The first thing we noticed about Mexico was how much longer the distances were between each place and how much more bus tranportation costs. We knew as soon as we jumped on that first bus from Chetumal to Tulum, that those chicken buses which we had grown so fond of, in a funny kind of way, were going to be a thing of the past! On boarding the ¨second class bus¨, with air-con, plush seats and no chickens, I intrinsically knew that we were now be travelling in a differnt kind of way!
The famed Mayan ruins of Tulum, sit atop a rocky prominence, rising majestically over a Caribbean sea that can only be described as breathtakingly spectacular! I mean, how many shades of Caribbean turquoise can one see and describe? Having been privileged to see so many, describing the diferent nuances and shades is becoming increasingly more difficult.
The site itself, apart from swarming with people (I have not seen this many tourists since the USA! And yes, more than Guatemala) is not that large, and the ruins are not the most awe inspiring I have seen either , but its position certainly commands much oo-ing and ah-ing, and thus certainly makes it worth the visit. And, once you tire of the ruins, you only need to walk down to the beach, which lies immediately infront, and immerse yourself in that tantalising turquoise sea, which needless to say, we did!
Lots of other things are different in Mexico too! Lots of skimpy clad people in shorts and bikinis; I mean it IS the Yucatan, which is definitely the most visited place in Central America and Mexico. There is also a lot more variety in the supermarkets. I actually saw….keep our voice down..tampons! There is a holy grail after all! There is also much more variety in the way of food and vegetarian options, not only in the supermarkets but in the street stalls as well. I must say, Mexican food has thus far been my favourite! There are so many different things with a multitude of flavours and hot salsas, or sauces, which love.
We stayed in a place called Hostal Tulum, where we soon learnt that accommodation was much more expensive as well. It was an interesting place with an austere lady working the morning shift. I complained ( I had not realised that I was the fourth in line!) that the water was cold, that there were no shower curtains and that the shower drains were filthy. I certainly was the receiver of an evil stare, but to everyone´s surprise the problem was rectified by mid afternoon! It really is those of us who open their mouths that make the diference. I am shy, I know! Seriously, dirt does not cut it, and I am always vocal on that point. Breakfast was included, if you can get excited over crackers, a banana, and coffee with creamer (yuk!), and getting into the building late at night was not always easy…….one night (after midnight) we found ourselves outside with a couple of others, unable to unlock the front door. We tried and tried to no avail, finally resorting to throwing stones at the windows, hoping to get someone´s attention, which we finally did, but it was a couple of policemen coming down the street in their car, not anybody in the hotel! Needless to say, they managed to open the door, whereas none of us had been able to.
It was in Hostal Tulum that we met Angel, a guy from Spain. He was a very spiritual person with such good and calm energy. The three of us soon forged a bond. We chatted about lots of different things, and I even partook in an equinox ceremony with him on the 21st of March. It was simple, and it was about thanking the universe for what it had given us, and also for what it was about to! When we eventually hugged goodbye, he had tears in his eyes. No doubt, another life long friendship formed. Hopefully, we will see him in Spain.
Whilst in Tulum, we also went diving (Ombi) and snorkelling (Alex) at the ¨Dos Ojos´(two eyes) cenotes, or sink holes. During the ice age, most of the underground cave systems in this area of the Yucatan dried up and the water that dripped through the porous limestone created the most extraordinary rock formations. When the underground rivers began flowing again, parts of the limestone eroded, weakened and eventually collapsed, forming a series of sinkholes. The Maya called them ¨cenotes¨, and considered them to be the entrance to the spiritual underworld. Take a look at this link: http://www.locogringo.com/past_spotlights/dec2003.cfm
We chose to dive with a place called Maya Diving, www.mayadiving.com After doing our homework, we found that this company had an excellent reputation, not only for quality but for safety as well. Owned and run by Tim Day, originally from Canada, the organisation truly does have a polished edge, and if you want a brilliant diving experience in Tulum, this is the place to come to. Oh yes, the brilliant diving experience was…..brilliant! It was unreal and like nothing I have ever done in my life! Let me try and explain it as simply as I can: Immagine walking into a cave full of stalactites, stalagmites and spectacular rock formations and then…….fill it up with water. Immagine being only inches above these stalactites, and only inches below the stalactites, and then immagine trying to scream with amazement, but you can´t as you are underwater! If you are a diver, this is a must! Alex tells me that the snorkelling was equally impressive, and that in areas the top of his snorkel was only inches from the cave of the roof. Whereas some divers much prefer diving over snorkelling, I am in that group that beleives that both are amazing, in that they offer two different, but equally impressive perspectives.
