Caye Caulker, Belize 16-19 Jan 2020

undefined

We arrived at Caye Caulker by water taxi (large speedboat) from Mexico after about 3 hours. Tested my drowsy sea sickness tablets for the first time, and they worked -and by that I mean they sent me to sleep, so I wasn’t able to feel any sickness at all.

The Place:
Just off the coast of Belize, Caye Caulker is a small Caribbean island with a laid back raggae feel. Individual small multicoloured buildings line the streets made of compacted sand, golf carts replace cars and the official motto of the island is “Go Slow”. The place to hang out and drink is at “The Split”, named for the split that formed after Hurricane Hattie separated the island in two. The water channel formed in the split is narrow and full of swimmers and drinkers lounging on hammocks or swings in the sea. You can stand in the middle of the island and see the sea on both sides and walk round the entire island in an hour or so. This is a fun place to come to lay back and enjoy island life. All the brightly coloured wood is peeling and weathered but no one cares. Definitely a “No worries, be happy” island vibe. The only thing missing is beaches. The island is made of limestone and surrounded by concrete barriers to stop it being washed away. Having said that there is still sand everywhere and a very few small beaches.

The Accommodation: Tropical Oasis Hostel
We stayed in our own private hut. Hut being the appropriate word and I say that with affection not distaste. The hut was probably made by hand out of plywood with a tin roof and is never completely clear of sand. I’ve learnt the best thing to do is embrace island life and go with it. In a 5* western hotel I could be anywhere in the world but in our little island hut listening to the rain hit the tin roof we are definitely on a Caribbean island. The shared showers were at best OK. I’ve slowly learnt to love cold showers so it’s less of a shock now and more of a relief from the heat.

Dirty McNasty’s Party Hostel:
When booking our first hostel we saw the name “Dirty McNasty’s Party Hostel” and laughed thinking what kind of people would stay here… Well.. We are those kind of people. Let me explain- we stayed here out of necessity not choice as we decided to extend our stay on the island by one night only to find that everywhere except this particular hostel was fully booked.
So it was either that or a hammock. We decided on the hostel to avoid the nightly tropical rain. We got through our experience by spending as little time in the hostel as possible, trying not to touch anything while showering and wearing earplugs to sleep in our 16 person dorm room. I have undoubtably have stayed in better places but I got a good nights sleep thanks to the silicone ear plugs, so we can’t complain too much.

What we did: Full day snorkel tour
We went with a tour company called Raggamuffin on the sail boat RaggaQueen to three snorkelling sites along the reef. We spotted eagle rays, green sea turtles (my fav), puffer fish and nurse sharks. I loved snorkelling but it doesn’t love me- I fed the fish with my lunch (non-drowsy sea sickness tablets did not work).

We lost a couple of hours out of the first day as our laundry situation had gotten so desperate that I gave Adam everything I had while he went out to do laundry. No better feeling than clean clothes!

One of my favourite moments was swinging in a hammock in the sea, drinking a happy hour cocktail, watching the pelicans fish right next to us.

The Food:
To date the food on Caye Caulker has been the best food of the trip. The night we arrived we turned up at Wish Willys asked for a menu only for him to shake his head and say “Just tell me what you want, chicken, shrimp, lobster, whatever”. We had the most delicious lobster that had been caught just as we walked through the gate with coconut rice and veg.
We also ate a wonderful mix of mashed potato, cheese and salsa with tortilla chips and a scrumptious deep fried tortilla filled with fried veg. Adam got into island life and started his final morning with coffee, evaporated milk and rum.

The Good: Chilled island life

The Bad: No real beaches

The Verdict: This is a unique island- come here to see it and take life slow for a few days while seeing the reefs.

Next–> Guatemala

Side note: I wrote this blog swinging in the hammock or sat under a palm tree. Now if someone would just pay me to do this I would be living the dream.

Bacalar, Mexico: 14-16 Jan 2020

undefined

We took the the bus from Tulum to Bacalar on an ADO bus in about 3 hours. The tourist buses are comfy with big padded seats that recline and my favourite part- air conditioning! Bacalar is a small town that faces out onto the beautiful lake Bacalar. Less touristy then Cancun or Tulum, smaller and laid back.
undefined


We had 2 nights in Bacalar and used this time to kick back and relax after our adventures in Tulum. Our hostel (The Yak House) was perfect and had a nice chilled out vibe with lounges on the deck looking out onto the lake. This time we didn’t have any noisey roomates! I took the time to rest, catch up on blogging, use the WiFi and read. I somehow got sunburnt but I’m not sure how as I had been shade bathing all day.

