“I FUCKING HATE IT HERE!!” – Tales of a grumpy traveller

“I FUCKING HATE IT HERE!!”

I’m a little bit grumpy…

It’s 2:30am.

I have just subtlety let Kellie know I’m not happy with our current dwellings, by shouting out my displeasure in the middle of the night, with absolutely no prompting from her.

And I’m not finished telling her…

“I feel like I’m in prison!”

The bed is lumpy and the pillows are more like napkins. I have folded them so many times I now have a pillow that’s just the right size for a Borrower, and the room smells like rabbit hutches (imagine straw soaked in urine).

That’s not the worst of it; to top it all off there are some young people having fun in the common area near our room!! Loud and annoying! I am 33, it now seems I have the right to call people in their mid 20s ‘young’.

They have been there since around 11:00pm. This is why I hate (some) hostels. Rude people, who ignore the rules of the hostel and of common decency!!

For the first hour I was completely cool. I told myself…

‘they are on holiday’

‘they don’t know that I have been up since 6am’

‘they will stop soon’

Then at midnight I begin silently raging.

I am not very good at full on confrontation. I am too polite to shout at a stranger. Instead I lay there seething, looking at the clock as the minutes pass by. Also it’s not my job to sort them out, it’s the hostels. Unfortunately there are no staff in sight.

At 1am I get up and go for a pee in the shared bathroom. On the way, I pass the common area; I shoot the loud disrespectful group evil looks, hoping they will get the message. Then I close the toilet door a bit too loudly to reinforce my annoyance.

Surely the passive aggressive approach will work… They must sense my annoyance, and everyone knows what a serious matter it is when someone slams a door.

At 2am I have gone insane. They are mocking me and it is their mission to keep me from sleep.

At 2:30am I decided to share my frustration by shouting through gritted teeth to Kellie.

Thankfully Kellie is still sane and suggests we get online and look for a new place to stay for the next 6 days in San Cristobal.

We find several possibilities, shoot off a couple of emails and vow to look at them first thing.

Finally as the sun is dawning I fall asleep. Peace at last…

Freedom

I wake a couple of hours later, still very grumpy and make my way to the rooftop patio. The bright morning sunshine begins to lift my mood and happily our inbox has a couple of positive replies.

I sense freedom from my prison and begin to smile.

We check out 2 places and the second is a perfect hotel/hostel, with a huge cosy King size bed, big fat pillows, and a stunning view of San Cristobal! It’s more expensive, but honestly right now our budget means nothing, I just need sleep. Plus we seem to be the youngest people here. How I love quiet respectful old people.

viewThe stunning view from our new place Casa De Vista

The last deed to be done is informing our current hostel that we are leaving and need a refund.

Despite the hate I felt last night for my surroundings, I suddenly feel a pang of guilt as I approach the apologetic guy at reception and I do my best to convince him that it wasn’t his fault. He looks genuinely gutted we are leaving…

Is it an English thing to say or feel sorry when complaining? A worldwide problem? Or just my genetics?

So far I haven’t painted a great picture of San Cristobal, but we liked it so much we will return one day to check out more of the local villages.

For the rest of our trip we explored, we ate, we SLEPT soundly.

Perfect…

(Pretty pictures to come in the next post…)

Bad news – sometimes travelling is shit…

Sometimes travelling is shit.

In fact sometimes life is a bit shit.

I recently had one of those days.

I received a message from a friend. I knew it wouldn’t be long until I saw those words in my Facebook inbox, but it was still a shock and something that I didn’t want to hear.

I don’t want to go into too much detail as not everyone is like me and shares their entire life on the Internet, but it was bad news.

It got me thinking, being so far away from ‘home’ is sometimes just hard. When bad stuff happens to the people you love and care for, you just want to be there for them to give them a massive hug.

I know it’s not going to make things better or stop the pain they are feeling, but it doesn’t stop you wanting to try.

My previous travels were in a different age, before Facebook and Skype. Keeping in contact with your friends meant going to an Internet café to send an email, and calling them was even bigger ordeal. It involved buying a calling card, trying to find a phone box that worked, and which probably stank of piss, then calling the number to hopefully connect to the loved one back home.

This time around I certainly feel more connected to my friends and family. I can Skype from the comfort of my hotel room and stalk them via Facebook. The distance doesn’t seem so great. The Internet is truly a wonderful invention.

