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Riviera Maya, QR


Sunday, the 20th of March, we tried to skype with Josh (it’s his 29th birthday) but our connection wasn’t strong enough through the cellular data so we resorted to a phone call which the grandkids found confusing cause they couldn’t see us, only hear us. We can’t believe he’ll be thirty next year! We can’t be THAT old!?

DSCN0198 monkey bridges across the toll highway

Pic of the monkey “bridges” over the toll highway.

Next stop: Playa del Carmen; not so much to go there but to catch the ferry to Cozumel for snorkeling. There are no campgrounds here at all. There is a Wal-Mart which we found on iOverlander but it was far from the beach and the only other option was a parking area near the main pedestrian tourist shopping area but it was slanted street parking which Tigger is too long for. We found some street parking a few blocks from the tourist area but still in a good part of town on a wide boulevard and parked there. Today was very hot with high humidity.

We had also begun to have hot water tank issues again! We were not low on propane but the hot water suddenly decided not to flow. Doug fiddled with hoses, connections and the batteries to no avail. As it was Sunday, we couldn’t call the manufacturer to help him troubleshoot or order a new one (which we were afraid was the solution kand we had no idea how we were going to get anyway).

We walked into the tourist section where there are pedestrian streets and after 15 minutes needed AC – we are such wimps in the humid heat! We found a McDonalds with Wi-Fi and sat for a while researching what to do the next day on Cozumel without spending an arm and a leg. We did walk the beach for a while too; it was jam packed with lounge chairs and people! Not our style at all and the beach is not that great. It is not as nice as Cancun beach wise but the pedestrian area is something Cancun doesn’t have.

DSCN0200 beach at Playa Del Carmen

We decided that the best way to do our trip to Cozumel was to rent a car upon arriving on the ferry and we found at place to arrange that. We have our own snorkel gear and we could go and come as we please this way. We could even hire a boat if need be. This way we could also drive the whole island if we desired afterwards as the ferries run into the evening.

It was supposed to thunderstorm all day today but it didn’t even start raining until after 4 and most of the day up to then was sunny and cloudy. When the rain finally started we were at an ATM under cover and hung out there for a while before ducking into the nearby mall. After it stopped we began to walk back to Tigger and saw a bar offering 5 beers with nachos for 150 pesos so we took advantage of that. Upon returning to Tigger we sat inside with the generator running to stay cool before bed.

DSCN0202 dinner!

It seemed to sprinkle on and off all night long and it was still cloudy when we awoke on Monday so we made an executive decision to skip Cozumel and get out of this spring break/tourist ridden place. But first we wanted wifi and to call the hot water tank place. We decided to go to a DHL or Fedex office to see about how we could arrange to pick up a package here in Mexico if needed.   DHL was open and the woman advised that we could ship to a DHL office either here in Playa or down the road in Chetumal and gave us the addresses of the two offices there. Next stop: Mickey Dee’s for free wifi and then call EZ Tank. We are so glad we called as after a few trouble shooting ideas, it was determined the battery box was bad not the tank itself! Phew! As it happened we had a spare (because we’d ordered a new one and a new tank over a year ago when we’d had a different issue). Doug didn’t tell the guy that but we went ahead and ordered one anyway to send to our mailing address so we’d have another spare and then spent a half hour in the parking lot replacing the defective one and our hot water was back on again. It’s the little things, right?

We drove south along the coast and made our way to a beautiful spot from iOverlander called Xpu-hu with an uncrowded beach with very few resorts and lots of white, white sand and spectacular water. We stayed for two nights. The small campground is hosted by a German couple, Dierk & Vera, who were very friendly and it had full hookups – only downside was no wifi but not the end of the world. We enjoyed the beach and two cool humidity free days/nights – guess that thunderstorm broke the humidity for a short while. We jogged on the beach one morning and did yoga the second.

