Guatemala – “Toto, we’re not in Mexico anymore!”

Sunday March 9, 2014

Bellies bulging with Belize barbeque, we headed for Guatemala and the first of what we had come to anticipate as “the dreaded Central American border crossings.” Certain borders around the world are infamous for dingy, clapped out government shacks, power-bloated brainless officials, absurd bureaucratic regulations, and wild goose chases to procure documents that make no sense at all. From what we had heard, the crossings between Central American countries were among the worse, taking anywhere from two hours to an entire day.

Exiting Belize was no problem at all. A quick stop at immigration to exit stamp our passports, a second stop at customs to cancel Charlotte’s vehicle permit, and we were out. We had hidden Vaca Muerta on the roof to avoid the problems of confiscation like we had in Belize and were ready to enter our next country. Well armed with information from fellow travelers who had gone before us and plenty of photocopies of our travel documents, we confidently drove through the “no man’s land” between countries and advanced to our first task…fumigation. Just like in Belize, Charlotte had to be bug sprayed. Unlike Belize, however, we had to drive her through a “car wash” where scary chemicals were spewed at her instead of soap and water, and we got to watch with horror from inside. Our second task was to drive to a dingy shack to pay for the privilege of being poisoned.

Next we had to obtain our visas, and we had heard that although most people are unscrupulously charged 20 quetzales (about 3 bucks) per person, the visas should actually be free. At the immigration window, the surly woman relieved us of 20 quetzales each. We thought about arguing for a moment, but really, they have all the cookies, don’t they? We just wanted to get into Guatemala and continue our trip!

The weather was hot and muggy and crowds of people milled around. Some, like us, were crossing the borders, while others were hawking either money exchange or “fixer” services. Fixers are people who, for a charge, will guide you through the sometimes complicated process of getting through the red-tape snarls of exiting and entering different countries.

We accepted the money exchange service, but turned down the fixers. We did welcome their friendly help, however, in pointing out the customs building where we needed to obtain Charlotte’s permit.

The middle aged man at the counter in the stuffy customs building was mildly friendly with an edge of sarcasm, and it was all going just fine until he asked for a copy of Ned’s newly stamped passport. We had copies of everything else, but how were you supposed to have a copy of something that just occurred? Well, just like at the Ferry in Mexico, there was another building where you could get copies…except it was Sunday and they were closed. We asked if he could waive this requirement since there was no way to get the copy, and with a little smirk he told us to take a taxi into town. We then proceeded to argue with him. Big mistake. Stone wall. We hailed a cabbie and were driven into the dirty border town of Mencos. The first place was closed, and the copier was broken at the second. Sweating profusely in the non air conditioned taxi, we arrived at the third shop where we made the irksome copy.

Victoriously waiving our photocopy, we approached the counter, grateful that no one else was in line. “Stone-wall” however, turned away from us and made a big show of watching the soccer game on the big screen TV behind him (the only modern item in the whole place). Like I said, they have all the cookies. It never pays to argue with border officials. 25 minutes later he completed three minutes of paperwork. We took our vehicle permit, got in Charlotte and slunk away thinking that at least it was all over. Unfortunately, it was not. There was still one more bridge to cross…literally.

We remembered reading about this bridge which was infamous for toll takers taking way more than the actual toll and pocketing the rest. The actual fee was supposed to be 10 quetzales (about $1.50) but some people reported being charged anywhere from 20 to 40. Granted, we are obviously not talking about a lot of money, but the feeling of being taken advantage of is never fun. We were also still raw from the whipping we took getting in the door, so our incensed reaction when the woman asked for 50q’s was not too surprising. We huffed and puffed and said we wouldn’t pay that much. She threatened to call the police, and we said, “Yes, please call the police! In the meantime, we were blocking traffic, so we pulled over and began asking the locals how much they had to pay. Some said they lived here, so did not have to pay anything. Others said they paid the 10. Through it all, the expression on the woman’s face did not change. Not one muscle. She made old Stone Wall look quite animated.

In the end, we gave up. We paid the 50 quetzales and drove away feeling dispirited. But really, there was no use arguing. It was not worth the slim possibility of having the police after you in a foreign country to scoot off without paying. And besides, the six extra bucks meant practically nothing to us, whereas, here in Guatemala, it would go a long way toward feeding a family.

Charlotte’s chemical bath house.

Charlotte’s chemical bath house.


One of the hawkers was this kid selling bottles of whisky.

One of the hawkers was this kid selling bottles of whisky.


As evening was settling in, we came into the quiet little town of Poptún.  The higher elevation brought relief from the heat, and we found a nice restaurant for dinner.  The manager/chef was a young man named Adrian who was born in Guatemala, but raised in Boston.  He had recently moved back to Guatemala to help his elderly father on the family farm.  Adrian had worked for Texas Roadhouse in Boston as a chef, and was trying to revive the restaurant which was owned by a lovely woman named Iris.  Adrian was as bold and entertaining as Iris was warm and quiet.  They graciously allowed us to camp in the enclosed backyard where we gratefully spent a peaceful night.

As evening was settling in, we came into the quiet little town of Poptún. The higher elevation brought relief from the heat, and we found a nice restaurant for dinner. The manager/chef was a young man named Adrian who was born in Guatemala, but raised in Boston. He had recently moved back to Guatemala to help his elderly father on the family farm. Adrian had worked for Texas Roadhouse in Boston as a chef, and was trying to revive the restaurant which was owned by a lovely woman named Iris. Adrian was as bold and entertaining as Iris was warm and quiet. They graciously allowed us to camp in the enclosed backyard where we gratefully spent a peaceful night.


This sweet gentleman came begging money while we were eating dinner.  Guatemala, like the rest of Central America had been war torn for years and is much poorer than Mexico.  We would find a reoccurring theme of begging and being over charged.

This sweet gentleman came begging money while we were eating dinner. Guatemala, like the rest of Central America had been war torn for years and is much poorer than Mexico. We would find a reoccurring theme of begging and being over charged.


After breakfast at Adrian and Iris’ restaurant, we hit the road and headed southeast finding ourselves on a very rough, remote dirt road through mountainous jungles and tiny villages.  We have always made a habit of removing our sunglasses and waving at the local people as we drive by and had become used to the big welcoming smiles of the Belizeans and Mexicans.

After breakfast at Adrian and Iris’ restaurant, we hit the road and headed southeast finding ourselves on a very rough, remote dirt road through mountainous jungles and tiny villages. We have always made a habit of removing our sunglasses and waving at the local people as we drive by and had become used to the big welcoming smiles of the Belizeans and Mexicans.


Some of the Guatemala people were friendly, some gave us dirty looks, while others, like this family were just plain wary.  In most of Guatemala, we found that the women wore lovely woven clothing.  In each local area, however they had slightly different ways of wearing their skirts and tops.  The clothing was all somewhat colorful but, like the people, a bit more subdued than in Mexico.  We tried to hand out “dulces” to the kids, but received only blank stares.  We were puzzled, and I finally got out and asked one of the young mothers, showing her the candy.  She told me that they call them bon-bons.  We revised our language and had plenty of takers!

