my dictionaries, but in the end I think we were able to communicate most of what we wanted to, albeit in a very rudimentary sense. She told me that she had traveled to Michigan and Chicago by herself speaking only “un poquito ingles” (very little English) so she knew how I felt! She was traveling with her two friends to Holbox, where they had a hotel booked for three days. Her husband couldn't come because he had to work but she was retired so she was able to. She told me about her two children, a son who was 34 and unmarried, and a daughter who was 32 and had two little girls, who were 7 and 9, I think. I think she said she had two dogs, a dalmation and a chiuaua. I told her about the ranch and all the “Borgies” (these dogs that nearly everyone on the ranch has at least one of, that are half Boarder Collie and half Corgie) but had a little difficulty explaining what they were since she hadn't heard of the breed Border Collie and I hadn't thought to put a picture of my sister's dog, Bridgette, on my computer! I told her about my family explained that my parents had been married for almost 52 years and my sister and her husband had just gotten married in October but had known each other for like 6 or 7 years. I told her about Marcia and our time in Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. When she asked me why I wasn't married she laughed when I told her I was too adventurous and had no time for love! :D It was a wonderful way to pass the journey and nice to make a new friend. She gave me her contact info and told me to come stay with her the next time I was in Cancun. :o)

The only real "two lane" street I saw in town!
The ferry transfer was effortless and I was soon walking down the hard-packed sand streets of Holbox. I am staying at the Tribu hostel- here's the link:

When the owners first came to the island three years ago there were no hostels at all, and they thought “what a shame!”, so they began the painstaking process of purchasing the land and getting all of the permitting that was necessary, made all the more difficult because they were from Slovania. But they succeeded and built this charming little hostel with palapa style roofs on some buildings and flat rooftops with hammocks on others. The courtyard area is wonderfully conducive to relaxation, with hammock style chairs hung from the rafters of the deck above, and there is a good-sized kitchen with three stoves, two fridges and little cubbies to put your things in. The wooden railings on the decks are wrapped with some type of vine in a way that is fantastically rustic-looking. There are little details everywhere, from the river-stone mosaics that line the doorways to the little gecko mural in the kitchen, that are so endearing and just make the place feel so homey.

Tribu by night

Courtyard and little dining area

The roof of our building

Sunset from the roof

Cool spiral staircases were everywhere!

My dorm room

The kitchen
I'm completely in love with town of Holbox itself, where the seashells pile up inches thick on the beach, nearly every house has a palapa-style roof and vine-wrapped wooden balconies and the primary means of transportation is via golf cart or motorcycle. Everyone you pass on the street greets you with a smile and makes you feel welcome the moment you begin to speak with them. I'm sure that's at least partially due to gratitude for the tourist dollars pouring in to this sleepy little town but I truly feel that a portion of it is genuine friendliness. Already there are larger, swanky hotels here and evidence of more being built; it makes me incredibly sad that in 10 or even 5 years this place will likely be unrecognizable as it transforms from a unique little piece of paradise to just another tourist destination. I also feel incredibly blessed to have seen it now, before its inevitable doom, in my opinion.

Three days worth of palapa-style roof construction.

The only bad thing I have to say about Holbox is that the mosquitoes are fierce and unrelenting. They have bitten me up almost as badly in 3 days as I was after two weeks of backpacking around Kaua'i and my 100% Deet appears to hardly deter them! I can only hope that word of them spreads apace with word of how wonderful this place is and that the hoards of vacationers will decide to pass it up.

Me and my dancing partner
Tuesday was apparently International Music Appreciation Day and there was a little band playing on the corner of the town plaza. Within literally 15 seconds of me walking up one of the local guys came over to talk to me and not 20 seconds later he hauled me up to dance with him DIRECTLY in front of the guys playing music! Most of you know just how comfortable I felt right then, dancing right there for anyone who was watching to see! :D But it was fun nonetheless and at least anyone who was laughing was laughing with me and not at me! Also, I had spent much of the day trying (unsuccefully!) to get my snorkeling videos ready to upload to my blog so it was nice to be doing ANYTHING besides sitting and staring at my computer screen!

