Archive for May, 2015

The Yucatán Peninsula with Mayan Temples
and Gringo Condos. (March/April 2015)

Sunday, May 31st, 2015


We flew from Guanajuato to Cancún, the start of our tour of the Yucatán Peninsula.


Rather than pay for a taxi we opted for the shuttle bus, this meant we were taken the long way to our hotel, through the Zona Hotelera. It was dark so we had no idea what was there.

Our hotel was in the residential part of Cancún, where there are only smaller hotels and not resorts. This area mainly caters to Mexican tourists.

We had a long walk from near the Ado Bus Station, via Mercado 23, and then down Avenue Tulúm to the Ibis Hotel.

Here we picked up a hire car, this would be our transport for the next week.

If was late in the afternoon so we drove around the Hotel Zone just to get a feeing of what it was like in daylight.

This is about 22.5km of hotels, condominiums and resorts. These are on a thin ribbon of land, with the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Laguna Nichupè on the other.

All the accommodation stretches along the Caribbean while the facilities face the lagoon.

In a way I was glad we were staying in the more authentic, Mexican, part of Cancún.


Finding Tulúm was easy, finding our hotel wasn’t.

After roaming the streets and following the directions of both Google Maps and Triposo, we gave up and asked another hotel for directions.

When we did find it, our accommodation was more B&B than hotel and on the very edge of Tulúm. Almost surrounded by jungle there was a large variety of birds, but one stood out. It was the size of a wattle bird with a shinny black chest, a teal blue and back tail and some, I’m guessing the male, have a bright yellow beak.

Tulúm Ruins was originally a walled city of the Mayan culture and an important center of worship for the so-called ‘diving god’.

Built in post-Classic period, between 1200 and 1521 AD, the city was known as Zama or Dawn, as it faces east.

This is a small site set on the shores of Caribbean and witness to the rising sun.

We tried to get there reasonably early, but we weren’t early enough, as the tour buses had already arrived.

It was even more packed when we left, two hours later.

In the afternoon we drove out of the city to the Cenote dos Ojos. Cenotes are an underground system of flooded caves, this particular one extends for over 97km.

It’s a favourite spot for divers – we just had a swim.

We then drove south of Tulúm to Sian Ka’an, a long stretch of jungle with beaches and hotels.

At the end of the road we discovered a bridge, a favourite fishing spot for the locals with a sun baking area for the Crocodiles close by.

On the way from Tulúm to Piste we stopped to visit the Cobà Ruins.

These are quite old, being developed between 600 to 800 AD and reaching their peak in 1100AD.

They are in a jungle setting and everywhere you go you can see piles of rocks emerging from the undergrowth.

Nohoch Mul is by far the largest and the one everyone has to climb. Your efforts are rewarded with an excellent view of the jungle and the lake.

The Cobà Ruins are spread over a large area, about 70 square kilometres, much of which are yet to be unearthed. To see them you can hire a bike, take a chauffeur peddled tricycle or walk.

We walked, and after about 3.5 hours, each of the many sites became indistinguishable from the last.

It was time to move on to our next destination, which was Pisté, a small village very close to Chichén Itzá.

Piste and Chichén Itzá. 

We were at the gates at opening time for this World Heritage Site. Primarily to beat the heat but also the crowds and the touts.

It was a good move.

By the time we left it was hot and crowded.

Chichén Itzá was one of the largest and most culturally diverse of the Mayan cities, spanning a period between 800 and 1,200 AD.

It also has a great architectural variation, due to the span of time.

By far the most spectacular structure is El Castillo. This pyramid is primarily a 25 m high Mayan calendar of beautiful proportions.

The Mayans were a brutal race with human sacrifice their main form of entertainment.

The other site that intrigued me was Gran Juego de Pelota or the Great Ball Court. This is the largest ball court in Mexico and the place where the ‘big games’ were held.

A bit like the MCG.

The difference here is that the games often featured human sacrifice, usually the captain of the defeated side.

This would have been a real incentive not to lose.