DSCN0216 end of beach

Next planned stop was Akumal which is famous for turtles but as they are not there until late April the earliest, we eased on down to Tulum to check out the ruins – it was a zoo of humanity. Too many tour buses; the ruins here are not great and are not the main attraction; it’s the location – right on the sea. It was amazing but we felt smothered by the crowds and didn’t stay long. The price to enter was reasonable but they get you with the parking price and although we’d read people stay here overnight for the parking price, the attendant told us parking is for 12 hours and since it was still morning, we’d have to pay for another 12 to stay – forget that nonsense.

The ruins are small, you cannot climb them and the pathways are narrow which meant that with the throngs of tour bus passengers it was slow moving. To even enter the ruins was tedious as they are walled and the entrances are single file. We did not focus on the ruins much as we really wanted to see the location and after a stroll on the public beach, we made our way out of the heat. We had brought out swim suits but there were too many people for our liking to bother changing and the water was a little rough due to the wind.

We drove down the main highway further south and turned off for the coast to the town of Majahual which is a small laid back town but get this, it has a cruise ship terminal just to the north – so lots of people come in for the day; it’s a fabricated environment really with a pedestrian malecon, shops, bars, restaurants and lots of vendors. We got here around 4 and it was kinda busy but not like Playa and they all left by 6ish so then it was more to our liking. The campground was right behind a bar/restaurant with a view of the beach and the palm trees so we planted ourselves at a table at the bar for a couple of hours of “connecting to the outside world” and there was a lovely breeze and good cold beer! We spent a lovely quiet night here after taking walk on the malecon without the hordes of people.

DSCN0292 beach with cruise ship in distance

We awoke Thursday morning to discover a busload of people had come into the campground and set up a number of tents very near us (today is Good Friday). They were not noisy at all though we did find a few sitting on the running boards of our truck at times. After breakfast we donned our bathing suits and snorkel gear and headed to the “reef” that is off shore. We were not impressed. The cruise ships offer a snorkel excursion here and we felt sorry for those who partook of this, as there were not many fish to be seen. The coral is mostly damaged as the water is not that deep here and we’re sure people stand on it.

DSCF1946 larger group of fish

We gave up after about a half hour, had a quick shower and put down camp as we decided there were too many tenters here for our liking. We carried on further south along the coast to Xcalak (x is pronounced “sh”). This only four miles from the Belize border on a large spit of land. The reef is supposed to be very good here and is a protected national park. There was a camping spot beside a restaurant mentioned on iOverlander. It was 60km (40m) south of us and we were not sure what to expect for road conditions. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that the road was all paved after about a mile out of Majahual and instead of the three hours the GPS told us it would take, it took less than one hour! Bonus; it was a good thing too as when we got to “Toby’s” restaurant, he was out and his wife said she wasn’t sure there’d be room for us as a large group of tenters was coming in here as well for the long weekend; then she relented and said if we parked in a certain spot (with power access, luckily) and didn’t need use of the bathrooms, we’d be fine. iOVerlander mentioned a price of 100 pesos a night but she came back after Doug paid for three nights and said she’d spoken with her husband and he said to return our money and when he got back later that day, he’d deal with us – not sure what that will mean but we’ll see. It’s the Easter long weekend and we had hoped to spend three nights here without crowds so unless he charges us an arm and a leg, we’ll stay put. We can see the beach across the road from our rig, the sun is shining, we are parked under palm trees, we have power and wifi – what else do we need!? This is a tiny town so even if a couple of dozen tenters come in, it won’t be crowded.

DSCN0312 one of 12 frigates over our campsite

We had about a dozen frigates flying overhead at our campsite.
We went for a walk in the little town to see about snorkeling out on the national park reef – part of the 2nd largest reef in the world that extends down past Belize. We met a German couple walking on the street who said they used a company called XTC down the road a ways but that due to the wind, trips were limited right now. We walked over there and Shannon confirmed that they had not been out to the coral islands of Chincharoo in a few days as the water is too rough but they might get out there on Saturday. In the meantime, they could offer us a snorkel trip to the nearby national park reef on Friday probably; she’d email us on the morning – there is NO phone service in this town but there is internet. The cost would be $179ea for the coral islands trip (from 7am to 5pm) and $45ea for the 2 hour snorkel at the reef.