Wednesday I had intended to work on the videos more and hopefully get the Cozumel post uploaded but I decided I couldn't be bothered with doing a second more of computer work and left the hostel with my roommate Alberto to walk down the playa (beach) to the west to try to find a nice place to do some snorkeling. We were unsuccessful at that quest because the water was actually quite murky but we did manage to find a little stretch of land with several coconut trees that had mature coconuts within picking distance so we grabbed several to bring back to the hostel and share with the other travelers. We walked back up the beach and continued on past our hostel in search of some clearer water and ran into another couple of travelers who were also staying at the hostel, a girl named Suzanne from England and another girl named Verena from Germany. We tried to go for a swim but even there the water was too murky to be really enjoyable for snorkeling so we admitted defeat and spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in the shade of a palapa on the playa outside of one of the fancier hotels.

The four of us decided to take advantage of the kitchen and cook dinner together so Suzanne and I went to secure groceries around town. After asking about 6 people we found our way to a little building that looked a bit questionable but when we asked if they had “pescado fresca” (fresh fish, totally different from “pescado fresa” which would be “strawberry fish” lol) they opened a giant bin (seriously- it was a cube at least 4 feet on either side!) full of fish. We selected two and paid our 60 pesos. Including the fresh veggies we had purchased earlier that brought our total for dinner to 30 pesos each. Sweet. :o) We sauteed the veggies, baked the fish with some garlic, limes and salt and cooked up some rice in the water from the coconuts, with little bits of chopped coconut added in. Muy bueno! Deliciouso!

The perfect way to end the evening was to chill under the stars on our rooftop in the hammocks and drink a little vino. Yes, that's right, my plan to not drink this year has already failed! :D But I justified it because I didn't pay for it; although I tried Alberto refused to accept my money, saying ”wine is for sharing!”

Alberto, Verena, Suzanne and me

Thursday morning I attempted to upload my Cozumel post, which I had decided was fine how it was and didn't need the second video (because editing video really is a pain in the ass and it takes FOREVER) but the internet was down so I took a little adventure and walked east along the beach for about 3 miles or so. I was hoping to make my way to this little spit of land that I could see, where the water looked very pretty (it's been quite murky this whole trip and I'm starting to think it's just that way, although Alberto says that when he's been here before it's been quite nice). 

After having walked for at least an hour, taking my time to collect more seashells, I reached a river and was unable to go any further because there was about 10 or 15 feet of mud leading up to the shore of the river and I didn't relish the thought of being stuck in a bog! Besides, I had of course gone barefoot (mostly because it really didn't look as far away as it ended up being!) and by that time my feet were starting to ache a bit. Well, of course I had to walk that whole way back and by the time I got back my feet are killing me, especially the left one where I stubbed the ball of my foot on a rock as I was busy looking around and not where I was going, so I spent about 20 minutes online checking email and then attempted once again to upload the Cozumel post and AGAIN the internet was down! If I hadn't burned myself to a crisp earlier I would have gone back to the beach but I really needed to stay out of the sun so I decided to go ahead and finish editing the snorkel tour video and wait for the internet to come back online.

It turned out that the internet could have been back up and running at any point; apparently the plug had come a bit loose from the wall, as I found out when I asked about it when I went to settle up my bill. Oh well! Count yourselves lucky that you got those videos then; I hope people actually enjoyed them as I know they are very VERY amateur in quality!

Delicious sushi I "splurged on" (55 pesos!) my last night in Holbox.
It's now evening on my last day here- I am taking the butt-crack-of-dawn ferry (actually before dawn!) at 5 am (hopefully I remember to reset my anti-malaria medicine alarm!) and I would like nothing more than to stay here another few days. I've had a lot of fun with my new friends and I'm a little sad to be leaving them, and this magical place. However, I'm also excited to begin the next phase of my journey- exploring the ruins of Ek Balam, Chichen Itza and Coba with a girl named Natalia who I've been organizing this adventure with via email for the past month or so. Ancient Mayan civilizations await and I've been looking forward to this for years!

Friday, November 25, 2011

November 18-20 Chillin' with Paco in Playa del Carmen and Tulum

I wanted to make sure Marcia would be able to get onto the flight all right so I hung out at the airport and took advantage of Starbuck's free wifi, catching up on all the internet stuff I hadn't been doing for the past few days. It's amazing how “behind” I felt after only a few days without internet! It will be a big adjustment to go weeks without it.

