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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!
 
Today's travel would take us from Merida back to Tulum, in the Quintana Roo state of Mexico.  But first, breakfast!  We decided to try the restaurant at our hotel (the Hotel Maria del Carmen).  They had an absolutely huge buffet, but I didn't think I'd get my money's worth since I'd been eating light after my brush with Montezuma's Revenge, and my appetite still wasn't back to normal.  Barry also passed on the buffet since he said it looked very heavy.  So, he enjoyed hotcakes and fruit, and I had plain scrambled eggs, still babying my stomach a bit.
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I gave my beans to Barry :)
Thus fortified, we took one final walk up to the Paseo de Montejo.  Looks like a festival was coming up, as this electronic billboard was not there the first time we came through.
The Merida ADO station was busy this morning.
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We got to ride in the pink breast-cancer awareness bus for the first time
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Pretty nice seats -- right up front again.
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Vendors selling fruit along the busy streets
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Onward to Tulum
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Mexico, like Belize, has many roundabouts with statues in the center
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Tulum attracts a lot of young travelers compared to the other cities we visited in Mexico
Tulum was busier than when we were here before, with the end of the Mayan calendar just two days away.  We were awfully glad to have reservations at the Secret Garden Hotel.  

We walked right on over from the bus terminal and checked in.  The room we were in this time had a sink and dorm-size fridge.  It was nice to be able to keep our water bottles cold. Few hotels in Mexico have fridges in the room, at least the ones we stayed in, which tended to be older.  This was the one and only fridge of our entire trip.
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Cute sink in our bathroom
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Saying hi to one of the Secret Garden mascots
As usual, once we got settled in, we took off walking around town.  
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This completed mural was being painted when we were in town the first time
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Downtown Tulum
Barry finally managed to catch a photo of this man who bikes around the neighborhoods near the hotel, constantly squeaking a little horn to advertise his sweet breads, even after dark.  He's like the Mexican version of the Good Humour man!
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Squeaka - squeaka!
We decided to walk back to El Camello for a seafood dinner since it was so reasonably priced.  But wow, was it packed!  We had to wait for a table outside.  This place attracts a lot of locals as well as tourists.
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A full house
Once we finally got our table, they brought us a HUGE plate of chips and some of the complimentary smoked fish dip.  Barry ordered the same grilled fish as on our first visit, but I was brave and decided to try the garlic-butter pulpo (octopus).  It was really tasty but far too much for me to eat, especially after my stomach shrunk up with my limited appetite over the past few days.  I felt bad that I had to leave so much behind.
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Barry's fish, accompanied by a cold Sol and the fresh salsas he adores
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It was great to finally be eating normal food again, but...
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...who could eat all this?! And if you're wondering -- no, I did not risk eating the salad this time!
Amazingly, after that huge dinner, Barry just couldn't leave Tulum without one last visit to the gelateria!  Needless to say, I couldn't even think about ordering any.
Stay tuned for the very last post in this interminably long series -- our return to Belize!
 
Since Barry was able to sleep through the marching-band practice outside our hotel window the night before, he awoke early the next morning with plenty of energy.   While I caught up on lost sleep, he walked over to the Campeche waterfront on the Golfo de Mexico and took a long walk, along with some nice morning photos.
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Good to know
Finally I managed to get up, and we walked to Luz de Luna for breakfast.  Much to our disappointment, the very sweet proprietor told us they weren't serving this morning because they didn't have a cook or server!  Maybe they were sick?  So, we had to go with Plan B, wandering around until we found a place to eat.  We ended up back at the place we'd had lunch on our first time in town, Chef Color.  I was hungry after my brush with Montezuma, but figured plain hotcakes would be easiest on my stomach of the breakfast choices.  Barry ordered fruit cup, chaya bread, and Huevos Rancheros.  Wouldn't want him to go hungry!
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Chaya bread -- like zucchini bread
After breakfast, we wandered around and took in the excellent Jorge Marin sculpture exhibit that had arrived in Campeche since our previous visit.  The sculptures were SO cool, and the pedestrian streets of charming Campeche a perfect venue.  Looks like it's going to be there through March, so if you hurry, you might still be able to check it out in person.  But if you can't get there, Barry got some pretty nice photos!
After checking out of the hotel, we made the long walk to the bus station; I was feeling a lot better fortified with my hotcakes.
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Passing through the Campeche wall -- the pinata was new since our last time through
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The Campeche ADO station is large and modern
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And all decked out for Christmas
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, we had front-row seats for the remainder of bus rides on our trip.  The views were great.  No bulls on the road today, though!  We were going through a more modern part of Mexico now.
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Off we go to Merida
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Did not expect these modern streetlights in Mexico!
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Fancy inspection station when entering Yucatan state
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Entering Merida...notice the dark clouds ahead
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Leaving bus station
We had no hotel reservations and could not stay at the bed and breakfast we'd stayed at on the way through Merida before, as Larry has a three-night minimum.  In this case, we just wanted to be close to the bus station since we'd only be here one night and had to catch another bus in the morning.  We had scoped out a few places on our first time in town, and I'd checked them on Tripadvisor.  We decided to try the Hotel Maria del Carmen.
The staff was very nice, the rate reasonable, and the room was well-appointed, but we ended up with another noisy street-side location.  After our experience the night before, I should have tried to specify a room off the street, but I'm always just so happy to get a room, any room, when I don't have reservations, that I don't tend to be too picky.  The bathroom was not as nice as the room; it was dark, the sink leaked like crazy, and it badly needed updating.  But for one night, we could live with it.
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Hotel from the road -- our room was one that faced the street
When we left the hotel to walk around downtown, we discovered that it had just rained (remember those dark clouds in the earlier photo?)  This was the first rain we had seen since entering Mexico two weeks earlier, and it only lasted five minutes!

