Road trip! In search of flamingos and Chichen Itza…

This year we decided to not to buy each other Christmas presents as we can barely cram anything else into our backpacks. Instead we came up with a better idea and treated ourselves to a Mexican ROAD TRIP!

We hired a car and set off in search of flamingos and Mayan ruins. Meet ‘Pedro’ our faithful steed:

Pedro and us

After being in Playa Del Carmen for nearly a month it was a perfect cure for our itchy feet and just the adventure we needed.

If you look online you hear all sorts of horror stories about hiring a car in Mexico; the crazy driving, terrible roads and overzealous police officers. I’m not sure if we got lucky or whether people just like to scare monger, but we found it very easy and aren’t dead or in jail.

I quickly became use to seeing the cops with massive guns at the roadside and not breaking into a panicked sweat if they asked us to stop, which they rarely did. Most of the time they seemed to be texting on their mobiles rather than searching for criminals… The roads are pretty clear outside of the cities and you become skilled at avoiding the potholes and suicidal dogs.

Disaster struck the morning we were due to set off! Kellie looked like a ghost. Pure white. This is her favoured look when ill. She had a dodgy stomach. So I drove off on my own. One man looking for adventure on the open road. How dare she hold me back with her weak digestion system!

Just joking of course. I was a good boyfriend and cared for her every whim until she was feeling better. A little later that afternoon, we hit the road!

First destination, Vallodolid. A lovely little City with cobbled streets and brightly coloured buildings. It was a world away from the busy avenues of Playa, where street sellers constantly demand your attention. Here we walked peacefully across the sleepy central plaza, which was overlooked by a beautiful cathedral.

Kellie had found a funky little budget hotel to rest our bones (All details at bottom of post) right in the centre, with a free breakfast included. Although the weird yoghurt did make me gag, so I opted for the pastries instead!

Cathedral Valladolid
Valladolid

Most people when they travel tend to lose weight, but I have to admit since we left I have been on the pastry/donut diet, which you won’t find in many health magazines. In less than four weeks I have managed to put on 3kg. Damn you Mexico and your love of sugary snacks!

The next day we headed off bright and early to Las Colorados, in the hope of seeing wild flamingos for the first time… We weren’t disappointed!

There in the salt flats they hang out munching on shrimp. The landscape is pretty incredible, huge ponds filled with bright pink water and the bluest sky I have ever seen. It’s a strangely barren, yet stunning wildlife haven, which is right next to a salt factory.

Flamingos
Wandering flatsPink salt ponds
Then we were off in a flash. The best thing about hiring a car is the freedom it brings. You can do what you want, when you want. This is great, as my attention span is pretty short. As soon as boredom strikes we move on. There is no waiting for the tour group, plus you see things well off the beaten track.

There wasn’t another soul to be seen as we walked amongst the ponds. Most people head to nearby Rio Logartos to catch a glimpse of the flamingos, but sometimes we like to avoid the crowds.

Merida was next on our hit list. A hot bustling city, which on first glance looked like it was decaying. Buildings crumbling, music blaring out of shops and traffic bombing through the tight streets. For some reason I loved it!

I was a little disappointed we only had one night there, but we spent our time wisely. Armed with a top tip, from our hotel owner, we headed to a local restaurant. They served up lip smackingly good chicken wings, the best chicken burrito on this fine planet (I will fight anyone who dares say otherwise) and a couple of beers, all for less then £8. Two happier people you will not see…

Best Burrito in the World
Best Burrito in the world ever! (Sorry for the terrible picture I was extremely hungry)

At the crack of noon the next day we made our way to Chichen Itza, to see the much-hyped Mayan ruins. Quite often with ‘must see’ tourist destinations I am underwhelmed, leaving disappointed and a little lighter in the wallet. For once I was pleasantly surprised. Which I know is a ridiculously inadequate statement given that it’s one of the ‘new’ Seven Wonders of the World.

This was despite the long queue to get in, the confusion of where to pay and having to pay at two separate counters (I should have researched this more before arriving), and the huge number of tour buses. Sometimes you follow the masses for a reason.

It hit me on many levels; the advanced civilisation, the beauty and scale of the city, and the fact that something so impressive and ground breaking could suddenly be abandoned in such mysterious circumstances… ‘Who knows, maybe it could happen to us,’ I happily pondered as I chomped on a Snickers bar.

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TOP TIP: We didn’t hire a tour guide, which you can do. Instead I subtly lurked at the edge of groups and picked up a few interesting facts here in there and disappeared off when my short attention span began to waver. A bit naughty I know, but I couldn’t imagine walking around with a guide for the entire visit. By the way did you know all the buildings used to be painted with brights colours rather than the grey stone we see now?! How cool is that?