But as amazing as the Internet is, it doesn’t replace human contact, actually physically being there, as a shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic ear.

For some people the hard the part of doing what we’re doing might be selling all their possessions, leaving their careers and having no plans.

That’s been the easy bit. Leaving people behind is the part that I find difficult.

What makes it hard is that I’ve chosen this. I’ve made the decision to put oceans and air miles between us. So not being able to help out when the going gets tough is my own doing.

Inevitably life continues for our friends and family whilst we’re away. It can have a habit of dealing some hard blows from time to time and the people we care about will almost certainly go through some difficulties.

Not being there for them drives me crazy. Not being able to make a brew for my friend who hasn’t had a good nights sleep in 5 months.  Or not being able bake a fucking cake for a friend who has recently suffered a loss. This is hard for me!

These people are my best friends, not only because we share a love of tea and cake, although if they didn’t it would be a game changer, but because distance doesn’t really matter. True friendship isn’t about being in the same town or country. 2 miles or 2000 miles, we’re still the same, just as close. And I know when we see each other again it’ll be just like we saw each other yesterday.

I’ve not written this for sympathy, I realise I have a very fortunate life. There is probably some guilt thrown in there though. I just wanted to acknowledge that there are some downsides to living this life. And not being able to comfort and help out my friends is one of them.

I believe that in strong relationships you don’t have to physically be there for the person to support them. I hope they feel the same…

crop - bad news
Image credit IsByIsNotAmused

Palenque ruins – not just some falling down buildings…

Palenque - View

After 3 months living in the jungle and on a beautiful beach we were craving some city life.

So we headed to Palenque. Palenque, for those of you that don’t know, is a Mayan ruin in the middle of the jungle. Clearly a sensible choice.

Having been ‘travelling’ for over four months at this point, we’ve done very little actual movement.

The trip to Palenque meant we earned our traveller stripes by taking an overnight bus.

Okay so the bus happened to be one of the nicest I’ve ever been on. Chairs that recline fully, not one but two working toilets, and a free drink. But it still wasn’t sleeping in a bed, so that counts. Right?

We arrived early morning, with a welcome freshness still in the air and all the makings of a beautiful sunny day. After filling our faces in town with breakfast we took a taxi to our accommodation, just on the outskirts of the national park.

First of all a power nap was needed. We can take an overnight bus, but we evidently aren’t cut out for it.

Jungle ruins

That afternoon we headed out to the ruins. It was quite special!

It’s such a tranquil place, there was hardly a soul to be seen as we made our way through the impressive site.  Here you feel less like a tourist and more like an explorer, as you struggle for breath climbing up the steep ruins, whilst taking in the stunning views of the surrounding lush green hills.

Palenque - View

Palenque - RobThe jungle setting certainly adds to the appeal. The ruins feel like a natural part of the landscape and you can hear howler monkeys calling in the distance along with a huge amount of other mysterious wildlife… Add in a couple of beautiful waterfalls and a overwhelming sense of freedom and you have a blissful day out.

This experience is in stark contrast to the ruins of Chichen Itza, which although  impressive, feel more regulated and over crowded. Palenque would definitely win in a fight for best ruin, plus you don’t have to share your personal space with a million other sweaty tourists.

Once out of the ruins we took a short detour back up the road to a beautiful spot where you could dip your toes in the clear cool water. Even I couldn’t resist a little paddle.

Palenque - waterfall

For someone with a morbid fear of water you’d think this might be enough of the wet stuff for a few days, but no. The next day we headed out to two more waterfalls, Misol Ha and Agua Azul.

Mexican health and safety

The journey there through the hills is impressive. The road winds around the hillside and at some points the use of the word road is generous. Landslides have wiped out small sections, but that doesn’t stop the Mexicans getting through.

During the journey a pick up truck full of unsavoury men steamed past our mini bus. Complete with shades and menacing looks, they looked rough enough to be members of the Mexican Cartel.

They then decided to overtake the car in front with a blind bend on one side and 50ft drop on the other. We all know this is not a good idea, especially when there is in fact a car coming the opposite direction.

“Loco,” Rob said to our driver as the 3 cars in front escaped a pile up, and an almost certain maiming or death, by the skin of their teeth.

“Policia” he replied.

Good to know road safety is held with high esteem by the Mexican police.

