Guatemala, Belize and Mexico Travel epilogue

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North America » Mexico
June 2nd 2016
Published: September 9th 2016
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When reflecting on our travels through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, I found myself compiling a list of the high and low points of our journey through these intriguing Central American lands. I scrawled notes wherever and whenever I could, and the following is a quick summary of my thoughts, feelings and experiences.

17 Highpoints
Mezcal – the smoky and alluring nature of this spirit, distilled from Mexico’s ubiquitous agave plants, really captured my senses. Regardless of the time of day, mezcal was perfect before and after meals, and it was a brilliant drink to savour on rooftop cafes at nightfall. After the first sip you feel the spirit coursing through your veins, after the second sip you feel its warmth spread through your body, and after the third sip your mind becomes clear and tranquil. I favoured mezcal derived from the ‘coyote’ agave species, and I’ll always remember the following verse which our Guide recited (in Spanish and English) on a dark street in Mexico City:
For every bad, drink mezcal
For every good, mezcal as well
If there is no remedy, mezcal is a medicine
Because if cure you don’t get, at least you forget.

Tacos – a tortilla folded or rolled around a filling and served with a selection of accompaniments and salsas (some spicy, some smoky, some mild and flavoursome). It may sound simple, but the taco was my favourite go-to dish in Mexico. In ranking order, the four best tacos that I tasted on this trip were as follows:
1) Al pastor marlin tacos at La Playita (a lakeside restaurant on route to Tulum)
2) Tacos al pastor at El Heuquito (a tiny hole in the wall in Mexico City)
3) Pescadillas (fish tacos) at Restaurant Tania (a laid back outdoor restaurant in Mazunte)
4) Tacos al pastor at El Califa (a popular taqueria franchise in Condesa).

Cerveza – a cold beer was so refreshing after a travel day in the sweltering Central American climate. I sampled Gallo and Cabro in Guatemala, Belikin in Belize and many in Mexico, including Bohemia, Corona, Dos Equis XX, Indio, Modelo, Montejo, Pacifico, Superior, Tecate and Victoria. My outright favourite was Gallo (across all three countries), and my favourite Mexican beer was Dos Equis XX.

Guatemalan Coffee – the coffee in Guatemala was superb, especially the cappuccinos and cafe lattes we sampled in Antigua. I picked up a small packet of Capeuleu (Antigua blend) just before we left, and it was excellent. The coffee in this blend is planted in fertile volcanic soil at an altitude of 1,500 metres, and one taste (apparently) transports you back in time to Antigua’s ancient past. I really enjoyed this coffee when we returned to Australia, and I was a bit sad when the packet finally ran out. It was such a good start to my day.

Marie Sharp’s Sauces – we’d heard that Marie Sharp’s Sauces (marketed as Proud Products of Belize) were renowned, but we didn’t realise that a single product could be so incredibly good. We sampled the sauces at every meal in Belize, because they popped up on every table in every restaurant in the country. We purchased two small bottles before we left – Smokin’ Marie (a smoked habanero sauce) and Green Habanero Pepper Sauce. The Smokin’ Marie had a warning on the bottle, saying the sauce was VERY hot and spicy, and rightfully so – it was dangerously hot. I absolutely loved it. We’re trying to source the sauces here in Australia, as both bottles disappeared very quickly on our return. About 10% of the Green Habanero Pepper Sauce leaked in my pack as we travelled through Mexico, but we managed to stem the flow before flying out of Mexico City.

Antigua (Guatemala) – sitting in a valley surrounded by three volcanoes, this enticing little town with its cobblestone streets was so easy to navigate and interesting to explore. We loved the bright pastel facades of the buildings, the amazing food, the street markets, the friendly people, the crumbling old churches and the view across town from Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross). We visited Antigua twice during our travels, and we could easily return.

Tikal National Park (Guatemala) – the Tikal Ruins were so tranquil and different from anything I have ever experienced. We explored many ruins during our travels, and this archaeological site was one of the standouts (along with the Palenque and Teotihuacan ruins in Mexico).