After gently strolling around the ruins for a couple of hours we hit the road and headed into the night. It definitely raises the pulse driving in the pitch black, with the rain driving at your windshield. Many Mexicans like to make it even more of a challenge for you by driving with their lights on full beam. In a strange way I enjoyed it and we arrived safely back in Playa three hours later…

First road trip done! Ready for more! In fact, maybe we need to buy a car for this big escapade…

The money part…

I have not been sponsored or asked by a company to give these details, just merely helping fellow travellers.

Hotels 2 nights = 995 pesos (£46 or $76)

Both found on booking.com and good budget options, with breakfast included and WiFi.

Hotel Maria De Gaudalupe – Vallodolid.
– Right in the centre of the City. Average breakfast, Satellite TV, triple room, ensuite bathroom. Cost = 535 pesos per night

Casa Chalia – Merida.
– This was an absolute bargain. A whole apartment with kitchen, perfect for longer stays. 5-10 min walk from the City and the owner was full of top tips. Breakfast was lovely! Cost = 460 pesos per night.

Car hire cost (including petrol) = 3385 pesos (£157 or $259)

Company – Price Rentals on Calle 28. There are loads of car hire places in Playa Del Carmen, but these were the cheapest we found and full insurance was covered in the price.

845 pesos per day (There are cheaper models available at 645, but it being peak season they had already been booked)
850 pesos petrol for 3 days (Over 850km driven)

Chichen Itza two people = 386 pesos (£18 or $30)

You need two tickets per person, paid for at separate booths:
The first booth = 125 pesos
Second = 57 pesos
Parking = 22 pesos

Food costs = 905 pesos (£42 0r $69)

We mix it up; made our own sandwiches, free breakfasts at the hotels, one posh meal and one cheap but delicious meal.

Home of the World’s best burrito

A restaurant called Las Vigas on Calle 63, just off the main plaza. It’s tucked away up some steps above a hotel. Takes a bit of finding, but it’s well worth it!

3 Day Road Trip Spends = 5671 pesos (£263 or $434)

Abandoning Christmas tradition in Mexico

“It was the night before Christmas and Rob decided he really couldn’t be arsed…”

This is probably not what you want to hear as you tuck merrily into your turkey and brussel sprouts, but I have decided to abandon my search for Christmas this year!

It’s not that I have suddenly turned into a Scrooge and become intent on bringing misery to one and all. Back home I love Christmas! All that delicious artery clogging food, consuming copious amount of alcohol and snivelling whilst watching the heart warming ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, what’s not to like?

Well, I guess the last minute stampede to the shops is a little stressful. The mission – to make sure you get every single item of food possible, because heaven forbid we run out of mince pies!!! Christmas would be ruined people!! It gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it.

Out here in Mexico everything Christmas related is a little odd. Santa dressed up in his winter coat, as he wouldn’t want to catch a chill in the 30ºC heat, or the Bing Crosby’s yuletide hit, “Let it snow” blasting out in the local Walmart. It all seems a bit forced. Maybe the locals are trying to please the tourists here in Playa.

Sweaty Santa

Bit sweaty there Santa?

I have spent the last week trying to embrace the traditions from back home, without much success. I downloaded Christmas movies, researched for hours online how to make the perfect Christmas dinner, using just a barbeque and a hob, and scoured the supermarket for delicious festive food.

After a while it all became slightly depressing. I’ve discovered Christmas movies are actually rubbish when you aren’t dosed up on festive merriment, and trying to cook a roast dinner without gravy, stuffing and Yorkshire puddings is just wrong in my book…

Yesterday morning I decided to abandon the usual traditions and accept a simpler Christmas. I feel relieved, like I was trying to achieve the impossible. It was ridiculous trying to recreate the perfect Christmas from back home.

Abandoning tradition – Yesterday we took the time to explore the beautiful Cenote Azul on the outskirts of Playa Del Carmen. Cool, clear water pools where the fish gently nibble at your toes. Definitely a welcome break from my Christmas craziness! 

Feet Cenote

Lizard Cenote Kel Cenote

Cenote dipThings will definitely be different this year, but in a good way. No Christmas jumpers for a start. We still plan to eat delicious food with a couple of new friends we have made here in Playa. Then head down to the beach to take a dip and work on the sexy t-shirt tan a little more.

Christmas Eve is a big deal here in Mexico, so hopefully we will head into town and absorb the local culture too…

I’m looking forward to it!

