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San Ignacio, Belize!

posted Mar 13, 2010, 3:59 PM by Paul Gareau
Hellooo! So much has happened since my last post - I think it was the busiest month of my trip so far. Since Campeche, I have spelunked in four caves, visited five ruins, entered and almost exited my fourth country, met my family in Florida, swam in a sinkhole, hitch hiked, experienced Carnaval in two Mexican cities, swam across a river in order to get my bike and gear across in a canoe, ate fried bananas with a Belizean farmer, and more!

After leaving Cameche I  headed east toward Hopelchen. Like all the riding on the Yucatan Peninsula it was flat and boring, so I won't be going into any details about the riding itself. Not far from Hopelchen I came across some Mayan ruins right on the side of the road. It was a small site and was only surrounded by barbed wire, but the gate was locked shut and no one was around, so I didn't get to do any exploring there. That night in Hopelchen was the start of their Carnaval celebration. The whole town was out and the event of the night was a series of performances by different groups of dancers. I hung around for a while and watched this, and when I found out the celebration would continue the next day, I decided to spend another day there. Carnaval in a small town like Hopelchen wouldn't be anything like the celebrations in larger cities such as Merida, but I didn't want to miss my chance to see it so it was an easy decision to hang around.

Since I had a whole day to spend before Carnaval started back up again, I decided I'd go to the nearby ruins at Edzna. These were a big enough detour that I decided to skip them on my bike, but by bus/car they were relatively easy to get to. I caught a taxi van from Hopelchen to the road to Edzna, and then hitched to the ruins. Edzna is off the beaten path and doesn't get the bus loads full of tourists that the other sites do, but the ruins there were no less impressive. I met a German couple right after I entered the site, and since they were heading through Hopelchen on their way to Merida, they were able to give me a ride back to the hotel. 

Carnaval in Hopenchen that night was pretty boring I have to say. Someone at the hotel told me it would be a more "festive" night than the previous, but it was just an awards ceremony and I didn't stick around for more than five minutes. A billboard that I had missed said there would be a total of five days, and the dancing and partying was toward the end of that. 

The next morning I was back on my bike and heading toward the ruins of Uxmal. That night I stayed at a town that might have been called Santa Elena. The hotels in town were either very expensive or booked, and after talking to some other travelers at some cabanas in town, one offered me the spare bed in their room. There was also a couple staying there who were touring around the Yucatan. A total of six of us went out to a restaurant in town that night and traded travel stories.

I had a short ride to Uxmal the next morning. Being one of the more famous ruins, it's surrounded by high priced hotels and there's a gated entrance where guards charge for parking. I wouldn't have to pay, but the only "parking" they could give me for my bike was at the back corner of the parking lot. Even after being assured by the guard that it was "muy tranquillo" I wasn't comfortable, and since they couldn't offer me anything else, I left feeling pretty upset about the situation. I decided I'd be seeing enough other ruins though, and missing one wouldn't hurt much.

I spent the rest of the day riding into Merida and met another cyclist along the way who was doing another long tour. He was headed in the other direction, but we stopped and chatted for quite a while. He recommended a place to stay in Merida, and told me about the Asian couple who was there and riding around the world. It started raining as I got into the city, and while I was riding through a gas station to get directions, I had my second wipe-out of the trip. The concrete around the pumps was as smooth as glass, and being wet, was as extremely slick. As soon as I hit that part of the concrete, my bike fell out from under me like I was riding on ice. My bike and I were unharmed, but I wasn't too happy about riding in the rain, or falling in such a ridiculous way. Luckily I found the hostel shortly after, which was the nicest one I had been to on the entire trip.

Carnaval was still happening in Merida, so the next day after doing a free walking tour of the city, someone else from the tour and I got some seats for the parade, which got a late start and lasted for at least two hours. Since those two things had used up most of the day, I decided to stay another day and see more of the town. I did a little exploring during the day, and got some Mayan gifts for my family. Later that night I got dinner with two girls from New Brunswick who had been travelling around Mexico. They told me about how one of them had been dragged into a street performance the night before, and for some reason after dinner we headed toward the square where the same clown was performing. He recognized them instantly, and we got "front and center" VIP seats, that basically meant we couldn't leave. This time it was me that was dragged into the performance along with some Mexicans from the crowd. We each took turns selling a rubber chicken to the others, and each time had to do it in a different way. The first was as ourselves, and the other times we had to do things like hit the other person with a "fan" of cardboard after each question: "Se vende me pollo?!". *WHIP*. "Cuanto cuesta?!". *WHIP*. Yeah, it was awesome, but not as good as when we all got to sell our chickens wearing dresses... 

The next day I headed toward Chichen Itza, and since it started raining again a little before dark, I camped on the side of the road maybe about an hour from the ruins. Chichen Itza was the most expensive site I had been to, and it was completely overrun with tourists. There were hundreds, all there to see one of the newest wonders of the world. Almost all of the structures were roped off, so I didn't get to climb on them or explore inside like I had at the other sites.

