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North America » Mexico » Quintana Roo » Chetumal
October 19th 2012
Published: October 23rd 2012
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Monday 8/10/2012 – On the way out of Palenque this morning we got stopped at a military checkpoint. It’s usually no big deal as they normally ask a few questions and wave us on – but not today. They made us open all our panniers and they made me totally empty one of them. One of the soldiers got all excited when he spotted a thick packet of satchels in the bottom of my food bag, machine guns were spasmodically jerking around in excitement until they realised it was just satchels of hot-chocolate powder. One of the soldiers starting going through Kenz’s panniers and even rifled through the tool kit! Eventually they realised we were just ordinary travellers obeying the law, and not drugs/weapons/illegal-goods pushers, so they waved us on.

After seeing two tarantulas crossing the road we crossed the border into the state of Campeche, and rode into the coastal capital city of Campeche. Just outside of town we got pulled over by some police who wanted to see all of our personal and bike documents. It was a fairly routine check except the cop laughed at Kenz’s passport photo and handed it around for the other cops to see! The city of Campeche was founded by the conquistadors and many of the original colonial Spanish city walls and fortifications still remain. The city defences where built in the 1680s due to the relentless attacks of pirates and buccaneers, and recently gained World Heritage Status. Interestingly part of the city defences included a large seawall built at the ocean front to deter the pirates, but it is no longer along the ocean front. Years of ocean reclamation via landfill means that it now stands 2 city blocks from the seashore. We walked around the town plaza to checkout some of the history of the area, and poked our heads into an old cathedral. We were surprised to see statues of saints holding human skulls!

Tuesday 09/10/12 – We jumped on the bikes and rode out to the nearby ruins of Edzna and spent the morning strolling through the ruined temples, pyramids and temples. We were the only people there; however we were joined by many iguanas and even more mosquitoes. The iguanas were very relaxed and sunbaking on the ruins, we didn’t even notice them until Kenz walked to close to one and he didn’t like it. They are definitely a little freaky looking, especially when they run – they can also get quite large too. The mosquitoes spoiled what were otherwise some great ruins which were all centred around a massive 6 storey pyramid with a temple still standing on the pinnacle. There are often informative signs displayed at most ruins which explain some of the history and archaeological findings from the area. The sign for these ruins stated: “The Mayans received no help from extra-terrestrial beings whilst building their structures”.

After an eventful ride back to the city where Kenz got hit in the neck with a small stone I flicked up on the highway, we walked around the town admiring the mix of Mayan and colonial Spanish architecture which included a stroll along a stretch of original sea wall which included a tower, a bastion and cannon turrets. One of the bastions was home to the Museum of Mayan Architecture which had information in English. There were many examples of Mayan carvings, structures, and hieroglyphs which had been translated into Spanish and English.

Wednesday 10/10/2012 – This morning, our early start was hampered by seemingly endless dusty roadworks where huge double trailer trucks would crawl along at a maddeningly slow pace. We entered the state of Yucatan and headed for the city of Merida. About 20 mins from the city we came to a police checkpoint where the police pulled us over and intensely searched our bikes for drugs. The police pulled everything out of 2 of my panniers and even opened and sniffed my entire toiletries bag (shampoo, tooth paste etc). After a solid 20 minutes of searching and questioning, they seemed a little disappointed and let us continue on our way but not without a stern lecture on how dangerous Cancun is. About 5 mins later some cops with their lights flashing pulled alongside me on the highway and we had a surreal conversation whist travelling at 80km/hour! I though the cops had chased me down from the checkpoint as he was leaning right out of the window whilst driving and kept yelling at me about cylinders, I thought he wanted to check the various small storage cylinders that I have strapped on my bike. After some strange hand waving, pointing and yelling through my helmet he seemed happy and turned around, it was only later that I realised he was asking what cc the bikes were and probably got sick of screaming out the window at me.

We quickly found a hotel and headed into the town centre. We had some lunch and chatted to the waiter who had nothing better to do. He was a hilarious guy who explained that about 90% of this area’s population sleep in hammocks rather than beds. After he stated that hammocks were very accommodating I asked him what he meant and he replied with a huge grin on his face that he didn’t know the kama-sutra, but was a master at the hammocka-sutra. It’s a skill I respect because I can barely even climb into a hammock without falling flat on my face!

