A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Hawkson

Fifty Shades of Grey

semi-overcast 26 °C

Lake Bacalar in Southern Mexico is renowned for its multi-hued crystal waters where, it is said, a keen eye can see seven distinct blues and up to fifty shades. Unfortunately we seem to have hit a dull patch and the sea and sky looked very similar to what we see at home at this time of the year – fifty shades of grey. James was disappointed so he rented a catamaran and sailed off in search of a bluer horizon....
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Luckily the sun eventually made an appearance and brightened the lakeshore palapas.
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And we got a glimpse of just how beautiful the lake could be...
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James is not the first member of the Hawkins clan to have sailed in this part of Caribbean. In the 16th century the English buccaneer, Admiral John Hawkins, captained a fleet of privateers that blockaded and intercepted Spanish treasure ships leaving Mexico with gold looted from the Mayans. This is one of the canons the Spaniards mounted on Fort San Felipe in Bacalar in order to stop Hawkins...
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It's a great hiding place for an iguana.

At the fort's museum we discovered that pirates were the bad guys who robbed to line their own pockets, while buccaneers were good guys because they robbed to line the king's pockets. But some of the bad guys were actually bad gals. Mary Mead, a fearless English cut-throat was eventually caught and hanged in Jamaica.
There are no cut-throats here today, we hope, but there are plenty of locals out to make a few bucks from the hordes of tourists. However, the people here are poor compared to their compatriots a few hundred kilometres north in the ritzy resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The roads are bad, the sidewalks broken and meagre thatched houses are common here...
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In Denmark our photos were often invaded by Biking Vikings and we've experienced similar problems here with Mounted Mexicans...
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However, bikes are not a luxury or an environmental statement here – they are a major form of transport. The streets teem with entrepreneurs offering all kinds of foods and services on wheels..
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Food of all kinds can be bought on the street in Mexico and the main highway through the small town of Pedro Antonio Santos is lined with stalls selling pineapples. This young woman was charging just a dollar each.
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We bought a couple of pineapples but it looks like this guy couldn't resist a bargain...
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Now we continue south to Panama, but we haven't finished with Mexico yet and will be back in a few weeks.

Posted by Hawkson 17:36 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

Blissful Adventures in Bacalar?

rain 24 °C

We've left Playa del Carmen, heading 300 kms south toward the Belize border, in search of the warm waters and the supposedly spectacular colours of Bacalar Lake. We had no trouble finding the town of Bacalar. It was impossible to miss the giant sign in the town plaza.
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But someone had stolen the sign from our lakeside hotel and no-one seemed to know where it was, (neither the sign nor the hotel). We found the hotel after an hour and a half, by which time the sky had turned black, the power had failed and a stinking sewage truck blocked the access road.
Authentic Mexican palapas with thatched roofs on the waterfront may look appealing on the travel brochure, but are not attractive in pouring rain, in the dark, with a sewage truck in the drive and giant transport trucks thundering past on the adjacent highway. Fortunately, the management quickly found us a very nice, quiet, dry, sweetly smelling place in town.

We never found the hotel sign but saw many others including this badly mangled one on the highway that says, “Don't damage signs.”
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The sun shone this morning and we set off for the Caribbean resort of Mahahual along a road that is so straight it can be driven blindfolded for 72 kms. And we arrived in Mahahual just in time for lunch and a downpour of biblical proportions...
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However, this heron didn't seem to mind the rain...
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We had planned on swimming in Mahahual until we saw this sign...
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But signs can be deceiving. For instance: Does this sign mean “Stop for robbers being chased by armed police” or “Only robbers and police may use this crossing.”?
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The sun came out eventually and brightened up the day for the thousands of passengers who had slipped ashore from this Caribbean cruise boat and found themselves marooned in soggy Mahahual...
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Once we had returned to Bacalar we visited the fortress of San Felipe in the centre of the town...
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It was built by the Spanish conquistadors in 1729 to fend off the British pirates who were based just along the coast in British Honduras (Belize today).