That night we ate at a downtown restaurant we hadn't tried before but that had received good reviews on Tripadvisor, El Chile Habanero.  The restaurant was clean and neat as a pin, air-conditioned, and had a window into the kitchen, so we could see how clean it was behind the scenes as well.  Very impressive!

We had read rave reviews for the chef's special Aphrodite Chicken, so Barry ordered that and loved it.  It was packed with fresh fruit, and the colors were amazing!  I was sticking to a bland-food diet for one more day since I'd been sick the morning before, so I contented myself with a plate of mostly white food, while eyeing Barry's plate enviously.  Someday we'll go back and I will have the Aphrodite Chicken myself!
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My plate of mostly white food (I gave the beans to Barry)
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Barry's Aphrodite Chicken -- the orange fruit is papaya
Stay tuned as we head back to Tulum -- our last stop before the final leg home to Belize!
 
This was not the best morning of the trip.  In fact, it was the worst, for me anyway.

I woke up feeling a little nauseous.  Barry thought maybe it was because I didn't sleep well, but I wasn't so sure.  I had only had one cervasa at the pizza place the night before, so it certainly wasn't a hangover.  And Barry had had the same pizza and felt fine, so it wasn't the pizza. 

When we were waiting on our breakfast to be served at the Hotel Xibalba in Palenque, I started feeling worse.  After a couple of bites of plain toast, I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep it down.  I bolted to our room and to the bathroom, where I lost my previous night's dinner along with the small amount of breakfast I'd eaten.  (I hope that's not too much information!)  We had to catch a bus leaving in less than an hour, and it was hard to even imagine traveling as all I wanted to do was lie down and rest.  Somehow I got myself together, got back down to the table, and paid for our breakfast.  We checked out and made it onto the bus just in the nick of time.  I was still feeling a bit queasy and weak, but better than before my run for the porcelain god.

After analyzing what we'd both eaten over the past couple of days, Barry suggested that it might have been the salad I'd eaten at Entropia in San Cristobal de las Casas the night before last.  That's something he didn't eat, and you know what they say about raw foods and Montezuma's Revenge.  I figured the law of averages had finally caught up to me.

Fortunately, I was feeling better from then on out, just a little weak.  I had no appetite and ate nothing at all until dinnertime that day.  But, back to the story.

Today we our bus took us from Palenque back to Campeche, Mexico.  When planning this trip in Belize, we certainly didn't expect to return to Campeche.  It was initially just a convenient stop on the outbound portion of our trip, but turned out to be one of our favorite places we visited.  

Fortunately, this bus ride was not full of sick, coughing people, and we had great seats right in the front row passenger side, giving us a wide-angle view out the huge front windshield.  Since we'd booked all our tickets at one time in San Cristobal, we actually got these same seats (3 and 4) for the entire rest of our trip -- what a score.  We could see so much more than out the side windows.  And there were some interesting things to see!
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Juggler just outside Palenque
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Our bus driver reading while he drove (eeek!)
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Uh-oh...traffic jam ahead!
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Experiences like this remind you you're not in the USA!
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Slower traffic keep right...
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Car in front of us being searched at traffic stop
We were happy to see this sign after all that travel excitement.
Because I was still feeling pretty weak, we decided to take a cab from the bus station this time, since it was a long slog to the hotel -- we'd planned to stay at the Hotel Castelmar, where we'd stayed before.  


