My little adventures south of the border.

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Another Mexican Stop – Zihuatanejo!

I wanted to try something different again this summer.  I looked at the map along the west coast of Mexico and tried to find something not too big, but not too small.  My last year’s visit to Mahahual was pleasant, but it was a little too isolated for me…especially for being so small.  I hit on Zihuatanejo (Zihua for short) because the terrain was hilly and very pretty.  There is another town just north called Ixtapa Zuhuatanejo…not within walking distance, but a short taxi ride.  I stayed in Zihuatanejo, not the Ixtapa one.  Here it is on the map.

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I don’t know whether my cats were planning on coming with me, or trying to deter me from going.

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You have to change planes in Mexico City, which is always an adventure in itself…especially when you don’t speak Spanish.  The layovers can be kind of long because there aren’t a whole lot of flights to Zihua.  In fact, they changed my return flight so that I had an eight hour overnight layover there, so I got a hotel because I didn’t want to spend the night in the airport.  It’s not something I’d want to do again but all the hotel arrangements had been made in Zihua, so I didn’t feel like I had a choice.

The airport in Zihua is very small, but it’s very modern!

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We were the only plane there.

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The inside is very nice and new with shops and restaurants.

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I had arranged with Best Day for transportation to the hotel, and they were waiting for me when I headed outside.  They don’t have vans and SUVs like they do in Cancun…they actually arrange with local taxis for the rides to/from the airport.

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The ride to the hotel was about 15-20 minutes.  Like I had seen in the pictures, the area was very hilly and homes are built up high along the sides.  The driver dropped off another passenger in the downtown area and then we headed for my hotel.  Mind you, I didn’t see the ocean while we were driving around until we got to my hotel, the Aura del Mar.  And the only thing I could say was, “Oh, wow.”

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Get a load of that floor!

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I asked the person at the desk what it was made out of.  See the base of the check-in counter?  It’s composed of tree branches…I wish I could remember the name of the tree.  For the floor, these strange shapes are sawed off sections of the tree as you’re looking down at them, then grouted with some kind of plaster, I guess.  I’ve certainly never seen a floor like this before.  Think of the work that must have taken!

Okay, so I didn’t say, “Oh, wow” about the floor…it was actually for the view from the lobby.

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When I’ve traveled in the Yucatan, I’ve usually stayed at very basic, clean hotels that normally don’t have much of a view.  I’ve always figured I don’t spend much time in the room, anyway, so I don’t want to spend a lot of money on that.  However, this trip was paid for by my Chase credit card points, so I decided to step it up a notch, although it wasn’t expensive by any means.  When I was making the reservation, I chose the least expensive option which offered a “partial” ocean view.  Even though my points were paying for it, this option was only $89.00 per night at the time I reserved it…I was there for seven nights.

So I thought the view from the lobby was great, but when the attendant took me to my room, my first thought was, “They’re going to have to drag me out of here.”  If this was a “partial” view (I guess because of the palm tree?), I could totally handle it.  The picture doesn’t do it justice.

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Not to mention the fact that the room was awesome…and huge!  Well, at least for me…I’m used to staying in pretty tiny places.

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Those are real rose petals on the toilet and towel.

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And my own outdoor tub…crazy!!

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The woodwork in the hotel was amazing.  Just look at the headboard and the doors.

I actually spent more time in my room than I ever have before on a trip.  The grounds were so lush and green, it was just a very pleasant place to hang out.

And there was a Mini-Super just across the street which was very convenient for stocking the kitchen.

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Not to mention the resident parrot named Carola…we talked almost every day, although she has a pretty limited vocabulary.

Okay, so there is a downside to staying in Zihua.  While the hilly landscape is pretty, you have to climb to get up the hills.  The hotel lobby is on the street level…then there are two more floors above that…and about four different levels below.  There are rooms tucked in everywhere.  My room was on the floor two short stairways below the lobby.  Here are the stairways I had to climb from the beach to get up to my room.

One of the biggest draws of the Caribbean is the beautiful blue water.  But that has changed in some places along the Riviera Maya due to all the sargassum.  Not sure if that has changed since last year, but I wanted to try the Pacific side of Mexico this time, anyway.  The water is definitely not blue here, but it is still very clear and the beaches are very clean although the sand is browner.  Here is the difference in my “toes in the sand” pictures from Isla Mujeres (on the left)  and Zihua.

I’ll end this first post on Zihua with a night view from my patio.

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Something Different — Mahahual!

