macado's se asia adventure I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

31Dec/090

Caye Caulker: More Belikin, Belizean karaoke and poker machines

After last night´s episode me and Mark got some breakfast and decided to get out of dodge and onto the next ferry to Caye Caulker.

The ferry to Caye Caulker took about 35-40 minutes and arrived around noon. Started walking the streets (or rather street) looking for accomodation. I use the term street loosely since there are no paved roads in Caye Caulker, only dirt roads where golf carts are the main form of transportation. While the population of Ambergris Caye is about 10,000; there are only about 1500 people on Caye Cauker.

As me and Mark searched for hotels we were approached by a shifty looking fellow offering us his hotel room which he had already prepaid up until the 2nd. For some odd reason which we couldnt figure out he was in an awful hurry to leave the island. Seemed like he wanted to make a bit of his money back since he was leaving early and they wouldnt give him a refund. He was going to charge us 45 bucks for the rest of his hotel stay however hotel receptionist wasnt very bright and didnt understand that the room had already been prepaid and wanted to try to charge us an extra 75 Belizean dollars a night to stay in his already paid for hotel. In the end he realized they werent going to let him do this so he left the island and handed us his keys to his hotel room. He told us to "use it as a party room or something." Odd.

Me and Mark decided to tempt fate and try to stay for one night. Back to this odd fellow again, he was in such a hurry to leave that he left a bunch his clothing and a bunch of important paperwork fron his job in the room. It begs to ask the question - Why did he want to leave so badly?

Before we could actually settle in the room the manager had told us we had to leave so we obligated which was good because I really didnt fancy staying in a room where some sort of crime scene may have occured. We eventually found a place called Rainbow Hotel for 100 Belizean dollars (50USD split between two people so 25USD/night) however they only had one night available. We were both tired of lugging our bags around so we agreed to stay there. It is a actually a pretty decent place with an air conditioner and cable TV. There are numerous more cheaper and shittier places on the island to stay however I have to give Mark shit about requiring that any place have air conditioning. Not that I mind; Air conditioning is great.

We rested up a bit and decided to "hit the town." Settled on a place called Oceanside Bar which I had been to on my last trip to Caye Caulker. It's a small bar/disco with a sand floor and cheap happy hour drinks with local rum. To my suprise they had karaoke tonight. We had dinner at a placed called Herbal Tribe and met up with a couple British girls who came along with us for the journey. Herbal Tribe was a good enough place however fast service was not their strong point nor is that the strong point of any place on the island. The Caye Caulker motto is - "Go Slow." They honestly arent kidding. It seems to apply to every faucet of life here.

Anyway I decided to do a few karaoke songs. Much to my surprise my performances were a big hit. The bar must have been set pretty low. This bar also has a bunch of poker machines. It's pretty odd seeing poker machines in a bar that only had a sand floor. I keep forgetting gambling must be legal here. San Pedro actually has a casino on the island.

Around 11pm one of the Australian girls I met at the hostel back in Cozumel about 4-5 days walked into the bar while someone was performing a rendition of Sweet Child of Mine by AC/DC. Appropiate? - I think so. Pretty small world; I hadnt even realized that she might be on her way to Belize and last time I spoke to her she was headed to Tulum. I imagine it's a bit like South East Asia where lots of backpackers follow the same route and tend to run into each other since Lonely Planet tells them to stay and go to the same places. She stayed out for a few drinks but had to leave early since she was waking up the next morning at 5am to the dive the Blue Hole. The English girls were also ready to leave as well since they were still a bit jet lagged. I also figured it was time to take off since me and Mark were diving at 9am. We all planned to meet up tomorrow for New Years at the same place. I really hope I end up finding them all again since they all took about a hundred pictures last night and I forgot my camera like an idiot.

30Dec/090

You better Belize it: Belikin beer and hookers

Slept in late and went to The Baker shop to use their free wireless connection. I was tired from a combination of the ferry and ADO bus so I didn't stay out late last night and crashed around 10pm. Last night we went to a small little palapa bar called BC's. A great little bar on the beach. One of the bartenders Ernie is a pretty nice and funny guy too.