Some of the Guatemala people were friendly, some gave us dirty looks, while others, like this family were just plain wary. In most of Guatemala, we found that the women wore lovely woven clothing. In each local area, however they had slightly different ways of wearing their skirts and tops. The clothing was all somewhat colorful but, like the people, a bit more subdued than in Mexico. We tried to hand out “dulces” to the kids, but received only blank stares. We were puzzled, and I finally got out and asked one of the young mothers, showing her the candy. She told me that they call them bon-bons. We revised our language and had plenty of takers!


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This was a very poor area, but oddly, nearly all of the dirt-floored houses had satellite dishes.

This was a very poor area, but oddly, nearly all of the dirt-floored houses had satellite dishes.


Boys on the loose.

Boys on the loose.


Water Buffalo on the loose.

Water Buffalo on the loose.


Pigs on the loose…looks like these guys are running away from being dinner!

Pigs on the loose…looks like these guys are running away from being dinner!


We drove through the slightly seedy town of Sebol, and at 4:00, we were stopped by a construction road block.  The worker said the road would open at 6:00 or 7:00.  Evidently the problem was a big rock slide, and they had been working on it for a month.  We were in a tiny village with a shack "tienda" (store).  I decided that if we were going to have to hang out there for the duration we should make friends, but it was not to be.

We drove through the slightly seedy town of Sebol, and at 4:00, we were stopped by a construction road block. The worker said the road would open at 6:00 or 7:00. Evidently the problem was a big rock slide, and they had been working on it for a month. We were in a tiny village with a shack “tienda” (store). I decided that if we were going to have to hang out there for the duration we should make friends, but it was not to be.


I got out and found that they had beer but no refrigeration.  I then went to give my tire tread sandals away since they didn't fit that well.  I asked if anyone could use them.  First the women asked if it was a gift, and I said “Of course” (again, the cynical money side of Guatemala; everyone with their hand out).  Then they thought the sandals were funny.  I noticed all of the women had croc-like sandals, the ones charities give away in villages like these.  I guess there was not as big a need for shoes here.

I got out and found that they had beer but no refrigeration. I then went to give my tire tread sandals away since they didn’t fit that well. I asked if anyone could use them. First the women asked if it was a gift, and I said “Of course” (again, the cynical money side of Guatemala; everyone with their hand out). Then they thought the sandals were funny. I noticed all of the women had croc-like sandals, the ones charities give away in villages like these. I guess there was not as big a need for shoes here.


The women giggled as they handed my poor sandals around.  I explained that they were hand made in Mascota Mexico.  They seemed curious, but not very impressed.

The women giggled as they handed my poor sandals around. I explained that they were hand made in Mascota Mexico. They seemed curious, but not very impressed.

We made the mistake of handing out bon bons.  The kids took the candy, but still, no one was very friendly.  I went back to sit in Charlotte with Ned, and the kids began begging more and more bon-bons.  I decided to teach them to count 1-5 in English in exchange for bon-bons, and they seemed eager to learn (or they wanted more candy!)  Three teenagers arrived at the tienda, looking kind of bad-ass.  Uh oh, not great.  One peeled off and arrived at my window with the now infamous Mexico sandals.  He turned out to be the best of the bunch.  His name was Gorge and he was truly curious about the shoes and where they came from and was impressed that I had watched the woman making them. We chatted for a while and I found out that the teenagers do learn some English, but the younger ones do not.  Gorge said their Native language was Quiché (pronounced key-chay).   He, like so many would love to come to US.  When Gorge left, the younger kids started becoming a real nuisance, yelling for more bon-bons and hanging on my door.  I closed the window, locked the doors and crawled in back to read.  The road did not open until 10pm.  Then it was like a race start, with everyone jockeying to get out of there.  We let all the crazies go and navigated the final five miles of torn up dirt road in the pitch dark, blessedly alone.

We made the mistake of handing out bon bons. The kids took the candy, but still, no one was very friendly. I went back to sit in Charlotte with Ned, and the kids began begging more and more bon-bons. I decided to teach them to count 1-5 in English in exchange for bon-bons, and they seemed eager to learn (or they wanted more candy!) Three teenagers arrived at the tienda, looking kind of bad-ass. Uh oh, not great. One peeled off and arrived at my window with the now infamous Mexico sandals. He turned out to be the best of the bunch. His name was Gorge and he was truly curious about the shoes and where they came from and was impressed that I had watched the woman making them. We chatted for a while and I found out that the teenagers do learn some English, but the younger ones do not. Gorge said their Native language was Quiché (pronounced key-chay). He, like so many would love to come to US. When Gorge left, the younger kids started becoming a real nuisance, yelling for more bon-bons and hanging on my door. I closed the window, locked the doors and crawled in back to read. The road did not open until 10pm. Then it was like a race start, with everyone jockeying to get out of there. We let all the crazies go and navigated the final five miles of torn up dirt road in the pitch dark, blessedly alone.

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Our destination had been to the semi-famous pools at Semuc Champey, but we did not get to Languin, a town outside Semuc until 11:30 that night.   We spotted a rustic hotel, but it looked dark and closed up. We idled outside for a minute, and a kind man came and let us in the gate to sleep in the parking lot.  He even invited us to swim in this lovely pool…eeek!

Our destination had been to the semi-famous pools at Semuc Champey, but we did not get to Languin, a town outside Semuc until 11:30 that night. We spotted a rustic hotel, but it looked dark and closed up. We idled outside for a minute, and a kind man came and let us in the gate to sleep in the parking lot. He even invited us to swim in this lovely pool…eeek!


We passed another quiet night and had breakfast at the hotel.  Heading to the pools, we dropped about 4,000 vertical feet to get to the river.

We passed another quiet night and had breakfast at the hotel. Heading to the pools, we dropped about 4,000 vertical feet to get to the river.


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The pools at Semuc Champey are remote!  We drove for miles on a rough dirt road and found ourselves deep in the heart of the Guatemala jungle wilderness.  It was hot and humid, and the pools looked very inviting.

The pools at Semuc Champey are remote! We drove for miles on a rough dirt road and found ourselves deep in the heart of the Guatemala jungle wilderness. It was hot and humid, and the pools looked very inviting.


But we decided to hike up to the lookout first.

But we decided to hike up to the lookout first.


We had sweat off all of our bug spray by the time we got to the top, but the view was worth it.  The pools were gorgeous.

We had sweat off all of our bug spray by the time we got to the top, but the view was worth it. The pools were gorgeous.


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This guy hid in the foliage and entertained himself by watching sweaty humans struggle through the hour long hike.

This guy hid in the foliage and entertained himself by watching sweaty humans struggle through the hour long hike.


Ahhh, finally, swimming in the pools was amazing.  Beautiful cool, clear, water and lovely little cascades in a wild jungle setting.

Ahhh, finally, swimming in the pools was amazing. Beautiful cool, clear, water and lovely little cascades in a wild jungle setting.


Charlotte does not have air conditioning, so we always appreciate moments of reprieve as we drive back up into elevation and cooler temperatures.

Charlotte does not have air conditioning, so we always appreciate moments of reprieve as we drive back up into elevation and cooler temperatures.


