One of my life time ambitions is to be kidnapped by pirates. I travel the World looking all vulnerable and helpless hoping that one day a rugged pirate and his cheeky band of misfits will capture me. One day. My family have been briefed that under no circumstance are they to pay my ransom. As much as they will of course miss me, I will be better off with the pirates. I will play the helpless damsel in distress for a while, begging to be released and mock fainting. Then before you know it …. BOOM … I am the captain of the ship and the most feared pirate who ever lived. Some people are born to be natural leaders, some of us are destined to be pirates.
I have been spending a lot of time on boats recently and as of yet absolutely no kidnapping has taken place. There has not even been the whiff of piracy in the air. Hanging about boats looking like I wouldn’t put up a fight had so far proven fruitless. It was time to take matters into my own hands. If the pirates were not going to come for me, I would go and find them.
As luck may have it, Isla Mujeres has its very own Pirate’s House. I went for a visit hoping he would be between pillaging and was at home that day. Unfortunately, he wasn’t. Good thing really as I had temporarily forgot my manners and had shown up empty handed. Not even a box of biscuits or a bedazzled eye patch for my host. The horror.
This was not my first time at the Pirate’s House. On my first day on Isla I tried to visit but it was closed. Finally, it had reopened. I had had a lot of time to imagine The Pirate’s House. In my mind it was a mansion full of treasures from all around the World, stag heads on the wall, antique maps covering an oak desk, half drunk bottles of dark rum and skeletons chained up in the basement. Acres of manicured gardens surround the house, with fragrant roses waiting to be picked.
There was none of these things. I had clearly set my expectations too high. The pirate’s house in Isla is essentially a very small empty concrete bungalow. Clearly this pirate had not had much success in the treasure department. There were no chests of cascading jewels to be found. On the ground floor there are a few extremely faded photographs of big fish and unreadable blurbs in Spanish. Upstairs is much of the same but with death-defying floorboards. They looked so unsafe I slid around the room pressing my whole body up against the walls convinced I was going to crash through to the floor below.
I don’t want to hate on the pirate’s house too much. He does after all have cannons. Let me start by saying that it only costs 20 pesos to get in. For that you get a lime green pirate wristband which I wore for 3 days like a proud tourist. I got my 20 pesos worth just from that snazzy band alone. Despite being damaged by severe flooding I still found the area very picturesque and I got some beautiful pictures. Walking around reminded me of walking in the woods back in Scotland. I clearly have a very vivid imagination, a knowledge of pirates based purely on the Pirate’s of the Caribbean ride at Disney and unrealistic expectations.
I’m not sure why the pirate’s house had been closed. As far as I could tell nothing had been renovated or fixed up in at least 30 years. When you enter the gates you are greeted with a lot of overgrown trees. Nestled amongst them is a very large seemingly empty cage. It was creepy, giving the area a somewhat circus freak-show feel. Most of the land is flooded. Although the landscaping is clearly not at its best seeing the arches and benches submerged under water made for some beautiful photographs. There were tombs to satisfy my gothic urges. Although I did not see the crocodiles I was warned about on my last visit, I did see my first ever snake on the island. Run away! It was just a little thing, not very ferocious, it may have been a large worm, enough for me to let out a girly screech and run the opposite way.
I’m not a fan of snakes but I would take a room of them over a creepy wax work any day. At the pirate house there is a mock traditional Mayan house, complete with some very angry looking Mayan waxworks. There were no signs or information stating why they were there. Interestingly, I first knew the story of Hacienda Mundaca as a beautiful love story between an esteemed pirate and a local girl. However, the other story is not quiet as romantic, the pirate in question was essentially a despised Mayan slave dealer. Perhaps that is what the wax works signified, perhaps the area previously belonged to the Mayans. I don’t know because there was no signage or people to tell me. All I know is I stayed long enough to stare into each wax work’s eyes to make sure they were not real, take a couple of quick pictures and walk away quickly without once turning my back on anybody. Shudder. If you turn your back on a waxwork they will come to life and the wax will melt off their faces in a terrifying zombie manner. FACT.
I managed to make my stay at the pirate house last about an hour. That is probably 50 minutes longer than the average visitor will stay. The island at the moment is in peak season and is rammed with tourists. During my time at the pirate’s house I counted a grand total of 5 people. The pirate’s house needs a bit of money and a lot of love. What let the place down for me was a complete lack of information. It would take a couple of hours for someone to print out some informative labels, in Spanish and English, laminate them and stick them up in and around the house alongside some corresponding photographs. The 100 pesos from the visitors there the day I was would cover the cost of that.
