We arrived in Mexico on the beautiful island of Isla Mujeres, (the Island of Women) off the coast of Mexico and 5 miles east of the well-known holiday resort of Cancun, a concrete jungle looming on the horizon.
Cancun showing the Mayan influence on hotel design
The Island was tiny, 3 miles long and ½ a mile wide but a lovely little spot, if a teeny bit touristy, however it took us over 3 days to clear in to Mexico with all the bureaucracy here and we even had to apply to temporarily import the boat which took another day and a trip to Cancun, a legal requirement if you wanted to stay in Mexico for more than 5 days.All the boat documents, passports, crew list etc had to be supplied, original and 5 copies and for the importation certificate we had been warned by other cruisers that they had to be in colour, both sides and include a list of equipment on board together with serial numbers. What a nightmare and to cap it we had to pay for the import certificate in US dollars and with the exact money of $52.20. Fortunately we were able to scrape this together but had to clean the verdi-gris off the 20 one cent coins and then the customs lady had the cheek to refuse them, asking for dimes instead. Pity it was a good opportunity to get our own back.
Marina Paraiso from the anchorage
After we had officially cleared in we decided to treat ourselves to dinner ashore and had a magnificent dish of mariscos and had a lovely evening listening to a duo playing clarinet and classic guitar as we sat on the beach, watched the sun go down and picked our way through the large platter of mixed seafood. Both musicians were accomplished but the guitarist especially so and we were disappointed when they finished and went over to tell them so. Back to the boat then to get our heads down, only trouble being we couldn’t find the boat, it wasn’t where we had left it at anchor. After scouring the bay we eventually found it 30ft off the reef several hundred yards from where we had left it but it was still afloat, we leapt on and hauled up the dragging anchor and set off back across the bay to re-anchor. Next morning Mark a Canadian from a neighbouring boat came over and the whole story was revealed. At 5.00pm the previous evening I had brought the Customs and health officials out to the boat for an inspection and all was well as I returned to shore with the officials in the dinghy. Shortly afterwards for no apparent reason the boat started to drag its anchor (we learned afterwards that the holding was poor in the bay and lots of boats dragged) and was headed for Mark’s boat, both he and Terry, another Canadian, boarded Romano and let out more chain which eventually held but not before Mark had to up anchor and move his boat out of the way. Our engine keys were locked inside so there was no way for them to manoeuvre the boat, Romano came to rest 30ft from the reef – a close thing and a valuable lesson. Needless to say we wanted to thank these guys and invited them over for drinks the following evening and met their lovely wives, Sandy and Linda and a great evening was spent enjoying their company.
One little unexpected adventure came about on a day trip to Cancun when we were stopped by one of the ferry staff as we disembarked. He managed to persuade Gill to attend a time share presentation in a nearby hotel and for doing this they would pay us 1500 pesos, about £75.00 and all we had to do was listen. To qualify for the payment we had to be employed, staying in a hotel and be on a short stay holiday and if so he got his commission from the time share company. We agreed to go along and told our tale well enough but were then subjected to a 3 hour ordeal of hard selling. After fighting our way out through wave after wave of increasingly senior people we emerged with our hard earned £75.00 – not an experience to repeat.
While in Mexico we were keen to travel inland from here and see some of the Mayan temples and cities for which Mexico is famed. There are regular ferry services from the island to Cancun which take around 30 minutes and offer live music on passage, some good, some not so good.
So when it came time to go off on our tour of the temples we put the boat in Paraiso Marina on the island where we had to tie up between four tree trunks driven into the ground which was a first for us and not the easiest to accomplish. So with peace of mind after our earlier experience, we hired a car for 4 days and set off into darkest Mexico in search of ancient ruins.
We visited three places on our tour – Chichen Itsa which is the main site in Mexico; Coba which is spread out over several square kilometres in the jungle and; Tulum on the coast which is the smallest of the three sites and located in a beautiful spot on the cliffs overlooking Caribbean white sandy beaches (probably an early Mayan Butlins holiday camp for those who weren’t sacrificed!)
We won’t go into detail but suffice to say they are all well worth a visit, stunning achievements in architecture, maths and astronomy in the period up to 800AD when inexplicably the civilisation went into decline. Unfortunately in Chitchen Itza everything was roped off to preserve what is now a world heritage site and we were unable to climb the steps to the top of the temple however in Coba we did have that chance and both of us climbed to the top to enjoy spectacular views over the jungle tree tops. The descent down was more difficult on steps polished by thousands of feet and I don’t have a head for heights, Gill coped much better.We have included loads of photos to give you all some idea of the scale and quality of building in these cities.
The main temple at Chichen Itza
Gill exploring the Temple of Warriors – couldn’t find any!