On the paved roads again…this was one of three tour bus drivers we saw crashed out at this gas station, waiting for their tour-ees to finish touring.

On the paved roads again…this was one of three tour bus drivers we saw crashed out at this gas station, waiting for their tour-ees to finish touring.


We continued southeast to the city of Coban which was big and semi-modern.  We loved these counting down street lights!  Later, the suburbs came as a total surprise.  They were very modern, and, being evening, we passed dozens of people out jogging of all things!  We hadn't seen anything like that since we left home.  It was as if someone flipped a switch and we were transported somewhere else.

We continued southeast to the city of Coban which was big and semi-modern. We loved these counting down street lights!
Later, the suburbs came as a total surprise. They were very modern, and, being evening, we passed dozens of people out jogging of all things! We hadn’t seen anything like that since we left home. It was as if someone flipped a switch and we were transported somewhere else.


We found a beautiful restaurant/hotel in Santa Cruz Verapaz.  The wait staff was very friendly, and, when asked, eagerly said we could camp in the parking lot…another great camping score!  We were missing our remote, hiding in the back country camping, but so far, there just wasn’t anywhere appropriate.  There was either populated farmland or steep, rocky, inaccessible jungle.

We found a beautiful restaurant/hotel in Santa Cruz Verapaz. The wait staff was very friendly, and, when asked, eagerly said we could camp in the parking lot…another great camping score! We were missing our remote, hiding in the back country camping, but so far, there just wasn’t anywhere appropriate. There was either populated farmland or steep, rocky, inaccessible jungle.


We met the owner, Roberto and his girlfriend Cinthia.  Roberto was very intense, but warm hearted, and we had a good time eating his great food and visiting.

We met the owner, Roberto and his girlfriend Cinthia. Roberto was very intense, but warm hearted, and we had a good time eating his great food and visiting.


The busses of Guatemala seemed to be the most colorful and vivacious enterprise in the entire country.  Privately owned with lots of competition, each one strove to out-decorate and out-drive the others.  Charlotte had to be on her toes to avoid being run down by these flashy demons of the highways.

The busses of Guatemala seemed to be the most colorful and vivacious enterprise in the entire country. Privately owned with lots of competition, each one strove to out-decorate and out-drive the others. Charlotte had to be on her toes to avoid being run down by these flashy demons of the highways.

Guatemala, like much of Mexico was part of the Mayan empire, giving it its rich cultural heritage and native costumes.  Later becoming a Spanish colony, Guatemala gained its independence in 1821.  Like most of the Central American region, a series of democracies and dictatorships left the country with political unrest, and years of civil war have left deep physical and mental scars.  In 1996, the civil wars ended, and the government has been stable, becoming a representative democracy.  Since then the county has seen both economic growth and successful democratic elections.  Interestingly, however, there are about thirteen different political parties ceaselessly vying for power.  The effect is a staggering amount of advertising in the form of hand painting and stenciling on the landscape.  Absolutely nothing is sacred and every available surface is used to dizzying effect.   Power polls, guard rails, trees, rocks, houses, curbs, anything they can slap paint on sport the colors of one or multiple parties.  For us it became visually noisy and irritating, like being politically badgered, and our photos do not do justice to the amount of paint we saw. The countryside would have been quite pretty, but the constant mental input was too distracting. We found out later, that painting the countryside for political advertising is illegal, but the fine is only $100, so they continue to do it.  I don’t know what these parties stand for, but just for fun, here are few we were able to discern (some of you may be curious enough to Google them!): Red and white:  Lider (the obvious leader at the moment and winner of The Most Paint Used contest) Purple:  Todos Green:  Line Orange:  Patriot

Guatemala, like much of Mexico was part of the Mayan empire, giving it its rich cultural heritage and native costumes. Later becoming a Spanish colony, Guatemala gained its independence in 1821. Like most of the Central American region, a series of democracies and dictatorships left the country with political unrest, and years of civil war have left deep physical and mental scars.

In 1996, the civil wars ended, and the government has been stable, becoming a representative democracy. Since then the county has seen both economic growth and successful democratic elections. Interestingly, however, there are about thirteen different political parties ceaselessly vying for power. The effect is a staggering amount of advertising in the form of hand painting and stenciling on the landscape. Absolutely nothing is sacred and every available surface is used to dizzying effect. Power polls, guard rails, trees, rocks, houses, curbs, anything they can slap paint on sport the colors of one or multiple parties. For us it became visually noisy and irritating, like being politically badgered, and our photos do not do justice to the amount of paint we saw. The countryside would have been quite pretty, but the constant mental input was too distracting.
We found out later, that painting the countryside for political advertising is illegal, but the fine is only $100, so they continue to do it. I don’t know what these parties stand for, but just for fun, here are few we were able to discern (some of you may be curious enough to Google them!):

Red and white: Lider (the obvious leader at the moment and winner of The Most Paint Used contest)
Purple: Todos
Green: Line
Orange: Patriot


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Continuing ever southward, our destination was now Lago de Atitlán which we had heard was quite nice.  We found ourselves on another rough dirt road and wound our way sinuously along in first and second gear for about 50 miles.  After three hours, the road turned to pavement but was full of pot holes and still steep and windy, so we continued to creep along in low, slow gears. We finally arrived at a town called Chichicastenango which was supposed to be very colorful with a good market full of local weaving and textiles.   We found parking, and took a stroll through the market.  We normally love markets and town centers with their energy, beautiful churches and colorful displays, but this one had a bad vibe. It was dirty, and the people were more reserved.  It actually felt kind of depressing.  The church had ear splitting music playing, but it sounded creepy, like a cross between a 3rd world military march and a dirge.  We took some interesting photos and got out of there.

Continuing ever southward, our destination was now Lago de Atitlán which we had heard was quite nice. We found ourselves on another rough dirt road and wound our way sinuously along in first and second gear for about 50 miles. After three hours, the road turned to pavement but was full of pot holes and still steep and windy, so we continued to creep along in low, slow gears.

We finally arrived at a town called Chichicastenango which was supposed to be very colorful with a good market full of local weaving and textiles. We found parking, and took a stroll through the market. We normally love markets and town centers with their energy, beautiful churches and colorful displays, but this one had a bad vibe. It was dirty, and the people were more reserved. It actually felt kind of depressing. The church had ear splitting music playing, but it sounded creepy, like a cross between a 3rd world military march and a dirge. We took some interesting photos and got out of there.


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This 12 year old boy was chopping up rock-hard coconuts so fast we were amazed that he still had all of his fingers.

This 12 year old boy was chopping up rock-hard coconuts so fast we were amazed that he still had all of his fingers.


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After 200 miles and 8 long hours on rough roads, we arrived at Lago de Atitlán.

After 200 miles and 8 long hours on rough roads, we arrived at Lago de Atitlán.


The lake was touristy, but very pretty with a stunning backdrop of dueling volcanoes.  We found a hostel that let us camp in the parking lot, had a nice dinner and crawled in Charlotte for a good night’s rest. We were feeling rushed to get to Antigua, so we only stayed one night and did not do any hiking.

