Thursday, 30 March 2017


We’ve spent the last week in Oaxaca City, set amongst the mountains in south-west Mexico at an altitude of 1600m. It’s a colourful place, literally and metaphorically, proud of its music, culture and food.

Oaxaca's main pedestrian street
As in other parts of the country the buildings are brightly painted and the region is famous for its colourful handicrafts, as touted on stalls and by every street corner by enterprising locals.
Plaza Santa Domingo
One of Oaxaca's many churches
In the Zocalo, Oaxaca’s central square, there is live music every night – from traditional ‘banda’ (Mexican brass band), to mariachi bands, marimba players and buskers singing and playing guitar or cello.  At any one time in the square, you’re likely to hear at least two performances going on – I’m not sure how it’s possible for the musicians to concentrate and tune out the other music – but they are all keen to earn their evening’s tips!

I don’t think I realized how much of the music I like it influenced by the warm Mexican big-band brass sound. Of course, now it’s obvious, many of the bands I like are from the southern states in the USA, not too far from Mexico, so it’s obvious that the influence might creep across the border.

Here’s a track for you to listen to – and for those of you who know the bands Beirut, or Neutral Milk Hotel – see if you can hear the similarities (though less so in the vocals!)

The Zocalo is also home to many shoe-shiners and balloon sellers – there are surely too many of them to all compete with each other, but it all adds to the colour of the square.
Shoe-shiners in the Zocalo

One day we did a trip to nearby mountain village, Cuajimoloyas for some hiking and zip-lining. At an altitude of 3200m it was much cooler and a welcome relief from the scorching temperatures in the city. A three-hour hike, however, was exhausting at that altitude, where the air was so much thinner!

View from Cuijimoloyes
Looking down on to Oaxaca City
We ended the day zip-lining from one mountain village to another – a one kilometre zip line, eighty-metres high and travelling at 60kmph! Well done to Kev for facing his fear of heights to do this!

Zipline from Cuajjimoloyes to Benito Juarez
The foodie scene in Oaxaca is also something they are very proud of and it’s possible to eat very well and very cheaply, with lots of family-run traditional restaurants, food markets and local specialties, including Oaxaca’s own ‘string’ cheese (a bit like mozzarella), locally brewed craft beer, stout and mezcal.

Breakfast of champions!
We enjoyed a meal in the local market – a passageway full of barbecues serving grilled meat, chorizo, chilies and onions. We got rather more than we could eat – our limited Spanish meaning we were unsure quite how much we were getting and the locals taking the opportunity to sell us things by blinding us with science! The meal was cheap and delicious, however!

This led us to signing up for a crash course in Spanish – sixteen hours over four mornings – so whilst we’re still very much beginners, we can at least say a few sentences now and conjugate a few verbs! We’ll practice what we’ve learnt during the rest of our trip – all of which is in Spanish-speaking countries.

Next, we'll head down to Zipolite on the Pacific Coast next for a spot of beach time. I'll blog again from there.


Saturday, 25 March 2017


When we last went to Cozumel in 2012, I swore I’d never do that ferry crossing ever again – yet here I am back on the boat, on the notoriously bumpy crossing!

This time, however, it definitely wasn’t as traumatic – with live music on board, beautiful sunshine and a lovely breeze out on deck. Fortunately, my fellow passengers seemed to enjoy themselves too – this is the main point of difference from your last crossing where it seemed everyone was unwell around us. We were fine, as always!

The reason that we – and that most people – go to Cozumel is for the scuba diving. Having not dived for over two years we wanted a quick refresher and the guarantee of some world-class dives.

The weather was perfect for us, and the island was protected from much of the wind that we had in Tulum. 

I must say it did feel odd diving again and I was a bit nervous on the first dive, but we felt really comfortable on the second – if a little cold! It’s funny how even a wetsuit and warm Caribbean water can feel chilly when you’re under for forty-five minutes! 

The dives were good, with excellent visibility and a great variety of marine life. Some of the highlights were seeing a splendid toad fish, a couple of turtles, a huge green moray eel, some enormous lobsters and some flounders on the sea floor.

Other than that, Cozumel was much how we remembered it – a chilled out Island lifestyle (but for the daily arrival and departure of cruise ships) and Mexico's trademark colourful painted buildings and wall murals too. 

It’s been really hot and when we’ve not been in the water, we’ve enjoyed walking along the seafront and watching the iguanas roaming about. We’re enjoying the last of the coast before we head off to our next destination, Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaca) City. I’ll write again from there.
Hasta luego!

Saturday, 18 March 2017


A relatively quiet week (in terms of activity) for us this week as we took time to stop and stay in one place for a while. We’ve been to Tulum a few times before so we knew we’d be happy to spend a bit of time here. It’s also a good place to get some work done so we worked and relaxed hard on the many lovely beaches in the area.

