Friday, May 29, 2009

Uxmal



The Mayan ruins at Uxmal are just an hour and a half from Mérida. On the strength of a recommendation from our friend (and Maya fanatic) Ric, we visited the site on a day trip.

Uxmal was home to the Puuc Maya, and has a very different style to other ruins like Chichén Itzá; the Temple of the Magician (above) in particular, with its rounded corners, shows just how different.



The buildings are covered with ornate and very well-preserved decoration, such as this snake. We had the whole site almost to ourselves, which was a nice change from Chichén Itzá, where tourists and people selling souvenirs fill the site.



The ring in the photo above was part of the ball court, and was used in the Mayan ball game. No-one is quite sure exactly how the game was played, except that the ball was very heavy and could only be hit with the hip or shoulder. It's thought that points were scored by getting the ball through the ring, which was difficult - games could last all day. What is fairly certain is that the game carried great importance for the Maya. Ball courts are found in many Mayan cities, usually in prominent, central positions.



Uxmal was a fascinating and enchanting site to visit, made all the more enjoyable because it was so quiet. It's incredibly hot here at this time of year though - mid-afternoon temperatures can reach the mid 40s Celsius - so once again we scurried back to the hostel and straight into the pool!

Rob

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mérida and Chichén Itzá



We've spent much longer in Mérida than we expected. It's an attractive, if busy, city with a lovely Plaza Grande and a lot of life.




We met up with our friend from uni, Tom, who is living here in Mexico in a city called Villa Hermosa. We had a great time doing some day trips with him and hanging out in the lovely Nomadas hostel. The best thing about it is the fantastic swimming pool, which is essential after a scorching day with temperatures in the 40s!




Look at these incredible hammocks hanging over the water!



We went to the nearby Chichén Itzá Mayan ruins, which were very impressive.



At the hostel we've met lots of friendly people and a couple of them joined us for the trip. OB, from Denmark, and Matt, from Canada, kept us entertained throughout! Here they are with Tom and Rob at the Plaza de mil columnas or Thousand column square.



I loved the faces used to decorate the buildings.




The heat got to us in the end, though, and, after a few hours exploring the ruins, it was straight back to the pool!



Rachel x

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tulum



With the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico a few weeks ago, we thought that our plan to take in a little bit of the country at the end of our trip was going to be thwarted. However, with the situation now under control (and the Foreign Office no longer advising against all but essential travel), we're very excited about having the chance to see more of Mexico. We left Belize by road to the North, heading up to Tulum on the Yucatán coast.



Tulum (meaning 'wall' in Mayan) was a fairly significant Maya city in the Yucatán area. What makes it most attractive to tourists is its incredible location, perched on the cliffs right above the Caribbean sea. On the downside, its proximity to Cancún means it's ended up a little over-produced, and a lot of the ruins are cordoned off to visitors. We did our best to capture the stunning cliff-top location in a photo, but we couldn't escape the 'I could get a much better shot from over there if it wasn't for that rope/huge tour group' feeling.



The ruins are home also to a huge number of Green Iguanas. They lounge about the place, basking in the sun and seeming to observe the tourists. We think there's something faintly amusing about them, but can't put our finger on what that is.



We're looking forward to seeing some more of what the Yucatán has to offer, and hoping that perhaps we'll have it a bit more to ourselves as we head away from the coast.

Rob

Adventures of the spade #11



Marie Sharp's Habanero Pepper Sauce, found on every table in Belize, is the spade's new favourite table condiment. Ours too, as it happens. Marie grows most of the (all natural) ingredients herself at the factory in Dangriga. We're trying to work out now how many bottles we have space to bring home...

Rob

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Caye Caulker

We went on a great snorkeling trip from Caye Caulker, a larger and much more touristy caye (island) off Belize. The day was spent aboard a sailing boat listening to reggae, admiring the view and making frequent stops to have a good look at the abundant wildlife in the water. Here's our guide Steve on the look out for the rare manatees that live in the area.




Although we missed being deep under the water, the snorkelling did still give us the chance to see some wonderful things!



I think this is my ultimate wildlife spot of the trip (and that's saying something!). We spent a good 10 minutes floating around with this incredible manatee, who did not seem to mind the very strange creatures splashing all around her! She was totally calm and had a good look at us all. Once she decided she´d had enough, though, she was off into the blue. Amazing.



These stingrays circle the boats looking for scraps from the fishermen´s catch. They come really close and, at about 1 metre across, it was a little disconcerting at times. Impressive things, though.



Here's a lovely Hawksbill turtle nibbling on the grass.



Tired but delighted by the snorkeling we drifted back to Caye Caulker sipping on a typical Belizean rum punch.

