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
With some regrets we left Hotelito Perdido and caught the lancha to Livingstone. We’d booked ourselves onto a ferry the day before (as our hike ended in Livingstone) but we still had a while to wait around before the ferry arrived. The ferry was quite exciting. We were in the front row of seats and the weather was quite unsettled. We could hear thunder and see lightening in the distance. The sea was rough and the ferry was leaping across the waves, landing with a massive thump. Cushions? Who needs Cushions? This ferry was a boat with room for a dozen or so people. We were sore for days or, in Ashley’s case, weeks. I thought all the luggage was going to bounce overboard. It was… exciting.
We arrived in Punta Gorda in the middle of a serious rainstorm. We were soaked to the skin within a block but found refuge in a friendly hotel – Grace’s Hotel and Restaurant. Our room was around the back and, whilst not luxurious it was adequate, quiet and secure.
Punta Gorda is a small town and there is not a lot to do there. A couple of bars and we ended up eating in the hotel both nights. Excellent home cooking.
The main reason we stayed there was to visit Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit. Lubaantun is famous for the finding of the crystal skull, serendipitously on her seventeenth birthday, by the daughter of the archaeologist from the British Museum. In her lifetime she would not allow it to be examined but, after her death it was found, by the Smithsonian institute, to bear marks of high speed machine carving. Almost certainly a fake but a damned good story lies behind it. It is a lovely, tranquil place to spend a few hours.
Public transport between Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit is a bit difficult to work out but a local family helped us get on the right bus, and shared their lunch with us.
Nim Li Punit is thought to have been a largely ceremonial site and it has some amazing stellae, most of which reside in its museum. Again, we had the place pretty much to ourselves and were able to wander around undisturbed by other tourists. It seems that we didn’t get a great many good photographs of either of those sites but one of the things that interests me about the photos we do have are the trees. So different from anything we are used to seeing in the Old World.
and a lovely ball court from Nimli Puit. We do like ball courts. There are several on this site.
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.