Mahahual

33 mahahual
Mahahual is a tiny coastal town at the very “end” of Mexico. Although there is a number of fancy resort hotels nearby, it’s still a very calm and not too touristy place. Hostels are not very cheap, but 200 pesos per night at Bambu Hostel definitely feels worth it! Cozy simple atmosphere, dinner (one specific dish per day) for 50 pesos per person, and 20 meters to the beach.34 Bambu hostel

39 hostel inside
35 bambu hostel fanThe former picture is me inside the hostel, right in front of the beach.

One detail I want to add which is new to me, is that although the dorm rooms don’t have air-con, each bed has its own fan. It’s gives a lot of individual control of the temperature, and at least for me, it works great!

37 mahahual
The water is very calm, mostly very smooth sand, and it doesn’t get very deep. Perhaps not super exciting, but nice to just chill and hang out in the water.36 swimmingHere’s me posing like one of Leo’s French girls.38 mahahual
I guess that’s it from here! I’ll get back to you when I decide to get back on the road!

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Mahahual day 2

f mahahual
Today I biked to the neighboring village Costa Maya to withdraw money with my friend’s credit card, because Mahahual has no ATM.
(It was for her, and also an additional loan for my last days in Mexico. I have successfully transferred money via Western Union, to be picked up in Belize, but I’ll tell more about that further down in this post.)

It was a short but sweet ride. The best news is that I had the wind at my back, and it was so much nicer to bike this way! Tomorrow I’m biking back from the coast, and I’m hopeful that it will be a much more pleasant ride without constantly struggling against the wind.

Costa Maya was an odd experience. I’m pretty sure someone thought “hey, let’s make this the next super tourist resort!”, but something has gone wrong. All the buildings had “for sale” signs, and it was like a complete ghost town.
43 costa maya inn
You could wonder why this of all places had an ATM, but there is ONE place that is alive; a big 4 star hotel named Costa Maya Inn that seems completely out of place.

It was a nice little trip, and I got to add 6 km to my totals.
44 reading
Except for just relaxing on the beach, reading, writing, one may also do some snorkeling! For 250 pesos, you’re taken out to sea, you get fins, snorkel and mask and get to swim a certain distance with a guide.

In this case, he was a super enthusiastic Mexican-American hotel manager named Marcelo, who needed a change and was now swimming with tourists instead. I think either you’d love him, or you’d find him to be “too much”. Whatever your preference is, he’s certainly a character.

I had not done much snorkeling before, but it was alright! A little grey at times, but very clear sight, as I saw the bottom at a 20 meter depth. Occasionally there were corals with lots of fish of all sizes, which was cool, and the highlight was swimming right next to a huge green turtle (one meter long surely), and it felt like something right out of Finding Nemo.

My two favorite restaurants in Mahahual are Loncheria El Primo  and  El Salsero Mayor, both on the main street, Huauchinango.
The former has this super tasty burrito (left food pic) for 45 pesos, tacos for only 10 pesos, and a whole liter of fruit juice for 30 pesos.
The latter has a lot of variation, and it’s all less than 70 pesos per meal. In the middle, we have chilaquiles; some kind of nachos covered by sauces and more. On the right, gringas; wheat tortillas with a bunch of ingredients. You could say they are like tacos, but bigger and more filling.
I’ve also tried enchiladas (almost pancakey tortilla rolls covered by sauces) and burgers there.

Money update:
Now I have enough Mexican pesos for my last few days here, but I will need a good amount of Belizean dollars upon arrival in the new country. So I tried using Western Union, sending 500 SEK + the fee of 25 SEK (a total of around 65 USD). For this, I get to withdraw 117 Belizean dollars at any shop that deals with Western Union. There are three in Corazal; the city closest to the Mexican border.

I compared the currency conversion at XE.com, and learnt that 525 SEK is currently worth 129 BZD, so it’s not too bad! I lose 6 USD on a 65 USD transfer, which seems similar to the fees and conversion fees when using regular ATM’s.