We got up at 6am and did a SUP tour of the lake to watch sunrise. Sunrise over the water while everyone else is sleeping is the most peacful experience. There was a little wind to start with so for me it was more Sitting-Upright-Paddle boarding rather than Stand-Up-Paddle boarding. kyaking is still my favourite. Adam spent more time standing up on his paddleboard than I did but he also spent more time in the water! We paddled to the black cenote and then back for breakfast just as everyone was waking up.

At night we ate street food (burritos) in the town and sat around the bonfire at the hostel eating roasted marshmellows.

Next–> Caye Caulker, Belize

Tulum: 11-14 Jan 2020

The place: Tulum is a small Mexican tourist town 15 minutes from the beach. The highstreet lined with restaurants, bars and shops comes alive at night with spawling party goers and is ideal for backpackers or holiday makers looking for a base.

What we did:

Tulum ruins
We took the free hostel bikes and cycled the fifteen minutes to the shore to see the ruins and beach. The ruins were a small Myan port town used for trade. Beautiful in the fact that it is right next to the Carrabean sea. The views from the ruins were spectacular. Pleasant day but we had better to come.

Scuba Diving in Dos Ojos Cenote- Barbie & Batcave routes:
Dving through these carverns and caves was magical- definately one of my top dives. Swimming the dark caves was like entering another world. The columns and crevices created the most beautiful underwater landscape that came and went in the glow of the torch. Yes torch… We were plunged into absolute darkness when we took a moment to turn our torches off and experienced true sensory deprevation. No light, no sound, no sense of movement, up or down. It was a special experience. We surfaced mid dive into the “bat cave” which lived up to its name as we watched the flapping of black wings and listened to the high pitched squeaks. Diving through the narrow tunnels watching the bubbles gather and create reverse “waterfalls” on the cave ceiling was both mezmerizing and unsettling as my mind deviated to calculating how long I could survive off the small air pockets should something go drastically wrong.

Chichén Itzá:
Chichén Itzá is a complex of Mayan ruins and a UNESCO site (600-1200AD). We hired a car for the day for around $20 (bargain!) to get around. The temple of Kukulkan is the huge stepped pyramid that dominates the center of the complex looming ominously up from the flat ground. Maybe my experience was biased with the prior knowledge of Mayan human sacrafice or maybe it was just the imposing structure iself that gives you a sense of unnease and insignificance. Serpents boarder the steep steps up the sides of the pyramid ending in stone carved fanged heads. You can be forgiven for thinking everyone is just a little over excited to be there as you approach the pyramid to hear the sound of applause but clapping directly in front of the steps has the strange echoed effect of distorting the sound into into an odd chirping noise. The building is very impressive and the construction was so accurate that the sun rises on different corners during the equinoxes producing shaddows that mimic a serpent snaking its way down the pyramid. The other smaller buildings were impressive not in their size but in their decoration with detailed carvings of faces and sculls adorning the walls.
The ruins were facinating and I could have spent all day just taking them in. The only downside were the street vendors constantly trying to sell mini replicas of the ruins. “One dollar!”, “Almost free!” grated on me after a few hours.

Nohoch Mul
We visited the Nohoch Mul Myan ruins in Coba to see the stepped pyramid Ixmoja. Ixmoja was smaller in size but taller than Kukulkan but the draw here was the fact that you can actually climb to the top of it. The jungle is not cut back here and encroaches onto the pyramid giving an undiscovered look. I felt like Lara Croft climbing up the steep steps but looked like a sweaty mess (Machu Pichu training has started!). We got to the top and watched the sun set over the blanket of green jungle. Into the distance small pyramids could be spotted poking their heads through the canopy.

Cenote swimming-Suytun
We stopped off at a cenote on the way home to have a little swim and cool off. The cenotes are everywhere so it was easy to come across one. After many steps down into the dark earth the tunnel opened up into an enormous cavern lit by a single ray of sunshine streaming through a small opening in the cavern ceiling. It was fun to swim and watch all the “insta/snap/bookers” try to take the perfect shot as the single ray of light lit them up like some sort of diety (see Adam’s version in the pics).

What we learnt:
The Austrailians idea of a quiet night is coming in singing at 5:30am.

The food: lots of yummy mexican burritos. We ate in restaurants on the main strip and we had one night where we ate dinner off the back of bike in a portable kitchen (so now we can say we’ve done that).

The accomodation: Lum Hostel. Great hostel hidden away in its own little concrete oasis with its swings and hammocks. Nice laid back feel. Would have been perfect if we hadn’t had noisey roomates.

The good: So much to do- ruins, diving.
The bad: The Aussies in our room.
Verdict:Fun place to come to eat, drink and see the ruins. We weren’t here to party but it had it if you wanted it.

Next–> Bacalar

Note- photos are coming soon!

