BacalarApril 6, 2017 in Mexico
We'd never managed to wake ourselves up for a sunrise on Caye Caulker but as our boat to Mexico was leaving at 7am we were up with the sun. Our journey to Mexico had three parts, the first two being boat rides that were split only by completing the Belizean border formalities on the island neighbouring Caye Caulker. We were aboard a speed boat so the journey went fairly fast and was comfortable enough, leaving us at the Mexican border at the port of Chetumal. Immediately we were greeted by a dozen heavily armed soldiers and our bags were subject to a sniffer dog, all without incident. Next we had to pay an entry fee and complete the entry formalities. We handed over our passports to the clerk behind the counter and were given a receipt for the entry fee which we had been told dozens of times was $25, only to be told that US dollars weren't accepted and we had to pay in pesos, an amount much more than the £10 or so worth that we'd changed in Belize. VERY CONVENIENTLY a lady appears and offers to change our dollars for pesos so we could pay the entry fee, but at an appalling rate of course... so with no choice we dutifully took part in a dodgy transaction before regaining our passports and completing the border crossing. For the third leg of our journey we joined with a lovely Dutch couple in a taxi for the 45 minute drive North to Bacalar.
The stress and tiredness of the morning dissipated quickly as we dropped our bags at our hotel and bumped into the Dutch couple at a restaurant where we sat in the garden and ate our first Mexican meal (although I've been told since that Chicken Mole is NOT Mexican!). The town of Bacalar sits next a lagoon of turquoise blue water that stretches as far as you can see North and South of the town, and it has earned itself the nickname 'The Lagoon of Seven Colours', as the water appears seven shades of blue.
Our hotel was a 15 minute walk from the main town centre where we'd eaten lunch and by the time we were back at the hotel we were the hottest we'd felt since being in Sri Lanka. Thankfully we were only one block from a public pier so we rushed to it and jumped into the water which was the perfect, cool temperature. We also had our first experience of the lagoon up close, and the colour is unlike anything we've seen before! The edge is fringed with reeds and mangrove which supports a whole ecosystem and although Bacalar is not a major tourist destination there are also dozens of buildings on the shores all of which have a pier out over the water - how could they not!?
The rest of the day was spent relaxing before we made for the town square which plays host to a small selection of restaurants. We sat for dinner overlooking the Central Park and enjoyed the atmosphere and thankfully it was much cooler now but still perfect for an ice cream to end the day.
Our first morning in Bacalar we started slowly, had breakfast in the garden of our hotel and then headed into town to explore the fortress that sits overlooking the lagoon, adjacent to the Central Park. The fortress itself is not massive with four corner bastions, a well, small courtyard and watchtower, surrounded by a deep stone ditch but what is most impressive about it is it's history. Initially it was constructed to defend against pirates who sailed in narrow hulled sloops inland to the lagoon to raid the town and was also used during the Caste wars and by Mayan rebels in the mid 19th century. Despite all the service the fort has seen it is kept in a good condition now and also houses a museum about the history of the fort and the area of Bacalar. It was easy to spend a couple of hours there before we headed back to the hotel to meet with some new friends who we were heading out with for the afternoon.
Juan, Sam and Luis welcomed us into their rental car and drove us 20 minutes to a place known as Los Rapidos, a small river only a few metres wide that runs from one lake into the Bacalar Lagoon. On the banks a series of huts and gazebos have been built and tables were scattered in the shade of the trees dotted in the garden area there. As we settled for lunch at a table the highlight of the area was right behind us - the river with it's crystal clear water that flowed gently along. We ate delicious seafood (accompanied with a hearty pile of tortillas, of course!) and chatted for a while before the water became too inviting.
The five of us began to carefully step our way along the slippery rocks that lined the sides of the river until we were about 100m from the far end of the restaurant area. We got into the water and immediately felt the pull of the current taking us down river but this didn't matter, in fact it's a big part of the fun. We started floating down the river, enjoying splashing around and cooling off as we went. The owners have strung thick ropes across the river at a couple of points, that allow you to stop yourself and move out of the current if you wanted but otherwise it was great fun to drift down to where the final rope was and then swim to the bank where a few steps led out. We couldn't not go for a second drift down the river, so made our way back upstream and went again!
Just to the side of the main river is a pool of water over which there are a couple of hammocks which were perfect for relaxing in without moving too far from the refreshing water - Beth enjoyed it here! We spent the rest of the day there with the amazing location and good company, and arrived back into Bacalar when it was starting to get dark and after dinner we were exhausted so collapsed into bed after an incredible first day in Mexico.
The following morning we had another brilliant breakfast then headed into town for a couple of jobs, including buying our bus tickets for the next day. "Hablas ingles?" (Do you speak English?) Beth asked the lady behind the ticket counter, receiving a simple "No" in reply. Impressively Beth reeled off a handful of phrases in Spanish, selected our seats on an image and then the tickets were handed over. I was really impressed and she had a big smile on her face - her Spanish is so useful and is improving well here!
With our jobs complete we hailed a taxi to take us a few kilometres to Cenote Azul, the blue Cenote. Cenotes are sink holes that have formed and filled with water, and Central America is littered with them. We arrived and saw the 50m span of the cenote, fringed with lush green jungle. The deep blue of the water gives it it's name and within minutes of arriving we were swimming out toward the centre. A thick rope was strung across the centre, so we held onto this and bobbed around for a while before returning to the restaurant for lunch with a view over the water, which was incredibly peaceful. Incredibly we saw sat a few tables away the guys we'd enjoyed Los Rapidos with the day before, so we joined together for lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon together again chatting and swimming - super relaxing!
It got to about 5pm and they decided it was time to head back to Bacalar and really kindly offered us a lift with them. Their car was parked in the car park for the cenote which certainly wasn't quiet, with people coming and going regularly, but it also wasn't locked/guarded etc. Juan had left his wallet in the car glovebox and when in the car realised all of his bank cards and cash were missing! They all sprang to action phoning to cancel all the cards and even at this point they were smiling and joking, despite the horrible situation - it gives you an idea of their characters though and explains why we enjoyed spending time with them, as they're fun! Thankfully the cards were blocked before any illicit use of them, but this was a sharp reminder to us of the possible risks, particularly when we're nearing the end of our travels.
We enjoyed dinner back in Bacalar at a steak house, before saying our farewells back at the hotel as we were all heading in separate directions the next day. In the mid morning we stood at the roadside outside the bus station as a bright red coach pulled up, it's driver reeling off the destinations that included ours along the way. The coach turned out to be incredibly comfortable, with AC, curtains, VERY squidgy reclining seats, films playing from a few screens (albeit in Spanish) and even power sockets and USB points! After some of our long and uncomfortable journeys this one was really easy, as 3 hours later we arrived into Tulum.