Tulum Beach
Posing on the rocks!
Not so quiet was our week in terms of noise, as our ten-day stay just so happened to coincide with a ten-day Mayan music festival to celebrate the harvest. We found out the festival takes place twice a year and in our case, took place on the exact dates of our stay in Tulum!

The Mayans sure know how to party, kicking off around 10pm and finishing up around 4.30am every night. Lucky for us we were well-equipped with earplugs and decent noise-cancelling headphones as the music was so loud!

Unimpressed at the lack of sleep on our first night, Kev took it upon himself to craft a two-page letter to the accommodation management, written in Spanish (using Google Translate) at 4am – I would pay good money to see a copy of this letter now and wonder if it made sense in his sleep-deprived, non-Spanish speaking state!

We have been ‘glamping’ this week – essentially canvas tents with thatched, cabana-style roof and a real king-sized bed inside. All brand new and very comfortable with a pool and free bike hire to get around town.

Kev chilling out in the pool
We made the most of the bikes to cycle down to the beach and back most days – a respectable 15km round trip. The beach is stunning, on the Caribbean coast, but it has been really windy, which has washed in a lot of seaweed. However, it’s also a nice cool breeze to cut through the heat of the day and good fun playing in the waves, despite the odd piece of seaweed hitting you in the face!

Dodging the seaweed at Tulum Beach
We also went to visit some of the other beaches and cenotes just outside of town: Ixcacel beach (also very windy) is where the turtles go to lay their eggs, though being there in the daytime, we didn’t actually see any whilst we were there.

Turtle Beach at Ixcacel
A cenote is a fresh-water pool formed when a limestone cave collapses. There are loads of them in this part of Mexico and are great for swimming and snorkelling. The colour of the water is just gorgeous too.

Ixcacel Cenote

Kev claims he once saw a baby crocodile in one and today, in Casa Cenote, we were talking to a scuba diver who had just seen a six-foot croc during his dive in the same cenote! He said the croc was eating a duck when he saw it, so wasn’t concerned that it might also be interested in him for lunch, but I think he must have had nerves of steel to not freak out!
Casa Cenote
We went for a swim but after hearing that story we stayed pretty close to the edge, in case the hungry crocodile comes back out! Sat on the edge, we had our own mini 'fish spa' with little fish nibbling at our toes!
Our own mini fish spa!
We made friends with the owner of a local Mayan restaurant during our stay. Having planned to just pop in for a quick drink on our way back from the beach, he kept bringing us tortillas, salsas and Mayan specialties that he wanted us to try, to get a real taste of the region. In the end, we didn’t have room for dinner that night, but we did make sure we gave him a particularly generous tip when only charged us for the drinks.

We went back for dinner again a couple of nights later and loved the local fresh fish, ceviche, refried beans and other specialities he prepared for us. We continue to eat well – especially when tacos for two cost as little as £1.50!
Kev and the Mayan family
The contrast in Tulum is the glut of high-end resorts and Western-style restaurants versus the local Mexican and Mayan establishments – there’s a real divide between the rich tourists and the locals, but it’s still a nice town and done on a budget it is possible to live cheaply – fortunately we’re still on budget!

Today we head an hour along the coast to Playa del Carmen, then hop on the ferry across to Cozumel Island – most famous for scuba diving, and will be our first dives of the trip.

Friday, 10 March 2017


On to stop two of our Mexican tour!

Merida is the Yucatan state’s capital and is a lively, cultural hub in land on the north coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

The locals are really proud of their Mayan heritage and consider themselves to be Mayan as opposed to Mexican. Many of the shops and market stalls sell traditional handicrafts and colourful embroidered cotton shirts, in the traditional style of their Mayan ancestors and many of the locals still wear these garments today.

The main square with the cathedral in the background

Despite its Mayan heritage, we thought the city itself has a European feel and it reminded us a lot of Seville or Catania. The city centre is arranged around a number of shady squares with restaurants with tables outside. There are even horse and carts – exactly like the ones in Seville – taking tourists on tours of the city centre. 

A shady square by the Santa Ana church
Apparently when the Spanish invaded Merida they knocked down several of the Mayan pyramids they discovered when they arrived and used the materials to build the cathedral and some of the other buildings, hence why it looks and feels a bit Spanish.

Another square, another church...
Merida is quite a small city – well, the city centre anyway. Everywhere is walkable and we only needed a couple of days to see most of the sights.
That said, we walked around eight miles a day according to my fitness tracker – no mean feat in the thirty-four-degree heat and blazing sunshine! It’s good to know that despite not doing any formal exercise, we are at least getting in a few miles of walking every day.