Possibly a little TMI here but there was another reason I didn't mind hanging out in the airport and that was because, either from the very spicy salsa I had eaten for lunch the day before or due to the street taco I ate for dinner the night before in San Miguel, things weren't exactly “normal” with my digestion and didn't really relish the idea of not having a bathroom close by! However, my plan of forcing my body to adjust to Mexican food seems to be working so far, as whatever THAT was passed pretty soon and around 6 pm I left the airport to head into downtown Cancun to meet up with a couchsurfer named Paco, who was the only one of at least 3 people I had put in couchsurf requests to who had responded to me.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, is website for people who enjoy traveling and like to connect with people from all over the world. When they are traveling they “couchsurf” with other members and when they are home they host traveling couchsurfers. It's all review-based so you don't stay with people unless you like what people have to say about them, or let people stay with you unless they have good recommendations. I found out about the organization about 5 months ago and I must say, it's a nice safety-net to have. There are forums where you can hook up with other travelers or get advice on just about anything.

Apparently Cancun's couchsurfing network leaves something to be desired (or else people just don't want to hang with me- totally possible!) because I've had a hell of a time getting anyone to respond to basically ANYTHING- couch requests, forum posts looking for travel/adventure buddies, general questions about Cancun (though I must say that most of the people who I contacted directly DID get back to me pretty rapidly and were very helpful). Anyway, I digress... I only bring this up to illustrate how grateful I am that Paco decided I was cool enough to come hang with him and his friends for the past few days!

SO. Friday night I left the airport and had no problem getting to the ADO station. Though, since it's the last stop I can't get too carried away patting myself on the back as it's kinda hard to mess that one up! Well, my little bit of time in tourist-ville had not prepared me for downtown Cancun! Paco had told me where to catch the bus but then I realized I had no idea exactly HOW I was supposed to do that or exactly WHERE I was supposed to be! And, when I tried to ask some people I found out very quickly how few people spoke English. : D With the help of a nice shopkeeper I was able to get on the bus. However, I had no real idea how long the ride was, I just knew the name of the shopping area I was supposed to be ending up at, and that there was a Walmart near there.

Long story short, a woman who overheard me speaking with another American (who was going to Walmart) who sat near me told us that we were at our destination and we got off the bus. We didn't see our respective stores anywhere near so we asked some questions and parted ways, thinking we knew where we were going. Hopefully he made it to Walmart ok; all I know is that nothing I saw looked like what I remembered from Google maps! To top it off, NO ONE I stopped spoke any English and while I can ask where something is in Spanish, understanding the directions is a whole other matter!

Eventually a guy saw me looking at a map of the mall I was at (not the one I was supposed to be at!) and asked me if I needed help. I asked him if he spoke English and to my relief he said “a little” (much more than MY “little” Spanish, thankfully!). He told me I was nowhere near where I needed to be and offered to let me use his phone to call Paco. Paco told me to get a taxi so I didn't get more lost than I already was. :D

Turns out I was in one of the rougher neighborhoods, according to Paco. :D

ANYWAY, finally I made my way to him and we dumped a bunch of my stuff at his house and took a collectivo (white vans that are sort-of a happy medium between a bus and a taxi that I have discovered to be the cheapest mode of transportation between cities (35 pesos from Cancun to Playa del Carmen) to meet up with a couple of other couchsurfers- a girl named Beatriz who lives in Playa del Carmen, and a guy named Juges who is from Brazil. The first place we went was a Cuban joint with live music and a dance floor where people were salsa dancing. The only downside was that I paid 35 pesos (like $3) for a bottle of water, which was annoying because the whole reason I've decided to give up drinking for this year of traveling is so I'm NOT spending so much money on a single beverage! The music was great though, and the salsa dancers were AMAZING.

Then we went to a club that was playing electronic music, which most of you know I would normally be pretty excited about but over the course of the previous few days I had developed blisters on both feet as a result of walking in my wet/sandy tevas, the poor fit of my first set of fins on the snorkel trip and running from the mosquitoes in San Gervasio. To top it off, I was dragging ass from having gotten less sleep than normal the previous night due to packing and whatnot. Plus, I'm an old lady now! My bedtime has been around 12 or so for the past few months so by 2 am I was practically falling asleep at the table! Luckily for me, Beatriz (who had been kind enough to offer to let us stay with her for the night) had to work early so she and I left and I was finally able to catch up on some much-needed sleep!