People love pirates, most probably not to my can’t-sleep-at-night-I-love-them-so-much level, push the pirate angle. Put the price up, have a pirate tour guide, an area for kids to dress up, souvenirs and snacks for sale. Make it a location for kid’s birthday parties. At night light a bonfire, tell scary stories and sell it as a Pirate Horror Night. Isla Mujeres has a fascinating history that tourists do not have an opportunity to find out about. The Pirate House could be a one stop hub for culture and history. Almost every tourist rents a golf-cart on the island and they are desperate for places to drive too. Parents want somewhere to take their kids when the beach is too hot. The regulars here would love something new to go and see. With a bit of attention the pirate house could be a must see for every tourist visiting the island. Advertise it well enough and people will take the ferry from Cancun just to see it. Trust me, if I had the money, I would do it myself me hearties.
As much as I loved my little holiday to Belize, it felt so good to get back to Island Life. In no time I had my bikini back on and was showing off my sexy insect bites on the beach. It is not lost on me how ridiculously lucky I am to be enjoying the beach not only in December but all year round. I love the sun so much, I don’t think I could survive a cold winter ever again. I’ve even got …. a tan! After years of incessant teasing from my overseas colleagues I am no longer snowman white. I have been tanning like it is my job. A job I will more than likely quit when I look 59 on my next birthday …
After being in Mexico for more than a year I have done most things I want to in the local area. One thing still on my list was to swam with sailfish. Like whale sharks, they only visit the area at certain times of the year and I had been reading on them in anticipation of their arrival. Sailfish are amongst the fastest fish in the ocean and are thus named due to their sail like dorsal fins. They come to the area around Isla Mujeres in pursuit of balls made up of thousands of sardines. The sail fish work as a predatory team to pierce through these balls. The sardines try and dance away out of the sailfishes waiting mouths. It is this spectacle that draws people from all around the world. The sail fish were due to arrive around the 24th of December. Santa was bringing them!
I was given the chance early in the season to go on a sailfish spotting expedition. I of course jumped at the chance to be one of the first people to see the sailfish that year. The boats don’t know exactly where the sailfish are going to be. They know the routes that they usually take and where they have been spotted in the past. The boats look for birds flying over head. Spot the birds, hanging about for leftover sardines and the sailfish are likely to be close by. Boats communicate by radio, letting each other know about potential sightings. Finding the sailfish is half the fun. Nothing is guaranteed, and that is what makes it such an adventure.
I set off with the crew and one other very eager tourist from Japan. There are a lot of Japanese people on Isla at the moment which I love! I find Japanese people to be so polite and respectful. It has been great for me to remember my days living in Japan and practice my (now non-existent) Japanese skills. I can only remember a few words but it is enough to get lots of appreciative cooing and giggles. I am kawaii again. All the Japanese tourists I have come across have the most state of the art diving equipment I have ever seen. It looks like something NASA would use on a mission to Mars. We set off early in the morning in our little boat on the hunt. Although the weather was pretty nice at the start of the day, the sea was very rough. Luckily I was well prepared and had taken travel sickness tablets. While we sailed everyone kept their eyes peeled for sail fish. Well … everyone but me. I didn’t tell anyone at the time but I was actually looking for mermaids. While everyone was keeping an eye out for birds I was perching on the side of the boat singing Part of Your World and combing my hair. That day, I did not see any mermaids. We had been sailing for a few hours without seeing much when one of the crew pointed out a dolphin to me way in the distance. Then we spotted another and another and another. A moment later a little family of dolphins were playing right next to our boat. So cute and free. I felt so lucky to have seen those dolphins in the wild especially as we were not even looking for them.
The weather took a turn for the worse and as a storm approached we thought it best to head back. Alas, we did not see any sailfish that day. I didn’t mind though, I was just so happy to have seen the dolphins and had a day out on the boat. Now I have an excuse to go again another time later on in the season and hopefully get to snorkel with these elusive sail fish.
