Sian Ka’an Biosphere

Following an early morning start and a good breakfast we headed south out of Playa.

Early morning in Playa from my room

The Sian Ka’an biosphere project covers an area of approximately 5300 square km south of Tulum, including terrestrial, freshwater lagoon/channels, Mayan ruins and marine components. It was established in the early 1980’s and became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987. It is home to extensive mangrove swamps and wetland areas which serve as breeding grounds and nurseries for numerous species of fish and animals. Our focus during our visit were the fresh water lagoons and channels bisecting the wetlands. The channels vary from 3-8 feet deep and from 4-12 feet wide. Water is crystal clear. The Mayans dug some of these channels for their own use and some are naturally occurring.

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Following a trip by speed boat out across the first two lagoons we exited the boat and had a magical hour floating gently down one of the long channels in the ecosystem. White egrets and kingfishers called from the banks and small fish kept us company as we drifted through the quiet beauty.

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The icing on the cake was a stop at the Azule Cenote on the way back to Playa del Carmen. The Cenote is full of small fish that love nibbling on the dead skin on your feet. Hiking the Mayan ruins is hard on pedicures and I let the little fish do their work in preparation for getting the process finished at home:-)

I fly out this evening and a small group of us plan to spend the morning shopping along the famous fifth avenue in town. This has been a wonderful trip! G adventures has rocked it again – fabulous itinerary, great group of people – perfect break from the long winter. Thank you for following along with me!

Until next time…….

Sunset

Caye Caulker to Playa del Carmen

The day began with another glorious sunrise as we said goodbye to our Tropical Paradise Hotel

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and headed for the water taxi taking us to Belize City.

The journey was a quick one in our speed boat taxi – skimming by mangroves and deserted islets with beaches dotted with the debris of past storms. Once in Belize City we quickly travelled to the bus station and boarded another chicken bus for the two hour trip to the Belize border. By now we have the routine down, working in pairs one person grabs seats on the bus, the second ensures that the luggage is loaded.  Exit formalities were quickly accomplished. If you do this border here is what you need to know. You will need to pay $20 BLZ to exit the country and fill out a departure form. Once you exit the customs building there is still a 5 min drive through no mans land to reach the Mexican border and customs. Before you head off now is the perfect time to exchange your left over Belize dollars for pesos with one of the numerous money changers in the area. Our transactions were conducted through a fence. made for a good photo op in any case 😀

One you reach the Mexican border there are three steps. You will need to fill out a Mexican tourist card application again (as we handed our old one in when we exited to Guatemala) – this won’t cost you anything this time around. You then go through a passport check and get the tourist card back with a stamp. Next stop is a check for fruits and vegetables, the final stop is a baggage screening with scans. Officers with very large guns are present at this stop.

I will say that we have been treated with nothing but courtesy and friendliness during our time here. All the customs people were extremely helpful today. Some of us had a lengthy wait after the scan for the rest of our group – while we were waiting one of the armed guards brought over a couple of chairs for us – guess we were looking tired after our early start.

After boarding our private van the next stop was lunch. I think the restaurant has a name but to many in the know it is simply the Chicken Place. There are two things on the menu – barbecued chicken and a vegetarian plate. The barbecued chicken is served with barbecued onions, rice and a cabbage slaw with a citrus type dressing. The best chicken I have ever eaten!!!!!

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The three hour drive following lunch to Playa deal Carmen passed quickly – spent snoozing, listening to music and chatting. Once at the hotel I upgraded to a pool side room again, the same miriachi band is giving it all she’s got across the road 😀 Dinner was a traditional Mexican meal served at a Planeterra foundation supported project here in the city. In a nutshell the project offers street kids a place to create music and art, as well as to learn to cook and serves them one good meal a day. The aim is to use prevention and intervention to prevent children from turning to drugs and crime. It is run by a passionate man who was truly inspiring and was especially insistent that we carry the message home about the gentleness and beauty of the real Mexico and its people – so unlike the Mexico portrayed so wrongly by the current US administration. I can only second his thoughts based on my experiences here over the past two weeks.

Tomorow we head to the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve for a very special day.

Caye Caulker

Great day :-). After waking up early I greeted the sunrise on the beach against a moody storm torn sky.

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The weather improved steadily as I went into town for an early breakfast and a walk about the island.

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Our snorkelling tour left the dock at 10 am and it didn’t disappoint. What a magical day, taking us to three dive sites by the reef. Highlights including going to face to face with logger head turtles, manta rays and nurse sharks. A seafood lunch and rum punch rounded out the day.

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Wonderful, wonderful day in Paradise.

