PB Travels… Palenque 

I would have happily stayed in Merida for another month, but we had to move on to Palenque – the home of another set of super ruins. 

To get there though, we hopped on a public bus for an 8 hour journey including stops. This was a very relaxing journey on a very comfortable bus. No complaints. 

Where was I staying?

Xibalba, meaning Underworld (ooooh, I did experience a few spooky goings on too!) was our hotel for the next couple of nights. On a leafy road, a 5 minute walk from the main station, it was in a lovely location. 

Massive bedroom, squeaky clean, pristine bathroom, and. A hairdryer! The first of the trip. To be honest I’ve enjoyed having crazy,wavy,leave-it-to-the-elements flyaway hair though! 

Ratings

  • Grubbiness factor = non existent. Clean, no dodgy smells
  • Bed = 6/10, decent night’s sleep, the creepiness factor brought the marks down a bit – so did the bright room. 
  • Shower = 4/10. Lukewarm water at best, and no pressure. 

What did I eat? 

Breakfast before leaving Merida was in the hotel – fruit, PB and toast. 

We stopped in the state of TABASCO (!!!) for lunch at a truckers/bus stop kind of place. It was pollo this and carne that but there was also one soup – like a minestrone with veggies and pasta – that they assured me was 100% sin carne.

 

It was delicious, pimped with lime and chili, it was even better. I had it along with some plantain chips. Lunch. Sorted. 

As for my meals for the next 2 days, I did something I’ve never done before. I went to the same restaurant and bar for almost all my meals and drinks. Hola Cafe Jade. 

First night dinner – I went for guacamole and salbutes, topped with soya mince, frijoles, radishes, tomatoes, lettuce and avocado. 

Now it might sound like I’m eating the same ingredients – which I possibly am, but the flavours are stunning. I don’t know if it is the freshness of produce or my state of bliss – but everything tastes good. 

These were soooo tasty and MASSIVE – I couldn’t finish them. The other girls raved about the chaya quesadillas. 

My non-veggie friend went crazy over these – so much so that she had the same the next day. I also went for a chaya,pineapple and lime juice. What a super combination. 

Breakfast the next day was a little coffee place diagonally opposite the hotel. Cafe Americano – check. Very good. 

Panino vegano – NO CHECK. Butter – yes. Cheese – yes. I tried to tell them butter and cheese aren’t vegan, and after a while I eventually got a toasted veggie panini on soft bread. It was ok. I only had half. 

We got back from the ruins pretty late, and decided to have a late lunch/ early dinner at yes, Cafe Jade.  Same drink, and Tacos Dorados, or rolled crispy tacos, stuffed with beans and veggies surrounded by this stunning tomato sauce. 

Every mouthful was so tasty – thoroughly enjoyed this meal. 

Breakfast before our epic ride to San Cristobal was there again, this time I went for the continental – fruit, toast and sensational coffee. 

Other options – platano frito with local queso and cinnamon – I was informed it was delicious but op much!This place has definitely been generous with the portions! 

And the second best snack of the trip (1st is still coconut carne)? Mango with chili and lime. Whoa nelly. Sweet, sour, spicy, addictive. And in the heat post ruins, pre jungle, it was PERFECT.

What did I do?

Other that walk around the town, we were in Palenque for the ruins and once again, they did not disappoint. We got an amazing guide, Edgar, who really knew his stuff and gave us some fascinating facts about them. 

The complex of ruins were well preserved, and the views stunning. What I loved about this place was that it was surrounded by jungle, making it that much more dramatic. 

I thoroughly enjoyed walking around taking it all in, the mind boggling with these amazing facts, and just when I thought it was over, Edgar suggests a jungle walk! 

I loved this walk. Nothing strenous, but amazingly scenic. The jungle is full of temples and pyramids not yet excavated. We clambered over rocks to jump into small openings – at your own risk, they open into majestic yet guano and bat filled (stinky and moist) places. Still worth it I think. 

We also went into an underwater cave/tunnel, and got blessed in a Mayan Pool. 

There was stunning flora and fauna, giant leaves and trees – and to top it all off, howler monkeys – that we heard this time, not only saw!!!! (Don’t have a hope in hell of uploading a video, but pls google the sound). Apparently Steven Speilberg used this sound for the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park / I can understand why! 


So the town itself. It is a bit dull, to be honest a bit boring after the vibrancy of the previous towns. Not catered to tourists though, it had a proper community feel to it, very personal and not at all touristy. But as I said, the main reason to be here is primarily the ruins. 

Not at all like the next stop, San Cristobal De Las Casas, which had a bit of everything for everyone! 

PB Travels… Merida 

Ok Mexico. It is official. Te amo, Mexico. I love you and I am in love with you. Mucho. The people, the food, the ruins, the landscape – everything. I feel so at home here, it reminds me so much of where I grew up – and the last 2 days have been nothing short of magical. 2 amazing ruins, another cenote and a beach out of your (well, my) dreams – I loved every second of it.

Where am I staying? 

Hotel Reforma, in the centre of the old town. Beautiful entrance, stunning communal areas, and the room was lovely too.  Big double beds, high high ceilings – simply decorated, beautifully done.  Nice location, it was close to the cathedral, main square and Paseo Montejo, the Champs Elysee of Merida (or so I thought).

