Our intrepid explorer James Willis signs in again with an account of chicken pizza at Chichen Itza…
Having finally departed from Los Angeles, I found myself lost in yet another culture shock.
I hadn’t expected Guatemala to be a global hub, but from the moment I landed it seemed as though even their major cities were what many other countries would look at as small villages or slums.
After reaching my hotel in the town of Antigua, I quickly settled into my room to get comfortable before setting out to find an ATM and some small souvenirs.
With every cobblestone street looking almost identical, I would easily have gotten lost were my hotel not next to the elaborate and noticeable town church.
That evening I met the rest of my new tour group, quickly discovering that this time I was the youngest, ‘baby’ of the group. In some cases, by a long distance.
Diving straight into the Central American culture, I ordered a big plate of nachos for dinner. I soon came to yet another realisation that everything, not matter what meal it was, would come with beans.
We left Antigua particularly early the following morning (04:30) in order to beat the rush hour traffic during the first half of our day’s travel. In total, it was a 10 hour drive to another small town, called Flores, which was to be our next destination.
It was while here that we were taken on a guided tour of the Tikal ruins left behind by the Mayans.
While each temple is, essentially, built exactly the same, it’s still difficult not to marvel at them all. Especially having been given the opportunity to climb up some of them, overlooking the jungle canopy to the rest of the archeological site.
The temples are all aligned in order to help tell the seasons and to produce maximum ‘magical’ effect, presumably so the royal family could keep the Mayan citizens under their rule.
After our second night in Flores, we once again had to leave relatively early so we could cross the border into the more Caribbean styled nation of Belize. It didn’t seem like the most well guarded border, with a quick passport check and £2 fee the only requirements to pass through.
Upon entry to Belize, the difference was easy to see. The general vibe was far less ‘poor Central American’ and far more ‘relaxed Caribbean’. Even the scenery seemed to change to suit this immediately after the border.
We arrived at our resort in San Ignacio not long after crossing the border and to say it was different from our hotel in Antigua would be an understatement.
All of our rooms were small huts out in the resort’s garden area, in which iguanas were casually roaming about and the popular habit for sitting around drinking endless rum and coke started.
The first day was spent with everyone relaxing in the pool (and the secret cave behind the pool waterfall) and a few drinks at the poolside bar.
That evening quickly became one of the strangest of my trip so far. Having had a shower and climbed into bed, my failure to actually fall asleep led me to grab some shorts and a t-shirt, throw on my shoes and head off to the hotel bar for a quick drink of water.
I need up coming across one of the few younger members of my tour group there and after talking to her for five minutes, we were joined by a local who had just wandered into the resort.
A short chat with him and we were suddenly at a nearby rastafarian karaoke bar. The biggest reception obviously came when someone started singing Bob Marley’s “Iron Lion Zion”, but the strangest part was the amount of power ballads that seemed to be chosen here.
The following day was a chance to relax by the pool and it couldn’t have been any more comfortable. Jumping in to the pool every so often, combined with sunbathing, a few drinks and the Confederations Cup final, made for a day that left me wishing we could stay in the resort for longer.
However, we were back on the road early the next morning, travelling two hours by van up to Belize City, by the coast. It was from here that we took a 45 minute water taxi to the island of Caye Caulker, which is one of Belize’s little spots of Caribbean paradise.
On our arrival, around lunchtime, we all dropped our bags off at the hotel and headed for the beach. In this case, when I say beach, I mean fishing boat docks, as covers the whole coastline the island. That doesn’t make it any less appealing though, as there are still countless swimmers in the warm Caribbean waters.
Later, having taken the opportunity to join the now traditional ‘rum and coke drinking session’ on the hotel roof, we all headed out to one of the island’s evening hotspots, ‘I and I reggae bar’.
The day after, everyone in the group headed out snorkelling, with me quickly realising I was the only one who had instead chosen to explore the island.
I spent my day wandering the streets, being approached as a potential ‘smoking partner’ by many rastafarian street dwellers, and looking for a souvenir.
Having hunted around, been to the beach and coming across some not so comfortable streets, I ended up buying a small canvas painting from a local artist to take home as my souvenir.
Despite the rain throughout the day (as it’s hurricane season in Belize), we still had the usual rum and coke on the roof and reggae bar drinking sessions after the group returned, to end the day.
On our last full day in Caye Caulker, we headed back to the beach at thew most popular part, known as “the split”. This is due to the island effectively being split into two parts by a thin channel of water, about 8 feet deep, running between both bits of land.
There was time for one last rum and coke on the roof and before an early night for everyone due to the early start the following morning.
An early 6am start was not best appreciated thanks to the heavy showers that were falling outside, yet we all still managed to manoeuvre our way to the taxi boat.
Soaking wet, we took the taxi boat back to Belize City, before embarking on a four hour journey on a local chicken bus. Thankfully it wasn’t quite as small or extreme as the Indian buses, but it was enough to be an experience.
Once we reached the border, we had to rush through both customs, Belizean exit and Mexican entrance, before getting on a more comfortable, air conditioned coach for the final four hours to Playa Del Carmen.
On arrival, we dropped our bags off and headed to a small, incredibly Mexican restaurant. Ordering the recommended ‘Gringas’, I was delivered a delicious tortilla-like sandwich, filled with spiced pork, cheese and countless other flavouring pieces.
After dinner we were showed the main road for shopping, at which point I split off from the group to make sure I managed to get everything I was after. I picked up a green and yellow luchadore mask as a souvenir before going on the hint for some chicken pizza.
This food would be for the following day, when I planned to head to Chichen Itza and make an all too predictable ‘chicken pizza at Chichen Itza’ joke.
Having managed to buy my bus tickets to Chichen Itza, and finally pieced together a custom chicken pizza at midnight, I strolled out to the bus station early the following morning.
Having arrived 40 minutes early, I was proud of myself for being incredibly organised. So proud that I didn’t notice we had skipped a time zone heading into Mexico and that I was actually 20 minutes late.
After managing to get a refund for the return part of my ticket, I instead decided to spend the rest of the day drinking cocktails and swimming at the beach.
I joined two of the ‘older’ guys on our tour, who in their advanced years were more interested in the women on display than me. Frankly, I was fixated on the water, that was bluer than I’ve ever seen water before.
After two margaritas and two pina borrachos, as well as a few dips in the sea, many hours passed and I slowly wandered back to the hotel, feeling roasted but comfortably so.
A relaxing day was followed by a ‘pre-evening’ spent by the hotel pool, playing water volleyball and relaxing on the sunbeds.
The group headed out for dinner again that evening as the tour guide had booked an amazing restaurant giving us a table that was quite literally on the beach, with our chairs sinking into the sand and only candles for lighting.
We all headed out for one last evening of drinking cocktails after dinner as all alcohol sales in Playa Del Carmen ceased at midnight, for the entire weekend, due to local elections.
The smart part of this was that our tour guide had bought some bottles of rum beforehand in order to continue the party by the hotel pool, after midnight, with (the now too common) rum and cokes.
Despite the fact that this is now the last night of the tour and the last evening that I’ll get to go out drinking with these people, it feels right that we leave in Playa Del Carmen. It truly is a holiday resort for drinking cocktails and sunbathing, so trekking on any further from here on a tour would just be a bit too much.