Published: March 16th 2012March 16th 2012
Hello all, I'm just writing a small travel blog to keep family and anyone else who may be interested updated on my travels around the world over the next 6 months. I'm afraid the route I'm currently taking through Mexico means that my first few weeks have been fairly preoccupied with ruins, so this may not be the most interesting read, but anyway I shall start at the beginning...
After some very quick and efficient flights on Saturday the 3rd of March (excluding some slightly terrifying emergency sirens and an airport lockdown in Detroit) I arrived in Cancun a little bleary eyed about 8 in the evening local time. I shared a cab with a very friendly and forward American lady, who has offered me use of her time share in Cancun whenever I want it (awesome), through the drastically contrasting Hotel zone where all the rich American Spring Breakers stay, to the run down and slightly scary downtown Cancun, where all the Mexicans live and the poor travellers stay. I was staying in "Hostel Quetzal", which despite not being in the nicest of areas had an incredibly friendly atmosphere and was the perfect way to get used to the hostel way of life. As soon as I arrived I was served a tasty dinner (although I still have no idea what it was)and given numerous beers which cost 15 pesos each, about 75p, then headed out to a traditional Mexican bar with a crazy group of Americans, Poles and Danes, all of whom lived in California. I have since realised that you really do meet all sorts travelling. We went and drank giant Margeritas in a bar with a traditional Mexican band playing and all round had a good laugh.
The next day I went over to a small island just off the coast of Cancun called Isla Mujeres, which I had heard was a good way to get away from Cancun (a horrible touristy metropolis) for a slightly more relaxed day. However, my jet lag made me an early riser and after the short ferry ride over I arrived at around 8.30 to a completely empty island, and was frankly a little confused. It seems Mexicans don't do early starts. After wondering around for a while to get my bearings, I found a guy offering snorkel tours of the island for about 10 pounds, which I gladly accepted. It being a cloudy day and me being a moron, I forgot to put any sun screen on, and therefore came back with a smile from the great snorkelling, and third degree burns on my back. The sea was pretty choppy making the snorkelling a bit of an effort, but I still saw some awesome sea life. I then spent the afternoon chilling on the beach then headed back to the hostel for a night out with a load of Aussie guys. We went to a club called Coco Bongos, which is genuinely one of the strangest places I've ever been, like a cross between a club, Cirque Du Soleil, and a bad cabaret with Elvis impersonators and Mexicans dressed up as Christina Aguilera miming along to her songs. However after paying about 40 pounds to get in we made the most of the open bar and had a good time.
The next day (with a splitting headache) I made my way over to Playa Del Carmen, which to be honest is much the same as Cancun. Essentially a little bit of the US in the middle of Mexico, and it seems you can't walk 2 minutes without seeing a band of 6 overweight Mexican men in overly tight white suits playing guitars. However it has a nice beach, good restaurants and bars etc, so I ended up having a great week. My main reason for staying in Playa del Carmen was to learn to dive, and as recommended by a friend, I stayed in Hostel Che just a few blocks from the beach. It was a really cool hostel with friendly staff, but I think I had slightly poor timing as I seemed to be pretty much the only English speaking person staying there, which with my embarrassing lack of Spanish made things slightly difficult. It didn't matter too much though as I soon found a good dive school nearby (Scuba 10) with really cool staff and got started on my PADI Open Water. Excuse the pun, but I apparently took to Scuba diving like a fish to water and was pretty comfortable in my first exercises in the pool. What I didn't realise was quite how much studying was needed for the exam, so I generally spent my days when I wasn't diving studying the text book on the beach and my evenings studying my text book on the balcony outside my room. Due to the poor weather (at this point I still hadn't seen any sun in Mexico) the ocean was closed for diving, so I was lucky enough to get to do my first dive in a cenote nearby called Casa Cenote. Really cool stuff, diving under mangroves and seeing crazy rock formations etc, a thorougly enjoyable experience. After this I had my exam, which I think I had studied a bit too hard for, then on my final day in Playa had 3 dives in the ocean, coming face to face with turtles and manta rays and all in all getting a bit over excited. And with that I was qualified and can now dive wherever I go. In one of my spare days when the ocean was closed, I headed for a quick tour of Chichen Itza (most famous Mayan ruins in Mexico), which really is a spectacularly impressive place, if a little over groomed and restored. I enjoyed wondering around and hearing a bit about the Mayan history, their architecural skills were pretty mind blowing, but to be honest the other ruins I have seen since pretty much blew Chichen itza out of the water, so I shalln't say more. En route back from Chichen Itza we made a quick stop in Valladolid, which I though was absolutely beautiful, and was a little disappointed to not be able to spend more than an hour there.
