Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Playa del Charmless

Crikey heck. Poor hubby. I took him to such a dreadful place. I visited Playa del Carmen over New Year 1999/2000 and remembered it as a pretty beach resort with a good selection of restaurants. I knew it would have changed/grown, etc but I had no idea how much. It is now such an awful, awful place that the name Playa del Charmless is more apt, or perhaps Playa del Chavs. The only saving grace is that there are two Starbucks, but even they can't make up for the rest of town. Actually, the other saving grace is the extraordinary people-watching opportunities, and hubby and I definitely made the most of those.

So, we arrived in PdC on Sunday 27th after a somewhat uncomfortable journey from Belize City. The first 3.5 hours of said journey were spent on a "mini-coach", which was definitely "mini" in all its components, including the seats. Hubby & I aren't exactly slender in the derriere department so getting two of us on one seat was nigh on impossible and I spent the majority of the journey with 0.5 of a buttock hanging in the aisle. Please don't spend too much time thinking about that or trying to picture it as it isn't pretty. Hubby was squashed against the window which he kept wide open to circulate the air. Unfortunately that also meant subjecting himself to the sun, which gave him one lovely pink arm and half a pink face in a Phantom of the Opera kind of way. Luckily the second half of the journey we switched to a proper coach with full-size seats.

Arriving fairly late in the evening meant we just went out to dinner and then crashed out in our overpriced room. The next morning we were able to appreciate PdC in all its glory. I just don't know how to describe it. It was like being on a film set of a comedy (or a tragedy?) about a stereotypical Mexican holiday resort. There were hordes of holidaymakers wandering around wearing wristbands from their all-inclusive resorts, there were mariachi bands screeching out "authentic" Mexican tunes, there were aged ladies in tiny bikinis (which they were happy to wear all round town and not just on the beach), there were aged men in singlets and white linen trousers, there was acre upon acre of pink flesh on display, and the shops were full of absolute overpriced tat. I ventured in to a vast souvenier shop with my eyes on stalks at the crapola they were selling, only to come across a line of people at the cash desk armed with basketfuls of the stuff - leather-covered drinking flasks, pen holders covered in shells and sand, ashtrays in the shape of sombreros, decorated tequila glasses, maracas, ponchos, you name it, they had it. I love shopping, but I had a hard time finding one single thing in the whole of PdC I would actually want to buy, and in the end had to make do with a Christmas decoration and a couple of bars of Dairy Milk.

Well, luckily we only had 4 nights there, and at least the beach was lovely - white sand, crystal clear water and, again, plenty of people-watching opportunities, although the number of men in Speedos was not a good thing.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Down to earth with a bump - quite literally

On Saturday hubby and I had to prise each other off the beach chairs and get back in to "traveller" mode. I've discovered that I really rather like the beach and hubby agrees. When we first arrived in Placencia we thought we'd only stay there two nights, then it progressed to five. We actually stayed 12 nights in all. We didn't go on one single solitary "outing", all we did was wander from beach to restaurant to beach to internet cafe to beach to supermarket - you get the picture.

Sadly, that all came to an end on Saturday when we flew to Belize City. In a 12-seater 'Tropic Air' plane. OMG, I was more than a little nervous since I'm not a big fan of flying. The 'airport' did nothing to allay my fears - please see photo of runway and steps required to board the planes. After depositing our luggage, which consisted of leaving our bags on a patch of earth slightly less dusty than the surrounding patches outside the 'terminal', we went through security which consisted of nothing. All we did was tell the lady behind the 'check-in desk' our names and we were handed two boarding cards. Then we took a seat, by-passing the plate of 'journey cakes for passengers' - nice touch, but I was waaay too nervous to eat, which just goes to show how nervous I was as I never normally pass up the chance of free food (or any food, come to think of it.) Finally it was time to get on the plane which came bouncing along the runway. We were the only two getting on and were told to sit in any of the seats at the front. Being mere inches away from the pilot and being able to see everything he was doing didn't really help my nerves. I was mostly perturbed by the fact that from where I was sitting it looked like the pilot couldn't see over the 'dashboard'. And then I was a bit more perturbed when I overheard a fellow passenger telling hubby that the planes don't normally fly "this high" (5500ft), and that they usually only go to about 1500-3000ft. Apparently though we were trying to avoid the clouds. Heck, I'm happy with clouds if it means flying nice and low. Luckily the flight only lasted 30mins and there was some rather nice scenery to admire once I'd managed to open my eyes. I even took some photos after letting go of the seat in front.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Global fame - mere moments away

To many of you this may seem very sad, but I am very excited! My blog has been mentioned on someone else's blog! With a link and everything! Someone in America who I have never met has been reading my ramblings and enjoying them. And, of course, with true blogging etiquette, I have been reading her blog and would recommend it to anyone who has children and, in fact, anyone who doesn't. It is truly laugh-out-loud.