I spent the entire morning walking around the island and taking some pictures. I'm guessing I looked pretty desperate because I was offered weed by every single Rastarian on the beach about five times. I also decided that I was well overdue for a run so I figured now was as good a time if anyway. This was a bad decision on my part; 85 degrees and 70-80% humidity makes for a completely miserable run. I only managed about 4.5 Miles before the dust, sun, and humidity got to me. Dodging golf carts driven by drunken tourists and and equally high locals on bicycles also doesn't not help either.

Coincidentally Mark whom I had left in Cozumel, Mexico the day before had emailed me and said he had gotten sick of Cozumel and was on his way to Caye Caulker, Belize which is where I originally told him I would be. Thankfully he told me what flight he was on so I knew his plane was landing in about 20 minutes. Since Ambergris Caye is a small island I literally walked over to the airport and onto the runway and decided to meet Mark so he would know where I was otherwise he would have made it all the way to Caye Caulker only to find out I wasnt there yet. Pretty sure he was a bit surprised to see me.

I figured I would stay another night in Ambergris before heading to Caye Caulker for some diving and partying for the New Years. Mark had procured a room at place called Spindrift Hotel for 175 Belize dollars (about 85 USD). A little too rich for my blood but he also had air conditioning and his hotel was not made of plywood. Much nicer than that cheap little shanty that me and Bart were staying in but for 15 bucks I cant complain.

I figured now was a good time if any to start some heavy power drinking since I wasnt diving tomorrow. Rendezvoused with Bart at BC's around 3:30pm and introduced old Markie to Bart. Mark was a bit tired so he went back to back to his hotel to crash for a few hours. 5 hours later I was still sitting in the same bar stool where he left me. Estimated that I drank just shy of a 24 pack that night. I'm guessing Bart had a very similar amount and smoked enough cigarettes to kill a small child. Bart had been going on and on about the burritos at BC's so I decided to tempt fate and get some solid nourishment and soak up some alcohol. Bart was correct; the burritos at BC's for 5 Belize dollars were well worth it.

Fast forward many hours and Belikin beers later. Mark decided to crash and me and Bart continued onto a club called the Tackle Box which is located on a pier on the the waterfront. This is where the story gets very interesting. There are always some stories that you wish you could remember every minute detail; Unfortunately this isn't one of them. My brain and corneas are now forever permanently scarred.

Enter two girls and I use that term very loosely came up to me and Bart at the bar. One was a very large and grotesque local girl baring a very good resemblance to Aunt Jemima. The other one looked like a malnourished, poverty striken crackhead. The latter taking a very keen interest in Bart or was it that other way around?

I wasn't really feeling this scene. I was being accosted by every single local Belizean asking me to buy them drinks. I met a very friendly and sociable drug dealer who also claimed business was slow and also wanted me to buy him a drink.

Unfortunately for him I had no interest in buying from him nor buying him anything. I skipped out and decided to hit up one of the local carts for some street food. Ordered a cheese burger for about 4 Belizean dollars. Guessing it was around midnight. I stopped in one last bar on the beach for another beer and decided to call it a night.

As I proceeded to return to my hotel room after a long night of drinking I noticed that the door to the room was slightly ajar. From here I witnessed something that no human being should ever be witnessed to. It seems my new friend Bart had decided to secure the services of a local provider and I had just walked in on the end of their business transaction. I'll leave the rest of the details to your sick and sad imagination.

I decided to go down to my friend Mark's hotel and crash there for the night. Unfortunately the security guard would not let me in nor would he go up to Mark's room and wake him. I chilled out for about an hour before returning to my room when I was sure his guest of honor was gone; Thankfully I was correct.

Next morning when I woke up to find my new friend was long gone to catch the 7AM ferry off to continue his raunchy adventures however my adventure still continues....Next up Belizean karaoke, poker machines and finding old and new friends.

29Dec/090

From Cozumel to Ambergris Caye, Belize

Woke up at 4:30am to catch the first ferry at 5am to Playa del Carmen. I booked the 6:20am ADO bus ticket from Playa Del Carmen to Chetumal yesterday for 223 pesos (~17USD) in advance in Cozumel. They run approximately every hour and the journey supposedly takes about 4.5hours.