We were able to get a room, but as a walk-in, the room we were given wasn't nearly as nice as the large, inside courtyard room we had the first time around.  That room was quiet, with two beds and plenty of room.  This room was on the streetside and was very small with only one bed.  When the attendant left, we realized that it was going to be really, really noisy as the windows were ancient and didn't filter out much sound, and there was a lot of traffic on the busy street below.

We thought about asking for a different room, but we'd already put stuff everywhere and rumpled the bedspread, and I just didn't feel comfortable complaining, especially in a foreign language that I barely spoke.  Times like this are when you really miss being able to speak your native language.  Barry was in a grumpy mood because of the noise but somehow managed to take a nap -- I think he was just exhausted.  

We headed to our favorite Campeche restaurant for dinner that night, Luz de Luna.  I didn't risk having anything more interesting or spicy than chicken-vegetable soup with my stomach issue, but Barry had chicken fajitas, served with all the sauces he loves.
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Chicken fajitas, Luz de Luna style
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My chicken soup -- just what the doctor ordered
I felt good enough to walk around that evening, and we were delighted to find this 2013 calandario at a small shop.  We'd been looking for a calendar during our entire trip, but all we'd managed to find were Mayan calendars or a couple of others that were too large to easily carry along in our limited luggage.  This smaller one was perfect and would serve as a reminder of our wonderful trip.  Inexpensive too!
It was a happening night in the city, and we happened upon a concert in the park area not too far from our hotel.  There were lots of people watching, singing, and dancing around.  Very festive!
We also saw that a new Jorge Marin art exhibit had hit the pedestrian streets since we were in town before, but figured we'd get more photos in the morning with better light.
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The beautiful streets of Campeche's Centro Historico
When we got back to our room, we took our showers and hit the hay early.  Almost right as my head hit the pillow, I started hearing a marching band practicing.  It sounded like they were right outside our window.  Even with earplugs, the rhythmic banging of the drums was really loud, and I couldn't believe that Barry had managed to fall asleep, but somehow he had. The practice seemed to last for hours, as every time they would stop for awhile, and I'd think surely it was over, after a five or ten minute break, it would start back up again, as loud as ever.  I'm not sure, but it seemed to go on until nearly midnight.  

After many nights of firecrackers around the December 12 Virgen de Guadelupe celebrations, we'd expected some quieter nights at this stage of the trip, but we'd have to wait a little longer.  Mexico is definitely a night-time kind of place and can be a bit of an adjustment for early-to-bed folks like ourselves.  

Stay tuned as tomorrow we head back to Merida, but not without one last look at Campeche's attractive waterfront and artistry!  
 
We decided to visit San Cristobal de las Casas while we were traveling around Mexico because it sounded absolutely charming.  Lonely Planet describes it this way:  

"Set in a gorgeous highland valley surrounded by pine forest, the colonial city of San Cristóbal (cris-toh-bal) has been a popular travelers’ destination for decades. It’s a pleasure to explore San Cristóbal’s cobbled streets and markets, soaking up the unique ambience and the wonderfully clear highland light. This medium-sized city also boasts a comfortable blend of city and countryside, with restored century-old houses giving way to grazing animals and fields of corn."

We were looking forward to the highland terrain with lower humidity and cooler temperatures than we've grown used to.  It would be a brief taste of autumn -- and much cooler than winter in Belize!  So, on December 13, we left Palenque behind on a bus bound for San Cristobal.  Even though both cities are in the Chiapas state of Mexico, San Cristobal sits at an elevation of 7200 feet, while Palenque is only at 200 feet, so we would be doing quite a bit of climbing on this day.