Worry Dolls – what a fascinating legend from the highland Indian villages of Guatemala. If you have a problem, you need to share it with a worry doll. The process is as follows: Before you go to sleep, tell each of your worries to a worry doll, then place the dolls beneath your pillow. As you sleep, the dolls (apparently) take your worries away. Some versions of the legend allow you to reuse the dolls, while other versions require the dolls to be discarded as soon as you wake. The tiny fabric dolls, dressed in traditional Maya attire, were very cute and marketable. We’ve met a few people over the years who would need a substantial (possibly endless) supply… 😊

Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves (Belize) – this ancient Maya underworld was breath-taking. We walked, swam, crawled, climbed, slipped and clambered through a watery maze of tunnels, passageways and chambers as we made our way deep inside this four kilometre long cave system, with only a dim and narrow beam from our head torch to light the way.

Merida (Mexico) – despite the intense afternoon sun, this cosmopolitan city was a beautiful place to get lost, especially when exploring the Paseo de Montejo, a boulevard lined with the remains of ostentatious mansions (haciendas) that once housed families riding on the wealth of henequen plantations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Henequen is a type of agave plant used to make rope and twine.

Palenque National Park (Mexico) – the calm ambiance within the captivating jungle surrounds of the Palenque Ruins was extraordinary, and our guided forest walk through the unexcavated ruins was an amazing (and quite privileged) experience.

San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico) – this cool highland city was the highlight of my Central American travels! I loved San Cristobal’s bohemian feel and atmosphere, and I loved finding my Maya calendar symbol (Eb) while wandering the city’s narrow stone streets. People born under the sign of Eb enjoy travelling, and they make decisions only after careful thought. Their associated animal is the wild cat, their element is earth and their orientation is the setting sun. I was very impressed with these traits, so I wore the pendant for the duration of our journey. 😊

Mexico City (Mexico) – what an astonishing, cosmopolitan place! There was so much to experience… the murals, the architecture, the food, the mezcal, the atmosphere, the markets, the friendliness of the locals. We visited Mexico City twice during our travels, and we could easily return… tomorrow!

Oaxaca City (Mexico) – we loved this beautiful city, the capital of Oaxaca. We especially loved sitting in rooftop bars sipping mezcal into the night – what an exceptional place! Unfortunately, I was struck down with hay fever (which I haven’t experienced for 30 years) for the entire stay. Strangely, the hay fever disappeared as soon as we left.

Red Tree House (Condesa, Mexico City) – our amazing apartment for the last two days of our travels. This welcoming bed and breakfast in leafy Condesa was the perfect retreat and wind-down after our 40-day journey across three Central American countries. We relaxed, enjoyed excellent food and red wine, met interesting (some not so) travellers and observed the daily rituals of people and their dogs in this affluent suburb of Mexico City.

Pujol (Polanco, Mexico City) – this unsigned restaurant in Polanco, a suburb of Mexico City, is where I celebrated my 50th birthday. Rated number 16 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2015, Pujol truly deserves its kudos. We shared a six course degustation lunch over a two hour period, and the dishes were extraordinary. The scallop street snack was a standout, as was the octopus with ink tostada, habanero and oregano. This was our first ‘world class’ restaurant experience, and it was one to remember – it was also an absolutely memorable birthday!

Great Travel Companions – empathetic travel companions and guides have such a positive impact on your experience of (and journey through) different countries and cultures, and we met some terrific travellers and tour leaders on this trip. There’s nothing better than sharing life stories over a glass of mezcal on a rooftop terrace as dusk falls on another great travel day… 😊

