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.

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.

23Dec/090

Eagle Rays, Punta Sur and Kelley’s

Woke up early this morning for diving.  Headed to El Coffee Cozumel for my usual cafe con hielo (Iced coffee) for 20 pesos.  Great little price with great coffee. Way cheaper than Starbucks.

I did the smart thing this morning and packed two sandwiches for lunch or my surface interval snack. I definitely cant survive on pieces of fruit anymore. Especially diving Punta Sur which takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get there on the slow boat.

Anyway, dove Punta Sur (or rather Devil's Throat) today with a good competant group of divers.  My dive computer hit 130ft.  Spend about 40 minutes in the water, almost hit deco.  I find the Suunto computers are really conservative. My old Aeris would have probably given me another 15 minutes.   It was a pretty average dive for Punta Sur we did about 3 caverns.

The next dive we dove was Paso de Cedral.   Hit 56ft for about 58 minutes.  Same water tempature.  We were lucky enough to see two Eagle Rays, a green moray eel, and a nurse shark towards the end of the dive along with countless other fish.  Overall, it was a pretty quality dive.

Got back around 2pm and met up with an Australian girl for lunch. Went to La Choza.  Great place as usual.  Think I am going to splurg tonight and head to Pepe's for dinner.  A bit more expensive than I want to spend but the food is great there.

Went back to Aqua Safari to check in with them for tomorrow which I think will be my last day diving before I take off Christmas and head to Belize the next day.  In the shop I saw that one of the divemasters had caught an adult lionfish at Yucab today.  I think that brings my total to 5 lionfish in my 4 days of diving.

Currently sitting at my usual watering hole, Kelley's drinking some Dos Equis draught and enjoying free wireless.

22Dec/091

Rain, French Quarter and more Lionfish

Last night sucked. It rained from about 4PM until about 10PM; heavy dourpouring.  All the streets were flooded and it was like walking through an amazon river but only one that is situated in downtown San Miguel.  Felt like I was back in Thailand during the moonsoon season. I almost needed my scuba equipment to navigate the streets. I can say with certainty that the people coming back from the afternoon diving looked absolutely miserable (and cold).

Stayed in the hostel until about 7pm drinking some cervezas and socializing with some of the other backpackers/travelers.  I ended up going out to the French Quarter because they have Monday night football that includes a 6USD buffet and 1USD beers.  Not really into football but it was better than doing nothing.  Food was so-so.  Standard cajun food with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and a few other things.  Not bad for 6 bucks.  Definitely seemed like a place where lots of local expats hang out.  I havent been here in about a year and had never been upstairs; didnt realize they had two other huge sections here.    The weather finally took a turn for the best and I think around 10PM the skies were clear.

Woke up next morning at 8am and headed for dive boat.  We dove Santa Rosa Wall  (83ft for about 52 minutes) and Villa Blanca wall (49ft for 55 minutes).  Miguel caught another lionfish at Santa Rosa bringing the total to 4 that I have seen caught in my last 3 days of diving.  We saw an Eagle Ray at Villa Blanca and what can best be described as the most massive green moral eel i've ever encountered.    Water temperature was around 81-82 degrees though my computer did briefly register 79 degrees.  Sun was finally out and the weather was beautiful. I am hoping the rest of the week stays like this.  I want to be sitting on a beach come Christmas.  We're supposed to do Punta Sur tomorrow and then I think I will maybe do 1 or 2 more days of diving in Mexico.

Didnt do too much today other than dive and buy groceries at the Mega.  I figured I would try to save more money instead of eating out every day for lunch so I bought some turkey, ham, cheese and bread to make sandwiches.  I also picked up a six pack for Modelo for about 52 pesos (about 4USD).

Brought my laundry to a place called Margarita Laundromat back on Ave 11 and Sur 5 (I believe). I think it's about 45 pesos (3.5USD) for them to wash/dry a load of laundry.  Hopefully should be ready at 6pm otherwise i'll be stuck wearing swimming shorts and a dirty t-shirt I bought in Cambodia for 3 bucks. Classy.

Oh yeah, I also got a haircut at Antonio's for 70 peos (5.5USD).  Looking a little less like a bum; next priority is shaving but that can wait.

No plans for tonight yet though this six pack of Modelo is going down like piss water, cold piss water.   7ocents a beer is better than 1USD-2USD beer in town.