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El Golfo de Mexico
Although there's no sandy beach, one of the unexpectedly delightful features of Campeche, Mexico is its gulf-front pedestrian and bike path.  This path was only a couple of quick blocks from the Hotel Castlemar, where we were staying.  It borders the Gulf of Mexico, providing a beautiful sunset view to the west, and a safe place to walk or ride a bicycle.  We didn't have any bicycles with us, of course, but we enjoyed watching a few serious cyclists (on road bikes, even!) fly by.  Barry was especially impressed to see how many locals were jogging or fitness walking in the early evening and morning.  

The path is long, and several attractive monuments and small parks are strategically placed along its distance. I never made it the entire way (saving my tired feet for the long trek to the bus stop with my pack), but Barry was determined to see just how long it was, so he walked its entire length.  He discovered that it was over three miles long, end to end.  Definitely a fine place to get your fitness on!
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Red side for peds, black side for bikes
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Plaque from above monument
We really loved this statue of a woman contemplating the sea, her "hair" blowing in the breeze.
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She contemplates the beautiful sunset over the Gulf, as we did
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Afterglow
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Joggers and walkers staying fit after sunset
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Spire at night
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And in the morning
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Gotta hold onto your hat here -- it's breezy
In the morning, the fishermen bring their catch in right at this dock off the trail.
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Fishing net
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What an awesome place to buy fresh fish!
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Fishing boats and dock
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Loved this "mast and sails" artwork
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Looks like this boat hasn't gone out fishing in awhile!
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Peaceful morning
Stay tuned for more from Campeche -- the food is next!
 
There are so many interesting sights, buildings, and homes in Centro Merida, in Mexico's Yucatan state, it is hard to know where to begin, but since we spent more time walking along the Paseo de Montejo than just about anywhere else, it seemed as good a place as any to start.

This elegant tree-lined boulevard, often called Merida's "Champs Elysees", was just a short walk away from La Casa Lorenzo (link), where we were staying, so we walked there a couple of times each day.  The shady, wide sidewalks were a pleasant change from the sometimes narrow, bustling sidewalks closer to downtown.  Here, people moved more slowly and there was room to amble, to take in the beauty and history all around.  The Paseo is a pleasant mix of private homes, public buildings, hotels, shops, churches, and restaurants.
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Loved these wide, tree-lined sidewalks
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The clip-clop of horsedrawn carriages provided a nice break from traffic noise
Unfortunately, the elegant Palacio Cantón, which houses the Regional Museum of the Yucatan, was closed for renovation.  It was the gem of the Paseo to our eyes.
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Another view of Palacio
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Front of Palacio/Museum -- the sign explained about the closure and renovations
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Once a private home, now administrative offices
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The Quinta Montes Molina is open as a museum, but we were never here at the right time for an English-speaking tour.
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Pretty in Pink -- the upscale Rosas & Xocolate hotel and restaurant
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A traffic roundabout with monument
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And another...there is a very low-profile Wal-Mart off to the right hiding behind the trees
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Under restoration
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Private home
At the south end of the Paseo was this entry to a hotel and restaurant, and park area decorated festively for Christmas.  We had fun playing around and taking some photos here.
Another very cool Paseo happening occurs each and every Sunday morning, where the street is closed off to motorists and open to cyclists and pedestrians.  But we'll save that for another post.  Stay tuned!
 
Continuing our adventures in Mexico...

On our first full day in Tulum, we caught an inexpensive collectivo from the main street through town to the Maya ruins and beach nearby. This is the number one tourist destination in Tulum, and it is well worth a visit.  Although you can take a private taxi for just a bit more ($50 MX, or about $4 US), collectivos run every few minutes and cost just $40 MX for the two of us (approximately $3.20 US).  Just ask them to take you to the"ruinas" since many of the drivers don't speak English.
Be forewarned, however; the collectivo dropped us on the main road about a quarter-mile from the entrance to the park, so we had to hike in the rest of the way.  A taxi will presumably take you right up to the entrance.
We'd been warned to get to the ruins early as the tour buses would start to arrive around 10 am, but unfortunately, we arrived right about that time.  And one of the most striking things about the entire day was how many people there were, everywhere.  After getting used to visiting Maya ruins and national parks in Belize, where we sometimes had the place to ourselves, or were among just a handful of others, this was a real shock!  Since these ruins are just south of Cancun and Playa del Carmen -- and with end of the Mayan calendar just days away -- it seemed that everyone and his brother, aunt, and cousin wanted to see the ruins and the gorgeous Tulum beaches on this day.  I recognized a lot of French being spoken in particular, but there were certainly people from all over the world visiting the well-manicured site overlooking the beach on dramatic cliffs.  We heard almost no English being spoken in the park.
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So many people!
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Certain parts of the ruins were roped off to keep tourists on paths -- different from Belize
When we glimpsed the beautiful turquoise water and wide white-sand beach for the first time, it took my breath.  All the hype I'd heard about Tulum's beaches was justified.
A closer look...
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Ahhhhh...gorgeous!
The ruins were nice, though not as dramatic as some we'd already seen, like Lamanai.  And unlike in Belize, quite a few of the structures were roped off and could not be climbed on.  A little disappointing, but I guess this site gets so many visitors, they have to be really careful to preserve the structures.  This reminded me much more of a well-manicured park in the US than one in Belize, where pretty much anything goes.
From one of the structures high on the beach-side cliff, there was a staircase allowing people access to the sandy beach below.  This was definitely the most crowded beach we'd seen in a long, long time.  We didn't bother going down; we planned to hit the less-crowded beach after leaving the ruins.
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Tourists everywhere!
This guy didn't mind the crowds one bit from his sunbathing post.
Your intrepid reporter...
These cliffs were so beautiful and rugged.
One more shot of the crazy gorgeous view.  Barry did a great job with the photos today!
Once we'd seen the entire site, it was time to leave the worst of the crowds behind.  
We walked down the road south of the ruins for quite a bit and finally found a public access to the beach.
Now this is a beach!  Super wide, with incredibly soft, white sand for walking, and stunning blue water.  Enchanting!  And the best part?  Not many people at all.  They were all back on the little beach below the ruins.  Ha!
It was still a little too early for the numerous beach bars and clubs to be open, so we eventually cut back to the road to start walking to a restaurant for lunch. 
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View from the road -- stunning
This proved to be a long -- and very warm -- walk (though quite a few taxis offered us a ride along the way).  We'll share our eventual destination in a future post.  Stay tuned!
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We were glad to finally get to this sign and see exactly where we were!
 
