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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Playa del Carmen and Cozumel

Getting off the bus in Playa del Carmen was a relief. Though we stepped from the cold blast of the air conditioning to the wet heat of the Riviera Maya once again, it was still nice to be off our butts and walking around. Little did we know how sore we'd be tomorrow after the bus ride to Belize. But I get ahead of myself.

From the bus terminal we walked across the street and through the plaza toward the beach. We thought, wouldn't it be nice to stay here for a while? Sandy beaches … tourists sizzling like glazed hams in the sand, their leathery hides shimmering in the afternoon sun. Well, ok, that part wasn't too tempting, but regardless we wanted to drop our bags and find our hotel. At the ferry terminal we got on the next boat departing and had a leisurely ride to Cozumel.

Let me tell you, they show some of the most bizarre advertisements on the Playa del Carmen ferries. All I can remember now is that there was a cut-out photo of a shark with huge glasses drawn on reading a book with a tinny, unthreatening version of the Jaws bass line thumping in the background. Then the screen would flash to a lobster shaking his claw as a similar, but somehow more fey, melody would play in the background. The two would, presumably, converse in some unknown language and then the commercial would be over. I still don't know what they were selling.


On the other side of the channel, our ferry docked and we crossed another street and another plaza where we found our Hotel, Meson San Miguel. I was a little apprehensive at first, afraid that al the greeks (and by this I mean college frat guys and sorority sisters fleeing the 50 degree weather in LA) would make too much noise, but it turned out we had a spacious bedroom with TV, air conditioning, two beds and a balcony overlooking the courtyard and pool with a view of the ocean for about $70US. Not too shabby. Well, OK, I have to admit these were the hardest beds I've ever had the misfortune to sleep on this side of a church pew. Other than that, though, just fine.

We dropped off our stuff and took a long walk south of the plaza on the road that follows the shore. Eventually we found a little snorkeling area owned by a hotel that allowed anyone to rent gear. We dove in and snorkeled as the sun went down. At one point, coming up to drain the Caribbean from my sinuses, we were delighted to find it raining. Water, water everywhere.... the sea was warm, the air was warm, and the rain was warm. Such a wonderful change from Minnesota. This was exactly what we'd been hoping for.

We ate dinner, returned to the hotel where we retired to watch a little TV as bedsprings poked our ribs. Eventually Jonah had to make a pile of extra pillows in order to sleep on. It'd been a long travel day that had seen us up at about 4 am to catch our flight and took us through the air, across the land and over the sea. Eventually we fell asleep.

The next day, after missing our early ferry, we stuffed ourselves on a hardy breakfast and returned to Playa del Carmen to catch the bus to Belize. We both felt like we'd eaten too much on Cozumel, but later we'd look back and think, good thing! Because we wouldn't be eating much else the rest of that day.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Cancun International Airport to Playa del Carmen

Ah, the humidity, the heat, the light, the people. As soon as we stepped off the plane, all this hit us with a loud, wet smack, like a kiss from your weird aunt from the Old Country. The one you’re excited to see, but who makes you a little nervous because you don't quite know what to expect from her.

Walk this Way

The interesting thing about Mexican Customs and Immigration is that after you go through the metal detector you see a short version of a walk/don't walk sign waiting for you. It's sort of like that scene from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when you see the street lamp sitting out in the woods, the walk/don't walk sign is surrounded, not by the hushed quiet of a winter forest, but by the thin carpeting and shabby grey card tables of an international arrival terminal. Somewhere in the distance a siren is blaring and a mechanical voice is instructing everyone in the waiting area that there is an emergency and we should all leave immediately. Jonah and I look around at the Mexican immigration officials all of whom are busily waving people through the line and completely ignoring the voice and the siren. We shrug and pass through.

Jonah presses the button on the walk/don't walk sign. The upper portion lights up green and he gets a Pass. I follow behind and press the same button and the lower light burns red. I'm instructed by a guard to open my pack at a nearby table and he rifles through it. He finds nothing of interest, of course, so I zip my bag and join Jonah at the exit. I didn't yet realize that I'd left all the papers that included the phone number and address of our last hotel, plus other papers outlining itineraries and things to do while in Belize back on the table. We leave.

A La Playa

Outside, the day slowly spins and sizzles under the Yucatecan sun. The green of the trees is preternatural and nearly iridescent to our winter-clouded Minnesota eyes. Bus! Taxi! Playa! Play del Carmen! Tour! Tulum! Cozumel! Shuttle! People yell, trying to get our attention, holding signs, waiving to us as though we're long lost friends. We find the ADO bus to Playa del Carmen, buy a ticket and head out.

The bus is cheap and comfortable. We settle in to our bright blue cushioned seats, the air conditioning roaring at full blast and for the next half an hour are subjected to video of one soccer player after another talking about their lives growing up in small town A, then traveling to big city B where they kicked ass thus and thus during such and such a game. By the time we pulled into Playa del Carmen I was nearly brainwashed into thinking I liked soccer by all the cheering, yelling and childhood anecdotes played at full volume over the bus's television system.

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Three Things I learned in Belize, plus One

Here are some things they don't tell you in the guidebooks:
  1. The food in San Ignacio is phenomenal. No one really made much mention of food, generally saying that it wasn't much to write home about. But Jonah and I beg to differ. The stewed chicken, rice and beans at Hanna's in San Ignacio is right up there with the ruins at Xunantunich as one of my favorite experiences on this trip. Everything we had at Hanna's was just wonderful and cheap! Two people could eat top-notch grub for around $20 US or less. We also recommend Serendib for curry and Sri Lankan food and Cafe Sol for some vegan and vegetarian options.
  2. They don't believe in sidewalks in Belize. When walking around town, watch for cars! You'll get crowded onto the shoulder by speeding SUVs, Honda's Toyotas (which seemed to be the manufacturer of choice down there) and other various and sundry vehicles. Also, watch the hills. Gravel can send you tumbling.
  3. Toilets don't generally take toilet paper. There's usually a small waste paper basket near the toilet for your dirty TP. If you try and flush it might not go down. The what are you going to do?
Updated 1/19/07
  • I just remembered another one. Belizeans like running electricity into your shower. I noticed this my first night when I was in a dumpy hotel in downtown Belize City and reached up to turn the shower head. I thought I felt an electric shock bite my finger. Squinting up through the cascade of water over my eyes I saw a length of electrical cable in a plastic casing running the length of the wall from the ceiling and ending in a dual outlet box right behind the showerhead. I stepped back out of the falling water and noticed, to my amazement the frayed black tape holding the red, black and bare ground wires to white wires going into the showerhead itself. There were droplets of moisture dripping from them. I decided to end my shower. Turns out that's how most (of not all) showers in Belize operate. When you think about it, why have hot water available in a tropical climate, anyway? Most of my showers in Belize were cool, and I was happy for it.

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