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Bougainvillea in Tulum, Mexico
After sixteen days of travel to five cities, our last day in Mexico had arrived.  It was December 20.  We figured if the world was going to end on December 21, we would just as soon be back home with Paisley.  (And of course I'm just joking; we never for a minute expected the world to end, but it was fun that we were traveling during the peak of interest in the Maya world and right around such an anticipated date!)

We started with a wonderful breakfast in our favorite Tulum breakfast eatery, Azafran.  Despite some mosquitoes in the garden, we had a delicious meal, excellent service, and some of the best coffee that we had on our entire trip.  This is the only place we got whole-wheat bread in Mexico, and the freshly squeezed OJ was great too.  We can't recommend this place enough if you are in Tulum.  Barry ordered the same loaded omelet as before, and I tried the fruit crepes.  Delish!
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Barry's delicious omelet
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My fruit crepes
Here's a friendly fellow we met on our walk back to the hotel from breakfast, hanging out in front of his owner's home courtyard.
We'd be heading south on this road to Chetumal to catch the ferry back to San Pedro.  We got another beautiful day for travel.
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Waiting in the Tulum ADO station
As I may have mentioned in a previous post, while Mexican cities can have a ton of traffic at times, like this:
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Morning traffic in Merida
In contrast, the highways are typically practically deserted by US standards.  Most people seem to travel by bus.  Love the lack of traffic jams!  We had another great view from the front row in the ADO bus.
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Belize is "Belice" (pronounced Bell-ees-ay) in Spanish
But this day was not to be without drama and a bit of panic.  We had "open date" water taxi tickets back to Belize that we'd paid for as part of the round trip.  When we arrived at the San Pedro Water Jets terminal (via taxi from the Chetumal ADO bus station) at 2:15 for the 3 pm water taxi, we were informed that the boat was already full and that we should have made a reservation the day before.  Although there are two water taxi companies, and since we last visited Mexico, they have changed to an alternating day schedule, so there was no other boat to take back to San Pedro that day.  I strongly question the the alternating schedule since they could certainly fill both boats during high tourist season; though the schedule makes perfect sense during slow season.  This was not slow season.

We tried to explain that we had tried to get reservations for a particular return date when we bought our tickets but were told that we couldn't do that, and that we had a dog boarding in San Pedro whom we needed to pick up.  We were never advised back in San Pedro to confirm our return reservations a day ahead, probably because there were many fewer people traveling back in early December.  The attendant put us on the waiting list but said that they could not guarantee us seats as the boat was full.  She had a long list of travelers with confirmed reservations, but we could see that not all of them had been marked off as having checked in.  We had some hope since we weren't turned away immediately.

While we sat and waited, more and more confirmed passengers checked in.  Several other people without reservations came in trying to get on the boat, same as us.  One party of four was turned away because they were even lower down the "waiting" list than us.  A couple of other young men traveling alone were hanging around like we were, hoping for a spot to open up.  We had purposely spent most of our pesos other than those needed for the $300 MX (approximately $24 US) per-person exit fee.  If we'd had to stay in Chetumal, we'd have to find an ATM for more cash, get a hotel, contact Pampered Paws online (our cellphone did not work in Mexico), lose the money we'd prepaid for the tickets, and try to get tickets on the other boat the following day.  NOT something we wanted to contemplate.  Another far-fetched alternative would have been to take a bus or taxi to the Belize border, check out of Mexico and into Belize there, take another taxi to the Corozal airstrip, and try to catch the last flight of the day back to San Pedro on Tropic Air.  This possibility seemed fraught with problems because we were already tight on time, and there was no guarantee of any available seats on the plane without reservations, and no easy way to call without trying to locate and figure out a payphone.  Yes, I was inwardly panicking!

The clock kept ticking, and we kept watching the passenger list on the attendant's desk.  As it got closer and closer to 3pm, there were still a few people with reserved slots who had not checked in.  Finally, it became apparent that they weren't going to make it in time, so the attendant crossed out their names and put ours on the manifest in their places.  One other single man made it on the same way.  We breathed the hugest sighs of relief!

We still had to make it through Immigration, though this time the officer was very pleasant and friendly to us.  (This was the same man who'd been so rude when we'd come to Chetumal for the day and had been forced to pay the exit fee even though it is not required for visits of less than seven days.)
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Whew -- we're on! I'm making the long walk down the pier to the boat we thought we wouldn't get to take
There was a lengthy holdup on the dock as the Mexican police and drug-sniffing dogs went over everyone's bags and searched the boat.  This surprised us since there was no luggage check on the way out of Mexico last time. I'm not sure why they would care about drugs being taken out of the country!  When we were finally able to board, we were packed in like sardines, but we were so happy to be ON the boat we weren't complaining!

With the long delay to get everyone and their luggage onboard, the boat was over thirty minutes late leaving the dock.  When we arrived in San Pedro, we'd have to go through customs and immigration, then run (literally) over to Pampered Paws to pick Paisley up before they closed at 6 pm.  It was going to be a tight connection, to say the least.  