Later that evening a couple of Mexican families arrived and set up their tents behind us but they were not noisy at all. There was no music, no dogs, no roosters and no fireworks! Toby, the owner, came by and said he’d talk to us later about the price (?) and advised more tenters were coming in the next day.

More people did arrive at the campground that day. As we had not received an email from Shannon by 9am, we went for a walk to see if we could get a snorkel trip set up with another outfit.   We were looking for Captain Jose Luis (whose name we’d seen on a couple of signs) when a woman came out of her home and asked if she could help. Turned out he was two houses down but in the meantime we chatted with her. She, Linda, and her partner, Marla, are from London, Ontario and have lived here in Xcalak for twelve years. They began living in an RV and running a small restaurant called the Leaky Palapa. They are ready to move up and have put their house on the market; the restaurant now is more of a dinner club that is open three days a week with advance booking. They seem in no hurry to sell their house as they have not decided where they want to go. Anyway, she told us Luis was a good guy and that the trip out to the coral islands was rough in windy weather, probably a good two hours each way. She also told us that there was going to be a huge party at Toby’s Saturday night (he did not tell us this) and that if we wanted to park in the vacate lot across from them (no power though), we were welcome or better yet, she suggested we head back up north to a little spot they have stayed at right on the beach, all alone. That sounded good to us.

DSCN0327 Captain Luis' sign

We thanked her and went to meet Luis who was free today and could take us on a two hour snorkel in the park for $35ea; done deal. As it happened his boat was parked right across the road from our camping spot and we met him a half hour later and were on our way. The deal was two locations to snorkel. Enroute to the first, two dolphins swam by us and we hoped that was a good sign. It turned out the first place hardly had any fish and we were disappointed but as soon as we told Luis, we left and went to the second spot – way, way better. Lots of beautiful coral of various types, lots of different fish, some we’d never seen and the water was crystal clear for the most part. Doug even saw a sting ray. This was so enjoyable and reasonably priced. (We of course, paid the pesos price)

The beach where we are camped at Toby’s had quite murky looking water due to the winds but out here, bright turquoise clear waters and warm breezes and great water temperature. This was the type of snorkeling we were waiting for on the Caribbean Sea. We can’t wait for Belize now.

DSCF1966 colourful coral

So we took Linda’s advice and headed north to Punta Herradura – it was so worth it. There is a little sandy road off the main beach road that leads to the beach with a small “parking” area and a tree for shade. There was some garbage on the beach brought in with the tide but it was not overwhelming. The water and beach were like Cancun beaches just like Linda said. This was a slice of heaven all for us! The breeze blows all the time which helps keep the temperature nice although it is a bit of a damp breeze off the ocean. We set up camp, went for a walk along the shore heading north and later a swim and enjoyed a very quiet night listening to only the surf. Thank goodness we have solar power, an inverter for charging, our own water supply and a bathroom as well as an outdoor shower {which we have used a lot this weekend with no one around ;-)} – life is good. We decided since it was the day before Easter we’d stay a second night as nowhere nearby would probably have room.

Our Spot:  DSCN0328 our spot on the beach

Our view:  DSCN0350 our view from Tigger

Quarter of the full moon that night:  DSCN0343 part of the full moon

Saturday late morning we had some company for about an hour: a Mexican family came down and parked beside us to go for a swim and then other than the odd beach walker, there’s been no one around us. We do see people when we walked the beach going south today but not a lot of them. There were a few people fishing off the shore and they seemed to catch some really big fish. There is one resort just up the beach from us that maybe has a dozen guests. We enjoyed more beach walks, did some Spanish work, read and went swimming that day.

After a dampish evening/night (the salt spray from the increased wind was making it impossible to keep anything dry) we packed up Sunday morning and decided to go back to Majahual where we could plug and get wifi again, if they still had room (we were hoping people were beginning to head home today).