It was around this time that I watched two much talked about documentaries, Blackfish and The Cove. Since I have been in Mexico I have been swimming with dolphins three times, and loved it. I think dolphins are the most endearing charismatic creatures and anyone who has been swimming with them will agree that it is a magical experience. I always thought keeping dolphins in pools is not right. My dad told me that at the age of 6 on a visit to Seaworld I told him that it was wrong to keep animals like that and insisted I wouldn’t be back. As much as I was assured that the dolphins in Mexico are well looked afters, my dolphin swims as wonderful as they were left a bad taste in my mouth. Especially the last one. Firstly, I have to say that I had an amazing time that day. My friend and I got to swim alone with dolphins for a whole day. It was the sort of experience that people can only dream about, something that money can not buy. I love her and I love her for taking me, but I know that she will agree with what I say here. We asked one trainer where the park had got a pair of dolphins from. He told us they were rescued from somewhere near Australia. They were each blind in one eye and would not have survived in the wild. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent bringing them to Mexico where they could be cared for for the rest of their lives. This made us feel all warm and fuzzy about our new friends and their lucky escape from certain death. I asked a different trainer where another dolphin was from and we were told he was captured from the wild. Simple as that. That statement put a dampener on the whole day for both of us. It is easy to convince yourself that all the dolphins were saved from injury in the wild or bred in the park through some revolutionary conservation project, but the reality is, they were probably all just captured from the wild. Ripped apart from their families and forced to spend the rest of their lives in miserable little swimming pools performing tricks for food. Just because the dolphins look happy, doesn’t mean that they are.
Blackfish is distressing to watch but I would advise anyone tempted to watch whales or dolphins perform to watch it. It tells the story of Tilikum, an orca whale from Seaworld who was captured from the wild. It is heart breaking watching the majestic creature’s torturous life. When the film talks about the pain the whales feel when they are separated from their offspring it broke me. I emphasised a lot with the trainers. It is easy to be convinced with facts and figures that the animals are better off in captivity, especially when there are individuals devoting their life to caring for them. The Cove is about a hidden place in Japan were dolphins are either selected for water parks or slaughtered for their meat. It took me a long time to watch The Cove and I have to admit that I covered my eyes for the most distressing parts. It is difficult to watch because it is an awful subject. The story is told by the trainer of Flipper. He holds himself in part responsible for the phenomenon of dolphins as performers and has spent most of his life trying to free dolphins back into the wild. In the wild dolphins travel for miles every day in massive groups. Being enclosed in a little tank causes the dolphins to feel so much distress that they have been known to put themselves out of their misery and commit suicide. Hearing that makes me feel so guilty for all the times I visited Seaworld and swam with dolphins. I can’t claim to be ignorant anymore and ignore what I know is morally wrong. I don’t want to be part of the problem anymore. Seeing those beautiful dolphins in the wild made me more happy than seeing a thousand dolphins in captivity.
I organised something very special for my last night in Belize, an overnight stay at the Belize City Zoo!
I love animals and I love adventure. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I could not turn down.
When my tiny little plane touched down in Belize City I was taken aback. All I had seen of Belize was beautiful San Pedro and in comparison Belize City seemed very undeveloped. I took a taxi to the chaotic bus station. I was already apprehensive about taking the bus as it was a Sunday and I knew the service wouldn’t be regular. After a lot of negotiating, from $150 to $30, I took a taxi from the bus station to the zoo. The highway was pretty much a dirt road and my taxi wheezed the whole way down it. After 5 minutes the taxi driver pointed out the local prison. A few minutes later, he showed me a strip club. That was my guided tour of Belize City.
I was pretty surprised when me and my taxi made it to the Belize Zoo Lodge. The lodge is made up of lodge dwellings nestled away in the jungle, complete with a crocodile infested lake and bird watching platform. The place is beautiful. Gorgeous trees and birds everywhere. No people, no cars, no noise. My room was incredible, the nicest in the whole place. It looked like a big tree house with a bathroom, kitchen, wrap around balcony, hammock. It was gorgeous. I booked on to the night-time tour of the zoo so I had the whole day to enjoy the lodge. Unfortunately I was told that there had been some muggings around the area that week it was not safe for me to walk around. This was disappointing news. I had heard so much about Belize City being dangerous perhaps I was naïve to think that I would be safe in the jungle.
One thing I wasn’t safe from was the bugs. In general, I do not get bitten by insects. Even in the most infested area I will usually walk away without a bite. All that changed at the lodge. Within 5 minutes of arriving my legs were covered in insect bites. COVERED. The next day I looked like I had a contagious disease. For TWO weeks after strangers would stop me in the supermarket to ask me questions about my hideous insect bites. I learnt my lesson quickly and as soon as I checked into my room I got completely covered up, even though it was sweltering hot, and used up a can of insect repellant in my room. It was too late for my poor legs, but I didn’t get any other bites.
