A Travellerspoint blog

Nicey nicey zoo zoo...

for him and her and me and you!

rain 30 °C
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Our first stop in Belize was Caye Caulker, which was a lot of fun, but we're not going to do a post on that quite yet - mostly because we're really behind on our blogging - we might go back there if we get a chance, but we will cover it later anyway.

Having heard that the Belize zoo is great we decided to see it on our way out of the country. We'd heard of a wildlife sanctuary called Monkey Bay nearby with cheap dorms. So setting out the day before a public holiday we crammed onto a bus with locals heading out of the city for the long weekend and got dropped of at Monkey Bay (in the pouring rain). Only to find that it closes in low season. With no other option we had to stay in a pricier cabin at the research station which accompanies the zoo. An unexpected bit of luxury on our way out of Belize.

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The zoo itself is excellent with only orphaned, rescued and rehabilitated animals kept there. It was started in 1983 to house animals from a wildlife film and grew into a project to teach Belizeans about their local wildlife and encourage conservation. The jungle permeates the zoo so that all the paths and large enclosures are covered by shady trees - good for the visitors and the animals, although it means you sometimes have to be patient waiting to spot them (just like at the zooniverse).

The rest is all pictures. For bonus points guess which animals live in the zoo and which are wild animals hanging out there and next to our forest cabin.
Next we're off to Flores, Guatemala, to improve our slightly shaky Spanish!

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Dora the Explorer

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Posted by gadgetex 19:32 Archived in Belize Comments (0)

Why did you fill your temple full of lizards?


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From Playa del Carmen we wanted to travel inland to Valladolid to see something that looked a bit more like Mexico, and to visit the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. We’d heard there were other ruins and attractions around so we decided to hire a car for a few days to give us a chance to explore. We took the scenic route there, eventually finding the right road with the help of some patient locals, and successfully dodged all the children, bicycles, stray dogs, iguanas and one tarantula which wandered across the road in front of us.

Valladolid is an attractive city, although lots of old cars on its narrow streets make the atmosphere a bit choking. The church and garden square in the centre are its focus, and there are some nice surprises tucked away in the side streets. We found a great ‘tequileria’ where we tasted some local tequilas and bought a bottle, and a small Mayan chocolate ‘factory’ (two women making the milk-free chocolate by hand) which we were guided around and of course bought some treats – the chilli-infused variety even impressed Jim! We also visited a convent (pics below).

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Our hostel here (Hostel La Candelaria) was fantastic – tucked away from the bustle of the streets, with a nice shady garden, lots of art on the walls, a good breakfast included and a friendly atmosphere.

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From Valladolid we took the car to visit the small set of Mayan ruins at Ek Balam. They were very pleasant, but without a guide we didn’t really know what we were looking at! We learned a lot more at Chichen Itza the next day.

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The whole Yucutan peninsula is made of limestone and dotted with hollows containing cool freshwater pools which you can visit (called cenotes). Some are in covered caves, while others have a sky opening. They’re full of wildlife, and our favourite was a short bike ride from Ek Balam, where you can swim with catfish, like being in a big tropical fishtank, and there were also frogs, bats and electric blue dragonflies.

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After our trip to Ek Balam we decided we should pay for a guide at Chichen Itza. We struck a deal with an experienced guide called Santiago and weren’t disappointed. We were extremely glad to have arranged our own transport and guide as we saw coachloads of people all crowded round their guides. The tour was a good deal longer than the advertised one hour as he seemed to genuinely love showing people the ruins. As an added bonus the sellers which crowd the paths don’t hassle anyone accompanied by a guide.

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The focal point of Chichen Itza is of course the main temple which acts as a ceremonial calendar with the four staircases oriented north, east south and west. The most famous of the properties of this temple is the serpent which is projected onto the side of the staircase during the spring and autumn equinoxes*. The serpent motif, repeated all over the site, symbolised fertility. Possibly more amazing is the incorporation of acoustics into the architecture. Clapping towards the main temple causes a bird call, in the mornings with no people around the high priest’s temple produces the sound of a rattlesnake and the main ball court is designed to produce seven echoes (a sacred number). Everything around the site seems to have a fantastic combination of functionality, ceremonial meaning and aesthetics.

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The observatory at Chichen Itza.

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A platform decorated with a skull motif. The heads of the defeated enemies would be displayed here to celebrate a military victory.

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About that blog title then... (Warning: Sinister content) And it was. Many, many lizards.

