Category Archives: Belize

Take me to the river

In San Ignacio, I found myself a cheap room in a buggy guesthouse which was run by a bossy Spanish speaking lady. A long cool shower for a hot & sweaty (and not in a sexy way) girl and then off to find dinner – which ended up being pizza in a bar while listening to David Bowie and Creedence Clearwater.

The next day I moved to the guesthouse next door (Mallorca), which was much cleaner and run by a lovely Spanish speaking lady.

I ambled about the little village, taking photos and chatting to people in the street. I found a proper coffee shop above the street run by an American ex-pat, Sean who made a very decent latte. I spent a bit of time catching up on emails, writing and reading.

I later went to Maya Walk office which had been recommended to me, and booked myself on the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) tour. The manager invited me to come back for happy hour at their newly opened bar, run by a lovely, softly spoken man by the name of Smokey. It was there I met London Mike and Canadian Steve, who’d met each other somewhere along the way and become traveling companions for the time being. Mike was also on a career break (few of us out there) and was headed to Guatemala as well. They had done the ATM caves that day and were raving about it.

I’ve regressed back into nana-dom again, rising at 6, going to bed at 10 – so I called it after just a few drinks and a feed at a gorgeous lil restaurant called Ko-Ox Han Nah where I had a terrific lamb curry. Been a while since I’ve had either lamb, or curry. It was good on the entry. Not so good on the exit.

On the morning of Thursday 18 August, the tour group convened at Smokey’s bar.

A cool cat with a big ‘fro called Jay sat next to me. He was from Harlem and we struck up an instant rapport. He ended up being gorgeous on all accounts.

On the bus I got talking to a vibrant young thing from Toowoomba – who looked like your archetypical surfer chick. She had gone to NYC to try her hand in the cut-throat fashion world there.

As the gringo trail / small world would have it – it turned out she had been traveling with Nathan, prior to him joining me on the sailing tour. He had spoken to both of us about the other, but I hadn’t known her forward travel plans and she was under the impression I was heading south along the Honduras coast line. Which had totally been the plan up until I’d gotten to Placenta.

* * *

Actun Tunichil Muknal means cave of the stone sepulcher. It’s a significant Mayan archaeological site, which is only accessible in the company if an official guide. We started off with two mini buses, but one of them broke down shortly into the journey, so all the people on the other bus piled onto ours. It was a bumpy, squishy ride over rough roads for nearly an hour.

It was then a gentle hike through some pretty bushland. We got to the site and were given helmets with flashlights, which Jay got pretty excited about. No briefing. Just off we go. What’s a waiver?

We crossed three small rivers to get to the mouth of the cave which was just pretty as you please, with cool crystal clear fresh water. The lighting through the trees gave the water a gorgeous translucent green color.

We strapped on our helmets and waded through neck-deep cold water for a few meters into the pitch black. If I’d had a hat and a stock whip, I would have felt like Indiana Fucking Jones.

We then followed in the footsteps of the great Mayans, scrambling over limestone rocks which were speckled with crystally flecks, shimmering under our headlights.

Every now and then our guide, Danny would stop and point out unusual rock formations, some of which had been altered to look like, or cast shadows of certain gods or animals…

He shared with us his comprehensive knowledge of the ceremonies that took place here. It was like a ‘living’ museum in that there were many remains of relics from the rituals. We saw skulls and bones which stone had ‘grown’ over (i think this is called calcification) and various pieces of ceramics and stoneware which had been utilized in the ceremonies.

The highlight of the tour was seeing the full skeleton of a teenage Mayan girl, who is known as the Crystal Maiden and who was sacrificed to the gods.

The whole experience was simply spectacular. I think one of the things that made it even more amazing for me was the thought that up until 1986, the cave had been undiscovered. Just call me Frontier Girl.

I met up with Jay and the two Carolines for a few drinks later that eve. I asked Smokey to deal a game of Blackjack for us, and he was happy oblige.

My ATM crew left the next morning for Flores. I met up with Smokey to visit a small but pretty local ruin at the top of the hill with amazing vistas; and then I spent the afternoon just chilling out.

On Saturday morning, I went to the markets with a bloke called Pices (or something like that). I had been under the impression it was was going to be this massive Mecca for artisans, but it was more like a farmer’s market. We had brekky and Pices told me his dreams of escaping to a big city. He wished it was him who was leaving, and me who was staying. I had enjoyed the little village of San Ignacio but I was glad that wasn’t the case.

I had spent 3 weeks in Belize and loved my time there. I would recommend it to anyone who wants something a little different (it’s a really multicultural country) but easy (everyone speaks English). The Caribbean coastline is just gorgeous. It’s warm all year round. You can have lobster for breakfast. The diving and snorkeling is stunning. It’s steeped in a really rich Mayan history. The people have a great sense of humor. And most importantly, the beer is cheap.

Having said all that, I was looking forward to getting my Guatemala on.