We bought our tickets the day before at the ADO station, though we would actually be taking an OCC bus to San Cristobal, as OCC serves this part of Mexico.  It is equivalent to the ADO first-class bus.
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Typing in our names when buying tickets
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Palenque ADO Station
I think I was attracting a little attention as I used my new Galaxy Tab to read in the bus terminal (see below).  There was no wi-fi, but I was reading a book using the Kindle app.  This was our first trip with the tablet, and it worked out really well.  We had no room for a full-size laptop in our packs, and while on previous short trips we've managed without a computer, on a sixteen-day trip, we didn't feel comfortable without some form of communication device.  The tablet allowed us to check bus schedules, restaurant ratings, and even make some reservations for our return trip -- not to mention to keep up with all those pesky emails that pile up on a trip.  And I didn't have to carry a book along as I had several free ones loaded on the Kindle app. 
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The men at the desk had just loaded a washing machine up on the counter to go on the bus!
Although the bus ride from Palenque to San Cristobal is only about 130 miles, it takes approximately five and a half hours due to the mountain roads.  It was a beautiful drive, but Barry and I both felt quite queasy during the middle part of the trip where there were many hairpin turns and bumps.  Fortunately, we didn't have to run for the rest room, but it was an icky feeling and not something we anticipated in advance.
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Gorgeous views
I would have liked to check out this road-side clothing stand.  I just love these embroidered Mexican dresses and blouses!
At last, the road straightened out, and we were both feeling fine again by the time we arrived in San Cristobal.  

The walk from the bus station was little less than a mile.  And as anticipated, this city was very charming, though bigger than we had realized.  Including the surrounding area, approximately 250,000 people call San Cristobal home.
We stayed at the Hotel Diego de Mazariegos, which is spread over two old colonial buildings and is gorgeous.  We would spend three nights here before beginning our journey back to Belize.  The price was $69 US per night, an amazing deal, I thought.
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Inside the pretty courtyard
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Our room -- 309
Our room was super charming with high, beamed ceiling, two beds, a table and chairs, and even a fireplace!  We didn't use it, though; that seemed like too much work (and we had no matches).  I felt like we were in a castle.
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Our castle-like digs
We also had a great patio out the back of our room, though we really didn't get to use it.  During the two full days we had in town, we kept so busy we were rarely in the room during the day.
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The patio view
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And on a sunnier, but cooler, day
The hotel even provided a little shopping opportunity for me.  I bought a pair of earrings and a bracelet for good price from a friendly little man who manned this booth in the evening.  He was one of the few people we met in San Cristobal who spoke excellent English.
Please stay tuned for much, much more from San Cristobal...this may just have been my very favorite city of the five that we visited (thought it's awfully hard to pick)!
 
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Today's journey: Campeche to Palenque
After visiting the Old City Wall in Campeche, it was time to check out of the Hotel Castlemar, leave the colorful centro historico district behind, and begin the long hike to the ADO bus station to catch our bus to Palenque, in Mexico's Chiapas state.  It was again a warm day, so we got quite a workout carrying our packs.  Now you see how we eat so much on these trips without putting on tons of weight!
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Pretty floral nursery along the way
The bus to Palenque stopped at a couple of different towns along the way.  These stops gave us a chance to stretch our legs and get a snack if needed.  Escarcega was one of the stops.
Along the way we went over the Usumacinta River, an important trade route for the ancient Maya before roads existed in this area.
We also witnessed (after the fact) a very serious accident involving a couple of tractor trailers.  Hopefully everyone involved was okay.
On the way to Palenque, we briefly went through the fourth Mexican state of our trip, Tabasco.  There we stopped at another town, Emiliano Zapata.  I stayed inside the bus this time, but Barry had a look inside the station, finding it much different from the typically modern, chrome and glass ADO terminals we had become accustomed to.  Until he showed me the photos, I didn't understand exactly what he meant when he said that the station was "very Mexican" inside.  Once I saw the photos, I understood immediately.  This station takes first place in the categories of "most festive" and "most colorful" along our route!  Looks like a great place for a kid's birthday party.
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Too bad I didn't know they had panuchos on the menu!
After passing through two state border crossing checkpoints, we finally arrived in Palenque, in the Chiapas state, in the late afternoon.  There was construction in the center of town, requiring the bus to go way around the block on some tiny, dusty roads to get to the terminal.  
Fortunately the walk to our hotel was a short one.  The city was dusty from the construction and it being dry season and not all that attractive until we got to the street where the main tourist hotels are located.  We found out later that this is called the "La Canada" area of town.  Although there was some construction going on here as well, there were lots of trees and jungly shade, and it was very attractive.  Hilly too!  Quite a change from the flat island of Ambergris Caye where we live.
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It got much prettier after the right turn into La Canada
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Ah, this is more like it!
When we checked in at the Hotel Xibalba, above, we had a stressful experience (one of the very few of the entire trip, looking back now).  I had reserved the two nights' lodging online and had written on my sheet that I had already paid for one night on my credit card.  However, when I went to check in, the woman working at the front desk charged me for both nights.  She didn't speak English, so I tried, in halting Spanish, to explain that I had already paid for one night.  She kept telling me "no, no, no".  I wanted to check my credit card online, so went outside to a table to try to use their wi-fi to do so.  But not only did I not know their wi-fi password, I realize that I had neglected to bring my credit card website password -- something I meant to do.  I was sweating and getting a bit panicked.  