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = low. The room was clean, the bathroom a bit tired.
  • Bed = 7/10. Decent enough bed, low marks for the fact that you can hear everything – not from other rooms but from reception and the communal spaces – where people were chatting until wee hours of the morning.
  • Shower= 5/10, did the job but stank of moth balls. HATE that smell. Eugh

What did I eat?

We decided to leave PDC early to get to the ruins at Chichen Itza at a decent time, so we stopped for breakfast at a local service stop.

Basic, rustic and clean – but nothing for me to eat on the menu. There were lots of meaty and eggy options. However I always know I that I will find one thing on the menu – so I went for platanos Fritos and pan toastada. And then I remembered my jar of peanut butter that I had in my bag. Breakfast sorted.

To drink? Nescafé – lol. I want a decent cup of coffee! That gave me all the energy for Chichen Itza.  By the time we got to Merida it was 3pm, too late for lunch, too early for dinner. We only had a few hours to explore the town (we had a whole day of activities tomorrow).

I stumbled across Pola – an ice cream shop with dairy free sorbets!! Whoop! I went for chocolate sorbet (dark, luscious, lush), and avocado sorbet (creamy, avocado-y, a bit too sweet), perfect power boost to keep me going until dinner. Please go here – amazing!!

We met at La Chaya Maya for dinner, a place serving proper Yucatan food.

Chaya if you remember is Mayan spinach – loved it in every form I’ve had it. I decided to try a Chaya margarita – what a wonderful drink! Spinach-y in a very good way, perfectly balanced, not too strong and thankfully not too sweet.

For mains I went for tortillas topped with veggies, more chaya, pickled onions and this stunning powder made from pumpkin seeds. I don’t know the local name, but this stuff is like food crack. SO BLOOMING TASTY – Earthy, warming, depth of flavour, checked all the boxes.

It might not look like much, but it was amazing amazing amazing. So tasty, soft, crunchy, oozing with so much flavour.  Everyone’s meals were good, we were all ooh-ing and aah-ing over them. Go here if you are in Merida. Please.  Next day was an early start, we got to Ek Balam – the ruins of the day – so early that no food vendors or local restaurants were open.  So what did we do? Our guide found a hotel and we had breakfast there. Frijoles, tortillas and juicy ripe tomatoes for me.

Perfectly flavoured, beans not too mushy and those tomatoes were stunning. Lunch was on our way to the pink beach. We stopped at a restaurant on the Rio Lagartos – this was like a beach hut, or rather, river hut. This meal was GOOD, the views amazing.

The scenery, surroundings, weather – I think they all add to a meal experience, and I loved it even more for all those reasons.

Rice, frijoles – pulverised, like a soup – with a good chilli kick, salad and guacamole (I should clarify that the empty plate of guacamole in the background was a shared plate – not just mine! Haha).

I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat after this meal. We got to Merida at 10pm after our epic day, exhausted, super content and in no mood to eat. So no dinner.  Forgot to mention another super snack I had. It was so hot after the cenote, we had fresh coconut water (ONLY 25 pesos each). I usually ask for it to be cut open so I can eat the ‘carne’ – as it is. But no. It was cut open, doused in chili pepper and lemon. You can only imagine my reaction. Superdelicioustastystunning. Amazing.

What did I do?

First set of ruins – Chichen Itza. So two things about this place. I saw pictures of it when I was 9 years old, and that kicked off my fascination with all things to do with the Maya. Secondly, and sadly, I was told it is so touristy that the experience of the ruins is lost. Well. I’m glad I didn’t listen to the latter, I went there with no expectations – and boy oh boy. I was blown away.

I just love the close relationship that was created between nature, scientifical calculation and practicality, never forgetting the whole time who is the head honcho – nature.

We had a super cool guide – William. He should have actually been a philosopher, he was so brilliant in his explanations and stories, I could have listened to him talk for hours. He was full of fascinating facts!

He seems to be the guide Godfather – all other guides would don their caps, salute or bow when he walked past – we definitely struck guide gold!! Thank you Chichen Itza, I love you and I will be back.   Merida has stolen my heart. We power walked all over the town for three hours (as soon as we got there). Beautiful, colourful buildings, shops selling every piece of bling and kitsch imaginable, a market (one of the nicest I’ve been – food, clothes and anything else you want to buy) and super friendly people.


The cathedral stunning, the square beautiful, colour everywhere – loved this place. There weren’t many tourists but I felt completely safe and secure.

And, no, our day wasn’t over yet. Our guide told us that there is a community led bike ride around the streets of Merida every Wednesday – the day we were there! 9pm – 11pm, how could I say no!? (Pics to follow, they are on my other camera).    It was so much fun. There must have been around 120-150 people, and we cycled around Merida to the sounds of music, laughter and singing. It was fabulous! A really well organised ride, nothing strenuous about it though!

The next day was even better. There is a pink beach (it is an an area dense with sea salt), and we wanted to see it. But since we wanted our cake, and to eat it, we also wanted out guide to throw in some ruins.  Introducing Ek Balam, near the town of Valladolid, my most favourite ruins of the trip. I could post a hundred pictures and it still won’t do the place justice.


