A Travellerspoint blog

Long journey home

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It's a big day today as we embark on our long journey home. We travel from Isla Mujeres [Isla-Mujeres-travel-guide-309702] (by boat) to Cancun [Cancun-travel-guide-299684] to take our flight to Houston then Los Angeles, then finally to Auckland. That's about 24h from the first flight to the last.

It has been a wonderful three months for me. As I add up the bills, I realise that the total cost of fares, accommodation and food will come to less than NZ$10,000. Some interesting facts about my airfares:

1. 7 short flights on old-fashioned airlines (United and Lufthansa) cost NZ$1600.
2. 18 flights (1 longhaul, 2 medium and remainder shorthaul) cost NZ$1000.
3. 3 remaining flights are on Kim's staff travel tickets and are at an undisclosed price.

Then an interesting fact about flying in the US ... on both Continental Airlines flights, people had their window shades down for take-off and landing. Unlike in other parts of the world, it is normally a requirement to have them open so that passengers are oriented should an accident happen. Here, practicality rules ... it certainly keeps the cabin cooler by shutting the sun out.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Swimming with whale-sharks

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large_5550_13144785376993.jpgThis picture doesn't seem to illustrate the 5m swell and the changing weather ... from sun to rain in minutes.
(Photos to come when photos from disposable underwater camera are developed)

Swimming or snorkelling with the whale-sharks is one of the most highly-rated adventures in Isla Mujeres. We reported at 0800 to Sea Hawk dive centre and as soon as they had a confirmed location for the sharks (by radio from a spotter craft), we set off.

It was a 40km ride in a speedboat to the site and took about an hour. We saw lots of flying fish along the way ... they do fly like bumblebees and hummingbirds ... I used to think that they only just jump out of the water briefly!

When we got to the site, there were dozens of boats. I've been told there can be as many as 600 swimmers. I think the business is quite regulated by the maritime authorities and only 2 people per boat can swim at a time.

We saw only one 10m spotted whale-shark and managed to snorkel with it for a couple of minutes on our third attempt. The others in the boat weren't so lucky ... one couple caught a briefer glimpse, another couple not at all, and one guy didn't even make it into the water.

The weather had turned atrocious with rain and swell. Swimming in the sea seemed like a beginner's course in ocean survival.

Back on dry land at about 2pm, the boss offered us a repeat of the trip for tomorrow or if the weather wasn't conducive, scuba diving instead. I think they were genuinely surprised by our bad luck ... in the briefing, they were preparing us for how:

1. We should stick together so as not to scare and disperse the schools of sharks.

2. He would be taking 10 minute turns per couple and repeating it in a cyclic fashion.

The boss thought the rain may caused the plankton (the shark's food) to sink, meaning that they wouldn't have to surface in order to eat. However, I blame our Australian companion ... he had joked in the beginning that he either scares the animals away or brings bad luck to nature-spotting trips.

I was quite happy with what we had seen until I spoke to other travellers. This man in our hotel had been out four times as each time there had been dozens if not hundreds of sharks around. He said that the boats were rather dispersed rather than all trying to crowd around one shark.

As for the environmental impact, he thought that the sharks don't appear to be intimadated by people but are curious born-performers! We'll wait for someone to validate that, perhaps.

Some advice if you're planning to swim with the whale-sharks:

1. If you have several days on Isla Mujeres, check the weather forecast before you book. We had a limited stay and didn't have a choice of days.

2. Prices can differ greatly. The official price is USD125 but we paid USD90 (with lunch) a bit too quickly as it was cheaper than the indicative price in our guidebook. Other places charge USD60 (no lunch) or USD60 (with lunch). There are warnings that cheaper operators may take shortcuts with safety but all boats out there seem pretty seaworthy. However, I doubt the cheaper operators would offer a second trip for free in the event of a failed sighting.

3. Consider taking the sea-sickness pills that the operator may offer to you for free. The Vontrol they gave me was different from my usual medication as it was non-drowsy. I did throw up some liquid during the journey but it wasn't accopanied by any nausea.

I look forward to returning to Mexico to try this excursion again!


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Island of Women

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large_5550_13144787229560.jpgPlaya Norte near where we stayed.
Having had a good run with the ADO buses in Mexico, we were rather surprised that our final ride, from Merida [Merida-travel-guide-1321725] to Cancun [Cancun-travel-guide-299684] was 2 hours late. The bus had originated in Mexico City [Mexico-City-travel-guide-301569] some 24 hours ago and it must have had various delays along the way.

We weren't allowed to board earlier services and communication was poor due to the language barrier ... but my expectations were low so it didn't get to me. This appears to be an unusual situation where we would have been better off not booking in advance.

We got to Cancun about 3:30pm and could see it was a different world from the rest of Mexico. It is a bit like Florida with many huge resorts lining the beaches.

We didn't stay in Cancun but took the ferry immediately to Isla Mujeres [Isla-Mujeres-travel-guide-309702] (Island of Women), which is only 15 minutes away. While it didn't feel so sterile, it is rather touristy ... like a Mexican version of Phuket without the sleaze. The touristy nature didn't bother me as the atmosphere was good and many businesses were small and appeared family-run.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Value excursion to Chichen Itza

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large_5550_13137695214594.jpgThe Kukulkan pyramid.
Many travellers try to do everything themselves. I take a balanced approach ... today's excursion to Chichen Itza [Chichen-Itza-travel-guide-1319667] cost MXP350 (NZD35) which sounds expensive. It would have cost MXP240 do it by public transport. The difference is easily justified by the inclusions (eg. big buffet lunch, good guide, transport to a swimming hole) and of course the convenience.

Chichen Itza (2h away from Merida) is the most famous of Mexico's ruins because it is the best restored. The complex dates back to 800AD, built by the Mayans who were obsessed and talented with astronomy and measuring time. Various angles in the pyramids and other buildings line up with the sunlight on solstices and equinoxes.

Sadly, Chichen Itza is over-touristed with up to 45,000 visitors a day.large_5550_13137695235892.jpgThe Kukulkan pyramid.The reality is that even the most impressive pyramid here (the Kukulkan) doesn't compare with Teotihuacan (near Mexico City) in terms of size/height (25m vs 70m) and age (about 9 Centuries newer).

Having worked up a sweat, we were driven to Ik Kil Cenote which is a huge pool located in a limestone cave with a natural skylight. The setting was delightful ... you can swim in the clear green waters and look up at the sky through the leafy-edged skylight. Water and roots drip down from the ceiling as well.

We finished the day with a buffet lunch at around 3pm ... you could call it dinner instead as it is the last main meal for many Mexicans ... they typically have a big breakfast, a big lunch/dinner and a light supper. We were initially quite surprised to see many restaurants close at 6pm.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Relaxing and absorbing

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There isn't actually that much to see in Merida [Merida-travel-guide-1321725] itself but the atmosphere is lovely. We devoted the day to relaxing and absorbing the ambience. We took a peek at the cathedral and an old fully-restored (perhaps over-restored) mansion.

It became clear that it is a very touristy town. We hadn't seen so many foreigners all in one place since we arrived in Mexico ... most were Europeans but there were some people from the US in groups. I guess Merida is relatively close to the Mexican riviera in comparison to the highlands where we've come from.

Merida is close to several good ruins including Chichen Itza and Uxmal. We decided on the former and not to overdo ruins ... and so took a pass on Uxmal.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

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