The Ballgame in Mesoamerica dates back as far as 1,400BC. The ball was made of solid rubber and could weight up to 4kg. There were many variations to the rules but the players struck the ball with their hips, chests and arms and the objective was to keep it in the air.

The stone ball court and circular goal was a later addition.

After a number of hours wandering around the ruins in the heat we returned to our hotel.

We sat out in the rather pleasant garden, next to the pool, and enjoyed the shade of the mango trees. This proved to be rather dangerous, as the mangos would occasionally fall.

It was Easter and Mexico moved their clocks forward for Summer Time. This is the third time change we have had in the Yucatán Peninsula. The Cancún area operates on Central American time while the rest of Mexico has at least three other time zones.


This is the capital city of the state of Yucatán.

Approximately 60% of the population are of Mayan origins.

This is evident, not only in the people but in the craft and street performers. This is despite the fact that the Spaniards tried their darnedest to wipe them out.

We checked in to our hotel early in the afternoon and decided to head to the closest beach, Progreso, about 30 km north.

Mérida was very quiet, which is understandable, considering it was a Sunday. When we reached Progreso we realised why – they were all there, on the beach.

Our hotel in Mérida was in total contrast the one we had just left in Piste.

The Hotel Chichén Itzá, in Piste, was set in gardens with a pool and full of families. While the Gran Hotel in Mérida was more like a colonial museum. Built around a large internal court yard, there were three floors of timber, columns and tiled floors, all full of antique furniture.

It’s full name is El Legendario Gran Hotel. Built in 1901, I think it’s halcyon days were some years back.

Despite being a little frayed around the edges the hotel’s location couldn’t be faulted, being right on Calle 60 in the heart of the old city and facing the Parque de la Madre.

We drove a little way out of town to El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya de Mèrida. The museum building is a new complex, only completed in 2012, with contemporary architecture and state-of-the-art facilities.

The first part of the exhibition was about the Chicxulub crater, found in the Yucatán Peninsula. It is believed to be caused by the meteorite that resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs during the Cretaceous Period.

The rest of the museum was dedicated to a celebration of the Mayans.

More than 3,000 years old the Mayan culture is still alive, if not a little changed by history. And with nearly six million Mayans in Mexico I think it will continue to survive.

Plaza Grande is the heart of Mérida with the the Mérida Cathedral, Catedral de San Ildefonso, dominating one end. Built between 1561 and 1598, with stone from a Mayan temple, it has an austere facade and daunting interior.

The public buildings around the Plaza Grande are like a living museum. They have a been restored and are now open to the public, for free.

We went to take the double-decker, Hop-on Hop-off bus that’s based in the square, but they didn’t have an English guide. So we walked a few blocks to Parque Santa Lucia and hopped on a bus that did.

This was in a converted 1972 Dodge, with open sides, slatted timber seats and the original shock absorbers.

The tour was excellent, if not a little hard on the backside.

Palacio de Gobierno is another of the free public buildings. It has a series of giant murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco (1918-2013), depicting the emancipation of the Mayan people.

The Mayan legacy and their integration into modern Mexican society is a constant theme that is everywhere in Mérida. They are a happy people and we were being constantly approached on the street. Yes, they wanted to sell their wares but they were equally interested in us and where we came from. They also go to great pains to tell their story.

The women, especially the older ones, still wear the traditional dress. This is white with colourful embroidery. The men wear western clothes, with many opting for the baseball cap rather than the Jipi or Panama hat, made from a palm-like fibre.

In contrast to the history of Mérida we took a day trip to Celestún to see the flamingos.

The town of Celestún, and the adjoining 600 square km, Parque Natural del Flamenco Mexicano, is west of Mérida.

The ecosystem is unique with salt water from the Gulf of Mexico and fresh water from the estuary.

There is an abundance of wildlife there, especially birds.

As the park’s name suggests, there were plenty of flamingos.

On the way to Celestún we stopped at the small town of Umán. They have a daily fruit, veg and meat market, complete with a resident DJ.

