The start of our Central American adventures!
During our 3 month stop over in the USA, Gaffa and I had booked flights to Cancun in Mexico to explore Central America; by chillaxin', enjoying the beach and sun, and to do some more scuba diving. Our two friends Maverick and Quiche decided to join us as well. We were very excited to be travelling with them as we'd unfortunately missed their wedding (we were in Egypt) and it was great to see some familiar Aussie faces!
|Eating out at our fav Mexican joint|
This part of the trip was a bit different for Gaffa and I. For our European adventure we had planned every day, booked every night's accommodation, knew exactly where we'd be going... but this time we'd only booked 3 night's accommodation in Playa del Carmen at Hostel Che (about an hour south of Cancun), and that was it. We had some ideas of what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go, but no solid plans, total spontaneity! For me personally, it was a new feeling; I like to be very organised and know exactly what I'm doing. But as I'm writing this post and we near the end of our Central America trip, I think it was a good experience to have and I learnt a lot from it.
|We all scream for ice cream!|
Gaffa and I flew in from San Francisco, USA and Maverick and Quiche flew in from Vancouver, Canada. We landed in the afternoon and waited for them at the hostel as they were landing close to midnight. While we were waiting for them, we made a new friend - Vick-ay (she was English..) Her and I enjoyed some free drinks during ladies' happy hour at the hostel bar. Unfortunately Gaffa couldn't wear a dress and pass for a girl, so we had to pay for his beers. For dinner we stopped at a local taco place and had our first taste of Mexican food. Maverick and Quiche arrived safely at the hostel and after hours of catching up we finally went to bed.
|first Mexican dinner|
On our first full day in Playa del Carmen we did what any tourist would do: explore 5th Avenue and visit the beach. It was a bit overcast, but it was still hot and very humid. For lunch we got talked into a lunch time deal of 'a free Corona with your meal', but Gaffa was the only one that had the Corona, the 3 of us opted for water to keep hydrated and to cool us down. During lunch, a Mexican was trying to make some money off tourists, and took our photo with sombreros on... we only gave him the equivalent of about 15 cents... sorry! The food was nice, so was the hot hot habanero sauce!
|woohoo, blending in with the Mexicans!|
One night for dinner we ventured away from 5th Avenue, looking for some cheaper local food. We randomly found this little Mexican place called Burro Playero, on Calle 8, between 10th & 15th Avenue. This became our local Mexican joint for the rest of our time in Playa del Carmen. We went there almost every night for dinner. Their tacos and burros were cheap, very filling and also very tasty! Plus the guys serving us were so friendly; so friendly in fact, that they gave Gaffa some free tacos one night - Bonus!
|Awesome Mexican Burros and Tacos|
|Chef Numero Uno|
|Chef Numero Dos|
After our 3 nights were up at the first hostel, we moved to another hostel called the Happy Gecko, where we shared a private room between the 4 of us. This was better for us, as we got our own bathroom, larger beds, and had our own space. One of the advantages of travelling with friends, you can book out private dorms, making it a bit cheaper and it is more secure than the mixed dorms.
Over the next few days we enjoyed some more beach time. Gaffa and Maverick spent most of the time in the water - catching up and plotting grand schemes for the future, whereas Quiche and I spent it on the sand, trying to improve our tans...what else are you meant to do in the Caribbean? :-)
|Sun baking on the beach|
|haha singlet tans!|
One night while walking back to our hostel, we walked into a frozen yoghurt shop that gave free samples and free hugs. Gaffa insisted on going in to check out the "free hugs", but secretly I think he wanted the free samples of froghurt!! We stayed longer than expected, as Maverick enjoyed a game of chess with a local Mexican, while another guy tried to teach Quiche and I to dance the Tango (he was from Argentina).
During our time in Playa del Carmen we booked 3 days of diving with a local dive shop, Beach Divers. The first day we went out and dived on a wreck called the Mama Vina, then did a local reef dive. The second day, we went south and did two dives at the Taj Maha Cenote. We were meant to dive at another cenote but we later found out that it was closed because of a diving accident earlier that week. On the third day we were meant to dive in Cozumel, a small island east of Playa del Carmen, but the weather had turned for the worse, and we opted to get our money back instead.
