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Monday, May 28, 2012

From Mayans to Margaritas


At the end of every sailing season we like to take a week or so and indulge in some land travel.  This time – after 12months on Bandit, 7000 nautical miles and an Atlantic crossing – we were more than ready to get off the boat and work our way from the Rio Dulce in Guatemala up to Cancun in Mexico.   

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With Bandit safely on the hard (after we’ spent a busy week taking off sails, stowing clothes and linen, cleaning etc), we jumped on a bus and headed to El Remate – a tiny town in north east Guatemala near the magnificent Mayan ruins of Tikal.DSC_0151

 We’d heard lots about Tikal but nothing quite prepared us for the magnificence of these Mayan ruins - the astonishing ancient temples and structures are simply breathtaking.


Tikal is considered one of the finest Mayan sites and is unique in that the ruins are nestled in thick jungle.  Spread over a huge area (about 23 sq km) it takes some walking to take in all the structures and only 80% have been excavated – many are still covered in centuries of accumulated soil and jungle.  It certainly deserves its UNESCO rating.


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The 5am wake up was worth it as we had the site to ourselves and climbed to the top of the 70m Temple 1V in total privacy.  It was breathtakingly beautifully sitting high above the jungle canopy looking through the morning mist to other temples poking up.


As we wandered through the huge site we saw spider monkeys swinging in the tree tops, strange native turkeys (like peacocks) wandering around and other odd animals including a furry thing like a fox.  At times it was quite spooky being on our own.

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One of the temples had incredibly steep wooden steps to the top which made us wonder just what OSH would have to say about it.  Several people have been killed and injured falling from temples and steps…..but you are still able to climb most of the structures! 


After three days in El Remate, including a day trip to the island of Flores and the markets in Santa Elena, we continued on towards Mexico via Belize.

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This wasn’t a straightforward trip - it involved three countries, two border crossings and the entire day on buses.  But we had no desire to stop in Belize so decided to do it all in one hit.


Another early start for the 7am bus……and a four hour ride to Belize City with only a short delay at the border.  We had to get off the bus and carry our luggage through.  The bus driver had told us we had to pay to leave Guatemala but we’d heard otherwise so when the immigration official asked for money we shook our heads.  He didn’t push it….talk about corrupt!  Wonder how many get sucked in?


Our bus from Belize to Chetumal in Mexico was a chicken bus – an ex American school bus with hard bench seats and open window air con.  We got on apprehensively but it was great – the music blared out, everyone seemed happy and friendly and the scenery was interesting.  After 10 hours of travelling on scruffy and uncomfortable buses, through three countries and two border crossings, we were ready for some comfort.  It was delightful to find this scene awaiting us…….


Casita Caroline in Bacalar was recommended by Kiwi friend Mike White – an inveterate traveller who constantly gives us good advice about off the track places.  This one was no exception – a gorgeous spot on a magical lake.  A swim was first up followed closely by margaritas and enchiladas at a local bar.  Mexico was looking good!

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Bacalar was a pleasant enough little town and we easily whittled away a few days wandering the town, swimming in the lake and enjoying dirt cheap Mexican food….and indulging in those margaritas of course!


Sadly…the rest of Mexico – from Bacalar to Cancun airport, with an overnight stop at Puerto Moralis – was a huge disappointment.  The bus ride was boring – you couldn’t see a thing from the bus for the roadside jungle…which wasn’t even interesting.  Puerto Moralis was only notable for the best enchiladas and margaritas we’ve yet had! 


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