The lake was touristy, but very pretty with a stunning backdrop of dueling volcanoes. We found a hostel that let us camp in the parking lot, had a nice dinner and crawled in Charlotte for a good night’s rest. We were feeling rushed to get to Antigua, so we only stayed one night and did not do any hiking.


Volcano framed by the Arch of the Convento de Santa Catalina.   This is the famous picture everyone takes when they come to Antigua, Guatemala, so Ned had to take one too.  The shot was featured on nearly every Guatemala map and tourist poster we saw.

Volcano framed by the Arch of the Convento de Santa Catalina.
This is the famous picture everyone takes when they come to Antigua, Guatemala, so Ned had to take one too. The shot was featured on nearly every Guatemala map and tourist poster we saw.


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A beautiful colonial city, Antigua was full of churches, tourists and Spanish language schools.  Many people come here for weeks or months to do immersion training in Spanish.

A beautiful colonial city, Antigua was full of churches, tourists and Spanish language schools. Many people come here for weeks or months to do immersion training in Spanish.


This shop was one of the best we had ever seen.  It was an immense warehouse full of colorful, local artisan goods.

This shop was one of the best we had ever seen. It was an immense warehouse full of colorful, local artisan goods.


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On my way to pick up laundry, I spotted a sign for Salsa dancing lessons…I can be a bit of a dancing dork, but Gloria was delightfully fun and very patient.  I don’t remember a thing I learned, but I had a blast!

On my way to pick up laundry, I spotted a sign for Salsa dancing lessons…I can be a bit of a dancing dork, but Gloria was delightfully fun and very patient. I don’t remember a thing I learned, but I had a blast!


Over the last 3 months of travel, we have seen many women carrying a myriad of things on their head.  The ones that are able, pride themselves on balancing heavy loads without using their hands.  I missed the photo shot, but saw one woman carrying a full sized cooler without holding on!

Over the last 3 months of travel, we have seen many women carrying a myriad of things on their head. The ones that are able, pride themselves on balancing heavy loads without using their hands. I missed the photo shot, but saw one woman carrying a full sized cooler without holding on!


No local garb here…

No local garb here…


Wait, that’s me!  A great way to carry the laundry back and good for the posture!  Couldn’t do it sans hands, though.

Wait, that’s me! A great way to carry the laundry back and good for the posture! Couldn’t do it sans hands, though.


Night time in the main plaza of Antigua was beautiful and entertaining.

Night time in the main plaza of Antigua was beautiful and entertaining.


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At 9:30am on Saturday March 15th, we left Antigua and headed south toward the El Salvador border.  Along the way we drove through the town of Santa Maria de Jesus.  We were charmed by this scene of women washing clothes in community troughs, but it was the filthiest town we had seen yet.  The wash water was murky, and garbage plastered the streets.  In most towns and villages there is usually some evidence of pride in the community, but this one had none.  I had to ask myself why, but had no answer.  Had we stopped, we might have found out, but we were disinclined to do so.

At 9:30am on Saturday March 15th, we left Antigua and headed south toward the El Salvador border. Along the way we drove through the town of Santa Maria de Jesus. We were charmed by this scene of women washing clothes in community troughs, but it was the filthiest town we had seen yet. The wash water was murky, and garbage plastered the streets. In most towns and villages there is usually some evidence of pride in the community, but this one had none. I had to ask myself why, but had no answer. Had we stopped, we might have found out, but we were disinclined to do so.


Santa Maria had puzzlingly good concrete roads, not asphalt.  They were disgustingly dirty, but the surface was great.  Then abruptly, just out of town, we drove onto the roughest, rockiest dirt road of the whole trip.  It was slow going and lined with garbage for the entire eleven miles to Palin where we hoped to pick up a good Autopista

Santa Maria had puzzlingly good concrete roads, not asphalt. They were disgustingly dirty, but the surface was great. Then abruptly, just out of town, we drove onto the roughest, rockiest dirt road of the whole trip. It was slow going and lined with garbage for the entire eleven miles to Palin where we hoped to pick up a good Autopista


The track was literally paved with trash.  Thinking about it, it is obvious that it takes money to have clean roads and cities.  Everyone generates trash, and something has to be done with the smelly stuff.  We take it for granted that every week the nice garbage truck will show up at our curb and rid us of the unsavory residue of our day to day lives.  But what if we couldn’t afford garbage pick-up?  Or our town was too poor to provide it?  Probably, we would do as these people do and dump it wherever we could.

The track was literally paved with trash. Thinking about it, it is obvious that it takes money to have clean roads and cities. Everyone generates trash, and something has to be done with the smelly stuff. We take it for granted that every week the nice garbage truck will show up at our curb and rid us of the unsavory residue of our day to day lives. But what if we couldn’t afford garbage pick-up? Or our town was too poor to provide it? Probably, we would do as these people do and dump it wherever we could.


We passed several disgusting dump sites with smoldering garbage.  Pitiful dogs rummaged throughout.  We got the bug zapper out to kill the disease ridden flies, but the ones we picked up quickly fled back to their dumps.  Back in Belize, Emily had told us Charlotte smelled like a pet shop (what, really??).  I guess our three-month-lived-in-bus was not quite savory enough for these flies!   See if you can spot the dog…actually he was very sickly and sad.

We passed several disgusting dump sites with smoldering garbage. Pitiful dogs rummaged throughout. We got the bug zapper out to kill the disease ridden flies, but the ones we picked up quickly fled back to their dumps. Back in Belize, Emily had told us Charlotte smelled like a pet shop (what, really??). I guess our three-month-lived-in-bus was not quite savory enough for these flies!
See if you can spot the dog…actually he was very sickly and sad.


Palin was trashy too. The smoldering garbage lined road passed right under the good Autopista, but there was no way on to it.  We had to navigate our way through the crowded, grimy city.

Palin was trashy too. The smoldering garbage lined road passed right under the good Autopista, but there was no way on to it. We had to navigate our way through the crowded, grimy city.


The toll road cost $2 and was well worth it this time.  We went from the worse road in Guatemala to the best!  We found it odd, but entertaining that the left lane was painted with a speed limit of 80kph (48mph), while the right lane was marked 60 (36mph).  We took our chances and sped Charlotte along at her cruising speed of 65mph, heading for the border crossing into El Salvador. In our rush to get to Costa Rica, it took us only one week to cross Guatemala.  In all fairness, that might not have been enough time to do it justice, but overall we found the country subdued and money-hungry.  Our meals were pricey and uninteresting (note, no food photos).  Aside from the two restaurant owners, we had no close encounters, and that alone left us feeling a bit flat.  Traveling is always fascinating, but we simply couldn’t help comparing …had that road block happened in Mexico, it would have been a big party, and we would have left with tearful goodbyes and hugs for everyone!

The toll road cost $2 and was well worth it this time. We went from the worse road in Guatemala to the best! We found it odd, but entertaining that the left lane was painted with a speed limit of 80kph (48mph), while the right lane was marked 60 (36mph). We took our chances and sped Charlotte along at her cruising speed of 65mph, heading for the border crossing into El Salvador.

In our rush to get to Costa Rica, it took us only one week to cross Guatemala. In all fairness, that might not have been enough time to do it justice, but overall we found the country subdued and money-hungry. Our meals were pricey and uninteresting (note, no food photos). Aside from the two restaurant owners, we had no close encounters, and that alone left us feeling a bit flat.