 

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San Ignacio to Caye Caulker

Our journey today started on a local “chicken bus” to Belize City – named after the fact that if you can get it on the bus (whether feathered furred etc) it can travel. A stampede of people filled the bus immediately leaving many of us to stand as our rickety reconditioned school bus started on the journey from San Ignacio. Luggage was thrown in the back. Our first stop was about an hour out. Just before we reached the town those of us who were standing were all told to crouch down on the floor. This way the authorities wouldn’t be able to tell how many people were in the bus which was dangerously, illegally overloaded. Thankfully  the roads are straight along the route we travelled. 1/2 of the people got off at our first stop, so everyone had a seat during the second half of the journey.

Belize city bus station is a scary place and I was glad to be with a group and get out of there ASAP. Our taxis dropped us at the water taxi depot which is a small mall closed in with fences and minders. The crime in Belize City is dreadful. We boarded our water taxi and arrived in paradise at around 1 pm. I am not usually a beach person but this place rocks.

Caye Caulker is about 5 miles long and 1 mile wide, 2000 people live here permanently. Fishing used to be the main industry but tourism is now #1. The island came to people’s attention in the late 60’s early 70’s when it was part of what was known as the Gringo or Stoners trail through Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. It is still reasonable in terms of prices and it would be easy to let go of time during a long stay here. All vehicles are electric golf cart types (no gas powered cars on the island) and bicycles are everywhere.

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Once we checked into our hotel – I got ready for my flight over the blue hole. The blue hole is a famous sinkhole – a UNESCO world heritage site – that is absolutely amazing. Visible from outer space is a dark blue clear perfectly round hole in the coral reef approximately 400 meters across. Our pilot took 5 of us out – we traveled over several coral reefs on the way out to the blue hole. Amazing amazing trip. Glad I took my gravol though as that little plane sure bounced around a bit and some of the turns were pretty sharp…..

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Following the flight I wandered down sandy main street, took some photos and paid for tomorrow’s snorkelling trip. Lobsters are in season here and we head out to a lobster dinner with all the trimmings  this evening 🙂


 

San Jose to San Ignacio Belize and Cahal Pech Ruins

 

Following an uneventful crossing into Belize we drove the short distance from the border to San Ignacio – a sleepy little town bearing the marks of past British colonialism. Our hotel is right in the main district of shops and restaurants. The late afternoon was spent at the pool as we had a rest and worked out the next day’s activities.

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The ladies enjoying a cocktail in the pool

 

Hard rain woke me up but by 8 am the clouds were breaking up. The hotel has character 😏 A lovely veranda around the front and back of the hotel provides nice places to sit and view the goings on in the town. A few of us sat out late last night having a glass of wine and enjoying the panorama of the towns activities below us.

Outside the hotel

Belize is a rich country compared to Guatemala, 330,000 plus people in live here and the language is English.

After a good sleep, a quick visit to a local supermarket and breakfast was followed by a hike up hill out of town to the ruins of Cahal Pech a citadel Mayan fortress high in the hills above San Ignacio. Archeological evidence shows human presence here for the past 10,000 years. Initially in the form of hunter gatherers and culminating with the Mayans. By 300BC -300 AD the city had grown to become one of the primary Mayan centres in Belize. Major construction had ceased by the 9th century and by then it was in decline. The city was never sacked in war – theories are that environmental degradation and the accompanying societal breakdown caused the downfall of Cahal Pech. Just before its downfall it is estimated that up to 20,000 people lived in and around the site.


 

We had a fascinating few hours roaming the site and picturing how the
Mayans had lived there and utilized the area. The site was almost deserted which added to the unique charm of the day.

History is cyclical. Walking through the remains of the Mayan civilization at the sites we visited has highlighted the path that these cycles take. Jared Diamonds excellent book “Collapse” outlines the fates of a number of societies around the world and discusses why some societies succeed and others fail. Commonalities among societies that fail include environmental degradation, over population, climate change (drought), war and disease. A sharp division between the elite and so called worker classes is generally present as well.

Disquieting parallels exist today and echo throughout history. During our walk through Cahal Pech our small group discussed the refugee crisis in the world as millions of people displaced by drought and environmental catastrophe move northward looking for a life. I deliberately do not say a better life, just life. A mother fleeing her country with her children would not do so unless motivated by pure survival. The accompanying societal disruption and the results we are seeing in the political arena are ominous portents of the future.

A walk around town – some interesting street art – and a late excellent Indian lunch rounded out the day.

