Traveling the Yucatan and Central America on $20 USD a day

Palenque Ruins without a Guide

December 31st, 2014 | Posted by Julia in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The Palenque Ruins are incredible.

These ruins, in our opinion, give the larger and more expensive Chichen Itza a run for its money. And what is great about Palenque is that you have the opportunity to learn about this history of the civilization that once called this park home. Impressive structures are one thing to appreciate on their own, but historical context helps to deepen the appreciation.

You’ll most likely be approached by several guides when you arrive at the park, if you are let off in the parking lot where the buses park. The prices we were quoted were P$200 for a tour in Spanish, and P$250 or P$300 in English, per person. Some guides charge more or less, sometimes depending on the size of the group. If you are interested, it’s not a bad idea to try to get together with others for a tour, as the price will often be lower. The tour then covers both sides of the Park, a quick walk through the un-excavated jungle area, and a more detailed walk through the Archaeological Site.

However, if you are interested in learning more about the history and culture of Palenque, but not interested in using a guide, here is our recommendation:

On the way to the Palenque Ruins, ask to be dropped off at the Museum, and start your tour here. Inside is a crash course on the Mayan Civilization in Palenque and the Ruins themselves. You can read a lot of the same general information that guides will share with you (though of course this doesn’t allow you to ask questions.) The ticket you buy for the museum will also be your entrance to the ruins. After leaving the museum you can catch a bus to the park entrance, or walk to the top of the hill. But our recommendation is to take the path less traveled, the back entrance to the ruins. Leaving the museum simply walk across the road that leads to the park to find the entrance.  This entrance offers a well-maintained trail that passes by some beautiful waterfalls and smaller ruins. Following this path, you’ll enter the Archaeological Park near the back of the ruins, away from the parked buses and food vendors and groups of guides trying to offer their services. There is a ticket booth at the entrance to this path, and someone will be there to collect the ticket that you obtained at the museum.

Waterfall on the Path to the Ruins

Waterfall on the Path to the Ruins

NOTE: Even if you take the colectivo to the main entrance of the ruins, you can still exit the ruins via this waterfall-laden walking path, and end your tour at the museum. This is the more common route, as colectivos will drop you off at the main entrance to the Ruins if you don’t specify another destination. But for getting some background information before you visit the site, starting at the museum is recommended.

Road in front of the Museum

The road in front of the Palenque Museum (Taquilla=Ticket Booth)


You will have to tell the driver ahead of time that you want off at the museum, and he may try to discourage you from taking this route. You may be told that you can’t get to the ruins from the museum, but you can.

Spend your time in the museum, then walk up the hill to the Ruins, and you’ll exit the ruins at the parking lot where the buses park. Through this parking lot, you can find your way to the non-excavated part of the ruins. Don’t miss out on this! In the undiscovered part of the ruins, there isn’t  much to see other than piles of crumbling stones; the foundations of  less majestic buildings and homes. However, it is one of our favorite spots in the park.

For more information on how to get to the ruins, head back to Doing: Palenque.

NOTE: The information above is based on staying in town and taking a bus to the ruins. If you are staying at El Panchan, it would be possible to walk to the museum on the path that follows the road, and avoid the bus altogether. You can also try hitching a ride to the museum, though be aware that the buses are often strict in their 20 peso fee, regardless of how far you are going.

Rehab Restaurant Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras

Rubi Hotel Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras

Hotel Utila, Utila Bay Islands, Honduras

Snorkle tours, local lifestyle and lobster hunger that can’t be sated — Caye Caulker Belize

By: Laura Lazorski

It’s a good thing that Caye Caulker is so nice because I couldn’t get out of Belize City fast enough. It had a mangy film to it that the ferry to Caye Caulker blasted away with saltspray. The water got clearer and clearer as we progressed to the island, and after a short 30 minutes we pulled into a wind beaten dock in the white sun. The water here was clear as an aquarium, and silver fish cut by. I saw a barracuda circle suspiciously.

People are friendly on the island, and almost immediately we were being led to a hostel, called Dirty McNasty’s, by a local, named Gilbert. He does get incentive to scout for hostels (wink). But beyond that he is friendly as are the other islanders. Here, when you refuse sellers’ wares they just wave hello next time they see you rather than pushing the goods anew. They remember you, and you all end up at the split or the reggae bar later on.

The split is where everyone goes to swim. It is a deep channel carved by a hurricane that tore the island in two a long time ago. Supposedly, a crocodile lives there too, but I never saw him. There is a fun bar there, and a cement breaker, and everyone flops around drinking Belikin in the shallows or while treading water from the dock’s edge. The island’s motto is go slow. You see it scrawled over cement or worked into tour advertising schemes. Go slow the people remind you. It is a walking island except for a few ATV’s, so the people you pass all have a measured gait and an eye to the horizon. “Go slow, girl” they remind me as I hurry from the split to the hostel. It took a while to settle in, and I slowly began to wonder “where was I rushing to all the time?”