Traveling is always fascinating, but we simply couldn’t help comparing …had that road block happened in Mexico, it would have been a big party, and we would have left with tearful goodbyes and hugs for everyone!

Belize Tourists, Not Travelers?

On February 27th, after two months (twice the time we thought we’d spend there) and about 8,000 miles, we finally left Mexico (sob) and crossed the border into Belize. Belize is a former British colony that only gained its independence in 1981. It is still part of the British Commonwealth and thus has the Queen’s image on all its money. Other than that, we couldn’t find much British about it. You get a strong sense of independent pride from the people you meet, regardless of whether they are Spanish, Mayan or Garifuna. Just when we were starting to think in Spanish, we had to switch back to English as that is the main language of Belize.

On February 27th, after two months (twice the time we thought we’d spend there) and about 8,000 miles, we finally left Mexico (sob) and crossed the border into Belize. Belize is a former British colony that only gained its independence in 1981. It is still part of the British Commonwealth and thus has the Queen’s image on all its money. Other than that, we couldn’t find much British about it. You get a strong sense of independent pride from the people you meet, regardless of whether they are Spanish, Mayan or Garifuna. Just when we were starting to think in Spanish, we had to switch back to English as that is the main language of Belize.


Crossing the border was pretty straight forward, but Charlotte had to be fumigated, an experience that was a little unnerving. This guy walked around her with a big respirator on, spraying a nasty smelling concoction all over her underbelly.

Crossing the border was pretty straight forward, but Charlotte had to be fumigated, an experience that was a little unnerving. This guy walked around her with a big respirator on, spraying a nasty smelling concoction all over her underbelly.


Importing ourselves and a car into Belize was a breeze. We were done with all the formalities in just over an hour and only had to drive through a final checkpoint. That’s when they told us Vaca Murta had to go – into the dumpster! NOoooo! He had been our good luck charm all through Mexico ever since we’d strapped him on Charlotte’s nose back in Baja. We’d found him, along with the rest of his body, lying in the desert and it just seemed appropriate that he join us. I figured he’d last a day or two but he’s hung with us for 7,000 miles. Although he has lost considerable weight (both jaw bones and lengths of his horns) he has continually brought smiles, points and thumbs up jesters from the fun-loving Mexicans. He couldn’t go to the dumpster! We begged to the stoic faced guards to no avail. Then, pushing our luck, we demanded to speak to the Big Boss. If you don’t A-S-K you don’t G-E-T. After 45 minutes of fussing around and feeling quite foolish, low and behold they issued Vaca his own paperwork (a passport of sorts) and off we went to see Belize together!

Importing ourselves and a car into Belize was a breeze. We were done with all the formalities in just over an hour and only had to drive through a final checkpoint. That’s when they told us Vaca Murta had to go – into the dumpster! NOoooo! He had been our good luck charm all through Mexico ever since we’d strapped him on Charlotte’s nose back in Baja. We’d found him, along with the rest of his body, lying in the desert and it just seemed appropriate that he join us. I figured he’d last a day or two but he’s hung with us for 7,000 miles. Although he has lost considerable weight (both jaw bones and lengths of his horns) he has continually brought smiles, points and thumbs up jesters from the fun-loving Mexicans. He couldn’t go to the dumpster! We begged to the stoic faced guards to no avail. Then, pushing our luck, we demanded to speak to the Big Boss. If you don’t A-S-K you don’t G-E-T. After 45 minutes of fussing around and feeling quite foolish, low and behold they issued Vaca his own paperwork (a passport of sorts) and off we went to see Belize together!


Our first stop was Belize City where we picked up my daughter Emily at the airport. We hadn’t seen her in almost a year as she has been living in Australia. She has now moved to Austin, Texas, so it was a relatively short distance for her to travel to see us. Em is a diver, and Belize is one of the top diving destinations in the world, so we planned our week with her around two dive trips and a few other tourist type attractions. Belize would be more of a tourist vacation for us instead of a continuing traveler’s sojourn. However, not to rule out the local flavor, we treated Emily to her first Belize meal at a very local joint called Marva’s in downtown Belize City.

Our first stop was Belize City where we picked up my daughter Emily at the airport. We hadn’t seen her in almost a year as she has been living in Australia. She has now moved to Austin, Texas, so it was a relatively short distance for her to travel to see us. Em is a diver, and Belize is one of the top diving destinations in the world, so we planned our week with her around two dive trips and a few other tourist type attractions. Belize would be more of a tourist vacation for us instead of a continuing traveler’s sojourn. However, not to rule out the local flavor, we treated Emily to her first Belize meal at a very local joint called Marva’s in downtown Belize City.


Marva in her kitchen.

Marva in her kitchen.


Typical Belizean street food. Stewed pork and chicken, rice and beans, potato salad and a fried plantain on the side. Yummmm.

Typical Belizean street food. Stewed pork and chicken, rice and beans, potato salad and a fried plantain on the side. Yummmm.


Off on our first dive trip to the barrier reef out of Belize City. Emily made two dives this day.

Off on our first dive trip to the barrier reef out of Belize City. Emily made two dives this day.


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We stopped at this tiny island for lunch.

We stopped at this tiny island for lunch.


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Emily’s dive partner, Eli. He worked for the dive company and told us about his wife and two year old daughter and how the two grandmas fussed over the little girl. You could tell he had a very loving family.

Emily’s dive partner, Eli. He worked for the dive company and told us about his wife and two year old daughter and how the two grandmas fussed over the little girl. You could tell he had a very loving family.


All ready…

All ready…


In she goes…

In she goes…


WooHoo!

WooHoo!


Being the desert rats we are, we opted for snorkeling and staying on the surface. Put on some sunglasses to look at that pasty white tourist! Not having an underwater camera we can’t share with you the amazing life we saw. It is truly another world under the sea, full of color and strange other-world looking plants and creatures. Kat and I saw zillions of colorful fish, a turtle, a sting ray and some of the most bizarre plant and coral formations imaginable. Emily saw way more, including a shark. Some of you are on Facebook with her and have probably seen and heard much more.

Being the desert rats we are, we opted for snorkeling and staying on the surface. Put on some sunglasses to look at that pasty white tourist! Not having an underwater camera we can’t share with you the amazing life we saw. It is truly another world under the sea, full of color and strange other-world looking plants and creatures. Kat and I saw zillions of colorful fish, a turtle, a sting ray and some of the most bizarre plant and coral formations imaginable. Emily saw way more, including a shark. Some of you are on Facebook with her and have probably seen and heard much more.


After our first day’s dive out of Belize City, we hopped an evening ferry to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. We spent the night there and caught a big dive boat the next morning at 5:30am for an all day trip to the Blue Hole and surrounding area where we would do three dives/snorkels.

After our first day’s dive out of Belize City, we hopped an evening ferry to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. We spent the night there and caught a big dive boat the next morning at 5:30am for an all day trip to the Blue Hole and surrounding area where we would do three dives/snorkels.