Mexico

Cancun–> Tulum–>Bacalar

Cancun: 09-11 Jan 2020
I don’t have a lot to say about Cancun as we only had one full day there. It felt like the Vegas of the Caribbean in the hotel zone which is a long strip of hotels curving out in to the sea sandwiched between water on both sides. Our hostel was great (Myan Monkey) fun and lively with the added bonus of the second story slide dropping directly into the sea. This would be a great place for a holiday but for us we were ready to start our next adventure so we moved on to Tulum after one day.

My time in Cancun was unfortunately marred by the effects of food poisoning… I will spare you the details.

The ony advantage of suffering from jet lag and having spent most of the prior day in bed was that I was up bright eyed and bushy tailed eager to watch the most serene and beautiful sunrise over the sea. Adam thought I had been bodysnatched!

Next–> Tulum

Viñales


2.5 hours west of Havana lies the town of Viñales surrounded by tabacco farms.

What we did:
Today we went horse riding in the tabacco fields of Viñales.
Riding the horses through the tabaco fields with the sudden height of the mountains silloheted against the morning skyline was specatular. We had a tour of the tabacco fields, smoked a cigar, drank Cuban rum and had multiple coctails straight out of the coconut or grapefruit. The farmers sprinkle the dust like tabacco seeds to germinate then re-plant the seedlings once grown to give them more room. The tabacco is grown so that the plants are short (3/4 feet) with large wide leaves then harvested at around 3 months. The leaves are dried in big drying barns and finally the vien (where the majority of nictotine is stored) is removed and the leaves rolled into cigars. Our guide recommended not cutting the end but cross hatching with a knife and diping the end in honey before smoking as using a cigar gillotine is an insult to the rollers. The scenery was amazing and our guides were friendly and knowlegable. The system works where the goverment takes 90% of the tabacco and pays the farmers a set price. 10% is left for the farmers and they are also paid with rum. They make their own rum and coffee for the families consumption. Its like going back in time with ox & carts plowing the fields and everything going from farm to table. Pigs and chickens roam freely until eggs, or meat is needed- everything is definately free range. All the fruit & vegetables are home grown.
Today was a great day but personnaly the most terrifying part was the ride on the back of the motorcycle there and back as the guide waved and wolf whisttled to the locals while avoiding the potholes.

Accomodation:
We stayed in an AirBnB in the spare room of our hosts house with its own on-suite and private entrance. Our host really made our stay as she helped me practice my Spanish and prepared us the most amazing feasts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was welcoming and relaxing with beautiful views of the mountains. The only downside were the roosters crowing at 5:30am. The upside of that was I was up early to see the sunrise. Getting away from the city was great and we felt we really got to see a different and authentic part of Cuba. Everyone was friendly here and no one was trying to con us.

Food: Rice, beans, meat, fried banana, mango crisps, flan de leche. Everything was prepared like a feast and we felt like kings and queens sat at our table. The flan was so great we got the recipe!

The good: Laid back and beautiful. Sleeping and rising with the sun.

The bad: Very noisey car engines.

The verdict: If you go to Cuba go here.

Cuba 04 Jan- 09 Jan 2020


Havana–> Viñales–> Havana

After a 10 hour flight from Madrid to Havana and a good sleep my cold was finally gone and we were ready to explore.

The place:
Havana is a complex interesting city-colourful and vibrant and degraded.

The city oozes life as cats & dogs roam the streets, chickens squark and the locals sit on their door stoops chatting or playing chess. There has been no rain for days but puddles fill the potholes and unexpecting street walkers get sprinkled with questionable water thrown from above. The buildings all appear to be at different phases in their own life cycles from the presitine goverment buildings lining the main streets to the run down degrading inner alley builings to the forgotten husks providing the only reminder of buildings that once were.
Walking around your senses are on overload listening to the salsa music bursting out of the bars, the colours of the buildings, the degredation, the people, the classic cars… We walked around the city for hours taking it all in.

The accomodation:
We stayed in a Air BnB right in the heart of old town. The location was perfect. We felt like we were getting the real Cuban experience. Our room was on the 2nd floor at the end of end of a landing that opened up between all 3 floors. We could hear children playing on the floor above and Cuban music playing from the floor below. Our room was lovely. We had a private room with an on-suite and AC.

Food:
The food was great. Fruit and eggs for breakfast and tapas for dinner.

What we did:
Explored Havana on foot.
Classic car tour. We toured the city in an Impala by 2 guides who spoke very little English -not the best tour I’ve had. However, the sales pitch English was fantastic! One thing I did learn was that the Capitol building was inspired by that in Washington D.C, USA but is around 1 meter taller.

Travel:
The buses were all booked up 2/3 days in advance. This forced us to take a shared taxi to Vinales and back. Getting in the old cars without seatbelts never felt normal or safe. Our taxi drivers were extremely talented at avoiding pot holes by memory as they sverved and merriandered across the roads. I know they drive on the right but this wasn’t always apparent.

