In which we lose our camera… (and other disasters) Though the trip was a lot of fun.

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Towards the end of June, during Bayram, we went to Greece again.  This was a rather mixed adventure. We did, of course, have a wonderful time, but a couple of not very good things happened.

The first day we rode up to Cannakale. A longish ride but, once we got past Izmir, a pleasant one. There’s a really great place right above Assos where we stopped for tea and to admire the view.  Canakkale itself was, as ever, a lively and interesting place to spend an evening. Come morning we headed for the border. There were a load of cars parked up in a sort of queue but we just rode past them. It was very hot and there was a longish wait to get across the border but, really, no hassle. Though being stuck in very hot sunshine for an hour or so was not all that pleasant. Other travelers reported waiting eight hours or more at that crossing so we were lucky.  Once over the border we had a smooth run to Loutra near the Evros Valley and Alexandropolis. Our hotel room was overlooked by a huge tree occupied by a large colony of Spanish sparrows who were a constant source of entertainment.

Dadia-vulturesThe village has three hotels and one restaurant (semi-attached to our hotel). We took several walks around the area seeing bee eaters and a whole load of different raptors, although it was not really the best time of year for birding in the area. We rode over to Dadia forest and walked up to the hide for viewing the vultures. Got some wonderful photos. On our last night, we gave some mosquito repellent to some fellow guests which, somehow or other, led to several bottles of wine, ouzo, cheese and dancing till the early hours.

 

Next morning we headed to Chalkidiki where we had arranged to meet up with some friends from the UK. We had booked a hotel in Afitos which is absolutely lovely.  OK, it’s a holiday resort and totally geared up for tourists, but that has distinct advantages. We found a bar with a wonderful view…

We met up with our friends and had a very good lunch and a long natter. Then it was off to Kerkini.

Well, we love Kerkini. We met up with Vassilis who is an expert on the local wildlife. His nickname is Πελικανος. We took a boat trip with him in the early morning out to the drowned forest and where the pelicans are. We took lots of wonderful photos. We went to where he told us the bee eaters were.  You can see Ashley searching for the bee eaters in the picture below.  We took lots of wonderful photos. We went out to where he told us the rollers were. We didn’t see rollers but…. On the way home we had a luggage malfunction and lost the DSLR. And all the photos. Except the ones I took on the pocket camera.  Which is why there are no high quality photos in this post.

We retraced our steps to the place of the rollers (still saw no rollers) then Ashley went out again on the back of Vassilis’ bike. And they saw rollers (but I was in the hotel with my Kindle).

That, sadly, was not the end of the bad stuff. The bike made a horrible clunk as we were leaving Chalkidiki. And, by the time we got to Kerkini, there was obviously something wrong. Vassilis called in a friend of his who is a mechanic and, between Vassilis, his friend and Ashley, they managed to shorten the clutch cable. But it was not right. When in neutral, the bike kept creeping forwards…

Next day we rode to Kavala. It was very, very hot. We arrived many hours before our ferry was due to sail and sat in a bar, drinking coffee, then in a restaurant where we had a meal. There was a huge air and naval show going on and it was entertaining to watch the jets flying formation and the helicopters making whirlpools around the harbour.  The show continued whilst we queued for the ferry and as we left the harbour on the ferry.

We didn’t have a cabin. We had booked airline seats but the lounge was very noisy so we attempted to sleep in the bar area. Got off the ferry at Lesvos and stayed for three nights at our usual Studios (Shine Studios – really well equipped and tastefully decorated studio apartments with lovely owners, highly recommended) whilst we waited for space on the boat back to Ayvalik. We went to visit the house again. At this point we were waiting for the formalities to be done and the vendor to fix a date to come out to Lesvos to visit the notary together and finalise the sale.

The bike got us to Mytilini, onto the ferry, off again and as far as just before Menemen. At which point Ashley decided it was not safe to ride it any further. We phoned Harley Izmir who were not able to send a recovery vehicle to us till the next day. The guys in the petrol station we stopped in phoned a friend and we got recovered to Harley Izmir.  Not cheap, but necessary and very efficient.

We sat for an hour in the café at Harley Izmir awaiting a diagnosis. It was a broken clutch bearing. Which was replaced and, after about 90 minutes, we were on our way.

There was an incredible amount of traffic on the way out of Izmir (did I mention it was really, really hot?), but it thinned out just before the (toll) motorway. We’d planned to do stuff after we got home but, really… we were pretty totally exhausted. So dinner out then bed.