I came to Caye Caulker with the intent to get my open water diver’s certification. But alas, when we checked on the price it had gone up $100 and now cost an expensive $400 U.S. to be certified. Boo. We went to every dive shop on that island and of the few that even offered the class, $400 was the lowest quote. It was just too much. So unfortunately the mysteries of the deep would not yet be revealed to me. I did, however, book a snorkel tour on a real sailboat with Raggamuffin tours. Raggamuffin is located on the main street, just past the head of Crocodile street, and there I signed up to snorkel the Hol Chan Marine Reserve as well as shark ray alley and the coral gardens.

It’s said that coral reef at Hol Chan is just smaller than the Great Barrier reef, but more developed because it has been protected for longer. It certainly was a sight. Since the reefs are not in too deep of water, snorkeling is actually a pretty great way to tour them. I saw hawksbill sea turtles, moray eels, nurse sharks, sting rays, and many exceptional fish.

The guides were good too. Mine had two extremely long dreadlocks that were easy to follow under water. Whenever he’d see something of interest he would point to it and then gesture everyone up to the surface. He’d surface, drop the snorkel and call out the name. “Sergeant major fish, people. Sergeant major fish.” And then he’d pop the snorkel back in and dive down, scouting for more. He knew where they lived and what they ate so he could really draw some neat creatures out of their holes (like the moray eel), and yet he was very respectful of their environment too. When anyone swam too near the turtles he would gently stop them and gesture away. There’s a great respect for the reefs and reef life that I was happy to witness and participate in.

Though the Raggamuffin crew made sure we had a great time, with drinks and fresh fruit and confident guides, they could not ensure the mystic manatee would visit. The elusive sea cow was on the lam that day, and was one mammal I could not cross off my bucket list. The tour was absolutely worth it, and you don’t want to go to Belize without seeing their fantastic reefs. Do take Dramamine if you get seasick though because I watched a poor lady have just the worst time ever, so sick on the sea.

Another bonus to being on Caye Caulker this time of year was lobster for every meal. And that is what I had, and each night I had it in a different place. I had it at Wish Willie’s and at Rose’s too. But then I fell in with some islanders and heard that Enjoy Bar was the place to go. And it was. Get there a little before you are really hungry because they make you wait for it, but it is worth the wait. Wish I had one right now. The remainder I can’t believe I’m about to write. The Coca-Cola down there is exceptional. I don’t know if it’s the giant 500ml glass bottles with their perfect-fit long straws, or the fact that it’s made with real sugar. But they really are refreshing and easy on the stomach. And I don’t’ even drink Coke in the States! But down there I got what’s known as Belize belly, and lobster and Coca-Cola were just about the only two things I could stomach then.

We finished our stay on Caye Caulker by checking out two bikes and cruising the island. I wished we had done this sooner because it is the best way to check out the island. There were many lovely docks and homes out past the airport. I was fascinated with the above sea-level graveyards that were looking east out over the water. A grave marked the sunrise and sunset of one Crispin Rosado. I stepped back and to the side to see for myself the view that his headstone faced. The wind whipped the palms that neatly framed the sea, and far off the waves rolled in.

El caracol observatory at Chichen Itza.

El caracol observatory at Chichen Itza.

It has been a life long dream of mine to gaze upon this modern wonder of the world, the magnificent ruins of Chichen Itza. I watched so many documentaries and read books about the great civilization that hacked out their stronghold from the grasp of the jungle. Great pyramids that scraped the sun, human sacrifice, the vicious ball courts arenas, and the mysterious chac mools all derisively reclining.

And finally, I arrived. After 32 years of imagination, I personally was being beat down by the jungle heat and shouldered by the many people as excited as I was. In fact, I was so daunted by the uncompromising sun that I tied up a bed sheet and draped it over me, hat and all, to escape the merciless rays. The sun is an awesome force. This is the sun that inspired bleached white temples, bald in the glare, and rituals as drastic as human sacrifice.