I'm afraid I don't have the technical capabilities to actually make that in to a direct link.

Wow, am just waiting for those book contracts to come rolling in now, surely it's only a matter of time...

PS Hubby has just reminded me that it is St George's Day, so in true patriotic style I wish you all a very Happy St George's Day!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Beach-induced torpor

Snore, snore. Sorry, what was that?

Oh, I'm sorry, you need me to write a blog posting to tell people where we are and what we're doing? Goodness, that sounds like a lot of hard work. Don't you understand I need all my energy to sit on the beach here in beautiful Placencia. And then what little energy I have left after hours spent topping up my panda-eye tan, is spent deciding which restaurant to eat at. Good thing that Placencia only has two streets to wander up and down (one of which is only 3 feet wide and - luckily - is pedestrianised) or I really would be exhausted.

The photos above show the cabin we stayed in and the view of the beach.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Landlubbers ahoy

Without a doubt hubby and I do not have a future as bit-part actors in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie. We practically did impressions of the Pope kissing the ground when we clambered, jelly-legged, from the boat which brought us across the sea from Honduras to Belize. I know that my friend Wart will probably disown me for this admission, but I categorically do not have sea-legs. Now, some of you may know that I am not a fan of flying, but compared to being on the open sea it's possible that I would actually choose to fly with Aeroflot.

You probably read in a previous post about the trials and tribulations we endured in our search for the non-existent boat office in Puerto Cortez. Well on Monday morning we turned up at the "dock" (pile of rocks under a bridge) at 10am all set for our journey. We were driven to the immigration office where I got my passport stamped with barely a murmur, while hubby endured the Spanish Inquisition over where and when he had entered Honduras (well, that'll be the same time and place as me but you didn't bother askng me any questions.) We then drove back to the boat where we all had to wait for the same lady from immigration who had just stamped our passports to come along and check us all on to the boat. What a palaver! Finally, about 12.15 we set off. OMG, the first 20mins were absolutely awful, we were bouncing around all over the shop and rolling from side to side. I could see why we had not only been given lifejackets as soon as we got onboard, but also instructed to put them on. Jeepers. At one point hubby, who is not normally a nervous traveller, turned to me and said 'If anything happens, don't worry about trying to take your bag or get hold of the passports', to which I replied 'and I'll take off my high heels before we go down the evacuation shute'. Oops, wrong mode of transport. But I knew I'd be safe; I've seen the film Titanic so I knew that, like Rose, I just needed to get my hands on a piece of mahogany panelling to float on and I'd be fine. Closer inspection of the boat led me to conclude that the door from the toilet would be the nearest I could get to that. Not quite as romantic, but it would have to do.

Needless to say, we fell in love with Belize as soon as we set foot on it. Still, it could have been the Gaza Strip and we would have been chuffed to be there.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

New photos - at last!

Please scroll back through the postings as far as the one entitled 'The Caribbean Coast' to see some new photos. Apologies for the delay in adding them, but the technology just wasn't there in Honduras...

Driving - Honduran style

Here are a couple of photos showing how you get a ride in Honduras and also the potholes that you have to avoid...

How to entertain yourself with a packet of Oreo cookies

Isn't amazing what you resort to when there's no tv to watch?

Can you guess which one is hubby?

Monday, 14 April 2008

Holy Crapola

For those of you who think this travelling lark is an easy peasy lemon squeezy, rola cola barrel of fun, sun and margaritas, let me tell you about our weekend.

It started off ok on Saturday morning as we left Copan Ruinas to drive across Honduras to Tela, on the Pacific Coast, touted as the best mainland beach in the country. It took about 5 hours, passing several tempting Pizza Huts, but when we got there it was such a grubby, down trodden, poo-hole of a place that we just didn't want to stay. The whole town gave me the heeby-jeebies. So poor hubby had to get his driving gloves back on and take us to San Pedro Sula, a city we'd passed about 2 hours earlier. Things improved markedly when we checked in to the Intercontinental. Lovely.