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Our Lesbian House

Well, it took us enough time to write up the Central American trip so we’re really behind on what we’ve been doing the rest of 2017.  We have, in fact, been very busy.  We blogged about our trip to Akyaka and our travels since then (apart from a brief trip to see family in the UK) have been in Greece.

There was a plan to look around with a view to buying a property in Greece at some point in the next two years.  We ended up putting in an offer on the first place we saw.  That was back in June when we went to Lesvos for Ashley’s birthday.  We spent some time looking around the Island on our own and attempted to contact a number of Estate Agents.  Only one of whom got back to us.  She took us to see two properties.  One of which we liked a lot.  We went back to our studio apartment in Skala Kallonis, then off to the bar to talk about it.  We decided we liked the place too much to let it go.  So, the next morning, we put in an offer.  The vendor (a very pleasant retired teacher living in Yorkshire) said she would accept that if we would also pay towards her expenses.  This came down to well within the maximum we had agreed between ourselves so…

We bought a house in Greece.

The house is in Parakila – a village with a population of about 2000.  It has a couple of bakers and a couple of general stores and a supermarket, a petrol station a bar and a taverna.  It has two churches (one of which is very old and one of which is modern).  The old one is right opposite our house so there is little chance of sleeping late in the morning – the bells start at 7 a.m.  It is 11 Km from Kalloni which has a far wider array of shops including butchers, cheese shops and really big supermarkets.

The house has a lot of land – probably the best part of half an acre – on two terraces.  It has vines in the front garden and bitter oranges and sweet oranges and a pomegranate tree.  It also has a dead goat (under an apple tree).  And it has an amazing view…

When the moon is full it turns the entire bay into silver.  And there is very little light pollution so, when the sky is clear, you can see the milky way and thousands upon thousands of stars.

Back to Valladolid

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That picture is not of Valladolid at all – it’s Rio Lagartos but I forgot to put it into the last post.  Here is another one:

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So, it was with considerable reluctance that we left Rio Lagartos.  We got a bus or two to Valladolid because the run from Valladolid to Cancun is very quick and easy.  We do like Valladolid anyway so it was there that we spent our last night in Central America.

We got there quite early in the afternoon so decided to take a colletivo out to the Mayan site of Ek Balam.  Now, Ek Balam is quite odd.  There is a cenote nearby which has been developed as some kind of adventure playground or sports centre so there were a lot of tourists there with their kids.  Some of them wandered across to the archaeological site though many did not.

Ek Balam, like so many sites, is dramatically situated.  Brilliant views from the tops of the buildings.  It also has a couple of very (some might say over) restored reliefs.  Oh and at least two lovely ball courts.

Back in Valladolid we had a pleasant meal and, next morning headed to Cancun, the airport, the plane and cold and rainy London town.

Rio Lagartos

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Rio Lagartos is really all about the birds.  It’s a small fishing village in a quiet location, with a few hotels and restaurants.  Day trippers come in from all around to hire a boatmen to take them out to see the flamingos.  You really do need to AdolescentBrownPelicanhire a boat to get to see the flamingos.  All the way along the estuary we saw ospreys flying overhead.  And, of course, crocodiles (the Spanish invaders made a mistake as Rio Lagartos is not a river and contains crocodiles, not alligators).  Just strolling by the harbour we saw two kinds of pelicans (brown and white), including this youngster who had bitten off more than it could chew.  Apparently the fish do go down eventually!  There are royal terns all over the boats and cormorants everywhere.

One bar/restaurant where we took to hanging out feeds the humming birds which can be seen coming and going whilst the humans enjoy a beer.  Sadly none of the many photos we took of the hummingbirds came out very well.  It was a very relaxing few days at the end of our trip and the birding was wonderful.

Merida

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Our next stop was Merida.  Where we stayed in the Grand Hotel.  It was very grand and had a chandelier in the bathroom.  It wasn’t particularly expensive but it was highly atmospheric and full of interesting antiques.

Merida is a lively city and there is always something to do.  We booked ourselves onto a guided tour to Uxmal because it is quite difficult to reach independently.  We nearly didn’t go – we had been before and it was not on our ‘essentials’ list.  The site, however, is one of the most spectacular in Mexico.  There were a lot more tourists there than we saw last time we visited (when we had the place pretty much to ourselves) but the reliefs are amazing.  And we saw a great many iguanas.  Oh, and just look at that ball court!