10 Low Points
Chelada / Michelada (Mexican Beer Cocktail) – I can only describe this nonsensical concoction as the worst drink of all time! I tried it twice to make sure I wasn’t basing my judgement on a single tasting. Marketed as a hangover cure, this is the last thing I could ever consider drinking if I had a hangover. The first thing that hits you is the smell – a sour mixture of vinegar, tomato juice and tabasco sauce. It runs straight up your nose and kills any taste sensation that may follow. The second thing that hits you is the taste – a sour mixture of vinegar, tomato juice and tabasco sauce. You’ve poured an entire bottle of beer over a thick red gluggy mixture at the bottom of your glass, and something in the back of your mind hopes the beer will kick in at some stage, but it never does. Even the amazing chilli and salt flakes around the rim of the glass can’t disguise the taste. The last thing that hits you is the after-taste – a sour mixture of vinegar, tomato juice and tabasco sauce. You keep thinking to yourself – if only I’d poured half the beer into the gluggy mixture – then at least I’d have the other half left to drink!

Mole – this overly sweet and rich sauce would often submerge everything on your plate at a ratio of 80% sauce to 20% everything else, and it was rarely served with enough rice or potato to balance or absorb the flavour. It wasn’t terrible, but it fell short of my expectations for one of Mexico’s culinary specialities. I much preferred the amazing tacos, tostadas, sopes and quesadillas that we sampled in nearly every town we visited.

Travel Sickness – I picked up a stomach bug in San Cristobal de las Casas, which I couldn’t kick for the last half of our journey. I managed it for the best part of the trip, but it would flare up every so often. Disappointingly, I was too sick in Mexico City to dedicate time to look for a hand crafted guitar at the Centro de Artesanias Ciudadela, a rambling handicrafts market close to our hotel.

Political Unrest – it is always a battle of conscience when you find yourself – as a tourist – journeying through regions of entrenched political instability, particularly when you breeze in and out of a place where the populace is fighting for equality. While disappointing at a purely superficial (and personal) level, a citizen’s right to protest is far more important than a tourist’s travel schedule, so our inability to visit Semuc Champey (Guatemala) and the Secretariat of Education (Mexico City) was negligible in the scheme of things. Our visit to Semuc Champey was changed due to a volatile political situation in a nearby township of Lanquin, where local indigenous groups were demanding better access to their traditional lands and consequently blocking access to/from the town. We also missed out on visiting the Secretariat of Education (which is home to numerous Diego Rivera fresco panels) due to a public demonstration in the Plaza Santo Domingo. These things happen…

San Ignacio (Belize) – we only used this small town as a stopover to access the Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves, so we were unable to explore it at length, but I found the town itself disappointing, especially the aggressive nature of its male occupants. We witnessed a fight between two men on the street in front of our breakfast table at 8am, one of whom was meant to be our minibus driver for the rest of the day. Needless to say, we ended up with a different driver!

Inane Male Behaviour – not a new phenomenon by any means, but I was disappointed by the explicit aggression of Belizean men in the streets of Caye Caulker at night, and I was saddened by the explicit drunkenness of Mexican men in the streets of Palenque during the late afternoon and into the night.

Tourist Churn – this is a phenomenon to which every tourist contributes, so I’m more than aware of the irony in my complaint, but I was so disillusioned by the interminable volume of tourists trudging through iconic Mexican locations such as Tulum (especially the beaches and ruins), Chichen Itza and the Canon del Sumidero near Chiapa de Corzo.

Below Par Accommodation – every now and again you find yourself unpacking in a hotel room that is not quite as comfortable as you expected, but you deal with it. Besides, you hardly spend any time in hotel rooms when you’re travelling, so a little bit of discomfort is inconsequential. However, every so often you find yourself in a shocker, and in Puebla (Mexico) we encountered the smallest hotel room in the history of our travels. There was more room to move in the bathroom than in the bedroom, so we had to store all moveable furniture beside the toilet. The stained towels and sheets were beyond description, and the number of stairs and damp stone walkways that we had to negotiate just to get to our diminutive box at the back of the building rubbed salt into the wound.

Below Par Airlines – the 14-hour inbound flight from Los Angeles to Sydney was the worst long haul flight in all our travels, especially when compared to our incredible outbound flight six weeks earlier from Sydney to Fort Worth with the same airline. The difference? Older plane, uninterested crew.