I’ll tell you next week if I managed to withdraw those Belizean dollars or not!

Mahahual – Bacalar

g mahaual - bacalar
First I want to tell about apparently the only laundry place in Mahahual. It can be found next to the restaurant The Krazy Lobster; they charge 20 pesos per kilo, so it’s not too bad if you don’t have much to be washed.
They said it would be done by 1pm the next day though, but when I came at 2:30pm, it was still not finished. “Only two minutes left!” they told me, so I walked around a little bit and came back five minutes later. “Only five minutes left!”

And so it kept going on, and I didn’t get them until past 3pm. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, because everything is slow in small villages like these, including the restaurant service. Just take a deep breath and you’ll be fine. But this time, my bike trip was delayed by an hour, which would turn out to have dire consequences.

So, on to the biking of the day!

Because of the late laundry, I didn’t start biking until 3:30pm. I was not sure yet what my plan would be, if I’d find a hostel in Pedro Antonio Santos, 65 km ahead, or if I would have to go all the way to Bacalar, 104 km away. But that could wait until later, I was optimistic and looked forward to get back on the road!

And everything started so well. The wind was at my back and I thought that maybe I’ll make this return distance at half the time compared to the other way around!

Half-way there, I suddenly felt that something was wrong. It was heavier and unbalanced. I stopped by the road, fearing the worst. And for good reason:
The tire was flat.

Crap.

I unwrapped my newly bought pump and wondered how the heck one fixes a flat tire.
48 flat tire
I started by simply pumping, to see if the air would stay. Once the tire was hard, it was a bit tricky to remove the pump without leaking out air. But I did it okay. And bounced a little on the bike to see the results.

The air was already almost gone again.

“This is bad!” I thought, as I looked for the repair kit I had also bought. Then I started unhinging the outer part of the tire, as I recall grandpa did so many years ago. It seemed to go well! But where was the leak?!
49 flat tireI kept pressing on the rubber tube, keeping my ear close to one spot at a time. Not a damn sound. I turned the bike upside down in an attempt to hear it better, but no such luck.

After I don’t know how long, and my attempt to stop a car or bus had failed too many times, I decided to just wrap it up and bike little by little, stopping regularly to refill air as to not break the wheel.

I got started. And kept going. And kept going. I wondered when I would hear metal from below me or something, but. It never happened! Was my tire not broken after all?! I don’t understand bikes, but I kept on biking with no more breaks.
50 flat tire
(Picture showing how I successfully managed to put back the tire to its original state again.)

I arrived on the highway around 7pm. Despite a long reparation break, I had made the same distance in 3:30 hours, 90 minutes less than it took to go the other direction. So I definitely recommend bus to get to Mahahual, biking back!

I saw a bus stop and wondered if I should just continue biking the last 46 km, or hope that a bus or colectivo (a cheap white van/bus) would pick up both me and the bike.
I decided for the latter, sat down and made a banana sandwich. (It’s my special recipe; peel a banana and put between two slices of bread. Squeeze. It’s quite juicy!)

One colectivo actually stopped for me! But it was full. The driver said something about how the next one would be emptier, and something that was either “veinte y uno” (21:00) or “veinte hay uno” (20:00 there’s one).
I wished with all my powers that it was the latter, or something even better, because it was already getting dark, and the mosquitoes were getting annoying.

It was a frustrating waiting game. I wondered if I should just bike the final 2 hours to Bacalar instead of finding a bus, but once the time passed 8pm, I realized that this would not be possible; it was already pitch-black outside, and I have no lights on my bike.

By 8:30, I gave up in frustration, got on my bike and started riding despite the darkness. Pedro Antonio Santos was only 6 km away, and I figured that I might have better luck there.

I biked. It was actually easier with no traffic around, because the moon lit up the road well enough for me to avoid the holes. Traffic coming from behind was also nice, I could see well for a long distance ahead. Meeting traffic was horrible, as I only saw their lights and the road in front of me was completely black.