The trip to Uxmal included a stop at a nearby site, Kabah, which was quieter (apart from a local school group) and interesting.

Uxmal-near

 

We experimented further with Margaritas, finding those in Merida much more to our taste and we were fortunate in that our trip coincided with some kind of festival which included a demonstration of Poc ta Poc – the modern incarnation of the Mayan ball game.  There was commentary and explanation in Spanish and English.  And, for some parts of the demonstration, they set the ball on fire.

All in all we were glad to have had time to revisit Merida.

Back to Mexico – Campeche

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Orange Walk and Laminai were last on our ‘must do’ list.  We had an extra three days due to Virgin Atlantic having changed our outbound flight to three days earlier than expected and we had allowed a couple of days in case we had any delays or issues.   So we debated what to do with the last week or so…

Well, there is so much to do in Central America that this was actually quite difficult. In the end we decided to head back to Mexico.  The border crossing was interesting as, apparently, something had not been done or not been charged previously, also the bus which told us it was going right through to Chetumal decided not to go through to Chetumal.  This left us somewhat stranded.  We were encouraged to take a taxi but, in the end, another bus turned up and took us through to Chetumal.

From Chetumal we caught another bus which took us to Campeche.  Campeche is a lovely City.  We had a lot of fun walking up and down the sea front and generally exploring.  We bought a hammock.  It was strange to be in a proper city again.  And we got to visit Ednza.  Occupied from 500-1500 AD it has a particularly wonderful plaza

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and more than it’s fair share of iguanas.

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Campeche has several museums.  One is in the walls and another is in an old fort complete with canons.  That one has some wonderful artifacts, including a jade mask from Calakmul.

 

AMargaritaTimepart from that, Campeche was where we started to experiment with Margaritas.  These are no longer a simple concoction of tequilla, lime, ice and bitters (with salt around the rim) but have come to resemble alcopops.  Unless you are very careful to ask for a classic Margarita.  But we did our experiments in some very spectacular places!

 

Caye Caulker and Orange Walk

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Our next stop was Caye Caulker, a ‘barefoot’ island in the Caribbean.   Sadly we have no photos from there.  It’s a laid back island with some excellent snorkeling.   We snorkeled.  We snorkeled over coral reefs and with nurse sharks and rays.  We saw seahorses.  It was a great day out but Ashley got too much sun which meant a quiet day the next day.  We ate lion fish.  Lion fish are an invasive species which are damaging the corals and the general marine ecology of the area.  Tourists are encouraged to eat them.  They are delicious, especially when stuffed with lobster tail.  Reggae is everywhere on Caye Caulker.

After three nights on Caye Caulker we headed for Orange Walk (where we took lots of photographs).  The journey was interesting as the bus conductor (on the run between Belize City and Orange Walk) decided we didn’t actually want to do into Orange Walk but to a tourist lodge about ten miles outside of Orange Walk itself.  He would not be dissuaded so we ended up having to get another bus.  Orange Walk has a handful of hotels but is not really set up for big tourism.  We stayed in a beautiful lodge by the side of the river.  The view from just outside our bungalow is in the picture at the top of this post.  The river is rich in wildlife.

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Apart from the crocodiles (we saw many, two different species), we saw all sorts of herons and egrets, cormorants, bitterns, a wood stork, anhinga, wood rail, kingfishers, spider monkeys, the ubiquitous Montezuma’s oropendolas, iguanas and an osprey.  Many could be seen from the hotel grounds but we saw more when we took the boat trip to Laminai.

The boat trip to Laminai was fantastic – one of the highlights of the trip.  We had a very knowledgeable guide who was able to ensure that we didn’t miss any wildlife or any aspect of the important Maya site.  We had all taken bananas for the monkey but the monkey was only interested in chocolate.  None of us had any chocolate.  On the way back we viewed a molasses factory and some of the people on the boat bought molasses.  Most of which, of course, is used in rum production.

The site itself has some extraordinary reliefs, though many have been carefully restored and preserved using fibreglass.  Laminai is interesting as it was one of the sites that was still occupied by Maya when the Spanish arrived.

And, finally, here are some of the best bird pictures from this part of the trip!

Anhinga

Anhinga

LittleBlueHeron

Little blue heron

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Northern Jacaranda

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Russet Naped Woodrail