What we learnt:
We are now starting to panic that our ignorenace of the Spanish language is going to be a problem. My tactic thus far has been to say yes (si) and try to absorb some meaning while nodding. Adams tactic has been to look puzzelled. We definately need to learn the phase – “We do not understand or speak spanish”! Adam is right now desperately trying to learn some spanish on an ap.

Cuba has 2 currencies. Local currency and travel currancy (CUC).

Internet acess is extremely limited. Internet by the hour can be bought on a card then you need to find an open hotspot to connect to. We literally followed the crowds of people with their phones out to locate them.

Collapsable hiking poles are not allowed in hand luggage- farewell brand new poles…

The good:
It’s like nowhere else.

The bad:
The begging. People are never just making conversation and that gets very tiring when they always want something at the end. At the same time it makes me feel very lucky to be in the poisition I’m in and not in theirs.

The return to Havana after our trip to Viñales (see next blog) was like a viel had been lifted. The curiosity and sensory overload was dimed and in its place the comprehension of just how bad the living conditions were with sewage and dead dogs in the streets. The country side or beaches are definately the place to be in Cuba.

Verdict: Definately come to Cuba and see Havana as it is a very unique and interesting city but 2/3 days is enough. Spend your time in the countryside.

One Day or Day One?

We chose day one…
undefined


After all the “should we?”, “can we?”, “when?” we have finally taken the plunge and done it.  We have started our year long world trip! As hard as it was to plan, prepare and say our goodbyes the hardest decision was definately making the decision to just do it (not sponsored by Nike).

Describing the last few weeks as busy would be a vast understatement.  Even having months to prepare everything seemed to come at once.  We moved out of our home, finished work, said goodbye to our dog Rusty, our friends and our families, packed up our travel bags, wrapped up the presents and headed home for Christmas.  Christmas was wonderful surrounded by our lovely families with our nephews and nieces brought back the magic of our own childhoods.

The night before we left may have been the 4th or 5th re-packing of our backpacks as we depretaley tried to fit everything in.  Busting to the seams we finally did it.  It hadn’t sank in what we were doing as everything up to this point had been moving at a hundred miles an hour.  I was just looking forward to slowing down and getting rid of my cold.  Even when we landed in Madrid it wasn’t real yet.

Madrid- 02 Jan-  04 Jan 2020.

A conveient inconvience

We originally planned to fly directly from the UK to Cuba but due to our airline collapsing we were forced to book a new flight that included a long layover in Madrid.  We got to see the beautiful city and it eased us in to our travels.

The place: Madrid is a beautiful city with long cobbled shopping streets and a beautiful palace.

The food: Paella, sangria & churros!  All amazing. Churros in chocolate sent me to a very happy place.

The accomodation: 2060 Newton Hostel.  We stayed in a 4 person dorm room with private bathroom.  The hostel could not have been better.  It was clean, welcoming and had a quirky/worrying(?) end of the world theme.  They gave us churros for breakfast and free walking tours of the city.  They tried to take us drinking too but due to my cold we passed.  I would definately recomend this hostel as it provided great ways to be social and really immerse yourself into the city life.

What we did:  Walking tour of the old town.  We would have done more if my cold hadn’t been so bad.

What we learnt: Aparently Spanish ham is the best in the world.  During the spanish inquisition it was not a good time to not be a Christian (as in you would literally be killed) so to prove or falsly prove your Christianity people would hang pork legs outside their doorways showing that everyday they ate some as the leg dwindled.  Many none Christian faiths cannot eat pork so this was the best way of avoiding death.  During this time people got extremely good at marinating, drying and cooking pork and thus we have amazing spanish ham.

The good:  The hostel was wonderful, the churros & chocolate were mind blowing.

The bad:  My brand new wooly hat broke on day one.  I was very greatful of the mini sewing kit I packed that enabled me to make a quick repair.

Verdict:  Would definately return or recommend for a city break

Next: Cuba!

Prepping, Prepping, Prepping

The planning is complete and now we are in the full swing of trip prepping. Our to-do list is never ending and constantly being updated but through all the chaos I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The house has never looked better (we realized we have higher standards for our guests than for ourselves), the third re-packing of my backpack is looking pretty good (and heavy) and our initials flights and hostels have been booked. It’s all getting very real.


This is a bit of a test blog while I figure out how this all works so I will fill you in on my week.One job always seems to lead to 2 more being created. We took a clinky fan down to repair, couldn’t put it back up- now have no fan or light in 1 of the guest bedrooms. Painted the wardrobe doors in the basement bedroom, dog dropped his toy in the paint… went after it… ran around. Now I have to figure out how to get paint out of the carpet …and the dog!
Thanks for reading and welcome to our blog! The plan is to leave an update here for every country we visit.