Yes, this was dangerous. Not recommended.

But I made it to a bus stop in the tiny village Pedro Antonio Santos in one piece! An old man kept talking to me about how he’s always wanted to visit Europe, and I believe he also said that there’s a big house further ahead, where I can ask to stay the night, so I can continue biking the next morning.
I considered it for a little, but then finally, a bus came and stopped! RESCUED.
51 nice bus
We put the bike in the spare tire trunk, and arrived in Bacalar 40 minutes later. Only 30 pesos for the ride!

Here, I biked around until I saw a sign that said “hostal”. It’s called El mesón del pirata, on calle 20 / ave 5, and it costs 200 pesos per bed in a dorm. Not the cheapest, but not bad either.

This was the most adventurous day so far! I’m kind of relieved that it all went well.

Bacalar Lagoon

h bacalar
Bacalar is a moderately small town right next to the Bacalar Lagoon, also known as the lagoon of seven colors. Right next to my hostel, there’s a fort called Fuerte de San Felipe. It was built in 1733 to protect Bacalar from pirates! Now I understand why my hostel is called Mesón del Pirata!

53 bacalar
Unlike the Mexican sea coast, where it’s always free to swim anywhere, this lagoon is chopped up by different owners. This means that in order to fully appreciate what Bacalar has to offer, one either has to take a boat tour on the lake, or pay for the entrance at decent spots to swim.

There are supposedly free spots too, and I went by bike to find them.

54 lagoon 1
All along the road that goes parallel with the coast, there are people trying to sell tours. I said I wanted to find a place to swim for free, and they told me I could go down here. Nope, not the best place to swim….

55 lagoon 2
My second attempt was even worse. How did this floor even break?!

56 lagoon 3
At least this part looked nice, but it was just a pier for boats. Some kids jumped into the water from there, but it just didn’t seem appealing at all.

I was about to give up. “Should I just go back to the hostel to take a shower instead?” I wondered.
57 lagoon 4
Seven colors? Maybe three..

But no, couldn’t give up! I kept biking along the side of the lagoon and eventually left the village. This was the most hilly road I’ve encountered so far, and thought it was probably good practice. I can imagine that Guatemala and Honduras will be crazy.

58 hilly roads
Found quite a nice beach that charged 25 pesos for the entrance, but along the way, I had seen signs of a “cenote” (sweet water holes) not far away. I asked the teenage girls (who happened to be in charge of the entrance) which place was best to swim. They said both, so I decided to just continue to the cenote, which is called Cenote Azul.

It ended up being 5.3 kilometers from central Bacalar. It’s a nice little trip if you have a bike, but too far to walk.
59 cenote azul
And it’s a nice place! Using life vests is apparently obligatory, because it’s so very deep. No one stopped me when I got into the water without one though. Breaking the law, once again!

There’s an overpriced restaurant in the area as well, and WiFi! With a friend, this could have been a nice place to chill for many hours, but since I went alone, I was done after an hour and biked back home again.

61 bacalar lagoon
This view over the lagoon was quite pretty!

Food in Bacalar:
At calle 7/calle 18-20, there’s a very authentic restaurant called Tacos El Socio, and there were only locals eating there. And me.
I ordered a torta (a sandwich basically) for 22 pesos, and it’s a lot more filling than two tacos, which is what you get for the same price. Everything else was cheap too, so it’s definitely a go-to place if you’re staying for a while.

There are no supermarkets in the town, only small privately owned stores. I bought a 5 liter water container for 23 pesos and bananas for 12 pesos/kg, to be eaten on my trip tomorrow.

Visa card update:
So my bank requires that I make a phone call when ordering a new Visa card. And it’s been impossible to find a place that does international phone calls! Maybe I’ll just have to survive without one. So far it’s been fine.