Poor Travel Companions – I often wonder why some people travel. We asked one of our guides who his worst travellers had been. He diplomatically turned the question around and replied that his best travellers ‘were the ones who never ceased to be amazed by new things’. I loved his response, as we travelled with a small number of people on this trip who had lost the capacity to be excited by things they hadn’t previously experienced. There must have been a moment in their life when they flicked a switch and said: ‘I only like things that are familiar’. With an insular and nationalistic mindset, they would often say: ‘I don’t eat that’; ‘I don’t enjoy that’; ‘I’m not a fan of that’; ‘I’ve seen enough of that’; and ‘I enjoyed that more when I tried it in Australia’. So why travel in the first place?

Well there it is – a quick sketch of the high and low points of our 43-day journey through Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. I should point out that in the scheme of things, the low points were very small by comparison, making up less than 5% of our total travel experience. I should also point out that I may have exaggerated my aversion to micheladas and moles, as I guzzled every beer cocktail and devoured every plate of mole placed in front of me. 😉

This trip was planned to coincide with my 50th birthday, and it was such a fantastic way to celebrate the milestone. Mexico had been in the back of my mind since my mid to late-teens, so the chance to visit Mexican beaches, listen to Mexican music, sample Mexican food and drink Mexican mezcal was a dream come true… I just wish we could fly back tomorrow and spend another month. 😊

I adore that feeling of excitement and the sense of slight culture shock I get when I first set foot in a new destination. I don’t experience it as much as I used to when I first started travelling, but it still happens from time to time – and it was so fabulous to experience it on this trip. 😊

The trip
Guatemala, Belize and Mexico were perfect destinations for our adventurous explorations of ancient histories, new landscapes, cultures, art and food. Our trip was a saturation of colours and flavours, and nothing manmade or natural was done by halves. From stark volcanic peaks to humid rain forests, vast desert plains to warm blue waters, ancient ruins to big city living. I wish I could share every one of our fabulous experiences with you, but in the interest of not losing readership, I will keep it as short and sweet as possible...

In the first part of our trip, we travelled from Guatemala’s second biggest city – Antigua – up through northern Guatemala into Belize, and then crossed the border into the Mexican State of Quintana Roo on the eastern side of the Yucatan peninsula. On the way we explored interesting towns, geographical diverse countryside, ancient Maya ruins and Caribbean islands.

The second part of the trip involved travelling from Quintana Roo, down the west side of Yucatan into Chiapas, crossing the border back into Guatemala and ending up where we started in Antigua. We explored beautiful colonial towns, more ancient Maya ruins, lakes and volcanic highlands.

Both of these trips followed in the footsteps of the ancient mighty Maya people who carved out (literally) a sophisticated empire about a millennium before Cortes set sail to plunder and pillage. Their empires seemed to collapse for unfathomable reasons, but centuries later we’ve gained a small glimpse of their life as a result of decades of research and painstaking work that has reclaimed their ruined cities from the jungles.

The third part of the trip was our food trip in central Mexico, where we started in Mexico City, moved into Oaxaca State via Puebla, and then ended on the beautiful southwest Pacific Coast. Predictably, this trip was mainly about food, but it also focused on the ancient Aztec and Zapotec empires, and explored their influences on modern Mexico.

Each country
In thinking about the three countries individually, these are my feelings about each one…

Gorgeous Guatemala was a place of stunning cloud covered volcanic landscapes and steamy jungles that now shroud evidence of the Maya civilisations that once occupied the land. The Guatemalan population was one of great contrasts, and daily life seemed to vary greatly depending on their social status, ethnic identity and geography. Most Guatemalans live in rural areas, and while travelling through the country we were exposed to a wide variety of people, with each group having unique customs and ways of life.

The Guatemalan cities and towns were enchanting, and the countryside held very hardworking people and exotic wildlife. The highlights for me were standing atop of a Tikal temple pyramid in intensely humid thick jungle, and boating across the blue Lake Atitlan surrounded by a ring of even bluer volcano peaks. The volcanic landscapes we saw were jaw-droppingly picturesque and awe-inspiring. However, my biggest highlight was Antigua – I loved everything about Antigua!

