Category Archives: Tourism

Xpujil, Becán and Chicanná

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The next day Diane from the lodge drove us into the little town of Xpujil.  There are ruins of some mostly domestic Maya buildings opposite the school and we started out there.  We then walked up to the main site at Xpujil which we had almost to ourselves.  We spent some time exploring the ruins and watching the wildlife.  The area is a bit low on wildlife as, according to Diane, most of it ended up on the dinner table.  However, we did see the very impressive bat falcon at the main site at Xpujil and had frequent sightings of small green parrots flitting in and out of the bushes beside the road.

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We then walked back to the town and caught a taxi to Becan.  That saved us about 10 km walk.  Becan is a wonderful site with many structures and a moat.  It was certainly Hilary’s favourite site to date (and one of the best overall).  Again, we had it almost to ourselves – there were two other people there and they were not obtrusive.

We walked along to Chicanná which is on the way back to the lodge.  Another wonderful site including some monstrous doorways where you step into the maw of the house of the serpent mouth.  Regrettably we didn’t get a really good picture showing the teeth!

That was a very full day with lots of walking between and within the sites.  We got back to Rio Bec Dreams very ready for a shower, a sit by the bamboo to watch the jays and a few cold beers.

Next day we made our way to Palenque – a big favourite of ours…

On to Calakmul

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We spent the next day (we are now up to 17th January) traveling.  Early morning bus (we watched the sun come up through the bus window) to Chetumal.  Grabbed a quick lunch in Subway (which is a big thing in Mexico) at the ADO bus station then onto the second class bus headed for Escarcega.   This bus had no movies but it did have Village People.  Quite loudly.  All the way.  We asked to be dropped off at Rio Bec Dreams.  Apparently there is usually no problem with that but…  We got some very helpful passengers and a driver who dropped us off at Becan.  Which is about six km from Rio Bec Dreams.  We walked it.

Rio Bec Dreams is a jungle lodge just off the main road in the Calakmul bio reserve.  It’s run by a very knowledgeable and interesting couple – he’s from Canada, she’s originally from the UK but has lived all over the world.  They have about five bungalows, a bar and a restaurant serving international cuisine.  At that point in our stay, I was not in the mood for international cuisine (with vegetables) because I was not yet sick of Central American food.  The goats cheese salad was, however, amazing.

The main point of our staying at the lodge (apart from enjoying the garden and the wonderful wildlife inhabiting the garden) was to visit Calakmul – a somewhat remote site which is supposed to be totally wonderful.  Calakmul is not the easiest site to access.  We’d been led to believe that the owners of Rio Bec Dreams would be able to organise us a tour.  They couldn’t due to other duties and timings, but they did help  us to hire a car.  So we drove ourselves.

The drive was epic.  First an easy half hour down a modern highway.  Then you turn off to the right and drive about 60 Km.  The first bit is on an almost intact road.  Not a modern highway, but easily negotiable.  Then you drive 30 Km down a rough track full of very deep potholes.  We mostly managed to dodge them.  We hit one on the way in and one on the way out.  And the car was returned to the hire place undamaged.

Calakmul itself is a very large site and, I thought, presented in a highly confusing manner.  First of all we saw a very large and easy to understand residential complex.  That was lovely though all the frescoes had been removed to somewhere we didn’t go.  There are some very high (for Mexico) temples and, of course, a lot of the visitors think that the whole point of the site is to get exercise by climbing them.  I found it a bit disappointing, to be honest.  I think I might have expected too much.  I’m not sure why but the lack of Stellae and relief work on the walls might be a partial explanation.  So, the ruins were somewhat disappointing but the wildlife was sensational.  We saw spider monkeys, ocellated turkeys (some of whom like to walk in front of your car for considerable distances), red throat ant tanager, black cowled orioles,  I’m pretty sure I saw a peccary and I definitely got my first sight of Montezoma’s oropendolas.  These birds were to feature frequently in our future.

Flying into Mexico

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I think it’s about time I began to write this as we have now been home well over a month….

On 12th January this year we flew from Izmir to Stansted.  There was snow on the ground on the way to Adnan Menderes.  Our flight was direct and trouble-free and we had booked our National Express bus from Stansted to Luton where we planned to stay with family.  We arrived in Luton in a blizzard that, although short-lived, coincided with our getting off the coach and into a taxi for the short ride to Ashley’s mother’s house.  Next day we went to London to spend time with my family and, Saturday 14th we flew from Gatwick to Cancun.