The local church, San Francisco de Assís is just over the road from the market. This, like so many others, was probably built over an existing Mayan temple. It was common practice to use the old materials as the basis for the new structure.

It’s a ancient strategy of newer regimes, wanting to exert influence and power over older cultures.

Our driver and guide was Mayan and he gave us a good insight into Mayan life.

Hammocks are sold on the streets by many vendors but we learnt that they are the preferred mode of sleeping for the Mayans.

The Ceiba tree, part of the kapok family, is known by the Mayans as the Tree of Life. The tree figures an important part in the mythologies of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures.

Romance is an important part of the Mayan culture. This can be seen in their art, music, festivals and even Mérida’s street furniture.

‘Love chairs’ are dotted around public places, especially the parks.

On our last afternoon we just wandered around the old town and did some people watching and a little bit of sightseeing.

One was the Casa de Cultura Banamex Museo Casa Montejo.

This is a restored and decorated house of the Montejo family and another free activity, in the main square of Mérida. Within the house was also an exhibition of contemporary Mayan pottery, mixed with 14th century classical works.

The Banamex bank are sponsors. They are very good corporate citizens and support art and culture throughout Mexico. We had seen a similar exhibition in Mexico City.

There is also their commercial side with a gift shop and ATM on site.

We spent five night in Mérida, which wasn’t hard to do.

Life there is easy going and relaxing – we also needed time to do some forward planning.

You can see Guanajuato from above and below.
(March 2015)

Saturday, May 30th, 2015


It was a 5 hour 20 minute journey to Guanajuato, from Mexico City, on the ETN. This is one of the luxury coach services that operate throughout Mexico.

Air conditioned with reclining seats and a personalised audio and video system for each passenger.

This offers you more room and comfort than most airlines, if not a little slower.

Guanajuato was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988.

It has built its fame and fortune on mining, an industry that was well developed before the Spaniards found gold there in 1540.

In the 18th century it was one of the richest cities in the world and a great source of wealth for the Spanish crown.

The city is built in a mountainous area with coloured houses climbing up the hill from the old colonial area.

We arrived just in time for the Baile de las Flores or Dance of the Flowers. This festivals is held just prior to Easter and appears to be an excuse for the locals to let off steam. The streets around the historical centre, Jardín de la Unión, were crowded with family groups, teenagers and mariachi bands.

The next day we visited the Mummies of Guanajuato. The museum houses a number of naturally mummified bodies that were buried following a cholera outbreak around Guanajuato in 1833. There are also some more recently discovered bodies on display.

It’s a gruesome display which is made even more bizarre by the broken mirrors in every room.

Because of the steep terrain surrounding Guanajuato, flooding has always been a problem. In 1760 and 1780 floods nearly destroyed the city and as a result a series of tunnels and ditches were built. Today they have been converted into roads and footpaths, through which you can traverse the city like a subterranean mole.

That afternoon we returned to Jardín de la Unión and it was almost as crowded as the previous evening.

However there weren’t nearly as many mariachi bands – they must have been resting up for their night time performances.

We went to the tourist office just next to the gardens. Surprisingly the woman in the booth only spoke Spanish. This was rather strange considering that Guanajuato is one of the most popular destinations in Mexico, if not the world.

The lack of English was a theme that we continued to find in Guanajuato.

Our limited Spanish was put to the test.

Perched high above the city is a 28 metre tall statue of a local hero, Juan José de los Reyes Martínez Amaro (1782–1863) also known as El Píplia. On September 28, 1810 this brave miner strapped a long, flat stone to his back, to shield him from the Spanish muskets, and proceeded to burn down the door of the grain store in Guanajuato. This was at the very start of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain.

We took the funicular up to see El Píplia and walked down. The view from the top gives you a wonderful appreciation of the city layout and major attractions.

Don Quijote seems to be the unofficial patron saint of Guanajuato, as there are statues and memorials to him everywhere. This probably has something to do with the Cervantino Festival, held every October and named after the author, Miguel Cervantes.

In the evening we walked back into the main square to find some dinner. On the way we discovered a exhibition of local products, all displaying the Guanajuato GTO logo. This is an initiative to promote and sell quality good produced in the region.