The next morning Paco and I went to Tulum to meet up with some Lithuanian girls who had stayed at his house the week before.  While we were  waiting for the girls we saw some pretty birds fighting over tortilla chips.  We spent a couple hours checking out the ruins of Tulum ($5 entrance fee at the time of this entry), which are located on a hill overlooking the beach. Here are a bunch of photos I took of Tulum as well as a link to a photo taken from a helicopter or plane so you can get a better idea of just how amazing it is!

A cool panorama of the entire ruins complex that is near the entrance to Tulum,

Paco and me above the beach with ruins behind us.

After checking out the ruins we took a swim in the waters below Tulum, which was lovely and refreshing at the moment but which I later regretted because afterward there was about a half a pound of sand inside my bra and shorts and the little faucets near the entrance were at about knee level. I'm sure you can imagine how effective those were in removing the sand from either of those places, but of course I tried anyway so hopefully you can have a laugh or two imagining how I looked trying to accomplish that.

Once we finished up at the ruins we made our way on to the town of Tulum and found a wonderful little place to eat. I can't remember the name of it but if I make it to Tulum again before I leave Mexico I will be sure to figure it out because it was fantastic. They had tons of smaller items available for 10-30 pesos (~ $.80-$2.50 USD at the time of this writing) and the three items I got (of course I can't remember the names!) were among some of the best food I have eaten so far on my journey. The girls went to their hotel to shower and Paco and I found an awesome little hostel to stay the night at- a place called the Weary Traveler that charged $140 pesos (~11 USD) and provided free purified water, wifi and coffee and breakfast in the am.
After we had each showered and were feeling refreshed and much less sandy, we walked around town for an hour or so just seeing what there was to see. Then Paco went out to the beach area to hang with the girls but I was feeling super-behind in my emailing and journal writing and it sounded like the club was gonna be pretty hopping (ie loud music, thus rendering it impossible to actually converse with anyone!) so I stayed at the hostel and called it an early night. I was glad for that because Paco said that the taxis stopped running early so he had to wait for nearly an hour for one to come back around! :o( Poor Paco! :o(

The next morning Paco and I took our time leaving the hostel; it was so nice that we wanted to stay and both of us wished we had more time to walk around downtown but Huges was leaving that afternoon and we at least wanted to get back to say goodbye and wish him a safe trip back to Brazil. Sadly, we weren't able to do much more than that but at least we got to do that much. We grabbed some quesadillas at one of Paco's favorite places to eat, a little place a few blocks from his house.

As a result of having spoken with the Lithuanian girls I had decided by that time that I would visit Holbox, a tiny island off the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula, so when Paco went to his parents for dinner that evening and I spent some time online, researching and posting on CS trying to find people to hang out with me! When Paco returned we went to another of his favorite places to have some tacos before calling it a night.

Sorry about the lack of variety of pictures in this post but I am terrible about remembering to take them! I will try to be better in the future!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My time in Mexico with Marcia

Those of you who know me well may know that my best friend Marcia and I have talked about doing a “girls’ vacation in Mexico almost as long as we have been best friends- nearly 20 years now!  When I started planning this year of traveling I decided that I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off my travels than for us to FINALLY do this trip we’d been talking about for so long.
We didn’t plan much of anything, short of getting online and looking at some hotels to get ideas.  Marcia’s sister Tami, as well as a bunch of other people we had talked to, told us we would regret it for the rest of our lives if we didn’t snorkel in Cozumel, and we figured if we were going to go to the trouble of getting to and from Cozumel we might as well stay there.  We decided we wanted to stay at the Occidental Grand Allegro, an all-inclusive resort on the south-west side of Cozumel.
We arrived in Mexico around 4 pm on Monday November 14th.  Since we decided to fly by the seat of our pants and call the hotel at the last minute to see if they had any “last minute specials” we arrived without a reservation and sat outside of the airport forever trying (unsuccessfully!) to figure out how to call the hotel on Skype.  Our biggest surprise came when the sun set around 5:15 pm!  Then we started to worry about trying to figure out Mexico public transportation in the dark so we were trying to figure out what hotel we would stay at near Cancun when a shuttle van driver who had been trying to get us to travel with him came over.  Earlier he had told us the fare was $30 per person to go from the airport to Playa del Carmen, which is where we needed to take the ferry to Cozumel.  We had dickered with him a while and reached an impasse when he wouldn’t budge at $20 and we wouldn’t pay over $15, since the bus was $12 and we really didn’t know what our plans were.  He said we could go for $15 each but we had to go THEN, because the van was leaving.  Feeling very rushed, we decided to go on to Playa del Carmen since Cancun is actually north of the airport so we would have had to travel that distance all over again the next day.  I had done a fair amount of research and felt better about wandering around downtown Playa del Carmen in the dark than I did about doing the same in Cancun, but Marcia was definitely worried that we would be turned into heroin-addicted prostitutes.
Marcia getting her hair braided.
Luckily, no such thing happened!  We arrived in Playa del Carmen without a hitch and had no trouble getting directions to the “hotel zone”.  Although Marcia was very displeased with hauling her giant suitcase over the uneven cobblestone streets, we found a nice little hotel rather quickly and had ditched our bags and were back out on the streets of Playa within about an hour of having arrived.  We spent the night wandering around 5th avenue, checking out little shops and bartering with the shop owners.  Marcia got her hair done up in little braids, which came with the added bonus of an instant face lift.  
I can’t say enough good things about our hotel.  It was called Lamnah and while it did have a sort-of institutional feel to it, the simple rooms were spotless and had everything we needed.  Here’s a link to my review of the hotel:

Marica in the ocean in Playa del Carmen
We were finally able to contact the Allegro the next morning while we at the most delicious breakfast I’ve had so far on my trip- some bits of fruit with coconut and cinnamon-spiced yogurt.  We had some difficulties booking our room with the Allegro but finally managed to secure a reservation through Expedia and after a brief swim in the ocean (which was about 1.5 blocks from our hotel) we checked out of the hotel, drug Marcia’s bag BACK across all the cobblestone streets we’d walked the night before and found our way to the ferry to Cozumel.  Before long we were on the ferry to Cozumel with beautiful aqua water all around and the mainland shore rapidly shrinking away behind us.  We had originally intended to take a taxi to the hotel but got stopped by a guy selling snorkeling tours, which we wanted to do anyway, who told us if we bought our tours from him he would arrange our transportation to the hotel free of charge.  He secured a taxi for us and we were soon zipping through the streets of SanMiguel.  Mexican taxi drivers are crazy!  Actually, basically everyone drives crazy, which made riding in the cab a nail-biting experience!  There are scooters EVERYWHERE and everyone is passing everyone leaving only feet (and sometimes only inches!) to spare!  It’s insane. 
What our building would have looked like without the broken railing

To our intense relief we made it to the hotel without pancaking any scooters.  Our room wasn’t ready yet so we grabbed some lunch- the first of many buffets- while we waited for it to be prepared.  When we had finished our room was ready and we went to check it out and get settled in.  We had looked at the pictures online and our little palapa-style building was just as we’d thought it would be, with the exception of the broken banister (complete with yellow caution tape!) and the slightly musty smell upon entering (possibly a result of the palapa roof?).  With the exception of these two things the room was very nice and the cute little elephant made from towels on our bed was a very nice touch.
Apparently making animals out of towels is common in Mexico.
We didn’t have much time left that day so we just chilled at the beach for a bit and saw a beautiful sunset, the last half of which I missed because I ran back to the room to get my camera and it was over by the time I returned!  :o(  Back in our room, our neighbors were playing music and it was coming RIGHT through the walls/door that adjoined the two rooms, which was fine then but we were a little concerned about how we’d feel about the thinness of the walls at 11 or 12 that night.  On our way to dinner we ran into a girl named Danny that Marcia used to work with and we discovered that her and her boyfriend were actually our noisy neighbors!  We made plans to meet up for trivia later that night but Danny apparently drank too much so we didn’t see them until the next day.  We also did LOUSY at trivia but blame that more on the guy who announced the questions than on our own stupidity (which DID probably factor in some, I am sure!).

Wednesday we took it pretty easy; we did some kayaking in the morning and then went to do this time share thing which we weren’t at all into but we were going to get a $20 jeep rental out of the deal so we were pretty excited about that!  We came back to the resort after our talk and I did some snorkeling while Marcia lay on the beach and worked on her sunburn.  That night we hooked up with Danny and her boyfriend Raoul for dinner and later we watched the “traditional Mexican show” the hotel put on, which was actually pretty cool.  They had dancers from a bunch of different states in Mexico, all in traditional garb doing traditional dances.
Marcia and me on the glass bottom boat on our way to snorkel.
On Thursday we had our snorkeling tour in the morning, which was amazing.  Marcia had been thinking she might not even get in the water (because she has a completely unrealistic fear of fish!) but she actually DID get in and really enjoyed her time.  I LOVE snorkeling so of course I had a great time, although my ears hurt for the next two days due to the repeated re-pressurization (popping my ears when I dove down)!
The coolest thing we saw was a sea turtle- not sure if it was a (a hawksbill, I think, but it may also have been a green...?) but everything we saw was pretty amazing.  :o) 