After Playa del Carmen I took a collectivo over to nearby Tulum, where I stayed for the last few days. This was definitely my favourite stop on the trip so far. I stayed at the Weary Traveller Hostel which I really can't recommend highly enough to anyone ever considering travelling around Mexico. It has nice clean, if slightly cramped dorms, but it is really made by the enormous communcal courtyard with a giant dinner/drinking table, hammocks that I made great use of, a big outdoor kitchen stacked with freebies and a BBQ. Instead of selling meals they just sell you meat which you cook up yourself on the BBQ then accompany with a free salad bar and as much of the owner's special mash potato as you can fit on your plate. A nice big burger and 2 beers cost me about 3 pounds, you can't really go wrong. I met an awesome a varied bunch of people while I was there, and spent the first day checking out the local Tulum ruins and the beach with a fellow Londoner and a guy from Switzerland. Managed to top up the tan a bit and for once didn't get burnt! The next day I booked to do two dives in nearby Cenotes, The Temple of Doom and Dos Ojos, after being told by friends and family the they were a must see when in Tulum. The dives were incredible, but I think my experience was slightly ruined by the company I went with, and the fact that my dive buddy, a producer from the US who claimed to have produced I Need a Dollar (hmmm...), was a lovely guy but an absolute moron when it came to diving. The first dive at the Temple of Doom involves about a 10 foot jump into the cenote which was a lot of fun, and a halocline. This is where salt water and fresh water meet to create a quite incredible underwater effect, and as I later found out, next to no visibility. I was slightly perturbed when the instructor gave me a torch as I had told him that I had only just qualified, had only done 4 dives, and therefore didn't particularly want to be diving through tiny caves and caverns where I couldn't see the surface. But he assured me I would be fine so we jumped in and got started with the dive. The cenote is just incredible, with beaufiful rock formations and the effect of the halocline making it feel like you are on another planet. I did however get a little scared when we reached a sign that said "Do not pass this point unless qualified for cave diving. Danger of death" and our instructor just casually floated past into said caves. It turned out we went on a pretty intense cave dive through incredibly tight passageways in into enormous caverns with no sight of the surface, which were completely stunning, and I would have been having an amazing time were it not for the aforementioned dive buddy who evidently had absolutely no control of his buoyancy. Every few seconds he would either uncontrollably ascend and smash into the ceiling or sink to the bottom and get stuck, occasionally hammering into rocks and side walls for good measure. Due to the order in which we were diving, this was happening right in front of my eyes and worrying me a little bit as I thought he would damage the kit or run out of air as he panicked. He was also kicking up the halocline so severely that I genuinely couldn't see my hand in front of my face, let alone our instructor, so had to spend some pretty extended periods of time just trying to follow his light. Thankfully we all made it back to the surface, and in hindsight it was a brilliant dive, but perhaps a slightly stressul start to my cave diving career. On the plus side my buoyancy was spot on and my air consumption good, so I guess I'm getting better. Unfortunately our second dive in Dos Ojos was much of the same. The cenote itself was similar but on a much grander scale, but about 15 minutes in as I was starting to feel comfortable, and my dive buddy seemed to finally be controlling his buoyancy, air started to absolutely pour out of my high pressure hose, a situation that my training hadn't prepared me for. Obviously I was a little stressed as we were in a cave with no visible surface and when air is coming out of your high pressure hose, I imagine it starts to run low pretty rapidly... I swam after my dive buddy, showed him my hose leaking air and signalled that I may run low on air, to which he showed me that he had plenty of air left and that he was fine and turned around to swim off before starting one of his random ascents and getting stuck on a stalactite on the ceiling...as I said, moron. Thankfully an Egyptian dive instructor we were diving with was pretty nearby so I swam over to him and shared from his alternate while he turned off my air and fixed the problem underwater, then we continued on with our dive, but I was obviously a little shaken and so didn't enjoy the rest as much as I should. When I got to the surface my instructor informed me that they had the same problem with the regulator I was using the day before, so god knows why they let me use it knowing it was faulty, but oh well. All of this did make me slightly question why I was repeatedly going underwater breathing out of a tank, it's just not natural, but then I thought of how amazing those dives would have been had they been stress free, and how much I enjoyed my ocean dives and decided that my diving career certainly wasn't over. Maybe I'll just stick to dives where I can see the surface for a while to get my confidence back.