While we may be considered adventurous by some, we met a couple from Barcelona in Mahahual who are driving their RV from Florida to Patagonia, (via San Francisco), together with their two children aged 12 and 6. Eva and Don Juan sold up everything they had in Spain a year ago, shipped their RV to the states, and expect to take 7 years to drive to all the way to the end of the world in Ushuaia. This is Eva...
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While driving the full length of two continents in a cramped vehicle is perhaps a little risky, doing it with two teenage kids is downright suicidal. We wish them well.

Posted by Hawkson 15:15 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

There are Coconuts at the Bottom of our Garden

sunny 29 °C

Here in the tropics it's always summer and at the moment the self-decorating Christmas trees are loaded with all manner of colourful bling. From the giant globes on the coconut tree in 'our' garden ...
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....to the brilliant orange and green baubles on the citrus trees, and the masses of confetti on the bougainvillea bushes...
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While Christmas may be over for us, one of the biggest annual events is yet to come in Mexico. Tomorrow, January 6th, is el Dia de Reyes, (Epiphany), when Mexican kids get even more presents and everyone drinks hot chocolate and eats a special cake called Rosca de Reyes...
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The bakeries are overloaded with roscas today and supermarkets will stay open until after midnight in the hope of clearing their mountains of this sweet cake. Roscas de Reyes represent the Three Kings' wreaths. Each contains at least one small plastic baby Jesus that, miraculously, doesn't melt during baking. Lucky is the child who gets a mouthful of Jesus and doesn't choke to death on it.

El Día de Reyes, (Twelfth Night), is when Christians commemorate the arrival of the Magi or "Wise Men" bearing gifts for Jesus. In Mexico, children receive gifts on this day, brought by the three kings. Therefore, any parent whose kid is still miffed about Santa's Christmas presents, gets a second chance, and the toy stores and card shops get another kick at the can without having to slash prices. It's very surprising that American stores haven't caught on to this.

On the night of January 5th, the figures of the 'Kings' are placed in the nativity scene and we wondered if anyone noticed that someone had slaughtered the ox in this scene on the beach in Playa del Carmen....
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The beaches of Playa del Carmen are holiday central for snowbirds fleeing the wintry weather in Canada and the Northern U.S., but sunseekers come here from far and wide at this time of the year. With temperatures in the high twenties every day and a good chance of sunshine this is a great place to get a tan...
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Unfortunately, persistent strong winds have kept many people out of the surf for the past week but there's plenty to keep holidaymakers entertained....
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These daredevils taking part in the traditional Danza de los Voladores, ( The Dance of the Flyers), are waiting for the right moment to throw themselves backwards off their perch a hundred feet high and spiral to earth, headfirst.

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For the less adventurous, Playa del Carmen has more than its share of restaurants, bars, casinos and night clubs, and there are enough trinket stalls to overload any home-going tourist's carry-on. Who wouldn't want to take home a giant Mexican sombrero for grandpa?
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Feliz el dia de Reyes.

Posted by Hawkson 12:42 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

Polar Bears in Playa

sunny 29 °C

It's the first day of the year so regular readers will know that it's time for us to put on a brave face, (and swimming gear), to take part in the traditional Canadian New Year event – the Polar Bear Swim. Here is Sheila getting acclimatised for the big day last week.
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We have been in Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera since mid-December where, we discovered, there is such a thing as a free lunch. There are also handy little cars that can be rented for just $2 U.S. a day.
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We were very pleasantly surprised when we booked this car for just $60 a month and assumed it was a mistake that would end up costing us dearly. Staff at the rental office in Cancun were equally surprised as the regular price was $35 a day, but it was no mistake – just a fabulous deal from economy car rentals.
As for the free lunch! While checking out our $2 a day car we were talked into a tour of a time-share development with the promise of a free breakfast and, more significantly, 2 free tickets to Cirque du Soleil in nearby Puerto Morelos. The breakfast was so big it turned into lunch and the show was absolutely fabulous – and we didn't pay a cent or buy the time-share.