Through the hotel, and at their suggestion, we had booked a day trip to San Miguel de Allende and Dolores Hidalgo.

The day started with a real kerfuffle.

We had been promised, on two occasions, that there would be an English speaking guide on the tour.

Once our guide started talking, he didn’t draw breath for ten minutes – all the time in Spanish.

It was then that we realised there was no English speaking guide.

After our pleading and a lot of debate between the staff and a frantic phone call, they found a guide to accompany us. This was going to be a long day visiting a number of different places and we didn’t want to spend it all in a communication black hole.

Jaimi turned up to be our guide and after some negotiations and the payment of an extra fee, we were on our way.

There were eleven ‘tourists’ and four staff all crammed into a Ford E350 Van. This of course included our personal guide, who sat in the back seat with us.

We very soon discovered that we were on a Mexican pilgrimage, visiting the places and remembering the people that the locals hold dear to their hearts. It’s no wonder there was no English guide.

The tour was mixed with liberal doses of ‘opportunities to buy’

Our first stop to shop was a silver jewelry showroom, where our hands stayed firmly in our pockets. Then it was on to the marmalade factory, Conservas Santa Rosa. Here they made all sorts of preserves even one from cactus.

Finally it was time for sight seeing.

José Alfredo Jimínez 1926-1973 was a very popular singer-songwriter who changed the Ranchera genre (traditional Mexican music). There is a grandiose memorial dedicated in his honour at the Dolores Hidalgo Cemetery.

Alfredo had no formal training, yet he wrote over 1,000 songs, many of which became hits and were covered by renowned artists, world wide.

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was the extraordinary priest who started the revolution, against Spanish domination, in 1810 at Dolores Hidalgo.

He was not only amazing for the way he fought for the rights of the indigenous population but for the way he openly flaunted the Catholic Church. Part of the museum, that’s dedicated to him, proudly displays his family tree. He was a father to his flock in more ways than one, having dalliances with at least two different women and creating a lineage that still survives today.

Next was the Jimínez Museum, that traced the rise to fame of the other of Dolores Hidalgo’s favourite sons.

We were bouncing between history and pop culture.

We then had yet another opportunity to buy, at a Lungar Ceramic Showroom, before driving to San Miguel de Allende.

This was our lunch break, at 4pm.

This is a Spanish colonial town and a UNESCO site. It’s also home to a large number North American and European retirees who have had the effect of inflating the property and restaurant prices.

It it however is a delightful town with yet another charming central square surrounded by classic post Columbian architecture.

Jaimi was prolific with Facebook and had images and videos up before the tour had ended. As he never ‘friended’ me I have no idea what he posted.

As we wandered around on our last morning I got the feeling that Guanajuato is more a tourist destination for Mexicans rather than broader travelling community.

That made it even more interesting.

Mexico City, monumental, statuesque and huge.
(March 2015)

Friday, May 29th, 2015


Paseo de la Reforma is the main boulevard of Mexico City. It was designed by Ferdinand von Rosensweig in the 1860s and modeled on the grand boulevards of Europe.

There are dozens of small statues of famous Mexicans, lining the Reforma, that’s apart from the major ones that are at every intersection.

La Reforma was originally full of stately homes but most of these have now been replaced by chrome and glass office towers.

There is a Starbucks on every corner and shoeshine stands every 50m. The Starbucks are particularly good for a cheap breakfast and free WiFi.

Unfortunately their coffee isn’t that great.

One Saturday a month and every Sunday La Reforma is turned over to the people. Our hotel was situated in a central position on this expansive boulevard, so this gave us great walking opportunities.

On our first afternoon we took the Hop-on Hop-off bus around the city. We were told that our ticket, a tag around our wrist, was valid for 24 hours, but when we turned up the next morning, that wasn’t the case.

This was Sunday so we walked, with what seemed like the rest of Mexico City, in a south westerly direction, passing many of the famous monuments along the way.