Beautiful Belize has developed a unique culture by drawing on Caribbean, Central American, British and Rastafarian traditions. The majority religion is Christianity, but they have blended many different local cultural influences with old European traditions, which has resulted in unique traditions.

I enjoyed the Belizean beaches and chilled out coastal living. Even in the big cities, the low-density buildings gave it a provincial feel. The smaller, more sustainable population size contributed a lot to this feeling too. In general, Belizean society prides itself on the ‘go slow’ motto, so there is little to no pressure to get things done in a hurry. Although the locals were quite laidback and very friendly towards us, there was an underlying idiotic macho culture and male chest-beating behaviour that made walking at night a bit unpleasant at times.

The areas we visited in Belize were stunning destinations with so much to offer – the ATM Caving episode was a very rewarding travel experience and one of the biggest adventure highlights of the whole trip. Belize also came into its own for relaxation, and an experience of our first Caribbean-esque country.

And then there was Magnificent Mexico. There was so so so much to love about Mexico. Even in our relatively short time there, it wasn’t hard to see the rich kaleidoscope of culture, traditions and abundant happiness; but also mixed with palpable adversity and a very big class divide.

Of the too-many-to-mention highlights in Mexico, I have to say that Mexico City was the biggest treasure. It’s the fabulous end result of the ‘oldness’ of Aztec ruins and colonial history colliding in the most beautiful way with a ‘modern’ energetic city with bold architecture, exciting art, sleek bars and the world’s best tacos. It’s an amazingly charming city, and I am unashamedly in love!

The Mexican landscapes were almost surreal, and they seemed to vacillate from one end of the geographical scale to the other. Not surprisingly, Mexican tourism campaigns are fixated on promoting the beach resorts to the US and Canadian markets. As a result, central Mexico and the inland southern regions seem to be mostly left off the mainstream travel routes. My favourite ancient ruin was Palenque – for its gorgeous setting, and because its isolation kept it relatively free of big tour groups. Their loss was our gain! However, we still endured our share of dodging shoe shiners and mariachi musicians in the most touristy parts of towns and cities.

In general, the Mexicans we met were extremely lovely and hospitable. Apart from a few isolated cases, I would rate the people among the friendliest in our travels. Everywhere we went someone would always smile and be willing to lend a helping hand with directions, deciphering a menu or just making sure we were OK.

The region
Many of my thoughts and experiences apply to all three countries, so I feel I should also discuss the countries as part of the general Central American region (even though technically, Mexico spans both northern and central America).

Mexico and Guatemala are home to some of the richest and oldest archaeological sites I’ve seen. Even though we only saw a handful of pyramids, thousands more ruins dotted the landscape. Being in the presence of those pyramids was mesmerising enough, but when I began to comprehend the vision, knowledge, human power and human toll that it took to construct them, my mind was completely blown – both in good and bad ways.

Spending time in Guatemala and Belize, and then later in Chiapas Mexico, I developed a fascination with the indigenous cultures. They have not only survived a vicious invasion and subsequent (ongoing) barbaric treatment, but they still continue to valiantly fight for their rights and persist in keeping their traditions alive. I was surprised that Chiapas isn’t one of Mexico’s more travelled areas, as it offered a relatively easy opportunity to get off the beaten path and under the surface of the lesser known Mexico.

This part of the world has always had a reputation of being a great getaway and a first world expat magnet – from the islands of Belize and the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum, to the haciendas in the Yucatan and the volcanic villages in Guatemala. Some of the areas we visited were famous for their paradise-like beaches and beach culture, but then we witnessed that classic Catch-22 situation. The paradise-like beaches attract the masses of people, and the sheer numbers drastically reduce the paradise-like nature of the beaches… I know it isn’t just Central America that has succumbed to this – it is a paradox that exists all over the world. It makes me sad to think there’s no solution to the situation, especially when tourism is the main source of income for these regions. For us, I think the small out-of-the-way towns like Rio Dulce and Mazunte couldn’t be beaten for relaxation, because they were isolated from the populous cities (and airport access). It gave us a good sense of balance and brought a certain relaxed calmness to our travels.