Sunday was a very bad day. Perhaps it had something to do with it being the 13th? Anyway, despite my claim in an earlier post that we were going to spend 2 weeks in Honduras, we reverted to our first plan and decided that 1 week was going to be enough after our discovery that the whole country wasn't as lovely as Copan Ruinas. So, our plan was to get the boat (which only runs on Mondays) from Puerto Cortez, about 45mins from San Pedro, across to Belize. Consulting the trusty (not) Lonely Planet, we headed off to Puerto Cortez as the book told us we needed to go to the boat office a day before the sailing to buy our tickets and show our passports. The instructions for finding the boat office given by the LP assume that you are travelling by bus from Puerto Cortez and go something like this "take any Omoa-bound bus and get off after about 3km. the office is in the fish market under the bridge about 200m from the highway". Does that sound helpful to you? No, us neither. So, about 1.5hrs later after pretty much going off-road at one point, we finally found the bridge from where the boat departs. We asked in the restaurant next door if they knew anything about the boat to Belize - "yes, sure. just come along tomorrow about 10am and the boat goes at 11.30am. no, there is no boat office and, no, you don't need to come the day before." Makes you wonder if the LP author has even been to this place. Hmm, anyone see the article on the BBC website about the LP author who says he didn't go to Columbia even though he was writing about it for a guidebook???

Anyway, we felt better for the fact that we knew where to get the boat from, and decided to drive back to the hotel. On the way we went to the Hilton where we had been told we could drop off the hire car. When we got there, the Budget desk was closed as it's only open Monday-Friday. The hotel receptionist called the Budget desk at the airport and we were told we had to take the car there - great, another 45min drive, but as I looked at my watch I realised it was only 1.30pm which actually made me feel much better. That was until hubby told me it was 3.30pm and I discovered my watch had stopped. Grrr. Anyway, we headed off for the airport. At one point we were driving over a really noisey section of road and it sounded like we had a flat tire, so I twisted around to lean out of the window and promptly broke my flip flop. Grrr. My favourite, most comfy pair as well.

When we got to the airport we found that the lady from Budget had set off to drive to our hotel to meet us and take back the car. GRRR. So, we had to wait for her to drive back. When she finally arrived back, she tried to charge us an extra $40 drop off fee (hubby got v angry and she changed her mind), but, to top it all off, we were then presented with a bill of $680 because we got a small chip on the wondscreen where a stone had flown up several days previously. Allegedly, they don't repair chips over here, they have to replace the entire windscreen (which may account for the inordinate number of vehicles you see driving round with great spiderwebs of cracks all over the place). Let's hope to goodness that we can claim it back on the car insurance.

It was pretty much 6pm when we finally got back to the hotel. What a day! You'll be pleased to know that we are now in Belize and things have improved markedly. But that's a whole other posting...

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Mayan ruins and coffee beans

On Thursday morning hubby and I dragged ourselves out of bed at the crack of dawn (ok, it was 8am but this travelling lark has enabled me to well and truly conclude that I am 100% NOT a morning person) to go to the Mayan site of Copan. Off we tootled in the car since, being an un-morning person meant I didn't feel like walking the 1km to get there. Yes, I know it was lazy, but it also ended up being rather fortuitous. Hubby and I have got used to not needing an awful lot of money over here in Central America where the cost of living is so much lower than it is at home (even though I do like my home comforts every now and again.) So, we arrived at the Copan ticket office with a small wad of lempire (local currency), rather pleased with ourselves for having got there so early. Imagine our horror when we realized we didn't have enough money for even one entrance ticket! It was $15 each for the ruins and an extra $7 for the sculpture museum - outrageous! So, after much tutting and cries of "espensivo" (which, for all we know, doesn't even mean 'expensive' in Spanish) we were forced to drive back to town and visit the ATM. Take Two of our trip to the ruins was much more successful and we spent a very pleasant few hours there. Luckily hubby had been able to avail himself of a Thai curry and some local beer the night before so he was well fortified for the entire outing.