A Mayan Indian woodcarver showing off his work
The temple in Coba that we climbed
The view from the top of the Temple
Gill on the top admiring the view
The Mayan city in Tulum
The beach at Tulum
For our first two nights we stayed in a nice roadside hotel near Chitchen-Itza with pools and the cost including our accommodation, breakfast and 3 course dinner all was £50.00 per night for the two of us. On the second night we stayed at an American style motel on the road between Coba and Tulum with no facilities but we did find a very good local restaurant nearby where we dined on seafood and delicious homemade fruit juices.
Our first hotel on the trip at Chichen Itza
Gill enjoying the ecopool
On the last day of our mini tour we visited a friend of Gill’s – Manuela who she had first met while backpacking in Argentina a few years ago. Manuela, a larger than life character with many a story to tell, now runs a very nice hostel in Playa del Carmen, a holiday town just south of Cancun. Manuela put us up for the night and Gill drove a party of us from the hostel downtown to 5th Avenue for sightseeing, dinner and drinks.
Manuela and Gill at the poolside in the hostel
The people we met in Mexico were delightful and invariably helpful, it’s a lovely country, steeped in history and it was bewildering to see the range of goods for sale in the supermarket – back to having choice after Cuba’s limitations.
The following day we dropped of the car in Cancun, changed the boat import certificate with the Port Authority because they had issued us with the wrong one and took the ferry back to Isla Mujeres. After our week in the marina was up we headed out to anchor in the bay only to discover a northerly storm coming in so we moved the boat behind the ferry terminal to shelter from any north wind. In these storms the wind swings round very quickly from South to North as the wind picks up and the speed of change nearly caught us out we had intended to put out two anchors out but the storm hit us quicker than expected and we could only hope that our one anchor would hold in 55 knot winds. In driving rain and a full gale which came up in a couple of minutes from calm, we had no choice but to set the second anchor. We went below wet and bedraggled and hoped for the best. As it turned out we were well protected by the shore and the twin anchors held well. In the morning the winds abated, the sky cleared and all was well again.
After a few days of mixing with our new friends we decided to move on and check the boat and crew out of Mexico in Isla Mujeres, this to save further frustration in the southern ports where it would have been difficult for us to get in because of our depth. The process was much slicker and less expensive but clearing out meant we would be unable to go ashore again in Mexico and we still had 200 miles to cover to Belize.
Our next port of call was Puerto Morelos where we picked up a mooring buoy next to Quetico an Island Packet owned by yet another Canadian couple, Rob and Kathy who we had met in Los Morros on our last day in Cuba and who were also headed for the Rio Dulce in Guatemala for the hurricane season. I had developed a severe toothache so we needed to find a dentist fairly soon and managed to book one in Cozumel at 10.00 am the following day on the internet. Off we went hoping all would work out and it wouldn’t resemble a medieval torture chamber.
The Island of Cozumel from our anchorage
A man with toothache
A lovely fountain on the waterfront
We arrived on the island and dropped anchored in a bay with three other local boats near the ferry terminal which linked the mainland at Playa del Carmen. After some hunting on foot we found the dental practise in part of a hospital. My worst fears were quashed, the service was superb, the facilities excellent and the cost, a fraction of the UK, it couldn’t have been better. However the full treatment was going to take at least 10 days and strictly speaking we were illegal immigrants so I opted for a course of antibiotics and copies of my x-rays for the next dentist along the trail.
In the morning we sailed down to Bahia Espiritu Sancto a huge inland bay protected by a reef and anchored in the middle, miles from anywhere and a very strange experience. Then it was on to Chinchorro Bank a large reef structure about 30 miles offshore where we anchored in the north end through a gap for another unusual night in the middle of the sea but perfectly calm and protected by the reef. We were boarded the next morning by an armed Mexican Navy patrol who wanted to see our papers and took details of who we were and where we were headed but all in a very courteous way. We declared we were “on passage” and as long as you don’t go ashore after you have checked out, the authorities accept a boat passing through and crew resting at anchor! We left them to head south on a wonderful overnight sail in ideal wind conditions down to Belize City. In fact the wind was so good we had to slow the boat down to arrive in Belize in daylight.
We failed however to get into Belize to “clear in” as our draft was too deep to enter their marinas and it was too rough to launch the dinghy to go ashore so we headed farther south to the next port – Dangriga. We found out on the way that it was Easter and everything was closed anyway– it’s like that on a boat, days and dates don’t mean anything and we had no idea so we anchored off Garbutt cayes for a couple of days and bought fish off the fisherman and swam and did jobs on the boat. Gill went ashore to explore one of the islands and found it covered in thousands of conch shells with a small stilted house and a beach garden created by the fisherman who lived there by grinding the broken coral to a fine powder, believe it or not to create the sand – obviously has a lot of time on his hands!
Garbutt Cayes from our anchorage
Gill proudly displaying this Belizean flag she made by hand – a work of art
Sunset over Dangriga where we checked in.
Our next blog will cover our adventures in Belize but won’t be posted now until we reach Guatemala in the beginning of June. If you want to track our position I will try to update the tracker log on www.blog.mailasail.com/romanocrew