To my intense disappointment my gopro didn’t work as well underwater as I had hoped.  When you view this video imagine everything looking amazing instead of BLAH.  :o(  We actually saw way cooler things on the tour than I saw at the hotel but it's difficult to tell because most of the time I was diving down 20 or 30 feet and the sunlight didn't penetrate well enough for my camera to capture video very accurately at that depth.  :o(

When we got back from our snorkeling tour we grabbed some quick lunch and the keys to our jeep and headed out to explore the east side of the island.  There were tons of little roadside stands selling all the same things we had seen in Playa- things which were fun to see the first couple times but after seeing 30 or 40 of the same shops selling the same things it gets a little old!  We DID stop at one of the first stands we saw, which had several hammocks strung out for people to lounge in. 
yay!  Hammocks by the beach.
Marcia bought a lemonade-type drink that was in a green coconut and the sweet guy behind the counter split a green coconut for me and I was able to have “spoon meat” for the first time since having left Kaua’i 7+ years ago.  Spoon meat is what people from Hawai’i call coconut meat that is very young.  The meat is only a few millimeters thick and so soft that you can scoop it out with a spoon, hence the name.  It’s a completely different experience than eating a mature coconut, and not for everyone (Marcia thought it taste like dirt… or was it “ass”...?  I can’t remember… not good, in any case!), but I love it.  The guy put some lime and some type of red spice on it, which I didn’t enjoy as much as just eating the spoon meat by itself but it was nice to try it a different way than I’d had it before. 
Gorgeous beach on the east side of Cozumel.
The eastern shore of Cozumel has mile upon mile of gorgeous beaches where you can spend hours working on your tan, lounging in the shade of a palapa or strolling along the beach checking out the tide pools. The best part? There's not much there besides the occasional roadside stand or restaurant, and not many people besides the handful of other adventurers who are sick of their all-inclusive resort so it's completely feasible to find a place all to yourself!

sketchy road
After passing about 30 more roadside stands we finally made our way to the ruins of San Gervasio, which we accessed by driving 6 km down a road surrounded by jungle that Marcia was pretty sure was hiding a bunch of Mexican drug-lords or at least human slave traffickers.  The ruins themselves were very cool but we were unable to fully appreciate them as we hadn’t thought to bring mosquito repellent and they found us whenever we stopped moving for more than about 1 second.  In fact, at one point I looked over at Marcia and she had a cloud of about 6 of them just hovering around her head just waiting for her to stop.  Sadly, it was probably one of the briefest visits the ruins have ever had but on the plus side we got a little bit of exercise running from site to site!

Mayan people, especially women desiring fertility, would journey to the island of Cozumel to make offerings and pray to the Moon Goddess Ix Chel.  This building is called the “Little hands structure” because there are red hand prints that mark the wall, leading some to believe that it may have been a nursery or day care.  It’s a large building and may have served both residential and ceremonial purposes as it’s comprised of two rooms, the interior of which contains a small temple.

Sunset from the esplanade in San Miguel.
We finished at the ruins and headed west toward San Miguel.  The timing was perfect so that we were able to catch a nice sunset as we came into San Miguel. We successfully navigated the streets and managed not to get into an accident with any other drivers or to run over any scooters and even found our way to the free parking area the guy who arranged our jeep rental had told us about.  
Plaza of San Miguel.
We walked around the touristy area near the ferry for several hours just checking out the different wares, most of which were exactly the same as everything we’d been seeing for the past several days.  However, there were several artists around the central plaza that had their unique crafts on display so that was a welcome relief. 
Marcia bought a bag of churros and, due to some language barriers, a bag of plantain chips which she gave away to the next street artist we stopped at.  The churros (or something?) made her feel not-so-great so we grabbed a seat at one of the restaurants by the plaza and watched some young people spin poi, staffs and other things they lit on fire.  One lady had a hula-hoop and was pretty amazing to watch.  Marcia got some chicken soup; of which she ate the broth only because there was an entire chicken drumstick in the soup (bone and all!) and she hates drumsticks so that didn’t really help her stomach feel better, although the broth apparently helped because by the time we got back to the hotel she was getting her second wind! 
We decided that the perfect way to wrap up our vacation was to lounge in the hot tub by the bar for a bit, which hadn’t sounded appealing at all before that due to the heat.  We called it a somewhat early night and packed our bags so we’d be ready to go in the morning.