I arrived at Playa Del Carmen at around 5:45am just in time to watch the sun come up and take few pictures. Found a street vendor across from the bus terminal selling tortas for 25 pesos; pretty decent too (pretty sure they were pork but I can't be 100% sure). Of course I didn't realize that I was at the wrong bus terminal. The ADO bus station across from the ferry terminal does not go to Chetumal. You need to go to the main one on Avenida 20 to catch the bus. This was easily remedied by a 20 peso (~1.5USD) taxi ride or a short walk. I didn't want to miss the bus so I opted to take the taxi ride. If you're not an idiot like me you might as well just walk.

I arrived at the main ADO bus station at around 6:15am which was just in time to catch my 6:20am bus to Chetumal. Bus was completely full so I am glad I had bought my ticket yesterday otherwise there would have been very limited seating. You can easily purchase your bus ticket ahead of time at the ADO terminal in Cozumel or Playa del Carmen. I highly recommend this. ADO also allows you to pick your seat when you purchase a ticket so I was able to get a window seat at the front of the bus however usually if the buses are empty you can sit in any seat. They'll also usually make one stop or two stops to grab a quick bite to eat.

The bus of course left on timely Mexican fashion at around 6:30am and was pretty uneventful; I slept the entire way. We arrived at Chetumal bus terminal a little after 10:45am. So four hours and 15 minutes total travel time including stops.

The most interesting thing was when I arrived at Chetumal bus station I discovered that they had recently started running a new ferry called San Pedro - Belize (Express Water Taxi) for 30USD. I believe the Belizean attendant stated that this ferry started Oct 30th of this year. The great thing about this ferry is that it bypasses the trip to Corozal entirely and leaves from the Chetumal Maritime Terminal (Terminal Maritima de Chetumal) which is only a 20 peso taxi ride away from the ADO bus station. It's amazing that 20 pesos in Cozumel would barely get you two blocks while in Chetumal it seemed like we could go for miles. I split the taxi with a guy I met on the ferry named Bart so the tax ride really only cost about 80 cents USD. Bart is retired and lives permanently outside of Playa del Carmen and is just visiting some friends in Ambergris Caye in Belize and is then off to Honduras.

Unfortunately bypassing Corozal at the Belize border means that it was almost impossible for me to convert my Mexican pesos into Belizean dollars. This could be a huge problem as pesos are practically worthless in Belize unless you need toilet paper. Actually, it would be useless at toilet paper too since Mexican pesos are plastic. I tried at least 4 banks in downtown Chetumal and none of them had or would exchange US dollars The Belizean attendant at the ferry told me about one place in Ambergris Caye called Milo's that would exchange currency but probably at a huge cost or terrible exchange rate. Make sure to have US dollars if you're going into Belize and skipping the Corozal border crossing otherwise it will be almost impossible to change your pesos into dollars. I stupidly had most of my currency in pesos because I wasn't sure how long I would be in Mexico and hate getting charged ATM fees. Luckily Bart was able to exchange about 200USD of my pesos into dollars so I should be good for a while until my direct deposit goes through on Wednesday.

Mexican customs and immigrations at the Marine terminal is basically 1 guy in a booth. There were maybe 7-8 people in total taking the ferry. The "border patrol" consisted of looking at your passport and stamping it. Not much in the way of questions. The Mexican army also briefly stopped by. They had a drug dog however I use that term very loosely since the dog appeared to be a very young golden lab. He looked like he would rather play fetch than look for drugs; very menacing indeed.

The ferry departed on time at 3pm from Chetumal; It took approximately 2 hours. The water looked like glass and was as calm as could be. The blue-turquoise waters are absolutely stunning in the sun. By the time we approached Ambergris Caye around 5pm the sun began to set. Belizean customs on Ambergris Caye was slightly larger than Mexican customs at the Chetumal Maritime terminal. It consisted of one small room on a dock with about 2 immigration officials. All they basically asked was if you had been to Belize before and how long you were here, stamped your passport and sent you on your merry way.