The Belize Zoo is very special. It rescues animals and only takes in animals that could not survive in the wild. No animals are captured from the wild. It is an educational facility first and foremost with the aim of teaching people how to protect the magnificent creatures of Belize. To visit the zoo at night-time and have it open just for my group of 8 was an honour. Inside really was pitch black and without torches you could not see one step in front of you. As many of the animals at the zoo are nocturnal they are more likely to be alert and ready for interaction at night-time. When we arrived we waited for the rest of our group in the waiting area … also known as the snake room. I am not a big fan of snakes. I tried to not look at the 3 beasts behind the glass and busied myself reading all about the zoo. I looked around and our guide was holding a massive python. “Oh my God…. did that come from outside?” I screeched. When the guide said that it had I started heading back the way I came in. He laughed and told me he had actually just got it out of his enclosure. I did not laugh back. While he let the snake cuddle all over his body, I pinned myself to a wall on the opposite side of the room.
The tour of the zoo alone was so worth the journey to Belize. We seen crocodiles, tapirs, monkeys, eagles, ocelots. All were out playing and seemed to be waiting for us to come and visit them. Our guide hand fed the animals as we went from enclosure to enclosure. The animals were not shy about coming out and letting us see them. The best bit was seeing the big cats. At other zoos I have been to the cats will sit far away from the visitors and you are lucky if you even get a glimpse of one. Not only did we get to see jaguars close up and watch them feed, we actually had the chance to touch their paws. Who in the World can say that? What was most important to me is how well the animals are cared for. The zoo is concerned with the well being of each and every animal. Our guide had so much passion and love for the animals it was beautiful to see. Belize Zoo may be small, but I can happily say it is the best I have ever come across in the World.
After my zoo adventure, I went back to my cabin in the trees and slept with the sounds of the animals all around me. The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Belize. It really had been a great trip. Unexpectedly wonderful.
My last day on San Pedro was my favorite day. I went on an adventure with my new friend Joey. We got bikes from our hotel and under my yoga teachers instructions were going Over The Bridge. I didn’t know where the bridge was or what was over it but that was were we were heading for the day. We cycled through town on our snazzy bikes and crossed over the bridge. The other side of the island is so different from San Pedro Town. A few minutes on a bike but it feels like another World. It is even more beautiful and peaceful there.
First stop on our adventure was a photo opportunity at an abandoned cinema followed by lunch in a hotel bar. Outside was a warning sign advising us to show caution as the island was under dispute of ownership. Well fear not. It WAS under dispute, I own it now. Everyone is welcome, clothing is optional.
I had heard around town about a place called the Palapa Bar. We stumbled on it by accident. The Palapa Bar is without a doubt the most beautiful bar in the World. Over looking water so clear that from our stools we could see sting rays and octopus playing below. I drank several kiwi cocktails, which I can tell you from my expert opinion were phenomenal, followed by some chicken nachos. If there is a paradise here on Earth it is the Palapa Bar. So nice in fact I don’t want to tell people about it. I want it to be my little secret so I can live there with the cocktails and sting rays alone forever. Don’t ever go to the Palapa Bar, it is rubbish. Joey and I lounged around loving life. I left wearing some fun beads that I have no recollection of picking up. Free souvenir! We continued our tour of the Other Side of the Island splashing through puddles on our bikes going wherever the dirt road took us. We sat at the end of someones private dock and watched a sting ray in the water below us. In San Pedro the water is so clear you don’t even have to snorkel to see the sea life. A little further on we found another hidden dock overlooking a lagoon and counted crocodiles in the late afternoon sun.
The whole day was really truly perfect. That side of the island is so pretty and peaceful. We barely seen any other people. It is almost undiscovered. It was such a good day that I knew the next morning I was going to be sad to leave San Pedro behind.
In Belize the snorkeling is World Class. One morning the weather was perfection, with bright sunny skies and clear calm waters so I booked a trip to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. It was easily the best snorkeling I have ever done.
I was joined on the boat by a family from Vancouver. To counter any awkwardness of me forcing my way into their family day out I asked if I could be their pretend daughter for the day. They whole heartedly agreed. I was in the family. My new dad was concerned about my upcoming travel plans. He told me that Belize City was too dangerous for a girl on their own. I reminded him that he was just about to send his 8 year old son swimming with sharks. Perhaps now wasn’t the best time for a parental lecture about safety?As if I didn’t know that Belize City had a reputation for being dangerous. Clearly, he didn’t know about me. They were nervous in Belize City that I was coming.