If you are a regular reader of our blog, you know how much we've enjoyed traveling around Belize.  And some of the highlights have been our visits to the tropical rainforest in Stann Creek and Toledo Districts for hiking and birding.  There's just something about the jungle; it's quintessentially tropical -- moist and green.  It smells and feels so earthy, as if all the massive trees forming a canopy above your head are shielding you from all things wrong in the world.  Even with its inherent dangers, the jungle feels safe, almost womb-like.

There's no arguing that Ambergris Caye is beautiful, but it tends towards a sandy, beachy environment.  So, we were awfully surprised (but delighted) to find a little jungle oasis right in southern Ambergris last weekend.

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, we took a long bike ride south on Sunday, and after going as far as we could, we turned around and headed back just a short ways to the Marco Gonzalez Archaeological Reserve/Maya Site, which we'd never checked out because we don't get down that far south very often, and when we do, we don't always have bug spray with us.  Today we did, so we decided to venture in and have a look around.  As we learned from the sign below, this is a very ancient site.  And it became the first Maya Site National Park on Ambergris Caye in 2011.
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The attendant booth is closed on Sundays, but you can still walk in and have a look at the site.
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Our bike parking
Although we slathered ourselves with bug spray, we really didn't notice any mosquitoes -- a lucky break.
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Applying bug spray
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Entering the site
To get to the site, you first must traverse a quarter-mile boardwalk over a swampy mangrove area.  According to the link above, this marshland was created after 2000 years of ocean rise and the resulting mangrove encroachment.  The boardwalk was only built in 2010, allowing public access to the site.  Just traversing it is an adventure in itself, as it was built with various sizes of lumber, probably mostly salvaged or donated, along with some newer parts.  You definitely have to watch your step, but I enjoyed walking it.
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A newer section
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Gotta watch your step here!
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Still kinda low, scrubby growth here, but just wait!
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Getting into some taller foliage
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Entering the site
The site, once we got inside, was much bigger than we expected.  However, there was enough standing water in parts of it that  we couldn't access the entire site.
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Map of Marco Gonzalez site
There were some nice fans made from palmetto (?) leaves near the entrance we borrowed for our walk in case of spider webs blocking the trail or to whack bugs away, though we didn't notice any webs or bugs.
The signage in the park is very educational.  We learned all about the Gumbo Limbo tree, the bark of which can be used to as an antidote if you are unfortunate enough to get too close to a Poisonwood tree.  Sounds like the Gumbo Limbo bark has other uses as well -- for burns, insect bites, and even for gout, among other things.  It's an attractive tree and a good one to know about, just in case!
Here's a better shot of the Gumbo Limbo, also called the "Tourist Tree" since its bark peels like a sunburned tourist!
The site is also home to a bevy of Poisonwood trees -- fortunately marked.  It would have been just my luck to grab onto one and end up burned and miserable.  This blog post gives an excellent description of the dangers posed by the Poisonwood tree.  The warnings on this sign should not be taken lightly.  DO NOT TOUCH!
As we got a little farther into the site, it really started to feel like being in the jungle.  Sure, the trees weren't quite as tall as the rainforests of southern Belize, but for Ambergris Caye, it was a welcome haven.  The temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler in here than out in the open.
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Poisonwood (note the black sap) on the left, Gumbo Limbo right beside it. Mother Nature is wise, no?
The Maya structures in this site are un-excavated and not very large, so it's no Lamanai, but it's still an interesting site if you enjoy history.  There are forty-nine structures total on the site.  Here are examples of a few:
This limestone and conch shell mound was quite impressive.  I've certainly never seen so many conch shells in one place.
Here are some nice collections of Maya pottery shards we came upon:
The going got a bit wet in places!  We ultimately had to turn around when we encountered a larger wet area that we didn't feel like slogging through (not this one). 
From our photos, it appears that we didn't see another soul on the site, but that wasn't quite true.  We did run into a small group of tourists with a guide, much to our surprise.  We thought we were alone in there!  