About this time, they sent an English-speaking manager out to talk to me.  He assured me that they do not charge a deposit when booking online.  He gave me the wi-fi password, but since I couldn't check my credit card, I ended up going ahead and paying the entire amount, figuring I could dispute the charges after the trip if it turned out I'd been double charged.  Fortunately, the place was not very expensive, just $44 US nightly, which included continental breakfast.

As it turned out after we got home, I was mistaken.  A couple of the hotels I'd reserved online before the trip did charge one night's deposit, but the Hotel Xibalba was not one of them.  I somehow got confused and wrote down the wrong information on my sheet.  This was one time that I was very glad to be wrong!  

The room was small and basic, but a good deal for the price, especially since breakfast was included.  It had air-conditioning and a TV, though reception was poor, so we didn't use it.  And there were Scarlet Macaws on the wall.  Love them!
As I mentioned in yesterday's blog post, today, December 12, was the La Virgen de Guadalupe fiesta.  We had seen more pilgrims on their bikes during today's travels, and they were celebrating in Palenque today.  When we first arrived, we thought we were hearing construction noise, but we finally realized it was fireworks.  And they continued to go off with a BOOM-BOOM-BOOM all through the wee hours, and even with ear plugs, sleep was fleeting on this night.  These things were seriously LOUD and booming, not the quieter pop-pop-pop of some firecrackers.  We hoped this would be the last day/night of festivities, but it actually went on for a couple days and nights!  Who knew?!  We certainly didn't read about this celebration when planning this trip, but I guess it was all part of the experience of traveling in a foreign land.

Stay tuned for our next post about the Palenque ruins.  They were amazing!  
 
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Today: Merida to Campeche
This morning we were off to our next destination, Campeche, in the like-named Campeche state of Mexico.  We chose to stay there on the way to Palenque to visit the ruins mostly to break up the trip into manageable-length bus segments, not because we had any burning desire to visit the city.  And that was too bad, as it turned out to be a really, really nice place, and we only had one night to enjoy it.  (We would later have another night there on our return trip, but we hadn't planned that all out at the time.)

Larry, our host at La Casa Lorenzo, gave us a ride to the ADO bus terminal in Merida as he was heading downtown to a hardware store that morning.  The ride was helpful as we knew we had a fairly long walk to the hotel from the Campeche ADO station, and the less we have to walk with our heavy packs, the better.  
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Merida CAME (first-class) bus station
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Waiting for the bus
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Our bus -- this time a regular first-class ADO
On this leg of the trip we noticed how similar the Mexican highways look to US interstates in places, right down to the blue service signs.  We had great seats right in the front of the bus, so Barry was able to get some good shots out the window.  We really enjoyed being able to see where we were going.
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Almost forgot we were in Mexico!
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Except that the speed limit is in kilometers per hour...
And there is the little matter of traffic stops.  These exist when leaving one state and entering another, and sometimes at other places in between.  The buses always seemed to get sent right through, but there were indeed police with machine guns at the stops.
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Very friendly sign
Entering Campeche town...
And here we are at the bus station. 
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"Welcome to Campeche"
I went ahead and bought our tickets for the next day.  One thing we found is that very few if any of the ADO employees spoke any English, but I had figured out in advance how to order tickets (boletos) in Spanish.  And they had me type in our names so there would be no confusion or spelling errors.
We had a long (approximately 2 mile) walk from the bus station to Campeche centro, where our hotel was.  It was a hot day and rather windy, so I had to hold onto my hat!
Below is a large store we saw in several cities in Mexico.  Turns out they are affiliated with Wal-Mart.  Also note the VW Beetle nearby, not in very good shape.  By the way, a reader informed me after a previous mention of the ubiquitous "Bugs" in Mexico that there was actually one last remaining VW Beetle manufacturing plant in Mexico.  However, this article indicates that production stopped there in 2003.  Still, they were produced in Mexico for much longer than elsewhere, so there's no wonder we saw so many!
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There was a LOT of traffic to dodge as we made our way to Centro
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Finally, the sign we'd been waiting for!
Several segments of the wall around the centro historico portion of the city remain -- I believe this is the longest portion.  We had to walk a ways to the east to find a way to cut through the wall into centro.
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Campeche wall
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Aha, here is the way!
Once on the other side of the wall, I wondered if we had suddenly entered Disneyland!  Campeche centro was so colorful, clean, and tidy, it almost didn't look real.  Apparently the government has really put a lot of time and effort into restoration and beautifying the colonial buildings, at least the facades.  I loved all the pretty colors!
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Is this for real?
Since our hotel was still quite a bit farther, almost all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, we stopped off for a late lunch.  More on that in the food post, but in the meantime, I liked this photo Barry took of our packs.  Yes, we traveled with just this for sixteen days!  We did have to wash out a few things, of course -- thus is the beauty of quick-dry clothing.
We finally located our hotel, and it was absolutely charming.  Although I had booked it based on Tripadvisor reviews, I couldn't remember what it looked like so was delighted to see how lovely it was.  One of my very favorite colors too!
Here are some inside views.  So incredibly pretty!
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Our upstairs, courtyard-facing room was huge with HIGH ceilings
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Our room
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Heading out to eat dinner
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A view of the other side of the hotel close to sunset
Stay tuned for much more from Campeche!
 