As with most of our travels, the smaller villages we travelled through gave much deeper insights into the local cultures. However, I also have a very big soft spot for the central squares in the many cities we visited, where locals congregated and relaxed in the shade of trees and the typically wide porches of the town hall or cathedrals surrounding the square, listening to music and eating street food.

We visited a couple of modern shops, but our shopping experiences were predominantly in the local markets that featured in every village and city. It was fabulous to see that most of the authentic arts and crafts traditions were still predominantly artisan and hadn’t been lost to large scale factory production. The ceramics, textile weaving and sculptures were all stunning ways in which Central America represented itself. However, market transactions are all governed by haggling (which I majorly dislike), so that kept my purchases down! Nonetheless, I still really really really loved the different markets we explored. It was especially intriguing to witness age-old indigenous commercial traditions unfold in front of us – seeing the colourful array of beautifully hand-woven textiles, local arts, crafts and unique produce on offer; hearing the conversations of stallholders; and smelling the fragrant aroma of sizzling food.

The food, the drink and the music
In all three countries the food was very much central to the culture. From tacos to tostadas, pepian to pupusas, chipotle to chicharron – it was all fabulously delicious. I can’t say enough about the freshness and diversity of the produce, the bright flavours and the variety of the food. Of the three countries, Mexico had the best food by far. Every region had its own distinct traditional dishes, and from roadside stands to world famous restaurants, I would say without a doubt that Mexico is home to some of the world’s best food.

In terms of produce, I particularly loved the abundance of avocados and limes. Lime exponentially increased the deliciousness of anything it touched, and it was especially glorious in ceviche dishes. I loved our ceviche lunch in Mazunte, but I feel I should issue a warning… give a person some fish and you feed them for a day; teach us to make ceviche and we come home from Mexico looking for guinea pigs to practice on! 😊

One thing I hadn’t expected was the plethora of meals that featured tortillas – both the classic type and various versions of it. The best way I’ve heard a tortilla described is as follows: ‘if Mexican cuisine was Wimbledon, the tortilla would be centre court’. But not all tortillas are created equal, and learning the regional names and intricate differences between them all would be beyond me, even if I lived there for years. At the start of our trip I was eager to taste everything, but towards the end I had to make the sad decision to stop eating the accompanying tortillas, especially when there was rice and/or beans already in the meal. It was just too much starch for me.

It would be hard to reduce the fabulous food we had over our whole trip to a few dishes, but clear highlights were the diverse dishes on offer in Oaxaca, the regional Yucatecan cuisine of Merida and the sizzling street food of Mexico City. I keep remembering the Mexican saying ‘panza llena, corazon contento (a full tummy and happy heart)… because it was just so fitting of our experience on this trip.

However, I can’t talk about food without mentioning that my choice of food was always influenced by the singular fact that I’m a self-confessed lover of tacos. I had taco withdrawals before we even left Mexico! Just writing about the tacos, even all these weeks later, is doing some serious drool damage to my keyboard. 😡

I’m a recent convert to the Mexican spirit of mezcal, and it took a trip to Oaxaca for me to begin to understand the depth and variety of flavours that mezcal offers. I also reconnected with an old friend – tequila – but I had to shake off memories of horrible hangover-inducing mixed tequila and begin to explore the quality of 100% agave-made spirits. If you haven’t tried a good quality mezcal, I would say to do so immediately, if not sooner. I also have a new appreciation for rum, after downing my fair share of it in Guatemala and Belize.

Then there was the music… Latin Americans definitely know how to play infectious tunes – from mariachi melodies to marimba tunes to modern pop. I’m not a fan of mariachi, but I have to admit there’s something very evocative about the unique trumpet and guitar sounds of Central American music. I’m sure that for years to come, whenever I hear those rhythms, I will be instantly transported to a lively square full of cafes, a tiny side street full of street stalls or a humid beach – on a hot Mexican, Guatemalan or Belizean night.