Our previous spot was empty so we pulled in and set up as Doug could find no one at the office just yet. After about 30 minutes, the power died so Fran went over to where were plugged in and flipped the breaker. When that happened a second time, Fran went back to the office and asked about it and they said they’d been having issues with power on that side and it should be fixed soon. They were not able to take our payment yet so she went back to the rig. She spoke to a French Canadian camper two spots away and he told her that the power had been having issues for two days which also meant the internet was off a lot. So we unhooked and drove away; we were glad we had not paid yet as getting “refunds” in Mexico for cash payments especially, are uncommon.

Our next intended stop was Lake Bacalar but camping options around it were not ideal so we decided to stop there to see the lake (supposedly it has seven shades of colours over the course of a the day) and maybe the fort and carry on to Chetumal. We stopped for gas and water and then parked in town near the fort which happens to be right on the lake shore. We took a stroll for a while in the heat – it was Easter Sunday so there were still a lot of people out and the lake access area was full. It seemed the best way to enter the lake is off a pier as the first ten meters off the shore are murky and a brown/green colour. Then the water becomes clearer and greener and beyond that we could see an even prettier green. You could see across to the other side where again the first two colours we could see on this side, were over there.

DSCN0359 lake view point

That day we received a message from Christine and Mark asking where we were and we said we were heading to Chetumal to this highly recommended campground and they said they’d meet us there on Monday. They had been exploring ruins in the Bacalar area.

Yax Ha is an rv park on the Chetumal Bay (which is sea foam green colour) with full services, a laundry, a restaurant and a pool as well as cabanas for rent. Being Easter Sunday it was a little busy but by no means full, as we expected many had checked out already. We got a spot on the lake next to the low wall that surrounds the campground under a palm tree. While there was Wi-Fi it kept crapping out near us but we did discover that there was a different router on the other side of the park near the pool and there was a palapa with chairs and tables you could sit at. Here the Wi-Fi was more consistent but still not “reliable” as described on iOverlander. This was actually outside Chetumal in the village of Calderitas! – seemed like an appropriate place to spend our last couple of nights in Mexico.

By the way this app, iOverlander, is a user contributed app so when we find good places, we can add 0urselves for others to also use and we can comment on the places/things that are already there. This keeps the app up to date and people can also remark on upgrades, good/bad experiences and prices.

We met a Swiss couple while we were here, Hans and his wife, and they have been to Mexico many times and spoke of their experiences. On Monday morning we unhooked and went into town to do some errands and shopping and treated Tigger to a car wash after being exposed to so much sea salt. We walked the two miles to Wal-Mart and she sure looked spiffy when we came back two hours later by taxi which cost is $2USD.

After then stopping at Home Depot, AutoZone and McDonald’s for fountain drinks, we went back to the campground. Christine and Mark arrived shortly after and we had, you guessed it, happy hour! We decided to all cross the border tomorrow into Belize so we all had dinner that night finishing up food items we were told we could not take across the border: dairy, cheese, meat, fresh fruit and veggies, wine and beer (that we did not finish! but rather decided to declare a few and “hide” a few). We do have a few good secret places in Tigger as well as our safe.

As Doug had a work call Tuesday morning, we used the internet for a few hours before packing up. We decided that rather than cross together, we’d each make our own way across and meet at a campground in the town of Corozol, a few miles after the border. We each had a few stops to make before crossing (gas/water, etc. and Doug and I wanted to drive the lake shore into the actual city.

Turned out Doug had another call at 2 (Cancun time) and we did that at a Burger King so we had wifi and then headed to the border.

We had copied “instructions” from a fellow overlander’s website and gathered our documents together and the next leg of this journey began.

So after 9,784km/6,115 miles, 22 of 31 states visited, 3 more states we only passed through, one new tire, one replaced wheel bearing, one trip home, one propane leak and lots of new friends, we said “hasta luego” to Mexico.

Mexico - actually travelled 6,115 miles