As for next Christmas, if we are back home with the family I am sure I will launch myself back into the festivities and gorge myself on mince pies and port! But, for now I am happy with a stress free day.

To prove I am not a Scrooge I would like to wish every single one of you Feliz Navidad and a brilliant New Year, however you choose to spend it!

A Christmas tipple

A Christmas tipple. Some traditions I’m keeping. Cheers everyone!

So, are you/have spent Christmas abroad? How was it for you? Bah Humbug? Or Elfing it up?

The time I got stuck outside in just a pair of little pants!

So why am I stood outside in my overly tight pants holding a mop and a broom, which are crudely bound with plastic wire?

Me in my pants

Very good question… It boils down to one thing:

STUPIDITY!

Having locked ourselves in our apartment last week, I decided to go one better yesterday! Yup that’s right, this time I managed to get locked out of our home. But not only did I not have the keys to our house, or any money, or a mobile phone to call our landlord to help me out of this mess, I also had a distinct lack of clothes.

In fact, I was just wearing my overly tight pants…

So there I was, in a country where I don’t speak the language, and with no way of communicating with the outside world to help resolve this awkward situation. OH SHIT!!

Before you go thinking I could just shout Kellie to let me back in, she was stood next to me looking ever so slightly distressed. But probably not as distressed as me though, as happily for her she was fully clothed. And now we were both staring at the door to our home, which was most definitely locked with us on the wrong side.

It all started when I decided I wanted to avoid the embarrassment of getting a haircut at a Mexican barbers and instead asked Kellie to cut it. There’s nothing worse than trying to awkwardly explain in broken Spanish how I want my hair chopped, nodding politely throughout as they hack at my locks, before leaving with a terrible unwanted bowl cut.

Oh wait no! There is something worse… How about being locked outside in a pair of TINY PANTS and awkwardly trying to explain the situation to a confused, slightly scared and amused Mexican neighbour? Yeah that’s probably worse!!

We’d gone outside to the backyard as my hair was getting on our tiled living room floor. I was in my pants to save on laundry. Things were all running smoothly until an evil gust of wind decided to change the course of the afternoon and slam the back door shut.

I know you’re thinking, ‘wind can’t be evil; it’s a natural occurrence’. But wait until you have been stuck outside dressed only in your briefs and see if you still feel the same…

Also, who invented self-locking doors? I hate them, whoever they are!!

After the shock had worn off and the realisation of the situation had sunk in, there was only one thing to do. PANIC!!

When the panic had reduced a little, Kellie actually asked me with a completely serious face, “What would Jack Bauer do?!!” (We have been watching a lot of the TV show 24 lately, which mainly revolves around Jack Bauer saving the world from terrorists).  For some reason I didn’t dismiss this question and quickly considered the options. My initial reaction was that he would definitely torture the door until it gave him what he wanted.

Then I realised I had a proper answer; we could use the scissors and one of Kellie’s hairgrips to pick the lock! Brilliant! Thanks to Jack Bauer, we would be back inside in no time at all and soon we would be talking about the legendary day when I averted ‘Pant Crisis’ by picking a lock, like a cool spy.

Wrong. After fumbling around for five minutes it was clear my lock picking skills were rubbish. I gave up…

It was time to scale the 8ft back gate to see if there was any way in at the front of the house. Unfortunately due to Kellie being 5ft 2” and having the upper body strength of a small child this was left to me to do in my little pants.

This is quite a task I have to say. There is a large amount of stretching, jumping and even a little bit of lunging involved in scaling a tall metal gate, one wrong move and I could be arrested for public indecency.

Thankfully I made it over without any incident and scampered to the front door, which is gated.

Gated front door

Gated front door

I glimpsed through into our living room and what I saw made me the happiest half naked man ever! The keys were lying on the floor barely 6ft away. I remembered the broom in the backyard and called for Kellie to retrieve it. Broom in hand, I feebly swiped at the keys only to discover it was still a foot short. Agonising!

This is when I shouted, “WE NEED A POLL EXTENDER!!” as if that would make sense to Kellie. Surely after years of living together she understood my every thought? She didn’t, and after a brief silence came the reply, “eh?”

So I explained a little more, asking her to pass me the wire and mop, which I’d noticed in the backyard, so I could tie them to the broom to make a super long pokey stick. Maybe with these skills I could be a spy after all? Or at least a member of the A Team!

