After our first day trip to Mexico
and the problems we had leaving the country, I wasn't sure if I ever wanted to return, but time has a way of mellowing out our memories, and we knew that there were many wonderful things about our neighbor country that we really wanted to see. It's just too close to Belize not to check out, and we'd been studying Spanish (via Pimsleur audio course
) off and on over the past year, and wanted to have a chance to try out our rudimentary skills. Plus, by staying over a week, we knew the exit fee was expected and not a scam. So, we planned a bus trip that would have us staying in five different cities over a two-week period and venturing west from the Yucatan Peninsula up into the dry highlands of Chiapas. We'd hoped to make it to Oaxaca as well, but the long bus rides there and back would have lengthened our trip by too much, so we'll have to save that one for another time.
We'd bought our tickets for the 8 am ferry to Chetumal and taken Paisley to the Pampered Paws for boarding the day before, as we wouldn't be able to get her there before the ferry departed. We had to catch a very early Coastal Express water taxi from the Grand Caribe dock the day of our travels, which left us plenty of time to walk over to Water Jets International and to wait for them to officially open so that we could go through immigration to check out of Belize. Fortunately, the security guy let us wait on this bench on the lagoon side of the island by the dock. We were the first ones there.
Here was our ferry to Chetumal.
In addition to the usual $7.50 BZ Belize port fee, there is a new $30 BZ ($15 US) exit tax that must be paid by all non-residents when leaving Belize by boat since the last time we went to Chetumal. Grumble.
Fortunately, the boat wasn't very full, so it was a comfortable ride over to Mexico. We had taken the competing ferry line last time, and this one, while a bit more expensive ($75 US per person), had a few more luxuries. Better (padded) seats, a complimentary cookie and glass of juice, and even a DVD movie!
Note: Currently the two ferry companies alternate days going to Chetumal, and we found out on returning that that alternation is not just a slow-season thing (as we'd assumed) but will continue indefinitely. Something important to know when planning a trip for a certain date, you have to know which company will be running that day, especially since the other company's dock is on the sea-side. You don't want to end up at the wrong dock without enough time to get to the other if need be!
Inside our snazzy -- and very shiny -- ferry
Once we arrived at the Chetumal dock, we had to go through the drill of having our bags checked by the drug-sniffing dog, accompanied by the Mexican police with machine guns. It's a bit intimidating since there's certainly no such procedure when arriving in Belize, but we had nothing to hide. Still, we joked about how the dog smelled something in Barry's pack last time, so its contents had to be inspected; and believe it or not, out of all the bags from passengers on our boat, the same thing happened again this time! This time it was his waist pack containing all his toiletries, and the police paid verrrrrry close attention to a bottle of OTC melatonin, but fortunately, they found nothing suspicious and finally let us go on our way through customs and immigration. We were advised of the exit fee on our way in this time, a process improvement since our last visit, and it was the same $25 US (or approximately $300 MX) as the time we only spent a few hours on Mexican soil.
We grabbed a taxi ($50 MX, about $4 US) over to the bus station and bought our bus tickets to Tulum. We ended up on a second-class Mayab bus. This was to be our only second-class bus of the trip, but we just wanted the next bus, and that happened to be what it was. I got to use my Spanish right away as the ticket seller spoke no English. Fortunately, we'd written up a little cheat sheet of common phrases that we might need for purchasing tickets, checking in at hotels, and ordering in restaurants, so I was able to do so without too much difficulty. Plus, they show you the screen as you are buying your tickets, so you can point. That always helps clarify things!
Despite being a second-class bus, the Mayab was far nicer than the "chicken buses" we're used to taking in Belize. It was luxurious by comparison, with plus seats, air conditioning, and curtains on the windows. Since it was a second-class bus, it stopped quite a few times, and in some cases, local vendors would enter the bus briefly to sell their wares.
Being hungry for lunch, we bought this delicious pastry that ended up being filled with apples, cheese, and thinly sliced ham. Let the eating begin!
And I bought this chicken salbute for Barry. The pink pickled onions on top are very popular in Mexican cooking.
Both items were extremely cheap! We were loving Mexican food already.
After a little over three-hour bus ride, we arrived at our first destination, Tulum, where we'd be spending our first three nights.
Tulum ADO Bus Terminal
Mayab second-class bus -- very nice!
It was only a few blocks walk over to our hotel for the next three nights, the Secret Garden
. It was a real oasis right in town with many beautiful trees creating a cooling garden setting even on a warm, sunny day.
Secret Garden Hotel
Our room -- room 3
This extra bed was great for putting all our stuff on
We were greeted warmly by Maura and Joshua, both of whom spoke great English. Joshua gave us lots of good information about Tulum, along with an excellent map of the area. After a quick change of clothes, we wasted no time in setting out to start our explorations of this little beach town we'd heard so much about.
Stay tuned for much more on Tulum: the ruins, the beautiful beach, the town, and (of course), the FOOD!