Islands in the stream

I met my hotel neighbors the next day, Jessica and Andy – two friends from the States, both teachers. Adventurous spirits with amicable demeanors. Jess was on a 5 week vacation, while Andy was also taking a sabbatical. We shared some laughs and a meal that night. As it turned out, they were also going to take the Raggamuffin sailing trip on Friday.

In the meantime – Nathan, who I’d met when he was interning with the Opera House had been in touch and was talking about linking up.

The trip was a 3 day island hopping tour all the way down to Placencia  with a crew of local reggae-loving lads. The tour would include various snorkeling stops and camping on remote cayes in the Caribbean.

There were 18 of us boarding a 50 foot yacht. It seemed really small for how many we were.

There was a Dutch couple. I had dived the Blue Hole with Peter: he was a little eccentric but completely likable & Lariesa, who was just a doll.
Kelly – a smart, sassy, well-travelled Canadian, who I took a real liking to, and her gorgeous Mexican beau, Santiago. Then there was Jess and Andy; me and Nathan – who had made it at the eleventh hour!

Also on the boat were a pair of Italian doctors on their honeymoon, who mostly kept to themselves. 5 private school boys on their gap year / bromance holiday, who were carrying with them a satellite phone and GPS system (maybe they had plans to go to the Antarctic after the Caribbean. Dunno.) Another pair of English lads, who played a lot of chess. And a rather uptight Irish girl who told me she didn’t like reggae and insisted I didn’t get any sand in the tent we were sharing. (Umm. Hello. We’re on a freaking island, love. Jesus wept.)

I had two Firsts that day: as I was boarding – the Captain asked me if I fancied a foursome. I just laughed. I was starting to realize that Belizean men will have a crack at anything that is female and remotely single. They’ve got a Beavis & Butthead sense of humor, are very cheeky, can handle a heckle back, and are in essence – absolutely harmless.

My second First for the day was at the initial snorkeling stop. Everyone was faffing about, so I jumped in and was half-way around the little round reef, when I saw a big flash of grey-white sea-animal swimming, maybe 5 meters away from me. A manatee! I screamed out to the others who were on the boat still.

I had hoped to see one, but didn’t think it was actually going to happen.
I’m normally a lot more respectful, but i got a little crazy curious and finned fast & furiously to get a closer look. I think I was scaring her a little, as she started speeding up and away. She had a bulbous body shaped a bit like a seal but around 2-3 times the size. She had a small whale-like tail, that reminded me of a mermaid. I didn’t catch a look at her face. I suddenly realized what I was doing and stopped pursuing her, and watched her glide gracefully off into the distance. I was absolutely thrilled as sightings of these strange creatures are quite rare. I petulantly wanted more.

We stopped that night an island called Rendezvous Caye (northern) but not before picking up a random who was out in the middle of nowhere on this big fuck-off boat with a bunch of chairs on it. Quite strange. He was wearing a bright orange life jacket and boardies. He was very happy to see us. He came with us to the island, opened the toilets for us, and took on the role of our security guard for the evening. Pirates, maybe?

Rendezvous was tiny. As in you could walk around it in 15 minutes tiny.  There was a jetty, two palapas, maybe a dozen coconut trees and that was it. Population: zero. We were all so thrilled to get there. There was a lot of squealing from us girls, and backslapping from the boys. I think we all felt like proper pioneers!

We set up our tents while the crew did their thing. Another snorkel and we were called for dinner, a simple but delicious meal of ceviche and jerk chicken with the omnipresent rice & beans. The fruity rum punch flowed, we all got rather pissed quickly and ended up falling into our beds before 10.

The crew of the boat were a real highlight for me:
Raf was our relaxed Captain, who was clearly very knowledgeable about the entire area we covered in our trip and had done this dozens of times before. He ran a pretty tight operation, all things considered. He told me at the end of the trip, he didn’t usually socialize as much as he had done with us.

There was Shane, who sported a massive smile on his dial, had the ohccent yah mohn, and loved a smoke but I’m not altogether confident he abided by the other laws of the Rastafarian religion though.

Jacob was my favorite. 24 and covered in an array of tatts including a couple of distinct ones on his biceps: Fuck U Haters; and Trust No Bitch. But he was a real example of never judge a hook by its cover. He nicknamed me Vegemite and we developed a playful brother-sister relationship, tormenting the shit out of one another the whole time.

He gave me a compliment which made me swell with pride when he told me I could skin dive better than some men he knew and that I could potentially become a good spear fisherwoman. He gave me a gun at one point, and told me to go out on my own – but I didn’t find a single fish. They must have known i was coming. There’s a part of me that quite likes the idea of catching my own dinner. I blame my Dad for that. He raised me a bit of a tomboy. Albeit one who likes getting a pedicure.

Our second day was much the same: sailing, sunning ourselves & snorkeling. That night we set up camp at a place called Tobacco Caye. This place had a lot more infrastructure. Enough for the 20 residents and a few visitors anyway. A couple of simple cabanas, a store, 2 bars, and a dive shop.