It was a 2 1/2 hour boat ride out to the famous dive area called the Blue Hole, a 450 foot deep “hole” in otherwise shallow water way out in the middle of the ocean. This picture doesn’t begin to capture how cool it looked. It must be amazing from an airplane. It used to be a mountain cave above ground and has stalactites and other cave-like features to view if you dive it. Kat and I snorkeled the rim while Emily dove to 135 feet here! (Her deepest dive yet!)

It was a 2 1/2 hour boat ride out to the famous dive area called the Blue Hole, a 450 foot deep “hole” in otherwise shallow water way out in the middle of the ocean. This picture doesn’t begin to capture how cool it looked. It must be amazing from an airplane. It used to be a mountain cave above ground and has stalactites and other cave-like features to view if you dive it. Kat and I snorkeled the rim while Emily dove to 135 feet here! (Her deepest dive yet!)


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Like the day before, for our lunch break the dive boat dropped us off on another tiny island. After eating we checked out the Red-Footed Booby bird colony on the island, but the birds weren’t showing off their red feet to us!

Like the day before, for our lunch break the dive boat dropped us off on another tiny island. After eating we checked out the Red-Footed Booby bird colony on the island, but the birds weren’t showing off their red feet to us!


The sea is pretty cool to look at both from above and below, but these two really prefer their feet on dry ground.

The sea is pretty cool to look at both from above and below, but these two really prefer their feet on dry ground.


After our diving expeditions we set out in Charlotte for the southern part of the country to check out the local Garifuna culture. The Garifuna people are a cultural hybrid of escaped Africans from shipwrecked slave ships, who mixed with the Indians of the Caribbean islands. They speak Creole, a kind of broken English, and are the kindest, happiest people we met in Belize. Our favorite town was Hopkins where we met Kim and her family/friends. She had just opened this little restaurant on the beach and was struggling to make a go of it. She had worked as a chef for ten years out on the island of Caye Caulker (near where we went diving) before coming home to Hopkins and her family’s property to become a private entrepreneur. We ate every meal here and enjoyed chatting with her about her life. She told us the Chinese have been buying up large tracks of land in this area and opening big stores that put the little local shops out of business. Sound familiar? Kind of like Walmart on a third-world scale.

After our diving expeditions we set out in Charlotte for the southern part of the country to check out the local Garifuna culture. The Garifuna people are a cultural hybrid of escaped Africans from shipwrecked slave ships, who mixed with the Indians of the Caribbean islands. They speak Creole, a kind of broken English, and are the kindest, happiest people we met in Belize. Our favorite town was Hopkins where we met Kim and her family/friends. She had just opened this little restaurant on the beach and was struggling to make a go of it. She had worked as a chef for ten years out on the island of Caye Caulker (near where we went diving) before coming home to Hopkins and her family’s property to become a private entrepreneur. We ate every meal here and enjoyed chatting with her about her life. She told us the Chinese have been buying up large tracks of land in this area and opening big stores that put the little local shops out of business. Sound familiar? Kind of like Walmart on a third-world scale.


It was good to spend time with my daughter again.

It was good to spend time with my daughter again.


Hanging out with the Garifuna.

Hanging out with the Garifuna.


Kim’s brother cuts up a fresh fish with a machete while her sister-in-law Paulette supervises. That fish would become our dinner that evening.

Kim’s brother cuts up a fresh fish with a machete while her sister-in-law Paulette supervises. That fish would become our dinner that evening.


Kim made us Hudut, a traditional Garifuna culinary specialty. It is coconut broth fish stew served with a huge mashed plantain ball which you mix with the broth. Delicious.

Kim made us Hudut, a traditional Garifuna culinary specialty. It is coconut broth fish stew served with a huge mashed plantain ball which you mix with the broth. Delicious.


A happy woman in her own kitchen.

A happy woman in her own kitchen.


Gotta love the billing and accounting system.

Gotta love the billing and accounting system.


Since only two can sleep in Charlotte we splurged for rooms all week for the three of us. This was the colorful Coconut Row Hotel in Hopkins.

Since only two can sleep in Charlotte we splurged for rooms all week for the three of us. This was the colorful Coconut Row Hotel in Hopkins.


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While swimming in the Caribbean Sea in Hopkins, this little girl and her brother swam up and she started braiding Emily’s hair. She didn’t say much but sure was happy playing with blond hair.

While swimming in the Caribbean Sea in Hopkins, this little girl and her brother swam up and she started braiding Emily’s hair. She didn’t say much but sure was happy playing with blond hair.


Our next adventure was further south down the coast where we met up with Percy in Placencia. Percy took us on his boat even farther south to his home village of Monkey River Town.

Our next adventure was further south down the coast where we met up with Percy in Placencia. Percy took us on his boat even farther south to his home village of Monkey River Town.


Cruising through the mangrove swamps toward Monkey River Town.

Cruising through the mangrove swamps toward Monkey River Town.


Percy’s home town of Monkey River.

Percy’s home town of Monkey River.


A man and his boat.

A man and his boat.


Percy was a total crack up. Completely full of himself, he has been a river guide up the Monkey River his whole life. He proclaims himself as “King of the Howlers” and guaranteed he would find Howler Monkeys for us. He also claimed to be a “bush medicine man” and showed us just about every plant in the forest and explained how it would cure this or that.

Percy was a total crack up. Completely full of himself, he has been a river guide up the Monkey River his whole life. He proclaims himself as “King of the Howlers” and guaranteed he would find Howler Monkeys for us. He also claimed to be a “bush medicine man” and showed us just about every plant in the forest and explained how it would cure this or that.


Giant bamboo forest.

Giant bamboo forest.


Cool birds were everywhere. But of course, being the great birders we are, we didn’t write down the name.

Cool birds were everywhere. But of course, being the great birders we are, we didn’t write down the name.


After whacking this tree limb in two with his machete, Percy showed us how to find drinking water in the jungle.

After whacking this tree limb in two with his machete, Percy showed us how to find drinking water in the jungle.


Nope, we didn’t get the name of this one either!

Nope, we didn’t get the name of this one either!


Can you find the crocodile in this picture?

Can you find the crocodile in this picture?


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Percy delivered on his promise to find Howler Monkeys. This was the best shot we got of the dozens we saw/heard. They live way up in the jungle canopy and are hard to spot, but the racket they make is unmistakable. They are only two to three feet tall but make the noise of a freight train. It turns out that the Howler Monkey howl is the basis for the dinosaur roars in the movie Jurassic Park.

Percy delivered on his promise to find Howler Monkeys. This was the best shot we got of the dozens we saw/heard. They live way up in the jungle canopy and are hard to spot, but the racket they make is unmistakable. They are only two to three feet tall but make the noise of a freight train. It turns out that the Howler Monkey howl is the basis for the dinosaur roars in the movie Jurassic Park.