We grabbed some tickets for a city tour which travelled around the main sights of the city. The Mexican tour guide was this portly little dude who was so funny – the kind that don’t even know they’re funny. He explained that the people of Merida always finish a sentence with HAH which he emphatically added to the end of all his sentences, with extra fervour when he was making a joke (usually along with a high pitched chuckle that is common amongst Mexican men). Much of the cities architecture is influenced by the Europeans with clear distinctions between the Moorish, Spanish, French, German and Italian structures. The city of Merida has the second greatest number of churches and cathedrals in Mexico – most of which were built at the sites of Mayan temples that were destroyed by the conquistadors. Interestingly the cathedrals of this city aren’t excessively displaying wealth like in most other cities which is due to a previous communist governor who stripped all the churches of their gold. It seemed poignant to me, and there was some irony that the Catholic Church that systematically oppressed the local Mayan religion in turn got stripped of their greatest symbol of power by a communist governor. I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learnt in there somewhere…

Towards the end of the tour the rain started pouring and the tour guide said “I think they just sacrificed a tourist to the rain gods, HAH!” Luckily the bus driver dropped us off at the central plaza where we sought shelter in the humongous city cathedral which had a 14 metre high wooden crucified Jesus as its centrepiece. We ran across the plaza to visit the governor’s palace which is home to 27 large murals painted by the famous Mexican artist Fernando Castro Pacheco. The murals depict many of the Mayan traditional myths and stories, as well as illuminating the tense relationship between the Mayans and conquistadors. The paintings were fascinating and after spending far too long trying to take them all in we realised it was getting late and had to leave. On the way out I got chatting with the curator who was a little eccentric but so passionate about the Yucatan state. He shook my hand many times and was so delighted (and even honoured) that I had an interest in the history of Mexico and Mexican art. Many of the Mexican people are so passionate about their country, more so than probably any other group of peoples that I’ve met. We did another lap of the central plaza after nightfall before heading back to the hotel.

Thursday 11/10/2012 – Today we got to experience our first of the ‘new 7 wonders of the world’: the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza! It was pretty good but I must admit that it wasn’t as amazing as I thought it would be. The city is structured around a tall central pyramid. Luckily we got their early as there were people everywhere by the time we were walking out. The city had a number of natural sinkholes, including one that was 28m deep. They found many skeletons of human sacrifices at the bottom – many of which were young children and infants.

We clubbed our way out through the Red Bull cap wearing and Ferrari shoe wearing tourists and headed to the nearby city of Valladolid where we had planned to stay. Kenz was a little grumpy because the town was really dodgy and dirty which started a shit-cracking domino effect that ended with me mutely accepting her decision and riding on. We later stopped at a beautiful little roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere to repair our cracked shits just as the rains started pouring. The rain stopped just as we prepared to move on, so after much discussion we decided to put all our wet-weather gear on. This includes our winter gloves, zipping in waterproof linings and strapping on our rain boot-covers; it’s a whole production.

Of course the next 3 hours were spent baking in the blistering sunshine, but we were too stubborn to stop and take all the gear back off. We arrived at Cancun and visited a number of hostels that are all about image where they are just as expensive as a regular hotel but dark and dingy and full of unwashed, dreadlock cultivating losers (or ‘passionate optimists’ depending on who you talk to). Being sick of those places we headed to a hotel that was a little more expensive than we would have liked but as the sun was already setting we took it. As we were parking the bikes in the hotel lobby, Kenz noticed that my number plate had fallen off! Luckily I had previous noticed a suspicious crack forming and had tethered it to the bike which saved us from losing it.

Friday 12/10/2012 – After scoffing down our complimentary breaky (consisting of toast and coffee) and taking a load of laundry to the local laundry lady, we headed to the hotel strip to organise a dive trip for tomorrow. The dive company had plenty of room on a trip this afternoon so we booked it and scurried back to the hotel for lunch and our gear. We jumped on a large vessel and enjoyed a 30 minute trip out to the bay where there were great views of the city. We had been particularly looking forward to diving the Cancun Underwater Museum in the Cancun National Marine Park as it’s an artificial reef consisting of over 400 sculptures. The sculptures were installed in 2009/10 and most are now covered in varying amounts of algal and coral growth. Many of the sculptures are of people that are unbelievably creepy as they are to scale and are half covered in seaweed. It’s a strange feeling to be surrounded by about 50 seaweed covered statues glaring at you from the gloom – the freakiest statue was definitely the pregnant woman in the naked Demi Moore pose. There was also plenty of tropical fish and smaller marine life, but we were disappointed not to see any sharks, rays, turtles or eels. Amazingly our dive leader spoke Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and English – we are always amazed and jealous of these multilingual people!