We were sweating it out on the boat as it seemed like the longest ride of our lives.  The minutes kept ticking by, and when we finally pulled into the dock in San Pedro, we had less than 45 minutes before Pampered Paws closed.  I immediately called Kathy there and told her that we would be cutting it very close but were on our way to pick up Paisley just as soon as we made it through the lines.  She assured me they would be waiting for us, but I didn't want anyone to have to work late, so we hustled as close as we could to the front of the line for immigration.  

If we'd been at the back of the line, I don't think we would have made it, but we were lucky enough to make it through pretty quickly, and the custom's official didn't choose us for a luggage search; probably because we were carrying such small bags compared to a lot of folks.  She was in a jovial mood, and that set us at ease.  

Fortunately, Pampered Paws is not too far from the Water Jets building, so we were able to make it with a few minutes to spare.  Paisley was beside herself with joy and jumped up and down at least a hundred times behind the glass door when she saw us.  She always has a great time at Pampered Paws, and we feel totally comfortable leaving her there when we travel.  And they're so nice about keeping her a little longer if we decide to extend our trip by a day or two, as we have done a couple of times now.  

All that was left to do now was to catch a taxi back to our condo, never a difficult thing to do in San Pedro.  We were so thankful that we made it home and did not have to scramble for another day in Chetumal.  And what do you know, the world didn't end the next day after all!
El Fin...thanks for (virtually) joining us on this long journey!
 
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!
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Inside our snazzy -- and very shiny -- ferry
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DVD movies!
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.  
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Tulum ADO Bus Terminal
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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.
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Secret Garden Hotel
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The garden
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Our room -- room 3
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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!
 
We were surprised to look over at the Grand Caribe dock today and see the unmistakable Optimist dinghies of the San Pedro Sailing Club moored on the water.  Stepping further out onto our veranda, I saw another moored boat with a bright jib, and a Hobie Cat with its brightly striped, tall mainsail up on the beach.  Of course I had to head out immediately with my camera to snap a few shots.
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Optimist Dinghies on a mooring ball
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Optimist Dinghies off Grand Caribe dock
Cowboy Doug saw me taking photos and came out to ask me if I would post them on his Facebook page.  I wasn't sure how they would even turn out because I couldn't even see my viewfinder in the bright sun, but I got pretty lucky.  He said the sailors had brought their own hot dogs to put on the grill, and some of their parents had met them there for some food and beverages.  I am sure they enjoyed a dip in the Grand Caribe pool as well since the day was plenty warm.

After lunch, they headed back to their home base at Caribbean Villas, I'm guessing.  What a perfect day for sail they had, with moderate easterly breezes.  We would have enjoyed sailing south with them on a comfortable beam reach.
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Off they go!
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Need any crew, guys?
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These folks had a bit more work to get going
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The lagging boat heading out now -- wonder if they could catch the Optimists?
Paisley enjoyed some sandy fun on the beach while I was snapping photos!
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Paisley with a sand beard
 
After all the perfect weather we'd had so far on this trip, it seemed like a cruel joke to wake up early this morning to dark,  threatening skies and high wind.  I guess it had to happen, right?  I awoke when the engines cranked up before 5 am, and I believe we pulled away from the dock at Abelle's boat yard a little before 5:30, a bit later than Simon had planned for.  (I figured that late night the night before was going to have some fallout!)

Surprisingly, even with the loud drone of the engine, we were so tired that we managed to doze off and on until around 6 am, I guess it was, before going out on deck and surveying what Mother Nature had in store for us on this last, long day on the water, as we made our way back from Rio Dulce to Placencia, Belize.  Captain Simon was not a happy camper, as the winds had been gusting up to 30 knots (on our nose again as the winds had shifted around to the northeast), and he was concerned that conditions would deteriorate further once we got out of the calm river and into the sea.
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Angry clouds
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Dramatic sunrise
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Coffee time! (L to R) Clive, Chunky, Bruce, Simon (at helm), and me
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I'm sleepy but happy to be on the boat and having a hot cuppa joe
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We got a little rain, but not as much as the clouds seemed to threaten
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As we motored on, the low sun was peeping through and highlighting these houses along the Rio Dulce
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Low-lying wisps of clouds seemed caught in the trees
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Lush rainforest along the river banks
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These local men didn't let a little wind stop their morning paddle
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Waterfall along river bank
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Love these quaint little resorts or grouping of houses nestling into the river bank
The closer we got to Livingston and open water, the rougher it became.  The wind continued to blow hard, and s/v Hope began hobby-horsing and rolling around in the building surf.  We knew we were in for a real doozy of a day at sea.
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You can see how rough the river was starting to get as we got closer to Livingston
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Birds cluster around fishing boat on rough waters near Livingston
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Rough conditions near Livingston, Guatemala
As we drew closer to the dock at Livingston where we needed to check out of Guatemala with Customs and Immigration, Simon realized that it was chock-a-block full of boats that didn't dare venture out in the rough conditions.  We'd have to anchor out and send in the dinghy to check out, since there was no room for another boat, particularly one of Hope's size, at the dock.  Needless to say, he wasn't happy about this.  If the anchor didn't set properly, the stiff winds could easily blow s/v Hope into other boats on the dock.  This was one of the many times on this cruise I was relieved to be on someone else's boat.  These kinds of situations are nerve-racking enough even for those of us not ultimately responsible for the boat, but for a captain, they are really stressful, since it is his responsibility to keep the boat and its crew safe from harm.