There was so much to see and take in, more to explore, and the energy of the place was phenomenal. I felt like I had plugged into an energy grid – and I probably had!   Once again, our guide was very interesting, honest and funny and it was fascinating to listen to the history of building all these structures.

I will say one thing – for all these ruins, don’t scrimp on the guides. Don’t think they charge too much – they don’t. If you were to walk them yourselves without knowing about the ruins, you might as well stop. The gold nuggets of information were priceless.   Ek Balam done, we hopped on bikes to cycle to our 2nd attraction – a cenote! This one thankfully not as restrictive as the first. Not knowing what to expect, I was so so happy when I saw this sight. Isn’t it just magical??

Swimming in it was even better. The water was the right temperature, the views everywhere I looked were PERFECT. I even donned my snorkel and followed a few black fishies around. However the water wasn’t that clear, other than the fish, there want much else to see. I wanted to stay in there for much longer, but there was a long drive to get to our main attraction.

So after our lovely lunch, we drove for another two hours to Las Colorades. Worth every second (and the four hour drive back). Look at this view – it was so beautiful, almost like being on another planet.

And it isn’t over yet – there are also flamingos in the area!!! Not in the same salt lake, but on the other side. Look!!!!! Obviously more than just two, will upload pics from my other camera.  I loved watching them. We stayed there to see the sunset, and yes, cheesy, cliched, it was the perfect end to the perfect day.

Starting with Ek Balam, finishing with a super sunset, it was a really really wonderful day. I STRONGLY recommend this combination of attractions – you will not be disappointed.  Merida has been the highlight of Mexico for me. It is the base for lots of ruins and cenote exploring. I am not ruined out, I am not cenote-d out, I feel I MUST return to check them out.. SOON!

PB Travels… Playa Del Carmen

After a magical time checking out the ruins at Coba and jumping into centoes, we got to Playa Del Carmen in time for dinner. What a shock to the system! After staying in rustic hotels, being knee deep in nature – we ended up in what was a mini Las Vegas. Playa Del Carmen is a buzzing place, full of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and shopping galore.


Where am I staying?

We checked into the One Hotel, essentially an Ibis/Premier Inn, a stark contrast to the character filled hotels I have been staying in so far. A smaller room than the others I’ve been staying in, with a double and single bed, brilliant shower, all mod cons, super fast wifi (i.e the same speed as back home haha).  I’ve just realised I didn’t take pics of the room – sorry!

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = non-existent. We are in serious tourist land, and it showed.
  • Bed = 6/10. Bed was ok, but there was an alarm blaring outside my room for both nights I was there, so sleep was interrupted.
  • Shower = 9/10 powerful, hot water and all toiletries thrown in? Result!!

What did I eat?

We went to La Casota, a restaurant on Calle 12, in the middle of all the action.  By now you can guess what I chose. Guacamole, yes – but with a twist. Here they make it table side for you (by our Mexican Peter Andre lookalike waiter) – nice, but I needed to add more salt.

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Every time I eat this, it tastes different, and every time I love it a little bit more. Mains on the other hand were dull dull dull. Veggie fajitas.  Basic, boring, tasteless – not even the yummy salsa picante could redeem them.  I felt this was a tourist restaurant, wouldn’t recommend it to be honest.

I woke up late the next day (9 am), after relatively early starts, this was great. Breakfast was basic continental ( no pic – use your imagination). I walked past 100% Natural the night before, a restaurant that had a lot of veggie and vegan options, and wanted to go there for lunch. So I left the girls at the beach and wandered to the restaurant, which was set in a stunning space.

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I am pleased to report I was treated like a local – spoken to in Spanish, given a Spanish menu (which I understood most of – come on, it’s food related) – I was quite flattered! I went for an agua fresca with strawberry and blueberry purée (with sparkling water, like a scholer) – cool, refreshing and exactly what I needed after my tough day relaxing in the beach under blue skies.  I ordered the lentil burger that came with a few sweet potato fries. Pimped with some fresh habanero salsa, I was in heaven once again. So delicious, juicy and tasty.  There were a few more things on the menu I would have liked to try, but not enough time.

Dinner was very different to the night before – we went to a local place where our meals cost a third of what they did the night before.  I went for a tamarind agua fresca – nice, but too sweet like almost every drink I had here.

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For mains I had a huarache – or a ‘slipper tortilla’, or let’s not beat around the bush – a makki di roti for those of you in the know. Topped with very saucy frijoles, nopales (rapidly joining frijoles and guacamole in my favourite things to eat), onions and salsa. Tasty (after I added a decent amount of salt) and I got my Indian and Mexican fix in one meal. Interesting that here, they under salt the food and over sweeten the drinks!).

On the way back to the hotel, one of the girls had a marquesita for dessert. It was interesting to see being made. It was a crepe – a crispy/waffle. One crepe, stuffed with Nutella and… queso. Yes, cheese – like a mild edam.  Obviously didn’t try it, but apparently the combination is very complementary and complimentary and went down very quickly.

What did I do? 