A ten hour flight is never the best way to spend a day but we had excellent service on our flight with Virgin Atlantic.  The flight was not full and we had a row of 4 seats to ourselves.  The seat back entertainment system was excellent and varied (we watched the first episode of Westworld, amongst other things), the food was fine, there was free alcohol in moderation and the staff were helpful and friendly.  We landed in Cancun and got through immigration feeling reasonably relaxed, then a taxi to our hotel near the bus station.

The hotel was OK and the staff were sweet.  We had a problem with the aircon which was fixed almost instantly.  It felt very late at night though, in Cancun, it was early, so we didn’t do a lot.  We took a stroll to the local square.  This was not the touristy part of Cancun, so it was full of locals enjoying Saturday night.  There were folk dancers and stalls selling street food, balloons and that kind of thing.  I particularly remember the bats.  There were lots of them, large ones (probably fruit bats of some sort) hanging from one of the trees in the zocolo like black handkerchiefs.

We had a few beers in the bar attached to the hotel.  I got bitten.  Lots.  One of the worst mosquito attacks I experienced in the whole 5 weeks we were in the tropics.

Valladolid1Next morning we wandered around, back to a square where we listened to birds and watched those brave enough to show themselves in a crowded area.  Basically we were waiting for a bus to take us to Valladolid.  An easy ride (first class bus, it had movies, including one about Turkey).

I really like Valladolid.  It’s not too touristy, though it does have some pleasant pensions and a couple of decent restaurants.  It has a cenote where we watched loud tourists and a family of black vultures.  It has a lovely, green square full of ground doves and… grackles.  I really do like grackles.  And, of course, it’s convenient for Cichen Itza.

There had been some debate around whether to go to Chichen Itza.  Ashley has been several times, I had only been once.  It was the first Mayan site I visited and I wanted to refresh my memory.  We went on a collective (the Mexican equivalent of a Dolumuş).  We saw a mot mot sitting on a wire on the way, though the vehicle was pretty full and it was hard to see much from the window.  The first thing we saw upon arrival was the queue.  Although we had arrived quite early, the crowds are such that there is a 20 minute queue just to pay to get into the site.

Sadly, from my point of view, they allow people to set up souvenier stalls inside the site itself.  I suppose that is better than having them wander around accosting tourists, but it does little for the atmosphere.  Also they sell these vile noisemakers which are supposed to imitate jaguars (I think they sound more like howler monkeys) and, unsurprisingly, these are very popular with children.

Nothing can really spoil Chichen Itza.  The site is large and most tourists go to a very limited part of it (I think that a lot of the tour buses don’t allow you time to get around the whole site, particularly not if you like to take your sites slowly).  There are two cenotes, both of them very beautiful (though I do have my favourite).  There are some wonderful reliefs.  And we spent quite a long time standing on one of the slightly out of the way paths watching a mot mot hunt butterflies.  Well, mostly it was sitting pretty still so Ashely got some good shots.

 

Back to Valladolid for dinner (yes we did get the cochinita pibil) and a bit of sleep before catching the 5 a.m. bus to Chetumal……

Dimitsana

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We left Methoni and rode through spectacular scenery in rapidly worsening weather. We managed to take shelter in a village during the first downpour and took the opportunity to eat a spot of lunch. We managed to take shelter in a garage cafe during the second downpour and had a coffee whilst waiting for the worst to pass. The final downpour occurred just as we got to Dimitisana. We parked the bike under a tree and took refuge under an overhanging roof. About half an hour later, a charming gentleman (Jordan) came out of his hotel and asked if we needed somewhere to stay. We had parked the bike right outside!  As you can see above (in better weather).

Cold and dripping wet we inspected the gorgeous rooms of a genuine boutique hotel.  We really could not turn it down after leaving puddles on the floor and water soaking into rugs, apart from which the rain was still torrential and being out in it was not high on our agenda.  We decided to stay two nights and, after a hot shower and dry clothes, enjoyed a beer in the bar which has the most amazing view.  With the weather clearing we strolled into town past the Roman bridge and found plenty of choices for dinner.  We ate well in Dimitsana.

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Next morning we had a huge homemade breakfast, including fried nettle leaves and morel mushrooms that Jordan had foraged from the forest.  Then we set off on a walk.  The trail was reasonably well marked and our first stop was a surprisingly interesting outdoor water power museum.  The whole area was famous for water powered industry right up to the middle of last century.  There was a fulling tub that resembles a huge top loading washing machine, a flour mill, gunpowder mill, raki still and a tannery.  All with very informative videos.