The Angel of Independence or El Ángel was built in 1910 to commemorate the centennial of Mexico’s War of Independence and is also a mausoleum for their most famous heroes. A couple of blocks away is the monument to Cuauhtémoc, the last of the Aztecs. He was the Mexica ruler of Teotihuacán from 1520 to 1521 and was executed in Honduras by Cortés in 1525.

Another interesting monument is of The Northern Star Shooter or Diana the Huntress as she has become know. As part of a city beautification program in 1942, the statue was designed by the architect Vicente Mendiola and sculpted by Juan Olaguíbel.

The body of Diana leaves nothing to the imagination and there was a movement that felt she was just too provocative. Juan Olaguíbel was forced to weld bronze undies on, to hide her modesty. However he was forward thinking enough to only weld them in three spots, making them very easy to remove, when tastes became more liberal.

In the afternoon we spent a very pleasant few hours at the Anthropological Museum. This is probably one of the best museums I have ever visited. Beautiful wood carvings are used to demonstrate the change in human forms over the centuries and detailed dioramas add to the story.

Both archaeological and anthropological artifacts from the pre-Columbian heritage of Mexico are featured.

Designed in 1964 by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Jorge Campuzano and Rafael Mijares, it’s built as a large open square. The layout was intuitive with each area leading to the next in a seamless way. The interior blended with the garden to give the viewer an extra historical dimension.

The Teotihuacán exhibition gave us an insight into what we were going to visit later in our stay.

As with many cultures, Mexico City was built on the ruins of an older civilisation. The museum was once a Mexica or Aztec temple site.

We walked back to the hotel and Paseo de la Reforma was back to its congested self -the city was preparing for the start of a new week.

The next morning, again following the Paseo de la Reforma, we wended our way into the central part of Mexico City, passing yet more monuments. The Christopher Columbus Monument, erected in 1876, with Colón pointing the way, yet again. The Horse’s Head by Sebastian in front of the Torre del Caballito and the Triumphal Arch or Monument to the Revolution.

We wandered through the Juárez Gardens to the Benito Juárez Monument and then on to the Church of San Francisco.

Palacio de Bellas Artes was designed in 1904 but only completed in 1934 after years of stop start construction. This is a focal point in Mexico City, situated on the Alameda Central Park and overshadowed by the Torre Latinoamericana or Latin-American Tower. Built in 1956 it was the first skyscraper to be built on a major seismic fault line. It survived the devastating magnitude 8.0 Mexico City earthquake of 1985.

La Zócalo or Plaza Mayor is in the heart of the historic centre of Mexico City. La Zócalo which means plinth, was the main ceremonial center in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. It has been the heart of the city for over 700 years and is close to the place that the Aztecs regarded as the centre of the universe.

It’s also known as Constitution Square, but this name is  rarely used.

Close by is the Palace of Culture housing the Banco Nacional de México Exhibition. Which features a brief history of art since the 18th Century.

The ‘Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven’ (Try saying that after a few Coronas) is the largest cathedral in the Americas and again situated on the site of a former Aztec sacred site. It was built in sections from 1573 to 1813.

The twenty-fourth James Bond film, Spectre, was being shot in Mexico City. So, much to the dismay of some of the locals, La Zócalo was closed. There was also a constant beat of helicopter blades overhead, as some of the sequences were being shot.

I never did see Daniel Craig.

There are 24 million people and 15 million vehicles in Greater Mexico City. It’s a mega city with a severe pollution problem, however much has been and is being done to reduce the carbon monoxide levels.

Many of the houses are painted in bright colours. This isn’t so much for aesthetics but to indicate to the local authorities that the house has been built legally and taxes have been paid. Apparently there is a real problem with people building houses wherever they find a spare block – even if they don’t own it.

We decided to take an organised tour to Teotihuacán, a Pre-Columbian city that’s about 48km from Mexico City.

Firstly we went to Plaza de les Tres Culturas, an archeological site very near the centre of this city. This was discovered when excavating for the Metro in 1966 for the Olympic Games.

Santiago de Tlatelolco is the Catholic Church that is built over the site with stone from the Aztec ruins between 1604 and 1610.