*Note to travelers, if you are of fair complexion, prepare x 3 for the inescapable sun.*

     Certainly, Mexico has embraced this ruin as a major commodity. There are very few plaques explaining the significance of the ruins, but at least 3 guides versed in 5 languages willing to reveal the ruins’ mystery for a fee. Lining every path to every ruin are hundreds of locals selling their Mayan related wares: obsidian blades, calendars, and different incarnations of the temple’s imagery. They are all calling out, “Almost free!” and “One dollar!” and “Princess…beautiful!.” The onslaught of salesmanship is comparable to the heat, and “no gracias” quickly becomes one’s most uttered phrase.
     The vendors are armed with small devices that make scratching jaguar yawls, and cracking bird cries. The air rings with clay flutes and skin drums, so despite the nuisance of being constantly harassed, one can move on to appreciate the animated economy and peoples thriving at the base of these austere pyramids. These are the Maya today, the descendants of the people who long ago built these timeless tributes to nature’s cruelest powers.
     The only purchase I made there was from a man who never pushed his wares. Instead, he showed us the seeds, flowers and leaves that he used to dye his wood sculptures. He also showed us a peculiar leaf that worked as sandpaper, and taught us some expressions in Mayan. I was thankful for his insight because he was still actively using the secrets of the jungle in his craft. He let us in, however briefly, to the pride he held for his craft and his bloodline. This too changed my perception of the vendors. This was their Chichen Itza, and they were surviving off of it still.
     I fell into deep contemplation at the edge of a large cenote, one of the deep wells that communicate with a subterranean cave system all through out the region. During a sudden rain storm we ducked into a cabana and read some literature on them. The leaders would push their human sacrifices over the edge of the cenote, and if they were still alive the next day down there it was perceived as good fortune. Along with humans, they threw jewels and gold, the best they had to offer. What force where they praying for, or trying to appease? To abate the sun? To end illness? To bring the rain? This was one hell of a wishing well.
     It is hard to ignore the Mayan’s blood rituals and practices. Before every ball game, a warrior was beheaded. There was a ruin near the ball court that was completely inscribed with skulls, presumably for the heads of these game sacrifices. Perhaps it is the act of survival in these extreme conditions, the heat, the wildlife, the jungle, that inspires a culture’s extreme rituals. Whatever the reason, before me stood all the evidence of a people who kept death as close to them as birth.

Spanish Blunders: Or, the lessons that I learned the hard way.

Learning Spanish on the go 

Before traveling in Central America for the first time, I had taken one year of Spanish classes in high school (five years prior) and a five day crash course upon arriving in Costa Rica.

In terms of fluency, I was far from it. But when it came to getting by, I could do alright. Though not without many, many blunders. I reasoned that without much formal teaching, my mistakes were one of my best tools for learning. Especially when someone bothered to correct my mistakes, which didn’t always happen. Sometimes, I learned the hard way.

And most of the time, the mistakes weren’t so bad. Like the time I ordered a pastel (cake) for breakfast, which is apparently not the same as pasteles (pastry). Who doesn’t love cake?

Cafe Santa Clara 2a Av Sur (1)

I ate every bite.

Sometimes, however, the mistakes were a little more embarrassing. Which brings me to the start of my list of words that you should learn before traveling in Central America:

  • Embarasada: Okay, so this is actually a mistake I avoided, after having witnessed its misuse first hand. However, it is my go-to example of words that sound similar to English words, but have a different meaning in Spanish.

Embarasada means pregnant. It does not mean embarrassed. Hearing Kate, a classmate, apologize to a visiting professor for a fellow classmate’s behavior, by telling him how pregnant she was, helped drive home the word’s definition.

  • Miedo/Mierda: not knowing either word before I began traveling, I learned both words audibly. Being a strong visual-learner, this meant that I mixed them up several times before realizing my mistake.

Tengo miedo: Literary means, I have fear. Or, I am scared.

Mierda: Shit

Tengo mierda: Well, it would translate as I have shit.

How many times did I tell someone that “I have shit” when I was trying to say, “I am scared.” Several. How many times was I corrected? Not once. (Thanks, everyone.)

  • Jamon, Jabon, Sopa. What do these three Spanish words have in common? Perhaps only that I could not get them straight for my first week in a Spanish speaking country.

Jamon: ham

Jabon: soap

Sopa: soup

Maybe it’s just me. But I have asked if I could please have some soup after using a public restroom. And also for some ham. Soap and cheese sandwich. Yep. I’ve asked for that as well.

  • Punto/Puta: two more words that I had picked up through conversations and had trouble distinguishing at first.

Punto: Period. As in, what I am going to use to end this poorly constructed sentence.

Puta: Bitch.

The mistake I made was in telling the young man who worked at a hostel I was visiting that my email was “julia bitch m bitch flint @…..”

This is not a mistake I recommend making.

However, mierda happens… and we keep on tramping.

Isla Holbox Mexico: Doing Photos

July 11th, 2014 | Posted by admin in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Isla Holbox Mexico

Museo de Arte Popular Merida

Palenque Mexico Photos

June 24th, 2014 | Posted by admin in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Palenque Mexico