We also enjoyed watching birds as we trekked through.  There were a lot of them!  But we didn't have our binoculars, so birding was a little frustrating since we weren't able to identify too many of them other than just general categories ("flycatcher").  We also saw quite a few hermit crabs crawling about.  I've seen more hermit crabs in Belize than anywhere else in my life!
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Black Catbird
We finally finished our tour and emerged from the jungle into the light once again.  
It was an interesting visit and definitely worth checking out if you're on Ambergris Caye.  For further information, click here.
 
On Saturday and Sunday (July 28-29), we explored the town of Punta Gorda several times, riding beach bikes provided by Hickatee Cottages, where we were staying, and on foot.  Punta Gorda is very different from San Pedro, even though both towns are right on the water. Unlike San Pedro, which caters to divers, fishermen, and tourists from all over the world (including celebrities), "PG" is not touristy.  And since it's not on an island, cars and trucks roam where mostly golf carts and bicycles still travel the streets of San Pedro (though more and more motor vehicles arrive monthly, it seems).  Traffic was lighter than in San Pedro overall, even on a Saturday. There's a great Saturday market we got to check out, and I bought a Maya bag from a local man that probably would have cost me double in San Pedro.
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The PG town clock is stuck at 1:05 forever, but at least it has a toucan!
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Wheeeeeeeee!
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Buying Benedryl at the local pharmacy -- only $2.50 US for 24 tablets, way cheaper than in San Pedro!
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The local chocolatier was closed while we were in town, unfortunately. Heavy sigh!
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Part of the Saturday market
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My new Maya bag from this shop with colorful wares -- only $15 US!
We found this row of distinctively painted Blue Bird buses one street off Main.  There seems to be a bus for each nearby village.  Most Belizeans do not own cars, so this network of local buses provides a hugely valuable service all over the country.
Saturday (and Wednesday) are "cook's night off" at Hickatee, so we knew we'd have to find a place to grab some dinner in town.  We chose to ride bikes back in and use our headlamp to find our way back to the cottage after dark.  There are many fewer restaurants in PG than in San Pedro, and a few of the restaurants with signs were closed, so we didn't have a lot to choose from, but we landed in a little Italian place that had great pizza and a very friendly Belizean staff (not an Italian in sight!)  Unfortunately, the flies chased us in from our table outside, and they didn't have an alcohol license (it's hard to eat pizza without a beer!), but we were glad to get dinner somewhere!
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Our view before the flies forced us inside the restaurant
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Our large veggie pizza -- we ate every bite!
On Sunday, town was absolutely dead.  Most shops and restaurants were closed, and there was no traffic whatsoever.  That's another big difference between PG and San Pedro, which is just as bustling on Sunday as any other day of the week. 
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Loved the colors of this tourist information center -- closed on Sunday
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Cute pink public library, all closed up on Sunday
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Another library with colorful murals
We had planned on eating lunch in town but were striking out on finding anything open.  Just when we were about to give up, we found the Driftwood Cafe, which felt like an oasis in the desert for these two hungry walkers.  It was a real hippy cafe, run by a woman from Ohio (like Barry!) with dreads (a contradiction in terms, you'd think!).  She served coffee, fresh-baked goods, and vegetarian food.  

She was almost out of lunch food, but we split the last plate of vegetarian tamales, veggie chili, and black beans.  Delish!  I had an iced coffee to drink, and Barry had a tropical smoothie.  As if that weren't enough, we also indulged in milkshakes for dessert (Barry got coffee, and I got chocolate), and two peanut butter and jelly muffins.  Barry ate his on the spot, but I saved mine for the next day's bus ride.  
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We started eating before remembering a photo...
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The proprietor's husband is a Garifuna drummer, so the interior of the cafe was filled with drums
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I loved this islandy painted slate and might have bought it, but had no room in my backpack at all
Stay tuned for more from Hickatee Cottages, a great bike ride to the river, and Placencia as our trip continues....
 
After a full day, I'm too tired to write much but wanted to share these photos from the day.  
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We took Paisley on a nice morning walk -- here she is drinking some water I brought along.
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White Egret we saw on our walk
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Barry getting some assistance (?) with his crunches
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Walking back from town - this is one of the prettiest neighborhoods we go through
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Paisley the crab hound learned a lesson tonight -- but the little crustacean made a larger sacrifice!
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The claw was still moving a little after we got it out with tweezers. Paisley didn't even bleed!