Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Xcalak - the Mexican dilemma

Advertisement reads: Two months in a beachfront casita with own jetty and pool, looking after two dogs. When, where, count us in! Yep, we applied, we Skyped, we were offered, we accepted. Chris was a little sceptical about it, maybe nervous of two months in one place with nothing but the sea and sand. But as our arrival date got closer we got more and more excited. Then a message arrives from the house sitters we're taking over from - looks like a hurricane is on its way. Do you want to come early so we can get out of here before it hits? Anyway, we get there a day early and the hurricane path has changed to poor old Haiti. Who knows, maybe we will go and volunteer to help with the recovery! As it turns out we spent a few days with Jillian and Ross, a Canadian/Australian couple, who were great company and made our handover simple.

First morning we wake up late with sunlight streaming through the shutters into our room and the ceiling fan gently moving the warm air. For this read as follows: it was so bloody hot and humid with the ceiling fan barely moving the sultry air that we did not sleep well and we had to peel our damp, stinky bodies off the sheets to get up.Good news though, we found the answer to this problem. Three fans aimed at us! We have spent so long in the mountains that coming back to sea level has taken some time to acclimatise to but we're getting there. It helps that the weather is actually cooling. So much so that at 27 degrees I felt chilled today. 

One of the buildings of Maya Ka'an
Maya Ka'an is to be our home for October and November. It's the beautiful home of two doctors from Winnebago, Oregon. There's a Casita which is a little self contained house that is specifically for the housesitters. This is actually about twice the size of our apartment in Kumagaya, Japan. Then there's the two guest rooms in a two storey block with beautiful sweeping staircase outside. On the far side of the property is the owners Suite. This is a gorgeous room with high vaulted ceilings, outside shower and indoor tub finished with a terrace looking out to the sea. Central to all of this is a huge building with a kitchen to die for leading into another high ceilinged room with a gigantic table made of one piece of wood that seats 12 easily. This looks across an open sitting space surrounded by shuttered and screened windows on three walls. The main doors open out so you can walk across the bridge over the pool and head straight to the 50 metre jetty that extends into the warm, Caribbean waters. It is pretty cool.

Bella and Sadie - The ex Mexican street bitches
Along with all this comes two of the most sociable and loving ex-street dogs you could ever meet. Sadie and Bella are supposed to be guard dogs but they just want to be with you, standing on you, sitting on, licking your feet and generally being made a fuss of. Probably not the best treatment for guard dogs! Chris runs along the beach with them in the mornings and I take them late afternoon for a stroll so they can run into the jungle and get eaten by Jaguars. Seriously, Xcalak is a marine and jungle protected area and the jungle starts about 20 metres from the house and it apparently has Jaguars, Pumas, ocelots, alligators and hundreds of bird life. It's a RAMSAR protected area so provides a stop point for migrating birds, it's a bit too overgrown and full of bugs/critters for me to venture into.

Maya Ka'an is an off grid self sufficient home. First time for us and it's great knowing that you can leave on a light and it's ok cos it's from a clean, renewable source. Oh, I feel all environmentally friendly. So, the power is from solar panels and stored in batteries, it does have a back up generator behind the house about 30 metres into the jungle, just in case. Actually a good job it does. One night, at about 3 am the fan stopped and the outside light went out. Surprisingly it woke me up and not Chris. So I find the torch and keys for the generator room, put on long trousers and think to myself, 'you can do this. It's just across the track, only a little way into the jungle. There's no one there.' And I recite this mantra for about ten minutes before I wake Chris up and tell him it's a blue job. He needs to get up and go and put the generator on!

A couple of other firsts, besides the off grid experience, for us. Me solo in a kayak. Chris having a threesome on a kayak. Made up of one man and two dogs! Opening and grating our own fresh coconut. Naked Palapa building. Trying to fish for our supper which was more like feeding the fish for an hour and then having eggs for dinner.