We'd had a wonderful time on our first trip to the Toledo District of Belize and re-visiting the Stann Creek District we'd previously enjoyed, but a week had flown by, and it was now time to head back north to Ambergris Caye.  

We had to get up quite early to catch the Hokey Pokey water taxi from Placencia to Independence as we wanted to catch the 7:30 am Express bus to Belize City.  The Hokey Pokey leaves at 6:45 am, and we had to walk to the dock.  That left us no time for breakfast -- or even coffee -- before leaving.  Fortunately we'd bought some fiber cookies at the grocery store the day before, and I lucked out -- an enterprising local was selling cups of steaming hot coffee as we got onto the bus for just $1.50 BZ (75 cents US).  Sold!  Yes, it had sugar, which I usually don't take, but I didn't care.  It tasted good, and the caffeine was what I was after anyway.  

It had rained quite a bit overnight, but fortunately had stopped in time for our walk to the dock and ride on the ferry.  We met up with the traveling Canadian girls, Heather and Lauren, at the dock, and traded experiences.  We find we have more in common with travelers their age than our own in many ways.
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Walking the Placencia sidewalk
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Heather, Lauren, and me
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Hokey Pokey dock
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Walking the very potholed road in Independence towards the bus stop
We just barely made it to the stop in time to catch the James Express bus, and it was so crowded we didn't get to sit together until it stopped in Dangriga.  Like our previous experience in Independence, this bus actually leaves well before the scheduled departure time of 7:30 am.  I guess they are trying to make up time on the route, because we still didn't make it back to Belize City early; in fact, we got there a bit later than the scheduled time.
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Nicer seats on the Express - and A/C!
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We liked this t-shirt on a fellow bus rider
The scenery on the trip north is gorgeous.  We managed to get a few decent shots out the windows of the bus (and a lot of bad ones, but won't subject you to 'em, of course!)
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Your intrepid travelers

Belize City

We'd told Heather and Lauren that we'd lead them through the streets of Belize City if they wanted to walk to the water taxi terminal with us rather than taking a taxi, and they did.  We'd all be taking the same ferry even though they were getting off at Caye Caulker, and we'd be staying on until the San Pedro terminus.
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Their packs were quite a bit bigger than ours
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Ready to walk -- tired of sitting on my butt!
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Walking in Belize City
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Emily and Lauren
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San Pedro Waterjets Express
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Waiting in line
The ferry was especially crowded today with locals traveling since school is out and folks from all over Belize and other Central American countries coming to San Pedro for the annual Costa Maya festival.  There was a big group from El Salvador, judging from their t-shirts.  We had to ride right in the front since we were one of the last on.  We normally don't ride in front as it's a bouncier, less comfortable ride, but we had no choice this time.
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Crowded ferry
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Heather and Lauren

Back in San Pedro

After the ferry pulled into the dock at San Pedro, we walked over to pick up Paisley at Pampered Paws.  She was happy to see us and knows the drill now of walking back through the busy streets on her leash to wait at the Coastal Xpress water taxi dock to take us back north of town to our condo.  It was a hot day, but some shade and water helped.  She loves her time at Pampered Paws but is always happy to be back with us and at home.
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Happy Paisley
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Paisley giving her mom some love
Here are a couple of photos the staff took of Paisley hanging out at Pampered Paws.  She really seems to enjoy herself there, and as I've said before (several times), we're so glad they are there so we can leave her in a safe and fun place.  We can tell that she's become a lot more sociable with other dogs since she's been going there regularly.
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High energy play mode -- full on!
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Relaxing in the garden
Stay tuned for birds and bug bites, still to come!  (You can see a preview of the latter in the photo of me with Paisley above.)
 
