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Published: August 17th 2016
Greetings again from Mexico! Yay!! I’ve made it back to this wonderful country, and I’m actually so glad to be here again. Whilst Belize was an experience, I’ve decided to add it to my (very small) list of countries which I would not choose to visit again in the foreseeable future, along with Russia and Venezuela. I will relate more on this below, but for now it’s sufficient to say I’ve really enjoyed my travels again since arriving back in Mexico on Sunday, this country is so hospitable, warm and welcoming. Pretty much the opposite I’d say to Belize, which has probably made me appreciate Mexico even more – you can’t have the good without the bad, so they say.
So last off I wrote from pretty much the middle of the Belizean bush – a wonderful little backpackers’ retreat, straight out of an episode of ‘Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Wild’. Whilst I enjoyed my rustic time there, I was quite pleased when a taxi showed up at 3.30pm to take me the kilometre or so to Sarteneja’s tiny pier, to await the water taxi from San Pedro to whisk me out of the middle
of nowhere and back to at least some form of civilisation, the small town of Corozal, close to Belize’s northern border with Mexico. Whilst waiting, the village’s children were enjoying an afternoon’s splash around off the ferry pier, and I got talking to a lovely young lady from the village, who’d brought her three children there for a swim. She seemed quite sad overall, and wanted to know more about the western lifestyle of working, establishing oneself first, and then (perhaps) getting married later in life. She looked in her mid-20s, and already had three children, the oldest of which seemed about 8 or so. This seems to be a common narrative from local people, especially young women, on my travels in the lesser developed countries – they admire the fact that people are not expected to marry so young in the west. (Although I do dread the common conversation topic which goes down the road of “so, are your wife and children back home then…?”) I admire the fact that people in these countries don’t get so preoccupied with money, business and the corporate ladder, and seem to be able to enjoy the simple things in life more, without
the worry and the stress of the fast-paced life. We seemed to be talking across two different worlds, it was lovely to meet her – her name was Ruby.
At 4.20pm, and right on schedule, the ferry arrived, whisking me and my bags, along with a teacher from the village, away with the travellers from San Pedro, across Corozal Bay towards Corozal Town. Upon arrival in the latter I checked into the Hok’ok K’in (Rising Sun in Maya) Hotel, and cranked up the air-conditioning to enjoy pretty much the rest of the evening in cool, white-sheeted, comfortable bliss. Certainly, two days in the “wild” was enough for me – I enjoyed it, but I also enjoyed moving on. Unfortunately the hotel’s staff left much to be desired, and this just about sums up my time in Belize really to be honest, and I feel now is a good time to talk about it.
With the exception of Orange Walk, which seemed an anomaly, as well as a number of very fine individuals, including Ruby, a lovely US-Belizean lady I got talking to at the bus station in Corozal, and a good guy I sat next to on the
bus on the way to Mexico, along with a number of others, I do not have a positive impression of the people of Belize - they just seemed childish overall, lacking maturity. This was particularly so for the people involved in the tourism and service sector: the hotel, restaurant and shop workers. As mentioned in my Belize City blog, but which seemed also quite evident in a number of other places, people just didn’t seem to care less about serving you or not. The women in general were apathetic and indifferent, barely making eye-contact, barely engaging in conversation, and taking an age to serve you: a delightful and extremely rotund lady in the small local supermarket in Sarteneja can sum this up perfectly. Upon arriving in her shop quite hot and sweaty, obviously in need of a drink, I asked if they had any water, she said “yes, we do”. It took a further prompting of me to ask where it was, for her to be able to show it to me, with a slight twitch of her arm in slow motion in the direction of the fridges. No smile, no eye contact, nothing. The men on the other hand
When you know you've arrived in a good hotel: Hotel Hok'ol K'in, Corozal, Belize
seemed quite insecure in their masculinity, in their over-inflated egos and loud voices, and inability to give a straight answer to anything, preferring to make a joke out of everything. An example: I found a bus stop in Belize City, with two guys hanging around, one looking like the bus conductor. I asked him if this was the bus to Sarteneja, and how long the journey would take. Instead of just telling me a number of hours, he proceeded to state that it would depend on how much I was willing to pay. Now I can normally take a joke, and can laugh when something is said in jest or for humour, but this was said with the main purpose of belittling me to make himself feel bigger, and amusing his friend, who wore a cap twice as big as his head (a common fashion style amongst Belizean young men) and an oversized bling-medallion around his neck, along with a shirt and tie, upon which both of them began laughing hysterically – yes, very helpful. No, I did not get a good impression of Belize. I’m glad I went, I can tick it off my list, I had some good
experiences and met some good people, and it takes my total of countries up to 73, but I would surely not go back again.