Here’s a link to my review of the Allegro if anyone is interested!

The next morning we headed out pretty early, wanting to be sure to give ourselves plenty of time to get Marcia back to the airport.  Sadly, she made it on her flight so her adventures in Mexico were over but mine were just beginning!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Well, the time is almost here!  If everything goes well I will be leaving los Estados Unidos (the US) in only two days!  I'm very excited but also completely overwhelmed.  I knew I had a lot to do before leaving and I've tried to be diligent but I can't help but feel like I need more time!  I know it's mostly just that I'm nervous to be leaving everything that is familiar to me and being unable to convey nuances of conversation (or even the basics!) that I am used to being able to convey.

I have a much more solid plan now.  My best friend, Marcia, and I have always talked about doing a "Mexican vacation" and as the weather gets cooler here in Wyoming I can't think of a better way to kick off my trip than to spend four or five days in paradise with one of the most important people in my life!  Marcia works for an airline so we will be trying to "non-rev" (fly standby) all the way to Cancun.  Our flight from Sheridan to Denver looks good; three people would have to buy tickets for us to not be able to get on the plane.  However, our flight from Denver to Cancun is a little more worrying; two people will have to MISS the flight for us to make it on!!  But, that's two out of 162 passengers so we feel like we have a pretty good chance.  Does it make us bad people that we have our fingers crossed hoping for delayed flights and bad traffic on the way to Denver!? 

We haven't made reservations due to the uncertainty of our arrival date but we have a couple of hotels in mind so once we reach Cancun we will call around and see who has availability.  In a perfect world we’ll even score a last-minute discounted rate!  We’re hoping to stay at an all-inclusive resort where we can spend some serious time snorkeling, kayaking and working on our suntans.  : D

After Marcia returns home I will stay somewhere near Cancun for a week or so to await the arrival of my travel partner, a guy named Jonathan that I met on Couchsurfing.  I had posted in several forums there that I was looking for a travel buddy to ride the bus with from Cancun to Guatemala and he responded.  In a crazy twist of fate our Spanish schools are located about one mile away from each other so it’s nice to know that I will have someone to speak English with when I start to go crazy!  Also, he’s into backpacking and checking out ruins so we hope to hike to El Mirador, a Mayan ruin site in northern Guatemala, at some point during our time there.  We both plan to spend a couple weeks taking classes, and maybe another week in the area after our classes are over.  Then, I will be traveling to Chichicastenango (Chichi for short) for the Feast of St. Thomas celebrations on December 21st.

After that I will have about 10 days to do whatever I want.  I will be taking more Spanish classes at a second school located pretty close to Quetzaltenango around the beginning of the year but will be doing my own thing for the holidays, as most people probably aren’t very interested in having a stranger in their homes around the holidays!   Here’s a link about the town of Quetzaltenango, which, mercifully, everyone refers to as Xela, pronounced “shay-la”.

After that, I will most likely spend a couple of weeks on the Pacific coast of Guatemala teaching Spanish to adolescents at a school that is associated with the second Spanish school I am attending.  After that, who knows!?  Most likely to Honduras but possibly over to Belize for a week or two first, as it looks like I will be zipping through there pretty quickly on my way to Guatemala.

My bags are all packed and I have WAY more stuff than I had been hoping to travel with.  At one point I had the total weight down to about 25 lbs... Now I'm at about 38!  My main pack is only 35 L and I had hoped to be able to fit everything into it but now it looks like I will at the very least have to carry my little day pack separately, as well as strap stuff on the outside of my main pack. 

On the plus side I will be able to ditch about 10 lbs over the course of my first month or two of traveling, as I have books on the Yucatan, Guatemala AND Belize so all of those will go away pretty quickly.  Additionally, I have some gifts for my host families so that will help get my weight down!

I’m nervous and a little scared to be starting this adventure but most of all I am very excited to begin my travels.  I have faith that the universe will send good things my way and I will do my best to be receptive to them and grateful for them!  Latin America, here I come!