Back in Cancun we headed first to the Playa del Carmen, another resort with a huge long white beach and a little inland some freshwater 'cenote’ caves that we wanted to dive in
. The cenotes were amazing. The entrance was a cave filled with bright blue water and the visibility was incredible – you could see 200m if it weren’t for the rock formations in the way. Diving through the caves and swimming amongst the stalactites and stalagmites was a completely surreal experience. The water was so clear you could barely tell it was there; it felt like watching an HD video of flying through a cave. It was stunning.
After the cenotes we began our trip west towards the USA with a first stop for a bit of culture at the Palenque ruins. The ruins were gorgeous but after our overnight bus we timed our arrival perfectly for mad dogs and Englishmen and found ourselves wandering around the jungle and the ruins in the absolute heat of the midday sun. After a while admiring the views we had almost melted and were grateful to get on another air-conditioned bus to take us to San Cristobal de las Casas, an old colonial town in the mountains that was both gorgeous and blissfully cool compared to Palenque. We spent a couple of days there enjoying the town and attempting to explore the surrounding countryside. We say ‘attempting’ because our first day we headed out to some nearby caves intending to hike the hills round them back to town. Just as we arrived at the entrance to the park a few raindrops starting falling which within a minute had become a downpour of biblical proportions
. Having dashed to a picnic shelter we thought we’d wait a few minutes for the worst to pass before starting our hike. 2 hours later we were still ‘sheltering’ which was made fairly difficult by the wind continually changing directions and blowing rain at us from every which way. In the end we spotted a taxi in the distance and chased it madly down the road (which by then was more of a river) and sat dripping on the upholstery all the way back into town for blissfully warm showers. Not our most successful hike.
The next day we were a bit luckier. We decided to hire a moped from town and headed off round trip adventure through the indigenous villages of the stunning surrounding mountains and the very huge and impressive Canyon del Sumidero. It turned out to be a slightly longer ride than anticipated- over 100km up windy mountain roads necessitating filling the little petrol tank 3 times. It was also made tougher by Gordon (the self-designated moped driver) developing an eye infection over the course of the day that essentially closed up one eye. By the time we got back to San Cristobal we had incredibly sore butts and were moulded to the bike and but had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and even managed to avoid any rain!
From San Cristobal we headed back down to lower elevations and increasing heat for 24 hours in Mexico City
. Mexico City took us rather by surprise. Not being massive ‘city people’ we hadn’t expected to like it much but other than the grim hotel rooms (we ended up with a super cheap room but fear we may have been the only room not paying by the hour) it was great and we spent a very happy day admiring the old buildings and getting ourselves completely lost in Latin America’s biggest market. We’d also been really enjoying the street food in Mexico but in Mexico City it got even better than we’d found so far; duck, pork, fish & chicken tacos, tostados, fresh fruit with chilli and lime and a huge variety of other delicious snacks we never even knew the names of – and all super cheap. For budget foodies like us it was bliss! The other thing that amused us in Mexico City was that each block seemed to only have one type of shop. In our wanderings we passed through the blocks for each of shoe shops, sweet shops, ribbon shops, fake flower shops, biscuit shops (distinct from sweet shops), hardware shops, lace shops (distinct from ribbon shops), and a myriad of others. Most entertaining of all was the area with our hotel which seemed to be home to all the shops you should ever want in which to buy huge froo-froo ball dresses in every colour under the rainbow. Sarah wasn’t allowed to try on any as we couldn’t keep a straight face.
Gordon at this point got himself brownie points for life by giving Sarah her belated birthday present; VIP section tickets to see her all time favourite singer Shakira in nearby Leon, complete with a posh hotel. So early the next morning we left our cheap & grim hotel in Mexico City and after another long bus journey checked ourselves into our gorgeous room in Leon which was bigger than our flat at home. Sarah by this time was about to pop with excitement and insisted we got to the concert super-early (as a measure of her excitement she had spent the preceding days finding out which songs were on the set list, downloading the words onto her e-book and then listening to the songs whilst reading the words to brush up on the Spanish lyrics)
. Getting there early turned out to be a good call as on our arrival we were told our tickets were not at the venue as we’d been told but were in a department store (improbably called "Liverpool") a half an hour cab ride across town. When we arrived there we were told that the tickets were not there after all but were actually back at the venue. Grrrr. After a rather panicked ride back and a good deal of shouting in bad Spanish we finally located our tickets. The shouting attracted the attention of a local radio journalist who came over to interview Gordon who, slightly flustered, was only capable of saying random incoherent and unconnected Spanish words like “Tickets not here” and “Taxi 100 pesos” and “Really late now”. We suspect the tape will never be used. In the end we got in and got a position near the front fence of our section practically within touching distance of the stage. Shakira was even better than we’d hoped; amazing songs, incredible dancing and (for the men) lots of gratuitous close ups on the big screen of her bum in a very very tight pair of trousers. By the time we went home we were happily euphoric and had sung ourselves hoarse. Shakira! Shakira!
Having enjoyed the bliss of a direct flight over to the UK our flight back to Mexico was a little more tedious. We took what was by far the cheapest flight back but which meant not one stopover but three, taking us via Rekjavik, a (short) night in Boston, and Orlando before we finally get back to Cancun and our bags. To add to the fun of the trip the first two legs were on Iceland Air – think RyanAir but for 6 hours at a stretch. We nearly didn't even get on the first flight when Sarah at first wasn’t allowed on the plane as the airline couldn’t find her American visa waiver on their systems. After a small panic and an extortionate admin fee we thankfully were able to sort it out and were on our way.