Flat tire update:
I went to a bike/motorbike shop at calle 7/calle 28-30, to see if I really had a flat tire or not. Nope! It would be super flat if there was a hole, they said. They pumped my tire nice and hard and charged 2 pesos for it. Problem solved!

Day update:
When the sun was already down, I talked to a Spanish backpacker who said that there is a pretty nice place to swim nearby for free. We took a stroll there, but by then it was already closed.

We then continued to one you normally pay for, and she just walked confidently right past the guards (who were looking in the other direction at the moment), and we got in.
She was such a master thief! I’ve got a lot to learn, I thought.

The place was nothing special. Water, quite warm, nice to swim.

The end.

 

Bacalar – Corozal

i bacalar to corozal
As usual, the conditions for the next long distance were less than ideal. I woke up at 5am, realizing immediately that the aircon in the dorm had died. It was a sauna. And it seemed like no one else had enough energy to go and fix it, so I put on some clothes and walked to the reception.

No one there, and it was locked. My rescue mission had failed.

I’m not sure if I managed to sleep anymore, but I got up at 8am, had breakfast, packed my things, chilled a little, and then left Bacalar at 9:40am.

62 road
It was a really nice ride until 50 minutes later, when I reached the road split where left goes towards Chetumal and right goes to Escarcega. Here, the Caribbean wind started working against me again.

I frikkin’ hate the wind!

After 50 minutes of biking on a lower gear, I reached the second road split, where right would take me to the Belizean border. Now the wind was at my back again, and it was joyous!

Footnote:
There are two entrances to Belize in this area; one on the highway and one through the town Santa Elena. I tried the highway first, but a guard told me I have to take the other way.

I arrived to the border after less than two hours of biking. Except for my tire once again being very soft (I really have to do something about it), the day had started perfectly!

63 park in santa elena
There are lots of stores and eateries in the town by the border. I bought two liters of water for my final 17 coins (the price was actually 18 pesos, but the lady was nice) and I decided to just have another banana sandwich in a park as lunch, to get to Corozal as soon as possible.

Let me tell you more about banana sandwiches! For me, they’re among the best and cheapest food you can get. Buying a loaf of bread (preferably something whole-grain or just not the basic white one) is cheap, and bananas are amazing to put as filling; you just peel it, put between two slices of bread, and squeeze the banana mush evenly.

Written while eating my lunch:

Why the banana is the best fruit?
1. It has a natural cover, so you don’t have to clean it and it doesn’t make a mess.
2. You can have dirty fingers and still eat without touching the food part.
3. It’s soft and juicy, and can even get a little warm or mushy and be just as great with bread.
4. It’s generally cheap everywhere.
5. It’s tasty. I suppose this is a matter of opinion though. For me, banana works with everything. It goes with cereal, in yogurt, on pizza (especially with some curry powder sprinkled on), oatmeal, ice cream, fruit salads, or just by themselves.

Alright, I’m glad to finally tell the world about this magical creation of nature.

After my lunch, it was time to cross the border.

64 banana sandwich
This is a banana sandwich.

Crossing the Mexican-Belizean border:
Sometimes you have to pay 500 pesos to exit Mexico. It’s quite a large sum, but I had read online that if you’re insistent, you can say that the cost was included in the flight ticket. I tried, hehe, but the guard’s mind was very set. I had to pay 500.

Now, I had thought a few days ago that I’d better have 500 pesos left at this point, just to make sure I could enter. But because of my credit card accident, I now had exactly 170 pesos left.

I was stranded!

I started thinking about how I could get money. There’s no free WiFi in the town, but I found a “cyber” (a place where you can pay to use computers), and they let me borrow one, so that I could see if there was a Western Union nearby.

No such luck.

I sold the 6 USD I had left from my USA trip earlier in the year, and got 90 pesos for them. But I was still 240 pesos short!

The other thing that came to mind was a pawnshop. I could sell a few unnecessary things, like my jacket or my shoes, neither of which I ever use in this weather, and frankly I’d be glad to get rid of them.

