A Month Abroad – Where I’ve Been

Caye Caulker

Today I’m sitting in my new office….otherwise known as a shack style restaurant overhanging the Caribbean Sea in Caye Caulker, Belize.  My desk is a tall pale yellow and blue bar and my chair is a rope swing.  This island stop wasn’t on my original itinerary but I’m finding what I originally planned in my mind is probably going to continue to change. 

I have now been traveling for about a month through Mexico and Belize and thought I was overdue to share where I’ve been and how things are going.  It’s been surprisingly tiring to travel so much.  Since leaving I have visited 8 different cities across the 2 countries with 3 different friends visiting 2 of the weeks.  I did 7 dives around Cozumel and 5 (so far) in Belize including the Great Blue Hole.  I’ve also visited 3 ancient Mayan cities and 2 waterfalls.  3 overnight bus rides transferred me from one city to the next, along with 4 ferry rides, and I’ve lost track of how many taxis (road and water) I’ve taken along the way.

I’ve met people from all of the world as well as closer to home making a few passing friendships in most cities I’ve stopped in.  Some I expect to hear from again, others I’m sure will just be the fun friend I spent a day with. 

Needless to say I’m exhausted!  Funny to think that being off from work, theoretically on vacation, can be so tiring.  I’ve noticed that in these first few weeks that I actually feel a stronger need to be doing something at all times than I ever did at home, even feeling guilty the one day I took to veg, nap, and watch TV.  So for the next few days to a week or possibly more, I plan to make Caye Caulker home base to catch up on my websites, cataloguing pictures, and sharing the stories of my travels before I forget them. 

To start with I thought I’d break down my first month and in later posts share the more detailed experiences. 

First Stop:  Cancun, Mexico

I selected Cancun as a jumping off point for its cheap airfare and the fact that a friend of mine wanted to join for a vacation of her own.  This was a week of resort style travel fully immersed in the tourist world.  We spent the week lounging by the pool, visiting a couple of Mayan ruins (Chichen Itza and Tulum) and generally decompressing.  It was a lot of work and planning to get myself out of the US (packing, figuring out health insurance, house rental, selling all my stuff, moving, etc etc) and I was ready to just chill so Cancun with one of my best friends was a perfect start to the adventure.  We did get a bit of adventure in just trying to drive around the city….I still have no idea how to read the Cancun road signs.  They don’t tell you the road you’re on, but instead point the direction of another road you could be on.  We got a nice tour of the not so nice areas of Cancun Centro and never found what we were looking for!

Semi Unplanned Trek to Palenque, Mexico

When I originally outlined my trip, Mexico was only a cheap entrance to Central America.  I didn’t really have any intention of staying in the area long.  Luckily I was convinced to check out Palenque by a friend and a fellow travel writer.  I went to experience one of the best Mayan cities around but found a quaint mountain town without foreign tourists (for the most part) as well.  I only booked 2 nights so it was a quick trip in and out….still technically 3 full days given the night time bus rides.  The Palenque Mayan ruins really were unbelievable and then the Aqua Azul and Miso Ha waterfalls added a great taste of nature as well. 

palenque mayan ruins view from temple 700

Cozumel – Labeled the Best Diving in the World

From Palenque I got another bus ride to Playa Del Carmen which is just a short distance from Cozumel and where you catch the ferry boat.  I originally planned to stay 4 nights but was enjoying the diving too much to leave so I stayed another couple of days.  I did 7 dives over the week I was there with most all being just amazing.  I’m not sure I can say Cozumel has the best fish in the world (Boracay still slightly in the lead there) but the coral is certainly the best I’ve seen so far.  Aside from diving I found a few nice spots to lounge by the ocean/pool and enjoy meeting new people and drinking pina coladas.  On my last diving day, I was doing a two tank dive and would be catching the ferry to Playa Del Carmen afterwards as Hurricane Ernesto was on his way.  Well news doesn’t travel as well in Mexico and apparently Ernesto sped up over night and arrived during my first dive.  The rain was freezing and pierced our skin as we huddled together on a small dive boat.  There were then two options, go back to port (the port was no longer letting small boats out at this point) or do our second dive.  We all agreed to dive.  At that point I still wasn’t thinking the hurricane had arrived yet and that it was just another little storm….ha!  Now I can say I’ve scuba dived in a hurricane. 

cozumel ocean front

Playa Del Carmen – Braving Hurricane Ernesto

After diving I caught the first available ferry which also happened to be the last one leaving Cozumel until the hurricane passed.  For most of the ferry ride I was wishing I had missed it.  I’m not sure I’ve been that scared in a long time.  The waves were gigantic and while the boat was too it makes it that much more disconcerting to crash down off of a big wave.  Even the locals were gasping and squealing at a lot of the waves we were hitting.  That day may have killed my dream of sailing around the Caribbean some day.  I’m not sure I could keep my sanity in storms on a smaller boat!  Needless to say I arrived safely in Playa Del Carmen and got to try out my waterproof bag covers and poncho (fail) on the trek to my hotel.  That night was quite a storm and even the next morning the generally flat waves in Playa were crashing more like waves in Cancun.  That day was mostly cloudy and windy but the rain had moved on so I still hit the beach.  Most of the day the Mexican coast guard wouldn’t let people in the water but it made for a quiet beach day as there were very few people out.  I stayed in Playa Del Carmen one more day and then again caught a night bus to Belize City.

playa del carmen hurricane ernesto 500

Belize City to Ambergris Caye

I took a longer than necessary route to Ambergris Caye going through Belize City.  I had researched ferry options to reach the island via more northern cities in Belize but it never occurred to me that I could have gone from Chetumal, Mexico.  That would have saved me a lot of time!  Anyway, instead I ended up in Belize City at around 5:30am to wait on the 8am ferry to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye (pronounced key).

San Pedro and Ambergris Caye

I was worried that Hurricane Ernesto was going to make it impossible to get to Ambergris on time.  I was meeting a couple of friends there for a week of diving and fun.  Luckily the hurricane passed just between Ambergris Caye and Playa Del Carmen so I was still able to get in on time.   My friends and I had a good week diving nearby and at the Blue Hole, kayaking, snorkeling, and traipsing around San Pedro.  We stayed at the far north end of the island, really almost back in Mexico. It made for a nice location but it was pretty far from town and boat transfer was the only option.

sea turle aquarium dive after blue hole belize

Caye Caulker – Laid Back Relaxation

Yesterday I reached Caye Caulker for a $6 US ferry ride from San Pedro.  It’s a laid back island without paved roads and can be easily walked rather than biked (few to no cars here) and am enjoying it so far.  I booked in my first true hostel….I’ll be moving tomorrow.  I’m beginning to think its better to show up and find a place to stay (like friends I’ve met here are doing) rather than cross your fingers on the online pics and description. 

Caye Caulker

So that’s where I’ve been to date.  If I keep to the plan, I should be headed to Honduras shortly but we’ll see.  I’m also tempted to head to inland Belize as there’s a few areas I haven’t explored in the country yet and I really do like it here.  The people are friendly, it’s a beautiful country, the cost is low, and there’s a lot to do. 

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