|Our flight to Cancun, Mexico from LA was uneventful and we landed in the steamy heat of Cancun to be greeted by the face-masked ground staff. This was our first introduction to the swine flu precautions that have been implemented in Mexico, the so-called epicentre. Our temperature was taken as we passed through customs but after that we haven’t heard a thing, in fact the locals say that they haven’t had one instance of swine flu in the entire Yucatan Peninsula! It is a great pity that the media have created such a negative hype. The people here are really struggling to make ends meet and the tourism industry has been crippled; some cruise ships are only expected back in Mexico around September!
Cancun reminds us a lot of the towns in Mozambique: very rustic with the exception of the extravagant hotels along the magnificent coastline. It is written that Cancun has perhaps the “bluest/azure” sea in the world and we can believe it, the colour is quite incredible!
Our lodgings: “International Club Hostel” was in downtown ‘Centro’ Cancun and is a very friendly place. We met plenty of travellers and other colourful characters either heading up or down the Riviera Maya and Costa Maya coast.
The real excitement started the following day when John and Teneale, two close friends from home, arrived to join us for the next 7 months on the trip to Cape Horn. A lot of man-hugs between John and I and screams of excitement from the girls when we met them at the airport...and then there were 4! It didn’t take us long to find tequila on the beach and catch up over the last 4-and-a-half months since we left home. As part of a tradition and not at all in line with our budget for the rest of this year; they bought a bottle of Moet & Chandon in the duty free to celebrate our first official night ‘on tour.’
During our time in Cancun we took a day trip to the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza (as our guide said, not to be confused with ‘Chicken Pizza!’) which is included in the list of new 7 wonders of the world! The sweltering heat of inland Quantana Roo province did little to spoil the incredible day spent in these extremely well preserved ruins. The ancient Mayans, famous for their knowledge of time and space created temples which are perfectly angled to receive sunlight and, on certain days of the year, cast eerie shadows on the opposite walls. We weren’t able to witness these events but being in the presence of the old ruins and hearing the stories of their culture from modern Mayan tour guides was fantastic.
A 5 hour bus ride south to the town of Mahahaul (pronounced, Ma-ha-wall); the four of us checked into our Cabana on the beach and collapsed into hammocks! We spent an amazing 2 nights in this rural town near the border with Belize and made friends with Fernando, a local restaurateur and tequila connoisseur! Fernando is an absolute perfectionist and we have never seen more care taken over preparing a mojito or more joy over pouring his own tequila! It was with heavy hearts that we packed up and rode the 3 hour bus to the town of Tulum. Our sadness of leaving Mahahaul was soon forgotten as we checked into our Cabana quite literally on the beach! One thing that we can say for sure is that if you have the ways and means of doing so, we recommend travelling during a global recession and swine flu pandemic! We have bartered our way to some crazy deals, including two hours of snorkelling for 100 Peso’s (R70).
We all know that Cath is not scared of a good meal and watching her try and decide between the numerous choices of fajitas, nachos, tacos, guacamole etc every meal time has been a treat! Dinner time almost always ends up with the boys, confident after a few ceverzas (beers), playing a game of ‘paper, rock, scissors’ against each other to decide who will have a spoonful of the notorious habanera chillies! John has taken a special liking to the intense heat and even when sweating profusely and his eyes watering, he can’t resist having a little more!
On Tuesday we met up with Hippo and Katie in Playa del Carmen. More man-hugs and screams at the bus station before enjoying the beautiful beach (and topless women) a few hundred meters from our hotel. Life in the Caribbean has been extremely chilled and many an hour has been spent reading and tanning whilst exploring the many beautiful beaches in the area. The local people are very friendly and although their English is only marginally better than our Spanish you are always met with a warm Mexican smile.
The six of us caught the short ferry to Cozumel Island and promptly rented 3 scooters. Riding around this small island, girls on the back, boys racing each other, has been a real hit. More often than not it’s 6 pairs of flippers sticking out of the backpacks as we join the hundreds of other scooters in the ‘rush’ hour traffic in search of the best snorkelling spots! Katie and Cath both tested their skills in the driving seat for a few hundred metres and, when Hippo and I both ended up in the bushes, John decided that letting the lady wear the pants sounded like a bad idea!
From here we make our way to Porto Morelos and further north to Isla Mujeres before meeting up with the London crew in Cuba. We’re holding thumbs that the Cuban officials will have opened up the border before the 29th as all flights between Mexico and Cuba have been closed for over a month. We have heard that flights are expected to be airborne from 21 May, but communication from Cubana airlines is anything but efficient and we all know that Cuba is not scared of a closed border! But if that is all that we’re worried about in times like these then we are a fortunate few.