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:
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 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 hire 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.
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.
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.
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
and more than it’s fair share of iguanas.
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.
Apart 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!
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.
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!
Little blue heron
Russet Naped Woodrail
After Copan we took a series of buses to Rio Dulce. It is, I think, impossible to describe the beauty of Rio Dulce. It was hard enough to get good photographs. We spent the first night in a lodge called ‘Kangaroo’. This failed to impress. It was set up for tourists, expelled sewage straight into the river and was generally tacky. We got the lancha up to Hotelito Perdido the next morning. We’ve been to Hotelito Perdido before. I would love to go there again. It is incredibly tranquil. The situation is sensational and it’s run mostly by volunteers who work for the privilege of staying there. The meals are all vegetarian and it is, I guess, a bit newagey for some tastes, but I love it there.
What did we do? Well we took out a kayak on the first day and managed not to sink it. We had no particular destination, we just paddled up and down the river, enjoying the views and the birdwatching. The river is full of fish and herons of many sorts. There are also pelicans, Montezuma’s Oropendola, some frigate birds, flycatchers of many sorts, banded kingfishers…. it’s quite a long list.
We booked a jungle hike for the second day but it was cancelled due to a great deal of rain. Proving that it’s called rainforest for a reason. We took the kayak out again when the rain cleared. The third day we hiked to Livingstone. A sort of medium difficulty hike but very interesting. A boat bought us back to the hotel.
Mostly, though, we just lay around the jungle lodge, enjoying the view, lazing in a hammock and reading. The dog is called Rasta and he likes canoes.
Given the problems of getting a bus from San Ignacio back into Guatemala, we decided to take the ferry instead. This involved most of a day on a couple of buses. First up to Belize City then down to Punto Gorda. I may have mentioned this before but Belize buses are not comfortable. They are old USA school buses which are retired. They have very little by way of upholstery or legroom. But they get where they are going and, from time to time, people come on board to sell you plantain crisps, fruit, other good stuff and to entertain you (or to sell you snake oil which is entertaining in its own way).
We didn’t explore Punto Gorda. We rushed off to get the ferry to Porto Barrios. Porto Barrios is a thriving port town but not very tourist-friendly. It’s Guatemala’s only Caribbean port and all the pineapples go through there. Most tourists go straight through to Livingstone but we had been on buses the whole day and the last ferry to Livingstone had already gone. The passport office was closed when we got there. People told us we could get our passports stamped in the morning but it turned out the lady had just taken a cigarette break and we were able to do the formalities (such as they were). There is not much choice of hotel or restaurants in Porto Barrios but we found adequate places. The meal was, actually, quite good and the hotel felt secure, though we were kept awake much of the night by the sound of heavy rain on a corrugated iron roof.
The next day was spent on buses again. This time we got caught in traffic (we think there must have been an accident) on a narrow road but, eventually we got through to the border with Honduras. The Honduran border was very high tech – we had our fingerprints and iris pictures taken. We checked into our very pleasant hotel in good time to shower and go out for dinner.
Copan was, of course, the reason we went to Honduras. We walked to the site – it’s an interesting walk with a certain amount of wildlife to see along the way. The site is, of course, incredibly impressive.
As you walk into the site, you are immediately aware of the Macaws. There are many of them. The result of a very successful breeding programme. The intention is to release but… I think that part of the work is going more slowly. Whatever, you have to run the gauntlet of these beautiful but very noisy creatures before you can relax in the wonderful architecture and art of Copan.