From the city we droves for forty minutes out to Teotihuacán.

Then we had an ‘opportunity to buy’ that was disguised as an ‘open bar’ or opportunity to try the local tequila.

This was immediately followed by a lunch break.

By the time we had finished these pre-sightseeing diversions the clouds had rolled in and the good light was gone.

We climbed the Temple of the Moon first, then walked along the Road of the Dead to the Temple of the Sun.

The Moon Temple was 40m high and the Sun was 65m.

Strangely the Sun was easier to climb than the Moon.

From the the top of the Sun Temple we could see thunderstorms over Mexico City.

It was then back to the car park, but the bus was 25 minutes late in returning to collect is. Fortunately the rain started just after it arrived.

Our last stop for the day was to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I have mentioned before this is a brilliant piece of 16th Century marketing and spin by the Spanish clergy.

In 1531 a Mexica native, Juan Diego, has a vision of the Virgin Mary, who asks him to build a church on the site where he was standing. Juan goes to the archbishop of Mexico City and tells him what has transpired. The archbishop wants more proof so he asks him to go back and ask ‘the lady’ for a miracle to prove her bona fides.

The resulting miracle is the image of the Virgin of Guadelupe on Juan’s tilma or cloak which now hangs in the basilica.

The tilma is Mexico’s most popular cultural symbol and the basilica is one of the most visited sacred sites in the world.

Call me cynical but what a clever way to involve the Aztecs Indians in the new faith of the Spanish, just 12 years after Hernán Cortés conquered them.

Our final day was devoted to two of Mexico’s most famous artists, Freda Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who were also married on several occasions.

Our first stop was the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. This houses the mural, ‘Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central’ or Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda Central, which was commissioned for the Hotel del Prado in 1947. The hotel was destroyed by the earthquake of 1985, but the mural survived.

We then went to the Frida Kahlo Museum or La Casa Azul. This is, as the name suggests, more of a museum than an exhibition of her work. There are many personal items like clothing and a collection of Indian artifacts that are all set in a beautiful walled garden.

Frida Kahlo is revered in Mexico City and her work is seen everywhere, especially on souvenirs.

I would have liked to have seen more of her work, that wasn’t on ash trays, tea towels or T-shirts.

In Sayulita there’s Mexicans, surfers,
pelicans and dogs. (March 2015)

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015


We flew into Puerto Vallarta from Mexico City in the afternoon and were met by Ev and Steph.

At the airport we hired a car and drove the 25 km north to Sayulita, a small beach resort. It’s a hectic place full of Mexicans, Gringos (mainly from the US) and dogs. The place is also crowded with bars, restaurants and souvenir shops.

In the late in the afternoon, once we settled into our AirBnB, we went for a walk around the town.

Our bungalow was next to the Arroyo, a small river that runs down to the beach. The beach was as crowded as the town, again with bars, restaurants and dogs.

There is a reasonable beach break so the surfing and stand up paddle boarding culture is very strong in the area.

There was a stream of surfers, with their boards, continually filing past our house.

The area is situated on the Bay of Banderas, which in 1530 was named by Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán. This was because the local natives, the semi-nomadic Cuyuteco people, carried brightly coloured banners into battle.

The next day we drove further up the coast to San Francisco, a smaller seaside town. There were pelicans diving for fish along the shoreline. These are not the large white ones we have in Australia but much smaller and predominately brown and white.

We walked around town where there were lots of hippies and old Volkswagens.

This was a Mexican Ninbin or Byron Bay.

The image of Our lady of Guadalupe, the Mexican Virgin, is featured in the shopping street and on private houses. The story behind the miracles that created the legend of the native American, Juan Diego in 1531, is a curious one. It was instrumental in the conversion to Catholicism of the native Americans. It was also a rallying point for Mexicans against the rule of Spain in the 19th century.

Los de Marcos is a little further north and even quieter. Again the pelicans were there.