The downsides
In terms of the difficulties on this trip, there weren’t that many. We had read that lonely stretches of road in certain areas were known for potential armed ambushes. We were aware of it, but if we’d let it make us nervous – as with anything in life – we’d probably never have gone. With a few safety precautions, we found the various regions were as safe to travel through as any other developing country.

The visibly armed police and army personnel toting machine guns should probably have made me feel safer, but in reality it did the opposite. It caused me to wonder whether we’d be unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time at some point on our six week journey. Strangely, for most of my childhood and early to mid-teens, I was surrounded by Nigerian army guys with guns (we lived through two military coups in our ten years in Nigeria), and I didn’t think anything of it. Fast forward nearly three decades of living in a society which has a healthy disregard for guns… and naturally, guns now make me very very nervous.

The western media is sometimes unfair to Mexico – to define a vast and diverse country by danger and underworld figures is unfortunate, but sadly not completely untrue. However, it’s important to stress that even a child could easily see it isn’t the only truth of the place. The most asked question of us before we left and after we came back from our Mexican trip was – ‘is it/was it safe?’ A simple ‘Yes’ doesn’t seem to satisfy our questioners – they want to hear details of how safe it was.

Then there were a couple of episodes of illness that we could have done without. My 24 hour stomach bug in Antigua was hideous, but thankfully short lived. However, Andrew’s stomach bug was a more persistent one that intermittently dogged him for the second half of the trip. Luckily, we were medically prepared with antibiotics, and cold and flu tablets when we both needed it in the last part of the trip.

We really missed train travel on this trip – it’s our favourite mode of transport. We had originally discussed including the stunning Copper Canyon train trip in northern Mexico, but we just ran out of time.

Which leads me to another small regret. Our preferred way to see the world is to focus on one country (or part of one country) per trip. However, this time we decided to tag Guatemala and Belize onto our Mexican adventures. We loved and enjoyed experiencing these two new countries, but in hindsight, rather than splitting our time between three countries, I think we would have more enjoyed a six week trip focussed purely on Mexico (followed by a dedicated month long trip to Guatemala and Belize at another time). Oh well. On the plus side, it allows a return trip to carry on our unfinished explorations of central and northern Mexico!

The summary of love
With each passing day on our six week trip, I kept asking myself the same question – how did we not get here sooner? In general, I think much of the region remains rarely visited by Australians because of the energy required to get there. But it was really really worth the effort. Not only did this trip open the door to the world of Latin American culture for us, it grabbed our arms and pulled us right in.

When I think back to our time in Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, my memories are framed in a colourful but almost pensive tinge that feels borrowed from a Juan Rulfo story or Frida Kahlo painting. My heart has clearly been stolen!

This was such a wide-ranging and interesting experience for me – the food was divine, the volcanoes were smoking, the beaches were idyllic, the ruins were seriously ancient, the rum was strong, the mezcal was enigmatic and the people were friendly. Not to mention the (mostly) sparkling weather kept my inner sunshine worshiper very happy.

Seldom have any of our travel destinations accurately met the constant PR promise that it ‘has something for everyone’, but this region truly did, and it has left me clamouring for more of everything we experienced.

As I write this, I’ve been listening to the Lila Downs album Balas y Cholate (Bullets and Chocolate) that we bought on our first week back home. The music very firmly tugs at my heartstrings, making it very clear that I really miss Mexico and can’t wait to go back.

I’m going to sign off now, and until our next trip I’ll sustain myself by letting all the exotic experiences we’ve had dance quietly around in my head… starting immediately, as I slink off to have my now customary afternoon siesta, and dream about drinking classic margaritas and eating tacos like a star. Buen provecho!

Adios people, and may your oracles of travel predict many adventures! 😊

Flying ships on this trip...
Qantas Airways (Hobart – Sydney – Dallas Fort Worth);
American Airlines (Dallas Fort Worth – Antigua);
InterJet (Antigua – Mexico City);
Aeromexico (Mexico City – Los Angeles)
Qantas Airways (Los Angeles – Sydney – Hobart).


