(…continued from Mexico: Part 1)
After lunch we hopped onto a coach heading to Playa Del Carmen – about 2 hours down the coast. Dan, who we’d met way back in Buenos Aires, was working there in a hostel, so we checked ourselves in after giving him a massive squeeze. The hostel was basic, but more than adequate and it was located just 20 metres from the beach. The owners were lax, Dan even more so, and it wasn’t long before we made it our stomping ground.
We headed out for one drink (yeah, as if) to catch up and picked a bar named Fat Tuesdays just round the corner from the hostel. The bar had a sign that said ‘adult daycare’, which pretty much hit the nail on the head. One massive slushie cocktail turned into two, and so forth, with intermittent free tequila shots . I’m sorry Mexico, but I really don’t like tequila. This devil spirit was on the house all night for us, and saying no to the Mexicans wasn’t received too well. So we all ended up a bit sozzled. I kid you not, I ended up kissing the fat Mexican barman who was dressed as a pirate…in Fat Tuesday’s… on a Tuesday. I really hate tequila.
The next day we headed to some local cenotes for a swim and a spot of snorkelling with a Canadian guy called Dustin who seemed to be the only other person staying at the hostel. Cenotes are deep natural sinkholes that are exposed when surface limestone collapses. You can catch a minivan heading towards Tulum and ask for specific cenotes on the way as generally they’re all off the main highway; the trips cost anything between $25 and $35 MXN one way. First we headed to Cenote Azul ($80 MXN entry, $40 MXN snorkel hire) and then onto Cenote Jardin deal Eden ($100 MXN entry) which we all agreed was our favourite. No guesses how they came up with the name, this place was godly. Even H&M have used it in their new advert! The shades of green were incredible, and it wasn’t long (well, actually, we all had a few mini freak outs first) before we were cliff-jumping into the depths of the water. Some little catfish joined us, both thankfully nothing too menacing. We did recieve a free fish pedicure though!
Playa Del Carmen is heavily westernised, with resorts lining the beaches and a central strip with all the familiar brands you might imagine. Part of us loved it, part of us hated it. It totally depends what you’re going for I guess. You’re likely to commit at least one deadly sin on the strip: gluttony. A million bars and restaurants, with Hagendaaz shops strategically placed every 100 metres. Luckily I was priced out at £3 for a scoop, but my ‘I’m totally going to buy something that’s why I’m trying all these testers’ face is strong so I still got a bit of my fix. Until now, the dulce de leche churro I had in Santiago had the top spot in my Churros Hall of Fame. However it quickly got nudged to second place when I got my teeth into a churro stuffed with warm liquid Kinder Bueno. The stalls are everywhere and the temptation is just too much. Literally salivating thinking back to it now.
The next day we got in another minivan and got dropped off at Akumal Beach in search of turtles. Not only did we spot some turtles, but we also watched a diving display from two Pelicans showing off. We got the bus back to Playa Del Carmen, joined by a baby squirrel! We then indulgently grabbed lunch at an Italian buffet before getting the ADO coach to Tulum for $38 MXN each.
Arriving relatively late, we booked a Chichen Itza tour through our hostel without doing much searching around. The price of 50 USD seemed steep to us, but we were assured this was standard, and in fact half the price of what it would be during high season. We were promised a full day of activities and a Mexican buffet lunch with guacamole, so we ended up signing up. Only it didn’t really turn out to be a full day; we arrived at 8.30am as requested, but a lot of waiting around meant we didn’t even reach our first destination until 12pm. Our first activity was another Cenote, this time a super deep sink hole with an additional depth under the water of 50 metres. It was noisy, packed full of tourists with selfie sticks, and enclosed within a large hotel complex where you’re forced through the gift shop to access it; that all took away from it’s natural beauty somewhat. We were then herded to another dreadful hotel complex where we went into a large canteen for our buffet lunch. There were hundreds of people there, loud intrusive music and dancers and no guacamole. Not best pleased. We were asked for tips for anything and everything including from the ‘waiters’… despite being at a self service buffet. Feeling pretty disgruntled, we piled back onto the bus to head to the main event. We were told when we arrived that we weren’t allowed to take backpacks, cameras or phones into Chichen Itza, so we all tried to hide our valuables in our waistbands, not keen to leave them on the bus. This turned out to be a load of rubbish, which irked me even further. We joined an English speaking tour (just about) and had a couple of hours there, although the unbelievable heat made my concentration span a little short. There are a number of Mayan ruins on the world famous site, but the most well-known is the step pyramid named El Castillo. There are market stalls absolutely everywhere selling all the same souvenirs; be prepared for them to shout sexist remarks at you that I’m pretty certain they don’t fully understand themselves. I bought myself an intricately carved skull made out of bone which I’m starting to regret due to the heavy weight and my already over stuffed backpack. Chichen Itza itself turned out to be quite interesting, but if I was to go again I’d probably skip the rest and just make my way there by myself. I don’t hate tours or package deals as such, in fact some times I think they’re the most convenient and sometimes cheapest way to see things. But this one was everything I hate in a package tour – feeling like cattle, lots of wasted time and money grabbing at every possible chance. But hey, you win some you lose some, and we still got to see one of the 7 New Wonders of The World!