To take a break from the heat we escaped into a couple of art galleries to take in some local culture and to make the most of the air conditioning!
We visited the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Popular Art. The latter was certainly an experience, being a very small gallery, run by a small and very enthusiastic team who spoke no English (and us with our very limited Spanish), but they insisted we saw every inch of the gallery including a twenty-minute video, of which we understood very little! There wasn’t a great deal of content in the museum, but we were really charmed by the warmth of the locals.

In the afternoon, we went for a stroll around the zoo, which formed part of a nearby park. They had an impressive selection of animals (especially considering it was free entry) including white tigers, jaguars, lions, crocodiles and hippos, but I’m not convinced all the animals were living in happy conditions as we saw a couple of them exhibiting some signs of distress, or certainly boredom. Hmm.

There is also a good foodie scene in Merida – many local Mayan specialities and the standard Mexican fare, like slow-cooked marinated pork, chicken 'mole' (a savoury chocolate-based sauce for meat), refried beans and of course, tacos and tortillas.
It must seem to readers of this blog that we do little more than eat and drink on our travels – well, it is certainly part of the experience! Here we had 'chaya' - a green leafy vegetable, very similar to spinach and apparently very good for you - we tried the chaya and lime juice, which was really refreshing.
A traditional Mayan feast!
We also discovered a good craft beer scene and in one bar we went to, of the eight local artisan beers on offer, three were stouts, so Kev was very happy! 
La Negrita - a trendy Merida bar
Next up we will travel to Tulum, on the Southern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula – and one of our favourite places in the world. We are looking forward to spending some time on the beach after our city break.

We’ll put down roots in Tulum for a couple of weeks, so it’ll also be nice to stop and unpack our bags for a while, instead of constantly being on the move. I’ll write again from there.

Saturday, 4 March 2017


We're back on the road again! After a long flight and a brief stopover in Cancun, we headed straight to our first destination, Holbox (pronounced hol-bosh) – as island off the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Holbox, the so-called ‘magical isle’ is an up-and-coming destination. Its streets are made of compacted sand, the buildings are brightly painted with colourful murals on the walls and the main form of transport is golf cart or bicycle.

Brightly coloured buildings against a blue sky

One of the many wall murals in Holbox
A colourful pink cafe

The town sits on the northern edge of the narrow island, a white sand beach stretches most of the way along the northern coast and much of the rest of the island is jungle (we’ve already got too many mosquito bites to count!) 

Once known mainly as a haven for bird-watchers, Holbox is home to many large seabirds including pelicans and flamingos (though sadly we didn’t see any of the latter). 
Whale sharks are also spotted in the seas here – but we didn’t see any of those either! Instead we’ve mainly been relaxing into the first few days of our trip and enjoying the warm weather again (one cold month in London is enough to make us forget what summer feels like!)
Watch tower on the beach
Kev takes a dip in the Gulf of Mexico
We had a bit of a nightmare accommodation situation on arrival – a case of a badly managed (read: neglected) Airbnb house that had recently been trashed by a group of American ‘Spring Break-ers’. Basically, the whole house was left in a total state and not attended to by the cleaner. To make matters worse the power wasn’t working correctly, so no air conditioning, a fan which barely stirred the air and no working plug sockets. The final straw was popping out for breakfast and getting locked out of our room – where all our bags were.

We soon realised we needed to get us and our stuff out of there as soon as possible, but this was easier said than done as there was no management to be seen and none of the phone numbers we had for them worked! 

So, Kev channelled his inner Tintin/Columbo and managed to track down the owner by visiting a beauty salon who’s business card he found in the apartment. It turns out the salon was run by the owner’s sister, who directed Kev to the bar the owner hangs out at. The barman called the owner and arranged for him to meet us back at the house in five minutes. There’s thinking outside of the box for you!

The owner was really apologetic and quickly offered us a full refund – then announced that running an Airbnb was too stressful and that he was just going to sell the house instead!

Fortunately, we were able to find another (much cleaner!) place to stay without any problem and enjoy the rest of our time on the island. The only slight downside being the live music in the bar across the road until 3am every night! However, it was at least good Cuban/Latin style music, so there are worse things to fall asleep to (or be kept awake by!)

So far we’ve spent most of our time hanging out at the beach and enjoying the yummy Mexican food – tacos, burros (like burritos, but bigger), guacamole, fajitas and ceviche – we certainly won’t be going hungry!
Enjoying some enormous sundowners!
Tomorrow we’re heading to our next stop, Merida, the Yucatan capital – known for its art, music, museums and Mayan culture. I’ll write again from there…