So, I had decided early this year that I wanted to go somewhere this summer since it has been about two and a half years since I’ve taken a real vacation.  After some searching, I settled on Mahahual, Mexico.  It’s near the bottom of the Yucatan Peninsula and not real easy to get to.  Here’s a map:

Map

I planned on renting a car while there, so now I had to decide whether to have a shorter flying time and fly into Cancun, then have a 4-1/2 hour drive to Mahahual.  Or have a longer flying time and fly into Chetumal, then have a 2 hour drive to Mahahual.  I decided on the latter.  The Chetumal airport is a tiny little thing and you have to walk down those movable metal stairs from the plane to the tarmac.  I haven’t done that in years!  Since I landed at 8:30 p.m., I reserved a room at the Fiesta Inn in Chetumal for one night because I didn’t want to make that drive to Mahahual in the dark.  I’m glad I did because I had to get used to driving a stick shift again, not to mention watching out for all the topes (speed bumps)…not fun in the dark.  Here’s my spiffy little BAIC.

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Since I had never heard of that model of car before, I had to Google it…it’s made in China.  It was pretty nice, though.  Much better than the one I rented in Coba to see the ruins.  That one had a lot of wear and tear with a mere 160,000 miles on it.  This one was just under 10,000 and in much better condition.

The Fiesta Inn was right downtown and it only took me 10 minutes to get there.  It’s a very nice hotel…modern, with all the amenities.

 

 

I drove around Chetumal just a little bit the next morning.  It has a population of about 150,000, so it’s not huge.  I drove along the coast, but they just have a very narrow shoreline that’s lined with a low brick wall.  It didn’t really look like a swimming beach.  They may have more beach areas up the coast, but I didn’t want to take the time to check it out.  After all, I needed to get to my next destination!

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Yes…Walmart!!  I’ve never been to a Walmart in Mexico before, but they’re pretty much the same as they are here.  Since Mahahual is somewhat isolated, I decided to stock up on some necessities and snacks.  When I came out with my purchases, I saw that there was a flattened cardboard box on my windshield.  A guy came up and pulled it off and I realized that he put it there to protect it from the sun, and expected a tip for being so considerate!  What the hell…I tipped him.

So, off I go to Mahahual.  Highway 307 goes from Cancun down the peninsula close to the Belize border.  I was speeding my way north, going 100 kilometers per hour, passing trucks and thinking I was going really fast.  Then I Googled what 100 kph is compared to mph and it’s 62.  Okay, so not as fast as I thought I was going.  It’s a good highway and kept up well but, again, you have to watch out for the topes.  Whenever you go through towns, you have to deal with a lot of them.  Sometimes they have a warning sign in advance, but often they do not.  And they have all different kinds of them

 

 

When I was doing my search for destinations, I also considered Bacalar.  It’s much closer to Chetumal and sits on a fresh water lagoon.  I decided on Mahahual because I wanted to be on the beach, but I stopped to take a look at Bacalar on the way.  It’s a very small town, but very quaint.  I wouldn’t mind spending some time there.  The water is beautiful and it’s very peaceful.

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They had some small ruins there, but I didn’t explore them because it felt like it was about 150 degrees out there.

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A very small el centro area with some cute little shops.

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Here is some information  on Bacalar…

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So, here’s what you see when you drive up to Mahahual.

 

 

Then you have to drive about a mile south to get to the main part of town.  Here’s my hotel.  Their rooms don’t have numbers, they have names.  I had the Pelicano Room. It doesn’t sit right on the beach but is only about 50 steps from there.

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It actually reminded me of my bedroom at home because I have a Mexican theme in orange tones.  I just wish I had the saltillo floor instead of carpet.

 

 

Fortunately, my toothbrush matched the decor.

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So, when I reserved my trip back in February, I didn’t even consider the problems of sargassum (seaweed) on the beaches.  But as the trip was getting closer, I started to see news and posts of the extensive amount of it on the beaches along the Riviera Maya and Costa Maya.  I checked out the Facebook page for Mahahual and saw that there was, indeed, a problem with sargassum.  I actually considered canceling my trip, but then decided to go ahead with it.  So, after checking in the hotel, I had to go to see what the beach looked like.  Honestly, I was expecting the worst…so I’ll start with the worst first.

First, though, my obligatory “toes in the sand” photo…along with a little sargassum.

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This is what the poor business owners have to deal with when there’s an excess amount of the stuff.  Some establishments appear to be better equipped to deal with it, while others struggle with it.  These businesses solely rely on the tourism industry, and business has been down due to the fact that no one wants to get in the water, so why go to a beach?  Sad.

You know it’s bad when you have to use a backhoe to get it out.  Most places were just using wheelbarrows.