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Travelling to our next destination Caye Caulker – a hedonistic playground – will be a sharp contrast to the areas we have traveled through so far. Our mode of transportation will be the so called “chicken bus” to Belize City and then by boat.  It will be a busy couple of days. I have a flight booked over the reef and famous blue hole the afternoon we arrive. The day after will be a whole day snorkelling and sailing along the reef.

From the third world to the first world in a heartbeat….

 

Tikal

 

Rush Hour San Jose

After a 6 am departure about an hour was spent in search of the elusive Guatemalan ATM with money in it. The Group got lucky on the second try – while the rest of us were waiting – I took some photos of rush hour in San Jose.The next next stop was to pick up an excellent bagged breakfast en route to Tikal. Wonderful local bread surrounded avocado, red onion, tomato and cheese plus lettuce. Fresh pressed juice and fruit rounded out the meal.  Our journey to Tikal took us into an amazing blood red sunrise and then into rain showers. The showers cleared as we arrived and we met our excellent local guide who in addition to his knowledge of the site is an accomplished birder and botanist. He really made the trip to the site for us.

Tikal, a UNESCO heritage site, is amazing. It was a huge Mayan centre that flourished between 200-850 AD – finally succumbing to drought , overpopulation and failing agriculture. An extensive canal system drained the city during heavy rains, as well as ensuring a water supply to the inhabitants. The first Mayan highway was built in Tikal as well as some amazing temples. The residences of the elite are designed in such a way to take advantage of natural air conditioning – which we experienced today.

 

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Temple 1

Our walk took us into the main plaza and the awesome views of Temple number one.  Magnificent  temples, birds and some loonies made the day interesting .

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Central plaza

 

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We were greeted upon our  arrival  in the central  plaza with this lady apparently demonstrating Mayan ceremonial chants complete with a smoky fire. She turned out to be a very accomplished pan handler – her lead up to the  request for money to placate the Mayan Gods was something quite unusual.  Different tactic anyways ……

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Street busking Guatemala style

 

Our final climb at the site was up to Temple 4. The long hike up was rewarded  by a magnificent vista over the jungle to the tops of the tallest temples in the site – a view famous from, for you Star Wars fans out there, the Star Wars Movie  A New Hope.

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Multiple types of birds and monkeys followed us as we moved through the ruins – some beautiful, some rather  odd. Our climbs took us up through the canopy and allowed us to go eye to eye with them.

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Red Lored Parrot

 

 

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Wild Guatemalan turkey

 

An awesome  day finished with an excellent meal of shrimp cerviche followed by a brief tour about the charming cobblestone streets and colourful houses of Isla de Flores en route to our lake  front lodge and a dip in Lake Peten.

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Tomorrow we leave for San Ignacio and Belize.

Lacanja to San Jose Guatemala – planes, trains, automobiles and a lot of bumpy roads

 

Following the regular howler monkey wake up call, the predawn chorus of birds drew me out onto the balcony and my hammock in the cool morning air.

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Watching the sky gradually lighten over the jungle with the sound of the river and birds in the background was magic. A couple of these guys were members of the dawn chorus.

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The trip to to and across the border with Guatemala was unique 😀😀😀.   After regretfully leaving our little slice of paradise by the Lacanja River, we traveled down the mountain side on an extremely steep winding road driven by a kamakaze driver on a caffeine high. Am glad I was somewhat sleep deprived and not really aware of what was going on. Several people were a little green around the gills when we reached the bottom and Mexican customs  to pay our exit tax.  The  next leg of the journey was via boat. Suffering from minor whiplash, our group straggled across the sand and rocks, dragging and carrying our luggage – there are no docks here – and embarked on a 45 min ride upstream to pick up our bus to Guatemalan immigration and customs.

The boat trip was stunningly beautiful, passing native Guatemalans doing their laundry along the shore, fishing and just hanging out.

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Once on the other side of the river we were faced with a steep climb up a soft sandy bank. Luckily some of the enterprising young local men met us and for a modest fee ran up the bank carrying two to three heavy bags at a time – works for me. Once all the luggage was loaded onto our new transport

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we set out over roads so bad that the bus didn’t go faster than 30 km/hr for the first 1 hour of the journey – did I mention the dust? The blessed relief of pavement greeted us shortly before Guatemalan immigration and customers – at that point, windows could be opened again and core muscles could relax.

After grabbing a quick lunch in a local cantina we set off again and at around 5 officially arrived in Paradise on the shores of Lake Peten. The hotel on the shores of the lake had dinner  waiting for us – an excellent grilled fish done on the barbecue with spices and salad, topped off with a very nice Chilean red. Life is good…

Tomorrow we visit Tikal and Flores Island as well as enjoy a boat trip around Lake Peten.