Another day of vegetation on the beach. Hard life, but somebody’s got to do it! The beach is beautiful – warm, blue water, soft sand.

The beach was over infested with people. After having secluded ruins and beaches all to ourselves up to now, this felt very weird. We found a decent sun lounger (150 pesos to hire – you need to pay to relax in Playa Del Carmen), I spent my time reading-sleeping-swimming. Oh, and I had an $18, 30 minute massage on the beach. PERFECT!

I did walk around too – day and night, it felt like too much of a theme park (check out the colours at night), with the main aim bring to spend money in any way possible – look at Playaland! Your one stop souvenir mega shop.

Overall impression, once I put the commercialism aside, I enjoyed the place – specifically the beach. Like with almost all beatific beach towns, the underlying vibe was chilled. But I was happy to move on to the next town – Merida.

PB Travels… Tulum

We woke up early to get the 6.30 am water taxi, back to Belize City where our bus was waiting to take us to Tulum – in Mexico!  The border crossing was effortless once again, we got through in 10 minutes – no queues. Once again, our guide said that was very rare. More time for us in Tulum I say! And with the weather hotting up even more, I was super happy.

Where am I staying?

El Punto is a small hotel/hostel with 9 rooms, a gourmet restaurant, a trendy bar and chill out area. It is only 1.5 years old, so it was in very good nick.

The owner’s wife did all the interior design and decor – I quite liked the minimal bare look, especially all the inspirational messages dotted around the room and hotel. My room had 2 double beds (one for me, one for my bags ;), a big enough bathroom and it was spacious.

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = non existent. Clean, slick and lovely
  • Bed = 9/10. I slept really well – virtual no light in the room at night was a big factor. Comfy bed and hard pillows – perfect.
  • Shower = 7/10. Hot hot water, a lot of it. The only problem was, as the water came from underground, it was loaded with natural stuff which had a sulphurous pong. Whiffy, but very clean we were assured.  Still unnerving while showering!

Where did I eat? 

So before we got to the hotel we stopped at La Playita – a stunning stunning restaurant – with views of a lagoon! See for yourself!

And the food thankfully matched up to the surroundings. I had guacamole – delicioso! And a big salad with tofu! Soft, melting tofu. That accompanied by nachos (crunchy and melt in the mouth at the same time) and this killer habanero sauce was an excellent meal. So so so tasty and fresh. I also had a chaya, pineapple and lime juice. Super refreshing.  Other options – prawn tacos and a burger – which were enjoyed as much as I enjoyed my meal.

All sensationally good.  Other lunches? We were at Zamas – where we vegetated for a whole day (see further down for pics). I had veggie tacos – sheesh. Is all the food in Mexico this delicious??? Mixed veggies, frijoles, guac – absolutely delicious and flavourful. I was in food heaven.  And I had a margarita on the rocks – SO much better than the frozen ones! YUMMO! Best one so far on the trip.

Last lunch – a takeaway from the hotel restaurant for our activity to Coba – a veggie bagel, accompanied with potatoes, peppers and avocado. Seriously people, I can’t fault this one either. The view helped too 🙂 🙂

Breakfast was at the hotel one day – I just wanted fruit, toast and coffee, and it was as expected. Simple but yummy. Pineapple was so sweet!

Breakfast the day before (yes, I’m all over the place – go with the flow 🙂 was at Zamas – after exploring the Tulum ruins by the beach. What did I have? Avo on toast with fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes (menu default was with goats cheese), with killer salsas. I am already contemplating moving here. Mainly for the avocados. Eaten with a view of the beach and sand in my toes? BLISS. So delicious.

Dinners? First night there was at an Italian (can’t remember the name) – I had a simple veggie pasta that hit the spot.  The other girls had pizza and fish fillets – all went down really well.

Dinner on the last night in Tulum was at a popular local place. The honestly said that there wasn’t much for me, and I decided to go with their option and try the nopales – or cactus, cooked with peppers and onions, and a side of platanos fritos. Mains and dessert at the same time!  I actually liked the nopales – which basically looked like fat string beans and tasted similar. This restaurant was a hit and miss – only half of us enjoyed our meals, me being one of them.  🙂

And one of the last things I had – COCONUT MILK ICE CREAM! Helado sin leche! This adorable old man had a food caravan down from the hotel – Buena Estrella.

I chose avocado and cacao, and he literally blended fresh avocado, Mayan chocolate beans and coconut milk, stuck it on a cold plate (like they do in Asia, and three minutes later – smooth, creamy, not sweet but just sweet enough ice cream. LOVED IT!

What did I do? 

We walked town – lots and lots of shops (still haven’t bought much), but the main reasons to come to Tulum were the ruins, the beach and the sun.  So we woke up early enough and took a cab (you can cycle, but we had issues hiring bikes – our hotel didn’t have any and all the bike shops wanted to hold on to our passports – erm. I think not).  We walked around for an hour – it isn’t a big complex – sans guide.  I have decided going forward – all ruins should be done with a guide. The ruins were pretty, not not as amazing as Yaxha and Tikal for me.