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But this was the worst.  It was difficult to walk by this area because of the smell.

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Mahahual is a very small community.  The population is under 1,000 and it covers only a few blocks.  There is a walkway that is in between the beach, restaurants and shops. It is starting to expand, but it seems to be pretty slow-going.  There is a community just blocks away from the coast by the lighthouse, but it doesn’t appear to be catching on…it seemed somewhat deserted and there are some vacant buildings there.  I drove through there and it was very quiet.  I think most people want to be by the beach, so it can be hard to get visitors to go off the beaten path.

Now let’s get to some better beach pictures.  The hotels and restaurants on the beach really were trying to do a good job of keeping them clean…it was definitely an on-going process for them.

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“Don’t climb on my branches, I am fragile.”

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Beach

There were a few vendors on the beach…not many at all.

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These guys brought home the catch of the day.

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This looked like a father and son team of woodworkers.  I would think this wouldn’t be a popular item for tourists because it would be difficult to tote home!

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There were quite a few dogs and cats running freely.  Most wore collars and were well-behaved.

 

 

To the north of the lighthouse, there is a pier where cruise ships dock.  They’re not the huge ones like in Cozumel…just the medium-sized ones.

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I think this is where the local vendors get most of their business from.  They would stream in for several hours and stop by the shops and restaurants.  However, the Segways surprised me.  It would literally take no more than 10 minutes to roll from the cruise ship south to the end of the walkway.  Why not walk?  But then I’m just not a Segway kind of gal.

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It rained really hard for short times for a couple of days and the water really puddles!  But I like how they make little bridges to get over to the beach…ha!

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Local kids playing soccer.  The World Cup was on while I was there and every TV was tuned to it.  Maybe one of these kids will get there some day.

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Now on to the food!!  There aren’t a whole lot of restaurants in Mahahual and I’m sure I missed some really good ones.  The thing about restaurants in Mexico is that you get really huge portions and it’s hard for one person to eat.  So when I would only eat half of my plate, the servers would think I didn’t like it.  I would have to say that I can’t eat for two people!

I found the best place for breakfast was my own hotel.  A woman and (I think) her daughter made and served the meals.  They were wonderful…made with care and were really good.

Huevos Mexicanos…

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Mollettes…

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I had Huevos Motulenos at a restaurant along the walkway, but it wasn’t the best…and I love Huevos Motulenos.  The Loncherias in Isla Mujeres have the best I’ve ever tasted.

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Then I found this place.

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Nohoch Kay Big Fish.  It was wonderful.  I love shrimp and got the following dishes for the next three days…Garlic Shrimp, Cajun Shrimp, and Shrimp in Pablano Pepper Sauce.  They were all great.  I liked the simple fresh salad they had with it.

 

 

On my last day there, I really felt like American food and ordered (not at Nohoch Kay Big Fish) what I thought was a plain burger.  I guess they take the name “hamburger” literally, because it had ham on it…haha.

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Okay…time to head back to Chetumal for my flight out.  I was leaving at 9:00 a.m. and since I didn’t want to make the drive to the airport from Mahahual at 5:00 in the morning, I decided to stay in Chetumal the night before.  I forgot to mention on the drive in that they have numerous fruit stands along the highway urging customers to stop.  This is a frequent scene along the highway.

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So this is the hotel I stayed in in Chetumal before flying out…the All Business Hotel.  It is the strangest hotel I’ve ever stayed in.  Normally, hotels are busy with people coming and going…many have restaurants in the lobby so there’s always some activity going on.  Not here.  It was the most quiet hotel I’ve ever stayed in.  There was an eerie, weird feeling that was just unsettling.  The staff didn’t speak a lick of English, which I’m totally fine with, but they weren’t even talking to each other.  I drove by the front three times before I could find it.

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Even though it seems conspicuous in the picture, it’s not easy to spot when you’re on the street.  The bellboy sat at a table in the corner of the vast lobby and didn’t speak to anyone.  But he did help direct me to my room.  Here’s the big lobby in which there are no people.

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And no windows to the outside.  So, beyond the right side of this picture where that glass wall is, is where the rooms are.

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I’m sorry, but I got a really weird feeling and was conjuring up visions of horror or science fiction movies of people having organs removed from their bodies during their stay here…haha!  I made sure my kids knew where I was staying that night in case they never heard from me again!

On the upside, their bed linens were to die for.  They were very plush and comfortable.  I would definitely give them an A+ on that score.

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So, off to the airport the next day.  The Mexico City airport is huge and you find yourself lost at times.  I found it’s best to just cozy up to an electrical outlet and watch a movie to pass the time.  But just when you think you’re just passing one gate to the next, then, bam!…you find yourself to a big mall where you can purchase all the things you’d ever need.