After our dive we headed home via the laundry. There was only one casualty that was MIA – an old purple shirt of Kenz’s which will hardly be missed. We then headed out to a bar for some dinner which had a great picture on the wall of the last supper with luchas in their full wrestling gear and masks.

Saturday 13/10/2012 – Today was spent relaxing by the pool and running exciting errands like buying Kenz a new purple shirt and printing out a new dodgy number plate to stick on the back of my bike. Fun!

We also walked around a fair bit of the neighbourhood and were tempted to return later in the evening to a pub that had a Mexican Black Sabbath cover band. Looking back I kind of regret not going back to check it out. I’m sure I would have come home with a few good stories, but probably without my wallet or shoes.

Sunday 14/10/2012 – We rode out of Cancun this morning, I think I was the only male Gringo under 35 in the whole city without a slack jaw and a full sleave tattoo. We headed to the ruins of Tulum situated on the coast about an hour south of Cancun. The actual structures were nothing on what we have previously seen however they are situated on a small hilltop overlooking the spectacular Caribbean Sea. The setting was amazing with the blue water smashing against the cliff base and beach below the ruins. Again we were lucky to get there early as the queue at the ticket booth was about 30 deep when we left. These ruins are unique as you can go swimming on the beach and its proximity to Cancun make it one of the most visited ruins in Mexico. The Iguanas here were much less concerned about people than their peers at other ruins which meant I was more interested in them than the ruins or people!

We headed south on the almost deserted road to the state capital of Chetumal situated near the border with Belize. About 100 km north of Chetumal we were lucky enough to encounter a black jaguar that crossed the road in front of us. At first I thought it was a huge monkey but as I got closer I realised what it was. I have never seen such a large land-animal move so easily and gracefully. Unfortunately he saw us coming from a fair way of, quickly crossed the road and slinked off into the thick jungle. I would love to see a regular patterned one and hopefully from a little closer, but beggars can’t be choosers.

As we road into Chetumal we clicked over to 30,000 km on the North American continent (and yes Mexico is part of North America)! With little fanfare we stopped at a small hotel near the centre of town and unpacked our gear. Today’s 400km trip went quicker than we had expected so we had time to check out the Museum of Mayan Culture. Unfortunately the main room was undergoing a transition so only the smaller side rooms were available to us. What we did see was pretty amazing though, some of the modern carving and sculptures by local Mayans were incredibly detailed and complex. There was also a display on how the pre-Colombian Mayans manipulated the bodies of their children for aesthetic reasons. They would often ‘bind’ an infant’s head with pieces of wood so the skull would lengthen and deform resulting in a desirable sloped forehead (like a more subtle version of Dan Aykroyd from the Coneheads movie). Another common practice was to tie a small pebble to an infant’s fringe so it dangled in front of its face which encouraged the development of crossed eyes. Maybe that’s why they were such a brutal and bloodthirsty group of people – they were always getting teased about being cross-eyed coneheads?

We headed back to the hotel and chilled out in our room. As the night progressed there were an increasing number of interesting bugs and creatures sharing the bed with us! Usually I try not to exact swift justice on any creature that either gets in my way or displeases me; however these bed bugs pushed me close to my limit so I was flicking them off the bed with some satisfaction. Kenz tended to squash them before flicking them – I thought I should at least give them a fighting chance…