I loved the view of the sea from the ruins. Usually if the weather and sea are good, tourists are allowed to swim. Today, the Danger flag and the ‘there could be jellyfish in the water that could kill you’ flag was flying. That will be the blue one then. I also loved the iguanas that were all around the ruins

Ruins for the day done? Off to the beach for a whole day of doing nothing. We ended up at Zamas – wise choice. We were literally there from about 10am – 5pm.. They even had live music later in the afternoon – excellent!

So recommend this place – lovely food, lovely staff, lovely beach – only thing to watch out are a few rocks in the sea if you plan to swim.  Next? Playa Del Carmen! But before that, a few of us decided to go to Coba for a day of ruins, zip lining and cenotes.  We had a guide to take us around – Henri, a Mexican French man. Coba is a fascinating place with amazing structures, history and stories. There was a steep pyramid to climb (go soon, as they are going to stop the public from climbing it), circular pyramids, a thatched temple on top of a pyramid that still has its red and blue decorations intact, unexcavated temples, a ball court. BRILLIANT! All of it!!


I was completely fascinated – and it wasn’t over yet!  After the ruins, we had more fun to look forward to.  Canoeing and zip lining (no pics – we were having too much fun) across Punta Laguna – a stunning body of water, where our true blue Mayan guide took over.  The zip lining was rustic and SO much fun.  Loved it. Very much.  Final activity – exploring a cenote – but before that – a quick visit to the shaman for a Mayan blessing!!

Cenote are essentially underground bodies of water formed when limestone collapses (for more info, please ask my friend Google). This was the entrance to the cenote:

Yep – to get into the cenote, you had to be willing to take the plunge, literally. One of the girls looked at the entrance and said ‘I’m out!’ So 2 of us went for it. We absailed down, and once we got past the darkness, ho ho ho. A cave, about 20 feet in diameter, with CLEAR blue water 8 metres down – I could see everything, including the skulls of people who were reportedly sacrificed here. I was completely dumbstruck. It wa like being in another world. I could see the root systems of the trees, there were bats flying around, but at the same time – so peaceful and eerie and magical. The water wasn’t the warmest, but the hardest part was pulling myself up a slippery ladder, wet and cold. But I did it.

I SO recommend Coba. I so recommend going into cenotes that are not in guide books. There were virtually no tourists at the cenote -6 in total which added to the mysticism of the place. And don’t freak out – they are SO SO worth it!

PB Travels… Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker is a tiny island off the coast of Belize – and my destination for the next three days.  I knew from the minute I stepped on the island, I would be completely chilled. The island vibe is so palpable, you can’t help yourself – you just want to chill..

Where am I staying? 

Caye Caulker Plaza hotel is in a great location – 5 minutes from the water taxi, and well, 5 minutes from anywhere you need to be. But then again, who is counting minutes? Not I!

The rooms were ginormous – I had two double beds in mine, and a balcony too! The bathroom however was a different story. Rusty taps, a bit mouldy – not nice

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = medium, primarily because of the shower. Also, their cleaning products were cloying and over scented – did not appreciate that!
  • Bed = 6/10. Comfy, but when you have a bed with wheels that moves every time you turn, there is a problem!
  • Shower = 2/10, and that is only because the water was hot.

What did I eat?

What I loved about eating here was that all restaurants were either open air or had outdoor seating – and why not! The weather was perfect for it! Dinner on the first night was at Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen. I chose a Rum Punch – yah man! This is definitely an island drink!!

There was one dish that stood out for me – the veggie coconut curry with coconut rice. There was also plantain, which doubled up as dessert as it was hot, sweet and nicely caramelised.  It was super tasty – well cooked veggies, flavourful sauce, and I’ll tell you one thing – these guys know how to make killer coconut rice! DELISH!  Other options – jerk chicken, which went down just as well.

Other dinners were at Rose’s Grill and Bar, down the road from the hotel.  This place specialised, like so many other restaurants, in seafood.  The girls I was with could actually pick and chose the poor lobster that would become their meal!

I went for a veggie kebab, with cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes and pineapple. It came with roast potatoes (yum), salad (yum), watermelon and pineapple purée (hmmm). Veggies were still beautifully crunchy but a bit bland.   Obviously had to pimp them with some habanero sauce.  Everyone oooh-ed and aaah-ed over their lobster.

Last night was at Enjoy Restaurant, I went for the jerk vegetables with rice.  This meal was hot, tasty, chilli, flavourful and so so delicious, I ate the whole thing and I could have done it again! And again.

Lunches were either sandwiches from ‘sub-away’ (same concept) or when we went out snorkelling for the day – a fruit platter and rice and beans.  Not just rice and beans, but with a selection of chilli sauces! No guessing my reaction and subsequent mood!!

Ending with breakfast – we had them in the same place – Amor Y cafe. Yummy and delicious – they hit the spot!

The coffee was lovely here – and I loved the fact that they used coffee ice cubes so the flavour of coffee wasn’t diluted!

What did I do?

NOTHING! Haha. Chilled, relaxed, walked around the island – it isn’t that big – and took in the scenery and enjoyed

We did go snorkelling with Amado (USD95, including lunch, drinks, all equipment) – I strongly recommend looking him up. We went out on a sailboat, unlike other companies that use power boats. He was also very eco friendly – considering the sea (not feeding sharks like other tour operators), environment (using reusable crockery/cutlery).