This is the fulling tub:

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We walked on down the trail but turned around after a few hours and came back by road.  It was all down on the way out to the bottom of the gorge, and all up on the way back!  We should have taken more water with us, we didn’t, but there was an abundance of fast flowing streams on the way down.

The walking was quite hard so we didn’t get too many views of the scenery.  There were frequent stops to try and capture photographs of butterflies!  We do want to go back to Dimitsana and do a bit more exploring – there is quite a lot to see in that part of Arcadia but, this year, we didn’t really have time.

Next day we headed back to Nafplio for a relaxing evening before catching the ferry to Chios then on to home via Çeşme.

Next Stop – Methoni

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Our next stop was Methoni.  We visited there, briefly, in 2013.  This time we went the pretty way, over Mount Taygetos which must be one of the best bike rides in the world.  Scenery is spectacular but we were a bit concerned by the darkening skies.  Which opened.  Fortunately whilst we were fairly near to a village where we took a rain break for a Freddo Espresso.  We managed to get to Methoni without getting seriously wet and checked into the hotel on the beach.  This meant we could use the sun loungers and umbrellas without incurring extra costs but, sadly, it wasn’t really beach weather whilst we were there.  The storm broke as we reached our room.

sparrrow-on-nutsMethoni is a quiet, seaside village – which gains much (but not all) its income from tourism.  It also has a spectacular Venetian castle which, this time, we managed to visit.  In fact we spent an entire morning in there.  Apart from the castle we spent our time making friends with the local wildlife in a pleasant bar and eating some excellent  meals.

 

On to Mystra

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Our next stop was Mystra.  We rode there the pretty way, via Leonido, stopping off in Cosmas for lunch Lunch in Cosmaswith a spectacular view…    Some Italian bikers had the same idea so there was quite a crowd enjoying mountain sausage, chips and village bread.

Mystra did not disappoint.  It’s an almost intact Byzantine city with many churches containing frescoes, a palace, a working monastery and plenty of interesting wildlife.  The village itself is small and friendly, containing a number of small hotels and a sprinkling of restaurants.  I think a lot of people just visit for the day from larger tourist centres.

After we arrived we walked up to the entrance to the site (there are two entrances because, if you only use the lower entrance, there is quite a lot of walking involved) where we saw some lattice brown butterflies on a tree stump.lattice-brown-1

Next day we explored the site itself.  It took all day.  Like many sites in Greece, the information boards scattered around give you a very good idea of what life must have been like when Byzantine Mystra was a living city.  We were lucky to avoid the rainstorm that happened in the evening as the surfaces inside the Byzantine city are very, very slippery when wet!

Apart from the lattice browns, I think I shall save the wildlife for a separate post as Mystra is very, very photogenic.

 

 

Back in Nafplio

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We took a trip to Greece for Ashley’s birthday.  This time we went on the bike.  Ferry from Çeşme to Chios (Sakız) where we enjoyed a few beers with friends and nearly missed the ferry to Piraeus.  It is probably worth adding that we did not see many refugees on Chios and those we did see seemed well settled with small businesses.  Our friend, however, told us that the tourist industry is not doing well. Bookings down by 80%.  Tourists, it seems, are fickle beasts.

We did better in Piraeus this time – we only went the wrong way once and when we did we quickly realised we were going the wrong way.  Our excuse is that it was very, very early in the morning.  We were in Nafplio far too early and our hotel room was not ready.  The management could not have been more apologetic (even though it was not their fault – it was barely ten in the morning) so we took ourselves off for an excellent breakfast.

We really did not do a great deal that day, other than wander around and eat delicious ice cream.  It really is very much a tourist town (it gets cruise ships) and we did buy a hat.

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The next day we indulged in some serious sight seeing.  We didn’t manage to get to the museum on our previoddmm (date)Portrait02us visit and this omission needed to be corrected.  The area has been inhabited since the iron age and there were the usual prehistoric pots plus some very fine Attic red figure ware.  And the only entire suit of Mycenaean  armour that has survived to the present day.  In the afternoon we headed up the 1000 (actual number disputed but it’s an awful lot) steps to the fortress.  This is huge.  It was originally Venetian but was taken over by the Ottomans and then the Greeks.  Once you get to the top the climbing is not over as there are a number of different bastions, linked by passageways.  There are doors that seem to lead to nothing except thin air, but often there are steps leading down from them quite safely. And interesting though the history is, the major attraction here just has to be the wonderful views.

 

The evenings were spent in a large square in town where vendors found a ready market for various toys including giant bubble blowing machines and luminous twirly parachuting things.  The square was full of children, and people generally strolling.  After two lovely nights we headed off to Mystra, but that’s for another post…