On Friday we went on a tour of a coffee plantation. Some of you may know that I am extremely partial to the odd cup of coffee or three, so I was rather excited. Poor hubby can't stand coffee but came along willingly nonetheless. We spent a very interesting few hours learning all about the history of coffee, the coffee plant, the processing, etc, etc. So, now I know where my daily latte starts its life.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Honduras, a step in the right direction

Honduras is lovely. We arrived on Sunday evening after a bit of a trying weekend which involved almost non-stop travel to get from Costa Rica, via Nicaragua. Things were made bearable by the fact that we stayed in two very nice hotels on Sat & Sun evenings and also because we found a Pizza Hut in Managua. The border crossing from CRica to Nicaragua was an absolute nightmare. You may remember we had problems here when we crossed in the opposite direction because there was a power cut. Well, to tell the truth, it would appear that the power cut was probably a blessing as it speeded up the entire process. This time it took us over 2 hours to get from one country to the next, including one hour standing in a queue in the midday sun with no shade. That was tippity top. And when we finally got to the front of the queue to get our passports stamped to leave CRica we had to wait while the lady behind the counter finished applying her make-up and smiling at the man fixing the air-con unit. Haven´t been more pleased to leave a country since we crossed the border from Vietnam to Cambodia.

Anyhoo, here we are in lovely Honduras in a small town called Copan Ruinas which is next to the Mayan site of Copan. We only planned to be here 2 nights but have taken rather a shine to the place so it looks like it might now be 4 nights, along with 2 weeks in Honduras instead of the 1 week we had initially decided. We've not been to the ruins yet, although I went to the museum today while hubby (who's not really a museum person) watched the footy. Looks like tomorrow will be the day for the ruins, so hubby needs to fortify himself tonight with a hearty meal and plenty of beer. And hopefully, if we're not too exhausted by getting all cultural, we might also manage a trip to a coffee plantation so I can see where the bean that makes my daily latte starts its life.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Possible future as professional gambler

Yesterday I phoned the parents with an urgent request, namely to put a bet on the Grand National. Hubby & I had chosen two horses each after studying the form extremely closely for at least three minutes then picking the horses with the best names.

Imagine my glee this evening upon discovering that my horses had come in 1st and 2nd, and one of hubby's had come in 3rd. We're rich!

Friday, 4 April 2008

Equally cursed and blessed

is our opinion of having a car in Costa Rica.

Cursed because having spent the money, we felt that we had to make full use of the car for the 12 days we had hired it. This has meant we've probably stayed in CR about 5 days longer than if we hadn't had the car since we would have done what we usually do when we don't like a place, and hot-footed it out.

Blessed because without the car we would have had to use public transport and could have ended up being stuck in all number of god-forsaken places while waiting for the next bus out. At least the car gave us the option to move on when we didn't like the look of a place (which was quite often...) Or to stay longer in a place (eg Playa Samara, or Hermosa - as per the photos on this posting.) So, if you were thinking of making CR your next holiday destination, may we suggest you think otherwise and head to Nicaragua instead?

Anyway, onwards and upwards. Tomorrow morning we take the car back and return to public transport, as we head north (north east?) towards Honduras, via an overnight stop in Mangua, Nicaragua. Hooray!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Change of plans

Some of you may know that we were due to fly back to the UK on 1 May. Our plan was then to head out to Australia and SE Asia until the end of August. Today those plans changed.

We have now moved our homebound flight to 24 June. On 1 May we are flying from Mexico to New York where we are planning to rent an apartment for a month before spending the rest of the time driving up to and around Canada where I have some relatives and where we will also meet up with my parents who are going to be on holiday there. So, if any of you fancy a weekend in NYC in May, you can come and stay with us!

The Caribbean Coast

After a somewhat disappointing time in the central area of CRica, it was with great hopes that we headed over to the Caribbean coast and a beach town called Puerto Viejo. Oh dear, even greater disappointment met us there with a really scuzzy little town with extremely overpriced accommodation, including one utterly unfabulous place called Jordan's Jacuzzi Suites. I had no idea that Jordan had branched out to Costa Rica.

Anyway, we finally found somewhere to stay up the coast a way in Cahuita, which was a much nicer little town. For "town" read "several streets". Still, it was only nice enough to make us stay 2 nights before we hot-footed it back to the Pacific coast and the lovely Playa Samara. Tomorrow we are moving further up the coast as we start the journey towards Honduras.