Last time we left you in Mexico, we are back there today. However, in the meantime we visited Guatemala and Belize! November was filled with adventures!
Before telling those stories we would like to reflect on the fact that it has now been 3 months since we embarked on the world tour: it has been amazing! We have not tired of it for a second and we have no doubts about the benefits of this project! It’s amazing to have the chance to live so differently. Thank you all for your support!
Fiestas in Oaxaca, Mexico
The month of November began with the incredible experience of the Mexican Day of the Dead, el Día de Muertos. We could talk about it for hours, so for more on that we encourage you to read about it on our blog : el Día de Muertos. We were fortunate to share this moment with Mexican friends and our hosts who made us feel part of their family.
After this, we stayed another week in the beautiful city of Oaxaca. Here is our top 25 things to do in the city and around. We also took Spanish classes. The classes really helped us and we can now hold conversations. We had the chance to do private lessons and Nicholas’s teacher even gave us a guided tour of ruins from the Zapotec civilization. Becoming better in Spanish was one of the goals of our world tour and we appreciate being able to get by in the language of the countries we are visiting. Here is our article on 5 tips to learn Spanish.
Food poisoning in the jungle, Chiapas, Mexico
From Oaxaca we took a night bus to the Chiapas region in southern Mexico. Like Oaxaca, the Chiapas region is mountainous but the landscape is very different from the rest of Mexico (for example you can see jungle and canyons). It is also a poorer region, though very rich culturally with many deeply-rooted traditions and indigenous groups practicing their own religion. Our first stop was the old colonial town of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. There we experienced a real local market in all its chaos, finally understood how to take colectivos buses and attended processions for girls celebrating their quinceañera.
Then we continued our way south and we ventured into the jungle to visit the ruins of Palenque. On site, we found accommodation in a cabanas with a palm roof. The setting was beautiful, in the heart of the jungle with a swimming pool and wildlife. Unfortunately, after a month without problems in Mexico, we had too much confidence and we both became sick after eating dubious tacos during the bus ride. Although a hut in the jungle is not the best place to get sick we were relieved to be able to stay one more day and rest. Here is our post about Chiapas: San Cristóbal and Palenque.
Looking for Yoda in Guatemala
After much pondering about the puzzle of our itinerary we decided to go down to Guatemala (only a few hours by bus) and finally leave North America for Central America. As soon as we crossed the border, we noticed the gap between Mexico and Guatemala. About twenty meters behind the Mexican official buildings, the Guatemalan border post is a wooden hut with a tin roof and pigs running around. We went to the charming island of Flores (on Lake Petén). However, we decided to stay outside of the island to save money and because we read the island is very touristy and doesn’t feel authentic. Indeed, on this side it is much more chaotic and we are surprised to meet many people publicly armed. This is the opportunity for our first tuk-tuk rides to go from there to the island. From Flores, we went on an early morning tour to visit the ruins of Tikal. The jungle awoke before our eyes (howler monkeys, birds and many insects) as we distinguished the first buildings from the ancient city of Tikal. Tikal is one of the most impressive Mayan cities to have been discovered (“to all explorers out there, there is still much to discover in the region!”) and was notably the location of some Star Wars scenes.
In Indiana Jones footsteps in Belize
We continued our journey with a short bus ride to cross the Belize border. Once again we were surprised by the difference between the two countries. Belize is truly Caribbean, and it looks like what we imagine Jamaica to be like. First change, here the official language is English (a pity for our Spanish learning). Infact, the country ended up becoming an English colony after serving as a base for pirates and English buccaneers while the Spanish were systematically repelled by the Mayans. Belize gained independence in 1981, but the Queen’s effigy is still printed on Belizean dollars (it reminds us of England). The country is unfortunately in constant conflict with Guatemala about their border and you will notice the border is dotted on Google Maps. Belize also has a lot of very different ethnic groups which contributes to the cultural richness of this small country. We stopped for a few days in San Ignacio where we visited more Mayan ruins (we do not get tired of it), peted iguanas, ate Creole food and swam in cascades. The Cayo region is best known for the incredible cave networks which were used for the most prestigious Mayan ceremonies including human sacrifices and strange drug consumption (ask if you dare to know).
It is there we embarked on the greatest adventure: the exploration of one of the most impressive caves in the world (at least that is what the locals say). It started with a trek in the jungle (including crossing 3 rivers with strong stream) and then swimming to enter the cave followed by crawling / climbing / swimming with water up to the waist and still a stream to arrive at a dry chamber. Next there was more extreme climbing punctuated by the observation of the incredible rock formations and remains of Mayan art object. Finally, we reached the sites of the sacrifices where the skeletons are still intact. After this you have to do everything again to get out, it’s faster to go down but even more terrifying because some parts are so slippery you have to slide. As you can imagine Clémentine thought this was a terrifying experience though Nicolas thought it was a lot of fun!
From San Ignacio we took our first chicken bus to the coast. The chicken buses are former US school buses remodelled to be public buses in Central America. A very interesting experience (but fortunately on a journey not too long). The bus was packed when a police officer went up to check and as he was kicking out the people standing we shared our tiny seat (for two kids) with a third person and a large cockroach!
Living the Caribbean pirate life, Belize
We arrived in Belize City and took a water taxi to the islands of San Pedro and Caye Caulker. Being at the beach is what we have been waiting for since our trip began (Alaska does not really count) and we were not disappointed. These islands in the Caribbean Sea off the Belizean coast are heavenly. The sea is turquoise and transparent and we can swin with fish, rays and even sharks (now Nicolas is the one who is scared). The bathing is incredibly pleasant, as long as we do not swim in crocodiles’ territory (Nicolas biggest worry !). This paradise vibe will last for a while because next month we go up along the Mexican coast to join our flight to Costa Rica on Christmas day!