Rachel x

Tobacco Caye



As soon as we saw Tobacco Caye from the boat, we knew we'd arrived somewhere really special. Just the size of a football pitch, the island is a tiny slice of paradise surrounded by turquoise water and a wonderful coral reef. This photo shows how small it is; Rob managed to get the whole island in from the end of a jetty. You just need to tilt your head a bit!



We stayed at a wonderful place called Lana's on the Reef, run by the delightful Lana (actually Lorna but the spelling allows for the strong Caribbean accent!). She looked after us so well, cooking us delicious food and even washing our clothes for us.



This may look like a shed for holding fishing equipment but it's actually a dive shop! Because the reef is so close to the island we were able to dive right off the shore and we had the luxury of a dive master to ourselves; no more large groups or dive boats like in Roatan. Mario was great, going at our pace and he knew exactly where to find the wildlife. We swam with some enormous Tarpin fish that were about as big as us and very inquisitive and some beautiful Eagle Rays, which looked like they were flying through the water. Certainly our most relaxed, and probably our best dive ever.



As we sipped our sunset beers on the beach, we saw this Eagle Ray coasting around in the shallows! We only stayed two nights but Tobacco Caye has gone right in with some of our very favourite places in Central America. It's so great that, though we're into our last few weeks, we can still be surprised and impressed.



By the way, while we were waiting for our boat in Dangriga, we were treated to an impromptu performance of the local Garifuna drumming. It's normal for people to get up and dance but I don't think anyone expected a visit from this drunk guy from the dock. I love the fact that Rob looks totally oblivious throughout!

video

Rachel x

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Honduras to Belize



After leaving the Bay Islands, we headed East along the coast to the town of Trujillo. Famously, this is where Cristopher Columbus first set foot on the American mainland, on his final voyage to the Americas in 1502. The town was initially the capital of Spain's colonial province of Honduras, and was repeatedly attacked by pirates including the notorious British pirate Henry Morgan. For such a sleepy little town, it has played a very important role in Latin American history.



After this we headed West along the coast to Omoa, another colonial small town. Nowadays it's a popular weekend resort destination for the people of nearby San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second city. The principal tourist attraction though is a Spanish fort, built in the late 18th century and also repeatedly attacked by British pirates and privateers (similar to pirates but officially supported by governments in Europe).



Feeling it was time to leave Honduras we caught a boat to take us from Puerto Cortés across the Gulf of Honduras to Placencia, Belize. This is such a different place to the rest of Central America. In the 16th century, Belize was largely ignored by its Spanish conquerors. It became a popular base for English and Scottish pirates during the 17th century and Britain became more interested and took over more control, even while the country remained officially under Spanish rule. In 1862, Britain declared the territory of British Honduras, and people from all over the British Empire settled here, accounting for the rich ethnic diversity found in Belize today, along with the language - English. In 1981, British Honduras became the independent nation of Belize.

The boat journey itself was amongst the most 'exhilarating' experiences of the whole trip! It certainly helped Rachel to face her mild fear of boats head-on. No photos are available, as moving around or holding anything while the boat careered over the extremely rough sea was to take one's life in one's own hands. We survived though, and Rach is feeling a little better about boats too (a good job, considering we've taken about 10 boat trips in the last week alone!).



Here's the view from the veranda of our cabin in Placencia, right on the beach. Worth the hellish boat journey, we think.

Rob

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Roatán, Bay Islands



We've spent a lovely week in the Bay Islands just off the coast of Honduras. Roatán is the largest island and, to me, looks exactly as a Caribbean island should; long white sand beaches, clear turquoise ocean and blue skies.



Here we are watching the sunset from the end of our hotel's jetty.




We've enjoyed spending time on the lovely beaches but it was the marine park that really attracted us. The reef is only just off-shore so provides fantastic snorkeling and diving conditions. It's also the cheapest place in the world to dive so how could we say no!? Unfortunately Rob had a cold for a couple of days (not swine flu, don't panic!) so was unable to dive for a while. I made the most of this time by snorkeling and swimming in the delightfully warm sea as much as possible.



One day I took out my trusty water-proof camera to capture some of the reef's life. It's so alive down there with wonderful creatures and corals of all sorts of colours. Watch the video of the shoal of fish if you can!


video

Snorkeling's great but I always feel so much more absorbed in the underwater world and see so much more when I'm diving so it was great news when Rob was fully recovered and back in the water.




Getting all the gear ready for the dive...



and relaxing in the sunshine afterwards. Sadly there are no photos from the deep (you need special training and equipment) but we saw some great stuff on our three dives, including several wonderful Hawksbill turtles gliding silently past us. We had a wonderful time and can't wait to dive again when we get up to Belize.

Rachel x

PS We dived with West End Divers and can really recommend them if you're heading to Roatán. Ask for Shona if you're doing any courses, she's great!