Now for our Polar Bear swim. Our North Pacific Canadian island has been battered by major storms since we left in mid-December and our friends have suffered days without power. We too have suffered with torrential rains, no internet for ten days and the noisiest New Year's celebrations imaginable. The road to the beach was quiet this morning. This was not surprising as the entire population had been up all night letting off extremely loud fireworks, banging drums and singing as loudly as possible while the kids smashed pinatas outside our front windows. At least we had a jigsaw to do amidst all the commotion...
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Undaunted, though very sleep-deprived, we put on our swimsuits and readied to brave the mighty Caribbean. However, we realised there might be a problem when we found the beach road underwater...
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...and the red flags flying at the lifeguard hut...
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And then...
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Giant waves were crashing onto the deserted beach, the seaweed was piled high on the sand and we had to give up our Polar Bear swim. Oh well – asi es la vida as they say here. That's life ....There's always next year.

We have one more week in Playa del Carmen before we begin our tour of Central America. We hope that you will come along for the ride – if you don't mind the heat.

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2019 to all our blog followers.

Posted by Hawkson 10:01 Archived in Mexico Comments (13)

How the Other Half Live in London

rain 8 °C

After a warm and sunny start to our time in London, a cold easterly wind swept in with rain and forced us inside. But where better to be than in our local store – Harrods. In 1840 Charles Henry Harrod rented a small shop on Brompton Road in London and over time turned it into the most iconic department store in the world...
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There was a time when absolutely anything could be bought in Harrods and its motto is Omnia Omnibus Ubique, (all things for all people, everywhere). However, there are some things that Harrods no longer sells – like lions! Click here to see the truly moving story of a Harrods lion...
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The customer is always right in Harrods and the store used to employ a person as the 'one who gets fired'. If a customer had a complaint the 'one who gets fired' would be summoned from a back office and, in front of the customer, he would be chastised for the error and fired on the spot. He would give a red-faced apology, accept his dismissal gracefully, and then return to his office to await the next firing. Many of these sacrificial lambs were actually aspiring actors. If they still do this they would never admit it.

In 1985 the store was controversially bought by Mohammed Al Fayed who was widely believed to be a front man for some unsavoury characters. Despite years of trying, Al Fayed was never given British citizenship and the Queen cancelled the Royal Warrants after he called Prince Philip a Nazi. However, Al Fayed almost got his foot in the palace's back door through his son's relationship with Lady Diana – and we all know how that turned out. Harrods now belongs to the Qatari Royal family who, presumably, may once again become “By Appointment” to those who can afford to shop in the watch department...
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If you have to ask the price in Harrods you almost certainly can't afford it, but we thought it might be interesting to know how much one of these would cost. The enormous display model wasn't for sale but the assistant pointed us to the real thing saying, “Our collection starts at seventy thousand pounds, Sir, (a hundred and twenty thousand Canadian dollars). We certainly didn't start at that price, but we have been known to splash a few quid on a bit of edible bling in our favourite department, the Food Hall. It's worth a visit just to see the decor over the game counter...
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And the cakes and desserts are simply mouthwatering...
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The Signature Christmas puddings were a bit pricey at C$70 each, but we know what goes into a good one. And who would not enjoy finding this C$180 box of Harrods chocs under their Xmas tree...
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(Friends - Don't get your hopes up) We might stretch to a few chocolates but most of the grub is out of our league. For instance, this little Italian white truffle costs a staggering C$12,000 a kilo...
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We know that we wouldn't really need more than a few ounces of truffle, but maybe we could get through a nice 9oz sirloin steak each...
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These are the prices in Sterling for 100 grams. So 500 grams of the Wagyu Kobe sirloin would set us back just C$850 and we could get a nice couple of Aberdeen Angus steaks for a mere C$120.
What about a pound of French ham for C$160...
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With more than a million square feet of retail space and 330 departments, Harrods is an all day affair. But it is day filled with wonder and delight – would any woman really pay C$550 for a bra? Only the finest, and priciest, products from around the world make it onto the shelves of this emporium but the building itself is a treasure and we love looking at the architecture and decorations. It is in every sense a museum of extravagance...
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On 16 November 1898, Harrods debuted England's first escalator consisting of a woven leather conveyor belt with a mahogany and silvered plate-glass balustrade. This was considered so revolutionary and daring that customers were offered free brandy at the top to revive them after their 'ordeal'. No brandy for us today but we still love riding Harrods escalators.

Posted by Hawkson 09:44 Archived in England Comments (6)

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