Chris and the girls
We have the use of the pool which is an unusual arrangement, it's like a two metre wide moat around the central building with a couple of bridges across so you can't actually swim in but it's fabulous for cooling down in. Trouble is rain storms, crabs and dogs that like to jump in all contribute to an algae causing green pool. It's not pleasant and I certainly don't want to get in it. Poor Chris has had to spend a few hours virtually everyday cleaning and filtering and testing the pool. It's still a problem but I guess if that's all we have to worry about then it's manageable!

We have met one set of neighbours. They're our closest neighbours at 1.7 kms away. They are Peter and Alexis, a retired couple from America and they are so welcoming and helpful. They took us to the closest town, Mahahual, with a Super-mart (this is not really a supermarket but it's a bit more than someone selling tortillas and crisps from their front room which is what we have in Xcalak). Mahahual has cruise boats come in most weeks and if you're in town on a day when there are no boats don't be surprised if nothing is open. Peter and Alexis have a beautiful live coral reef just off their beach and we have been snorkelling there a few times. It is so cool that you can walk out to it and just glide around with the different corals and fish on your doorstep. Oh, talking of which, I saw a stingray off our jetty this morning.

We got to almost four weeks managing on provisions that we bought with us and a top up in Mahahual but we have had to finally bite the bullet and do the Chetumel run. Chetumel is the closest large town with a couple of proper supermarkets as we know them, though we still cannot find Marmite. It is 220 kms that we have to do in the Jeep left for us by the homeowners. This Jeep should be perfect but it has no suspension, the front strut has gone on one side and the near side passenger window is out and just a plastic bag taped in place. The first 15 kms of the journey take about 40 minutes, it's along a track that is full of potholes and the jungle is trying to claim it back with bushes encroaching from both sides. There are a handful of properties scattered along the track who, from some weird reason, think they should slow the traffic from the 15 kms per hour that they might get to. So they put down a 'tope'. It's basically a thick rope laid across the road as a speed bump. Once we were past this first hurdle and I've unpeeled my fingers from the dashboard we have to take the jungle road for about another 60kms. This is the most boring road and though the potholes are fewer they catch you out because you've forgotten you're looking for them and you're watching out for Jaguars and alligators. Then we get to a main highway for the last leg of the journey and were on the road for a total of three hours. The last leg is pretty good roads but when you come into any kind of urban area or turn offs they slap in 'topes'. Sometimes with warning and sometimes with out. So this part of the journey is spent with me shouting "tope", Chris screeching to a slow enough speed that we don't bang our heads on the roof but we do squeal and take off as we make our grand entrance into each town. Good thing is it puts off the fruit sellers that are parked up at each tope trying to sell you stuff because you have to slow down. Or not in our case.

Jungle view from the rooftop
We find the supermarket and fill two trolleys with enough food and drink for the next six weeks. You know what, it feels like Christmas food shopping in England. Are we going to need squeezy cheese, how many bottles of rum will we drink and are 4 packets cereal enough. Only to discover we got home and forgot to get toilet paper. I don't care, I'll hose my arse cos I'm not doing that journey again! It was exhausting and not actively encouraged by either of us to do again.

I'll finish with what we think is an urban legend but there is some evidence that may suggest that there's more truth to it. We have been led to believe that it's a fairly regular occurrence for some unusual and possibly illegal things to be washed ashore on this coast. Something the locals call 'the square, white fish' amongst other things. This is a well packaged square parcel weighing about 2 kgs and its white. The story goes that cocaine is being shipped from South of Mexico, Belize and beyond, up the coast to Cancun and into the Caribbean and US. The boats stick close to the shore for refuelling etc and if they are being pursued by the marine police they dump the goodies overboard and being close enough to shore will know roughly where it will wash up. Apparently if you find anything there's a few options open to you. Option 1/ You could say, fuck it, let's get twatted. But you may get a visit from an unfriendly sombreroed Mexican carry a machete demanding his 'fish', money or your fingers. Option b/ You could just walk on by and pretend you didn't see anything. Option iii/ Or you could check over both shoulders, make sure no one can see you, stuff it down the front of your shorts and hide it. Then through a friend of a friend of a friend pass it to a man with a big moustache and black curly hair who will give you a finders fee. So which option would you take? 