5 of us took the opportunity to dive with Eric, a quietly spoken man who showed us one of the most unvisited parts of the Reef. Sadly it wasn’t as fishy as I had hoped… There are a lot of lion fish down these parts… They’re an introduced species, who eat a lot of the local fish, but they have no natural predators of their own, down here. They mature within a 6 week period and are causing a lot of exponential damage to the Reef. We also saw a lot of pollution caused mostly by fertilizers. Algae is spreading, so visibility wasn’t so great. Having said that, I’ve never seen such lush underwater vegetation.

Afterwards, tired of the sickly sweet rum punch, we consumed many many Belekins at one of the bars close to our campsite and enjoyed another great dinner (curry shrimp) prepared by our trusty crew.

We later went and watched a Garifunan drumming session at the other bar, and danced with the locals under the light of a full moon. I shook what my mama gave me, while Nathan shook the maracas. The English lads let loose as well, busting out a few moves on the deck.

I laughed my arse off with the unassuming Jess who I diagnosed with a form of sex turrets: She would just very suddenly yell out something completely inappropriate as a response to anything that could be misinterpreted. Case in point: Eric was trying to describe the size of something (it was “Big.” “And Black.”) And Jess’ loud response was “What?” “A donkey dick?” The thing that got to me was she just didn’t seem the type. I loved the juxtaposition. I was doubled over, clutching my belly and crying with laughter. Meanwhile, I think Eric was a bit confused. I still have no idea what he was trying to describe.

I woke up the next day with an absolutely shocking hangover. I drank some water and immediately felt like throwing up. I stood up and immediately felt like throwing up. I sat down and immediately felt like throwing up. The wind was quite literally making my head hurt. The gorgeous Dutch girl gave me some ibroprofun. I tried eating breakfast and immediately felt like throwing up. This. Was. Not. Good. I had to get on a boat, for goodness sake. I went and saw the Captain and got some seasickness tablets. I went for a swim. About an hour later I stopped feeling like I would throw up. I spent the whole day out on the deck in the partial shade, snoozing and being quite unsociable.

We eventually arrived at Placencia (which I kept wanting to call Placenta) mid afternoon. We were all a wee bit weary and keen for a shower and a comfy bed with AC.

Peter, Lareisa, Jess, Andy, Santi, Kelly and Nathan and I all scored rooms at a nice hotel on the beach with a bunch of hammocks under a palapa. We spent the next day chilling out, chatting and planning the next legs of our individual trips. Well, they planned. I got as far as deciding between Honduras, Gautemala and Costa Rica.

On Tuesday, we said our goodbyes and went out separate ways. I missed the first Hokey Pokey Water Taxi because I had got chatting to some dude who had spent 7 years in jail for a murder he said he didn’t commit. I bought a book of his poetry. I ended up getting the midday boat. I was the only gringo in this dinky tinny of a thing that I kept thinking was going to sink. We motored up Mango Creek at breakneck speed with me beaming all the way.

I made my way to Sherl’s Diner where an old John Wayne western was on the telly. I ordered the pork stew and waited for the chicken bus to the Belmopan, Belize’s capital.

The bus took us through lush green rolling hills, spotted with shacks and houses in varying shades of pastel and varying degrees of dilapidation. The cute little kids with their cornrow hair stared at me the whole time on the bus. I amused myself by trying to get a smile out of them by pulling funny faces.

I picked up a connecting bus into San Ignacio which arrived just before dusk.

Wed 17 August

Don’t stop Belizing

Caye Caulker is small: about 8km long x 2km wide with a population of around 1300 people. You walk down the street once – you’ve just about covered the whole island and ‘lmost everyone knows who you are.

Here, they’re a mix of Mestizo, Garifuna and Creole people which makes for an interesting mix of looks, food, and talk. English is the official language but Kriol is spoken by roughly 70% of the people. It’s a fascinating language – a pidgin english with Caribbean influences, born in the times of slavery for the purposes of discreet communication. To my ear, I could hear Spanish and Afrikaans influences. It has a real poetic ghetto beat to it, and if you listen carefully, du con konprann wot di sahin moun (or something like that).

I loved it so much, I ended up staying nearly a week… there’s not a hell of a lot to do on Caye Caulker. But that’s the whole point.

It’s got one main strip with a few cafs, mini markets, shops and bars… It’s all dirt roads and most folk get around by bike or on foot. Hardly anyone wears shoes. There’s a couple of mopeds, golf carts and cars – but really, where’s to be in that much of a hurry?

When I wasn’t doing nothing, I was sharing stories with the locals. Belizeans, I have found to be very interested to know more about where you’re from, what your heritage is, a bit about your story and they’re open to sharing the same.

* * *

On the Wednesday, I dived the world-famous Great Blue Hole. A vertical cave near the middle of Lighthouse Reef, an atoll which lies about 70km from the mainland. It was brought to the world’s attention by my childhood crush, Jacques Costeau in 1971.