9th September 2016

I need to try to catch up with your latest blogs, there are so many to read! Your adventures look so fun, especially these three places you chose to visit, I honestly want to visit all three and Im so glad you guys had a great over all experience!
9th September 2016

Re: Hello!
Hi Jennifer. We just couldn't keep up with posting our blogs while we were had to do so gradually after we got home. We loved our time in this region and I'm sure you would love it too - plus they are so close to you! :)
10th September 2016
antigua - arco de santa catalina

Fabulous epilogue!
I'm thrilled beyond measure to read of your reflections and love of countries that I've so often visited and adore. As you say, many erroneously think these dangerous when really, they are some of the friendliest, tastiest and most colorful and varied anywhere (and Mexico definitely has the best cuisine). I loved the range of your adventures down here and enjoyed reading the complementary perspectives you two bring to your blog. Can hardly wait for your return! Buen viaje!
11th September 2016
antigua - arco de santa catalina

Re: Fabulous epilogue!
Thanks for your lovely comment Tara, and for following our trip over those six weeks. We can't wait for our return either! :)
10th September 2016

Thank you for sharing your trip
Great wrap up just reading about the food had my mouth watering except for maybe the beer cocktail. The colours and history just adds to how exciting these countries must be, thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Scott and I now have this region at the top of our list, thank you.
11th September 2016

Re: Thank you for sharing your trip
Haha Shelley, the beer cocktail wasn't so a non-beer drinker, I quite enjoyed it (like a fizzy, hopsy Bloody Mary). We will await your opinion when you guys get to this region. Thanks for following our trip :)
10th September 2016

Well done!
Well done - what a wonderful Epilogue to read, and beautifully written. I like your honesty about the high points and the not-so-high. Totally understand the desire to spend more time in one country and get to know it better - I do hope you get to go back and explore more of Central and Northern Mexico as you say. Definitely get you on the Mezcal smokiness and warmth, the richness of the indigenous cultures and lifestyles, and the less-than-desirable nature of certain members of the Belizean population. Also, Marie Sharp!! I brought back three bottles myself (Green Habanero, Orange Pulp, and Mild), and can't get enough of them - fortunately, you can buy it in the UK from Amazon - have you tried So again, welcome back :)
11th September 2016

Re: Well done!
Thanks for the Marie Sharp tip Alex - we looked at local stockists who import stuff from Central America, but didn't think to look online. We are glad that you enjoyed reading our summary blog of reflections as we really enjoy writing it... and we chuckled that you mentioned the 'less-than-desirable nature of certain members of the Belizean population' :)
12th September 2016

Another Success!
We enjoyed reading your summary of another great trip. You saw and experienced so many of the things that we did in our much longer stay. We were amazed at the depth of understanding you got even though you covered so much ground in a fairly quick amount of time. Glad you enjoyed Chiapas, which is a hidden gem that is one of our favorites. Too bad about the Micheladas. It is an acquired taste, but once you get it, it is with you forever! I can't go to Mexican food without one. Thanks for sharing your trip and we look forward to your following your next journeys, wherever they may be!
13th September 2016

Re: Another Success!
Thanks Nanci and David! Chiapas really is a hidden gem, we loved it. I really didn't mind the Micheladas, but it will take a bit of convincing to get Andrew to give up another beer for it ;) Thanks for following our trip, and we can't wait to share our next journey with you too :)
20th September 2016

Great portrait of the region
Fantastic blog guys, look forward to going through the rest of them from this adventure...loved my time in Central America, and your description of Mexico makes me want to see that even more (pleasantly surprised by your love of Mexico City, always portrayed in our neck of the woods as dirty and dangerous, can't wait to go now!) J
21st September 2016

Re: Great portrait of the region
Thanks Jeff! I think Mexico City is portrayed as dirty and dangerous by so many media outlets that we believed it on this side of the world too... Looking forward to reading your Iceland blog :)

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