It was very difficult to leave after only two and a half days at the lovely Hickatee Cottages just outside of Punta Gorda.  On the positive side, we would be stopping for a night in Placencia to break up the trip home to Ambergris Caye, a place we loved when we visited back in January.

Ian gave us a lift into town, saving us the long hike.  We picked up a couple of things we needed, including a muffin at the Driftwood Cafe for Barry for the bus ride (I still had my PB&J muffin saved from the day before!)  We were plenty early so had some time to hang around the PG bus terminal -- and to get a choice seat on the bus, since this is where the bus north originates.
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James bus terminal and bus
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Nice painted map of Belize in bus terminal
We got off the bus in Independence on the mainland and hiked 1/2 mile down the road to catch the ten minute Hokey Pokey ferry over to the Placencia Peninsula.  Our last and only time on this boat, it had been pouring rain, so we'd been under a tarp for the entire ride and unable to see a thing.  Today was much improved!
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Heading into the Hokey Pokey terminal
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Our ferry awaits
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Our soon-to-be new friends, Heather and Lauren, in the front row as we approach Placencia

Placencia IS just as nice on a second look.

We liked it before, and we liked it just as much this time around.  Placencia is a charming and quaint village and never seems to be very busy, unlike San Pedro; however, there were a lot more folks on the beach now that school's out than when we were here in January.  Back then we felt like we were the only ones there!

When we debarked the Hokey Pokey, we took a short walk through the village to our hotel for the night.
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The "sidewalk" was empty
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Colorful signs pointing the way
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Loved this sign -- think this place was new since our last visit
We chose to stay right on the beach in the Sea Spray Hotel, which was basic but clean and perfectly fine for a night.  This location made it very easy to get anywhere in the village on foot.   The price was around $45 US for the night.  No air-conditioning, but we had two fans, cable TV, a fridge, and a coffee pot, and the side of our room ("Seabreeze" -- room 13 -- eek!) faced the beach.
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Our room was the one on the first floor on the end, a great location for catching breezes
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Right on the beach
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Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh...
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View from veranda
Since we hadn't had lunch, only some snacks on the bus, we hit the Tuttifrutti Gelateria even before the beach.  We'd only made it here only once on our previous visit to Placencia.  That wouldn't happen again -- even though we had only one afternoon and evening here.  Barry had a three-scooper with cappuccino, Bailey's, and mixed berry.  I had two scoops:  peanut butter and cappuccino.  The gelato was even better than we remembered, if that is possible!

Sitting outside enjoying our gelato, we had a nice conversation with two young women we ran into there, Heather and Lauren from Canada.  They had been traveling up from Guatemala through Belize and were on the Hokey Pokey with us.  We'd end up seeing them a lot the next day as well.  They were heading to medical and law school in the fall so were intelligent and interesting fellow travelers.  We were able to share some of our "local knowledge" with them about Placencia, Caye Caulker (where they were headed), and San Pedro, where they planned to spend a day.
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Tuttifrutti -- where the magic happens
After filling our bellies, we walked back to the hotel and hit the beach.  Barry took a cooling swim, while I sat and enjoyed the breezes and my book.
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Enjoying some R&R on the beach
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Lots of folks enjoying the beach down a ways
The restaurant "Detatch", which we'd enjoyed on our last trip here, is right next door to the Sea Spray Hotel so was a natural choice for dinner.  Though the food is not on par with some of the fine restaurants in San Pedro, it's perfectly adequate, and the setting can't be beat.  They also have $4 rum punches all the time.  Nice!
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Sea Breeze Hotel on left, Detatch on right
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Detatch
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I had the Spicy Cilantro Snapper Fillet -- tasty!
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Perfect setting for a rum punch
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Our view
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Barry's mango chicken
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My snapper
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Friendly dogs outside
Since we knew it might be a long time before we could indulge in the wonderful gelato again, a return trip to Tutti-Frutti was in order -- yep, we'd just been here a few hours earlier!  But just look at all these flavors, and you'll understand why.
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I mean, come on!
This time I restrained myself and had only one scoop -- chocolate.  Barry went for three scoops AGAIN!  This time his choices were coconut, lime, and kiwi.  I did have a small taste of his lime and regretted that I hadn't gotten that as well (along with my chocolate, of course)!
Yes, this was definitely one of those trips where you come back heavier than you left -- but it was so worth it.