It’s nearly a perfect circle and is more than 300m across and 124m deep at its lowest point. It’s the depth that gives off the dark blue color you see in aerial photos of the site.

The trip out there took 2 hours on a much bigger boat than the one that took us out to the whale sharks, so it was a much more gentle ride. The boat had a mattress out on the front deck which I thought was quite amusing. The chillout zone perhaps? I was lying there for no more than a couple of minutes, enjoying the solitude when one of the DMs, Mr Nicaragua stopped by for a chat. Hmmm.

We got to the site, got our briefing and geared up. There are are a few different ledges in the hole at depths of 21, 49, and 91m. We descended against a wall towards the second one, getting to a depth of 40m in under 3 minutes, which is pretty quick-going and means you need to be able to equalize quickly.

The site was filled with these huge limestone stalactites dramatically descending from overhangs. We navigated around and through them while closely watching the most intimidating Caribbean Reef Sharks which were about 2-3m long, stalking through murky waters not far below. I’ve never seen sharks like these guys before. Most sharks I’ve come across are completely bored or very friendly. These sharks were circling, eyeing us off hungrily. I must admit, I was a bit scared.

To be honest, it wasn’t the fishiest or prettiest dive I’ve done… Deeper waters mean less light, less colours. The deeper you go, the less time you can spend underwater because you chew through your air.

But this overwhelming sense of how ancient and enormous the earth is, overcame me. I was awestruck. Suddenly i felt really small and childlike.

I found this on another site, which sums it up really well: “Hovering amongst the stalactites, you can’t help but feel humbled by the knowledge that the massive formation before you once stood high and dry above the surface of the sea eons ago. The feeling is enhanced by the dizzying effect of nitrogen breathed at depths. The water is motionless and the visibility often approaches 200 feet (60m) as you break a very noticeable thermocline.”

Before i knew it, our time was up, and we started ‘climbing’ the wall, ascending slowly. The dive had lasted no more than 30-something minutes.

Most times when you come up from an extraordinary (or even just great) dive, there’s a lot of excited chatter about who saw what and a bunch of questions to the DMs. It was strangely still on deck… I think most folk, myself included, were quietly recounting and storing in their minds what they had just witnessed… A polaroid development of a memory, if you will.

We did another 2 dives that day, one at Half Moon Caye and the other at The Aquarium at Long Caye – both were amazing but totally eclipsed by the magnitude of the first dive. I couldn’t even tell you what i saw. It was a long boat ride home with the two motors alternatively giving out, and the crew scrabbling around to fix them. A bunch of us laid out front on the mattress in the sun, sharing around the rum punch and a bit of banter.

That night I had drinks and dinner with Mr Nicaragua who had asked me out in between dives. I’m telling you, the blokes over here do not waste any time. He was my age, single enough, a good conversationalist and a lot of fun. We later went to the local reggae club which was playing dancehall and punta rock. A lot of fun. I ambled on home, kicking up the dirt and talking Spanish to stray dogs on the way. There was a part of me that was a little bit sad for some strange reason. I really can’t tell you why. It had been one of the best days of my life.

Wed 10 August

You can’t always get what you want

The following night, I linked up with Mr Belize. His brother and his sister-in-law, from Cayo, were visiting. They were up for a big night and I had a dive planned in a place called Shark-Ray Alley the next day, so I called it early.

The next morning, I used the coconut wire to tell Mr Belize to meet me at Hurricanes for lunch at 1. And went on to have another great splash about in the big drink. I saw my mate on my way back, and he confirmed Mr Belize would indeed, be meeting me.

I showered and went to the jetty bar for a Michelada and some ceviche. While waiting (Belizeans are even less concerned about time than Mexicans), I got talking to a lovely Polish lady who had been raised in Italy and lived the last few years in Belize. She was an English teacher. I have a feeling I will be in contact with her again.

I was headed to Caye Caulker that afternoon, a tiny island about 30mins away from San Pedro. Mr Belize offered to take me there on one of his mate’s boats. Sahweet! Russell was black as the ace of spades, sported a big gap between his two front tooth and wore his dreadlocks short and neat. He was from the dive shop I’d been out with, that same day, an outfit called DownUnder, which I thought was quite amusing. All the boys wore Australia tee shirts. I’d met them on day 1 and asked them if they were Aboriginals. They knew I was taking the piss immediately.

The boat comes around to collect me from my hotel’s jetty (which sounds a lot fancier than it really is). We go and collect the brother and sister-in-law and a ‘niece’. The boat stops about 1/2 way across, and we all jump out for a snorkel. Mr Belize catches a snapper with a spear, which I must admit, I found a bit sexy in a Mills & Boon kinda way.