Monday 15/10/2012 – Before leaving Mexico this morning, we went to the local bank to change our left over pesos into US dollars which are accepted in Belize. We then headed a short distance to the Mexico/Belize border where we bumped into another Aussie traveller who was renewing her Mexican Visa. Everything was going well; we got our passports stamped (and then restamped as we noticed that the first stamp was dated the 51st of October?!) before the officer asked us to surrender our visas. He then went onto try and charge us a US$50 exit fee which we had previously heard was one of their favourite made-up fees to fleece gringos. After much animated debate he changed angles and asked us to produce the visa receipt from when we paid in Tijuana 6 weeks ago. When we couldn’t produce one for him (when we paid in Tijuana, we thought they told us that the visa was the receipt – I mean who receives a visa when they enter a country but pays for it when they leave?) he told us we weren’t going anywhere till we paid him $50. We gave him the money and then asked for a receipt and he told us that we pay him then go to the bank and ask them for a receipt – yeah I don’t think so… When we all realised that he wasn’t giving us a receipt and was going to keep the money, Kenz grabbed the passport and $50 from his hand and a tug-of-war ensued. When myself and the other Aussie traveller lent Kenz a hand along with some very colourful language he let go of everything and was quickly on the radio yelling in Spanish. We decided that as we had our passports stamped, the bike imports cancelled and had handed in our visas we would just ride through to Belize. Unfortunately as we were pulling out another official came running over and wouldn’t let us leave until we showed him our receipt. He also said that if we didn’t have it or didn’t pay for another one he would radio through to the Belize immigration and prevent them from allowing us to enter. We knew this sounded like bullshit, but it all of a sudden started to get pretty serious as we had three officials all arguing with us including one who had left his post allowing people from Belize to walk through without showing paperwork. We went to the bank and the nice lady offered to print out our receipt from Tijuana that they thankfully still had on their records. Triumphantly with our receipt in hand we returned to the officer and planned to turn it over and tell him what we thought of the whole situation – however he was no longer satisfied with just the receipt, he also wanted the surrendered visas now… We returned to the original guy who took our visas, and now he refused to hand over mine despite us waving the receipt in his face (he did give us Kenz’s for some reason). By this time both Kenz and I were volcanoes and sick of being stalled and pinballed around on futile tasks that were just meant to waste our time until we paid this guy some money. Eventually the customs police came over and had a stern chat and got my visa back from the prick official. The policeman was very apologetic and embarrassed by the behaviour of the officials who were clearly just after our money. I gave the prick-official a serving and called him a really bad name which I only use on special occasions such as this. It’s a shame that we left Mexico in such a bad way as until today (and one other police incident), we have found the country a pleasure to travel through.

We quickly jumped on the bikes and headed straight through to Belize before any more trouble started. The transition through the Belize immigration and customs was very smooth and efficient as they were super-friendly and spoke English (Belize is a previous British colony and is still in the Commonwealth). When we entered the immigration and customs hall they had Tina Turner singing Simply The Best over the radio, unfortunately it wasn’t the version with Barnsey! They were all so relaxed and laidback, they speak English with the Caribbean accent which makes them sound so chilled out and cool. As we headed down the highway we got plenty of smiles and waves from the locals and whenever we stopped people would yell out greetings such as “Welcome home brother”. We stopped in to purchase our mandatory bike insurance and picked the salesman’s brains about some of the country’s history. The people of Belize are fairly diverse, some are of Mayan and Spanish decent, some are Creole descendants (a mixed race of African slaves and European settlers) and a small amount are Caribbean islanders. The capital was originally Belize City, however it was devastated by a hurricane in 1961 and the government built a new capital inland. We headed to Belize City which is small, densely populated, and unorganised – there was barely a single city block that didn’t have at least 100 potholes! The city is the largest in Belize, however it was a ghost town today. We found a cheap hotel near the town centre and found out that today was a public holiday (Columbus Day). We headed out to explore the seemingly abandoned city, every block or so we came across a bum who would hassle us for money – I guess when you are the only people on the street you stick out as foreigners! We walked along the harbour and the river that was lapping against the houses and road; all the houses are built on stilts here due to the city being built (quite literally) at sea level. There were a few locals swimming in the harbour, and we chatted to a young kid who showed us where an open store was located. He went on to talk to us for 15 mins about the city and people whilst shooing the beggars away. We gave him a dollar for his help and walked back to the hotel to spend a lazy evening enjoying our new surroundings. We noticed that a furniture shop across the street was being run by a young German looking Amish-type guy with a round bowler hat and suspenders. Apparently Belize has a decent population of Amish who supply most of the countries dairy goods – and evidently some furniture.


23rd October 2012

Check out the highlands
At the end of the road past the Blancaneaux Lodge (Move director Francis Ford Coppola) is a great fresh water swim area jumping off rocks into the greatest swimming holes! Long path down to the water side from the small hotel.

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