I asked around, but there is no pawnshop in Santa Elena.

I could only laugh at the situation. Would I really have to beg people on the street to buy my things, to save up for the exit fee?

I went to a supermarket, trying to ask for help. They were quite interested as I showed my shoes, jacket and Kindle. Together, they’re probably worth 2000 pesos (new at least), and I hoped someone would pay 240 for it all. A guy joked about how I could sell my body to the girls, but that was the best offer I got. (And it was probably a joke anyway!)

After standing there for a while, lost and out of ideas, I started walking, thinking that maybe I’ll be lucky if I keep telling my story to people.

At the next shop, the cashier and a big man were talking, and I explained that it costs 500 to enter Belize, I’ve only got 260 and my credit card is lost. And that I have a few things to sell if needed.

This guy turned out to be my hero! He reached for the cash machine and fished up 250 for me! I thanked him dearly, and asked what things he wanted, but he just shook his head.

65 hero
I thanked again and asked if I could take a selfie with him! They laughed and I took the picture.

I returned triumphantly to the emigration booth. The guard was nice this time, and as a young teenage girl came to ask if he wanted to buy a Jamaica (some kind of fruit juice, tastes like Swedish lingonsaft) for 15 pesos, he said he’ll buy one, but for the young gentleman. Me, that is. Then he asked her if she had a boyfriend, and tried to put us together…
I thanked for the drink and crossed into the neutral zone.

Normally, the emigration and immigration are within 20-100 meters at country borders, but here, I had to bike for a while to even find where I could get a stamp in my passport. It was confusing, so be prepared for that!

66 imigration
The Belizean border control was nice and relaxed, and since there were no other people there at all, I got through very quickly.

67 belize
I had made it to Belize!

Corozal and the Sea Breeze

68 belize
The road from the Mexican border to the closest Belizean town, Corozal, is narrower than the ones I had biked on in Mexico. There was barely any room for me if cars met, so I felt a bit in the way when cars occasionally had to slow down.

It was a windy but short ride, and I arrived within 30 minutes.

71 Corozal
It’s hard to pinpoint what it is, but coming to Belize feels like being in a completely new country! That might sound silly, because it obviously is a new country, but normally when crossing borders by land, the difference doesn’t feel as big, at least in Latin America.
But here, they speak funny English, they look different and have darker skin, and the prices are twice compared to the Mexican east coast, even though it’s at least as simple and dirty, at least in this village. Worse roads too.

The daily broken tire update:
I had to stop and pump the tire on the ride to Corazal, so something is definitely fishy. As I was biking through the town, I saw a bike shop and asked if they could pump my tire, and the friendly and chill dude (I imagine Jamaicans to be like this, though I haven’t been there, yet) said no prob!
When I explained the situation, he said “must be a tiiiny little hole!” and the way he said it was just hilarious! He said he’d fix it for 2 Belizeans (≈1 USD), so I’ll definitely go back later. He didn’t want money for pumping my tire.

Money problem update:
Since my credit card is gone, I had checked online to see that three stores in Corozal deals with Western Union, and as I arrived, I immediately saw “Fry Store” along the road, which was one of them. “This was easy,” I thought.
69 fry store
But of course it wouldn’t be easy. They had stopped offering WU services.

Two more places to try… Would I have to stay the night hungry on a park bench?

The locations map on Western Union’s own website turned out to be very inaccurate, so I kept asking people and biked around the entire town, also looking for the cheapest hostel.

Then suddenly I found Doony’s Instant Loan, far from where I had pinned the address on my phone. And success, they are still WU certified!
70 doonys
Would it be that easy? Well no. Just showing my passport wasn’t enough; I also needed a long MTCN code, and I didn’t have it. The lady said I could get free WiFi in the park nearby, so I went biking once again.

The park turned out to have great WiFi, but only for 1 hour per day! Luckily it was enough for me to find the code, and I returned and got my very first 117.5 Belizean Dollars! I’m rich!