Misol Ha was a pretty impressive waterfall. I’m usually a bit underwhelmed by them. Last time we were in Thailand we walked for about 2 hours to see one. To be honest I’ve seen more impressive toilet flushes.

Sometimes having low expectations really does pay off!

Palenque - Mislo Ha Loved Mislo Ha waterfall

Palenque Agua Azul Less impressed with Agua Azul

Paleque - chicken
Pollo Asada (Rob is addicted to this stuff!)
Palenque - AtencionPalenque - Rob just doesn't care!Atencion – living on the edge!

Agua Azul on the other hand, did not fill me with excitement. The water is beautifully blue and the pools are stunning. But most of it’s behind a fence and the surrounding area is full of market stalls and people trying to sell you stuff. The delicious pollo asada (bbq chicken) was the only thing that got my pulse racing here.

You can’t win them all and 2 out of 3 isn’t bad.

For us though it is less about the sights, it’s nice to be discovering new places, hearing Mexican music, eating delicious food and finding out more about the local culture. House sitting stops us burning out quickly and gives us time to settle into a routine, but it also makes us appreciate our time on the road even more….

Next up San Cristobal De Las Casa! I’m doing an excited face right now!

Tips and info…

  • Accommodation – Whilst in Palenque we stayed at Margarita and Ed’s as recommended by Sarah Somewhere and Sam from live to explore life. Rooms were clean and cheap $320 MXN or £15.50. It’s set in the jungle and through the day you could hear howler monkeys in the distance. Margarita was the perfect host, full of tips and information. We had trouble contacting them in advance through email and telephone so we just showed up and hoped for the best.
  • Palenque ruins – You can get a colectivo to the ruins at the end of the road (near the hotel) $20 pesos for two people. It’s $52 pesos pp to enter the ruins. There are English speaking guides outside if you want to hire them.
  • Restaurant – Whist there we ate Don Muchos, a short walk from Margarita and Ed’s. The breakfasts were great and both nights we enjoyed a delicious wood fired pizza. It was good value and every evening they have live music for 8pm.
  • Waterfall tour – We took a tour to see both Misol Ha and Agua Azul and booked it through our hotel. We are not usually tour people but this was just easier and cheaper than organizing your own transport. It was $130 MXN or £6.50 per person for our transport and an additional $70 MXN each or £3 for entry into Misol Ha and Agua Azul. They picked us up at 12pm and we were back eating pizza at 7pm. Other tours are available.
  • Overnight Bus – Chetumal – Palenque there are a few options on the ADO website. The journey takes around 7 hours and costs about $546 pesos (£25)

Borders, Bribes and Belize

Just over a week ago we blew the dust off our backpacks (or in this case with it being the moist jungle, wiped off the mould and the stale stench) and hit the road.

After 3 months of being stationary we were more than ready for it. Those itchy feet need scratching…

First we had to say goodbye to these pups. A tear or two was shed.

border - sasha and sadie

For the last few months our lives have revolved around them. They followed us everywhere, even to the toilet if we had let them (we didn’t). We will miss our shadows.

Leaving our Mexican house sit means a new beginning. Despite being in this country for over 4 months it feels like we’re only just starting our adventure. We spent 30 days in Playa Del Carmen renting an apartment and then the next 3 months house sitting in Xcalak.

It is time to explore…

Border Crossing Bribes

First up we headed to Belize to renew our 6-month Mexican Visa. We are renewing it early because we are near Chetumal, a town close to the Belize border, and it would run out during our next house sit in May.

This was our first border crossing and rumours are rife of corrupt border officials demanding bribes to allow you to do a quick spin around and return to Mexico, rather than having to spend 3 days in Belize as is compulsory. (We may explore Belize in the future, but right now we want to do Mexico justice and see more of its delights)

To be honest, we wanted a corrupt border official. We got one!

Unfortunately after the official spent an extremely long time examining our passports and called in another dodgy colleague to re-examine them, they asked us for the princely sum of £160 (3,600 pesos) for our speedy return to Mexico.

The first guard was all happy and smiley until we said, “thanks, but no thanks”. Then his demeanour turned grumpy and sullen like a hormonal teenage girl.  We were gesticulated to carry on with our journey towards Belize and no more words were spoken.

We aren’t keen on frittering away our hard earned savings. £160 seems a bit frivolous, especially when there is no urgency in our loose plans.