We had to make our way on to Cancun, as much as I had been dreading it. I have never made and continue to make no secrets about how much I detest the idea of resorts, and visiting and seeing in another country what you have in your own, but a girl´s gotta do what a girl´s gotta do! Cancun is the place we needed to be, in order to purchase our tickets to Cuba. Over the last two months, I had been conversing with Hernan, from Nomadas Travel via e-mail (I reiterate, where would we be without the internet!). I cannot remember who gave me his name or details, but word of mouth is a most effective tool. I found him to be extremely helpful and honest. Thanks for putting up with my dozens of questions over the net Hernan. We both highly recommend him. Hernan can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
What can I say about Cancun? To be honest, not much at this point, as we are have only been using it as a base to organise our trip to Cuba. I beleive there is a flashy beach strip, with equally flashy hotels and restaurants. We might go and take a look on our return from Cuba…for a laugh! As the Rough Guide (book) to Mexico says, ¨Almost all of the restaurants in the hotel zone are geared towards one thing only: parting tourists from large amounts of cash¨. Sounds like our deal, hey! Speaking of food, we found a woman on the street, Dona Lala, selling ¨tlacoyos¨- an oval maize tortilla stuffed with a variety of different things, including broad beans, pork, potato or cheese, and then topped with guacamole, nopales (which come from the leaves of the prickly pear), coriander and hot sauce! We tasted a variety and they were divine. We both hit food ecstacy with them! Needless to say, not only were they cheap, but we were getting the real Mexican food deal. We both beleive that, apart from costs, the best and most traditional food nearly always comes from the streets. You should see Alex and I run when we see those dreaded words, ¨tourist menu¨.
Cuba – as I write this, it is the evening of the 24th of March, and tomorrow, the 25th, we fly to Havana, the capital. We will spend 3 weeks in Cuba. I actually cannot beleive that I am finally going! Despite all of the countries I have had the opportunity to visit in my lifetime, Cuba has always held a special fascination for me, and has been up there at the top of the list of places to visit. I am bursting with excitement with the knowledge that my dream is about to become a reality! As you may know, one of my best friends, Rita Garcia, is originally from Cuba, and her family is like my second family. We recently met some of her extended family in Miami, and the final piece of the jigsaw will fit into place when we meet the Cuban contingent.
Regardless of who you speak to, and how much you read up on Cuba, no two tales are alike. It is a country that is full of dualities and dichotomies. Alex and I are very conscious of the fact that we are about to embark on a trip that will not necassarily be easy if we wish to look beneath the veneer, as we always try to. So, tomorrow, although we are not certain as to what to expect, we will leave with an open heart and conscience!
They sang about it, and we are about to do it………….¨Take me to the April Sun in Cuba, o o o!¨
“They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol
Photos: 1.- Andale, andale: sign in Belize, a few kilometres before the Mexican border. 2.- Tulum Ruins, looking over the Caribbean Sea, Mexico. 3.- Iguana meditating at the ruins, Tulum, Mexico. 4.- Carribbean landscape, taken near the ruins. 5.- Cenotes, Dos Ojos. 6.- Tulum Beach. 7.- A Mexican guy eating Dona Lala´s¨tlacoyos¨. 8.- Waiting for the April sun in Cuba (photo actually taken at sunset, Caye Caulker, Belize).