After leaving the southern coast we headed back north to put Emily back on the plane to Texas. But along the way we had one more adventure. We had to go cave tubing, the number one tourist must-do in Belize. We had earlier passed up the “please the masses” Butts Up tours out of Belize City, who float up to “4,000 people a day” (?) down the Caves Branch river near the city. Likewise, we’d checked out the über expensive Ian Anderson’s “private property” tours. Too snooty for us! Then we found Neko and his little Inland Tours cave trip at the Blue Hole near the village of Armenia and just down the road from hoity-toity Mr. Anderson. Neko is a refugee from Guatemala. Now 37, he came to Belize as a six year old child when he walked with his family for weeks through the jungle to escape his war-torn homeland. His family settled in the then wild jungle with other Guatemalan refugees and formed the village now known as Armenia. Neko explained to us that his people had given the town its name after the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark and the high ground “Armenia,” a place safe from the flood:  ie; safe from the random killings of villagers by Guatemalan Government soldiers looking for Guerrilla fighters. After year of squatting on this land, the Belizean Government granted these refugee families each 20 acres and citizenship.

After leaving the southern coast we headed back north to put Emily back on the plane to Texas. But along the way we had one more adventure. We had to go cave tubing, the number one tourist must-do in Belize. We had earlier passed up the “please the masses” Butts Up tours out of Belize City, who float up to “4,000 people a day” (?) down the Caves Branch river near the city. Likewise, we’d checked out the über expensive Ian Anderson’s “private property” tours. Too snooty for us! Then we found Neko and his little Inland Tours cave trip at the Blue Hole near the village of Armenia and just down the road from hoity-toity Mr. Anderson. Neko is a refugee from Guatemala. Now 37, he came to Belize as a six year old child when he walked with his family for weeks through the jungle to escape his war-torn homeland. His family settled in the then wild jungle with other Guatemalan refugees and formed the village now known as Armenia. Neko explained to us that his people had given the town its name after the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark and the high ground “Armenia,” a place safe from the flood: ie; safe from the random killings of villagers by Guatemalan Government soldiers looking for Guerrilla fighters. After year of squatting on this land, the Belizean Government granted these refugee families each 20 acres and citizenship.


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It was a ten minute walk through the jungle to the mouth of the cave.

It was a ten minute walk through the jungle to the mouth of the cave.


Into the ground we strode…tubes at the ready.

Into the ground we strode…tubes at the ready.


Bobbing tourists. The cave trip was ultra cool. First we hiked about ten minutes into the cave following the river that flowed inside it. Then we put in and began floating back down, passing through narrow passages and through huge, cathedral-like rooms. At times Neko had us turn off our headlamps and experience total darkness. He encouraged us to listen to the voices of Mayan spirits that he said inhabited the cave. We passed by the entrance where we had entered the cave and continued downriver for another 20 minutes or so. We got out on a sand bar just before the river disappeared into a hole in a wall too small for us to pass through! Then the exercise began as we were instructed to walk back UP the river against the current in knee deep water. When the water got too deep, we got back in our tubes and paddled like mad upstream. At one particularly rapid spot a plastic bottle bobbed on a rope. We grabbed the rope and pulled ourselves up the creek. Kat and I loved this little undisclosed part of the cave ‘float” and encouraged Neko to advertise his tour as featuring this “extra” adventure. We asked him what he did when people couldn’t physically get themselves back up the river.  He told us he looks each of his clients over and if his doesn’t think they can handle it, he won’t take them. I’m glad we made the cut considering our Mexican food and beer induced muffin tops and driver’s seat enlarged butts!

Bobbing tourists. The cave trip was ultra cool. First we hiked about ten minutes into the cave following the river that flowed inside it. Then we put in and began floating back down, passing through narrow passages and through huge, cathedral-like rooms. At times Neko had us turn off our headlamps and experience total darkness. He encouraged us to listen to the voices of Mayan spirits that he said inhabited the cave. We passed by the entrance where we had entered the cave and continued downriver for another 20 minutes or so. We got out on a sand bar just before the river disappeared into a hole in a wall too small for us to pass through! Then the exercise began as we were instructed to walk back UP the river against the current in knee deep water. When the water got too deep, we got back in our tubes and paddled like mad upstream. At one particularly rapid spot a plastic bottle bobbed on a rope. We grabbed the rope and pulled ourselves up the creek. Kat and I loved this little undisclosed part of the cave ‘float” and encouraged Neko to advertise his tour as featuring this “extra” adventure. We asked him what he did when people couldn’t physically get themselves back up the river. He told us he looks each of his clients over and if his doesn’t think they can handle it, he won’t take them. I’m glad we made the cut considering our Mexican food and beer induced muffin tops and driver’s seat enlarged butts!


Leaving Armenia after the cave trip workout we stopped at this little roadside restaurant for some much needed nourishment. We met Dahlia, the owner/cook/waitress and bottle washer. She fixed us up with some traditional Belizean Fry Jacks with eggs, which quickly replaced any weight we may have lost in the cave.

Leaving Armenia after the cave trip workout we stopped at this little roadside restaurant for some much needed nourishment. We met Dahlia, the owner/cook/waitress and bottle washer. She fixed us up with some traditional Belizean Fry Jacks with eggs, which quickly replaced any weight we may have lost in the cave.


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After saying goodbye to Emily :-(  we headed for the Guatemalan border where new adventures await. Hungry yet again we stopped at one last roadside stand for BBQ. Joseph and his son Jody served us homegrown pork ribs and chicken which fortified us for our ordeal crossing the border into Guatemala… stay tuned next time!

After saying goodbye to Emily 🙁 we headed for the Guatemalan border where new adventures await. Hungry yet again we stopped at one last roadside stand for BBQ. Joseph and his son Jody served us homegrown pork ribs and chicken which fortified us for our ordeal crossing the border into Guatemala… stay tuned next time!


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An Illicit Cave Tour and Farewell to Mexico

As of today’s writing, Ned and Charlotte and I have been on the road for over two months and have driven nearly 8,000 miles. We spent two months in Mexico, flew to Cuba for a four day side trip and have now crossed the border into Belize, making it country number three. We are still feeling great about the trip, and we still love each other (ok, maybe just one or two spats here and there!). Our only frustration is time. In spite of not having a schedule, we have a schedule! We plan to leave Charlotte safely in Costa Rica while we fly home for a bit. After that we are constricted by weather and seasons as we pass through Central America and on into the Southern Hemisphere. It will all work out, but we do need to keep moving.

Our final days in Mexico didn’t feel much like Mexico at all. Once we hit the Cancun area it felt like we were back in the States, but it was a necessary diversion in order to fly to Cuba. After Cuba we regrouped in the cute but touristy town of Playa del Carmen where we had some great meals and worked on the blog.

Prior to flying to Cuba, however, we had one final Mexican adventure…

On Monday February 17 we woke up in yet another cane field. The night had been peaceful; our hiding place off of the busy highway to Cancun had worked out well. This area was a Mayan Empire hot spot, and ruins, big and small were everywhere. There were also several caves to explore. We were feeling the time crunch having spent an extra month in Mexico, and so opted for visiting just one cave, the biggest one, of course… X’tacumbilixuna’an!