After that slightly scary experience I returned to the comfort of the hostel, got talking to a lad from London and found out it was his 30th birthday that night. A pretty big group of us ended up going out and sampling what little night life there is to experience in Tulum, and had a pretty hilarious time. The next day I went to see the nearby Coba ruins with a pro Lacrosse player from the US, which as I said earlier, were drastically more impressive than Chichen Itza in my opinion. The ruins are spread out over a massive area, it seems most people rent bikes and cycle around, but we had about 5 hours to kill so ended up just wandering around, going down what we thought were paths through the jungle but generally tended not to be, and climbing over the ruins. There is one tower there which is just so impressive, and after climbing to the top gives you an amazing panoramic view over the surrounding jungle. All in all, definitely worth the trip. The next day I spent with the same guy and a really cool German girl on the beach. The hostel had a free shuttle bus that ran to the beach at 9 in the morning and back at 5. While that is awesome, and I made good use of it, that is a long time to be on the beach! Evidently I missed my feet when I was suncreaming up and I am now genuinely scared they may have second degree burns, they have swelled up like an old lady's and no longer have any discernible ankle bones...but hopefully it'll turn to golden tan by tomorrow! The rest of me managed to escape unharmed and I'm finally getting some decent colour. I should say that excluding the first 3 days of my trip, the weather has been absolutely glorious, just pure blue sky and sunshine the vast majority of the time.
So last night after my day sizzling on the beach I had one final burger on the BBQ, a few beers in the hammock then was very sad to be leaving the Weary Traveller. However, I jumped on a 12 hour overnight bus from Tulum to Palenque, arriving at about 8 this morning. I was incredibly glad of people's warnings that the bus would be freezing cold, I took two hoodies and was still shivering, but did manage to get a few hours sleep. Palenque is a cool little town set in the jungle and surrounded by mountains, very pretty. I'm staying in a little place called El Panchan just outside the town, in a hostel really set deep in the jungle, which is really nice. This morning I went to check out the famous Palenque ruins, which were pretty awe inspiring, but I shalln't bore you with the details. I'm afraid all these ruin trips have been pretty close together so if I ever get round to showing you my photos the first section might be a bit repetitive. The photos from there I think are pretty damn impressive though. Tomorrow I'm taking a day tour which takes in the famous waterfalls around this area, then drops me higher in the mountains in San Cristobal de las Casas, where it is apparently pretty chilly.
Sorry this has ended up being a little longer than I had planned, I'll try and keep it a bit more succint in the future! I'll update when I get the chance, most likely when I'm in Guatemala. I think I have realised now that 6 weeks to get from here to Chile is just not enough time, so I think I'm going to briefly whizz through Guatemala and Belize then take a flight to Columbia or something similar.
I hope you are all well, please keep me updated via facebook/email with what is going on all of you and with any exciting news! Take care.