The anchor didn't set the first time Clive tried, but the second time, it did.  Big relief!  Barry volunteered to go with Clive in the dinghy to shore with everyone's passports to check all of us out of the country.
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It was starting to rain again right as they took off
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Rough conditions for a small boat
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Barry and Clive head up the hill into town for a bit of last-minute shopping while our passports are processed
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By the time they got back, the sun was peeking out. They are talking to the immigration guy here.
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Barry enjoying the adventure
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Clive and Barry returning
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Hooking the dinghy to the lines on the davits in preparation for hauling it up
Barry had a bag with him that I was curious about since we hadn't discussed buying anything more on land.  Turns out the little sneak had bought Guatamala t-shirts for Bruce, Chunky, Ruthie, me, and himself!  Whatta guy!  
Our work in Livingston done, it was time to haul up the anchor and make our way to the sea.  The wind had not relented much at all.  Several of us took some preventative less-drowsy Dramamine just in case.  Although I rarely get seasick, I could already tell that my tummy was feeling just a little "off" for the first time on this trip.  The "motion of the ocean" made everything more difficult today -- from walking around the salon and cockpit, to using the head, to getting food or filling a water bottle.  Even reading, for most of us, was out of the question.  Ruthie, the lucky gal, was the only one who seemed to be able to read and do pretty much everything else with nary an issue.  Simon forbade anyone from going forward to the bow due to conditions.
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Photos never do a good job at capturing sea state -- it was rocking and rolling out there with numerous whitecaps
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Splash! Every now and then a wave would wash over the decks
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Ruthie attempting to pour water - not an easy task today
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Wind gauge shows 23.3 knot winds at this point. Simon said they ranged from 20-30 knots with waves from 6' to 10'. Wow!
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Both Captains Simon and Clive were busy at the helm today
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Mainsail and reefed genoa -- and the sky was now beautifully blue, but still the wind and waves roared
Even with the medicine, I was feeling a bit queasy and kept eating saltine crackers in an attempt to keep my stomach calm.  A couple of times I thought I was going to be sick, but I just kept staring at the horizon, and the feeling would pass. I had to stop moving around, though, and just sit very still.  

This was the only day we didn't pull a bunch of food out of the fridge and have lunch together.  It was every man and woman for him or herself, as it was tough to move around the boat, and everyone's stomach had a different tolerance level for the motion of the ocean.  Ruthie actually spent most of the afternoon in their cabin reading, and I went to our cabin a couple of times to nap briefly.  Keeping my eyes closed and lying down seemed to help a lot with the queasies. 

Barry started feeling bad and was standing out on the side deck watching the horizon diligently, hoping to keep from being sick.  He had not joined the rest of us in taking the motion-sickness medication in the morning, a big mistake.  He did take some at this point, but it was too little, too late.  I was passed him a few crackers to eat in hopes that that would help, but when Simon had to turn s/v Hope into the wind to take the sails down, the boat motion slowed dramatically, and that was enough to put Barry over the rail.  Good thing he only had crackers and water on his tummy!  After the fact, he was able to lie down and rest.  The waves and wind were easing off by this point, and I started feeling much better myself as the afternoon wore on.
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One man down
By the time we finally made our way to the Placencia fuel dock, the wind had died down quite a bit, and the sea state was much more comfortable.  We were treated to a gorgeous sunset as we motored down the lagoon.  We were about 1.5 hours behind schedule, Simon said.  
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Ruthie and Chunky at Placencia fuel dock
Since we were running behind schedule, Simon told us he would only anchor for about an hour in Placencia to make it easier to eat dinner.  Then we would continue motoring through the night to San Pedro.  We pulled out most of what was left in the fridge and had a large buffet so that we could eat up as much of the food as possible, since this would be our last dinner on board.  We still had a lot of Ruthie's delicious Italian Sunday Gravy pasta dish and various cheeses. Unfortunately we were very low on bread as much of it had molded along the way.  But there were plenty of Ruthie's high-test brownies, so no one went hungry.
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These were indescribably delicious -- and dangerous!
Simon asked for three of us to serve a four-hour night watch each so that he and Clive could rotate resting and captaining the boat all night long on the way back to San Pedro.  The night watch person's duties were to keep the captain awake and help in any other way requested.  We headstrong crew members (I guess we were now official crew since we were going to do night watches!) decided amongst ourselves that four of us would serve a three-hour watch each instead and let Barry sit (sleep) this one out since he had been sick.  It was easier to divide twelve hours by four than by five anyway.  

Bruce took the first evening shift, Chunky and Ruthie generously volunteered for the "o-dark-thirty" shifts, and I took the 4:30 am to 7:30 am slot.  I figured this way I could hit the hay early and also catch the morning sunrise as we sailed up the Belize coast.  Barry and I were in bed by 9 pm, if not earlier.  It's hard to even remember after a day like this!

Stay tuned for Guatemala Cruise Day 5:  Return to San Pedro