We had the hire car so went in search of a secluded beach. We found it at Litibu, which is south of Sayulita. It’s not really a town at all but few houses and some resort style accommodation. We spent a pleasant afternoon on the beach. Evan and I took some snaps while Thea and Steph just relaxed.

We then drove even further south to Punta de Mita for lunch. This is a series of beach side restaurants with more touts per square meter than I have ever seen.

They weren’t annoying but there was a constant stream coming through the restaurant. They were selling jewelry, bags, hats and even food. Which I felt was rather strange in a restaurant.

On our last day we took a trip to the Island of Las Marietas, a nature reserve just off the coast from Punta de Mita.

This the home and breeding ground of the endangered Blue-footed Booby. It’s also a UNESCO protected area so there was no walking around.

Our excursion of snorkelling and whale watching was on a small fibre glass boat with five others, all American women. Unfortunately the whale watching season was almost over so there were only a few Humpbacks around.

This is the breeding season for the whales so there were several cows with their calfs.

Our snorkelling was limited by the floatations device we were forced to wear.

We have been snorkelling in a number of places around the world and this was the most strictly controlled I have ever come across.

The fish were scarce but there was a good variety.

We are spoilt having the Great Barrier Reef on our doorstep.

What a fuck up. or When travelling goes
horribly wrong. (March 2015)

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Now I am not normally superstitious, but our problems did start on Friday the 13th of March, 2015.

On our last full day in Cuba we had to move from our Casa Particular to a hotel because our agent hadn’t made the correct booking and had us leaving a day earlier than we should have.

Then, the next day, the taxi we had pre-booked to take us to the airport didn’t turn up and we had to get another one.

At the airport the time came and went for our Air Cubana flight from Santiago de Cuba to Havana. This turned into a 6 hour delay, causing us to miss our connecting flight to Mexico City.

When we finally boarded we found that the call button on the Air Cubana flight was just there for show, and didn’t actually work – I guess that summed up customer service on Air Cubana.

Getting to Mexico was crucial, as we had accommodation booked there for two nights and were then due to fly to Puerto Vallarta, on the coast, to meet Ev and Steph.

Once we realised our dilemma, we started to make enquiries as to how to sort it out. We were sent from office to office, but no one seemed to want to help.

Finally we tracked down the Air Cubana supervisor, who said he would sort it all out, but this was a total lie.

He then clocked off, confidently telling us that he had organised everything with the new supervisor. She had no idea what to do and then sent us to a desk, one that we had already visited, and again they couldn’t help.

The biggest issue we were facing was that our connecting flight to Mexico wasn’t with Air Cubana but with Aero Mexico and the Air Cubana staff didn’t see it as their problem.

Everything was compounded by the fact that another Air Cubana flight, this one to Paris, was cancelled. It was a Jumbo and full of very angry French tourists.

Clearly a couple of more laid-back Aussies could wait.

We had been up since 5am and apart from the seventy minute flight from Santiago de Cuba had been hanging around at airports – it was now 9pm.

At this point all we wanted to do was leave Cuba ASAP.

At about 10pm we were finally helped out by an Air Cubana staff member who, realising we were desperate, took us to the office of CopaAirlines.

There we discovered that the next morning there was a flight to Panama with a connecting one, an hour later, to Mexico City.

We tried to book it then but were told that couldn’t be done until 4am the next morning, as they were shutting up for the night.

We had no choice but to stay at the airport as it was now 11pm.

Still carting our luggage around we found some vacant seats and tried to get a few hours sleep.

Without anyone around to keep the airport warm the air conditioning reduced the temperature down into the low teens and we were forced to pull jumpers and coats from our packs.

At 4am we went off to buy our tickets. Earlier we had been told we could pay by Visa but were then told that we now needed cash.

This meant finding an ATM that would, firstly, accept our cards and secondly, cough up enough money to buy the tickets – tickets that we so desperately needed.

By 5:20am we had the tickets and had to rush to get the plane as the gates were closing at 5:30.

What a nightmare 24 hours.

There was something positive that came out of this experience – Copa Airlines. They are based in Panama and have good aircraft, great service and wonderful, friendly staff.