I missed the last ferry to Caye Caulker so I had no choice but to stay on Ambergris Caye. Me and Bart decided to get situated and sat down at a bar for our first Belikin beer (The national beer of Belize). The exchange rate is 1USD to 2BZD. The going rate for a Belikin beer seems to be about 4 Belizean dollars (2USD). Not quite as cheap as Mexico but still decent. The average beer in Cozumel cost 20 pesos (approximately 1.50USD depending on exchange rate)

There were hawkers all along the main street trying to solicit business for hotels. It seems most of the places were full or so they claimed. We walked around to a bunch of places that wanted to charge anywhere between 60 to 100 Belizean dollars. Finally we stumbled onto Ruby's which is a budget accommodation right on the water. Bart had previously tried to email this place earlier and they informed him they were full however once we arrived we discovered rooms were available for 60BZD a night (30USD). Me and Bart shared a double so it only cost 15USD/night. Not exactly the Hilton and a little rundown but well worth the price, especially for the location which is right on the main room and also on the water.

Bart had been to Belize many times previously but had not done so in a few years so he had the general layout of the island. We bar hopped to a few places along the beach and found the price of Belikin beer to be pretty consistent at 4BZD (2USD). Restaurants however were a different story. A lot of them seemed to have meals priced around 20-50BZD. Not exactly cheap by budget standards. We decided to eat food from the street vendors and found a little hamburger stand which sells burgers, burritos, hotdogs and pork chops. Burgers were 5 Belizean dollars (2.5USD). Really good burger with onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato, hot sauce, etc. Burritos were about 4 Belizean dollars (2USD).

Spent the night walking around to some of the beach bars and meeting all the local expats of the island. Ambergris Caye too seems to have quite a large foreign community though since it's quite smaller than Cozumel it's really easy to know everyone. With only about 11,000 people you're bound to bump into the same people. I am thinking of staying in Ambergris Caye one more day to explore then taking the ferry off to Caye Caulker. I hope to do at least one day of diving tomorrow. Haven't decided if I will stay in Belize for the New Years or head to Guatemala. There is something very nice about not having to speak in broken Spanish and being understood. All the locals here speak English (or some sort of derivative of Creole/Spanglish).

25Dec/090

Scuba diving in Cozumel on Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve morning was a beautiful 85 degrees and sunny. I figured why not spend Christmas Eve scuba diving so I went out in the morning in with Aqua Safari. First dive was Palancar Caves. A beautiful dive with numerous swim-thrus. Max depth was around 90ft. Palancar Caves is easily one of my favorite dive sites in Cozumel. Total dive time approximately 1 hr and 2 minutes. Water temperature was a warm 82f.

Spend my surface interval getting some quality sun and working on my ailing sun burn. I also decided that it was smarter to pack a lunch rather than try to survive on free fruit included with the dive. I could have practically sold my sandwich to anyone on the dive boat for any asking price. The second dive was at Paso de Cedral. A great dive with a variety of different marine life. Depth was about 62ft. My dive time end up being around an hour and 14 minutes because I went into deco. (Shh...dont tell anyone). Towards the end of the dive I saw Jose (the divemaster) catching another lion fish and I descended again to watch and see if I could assist. I grabbed Jose's dive flag so he would have an extra hand while he corralled the lionfish using a poker and half of a cut off plastic water jug.

After diving I hit up my usual spots Kelley's and Woody's for some cervezas and later spent Christmas Eve sitting on a beach reading a book. That's my idea of a white Christmas; A white sandy beach and none of this snow business.

In the evening I went to Rock n' Java Cafe for Christmas Eve dinner with some local friends. Dinner was about 180 pesos and included turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables and desert. It wasn't bad at all but a little cold. Overall, Rock n' Java does great food. I was a bit taco, torta and fajita'd out so any different food was a welcomed change. My friend Mark had invited me to go to his friend's party at her condo at Rescidencias Reef so I took a taxi to the other side of the island for 130 pesos. Not a bad little party though I had arrived a bit late and lots of people had already left for the night. Beautiful condo with a great ocean view. Good beer and wonderful free food. Klara and Chad from Wet Wendy's brought along their famous homemade tequila and generously provided the margaritas. Both great people; I really love their little bar.

It's funny I think almost all the expats on the island know everyone or at least know of each other. For an island of 90,000 people Cozumel certainly feels a lot smaller. If you spend any significant amount of time here you will find yourself running into the same people and getting to know a lot of locals.