Stay tuned for our trip home from Placencia, the beautiful birds we saw, and bug bites in upcoming posts...
 
After three great days at Mama Noots Eco Resort in Mayflower Bocawina National Park in the Stann Creek District of Belize, Friday morning, July 27, it was time to head even farther south to Punta Gorda (called "PG" by those in the know) in the Toledo District.  This would be our first visit to this district, and we were excited to see it.  From what we'd read, this is the wettest part of Belize, receiving about 160" of rain per year.  As a result, it is lush and green -- a true tropical rainforest.  

We were lucky to catch a ride to the bus terminal in Dangriga with Shacka (sorry if I butchered that spelling!), Mama Noots' manager Liz's spouse, so we avoided a repeat of the 4+ mile hike to the road, plus any risk that the bus would not stop for us along the Southern Highway.  It was a hot and sunny morning, so we were very thankful for the lift.
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Our bus to "PG"
Our bus ride was three and a half hours, and that is plenty of time to spend in an uncomfortable school bus seat in a crowded bus.  We were very glad to arrive in PG, which is situated right along the Caribbean Sea, much like San Pedro.  Unlike San Pedro, however, PG is not a "tourist town".  This meant less traffic, which is always a good thing. 
We had reservations for three nights at Hickatee Cottages southwest of town, but we weren't sure exactly how to get there.  As it turns out, Kate, one of the proprietors, had sent me a lovely map via email, but since I didn't have my laptop with me a couple of days earlier, I hadn't gotten it.  I called and spoke to Ian, her husband, and he gave me directions over the phone.  It was only a couple of miles, so even though he suggested we could catch a cab, we decided to walk it.  We'd been sitting most of the day, so walking felt good, and it wasn't nearly so far as our 4.2-mile hike into Mama Noots.
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Walking the streets of Punta Gorda town
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Town graveyard to my right and Caribbean Sea in the background
After about 2.5 miles of walking, approximately two miles of which was on dirt roads outside of town, we arrived at Hickatee Cottages.
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Entry to Hickatee Cottages
This place is a real gem in the jungle!  Since it was not rented, Kate gave us an upgrade from the small "Hickatee Den" we'd booked for $75 US/night to the Wilby Cottage (normally $100 US/night), giving us more space and privacy.  From their website, I learned that this cottage was recently completed, and it was absolutely perfect and quite upscale, with wood floors; and soothing turquoise, white, and wood decor inside.  There was plenty of space for us, two closet areas, a large and comfortable bathroom, ceiling fans, and a desk and futon.  This accommodation exceeded our expectations in every way!  There was no air-conditioning, but it was cool enough under the trees and with the ceiling fans that we never missed it.
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Wilby Cottage
When Kate's husband Ian got back from town, he called us out to the garden to see a troup of five howler monkeys who were right above us in the trees.  How exciting!  Although it looks like one of the monkeys in the photo is howling, he actually didn't make a sound.
The food (breakfasts and dinners) at Hickatee is all made by Kate, and she is a brilliant cook.  Ian takes orders and serves the food, and offers up interesting and intelligent conversation at the same time.  We thoroughly enjoyed our meals there.  The only slight drawback (for us) is that dinner is served at a set time, 7:30 pm, which is late by our standards.  Barry tends to get heartburn if he eats too late and then goes to bed not long after, so we would have preferred an earlier dinner time, but it was worth a little inconvenience to eat such wonderful food, and so nice being right on the beautiful and serene premises rather than having to take another trip to and from town.

Meals were served on the porch of this attractive office/bar building.
Here are photos of our first dinner, which we inhaled after our busy day of travel.
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One of the best salads we've had in Belize -- with feta and roasted tomatoes. Barry got my olives!
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Fresh-baked whole grain focaccia
There are two choices of entree on the dinner menu each night.  We both chose the shrimp with mashed potatoes and green beans. It was delicious as well as beautifully presented.  No wonder I gained weight on this trip!
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Ian's potent rum punch - delish!
Dessert was organic chocolate drops made right in the Toledo district, and complimentary chocolate liqueur.  Now that's my kinda dessert!
Stay tuned in future days for more on Hickatee Cottages, Punta Gorda, and the Toledo District...