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On one last note, my son just got back from Playa del Carmen last week.  He took a side trip to Tulum to look at the ruins.  This is the picture he took.

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This is the same picture I took in March of 2010.  So sad.  Is it ever going to go back to that beautiful blue again??

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And with that, I bid you adios, Mahahual.

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Last Stop – Isla Holbox

I feel like everyone has merely been tolerating my posts so far on this trip because I keep getting e-mails or messages from people wanting to know what I thought of Isla Holbox.  So here it is, and I have to give a warning…this is a very long post with almost 100 photos.  I thought of dividing the post into several parts, but since I was basically on the island for only a day and a half, I just decided to do it all at once.

I had done a little bit of research before I went on my trip to see what the best way would be to get from Valladolid to Chequila, where I would catch the ferry to the island.  I did find out that there is a bus from Merida that stops at Valladolid at 2:30 in the morning and gets to Chequila at 5:00 a.m.  I may have considered that at one point, but my cold was at its worst on Tuesday and Wednesday, so there was no way I could handle that.  So my plan on Wednesday morning was to take the bus to Cancun and then another one to Chequila.  On my way to the bus station, I passed the taxis and collectivos where I got one to Ek Balam, and on a whim, I asked a taxi driver if he would take me to Chequila for 500 pesos.  He didn’t seem at all interested, but then another driver came up while we were talking and said he’d do it for 800 pesos.  I only had to think for a moment because I was not looking forward to two long bus rides which would have taken up much of the day paired with the fun of sniffling and sneezing along the way.  By the way, 800 pesos is equivalent to about $45 US dollars, which seemed really reasonable to me since I’ve heard that taxi fares to Chequlia from Cancun are over $120 US dollars.  So off we went.

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The ride was about two hours and we got there five minutes before the ferry was about to leave.  It cost 120 pesos and takes 20-30 minutes.  I didn’t have time to take pictures in Chequila, but here’s the inside of the ferry.  It’s definitely smaller than the ones that go to Isla Mujeres.

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Unfortunately, it was raining that day.

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Here’s what the outside looks like as we arrive at Isla Holbox.

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And the pier…

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Pier towards the island…

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They use golf carts for taxis here…

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My hotel (Casa Barbara) was pretty close to the ferry.  It sits kind of in the middle of the island.  (This is actually a picture I got from the internet because I forgot to take a picture of it myself. They’ve painted it since then as you can see in the picture that I did take below in which the courtyard shows it as being pink and blue now.)

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They have a nice little pool…

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And the grounds are very lush and green.  It was a very peaceful and quiet setting.

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Since my legs were virtually non-usable after climbing the ruins at Ek Balam, I was thinking to myself, “Please, please please let my room be on the first floor!!” when I checked in to the hotel.  No such luck…second floor for me.  I was just thankful it wasn’t the third floor.  Here’s my room…

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It was a nice room and a nice hotel, but after being in rooms that had big doors that opened up the room to the outside, I kind of missed that in this one.

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I don’t know if that is meant to be a seat in the shower??  There was another area for toiletries, so if it IS a seat, only a 3-year-old child would be comfortable sitting there.

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Cool ceiling…

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So it’s time to do some exploring.  Just to give you an idea, here is the map of Isla Holbox.  As you can see, most of the island is uninhabited and most of the restaurants are located in the downtown area.

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I wanted to rent a golf cart to explore the island, but the rain put a damper on that.  When I went downstairs to leave the hotel, I looked into the neighbor’s yard.  That’s a little bit of water there.

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And here’s a picture of a side street.  It was still raining when I went out, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.  Water was everywhere.  The streets are very hard sand that has been pounded down with the traffic.  But when it rains, all that water puddles and the sand turns to silt and it’s very slippery…and such a mess!  People are traipsing around in this stuff and tracking it into shops and restaurants.  I have to hand it to these people for dealing with this every time it rains.

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So I headed downtown and saw this on the way.  It’s my favorite picture of the whole trip.

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And here’s the beach.  I was a little surprised to see that the water wasn’t a clear blue like it is along the Caribbean side of the Yucatan Peninsula.

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I stopped for some lunch at this place which sat on the beach.

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Nice view from my table…

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The fresh fish was very good…

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This pregnant little missy (or Mrs.) kept me company.  She looked like she was ready to pop!  [Update:  After posting this, a reader informed me that the cat is not pregnant…she is just fat.  Hahaha…my bad!]