So on Monday morning I gratefully began my return journey to Mexico, and upon arriving I was not disappointed by the courteousness, the hospitality and the warmth of the Mexican people – well done Mexico! Though what the Lonely Planet gives as an hour’s journey, over 15 miles or so, from the northern Belizean town of Corozal to the south-eastern Mexican city of Chetumal, actually ended up taking three hours in total. Probably around 30 minutes of travel, and two and a half hours of waiting, waiting, waiting. I waited 45 minutes in Corozal’s bus station for the bus, about fifteen minutes to get my exit stamp from Belize, a further 45 minutes or so to get my entrance stamp into Mexico, with the longest of queues and only one (friendly at least) lady on stamping duty, and then about 45 minutes in this bizarre waiting room waiting for a bus on the Mexican side of the border to take me to Chetumal. The first bus I took decided not to wait for me, as
I was the only tourist on it, and thus the only person who had to join the 45-minute queue for the stamp – fair enough, I could see their point. After standing in the long line which moved at a snail’s pace, the silence of the air interrupted briefly every two minutes or so by a flurry of stamping sounds coming from the front desk followed by “next” or “pase”, there was this huge room with two armed soldiers in it, and occasionally a customs officer who would turn up every twenty minutes or so to switch on the machine which scanned people’s bags. I waited ten minutes for him, he put my bag through the machine, and didn’t even look at the monitor to see what was in my bag. I then pressed a button, a common feature of travel in Mexico apparently, at airports, border towns, and security stops in various places around the country – people press a button, and mostly a green light comes on meaning they can move on. Occasionally and randomly, a red light comes up, meaning that the customs officer needs to search your bag. I got the red light at Mexico City
View of thunderstorm over Corozal Bay
Airport when I arrived, and it took about five minutes for my bag to be properly searched. It then came on red again for me here, though this time the customs officer opened my bag, took a two-second peak inside, and said I could go. The lady after me also got a red light, but she just carried on anyway, and the customs officer said nothing. More waiting happened after this, waiting for the next bus to arrive from the Belizean side to take me the final six miles into the Mexican city of Chetumal. The whole thing was a lesson in patience, often bordering on the bizarre really.
But what bliss, arriving in Chetumal, Mexico again!! The Belizean bus driver put on some Mexican music which cheered me up no end, a darn sight nicer than the angry, thumping music many people seem to listen to in Belize. The taxi driver who took me to my hotel reminded me of the lovely Mexican people once more, and I have revelled blissfully in being in a country with such courteous, well-mannered, well-educated and polite people. Everyone seems to have a “hello”, a “good day” or a smile for you
here, and I am willing to give out as many also. There was definitely an ominous sense of pressure in the atmosphere in Belize which didn’t allow for such civil and courteous greetings to others, but this seemed to lift as soon as I arrived in Mexico. Maybe it’s just me, maybe me and Belize just had a culture or a personality clash or something, I have known some people who really like Belize, but I can honestly say, if my point has not been made clear enough already, that Belize is not for me.
Ok, so moving on – Mexico! I checked into the wonderfully comfortable Hotel Los Cocos, the smartest hotel in town, after getting a fantastic discount deal for booking with them online, and downed my bags in an expansive room with two king-size beds, a bathroom with things such as a shower cap and a hairdryer, and a fridge which kept my water bottles lovely and cool (I shall not say anything about most of its clientele being large, loud and rude Belizean families though…). I spent a blissful afternoon in Chetumal, starting firstly at its showcase “Museo de la Cultura Maya”, learning lots about
the Mayan sites of Tikal and Lamanai which I’d already visited, as well as the countless others dotting the Maya region throughout the modern-day countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. After this, a wander down the city’s main street, Avenida de los Heroes, to its clock tower and main square situated on the city’s delightful seashore promenade, where many of the city’s residents were out for a “paseo”, it being a Sunday afternoon, and a walk westwards along the shore towards a modern shopping complex. I was reminded upon arriving there, as well as during my time so far in Mexico, that despite my original blog entry, Mexico is in fact very much a part of “North America”, not “Central”. I remember thinking this upon my first visit to Mexico, and now having since been to the USA and Canada, Central America, as well as South America, Mexico seems to share much more in common with its two northern neighbours than any others in the western hemisphere. It is an expansive country, huge, with big big spaces, monster trucks, large shopping malls, supermarkets including WalMart and other more local varieties, fast food joints, and a consumer-culture amongst
the upper portions of society. No wonder Mexicans, and quite rightly so, adamantly state that they are “North American”, and nothing else.