To give you an idea of "turning for the worse", I mean during the first few days in Playa del Carmen the clouds in the sky were part of something much more interesting. It was in fact the first tropical storm of 2012. This one was the first of it's kind in decades - a major pressure system in the Pacific (west Mexico) had occurred and one in the Gulf of Mexico also kicked in. These two tropical pressure systems collided and caused about 5 days of freakish tropical "T-Storms" in the Yucatan. By freaking I'm talking huge amounts of rainfall in a short period of time. 5th Avenue and most of the other streets of Playa del Carmen were underwater...which was interesting. One bonus was the sun, and humidity made walking in the rain quite nice - but Quiche and I sent Gaffa and Maverick to do all the things that needed doing outdoors... Ha Ha Ha :-) [edited by Gaffa and weatherman, source: BBC weather.]
|Gaffa dancing in the rain|
Our diving in Playa del Carmen on this occasion is nothing to rave about. It may have been due to the dive centre that we chose to go with (cheapest is not always best) or the diving conditions on the particular days. This does not mean that we do not recommend the diving in Playa del Carmen, we merely did not have an exceptional experience on the 4 dives we did out of Playa del Carmen. In the future, we hope to return and do some more diving here, as we have heard a lot of great things about Cozumel and the surrounding islands, and the Caribbean diving on the east coast of Mexico.
|DANGER, DO NOT PASS!|
We did however get to experience the Cenotes for the first time. This is what Mexico is famous for. The vast system of caverns and caves, that attract so many divers from around the world. We saw the warning signs where the cenote changes from cavern and leads to the cave tunnels. As well as the true beauty of the cenotes, the natural light shinning down onto the rock formations creating a wonderful environment similar to that of being on the moon....and for a more detail peak into these dives, Gaffa will be posting a dive report in due course - so keep an eye out for that!
|Taj Maha Cenote|
After our diving we decided to head south to Tulum for a couple of days. On our first afternoon in Tulum we visit the ruins. The Mayan ruins are situated on a 12 metre high cliff edge facing the Caribbean Sea, on the Yucatan Peninsula. Any ruins in the Mayan area are a must see when visiting Mexico or Belize, but once you've see a couple of sites, they all start looking the same.
|Beautiful views over the Caribbean Sea|
The Tulum ruins charge 57 pesos entrance fee and once you enter you are not allowed to exit and go back in. I say this as a precaution as the exit is not clearly marked, and you can easily exit the site without knowing. There is a nice small beach area you can swim at with steps down from the ruins and cliff edge. The views of the ruins with the turquoise coloured sea in the background are just beautiful. Afterwards we enjoyed some coconut water from a fresh coconut. Yum!
|Gaffa is too preoccupied with the coconut water.....|
For dinner that night, Maverick and Quiche offered to made us all dinner - beans and rice in tortilla wraps! Yummo! It was actually that night that I learnt how to make fresh guacamole, and I've been making it all the time since we've been back in Mexico. It's so addictive!! It also inspired Gaffa and I to cook our own Mexican dinners when we returned to Mexico without them.
The next day in Tulum we went to Hidden Worlds. It is an Adventure Park just north of Tulum that has various fun jungle activities. There are different packages you can get to include certain activities. We went for the second most expensive package at $60 USD without the sky cycle, but the guide let us ride the sky cycle anyway. When you arrive at the park you are transported into the jungle along a very bumpy road, on a buggy that looks home made. The first zip line was a warm up for what was to come later in the day. We also enjoyed a repel down into a cave, a zip line down into a cave with a splash down, a sky ride through the jungle and caves, a snorkeling tour through the cenote, and finally the Avatar, the world's first every roller coaster zip line. It was pretty awesome!
|home-made jungle buggy|
That night we took the overnight bus from Tulum to Belize City, Belize. The ADO buses that operate through Mexico are extremely good (better than most UK, European and Australian coach services we've used). They are well maintained, clean and the seats are comfortable. The only down side is that they put the air conditioning on high, making it very cold inside the bus.
Crossing the border from Mexico to Belize was an interesting experience. There is not an "official" departure tax for exiting Mexico, this is however something that Mexican Border Police try to get tourists to pay to make some money. Gaffa had researched this prior and some guys on the bus confirmed it (they were regular travellers in this area). He argued with the guard on behalf of all four of us, and was very forceful about not paying any money (they were asking for $25 USD each). In the end we didn't give them any money and they didn't give us a departure stamp for our passports. You do not need this stamp in your passport to leave Mexico, so don't worry about it. It would've have been less of a hassle if we had just stayed on the bus....
Look out for our continuation into Belize, for some more Central American adventures!!
|Couple matching tops, totally by accident!|