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So that’s about all I had the energy for my first day.  My cold was at its worst, so I just went back to the hotel room to rest so that I would be in better shape the next day.  I ventured out to get a pizza from  here later in the evening…

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But I forgot to take a picture of it before I ate it…very tasty.

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The rest of the evening was spent watching old Mexican movies and cuddling with my box of kleenex.

I did feel better the next day and the sun was shining, so that was good!  I took a lot of pictures because I knew I had to leave before dawn the next morning.  So here we go.  I’m not going to comment on every photo…I was just taking pictures of anything.

The streets were still a mess and you really had to be careful walking through the puddles because it was so slippery.

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Something new being built on the main street.

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Here was a place that was selling plants.  If I lived there, I would be buying from this guy all the time.

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No, the dog wasn’t dead…he just chose the middle of the street to take a little siesta.  I saw quite a few Dachshunds on the  island

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The water looked a little clearer this morning.

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Toes in Holbox sand…

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Another favorite photo.  This handsome guy was standing in this boat like he was the captain.

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I saw him again later…I think he thought these guys had some food.

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The seaweed was pretty bad here, too…just like it apparently is everywhere else.  These boys were putting it in crates to haul away.

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And these guys were piling it together to take it away.

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What a job that would be…and it’s never-ending! It’s not like they’ll get rid of the seaweed one day and then it will never come back!

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There were a bunch of these scattered around in the seaweed.  They look alien-like.

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And pretty ugly…

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I don’t know what this structure used to be a part of, but it’s probably a landmark.

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I stopped for breakfast at a little place…I forgot to get the name of it, but it was right next to Holbox Dream hotel.  Huevos Mexicanos…muy bien.

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The beach here has lots of little shells in some places.

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This little cutie was having fun.

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I walked out on a long pier to take these pictures.

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And here’s a 180 degree view…


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And now let’s head into town.  There are lots of murals on the buildings.

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There are a lot of dogs on the island, but they’re all very well behaved.  Most of them seem to stay right where they live.

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A rather strange one…

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They had lots of things for kids in the zocalo…

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The local church…

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A beautiful door…

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I could see myself living here…

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I went back to the hotel to change clothes and found this.  How sweet.

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You don’t find that at the Red Roof Inn in the United States, that’s for sure.  And they charge more!

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I went back to the Amaite Hotel where I got the fish to get a shrimp cocktail because it’s a nice place to sit and watch the water and the activity.

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While I was sitting there, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a single beach vendor.  Then this little guy walked by.  There were a couple other women selling purses and jewelry, but that’s it.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon reading an relaxing on the beach, but came back later in the evening for dinner at the place across the street from the Amaite Hotel, but it was too dark to get a picture.

The Amaite Hotel puts tables out on the piers at night with torches.  How romantic!

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Just some shots walking back to the hotel.  As you can see, it wasn’t very crowded at all…especially still being the high season.

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And the streets are finally all dry.

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Merry Christmas and  a prosperous new year!

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My flight back to San Antonio was at 4:00 the next day, but between the ferry and bus schedules, I had to take the first ferry out at 7:00 a.m. to get to the airport in enough time. It was pitch black when everyone showed up at the ferry, but things went pretty smoothly.  When we got to Chequila, the ADO bus was waiting.  The girl at the hotel told me that the bus would cost 150 pesos, but when I gave the driver exactly 150 pesos, I got change back, so I don’t know how much it actually ended up being.  Unfortunately, I was one of the last people to get on and I had to stand.  UGH!!  I stood for an hour and 45 minutes before two young girls got up and offered their seats to me and another woman standing.  It was a three hour ride back to Cancun…then I had to catch another bus to the airport.

So that was my trip to Holbox.  It was WAY too short and I wish I hadn’t had the cold.  I’ve been traveling to Mexico for the last 10 years and I’ve never gotten sick once, so I guess I should consider myself lucky that this was the first time.

Holbox is very unspoiled, quiet and peaceful.  It is not as expensive as other towns and cities along the Caribbean side of the Yucatan Peninsula.  I wish I could have explored the island, but I really didn’t have enough time to do that, especially considering the rain.  Next time, I would spend at least a week there to try out more restaurants and a different hotel, although I really did enjoy Casa Barbara.

All in all, my trip to Mexico this time was good, but a little different.  On previous trips, I mostly ran into tourists from the US and Canada.  This time, I heard more languages spoken than I’ve ever heard before.  People were traveling from all over the world and I think the United States was the least represented.  That’s not a bad thing…it was just different for me.

I’ll end with this shot from the ferry as we headed for Chequila.  Adios, Mexico.

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