We cruised into the lagoon called The Split at Caye Caulker, with a bar built over the point, and reggae was pumping out of a massive sound system. There was a mix of locals and tourists hanging out in the water, drinks in hand. A sweet smell of ganga perfumed the dusk air. We watched the sun set; i got eaten by mosquitoes; and Mr Belize decided he’d stay the night. He ended up staying two. Again I was lucky to jag the top floor of my hotel with sweeping views of the Reef. We scored a little Jamaican goodness and had a lovely couple of days, just lazing about the hotel, chatting, drinking, sleeping…

I feel compelled to let you know, that while this all sounds very romantic – I do feel a bit compromised.

You see, Mr Belize had come across to Caye Caulker, without his wallet. I had invited him to stay the night, knowing that in all likelihood, he wouldn’t be taking me out to dinner. Everybody here is just getting by. I had a great time, and got me a bit of much needed lovin-  but in retrospect, there’s a part of me that feels like a rather silly gringo girl. Okay, so he cost me a total of $50, mas o menos… It’s nothing to write home about, in the grand scheme of things. However, there’s a part if me which feels like I just participated in a transaction of the oldest kind.

They call these guys, ‘sharks’ here. A lot of them don’t have regular work, if indeed they work at all. They cruise the tourist bars, making the lonely, old or ugly feel desirable. In return, they might get dinner, drinks or at the very worse, *just sex*. And they’re good at their jobs.

At the end of the day, I don’t have any fanciful ideas of having an enduring relationship with a boy I met in Belize in a bar. But do I want to pay for a fling? I suppose that even if it’s not cash – there’s always a cost of some sort, isn’t there?

Am starting to sound like Carrie Bradshaw, so will stop now. But I am interested to know what you think. Hit me up with a comment, a judgment, a story or a bit of advice.

Mon 8 August

Three little birds

Belize welcomed me with a big shiny white toothed grin and a proper Caribbean accent, mohn.

I’ve crossed borders where I didn’t have the right paperwork, I’ve crossed borders where no one can speak a word of English, I’ve crossed borders with machine guns pointed at me. Crossing into the Czech Republic from Poland, 13 years ago- it was all three.

I made a deal with myself once, that I would never cross a border at night.
And so of course, crossing the border from Mexico to Belize happened at night.

Anything to declare? A bottle of vodka and an apple. You’re fine to go through, Miss. Welcome to Belize.

Right then.

I spent the first two nights in a place called Corozal. I rocked up to the Sea Breeze Hotel, and was welcomed by Gwyn. The Lonely Planet describes his place “as reminiscent of the kind of cheap and pleasant Key West hotel where Ernest Hemingway might have spent his last years.” The Welsh innkeeper, who used to be a tour manager for The Who and had toured with Queen, instructed me to dump my bags, and come to the bar – we would sort out paperwork in the morning. There were 7 people seated on stools around the bar, where talk was pattering between places, philosophy and the deeply personal.
After a few drinks, a very sweet older American couple drove me around the corner so I could get some Belizean dollars and a feed. We chatted over various meals made from pork, and then they drove me home. I was beat.
I spent the next morning strolling around the sleepy little seaside village with it’s sporadically set out marketplace, a few dinky shops and a couple of quiet restaurants. Not much happening in this here lil place.
I spent the afternoon writing, drinking and sharing easy chat with a well travelled English couple, while avoiding a maybe mad, maybe alcoholic older dude who wanted to talk AT me about union strikes, his family tartan and all manner of things I wasn’t particularly interested in. I had to blank him after he told me to google a religious site.
That night I had dinner with Angelo & Kirsty, and a beautiful interesting older gentle man called Mike, who quietly shared snippets of his life with a self deprecating sense of humor: his divorce, his path from rich to poor, his successful career, his acid taking days, his journey in and out of depression… I could have talked with him forever.
The next morning, Gwyn put on a pot of coffee. He necked a clove of garlic, and then took me to the ferry.

The ride to Caye Ambergris was 2 hours and gentle enough for me to snooze.
I arrived at San Pedro and asked for a room at Ruby’s on the Beach, a very simple wooden guesthouse, not dissimilar to a Queenslander, with sweeping views of the Barrier Reef.
I was immediately transported. A completely different Caribbean from the one I’d just left. More Rastas, reggae and reefers than I’ve ever seen in one place for starters.

My hotel neighbor, Kevin from LA was a highly strung ex alcy who thought too much about everything, offered too much information, asked no questions, and was of the view, he knew all he needed to know about a place after a mere 3 days. He was a high school teacher, who’d completed his Masters in Behavioral Psychology. After doing 2 years of psych at uni, I can categorically tell you empiracle studies have proven that 98.72% of people who undertake studies in psychology are absolute fucking nutbags. I later had an early afternoon dinner with Kevin. He wasn’t altogether uninteresting.