Maybe we went wrong by being honest to the officials about what we wanted to do. If we’d headed silently to the Belizean border got our passports stamped, waited a little while and headed back, who knows we may have slipped back through anonymously…

Instead we continued onwards through the free zone towards the Belizean border control, with no real clue as where we would end up staying and no Belizean dollars in our pockets. Time for a real adventure!

A change of plans

We’d set off that morning thinking we’d probably be back in Mexico in time for sunset, tacos and a strong margarita. Now we had to rethink our plans quickly(ish).

This is not so easy in the midday sun, in a new country, with our backpacks weighing us down. We were hot, tired and cranky.

First up we took a nice long sit in the shade, taking the time to digest the situation.

When landing in unfamiliar foreign lands I am always hyper aware that my obvious Western features combined with the fact that I have my entire belongings on my back make me stick out like a sore thumb.

In my mind I think we look like a huge target, just waiting to be ripped off in some elaborate scam. Internally I tell myself to calm down and not dismiss everything a local tells me as a ploy to separate me from my money, I am being ridiculous.

Thankfully it was easy, and like in the other 99.9% of cases my paranoia is not needed.  After passing through Belizean passport control we got in a taxi and set off to the nearest town of Corozal. On route we found a cash machine and then got dropped of at the Sea Breeze Hotel, taking the last available room. Our luck was in!

We did some quick research on where to stay just in case our bribery plans failed and this place was a bargain!

At the end of the day we had our feet up on the hotel balcony, whilst sinking a beer with a beautiful ocean view as the backdrop.

border - me dock

The dock outside Sea Breeze Hotel

The whole experience of the day is what I love about travelling. It’s a combination of excitement, nerves, hope and completion.

I can’t wait to discover new places, but there is always anxiety brought on by the unknown. Will I get through the border? Will I find a place to stay? Will I get ripped off?

Yes. Yes. No.

I hope everything will turn out fine, and take a mini leap of faith that it will.

And it did.

Corozal

I’m never a huge fan of border towns; they are usually a place you have to go through to get somewhere good. On first glance Corozal didn’t impress me. It’s full of crumbling wooden buildings, serious faced people, and weird convenience stores.

By the end of the 3 days my opinion changed. Granted there isn’t much to do, maybe a couple of ruins and a boat trip, but it has a nice laid back vibe.

Stern faced locals quickly open up and smile when you chat to them. I lost count of the times people actually crossed the road just to talk to us, asking ‘where we from?’ ‘headed?’ or offering us directions or tips.

Border - kellie and grey and red dog

Kellie making some fury friends at our hotel

Kellie even had 3 children run up and hug her for no particular reason. I can’t tell you their ages as I’m crap at judging such things, but they were at least 3 feet high, had mini Caribbean accents and huge grins.

Back home

Time killing over, we got on a bus back to Mexico, which is much easier and cheaper than navigating it yourself. The stern faced female ticket conductor approached on the bus, making us a little edgy, but then the usual smile appeared and helpful tips on how to cross the border…

Border - Bus

Soon enough we were in Mexico, struggling to understand the language, but feeling right at home and back in our comfort zone. Bienvenidos a Mexico!!

Tips and stuff…

Getting to the border from Chetumal – We got a cab to the border from Chetumal for 60 pesos. The other option is a bus, which cost roughly 20 pesos each. The bus takes you all the way through to Corozal (or further if needed).  If we were doing it again we would definitely catch the bus from Neuvo Mercado. On the Belize side we got a $20 US dollar cab to Corozal.

FMM Fee – Before you leave Mexico you have to pay 300 pesos as an exit/entry fee. This is not a scam as widely reported on the Internet. You can pay the fee at a bank or at the border. They stamp your FMM to show you have paid. Sometimes your airline includes the FMM fee in your ticket price, this is usually shown on your ticket so you have evidence to show at the border.

Hotel – The Sea Breeze Hotel was £20 a night. It does an excellent breakfast for £3, has a bar, Wi-Fi, a sea view and a laid back owner with two cute dogs. Plus it had cable and we got to geek it up by watching Game of Thrones!

Pie tip – Chunkys do great meat pies. Mmmm pie. Just ask a stern faced friendly local and they will point you in the right direction.

Getting back to Mexico – If you have no transport, get a bus; it’s so much easier than doing it yourself in taxis. From the bus station the buses seem to come every half hour. They are $4 (Belizean) and take you all the way to Neuvo Mercado bus station in Chetumal. The bus conductor tells you when to get on and off as you go through the border sections. Cheap and easy!