As I began to assemble my pokey stick a group of builders decided that was the moment they were going to pull up at the house opposite. You might be thinking, ‘Maybe they came to our rescue’. Nope, the ever-supportive Kellie kindly informed me that they were now openly laughing at me from across the street.

But I didn’t care. I may have been a sweaty English man, dressed only in my pants with a crudely fashioned pole extender, but I tasted victory!  I swiped at the keys and they slid satisfyingly towards me! They were in my hand and in an instant I was back inside! ‘Pant Crisis’ had been averted!!!

Never would I let this happen again!

Never…

Maybe…

Probably…

It will happen again… In all the excitement of re-entering the house I somehow misplaced the keys and we spent the next 20 minutes searching for them.

Please spare a thought for us as we try to navigate our way around this globe.

Our First Week in Mexico – banishing The Hulk!

We’ve been in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, for just over a week now and have settled in nicely to our month long house rental. I’m sure you’d like to read about all the exciting things that we’ve been doing and the beautiful places we’ve explored, but to be honest we‘ve done very little you could call adventurous so far.

There has been a lot of sitting about in our pants. Coming from Scotland, where you have to wear several layers just to avoid frost bite, this is a novelty that may not grow old for a while.

We don’t hate each other! Yet…

It’s been really nice taking the time to enjoy each other’s company. Although we spent a lot of time together living in Scotland, there was always something to sell or sort out for our trip. For the last year we have been so focused on saving that we haven’t allowed ourselves to spend much on fun things. So enjoying simple pleasures like getting an iced coffee or a tasty meal out is bliss.

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Of course all of this doing nothing could be due to Rob’s man flu. The poor guy has been suffering for 3 days now. My favourite part of this is the vast array of noises he makes in the morning, there is generally a lot of coughing, spluttering, throat clearing and noises that should only come from an 85 year old man who has had a 40 a day smoking habit for the last 70 years. I’ve never found him more attractive.

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In all honesty we knew at the beginning of the escapade we just wanted to relax, taking the time to stroll along the golden sands and dipping our toes into the inviting blue sea, eating delicious food and pretty much treating the first month as a holiday. I hear you scream ‘A MONTHS HOLIDAY!!’ most people only get 2 weeks a year if they are lucky. We are lucky, so we are taking this opportunity while we can.

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The end of The Hulk!

I’ve noticed a difference in myself. At home I let the small stuff bother me. Getting annoyed to the point of rage when I had lost something, or stressing out if the washing up wasn’t done that evening. Rob calls it The Hulk. But already these things have brushed over me, I feel calmer.

My patience was truly tested yesterday when we became locked in our apartment. For some reason the gate covering our front door would not open. We were trapped inside. LIKE A JAIL!! After about 30 minutes of trying to escape from our prison and failing, we had no option but to call our landlord. However, without a Mexican sim card this proved difficult. So in true escapee style Rob scaled the back fence in a bid for freedom.

What do free men do? Yes, he hit the mall. Armed with basic Spanish and a phrase book he set off to buy a sim card. I was left imprisoned. Thankfully Rob managed to successfully achieve his mission and called the landlord, who promptly sent someone round to free me. The sweet taste of freedom was somewhat diminished as it turns out we are just stupid. All it needed was to simply press a button on the door. We probably shouldn’t be travelling the world if we can’t open a door.

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Usually this would have stressed me out and back home in my normal life The Hulk would have made an appearance. But I remained calm. Abnormally it was Rob who this bothered more. He doesn’t like being trapped inside, so if we ever do end up in jail, taking away his freedom really would be the ultimate punishment. I’ve already concluded that this travelling lark must be good for me. It’s a nice feeling and I think Rob is enjoying living with the new very chilled out me.

Deliciousness!!

The main focus to our days, you won’t be surprised to hear, is FOOD! Here are some of the delights we’ve encountered so far.

In our first meal we experienced mole, chocolate and chicken aren’t normally something I’d put together, although weird it wasn’t unpleasant so may give it another go.

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Ceviche, is simply delicious, it really is an explosion of flavour in your mouth. Limes, tomatoes, fish, chilli, onions, coriander and general tastiness!

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As we have a kitchen we have been cooking at home and thanks to Almsotfearless.com we’ve cooked up some tasty Tostadas, Jamaica tea (Hibiscus tea) and tortilla soup.

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Shrimp Tacos. We just discovered these yesterday and can only describe their flavour as a little piece of heaven! All for 20 pesos each.

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Making friends

In addition to all this eating, having man flu and sitting about in our pants we have been doing a spot of socialising. Thankfully seeing all our friends and family over the past few weeks has allowed us to practice our social skills so we could appear somewhat normal when meeting up with travel bloggers Sarah sarahsomewhere.com and Tyrhone tellthemisaidsomething.com.