The next morning, I did a couple of dives on the Belizean Barrier Reef, which is home to more than 100 different types of coral and more than 500 different kinds of fish. And the scientists reckon they only know about 10% of what’s out there. Scientists also say that around 40% of the reef is damaged by bleaching, which is caused by rising sea temps. And i saw it with my own eyes.
The exact same thing is happening in Australia. I don’t know about you, and at the risk of sounding like a bourgeois-fucking-hippy, my religion (if i have one at all) is pure immersion into an underwater world, watching the sun explode into a million versions of red, and dancing to a full moon in a faraway forest… I like Nature. She’s pretty. And she makes me feel good. And I want my kids and your kids to see stuff made by Nature. Climate change is real. I should be doing more. We all should.
So it was shallow diving in warm, crystal clear tropical waters – the DM was movin at Belizean pace. Firsts included no wetsuit of any kind, a Spotted Eagle Ray (majestic), a 1:1 dive, and a hooked angle grinder shaped fish, whose name I will remember at 3.33am tomorrow. And then there were the usual suspects of sharks, rays, and ridiculous numbers of brightly colored, “ooh look at me… I’m so pretttteeyyy!!!” tropical fish. Anyways, suffice to say, it was everything you’d want your first dive at one of the world’s most incredible dive sites to be.

We were done by mid morning, so I went and had a second breakfast, and spent the day just mooching about the tiny town. I got my haircut (AUD$10!) and my nails done and treated myself to a new dress and a new pair of pretty panties. Do I miss Westfields Bondi Junction. Fuck no. Do I miss a bit of pampering and a damn good buy. Shit, yes.

Later, as i was having a Belikin at one of the communal wooden tables on the balcony of my hotel… A tall handsome black Belizean man stopped by for a hello. We chatted for a few minutes before I invited him to sit with me. Mr Belize was articulate and spoke in a soft brown velvety voice. At age 32, the youngest boy in a family of 8, he had lived a while in in Los Angeles, and harbored dreams of building a sophisticated camp site on his granddaddy’s land, where he grew up – a place near Crooked Tree. Coincidentally (?) he was a Dive Master at the shop I had dived with, that morning.

He offered to take me around in a boat to a reggae bar by the lagoon, to watch the sunset on the other side of the Caye. The Eat Pray Love chick would say, “some opportunities only come once, right?”. And as much as I loathe saying so, she’d be right.

The bar was perched precariously over the water, thatched roof, simple log stools, music blaring out of a massive sound system. The Belizean flag, a picture of Bob Marley and one of Che Guevara adorned the back wall of the bar where tequila had been replaced by rum. We smoked a spliff with the bartender, and watched alligators bubble up and then bubble back below the water’s surface.

We stayed for the sunset and a second drink and then headed back. Mr Belize wanted to take me to the Chicken Drop. A weekly event on the social calendar, this Belizean form of bingo featuring a chicken who has been primed for pooping, is dropped (kindly) into a pen which has a bunch of numbers of the ground. Tickets are sold for the corresponding numbers, and well – you get the idea.

It was a fun night. I met some of his mates & we shared a few drinks and laughs. I bought a strip of tickets, and a few games later, my number came up! I shared the winnings of BZD$100 with another gringo and the winnings more or less paid for our entire nite. (If I ever run out of things to write about, you can remind me of this potential post, “Why men from tourist towns never seem to have any money, and why women are prepared to pay.”)

We grabbed a burrito in the market square where kids were still up playing. And then he walked me home.

Black men have got THE best lips. That’s all I’m saying.

Fri 5 August

Caribbean Queen

(be forewarned, I think the song titles are only going to degenerate from herein)

I left Mexico City to do a reccy around the Caribbean coastline at Claire’s suggestion… To find a place I could call home for a month while I take Spanish lessons. My wish list consisted of 3 S’: small, simple and seaside.

Cancun. Otherwise known as Miami in Mexico.

I had booked my one night there too hastily, as I was determined just to transit through. After all I had heard about the place – I knew it wasn’t going to be for me. Note to self: Must read reviews BEFORE booking rooms. (Also must contribute to traveler review sites more often.)

It was, in a word, a shithole. No toilet seat. Holes in the wall – probably where perverts were looking at me get undressed. Musty mattress, barely clean linen. Ants. Flying things. And other unidentified bugs in the bed. Not bed bugs, thank goodness. (I am absolutely paranoid about these since Angie told me horror stories about people having to trash all their stuff, and move out of their house when they were plagued by them.)

Hard to believe only 10 days prior I was in a 4 star hotel. One of the few downsides to traveling solo is that often hostels will charge you for 2 people if you want a private room. A hotel can end up costing roughly the same, but be a bit a lot nicer. Downsides to a hotel is you don’t get the social aspect of meeting people in a hotel. Maybe I need to rethink my attitude to dorms. Ergh.

I dumped my bag in the shithole and went downtown. But not before asking if they could kindly arrange a toilet seat for me, por favor.

Finding a decent looking place to eat proved tricky, so I opted for what was easy. A restaurant / bar with a thatched roof sounds nice, but this was, I realized too late, anything but a nice place. I had already ordered, when a fat old drunk started trying to pick me up from his neighboring table. When that didn’t work, he started whistling at me like I was a dog. It reminded me of the boys in Campbelltown who’s charms extended to hanging their heads out of the windows of their Toranas, and asking,
‘Ya wannna rooyt?’