We have seen a packet of Belize cigarettes on the beach. We took option b, they were very wet anyway. Also we have seen, with our own eyes, an 18lb lump of partially wrapped marijuana that was retrieved from the beach by a local, so there must be something to the stories.

You can leave your hat on....
Xcalak, two months of relaxing on the Caribbean Sea. It's been fairly calm and we're enjoying the solitude, nakedness and just taking each day as it comes. Still not sure when the homeowners are coming back but our visas run out in December so we'll be gone by then...unless we are successful with our 'fishing', then we may have to go earlier.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Mucho Gusto Merida

Real Mexican Food
Merida. Urmm... thought we would be here a couple of days and stayed a week. It's a interesting place. The usual attractive buildings in the downtown centro area (although the colours are more muted – more pastels than primaries). It's the capital of Yucatan, has a lovely Zocala in front of the Cathedral with horses and carriages lined up to take you on tours of the streets. The Cathedral was the first one built in the whole of the America`s. It's a pretty solid building and is a cross (clever pun) between a house of god and fortress. Sometimes Jesus just needs some back up too. 

The First Cathedral in the America's
The municipal government lays on all sorts of events everyday such as light shows and video mapping on the Cathedral, A night of 40’s music and the three things we saw – A ‘Pok ta pok’ demonstration. This is an Ancient Mayan ball game played with three people on each team. A hoop is affixed somewhere about the 8ft up mark on the side of a long thin court. The players coming from opposite ends move to and fro try to get points by getting a 3kg ball through the hoop using neither arms, head or legs – all hips, arse and torso. Quite an art. - sometimes the ball is on fire!!!

Football Mayan Style
Mexican night – Every Saturday there is a flea market and traditional dance performances are given by large troupes of dancers in gaily coloured attire. Bit touristy but nearly everyone was Mexican so maybe not.

And, Baila Merida (Dance Merida) where a stage is erected, flashing lights shine into the night sky and the square is filled with crowds all having a bit of a dance to 8 piece live band. This on a hot Sunday evening when no alcohol was being sold in the shops so there was no drunken revelry, just complete unabashed enjoyment.

Bailar Marida
We were fortunate enough to take in a performance of OSY (Orquesta Sinfonica de Yucatan) which is based in Merida and perform bi weekly for the ridiculously cheap price of 150 peso (sick squid). For this you get Row F centre stage tickets and can hobnob with the cultured and well dressed citizens of Merida. I believe, I was the only one in flip flops and tee shirt. But then they probably have more than a bag of slowly degenerating clothes to draw upon. The conductor, the most energetic of his ilk I have seen, was positively dripping by the end of the performance which took in Beethoven, a fantastic trumpet piece by Hummel and, not surprisingly, a stirring bit of Sibelius. Old Sibby certainly knew how to employ an orchestra and this maestro gangmeister worked ‘em like a pro – especially the cello players whose fingers were going double time over the frets most of the time.

A bit of culture 
Another night we enjoyed a free piano and violin recital at another theatre. And, one afternoon (how decadent), went to the cinema. It cost 100 pesos each (4 GBP) and for that we each got a huge leather, lazyboy style chair with electric settings that could take you from sitting to laying vertically. The chairs set in doubles were set apart from the neighboring patrons by 2ft. Each chair had drinks holders, swivel glass table and call button to attract the waiters who could take your orders ranging from pop corn to a three course meal with wine or cocktails. We saw the latest Bridget Jones movie. Which was pretty goood. The best part however was being in a cinema with mainly females who were positively squirming and ooohhhing over the shirts off scenes and raucously laughing at the comedy situations.

Thats it. Mexico is nearly done. Now off to our house sit on a remote peninsula on the Caribbean coast just above Belize. Private beach, nearest neighbour 1 mile so woohoo! …sun, sea, sand, sex….and probably bad hair here we come!