74 Sea Breeze Hotel
Turns out there are no hostels here, only private rooms in hotels. By now, I had asked around for prices, and for 45 Belizean dollars per night, The Sea Breeze Hotel was the cheapest option.

It’s a nice place right next to the Caribbean Sea. Good showers, free drinking water, air-conditioning if you pay extra. The next morning I asked for a place to buy groceries, but the owner said she’ll make breakfast for me!
75 Belizean Breakfast
I can only assume this is a typical Belizean dish. Tortillas, beans, fried eggs with tomato and cheese on top. It was pretty good! Fresh papaya juice too!

Food in Corozal:
In the evening I went out to find something affordable to eat, but was surprised by the costs. A pizza seems to go for 20-30 Belizean dollars!! A small burger for 10. Are people actually rich here, but just dress and live very simple?! I’m confused by this country.

The supermarkets are similarly expensive, with a bag of potato chips being sold for 12-14 Belizeans, a tiny bag of nuts for 6. The only affordable thing I could find were bananas, sold by a woman on the street. 8 bananas for 1 Belizean is nuts!

I asked around, and apparently Chinese food is the only thing that’s affordable. (And there are tons of Chinese restaurants and takeouts here, and most supermarkets seem to be run by Chinese as well.)
72 china food
At Perfecto Restaurant near the park, the most affordable meal was chicken sweet & sour for 10 Belizeans. It was alright, and definitely filling!

The final broken tire update (I hope):
Before leaving Corozal, I went back to the bike repair shop (also near the park) to fix my tire once and for all. Turns out it had four tiny holes!
He said that in this heat, patching so many holes will not work, and that I’ll get a new tube for 5 Belizeans. I agreed. 7 Belizeans (≈3.5 USD) for the whole reparation would have to be worth it.
76 Bike repair
The bike repair guy was a cool dude.

Now I was ready to continue my journey!

Corozal – Orange Walk

j corozal to orange walk
Going from Corozal to Orange Walk, there are three routes that are all around 50 km long. It’s hard to tell which one is the best bet, but Google Maps says that the most western route, the Northern Highway, is easily the fastest by car, so I took my chance with that one. At least it would be unlikely that I’d end up on dirt roads and break my tire again.

The first third was probably the nicest route I’ve biked so far. Constant change of scenery, many houses and civilization along the way, and wind at my back.a house
I found this house interesting.

When I got to the “highway” (which was just as narrow and uneven as the other roads in Belize so far), I got the wind against me again, and it was a little less fun. Still, with all the small buildings and people hanging by the road, it never got as monotonous as in Mexico.

orange walk square
The Queen Elizabeth Park; center of Orange Walk.

I arrived in Orange Walk after a little more than two hours, and it was easily the least exhausting distance so far. The town’s main road is quite busy and city-like, which is contrasted heavily by the country-side feel just a block away in either direction.
orange walk
Pictures above and below are also Orange Walk.
orange walk country
For the first time on this trip, I had found a couchsurfing host! It’s the family daughter that handles the profile and requests, but she’s currently in the US. Her mother, Juanita, still accepts all guests, so it’s an amazing way to stay a night or three in the area. Good company, cultural exchange, local food and bed, everything for free. That’s my kind of traveling!

Today has been full of socializing with the mother, her boyfriend, two young teenage girls who live permanently in the house, as well as a traveling couple from Puerto Rico and USA.

The girl has been making jewelry made out of stones and other trinkets she’s collected during her travels, and she told me about her idea to try to sell them online, in order to support her travels. She didn’t have a camera though, so I volunteered to help out!

The sun was setting fast though, so we rushed it and the results weren’t great. But hopefully it’s enough to get her online shop started! I may update this post with a link later on.
jewelry
It was a fun new experience to photograph jewelry.

I had only planned to stay here one night and continue to Belize City the next day, but they say that they will cook amazing food tomorrow, so I guess I’ll stay just a little longer…