From Aztecs to Mayas – Mexico II & Belize

During my stay in Oaxaca, Mexico, I got to see a teacher and student protest, which I’ve heard and read is a regular occurrence in that part of the country. Although it didn’t get violent like I’ve heard it usually does. The teachers did barracade the streets, so no one could leave Oaxaca. But of course that didn’t stop me and few others at the hostel from trekking to the edge of town, catching a collectivo (minivan bus) and making our way to El Agua, a limestone waterfall that looks and is actually frozen in time.

From Oaxaca I made my way down south, toward the jungle in Chiapas. I arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas early in the bitterly cold morning, walked through town in amazement, gazing at the colonial architecture and political graffiti all over the Zapatista capital. The market was a great spot to drink some Chiapas coffee and check out the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army) paraphernalia store with Subcomandate Marcos t-shirts.

I made a brief stop in Palenque to see the ancient Maya ruins that caught my attention after hearing such great things from other travellers. But after spending a full day in the misty jungle, I thought that was enough and headed for the sunshine and beaches of Yucatan and Quintana Roo.

The first stop was Merida, but before I boarded the overnight bus in Palenque an Australian girl I met gave me a pill to stop motion sickness and help me get to sleep. Everything was fine for the first few hours. All of a sudden, in the middle of the night, I felt dizzy and my stomach turned. I put my head down, got sick, and sweated it out for the rest of the journey. It seemed the pill had the opposite effect on me.

I arrived in Merida early that morning, which seems to be my modus operandi while travelling in Mexico. A taxi driver took me directly to the hostel, where my fatigue and sickness only allowed me to walk around for sporadic periods throughout the day. Merida is a real Mexican city with sunshine, heat and latin music booming from every street corner.

The next stop was Cancun and Tulum on the Mayan Riviera. These two spectacular white sand beaches running along the Caribbean coastline are polar opposites. While Cancun was built for mass tourism and is known for its non-stop party atmosphere, Tulum is calm, tranquil and empty. Obviously I preferred Tulum because I could access the beach easily. Instead of taking a bus or taxi to the beach like in Cancun, in Tulum you can just cross the street and walk barefoot.

After visiting two world famous beaches for some R & R, I made my way across the border at Chetumal, Mexico into Belize. I had to spend a night in Chetumal because I was told the bus leaves only once a day and I missed it. So I spent the night there and woke up super early to be able to buy a ticket and secure my seat. But in Mexico things don’t work like that at all.

I’m sitting in the bus terminal and I see a collectivo driver loading people’s luggage onto the roof. I assume that it’s a local collectivo, so I ask another bus driver where I can find the one to Belize City. He points me in the direction of the collectivo and I shake my head in disbelief. I walk over and ask in Spanish: “Is this the bus to Belize?”

I receive a blank stare, so I repeat the question to a passenger and they respond: “We’re going to Flores, Guatemala.” At this point I’m utterly confused and a few other passengers say they’re also supposed to be on the bus to Belize City. Another passenger speaks to the driver and he informs us that if we want to go to Belize we’ll have to pay him $150 pesos extra. We all look at each other shocked. It was the first attempt at extortion that I’ve witnessed.

Ultimately, I agree to pay the driver when we got into Belize, but luckily I don’t have to because he’s already agreed to refund some of our money if we want to find another method of transport from the border. All of us pooled our money together and payed a Belizean man with a van to take us all the way to Belize City. The driver dropped us all off at the water taxi terminal, so I caught the next ferry direct to Caye Caulker.

A true Mexican experience if I must say so myself. Arriba!

Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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