We followed the signs to the cave, but when we arrived the gates were locked, and a big banner indicated that the whole place was closed for maintenance.  We looked around and noticed that the area showed serious neglect, as if it had been closed for years.  Bummer, we really wanted to see this cave.  In our typically rebellious style, we searched for a way around the gate.  The place was deserted.  We might as well see if we could sneak in, right?   Simultaneously, two things happened.  On the ground, I spotted some pages, obviously torn out of a porn magazine, featuring male models.  The pages were carefully weighted down with rocks…okay, weird…and we were approached by a really shady looking character carrying a tattered backpack.  Were those his porn pages??   He was trying to tell us something in his native Indian dialect, and I could barely catch a word.  I finally guessed he was talking about money and wondered if he might be offering to be an illicit guide into the caves.  Hmmm, might be interesting.  “Dinero?” I asked, and he nodded.  In Spanish, I asked, “Is it possible to get into the caves?” He nodded again. “Can you guide us?” Another nod.   “How much?” “50 pesos,” he replied.  That was about 4 bucks. “What’s your name?” “Manuel.” “Okay Manuel, let’s go!”

We followed the signs to the cave, but when we arrived the gates were locked, and a big banner indicated that the whole place was closed for maintenance. We looked around and noticed that the area showed serious neglect, as if it had been closed for years. Bummer, we really wanted to see this cave. In our typically rebellious style, we searched for a way around the gate. The place was deserted. We might as well see if we could sneak in, right?
Simultaneously, two things happened. On the ground, I spotted some pages, obviously torn out of a porn magazine, featuring male models. The pages were carefully weighted down with rocks…okay, weird…and we were approached by a really shady looking character carrying a tattered backpack. Were those his porn pages??
He was trying to tell us something in his native Indian dialect, and I could barely catch a word. I finally guessed he was talking about money and wondered if he might be offering to be an illicit guide into the caves. Hmmm, might be interesting. “Dinero?” I asked, and he nodded.
In Spanish, I asked, “Is it possible to get into the caves?”
He nodded again.
“Can you guide us?”
Another nod.
“How much?”
“50 pesos,” he replied. That was about 4 bucks.
“What’s your name?”
“Manuel.”
“Okay Manuel, let’s go!”


Then the wind shifted.  He smelled as bad as he looked.  Remembering the porn pages, I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.  Would Charlotte get robbed by co-conspirators while we were away?  Would we be ambushed once inside cave?  For that matter, would the cave be dangerous?  It was closed down for a reason!  Oh, what the heck, out on a limb is where all the fruit is, right?   We grabbed headlamps out of Charlotte, and as a last minute thought, I pocketed the pepper spray I keep on my backpack.  I noticed Ned had picked up our huge Mag Light, and I figured that could be used as a weapon too.  We were prepared now.

Then the wind shifted. He smelled as bad as he looked. Remembering the porn pages, I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Would Charlotte get robbed by co-conspirators while we were away? Would we be ambushed once inside cave? For that matter, would the cave be dangerous? It was closed down for a reason! Oh, what the heck, out on a limb is where all the fruit is, right? We grabbed headlamps out of Charlotte, and as a last minute thought, I pocketed the pepper spray I keep on my backpack. I noticed Ned had picked up our huge Mag Light, and I figured that could be used as a weapon too. We were prepared now.


We climbed over the fence and down some steep stairs.  I was excited, but still apprehensive.  I knew Ned was not worried, but that’s always my job anyway.  I decided that from here on out, I was going to maneuver myself to stay behind Manuel.  I was not going to have a surprise attack from behind!

We climbed over the fence and down some steep stairs. I was excited, but still apprehensive. I knew Ned was not worried, but that’s always my job anyway. I decided that from here on out, I was going to maneuver myself to stay behind Manuel. I was not going to have a surprise attack from behind!


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Down we went, into the bowels of the earth.

Down we went, into the bowels of the earth.


The caves and infrastructure were in total disrepair, and piles of rock had fallen from the cave roof onto the walkways.

The caves and infrastructure were in total disrepair, and piles of rock had fallen from the cave roof onto the walkways.


The lights looked like they hadn’t been used in a decade.  This was perhaps a “Darwin” moment.

The lights looked like they hadn’t been used in a decade. This was perhaps a “Darwin” moment.


The cave was huge, and there were some very deep holes; not the most spectacular we have seen, but still impressive.  Our footsteps echoed in the vast stillness, and we found ourselves whispering to each other.  It really was a bit spooky, considering the circumstances.

The cave was huge, and there were some very deep holes; not the most spectacular we have seen, but still impressive. Our footsteps echoed in the vast stillness, and we found ourselves whispering to each other. It really was a bit spooky, considering the circumstances.


Manuel actually turned out to be an enthusiastic, if not terribly knowledgeable guide, laconically pointing out cool features without explaining their geological significance.  He was even chivalrous, offering to help me over rough spots and lighting my way with his flashlight.  The lack of personal hygiene and the porn pages?  Well, that was his business.

Manuel actually turned out to be an enthusiastic, if not terribly knowledgeable guide, laconically pointing out cool features without explaining their geological significance. He was even chivalrous, offering to help me over rough spots and lighting my way with his flashlight. The lack of personal hygiene and the porn pages? Well, that was his business.


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Overall it was a great experience.  We got a private viewing of a really cool cave.  I was relieved, however, when I emerged alive and bounded back up the stairs into the fresh air and sunshine.

Overall it was a great experience. We got a private viewing of a really cool cave. I was relieved, however, when I emerged alive and bounded back up the stairs into the fresh air and sunshine.


Having survived our crazy cave adventure, we drove into the two-donkey, one house town of Cayal where Margarita ran this tiny restaurant out of her home.  She cooked us a great breakfast of scrambled eggs, refried black beans and tortillas, which we ate with gusto.

Having survived our crazy cave adventure, we drove into the two-donkey, one house town of Cayal where Margarita ran this tiny restaurant out of her home. She cooked us a great breakfast of scrambled eggs, refried black beans and tortillas, which we ate with gusto.


This little guy came out to wish us a warm farewell and “Buen Viaje!”

This little guy came out to wish us a warm farewell and “Buen Viaje!”


We spent our last night in Mexico parked in a lonely campground in Bacalar, just a few miles from the Belize border.  Our final Mexican dinner was in this cute little restaurant where we cracked open the Belize map for the first time.

We spent our last night in Mexico parked in a lonely campground in Bacalar, just a few miles from the Belize border. Our final Mexican dinner was in this cute little restaurant where we cracked open the Belize map for the first time.


Mexico was a gift of amazing memories.  Our eyes were saturated with gorgeous scenery and vibrant colors.  Our bodies were fed with delicious food, and our hearts were filled with the warmth and kindness of the people.  There is something about the Mexican people which is hard to describe and impossible to forget.  Their spirit manifests in smiles, waves, loving hugs, impeccable manners and eagerness to help strangers.  Mexico had become comfortable.  We were sad to leave and will miss the people. Ahh…but new adventures await…

Mexico was a gift of amazing memories. Our eyes were saturated with gorgeous scenery and vibrant colors. Our bodies were fed with delicious food, and our hearts were filled with the warmth and kindness of the people. There is something about the Mexican people which is hard to describe and impossible to forget. Their spirit manifests in smiles, waves, loving hugs, impeccable manners and eagerness to help strangers. Mexico had become comfortable. We were sad to leave and will miss the people.
Ahh…but new adventures await…