They are just as good-humoured, positive and fun as their blogs would lead you to expect. Also they have lived in playa for 10 months, so we absorbed their local knowledge and sampled two of their favourite restaurants. It was thoroughly pleasant afternoon and we have already had a second double date!!

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Our socialising hasn’t stopped there, oh no, we’re branching out, we have a Mexican friend. Ok she is our cleaner and we mostly communicate using Google translate, but that still counts right? She even made us these friendship bands, so in my book that means we are friends.

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Excited for the future

So what’s next? This week we headed to Isla Mujeres, a beautiful little island off the coast of Cancun, which is so small you can explore it on a golf buggy (a few photos here). Plus in the next few weeks we are going to take in some Mayan ruins and cenotes (spectacular underwater caves).

Most excitingly though we have landed what looks like our dream housesit in a little place called Xcalak! It’s for 3 months starting in January. We will be looking after a couple of BIG, cute dogs. The place is right on the coast and has its own little beach, where at night you can see the plankton lighting the water. It is pretty remote, so I am sure it will have its challenges, but we are excited (and a little nervous) about living off the grid for a while and exploring a few places off the beaten track! We will let you know how this big escapade goes….

Goodbye – The hardest thing in the world…

I had convinced myself I wouldn’t be bothered ‘I’m hard as nails me’. I’ve lived in Scotland in the middle of nowhere and travelled the Southern Hemisphere for 18 months and barely saw many of my family and friends. Been there done that, it’s going to be fine. Turns out I am not a robot and saying goodbye to the people you love is never easy.

The last two weeks before we left the UK was a blur as we dashed from place to place, seeing as many friends and family as physically possible in such a woefully short amount of time.

Many people we hadn’t seen for months or years even, but instantly picking up where we’d left off. It’s a happy meeting, lots of chatting, laughing and copious amounts of delicious food, but in the back of your mind you know the inevitable is coming… The awkward, heart wrenching moment when you have to say goodbye.

Ted hug

Not going to lie, copious amounts of alcohol may have been consumed as well!

Every farewell is different. Sometimes, you can end it with a joke, which is usually a relief for me, ‘none of that emotional stuff here thank you.We are British don’t you know?’

Other times it’s so brief you don’t even realise it’s happened.

The worst is when you see the other persons face begin to crumble and the tears well. Or even more unbearable, they say something nice about you as they cry openly. Then there is no controlling it. No hiding place. Just raw emotions as you feel like your heart is being ripped out.

The lump in your throat rises and the tears flow. In my mind I’m thinking ‘this is it. This is your chance to give that final profound and comforting message before you disappear’.

Unfortunately my vocal chords disagree, they think ‘now is the time to make a horrible, inaudible screechy noise which only dogs can understand’. Or I turn my back and say, ‘sorry, I’m crying’ as if it wasn’t obvious to them already.

I’m not great at showing what I wrongly perceive as my weaker side. Brushing it off and making a joke of the situation is much more in my comfort zone. The easiest way would be slip out quietly without anyone noticing, and then it wouldn’t feel real. But that wouldn’t be right…

I count myself very lucky. I have a close family, a great group of friends and many shared happy memories.

I also have a loving girlfriend who happens to know the right things to say, ’They are proud of you and will always be there for you,’ she whispered as we hugged it out after my family leaving meal.

Saying goodbye brings up so many emotions. Fear of what you will miss. When you are gone everyone carries on; they get married, have children and live happy lives. It’s hard not being part of that.

The distance can be unbearable! Even with Facebook and SKYPE making it so much easier to stay in touch, there is no escaping the huge ocean separating you from a much needed hug that everyone craves from time to time.

I’ve spent the last two years focused on travel. I never once doubted that it was and still is the right thing for me to do. All the sacrifices and savings we‘ve had to make over those months to make it happen are not in vain. It’s going to be an amazing adventure, but it doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to this lot… (Sorry we didn’t get to see everyone!)

Family

No idea why my brother has a plastic doll perched on his shoulder or why my sister is holding a jar of pickled onions, but at least they look happy about it…

Mexican star

My nephew is the coolest fake Mexican dude ever!
Stupid face time
Stupid face time!
Pinata time
Piñata time at the farewell meal
Kel and Bill

This wee lad might be two when we next see him!
Jack Mexican Tash
Fan-tash-tic (Groan! Sorry)
All dressed up
Looking dressed up for one last time with the folks