Geez, how did you know. Okay. Let’s go, then.
I mean, really. Really?

I scoffed down the awful meal, the quickest Corona, and scurried back home. To the shithole.

I stopped to talk to a few people who were hanging around in hammocks by a mosquito pool back at the hostel, but wasn’t really feeling the vibe, so i just made a beeline for my shithole.

The young bloke from reception knocked on my door, and promptly installed a toilet seat for me. Gracias.

I showered. With thongs on. And got into the nasty bed. The only saving graces were that I had A/C, the Family Guy was on, dubbed in Spanish. I retired early, so I could get out of there as quickly as possible the next morning.

Isla Mujeres

Arriving in Isla Mujeres (the “island of women”) was like arriving in paradise. Sure there was a lot of road works and still the ubiquitous tourist shops, but the Caribbean was a sparkling aqua blue that was almost luminescent. White linen covered cabañas and white sunlounges dotted a white, white beach. It was like a perfect postcard, but real life.

I hadn’t organized a room as yet, so I needed somewhere to stow my pack. There was no left luggage at the ferry terminal, but I was lucky to meet Fausto, a happy fisherman, who was half Mayan and had lived his whole life on the island. I could tell by his eyes he was a good man. He locked up my pack in a tiny storeroom filled with fishing lines, while I scoped downtown for a room. I decided on an immaculate hotel with a pool. To make up for the shithole. I am past the days of suffering unnecessarily for an extra day of travel. Ironically it cost me only a few more dollars than the shithole. I went back to pick up my bag and promised to buy Fausto a beer for his trouble.

I immediately went for a swim in that perfect sea. My first in the Caribbean. I could hardly stop myself from jumping up and down, splashing around like a kid, and smiling like a idiot savant. Such a lucky girl.
So many times in the last 6 weeks have I pinched myself and wondered out aloud,
Why me. In the best of ways.

While I have by no means have had the hardest of lives, it hasn’t always been an easy road. There were some truly trying times, growing up. I’ve also learnt a lot of lessons the hard or the long way. I gave up a true love, in the belief that something that was a better fit, would come along. It hasn’t. There was a decent career which proved less than satisfactory. No children. Yet. Less importantly, no white picket fence. One day, I might bore those of you who don’t know my stories, with the details. But for the moment, let’s just say I have spent a lot of time lately, wondering out aloud,
Why me. But in the best of ways.

I don’t know if this trip will be some life altering experience; or if it will simply be a six month holiday. Whereupon I return to my old life. And whether that will be happily or otherwise. I secretly hope that love might be a by-product of this trip. I want to learn to speak some Spanish. I want to write. Above all else, i want to truly live in the moment. At least, this much I can control.

So there I was swimming in the bluest of sea on my own, squealing with joy from the inside, out. Lunatic.

I spent the next two days cruising about the island, getting to know some of the locals, enquiring about casitas to rent, and looking for Laura – a lady who I hoped might become my teacher.

Isla Mujeres is a very small island – only 8km long by less than 1km wide. You could, in theory, walk it but it’s so damned hot and humid in the day- you’re better off getting a cheap as chips taxi or hiring a moped or golf cart. I kept to the norte part of the island for the time I was there, but on my last day, a real estate agent, Edwin took me to the other end, the Punta Sur to see a house that was on the precipice overlooking wilder seas. The place would have provided solace i was looking for, but it was a bit far removed for my liking. I wanted something that would give me easy access to the beach, shops, the locals, and bars- should I want to socialize.

On my last day, I also met with Gladys to see a place which she had personally rented for 3 years. It was light and airy and clean. She had painted the walls with a simple mural. There was a basic kitchenette. And AC. There was a shared terrace upstairs that had water glimpses. It was just moments away from downtown. And the beach. And it was $250 cheaper a month than the other two places I was considering. And about 1/3 of what i was paying for my Bondi apartment. I fell in love with it immediately.

I received reply back from Laura indicating she could do the job, but she was in Merida and had to take an exam for a job and couldn’t start til the following week. No problem, I decided i should take a quick look at Tulum, Playa de Carmen and Cozumel before laying down my swag.


Tulum is divided into two parts: the pueblo (town) and the beach. Naturally I gravitated towards the 7km long beach with the jungle right at it’s back… The power grid stops just off the main highway and so you only have generator electricity for a limited number of hours during the day.

There were just three huts in the ‘resort’ i had made a reservation for, and no Reception that I could see. A young man appeared from nowhere to greet me, show me my gorgeous thatched roof house nestled between the jungle and the beach and wave me in the direction of the ocean, which was just steps away. My big beautiful 4 poster bed swathed in a mosquito net was the centerpiece of the cosy room. The bathroom was all water smoothed stones and mosaic mirrors, and organic soaps and fluffy white towels. I noticed not one, but 3 fans (the reason became quite evident as I tried to sleep later that night).