I just spent one night in Chetumal, before moving on on Monday morning to here, Merida, from where I am writing this blog entry now. I realised upon packing my bags on Monday morning, that this was actually the third day in a row in which I was packing my bags, and by that evening I’d have spent four consecutive nights in four different hotels/places. I was thus glad to be checking into my hotel in Merida for three nights, a nice break from the travelling, and pretty much the best hotel I’ve checked into so far. I caught a very modern and comfortable bus, dubbed “European Class”, from Chetumal’s first class bus terminal, for the six-hour journey right across the Yucatan Peninsula to the lovely, beautiful, colonial city of Merida – it was the first bus on my journey which had a working, on-board toilet – what a treat, I could drink during the journey without having to worry about when the bus’s next toilet stop would be…!
A taxi from the bus terminal took
me to here, the Ibis Hotel Merida, and what a treat it has been staying here. I love Ibis Hotels – small, quiet, economical and functional – I often look for them when I travel, and thus booked myself into the one here in Merida for three nights, as well as the one in Cancun for my final two nights on this journey. The room is a delight: cosy, comfortable and functional to the extreme, and I have now holed myself up in my room for a serious duvet day for the rest of the day – ah, bliss!
Yesterday, I booked myself onto a tour travelling two hours westwards towards the Gulf of Mexico coast, and the delightful Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Celustun. This is a beautiful river estuary, home during the winter to thousands of flamingos, whilst the younger ones hang around also for the summer whilst their parents go off eastwards to Rio Lagartos further along the Yucatan coast to breed. My parents visited this place last year, and upon a recommendation from my lovely Mum (hi Mum!!), I decided to make a visit myself. I joined three lovely Mexican families for the trip, led
by the superbly informative and knowledgeable Don Raul. The tour involved two hours on the estuary itself, sighting a group of twenty or so stunningly pink and beautiful flamingos feeding, a solitary stork, numerous cormorants, a number of birds of prey, and a deeply atmospheric “tunnel” through the mangrove trees. There was also a place where we were invited to swim, bearing in mind that the estuary is also home to thousands of crocodiles. I was planning on swimming until the point the guide told us about the crocodiles, but when two younger members of our tour group and their father decided to take the plunge into the refreshingly icy waters, I decided I had to do the same. It was most refreshing. Upon exiting, Don Raul calmly told us “no se ven a los cocodrilos, pero si que los cocodrilos ven a ustedes” – “you can’t see the crocodiles, but the crocodiles can see you”…! I’m glad he told us that afterwards, I’ve never swum in crocodile waters before, I’m glad I did and can tick that one off my list too…! We then spent the afternoon on the beach in the nearby coastal village of Celestun, with its
white powdery sand and a lovely beach-side restaurant, before making the return journey back to Merida.
And today, this morning, I spent a happy couple of hours wandering the beautiful downtown area of colonial Merida, once the former colonial capital of the Yucatan, and apparently taking orders directly from Madrid, Spain, rather than the capital of Nueva Espana in Mexico City. This was the case until the terrible conflict referred to as the “War of the Castes”, which lasted around 50 years towards the end of the 19th
century. In it, the local Mayan people rose up, often successfully, against their colonial and creole (mixed Spanish/Indigenous) overlords throughout the Yucatan peninsula, causing many people on both sides of the conflict in fact to emigrate as refugees to Belize down south, which is how Belize received many of its Spanish-Mexican peoples. Only Merida and Campeche, another colonial centre further south, held out against the rebels, until reinforcements were sent directly from Mexico City, in exchange for Merida’s agreement to take orders in future from Mexico City. Merida was saved, and Merida and the Yucatan were subsequently brought into the sphere of Mexico (or the United Mexican States, as the country
is officially called over here) as a whole.
Merida’s historical centre is awash with delightful colonial houses, colonial-era churches, tree-shaded plazas and cobblestoned streets, whilst its main boulevard towards the north, the Paseo de Montejo, is lined with exquisite, Baroque-/French-influenced mansions dating from the early 20th
century. The city is a delight, and I really enjoyed exploring it this morning.
However, upon waking up this morning from a nine-and-a-half hour sleep, and indeed based on my sentiments over the last few days in general, I feel just about ready to arrive at journey end. I am actually quite tired, though I do have a few more days of travelling and sightseeing left, including the super-sounding spots of Valladolid, Chichen Itza and Cancun. However, I have decided to indulge my feelings for today, and have officially assigned the rest of the day as a duvet day. I am currently in my ultra-comfortable Ibis hotel room on the top floor with a great view over the city, supplies having been brought in from the local 7-11 store, and with plans to have lunch shortly, and then dinner, in the hotel’s quiet, unassuming little restaurant downstairs. Definitely needing some down time,
and enjoying this one very much.
So, I’ll sign out for now to continue enjoying the serious r ‘n’ r (I might even have a nap, lol!). I will probably write one more entry from Cancun, before flying back to London on Monday, arriving Tuesday morning, to write a final entry from Croydon to wrap up what has so far been a really excellent, educational and enjoyable trip altogether.
Thank you for reading this one, and until the next time! ¡Saludos desde Mexico!
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