We could have spent longer on Caye Caulker, but we have sampled all it has to offer except Zika virus, the accommodation owners have both had it a few weeks back and we are keen to avoid it. The fast boat to Chetumal in Mexico leaves at 7am, stopping at San Pedro (last night I dreamt of San Pedro – there’s your earworm), so we can pay our tourist tax to Belizean government – B$38. A Dutch guy in the queue discovers he has left his passport back in Caulker, that’s a bad start to any day.
The same tourist taxation occurs in Mexico at the port – US$20, not Mexican pesos, but painfully slow, we are glad there are only 20 on the boat and not 200! We decide to get the bus to Tulum, along with bunch of insular young Israelis and a friendlier older travel companion in his thirties. All except him are very aggressive to the driver, whose job is to get us to Tulum asap, but says he will stop somewhere so they can eat. When he passes several potential eateries, they become even more aggressive. The older traveller has lived in San Francisco for the last seven years, working in IT, he has a more placid personality, until the driver stops at a roadside restaurant, probably taking commission on the passing trade. The older Israeli guy is now not happy with the menu and he’s now stomping his feet and threatening to cancel his bank payment. It is interesting to observe them, they should be happy-go-lucky laid-back travellers, but they are a far cry from that, all bar him have just finished their national service, before that, uni, maybe this is a factor? I honestly don’t know is the truth, but as a bunch they are unpleasant and bullying, and I know that may make me sound anti-sematic, which I’m not, but I am ant-Zionist, but they are two separate issues, even if the right-wing media melds them together, as a young female Israeli once told my wife years ago whilst fleeing her national service, ‘We Israelis have a siege mentality, it is part of our DNA, can you imagine not being able to go on holiday to any of the countries surrounding you because they hate us, welcome to the Israeli psyche!’ Luckily the driver is an ‘unpopular’ Mexican and not Palestinian!
We jump out in Tulum, none of the Israelis say goodbye except the older guy. Hey, maybe they don’t want to chat to a middle-aged English couple, maybe they have each other for that, but I know if I was in in my mid-twenties and a middle-aged English couple that had just been on the road for two months in Central America, I would want to know more! Also sounding like an old fart, travel is so much easier these days, I have browsed a couple of sites and booked our low budget hotel literally on the road. Tulum has a fantastic coastal Mayan site which you can get around in over an hour without a guide, Iguanas abound, worth a night to see.
After two nights we travel onwards to Valladolid, travel is easy in Mexico. Saying ‘Valladolid’ isn’t. The trick is to say it fast like you have a speech impediment and throw a cheerful ‘yeah’ in middle somewhere. We stay at a small boutique hotel with a plunge pool. Like most central and South American towns and cities, it is a variation on a theme, large church or cathedral, unless you are devoutly religious, there is only so many houses of God you can look at, and even if you are, there can only be so many times you can observe Jesus in excruciating pain nailed to a cross. Then there’s the square, surrounded by the restaurants and top end hotels. But Valladolid has something special, it has a cenote, a what?, I hear you say, a cenote is a beautiful deep sink hole fashioned within the sedimentary rock, and there are many in Mexico, but this one could not be more convenient. The morning we have a dip there, we only come across two other people using it, I’m told not many locals can swim, as they are not taught in school. Whenever there is a drowning, it is normally a local. Not sure the sign in English ‘If you cannot swim, avoid accidents’ helps? These ‘plunge holes’ are also a great place to escape the heat of summer.
We are staying here so we can visit the best-preserved UNESCO protected Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Go early, as early as you can, this place gets rammed, and we are there out of season. It’s difficult not to overstate the tackiness the huge number of vendors within the complex detracts from the magnificence of the place. We are there quite early, we catch the public bus, and by the time we leave there must be over a hundred pitches trying to sell you tat. You can accept the people, after all they are coming for the same reason you are, but the tackiness of the place -Tacksville, with a capital, bold and underlined ‘T’! Saying that, you should see it, it is magnificent, the main temple is enormous and restored. The most interesting building is the ball court, two teams would complete to get a rubber ball through their opponents’ hoop, and the captain of the winning team would have their heart pulled out of their body and sacrificed to the Gods! This is the winner!! This was an honour, you got to dwell with the Gods. This is what Paul Pogba probably feared at Manchester United, this would explain why he played so badly when he was captain. Hire a guide, ours, Irvin, is incredibly knowledgeable and interesting.
I get my haircut in Yeahadod by an old hand, Michello, confident in my Spanish and his experience. I think I have asked for cross between a Bowie 80’s cut and a Rupert Everett 90’s. A female hairdresser comes to my aid, “He thinks you want a long back and front.” I’m interested to find out what that might look like, but I suspect I might look like the lead singer of Kasabian after a heavy night out. When I was a student in the 80’s you could model for designer saloons, and I visited a posh one on King’s Street, Manchester, and after a wait, a man that was dressed like Roy Chubby Brown on a stag do appeared, he even had the goggles on his head (honestly), camper than a row of illuminated taffeta Christmas trees, he uninvitedly ran his fingers through my hair and exclaimed in a camp vibrato, “I’ll shave it aaalll offf, and leave a single thin whisp to flick across. That’s all I can offer you!” “No, you fucking won’t.” With that my hair modelling days were gone in the caress of an effete hairdresser’s moisturised fingers. I would have looked like I was emphasising with cancer patients. About this time, I had a number 3 all over, and thought it looked quite suave, picture a cross between Brad Pitt and Jude Law, my girlfriend at the time took one look and said, “You look like you’ve just come out a concentration camp!” – unkind, to say the least, apologies Brad and Jude.
We go a day trip to Rio Lagratos, – Alligator River, there are no alligators, only crocodiles. It is a great place to see flamingos, eat fresh fish, and just to prove you are a proper tourist cover yourself in think grey mineral mud, which supposedly exfoliates the skin and makes you live for a thousand years, and also give you an opportunity to look (more) ridiculous on social media.
We fully access all areas of another interesting Mayan ruin on the journey back, Ek Balam, our Guide, Roberto, knows everyone, this proves useful as an Archaeologist from the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City is working on preserving, an already well-preserved freeze, because this particular chamber has been completely hermetically sealed for 1,000 years, not seen by another human eye. We are invited in like VIPs. I try to think what I was doing a 1,000 years ago? Catching the plague and dying.
The roads on the Yucatan are straight, Romanesque, there are no meanders or deviations to keep you awake, you can see the vanishing distant point, clearly, like when you had to draw railway lines in junior school. The worry now is Roberta’s head is lightly lilting to the ‘eyes closed’ position, I offer to drive several times when I think he is going to give us a closer look at the adjacent roadside ditches – spoiler alert, we don’t crash, but our chances would have been greatly increased if I had fallen asleep as well.
Next time: This is the end, my beautiful friends.
Ian M Pindar writes books, and also about himself in the third person sometimes, so it looks as though he has a large team of dedicated professionals working around him. His latest book is in fact a novella and has the strange title of: ‘Foot-sex of the Mind’. It is not a Mills and Boon, but about finding out what is important in life far too late.