Chichen Itza is definitely one of the highlights of our trip so far. We would highly recommend a guide to get the most out of a visit.

* The hotel owner here in Guatemala who’s main trade is archaeology stresses that no Mayan sites measure the equinoxes but instead measure the ‘quarter days’ (half way between the solstices). P.S. Can you tell that Jim wrote this bit about Chichen Itza?!

So that was Mexico. Next we'll be writing about going slow in Belize.

Posted by gadgetex 15:05 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Puerto Morelos

Not Playa del Carmen... yet

sunny 33 °C
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Because we realised we kind of cheated you on nice pics for the last post and blabbed on a lot instead - here's a few from Puerto Morelos, where we made a stop on the way to our next stay. Its a little fishing village between Playa and Cancun that is miraculously still a fishing village and not a resort... so far. And it was stunning, I wish we'd had longer there.

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Posted by gadgetex 07:20 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Hey Mister Whiskers...

you from New York?

sunny 33 °C
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OK, so we know its going to be a hard sell when you see this sunny beach photo to persuade you that we didn’t have that great a time in Playa del Carmen! But it wasn’t quite the right spot for us. It’s a tourist-orientated beach town on the Mexican Yucutan peninsula, i.e. the Caribbean coast. We flew into nearby Cancun about 2 weeks ago to begin our trip here.

The most common holiday activity in Playa is running the 5th Av gauntlet while trying to ignore a constant barrage of people trying to sell cigars, massages, taxis, tequila, tattoos and assorted tat. From around midday onwards 5th turns into an episode of the Mexican Apprentice with pushy contestants shouting ‘massaje’, ‘taxi taxi’, ‘I got what you need’, ‘hey buddy, you from New York?’, ‘something for your princess?’, all accompanied by the sounds of US chart music and pneumatic drills. Bliss. Jim got some special treatment on account of his general hairiness - ‘hey rock and roller, mister long hair’ and our favourite ‘hey, mister whiskers’! The overall effect was that we didn’t stop long enough to look at anybody’s wares as we didn’t want to put up with the constant hassle.

The heat and humidity is pretty intense so we decided to splash out in the first week on a room with AC which sometimes allowed us to con our bodies that they were still in Yorkshire. Unfortunately the bar next door had live music til late every night - someone doing terrible covers of old school rock tracks (including committing the cardinal sin of playing Pink Floyd badly, which Jim misheard and so the musician was renamed the “Pink Floyd Baddie”). We should have been out partying instead of being captive to this criminal, but due to a combination of jetlag and Playa raging through our money we had to spend many an evening sitting in eating cheese and tortilla chips from the supermarket and drinking weak lager. It was hard to find anything affordable to do. If you’re in a position to spend your time in an all-inclusive luxury beach resorts and shopping for posh watches and perfumes, this place is for you, but it’s hard to have a good value meal out or find a scrap of shade on the beach that hasn’t been monopolised by the hotels and beach clubs. On the other hand, the massive development at Playa and Cancun (which were basically fishing villages about 15 years ago) has brought a lot of wealth and infrastructure to the area. It suits some, but much of it didn’t really appeal to us.

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So what do you do in Playa apart from sleeping off the flight and trying not to melt in the afternoon sun? We’d recommend a visit to Kaxapa Factory for some Venezuelan food. The titular Kaxapa is a thick corn pancake with a choice of fillings they’re delicious, as was the fresh passionfruit juice and brown sugar lemonade. The place is run by Jose Ramon who moved to Playa from Venezuela and may be the friendliest and happiest person anywhere.

The place to go for local food is apparently El Fogon (which means stovetop). As soon as you approach the smell of barbecuing meat and the sight of a huge rotating skewer tells you there’s probably no veggie option here. If you weren’t sure then check out the menu with its picture of a little piggy chilling it on top of the fogon. The food is tasty and great value. The tacos are made with meat from the skewer which is juicy and has the perfect amount of charred flavour on it. Alongside that I (Jim obviously) had chorizo on a ‘pillow’ of cheese which was meaty and delicious if a little salty. Even so I wouldn’t recommend the cheese pillow as my stomach spent the next couple of hours regretting the fist sized ball of stretchy cheese it had to deal with.

Anyway, we’ve moved on now! And don’t worry, this isn’t Idiot Abroad, we won’t always be complaining about everywhere we visit! Tune in for our next stop, Valladolid, which was ace…

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Posted by gadgetex 18:53 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

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