It was nice to duck dive and do some body surfing, as it was the first time I’d seen any waves since leaving home. I had the ocean all to myself bar a few lovers strolling along the shoreline. I showered outdoors, and walked a few meters down the road before happening upon a buzzing little outdoor restaurant, Hartwood.

I sat at the bar, and ordered cerveza. I then introduced myself to the friendly looking local bartender and the handsome young man sitting next to me. Eric and his pretty pregnant wife, Maya were the owners, having moved from New York just 6 months earlier. The menu was really exciting. I started with a crab dip and a Caesar salad done with the fish of the day. I had a few drinks including an amazing Habanero Grapefruit Margarita (!!!) and got to know the lovely young couple bit more, as well as their staff. Valentine looked a bit like a Mexican Merve Hughes and was just larger than life. He had me in stitches. An extraordinarily charismatic man. Maya said they kept him around for “buena energía” – I could completely see why.


Next day I headed to Playa Del Carmen, essentially just to catch the ferry across to the island of Cozumel. I ended up spending 3 nights there. I stayed in the literally named Hotel Dulce. This is where I saw my first swan towel. The housemaids on the coast have a thing for creative towel folding. Think origami in terry toweling. I’ve seen a lot of swans since, and I have to say they’re right up there with tyre swans for me. Love!

So, Cozumel is a large island that’s on the cruise ship route. When you arrive you are confronted by a melee of tourist shops selling t-shirts, jewelry, shot glasses, Mexican souvenirs, blah blah blah. Shop after shop after shop of the shit. and not much else.

Turns out, everything that’s good about the island is on the other side. You can’t get to the other side by collectivo. You need a bike or a car. I enquired about a cab and was told it would cost $50USD to get there, and back. WTF. He also wanted to take me to a very American-looking full service day resort. All I saw was overpriced pre-made drinks, and organized activities. All he saw was a commission.

I decided I’d hire my own vehicle. I initially wanted to get a moped, but after all the haggling and paperwork were done, I had a change of heart. Whilst on the island of Paros in Greece in 1998, i had an accident on a moped, where I broke my right foot. My friend Janine had to help the doctor cast my foot on a bloodied bed (there’d been a shooting just moments before). I’m fine to ride pillion with an experienced driver, but I just didn’t have the nerve to do it on my own. So I ended up going with a jeep instead.

It was pretty on the other side. Lots of lovely little beaches to stop at for swims and drinks. I had the best fish tacos yet at a place called the Orange Iguana, overlooking the sea. I didn’t get around to going in the National Park because it was near closing time and you really need a whole day there. The diving is supposed to be something else. Jaques Cousteau was responsible for bringing this place to the world’s attention many years ago.

It started raining heavily, and the jeep was leaking through the roof, so I decided to call it a day, and take a siesta before dinner.

The next morning, I drove to San Gervasio, which is one of the oldest Mayan archeological sites. It is dedicated to the goddess Ixchel (“She of the Rainbows”) – deity of midwifery, fertility, medicine and weaving. Many women from the Mayan settlements all around Mexico and beyond, made a pilgrimage here to her shrine at some point in their lifetime.

You can read more about Ixchel’s fascinating story here.

I was told that this, was by no means the most oppressive of Mayan ruins I would see, but it was certainly a significant one.

It started bucketing down that afternoon, and basically didn’t stop for the rest of the week. I decided I would see out the rain in

Playa Del Carmen

Playa, is also quite touristy (meh, we’re on what’s called the Mexican Riveria. It’s all touristy) but it has a very international, more grown up feel about it. A lot of Italian restaurants, expensive jewelry shops, designer bikinis and a lot more choice for decent espresso. Fuck, I miss well-made coffee.

There’s a reputable Spanish school, and the beaches are, well, just typically gorgeous… I knew I could be happy enough there but it just didn’t feel like Mexico. There’s very likely a whole other side to it that I didn’t see because of the torrential downpours… I spent most of my time in my hotel, reading, writing, catching up with friends, and sleeping; or in restaurants and bars, eating and drinking. It wasn’t all bad.

This is where I met the surfer boy from El Salvador (see previous post) and also a handsome Italian local man by the name of Luca… He and I shared a bottle of red and some good conversation, under the balcony of the cafe he owned, while it rained and rained, and rained. Swoon…I got the distinct feeling I would rarely be lonely in a place like this, but it wasn’t what I came to Mexico for…

Laura, in the meantime, had fallen through… I had told 2 out of the 3 landlords I was dealing with, I wouldn’t be needing their rooms…I still had one sort of on hold. I commenced a new mission to find another teacher on Isla Mujeres.

I also started considering other options for places to study such as Guatemala. I decided to go to Merida, as i could either head around to Guatemala via Palenque and San Cristobal, or come back down to Isla should I be able to pull it off. It was all starting to feel a bit hard.

Monday 27 July