Obviously no underwater shots, but we saw nurse sharks, barracuda, snapper, grouper, names of fish I don’t know, turtles, and coral. Loved loved loved loved the whole experience.  I loved loved loved the island too – hotel could have been better but in hindsight I spent no time in the room.  Next stop = Mexico! Arriba Arriba! Back to the Spanish – I’ve taken a break since everyone in Belize speaks English or Creole with the coolest accent!!

PB Travels… San Ignacio, Belize 

Tikal done and over with meant one thing – bye bye Guatemala, hello Belize!  Our guide warned us to watch out for big mamas who jump the queues at the border crossing and that we had to make sure that didn’t happen to us – or we would be there all day.  Thankfully we didn’t have to worry about this – we literally sauntered across both borders within 15 minutes. I love walking across borders – and this was no exception. It was very laid back, and from the Belize customs point onwards, everyone I met was lovely and genuinely helpful.  The plan was to stay in the small town of San Ignacio for one night – and move onto Caye Caulker for 3 nights.  The weather is getting warmer!! Looking forward to some blue skies and proper heat!

Where am I staying?

We checked into Midas Hotel, a splendid hotel decked in about 6 shades of green (including staff uniforms!).  I loved this place. The grounds, the staff and my room, which was essentially a bungalow.

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = low. Very very clean
  • Bed = 8/10. I had a good night’s sleep
  • Shower = 4/10. Clean, but what is the use if there is no warm water

What did I eat? 

After checking in we went into town to check it out – it is a dinky little place, we had figured out what was where in 10 minutes – small and colourful.

Interestingly enough, the town is full of Indian and Chinese shops, selling virtually everything imaginable.  For dinner, we went to Erwa’s Restaurant, specialising in local Belizean food.  To drink? I tried the local drink of Belize – a rum punch which felt like a tropical party in my mouth. I ordered what was the best meal of my trip so far.

Coconut rice – so well cooked; kidney beans – super tasty and well seasoned; and the veggies. Oh my oh my oh my.  Chaya – the local maya spinach, peppers and onions. So so so so so tasty, simply cooked but so moreish and full of flavour. Some of the group had fish – they loved it.

And being in Belize, I realised that there isn’t just one kind of Habanero Sauce – hot. Marie Sharps is the brand, and flavours are everything from mild, hot, medium, hot, fiery hot, and my favourite, beware hot. (Souvenir for the brother and brother in law sorted!!)  Breakfast the next morning was at Pops, at 6.30 as we were getting ready for exploring the ATM cave. A cup of black coffee (AMAZING coffee everywhere!!!!) and fry jacks (for those in the know, essentially triangular bhaturas!) doused with maple syrup they were quite yummy, giving me the energy for the caves.

Lunch after the caves was rice and veggie (that coleslaw was untouched – bear in mind these lunch boxes were out in the sun all morning), and more of my favourite hot sauce.  Oh, and some more of that rum punch 🙂

What did I do?

The main reason why people come to San Ignacio is for the ATM cave. ATM stands for Actun Tunichil Muknal, an impressive Maya site with a lot interesting artefacts – ceramics, stoneware, skeletons (whole human skeletons) and bones (monkey, jaguar).  Not a cheap trip – USD 95 (or USD120 including transfers to Belize City), I will tell you now – DO IT!!! NO BRAINER.    We were warned before hand that we will be wet (fully, completely wet) for most of the 4 hour tour, and that we must must wear closed shoes. We also wore a helmet, and once inside the cave, headlamps were essential. These are all provided.

The tour company we went with were called Maya Walk (however there are many to choose from) and there was a 45 minute drive along a bumpy road to get to the cave. We drove past corn and orange plantations, and very descriptive road signs. Haha.

Once we got to the entrance, we had to leave everything behind other than a bottle of water – no bags, no cameras – a clumsy tourist dropped his on a skull in the cave and cracked it (both the camera and the skull). Since then there has been a very very strict no camera rule.

It was brilliant. 45 minute walk to the entrance of the cave, crossing 3 rivers of varying heights (chest, knees, ankles – no current and the water is very clean). About 20 minutes walking, wading, swimming. Going up and down over boulders, squeezing through gaps – and then the main cave. We had a good guide who explained it all – mind blown.  It is a visually stunning cave and the way to get there utterly gorgeous – you forget all about being wet – and the history amazing.  The tour company sent a few photos through, but there are some videos on you tube if you want to check it out further.

Amazing activity, loved loved loved it and so recommend it.  One thing though – closed shoes are ESSENTIAL.  You can’t get away with sandals, and definitely no flip flops! Too many sharp and jagged rocks.  Now bring on some relaxing island life on!!! Caye (pronounced KEY, tourists, listen!!) Caulker!

PB Travels… Maya Ruins

Last day in Rio Dulce and it was nice and warm. After breakfast (Primal Pantry bar and a sachet of peanut butter), we took a water taxi back to shore, and jumped into a bus for a 3 hour ride to the next stop, Flores. We were only here for one night before moving to out next stop – Belize!

Where am I staying?