There was a cave up the road, and I got there just as a tour was starting. The cave was called Balancanche and was much larger than the previous cave I had been in. Like the other it was lit, and there was a path to follow, but unlike the other, there were some Mayan artifacts along the way. The Mayans saw caves as the entrance to the underworld, and priests performed rituals inside them to appease the gods of the underworld.

I arrived in Valladolid that night and began the usual search for a place to stay. This time I had the added challenge of finding a place that would let me leave my bike behind for about a week while I visited my family in Florida. My flight was from Cancun and I was only a two day ride from there, but there was more in the area that I wanted to see, and I had no desire to ride to or through Cancun, so I planned to take a bus to Cancun the next day, and catch my flight the day after that. Valladolid is another one of the Yucatan's colonial cities, but is smaller and quieter than Campeche and Merida. There was a nice square in the center of town, (fake) stone roads, colorful buildings, and the obligatory central church. 

Public transportation in Mexico is extremely popular, so catching a bus to Cancun was easy and cheap. I think I paid about 80 pesos, which is less than 7 US dollars. There was another bus that cost a little more, and it would have gone direct to Cancun with no stops, and it also had a bathroom. One of the downsides of the cheaper bus is that vendors will get on at one village, walk through the bus selling their stuff, and then get off at the next village. Being exposed to so many of these vendors gives a traveler plenty of opportunities to practice politely turning down an offer in way that will also keep them from putting the pressure on or coming back later. When I was in San Cristobal with Philip and Valeska, my new tactic of telling the kids that I already had three of whatever they were selling at home worked pretty well. At one of the places the bus stopped, a man with one arm boarded the bus and said a whole bunch of stuff in Spanish that I didn't understand. I could tell he was pretty desperate, so when he came down the aisle to my row,  using my best Spanish and raising my arms to demonstrate, I said, "I'm sorry my friend, but I already have two". He looked disappointed.

You can laugh now. Really, go ahead...

OK, where was I... The flight to Florida was good, and since my Mom had arrived only about 30 minutes before me, we met up right at the airport and caught a shuttle to the hotel. We got lunch and later that night my sister and her husband showed up. Since I hadn't seen any of them for more than eight months, it was great to see them all again, especially in such a nice place. My mom had a bunch of stuff for us to do, and the first day we headed to a Greek sponge fishing town and took a boat tour out to an island where we hunted around for sea shells. The next day we headed over to Busch Gardens, but I was carrying some kind of virus from Mexico and I was not well. I survived the drive there, but as soon as I started walking I felt extremely weak and I couldn't walk more than 100 feet without having to stop to rest. I had already bought a very expensive ticket, and wanted to spend the day with my family, but I wasn't getting better so finally they drove me back to the hotel where I spent the rest of the day in bed. They went back to the park and had some great stories to tell me when they returned. The internet told me I had the dreaded "stomach flu" (which has nothing to do with influenza) and is also known as gastroenteritis. The next day I was feeling better, so we headed back to Busch Gardens in the morning. It was really an amazing place and as cheap as I've been getting, it didn't take long for me to forget about the big ticket price. 

Unfortunately we only planned on spending three days together in Florida, so the next day we all headed out to catch our flights. I went back to the hostel that I had stayed at in Cancun, which was close to a big square where there were a lot of food and crafts vendors. I wasn't interested in staying in Cancun for long, so I caught a bus back to Valladolid the next day. I was greatly relieved to see that my bike and gear were right where I left them at the hotel, and for the same price I had paid a week earlier, I got a pretty crappy room that at least had plenty of room for me to fix up my bike with all the new parts my Mom had brought to Florida for me.

Ek Balam was one of the reasons I wanted to hang around Valladolid. It's both a town and ruins, and there is a cenote nearby. A cenote is a limestone sinkhole that is filled with water. This particular one was about 100 feet wide, and 100 feet deep. The water was crystal clear, comfortable enough to swim in, and surprisingly, the home to a bunch of small fish. I couldn't figure out how they got there.

After a total of 8 days off, I was back on my bike and wanting to make some good progress, I rode straight to Tulum on my first day. Tulum is a pretty touristy town, and along the ocean there are seemingly hundreds of cabanas where a person could stay. Earlier in the day, I had met a person from Massachusetts (where I'm from) who recommended a place called Xbalamque. It was a really nice place, and had reasonably priced camping. That night I walked across the street with some other travelers and we watch a full moon come up over the ocean. I wasn't too interested in seeing the ruins there, but I headed down a back road and when I saw it was only a pedestrian entrance I turned around and didn't bother going around to the front entrance.

The next three days had some of the most boring riding in Mexico. Just the road, two walls of trees, and almost no towns or villages along the way. Just north of Chetumal though, was the beautuful little town of Bacalar. If you haven't see the pics from this section, there is a good shot of Bacalar there. Still wanting to keep moving, I continued on to Chetumal and after aimlessly wandering around the city, I eventually found the hostel I was looking for and stayed a night there.

Early the next morning, after spending 3.5 months and riding about 3600 miles in Mexico, I crossed the border into Belize!

Now seems like a good time to put my usual "To be continued" note. :)  I'll be leaving Belize tomorrow after spending a brief but adventure-packed 10 days here. Hasta luego!