The next morning we headed to the beach to see more ruins that were used as a decoy from Chichen Itza. That money I had also done the horrifying task of totalling my spending, so decided that spending $64 MXN on entrance (about £3) was not a good use of my remaining money. Instead, we headed to the beach where you could sort of see them if you swam out a little bit. Carolin really wanted to go to Cenote Dos Ojos, so we headed there after. These two cenotes are mostly within small caves. Perhaps if it was my first Cenote it might have wowed me, but after visiting three cenotes, I really wasn’t that enamoured. Plus at $200 MXN for entry ($500 MXN if you want the full package!), it was pretty extortionate for no apparent reason. There is also about a 3-4km walk to the centote unless you pay for the full package; luckily for us we managed to hop in that back of kind people’s car’s both ways. I definitely preferred Playa del Carmen to Tulum; it wasn’t as beautiful, or as lively and it seemed to just be a base for activities rather than a destination itself. After the Cenote, we headed back to Playa del Carmen for one last night with Dan and Dustin.
We grabbed some street food for dinner and then headed to Walmart for some very cheap Captain Morgan’s and snacks, before heading to the beach. I laughed until I cried that night, and experienced a whole spectrum of colours I didn’t know existed. We stayed up until sunrise and watched the fishing families and early morning joggers (way to make us feel bad) whilst the sky turned a million shades of lilac that my seven year old self would have gone nuts for.
With zero sleep and still feeling very strange, we headed to our favourite Cenote for one last time. We laughed even more and swam along side the fish until we felt normal again. When we got back to Playa deal Carmen we went for lunch at a chicken shop called El Pechugón Rotiserías that the boys raved about. It was totally justified: for $54 MXN you can get 1/4 chicken, flavoured rice, taco wraps and spicy potatoes cooked under the rotating chickens that were so tasty they actually blew my mind. Jardin de Eden + chicken shop = perfect end to our stay in Playa del Carmen.
I presume due to timing, this time we paid $60 MXN for the ADO back to Cancun airport. At the point of flying we hadn’t had any sleep for over 40 hours and life was beginning to feel tough. When we were in Guadalajara we stayed with Amy’s friend Ady, and so was collected the other end by her husband Oswaldo. Our bodies were so exhausted we didn’t even mind sleeping on the floor. Until we woke up each morning with back ache! Still, it was nice to stay with a true local Mexican, and they had a beautiful 6 month year old daughter that we could play with. We were treated to hot cakes (like American Pancakes) for breakfast and then Ady drove us the into town, which was about 30-40 minutes from where they lived. We wandered around artisan shops that were very beautiful but way, way out of our budgets and for beautiful homes that none of us (yet) own! We then mooched around central Guadalajara, meeting up with Oswald on the way. The next day we visited the Barranca, and walked down into some of the Canyon, and back again. Shattered and struggling with the heat, this was quite a task! In the afternoon Ady dropped us at Los Camachos water park, although on arrival we found we could only pay in cash. We had tried to avoid getting more cash out as it charged each time so no-one had enough. She drove us back to the town and we arranged to get a bus back to the water park ourselves and then get picked up later. Of course the buses never came and we ended up getting back to the water park by taxi, two hours after we had left it to get cash. Luckily, it turns out Los Camachos is not somewhere you want to spend a great deal of time anyway… I was hoping for something like the water park in The Inbetweeners 2 (minus one of us shitting ourselves or killing a dolphin), but we were sorely disappointed and slightly amused to find a load of dirty and unfinished slides with no water running down them, plus a whole bunch of pre pubescent Mexican kids smoking weed and breaking the heavy petting rule. It was absolutely dire, but we managed to laugh it off and played some cards by the questionable pool. Our time in Guadalajara was slow and scatty, mostly due to vague plans that didn’t come together and illness, or just pure exhaustion.
Our last day in Guadalajara was much more memorable and definitely ended Mexico on a high note. Oswaldo took us to Tequila town where we went on a tour of the town and a tequila making factory. The tour cost us $150 MXN each; there are a number of tours available including one of Jose Cuervo factory, although expect to pay $350+ MXN for that famous name. Our tour bus was shaped like a barrel, and there was also a massive chilli shaped bus wearing a sombrero which didn’t stop being funny. The tour was fantastic and really informative. We got to try lots of tequila (yuck) at the Gran Orendain factory and were taken through the whole process. We also tried the agava plant from which is tequila in its most basic form. It tasted much like a darkened sugarcane and is popular with all the sugar alternative health nuts who are prepared to pay £20 for 100ml back in the UK! Suckers. We stopped off in some agave fields on the way home which rounded it all of nicely. Our flight to L.A. was at 7am so we got a few hours sleep before heading to the airport.
All-in-all Mexico was wonderful, and I would definitely urge people to consider it as a holiday spot. There’s certainly a lot more of it that I would like to see! Just one more place in the America’s before we change contingents… watch this space!
Love, Lottie xx