Maya Internacional was apparently a five star hotel until half of it was flooded in 2011. Our guide warned us that there may be a strong smell of sewage (!!!) in the hotel. Thankfully this wasn’t the case, bu there was an underlying whiff of sewage in the bathroom. Not nice!

This hotel had a distinctly American feel to it. The dining area and views were beautiful, and so was the sunrise that we managed to catch the next day. The room was basic but clean.  I was glad we were only staying here for one night.

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor = low. Once again, the room was tired but clean.
  • Bed = 8/10. Slept really well after the activity we had earlier in the day.
  • Shower = 5/10. Good power, good drainage and it has free toiletries – the first on the trip! Low marks because of subtle stench.

What am I eating?

Our guide recommended that we visit the Maya ruins at Yaxha, so order to get there on time, we stopped for lunch at El Muele – a touristy hotel and restaurant. Stunning views!  I went for the veggie fajitas that came with frijoles and guacamole. It was just alright, had a feeling of mass production about it.

Not very tasty but edible. The guac was yummy – but when isn’t it?  Meh.  By the time we got back from the ruins it was pretty late – so we decided to eat in the hotel. I went for spaghetti with an avocado sauce – yep. I’m going to eat avocados wherever and however I can!

Tasty enough, made even more edible with the addition of my new addiction – that Habanero Sauce!   We had to leave early the next day to get to the ruins in Tikal. We decided to get ‘breakfast on the go’ – I went for a veggie sandwich, that came with a mixed fruit smoothie, a banana and a sesame cookie. (Forgot to take a pic!). I had the smoothie (like a fruit slushie – yummie:), and the banana to give me the energy to walk around Tikal. I started on my sandwich and remembered that we would be going to the same place for lunch again, so decided to save it for then.

Suitably starving post Tikal, I thought I would play it safe and order a salad back at El Muelle. I’ve been eating veggies, but they have been either cooked or steamed or fried. I just wanted a crunchy salad – and that is exactly  what I got.  Definitely hit the spot. A mixture of lettuce, radish, carrot, cucumber, tomato, avocado – it was so tasty. Good choice PB, good choice. This restaurant being on the lake meant the fish was good – one girl ordered it and said it was super tasty.

What did I do?

So after we got to Flores and had lunch, we embarked on a 2 hour ride to Yaxha. Yaxha means blue green water. They are the third largest ruins in Guatemala with a rich and varied history, from the pre classic period. (Don’t mess with me – I was clearly listening to the guide!!).

This turned out to be not only cultural but an amazing wildlife walk. We had a very entertaining, passionate guide – Luis, who gave us a lot of history about the ruins – and turned out to be a passionate bird watcher.

Check out all the restrictions – no guns, no onsite excavation site!  We also saw birds (including beautiful wild turkeys), howler monkeys (yes, those white things are it’s cojones!)and a BOA CONSTRICTOR. Now, I’ve only ever seen them on TV or in a zoo. This one was out in the wild – and moving!


We climbed up a pyramid (steep stairs – not for the faint hearted or those with dodgy knees) – impressive canopy, but the main pyramid (216) is the one that everyone climbs up for the views. Thank God for small mercies – there was a wooden staircase. Once we got to the top, Luis made everyone (including all the other tourists) zip it and we saw the sunset in silence. Magical. So so worth it – please don’t miss out on checking out these ruin – especially at sunset!

Tikal was just as impressive. Once again, we got a local guide – who had a lot of knowledge about the place, rituals, carvings, layout – but was just a bit dull.

Views were stunning – still thinking which one I loved more – Yaxha or Tikal. Can’t decide. What I loved (and was surprised about) was that neither place was busy – there must have been about 30 people at Yaxha and maybe double at Tikal. It meant you could really get a feel of the place. Start contrast to when I went to Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat!

It was a bit frustrating that with both places, over half of the pyramids are still covered up. Both guides said excavation is expensive, but another reason is the money needed for maintenance – all structures are made primarily out of limestone which means it more susceptible to environmental factors.  Tikal is still a magical place,and the main pyramid is awe inspiring.  

So I’m done with Guatemala for now – but I will be back in about 2 weeks. Tomorrow – Belize – and hopefully the hot weather I’ve been craving!

PB Eats… Big Easy

So my travels are about to start – I fly next week to Central America (sooo excited!) to start the first part of my travels, but before that – I needed to meet up with S and T, my wonderful friends/work mates.  We agreed to meet at Big Easy in Canary Wharf.

Big Easy specialises in ribs, lobster, meat, bbq – basically 99% of the menu is inedible for me.  But as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not fussy – if there is one item on the menu it is mine.. and more importantly, I never want to be in a situation where I can’t socialise because my eating options are limited – or where I have to always dictate where we go to eat.

It was so so wonderful to catch up, so much to talk about, so much to say, so much prosecco to drink!  When we finally had a look at the menu, I honed in on the Spicy Black Bean Veggie Burger (hold the sour cream).  What arrived was a decent looking burger, stuffed with a yummy bean patty, avocado, pickled onions, tomato and lettuce.


There was a lot of bread, which I basically didn’t eat.  In the battle of bread vs fat chips – fat chips win everytime! The pickle was a nice addition, and I didn’t try the slaw so can’t comment on that.