Belizean border fees – Currently it’s $37.50 (Belizean) each to cross back into Mexico.

We are leaving Mexico… Kind of…

Leaving - Mexico sunset

Today it is exactly 1 year since we started blogging! I was going to put together a ‘best of/look back’ post, but I realised that’s what they do in a sitcom when they have run out of new plots… That’s a slippery slope, next I will be introducing an evil twin brother to spice things up a bit.

Instead I’m looking forward to our new big adventure, which starts in 5 days time!!! As you can tell by the exclamation marks I’m frickin excited!!!

On Monday we say bye bye to our off the grid Mexican house sit! We have had some highs, as well as some lows, after spending 3 months of our lives living in the Mexican Jungle, far away from civilisation. Not even a Starbucks can be found (yet) in this neck of the woods.

I think I may have been on the verge of insanity at one point as I struggled with the solitude, but mainly it’s been a fantastic experience having the Caribbean Sea as our back garden. I feel very lucky.

Leaving - Caribbean Sea

This time last year when I was working hard saving my pennies for travel, this is the kind of opportunity I longed for. A beautiful paradise, filled with amazing wildlife. Did I mention I saw a jaguar and paddled past a crocodile?

Saying Bye Bye

It’s going to be hard to leave behind these wooflets, which we’ve trained from being cheeky scampster beach mutts, to lovely obedient dogs (most of the time).

Leaving - Sasha and Sadie

Sasha and Sadie dogs

leaving - rob and the dogs

We love them, despite having to clean up stinking dog poo in our kitchen at 2am (I would have ignored it until sunrise, but the smell was making me wretch in my sleep). That was awful, but thankfully they picked up toilet training easier than humans.

I will miss the early sunrise walks, and the way Sasha’s whole body shakes with excitement when you see her for the first time in the morning, and how Sadie skids in the sand and leaps and bounds back to you when you call her name.

But dry those eyes folks, that’s enough of my love story with these doggies, we are heading for a new escapade…

We are leaving Mexico…. Kind of….

We are EXITING MEXICO and off to BELIZE!! Yup we’re leaving, but not for long. In fact, it will be 72 hours at the most. We need to do a border run to renew our Mexican visas.

Rumours fly that some brave souls have headed to the border and come immediately back, as long as they pay the right ‘fee’ of course. Bribes are frequently mentioned in Mexico. Whatever happens we will have another 6 months added to our visas, should we choose to stay that long.

Once we are done with the border shenanigans, we will be spending 3 weeks exploring Mexico. This includes a week in Mexico City, where we have rented an apartment. We will also be taking in some sights along the way as we travel through Palanque, San Cristobal and Oaxaca. If you are like me and have no idea where any of these places are, here’s a map starting in Xcalak, our current house sit….

leaving - mexico map

A new house sit!

The biggest news is the end of the trip will culminate in a new 3-month house sit. This time in a town with people and stuff!!

The town is San Miguel De Allende, a place where lots of artists headed in the 60’s and never left. Apparently as a result it’s got a cool vibe, with live music, yoga classes, markets, art shops, language courses and coffee shops galore. Plus it’s a World Heritage Site, with quaint cobbled streets.

There looks to be a nice mix of culture, history and coffee. We are craving all these things, especially an iced caramel latte!!

Oddly another house sit was not on our agenda so soon after this one. But we had a random email from a house owner asking if we were interested in looking after their property. They’d seen an article that I’d written for Trusted House Sitters. (On a side note -This blogging malarkey really seems to open up even more opportunities than I’d imagined! If you are thinking about starting a blog, stop thinking and just do it, you never know where it might lead. If we can do it, so can you!)

At first we dismissed it. The plan was to head to Guatemala, rent a house and learn Spanish. But the more we learnt about the place the harder it was to resist. Now we can’t wait to get there and look forward to sharing our stories once we arrive.

First spoiler is… They have a Jacuzzi! Need I say more? Probably, but not for now…

For me this is the perfect way to travel and live life. You think your are heading in one direction, then suddenly out of the blue something comes along and gets you giddy.

If it excites us, we do it! If not, we find something else. No plan is necessary, life just happens and it’s bloody exciting!

Leaving - Mexico sunset