S went for the Lobster Roll meal deal (terrible photo, I know) and T went for the giant lobster meal – both came with a free drink and were giant portions! I think they went down well!

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The staff were lovely but very strict about the ‘2 hour turnaround policy’ and reminded us about it more than once – until we had to decamp and move to the bar – where we ended up staying for the next few hours.

Big Easy has an amazing atmosphere – it was buzzing and busy and we had such an awesome time, to be honest the food (which was decent) definitely played second fiddle to the brilliant company – that was one good night!

PB Eats… Grain Store

I met up with M for our annual Christmas dinner (yep, in January – thank you cold/flu virus for making me miss it in December).  Ever resourceful, she suggested Grain Store – a restaurant with lots of options for the dietary fussy amongst us.

Now Grain Store is one of those painfully hip places, the staff, the menu, the cocktail list (they have savoury cocktails! Aubergine Rum! Horseradish Vodka!).  Too much hard work to go through the list – so we settled for a celebratory glass of prosecco 😉  Thankfully the food men was less complex, full of yummy stuff.

We both loved the look of the desserts (parsnips in a dessert! So hip!) so we decided to forgo starters for mains and dessert. It was a toss up between the chilli con veggie or the veggie bourguignon and the lovely waitress did say the chilli was a better option – decision made for both of us.  What arrived were 2 piping hot skillets – one with mixed rice (brown, white, wild) and one with the chilli (the pot of white fluff in the middle was sour cream).

Oh boy. I was impressed. The chilli was full of flavour and warming spices, all complementary and subtle. Super delicious.   Moving on to desserts. I really wanted to try the “Coconut & Kaffir lime green tapioca, sweet potato, banana crisp”.  I thought it was a very intriguing bunch of flavours and textures – and  I also like tapioca (never been scarred via school dinners – was it really that bad??) so it was a no brainer. M went for tart of the day – apple bakewell, served with a coulis and creme fraiche, which looked LUSH.

As for my dessert, WOW. It was sensational – other than the banana crisp which I though was a bit stale so didn’t eat it. But the rest of it – wow. Umami flavour explosion. I can’t even explain how tasty this was – so different yet so comforting, it was more like a chia seed pudding than a tapioca pudding. Exceptionally delicious!

Accompanied by a cup of fresh mint tea, and I was a happy bunny.  All in all, a really really good meal.  I definitely want to go back to try the other stuff on the menu.

PB Eats… Hakkasan

Happy New Year!  I was actually pretty ill over Christmas so I didn’t get to enjoy the festivities much – but thankfully I’m back, and rearing to go!  I wanted to see the Christmas lights in all their glory with my niece before they disappeared.

Thankfully it wasn’t as bitterly cold as everyone was saying it would be, although I did layer up with Tromso gear – so I was toasty and warm! The lights were beautiful – I loved the floating Angels! I’m also glad that some lights – like these peacock feathers and fans – are being reused.
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So all this walking and shopping made everyone hungry, and the hunt for food began. We decided to go to Hakkasan. B & C had been to the Hanway Place branch and waxed lyrical, and they wanted to go again to satiate their craving. However the Mayfair branch was much closer, so we went there instead. I have been to this branch before, but only for a set menu option. This time we were going a la carte!

As expected, the menu was pretty extensive. We decided to go for a couple of starters/small plates that we could all enjoy, including the impeccably behaved Little Miss S.  We chose the vegetarian dim sum platter and the salt and pepper pumpkin tofu.


Now for someone who hasn’t had meat for years, that dim sum platter definitely reminded me of not only the texture of chicken, but the taste! All the dim sum were very yummy, but part of me just couldn’t get over that meaty texture! As for the tofu – I love silken tofu, and this was essentially coated in a pumpkin/seaweed/veggie floss.  The tofu was meltingly soft and the seasoning just right. And don’t be fooled but those red chillies on the plate – absolutely no heat at all.

For mains we ordered veggie fried rice, Hakka noodle (with mushrooms, leeks and bean sprouts).  The latter went down particularly well with Little Miss S – she thoroughly enjoyed them. And the noodles were tasty – better than the rice, which I thought was no different to what you get from your local Chinese takeaway.


We also went for the four style veggie sir fry (with beans, tofu, mushroom and nice chunky asparagus) in a Szechuan sauce. Now. As far as I know, a Szechuan sauce is supposed to be hot, potentially tongue numbing. Nope. Not even close. No hint of chilli, not even a tickle.   It was a pleasant enough dish, but nothing to write home about (apart from on the blog haha)

The final dish we ordered was the stir fry black pepper vegetarian chicken – just to try what it would be like. In all the excitement I didn’t take a picture! Plump bits of ‘chicken’, coated in a peppery sauce, with a few sugar snap peas and red pepper chunks thrown in. It was Ok – not one to order again in my opinion, I wasn’t really a fan – but 100% for the mock chicken! Check out this piece – I can’t believe it’s not chicken!

All in all, an average meal (didn’t warm fully to the mock meats and the lack of flavour in the sauces), but with great company (with my favourite chica in the whole world) and beautiful Christmas lights – a lovely day to start off the new year!