My new family were brand new snorkelers. When the boat stopped at the reef I quickly put my mask on and took a seat at the end of the boat ready to jump in. The family took about an hour to put on their snorkels and fins. The guide, noticing I was raring to go, shouted over at me that if I was ready I could jump in. At least that is what I thought he said. I was under the water before he had even finished his sentence. In Hol Chan Marine Reserve I saw more different kinds of fish in one place than I have ever done before. The visibility was perfect and the colours were so vibrant. That morning I got my money’s worth from my underwater camera. We seen a few nurse sharks, my first time seeing a shark of any kind in the wild. I surprised myself with how calm I was, although I have to admit to freaking out when the one at the top of this post came right for me, his beady little marble eyes staring me down. When the fish started to freak out, I did too. I shouldn’t have been nervous though. Someone had come around and sewed up all the sharks mouths. I have done a lot of snorkeling in Egypt and Mexico but I was blown away by Hol Chan.
Our next stop was Shark Ray Alley. Our guide advised us that as soon as the boat stopped we should get into the water. The sharks know that a new boat means feeding time and they make their way to each boat as soon as they arrive. My adrenaline was pumping and I was raring to go but only dad wanted to come with me. This perhaps had something to do with me humming the theme tune to Jaws during the boat ride there. Not sure why you would book an excursion to swim with sharks and not actually want to swim with sharks but who am I to judge? As far as I was concerned the less people in the water the more sharks for me. When the boat stopped I quickly jumped in the water, and then almost tried to jump back in the boat when I seen the size of the sharks. These things were bloody huge!!! The sharks I had seen at Hol Chan were clearly toddlers. These beasts were obviously well fed and were between 4 and 6 feet. However, never one to let the fear get the best of me I stayed under the water. Although I did keep my distance. It was incredible to watch these massive predators going from boat to boat feasting on fish scraps while underneath sting rays gracefully swooped by.
It was an unforgettable experience. And yes, I am very brave!
I did some good eating in San Pedro. There are a lot of great restaurants to choose from but by far the best meal I had was lobster tacos from a little local place. As with most places I have visited the non-fancy, dubious looking places filled with locals being served by locals always have the best food. These lobster tacos were so delicious. I would contemplate going back to the island just for one more taco. One word that is guaranteed to make me happy is All Day Breakfast! Best first meal of the day was at Estel’s Restaurant on the beach with great views and a breakfast burrito the size of my leg. I am a hummus-maniac and I found some good stuff at Ali Baba’s. The hummus may have been good but the owner was an absolute treat. He said the phrase, “Welcome to Belize. Ali Baba’s One Stop Shop.” at least 50 times during my margarita. I think perhaps he was on something a little stronger than just chick peas. One thing I have to say in my continuing gushing love poem to San Pedro, the service I received everywhere I went was excellent. The people in general were so friendly and welcoming towards me. I met many lovely people over many Belikin beers.
I loved the pretty shabby colonial buildings of downtown San Pedro. I use shabby in a good way, island chic. The downtown area is very picturesque and welcoming. Lots of restaurants, bars, boutiques. I stopped in at the church on my first morning. I may not be religious but I am spiritual. It is important to me to find a quiet place for reflection and to give thanks. It was nice to stroll down town without getting any hassle to buy anything or go inside a bar. As a young woman travelling on my own I felt very safe on San Pedro. Even the drug dealers are friendly! I got offered drugs in San Pedro more in a week than I have done for my whole adult life. I don’t do drugs. Never have, probably never will, but I was offered them so frequently and so casually I almost gave in. “Oh go on then, you have convinced me.” I learnt that when someone says “It’s 3.20″, they are not being a helpful speaking clock, they are subtly offering you weed. I think that is the right time. I can’t remember. The first time someone said it to me I was very confused as it was actually 1.oopm. My friend helpfully explained it to me. The second time I heard it I gave a knowing look and replied, “No, it’s five o clock somewhere”.
I took the opportunity in San Pedro to get back into yoga. I have always loved doing yoga. It is the only way I have found to switch off my busy mind. Every time I do yoga I feel my body getting stronger and more flexible. I went to a great class at Sol Spa. It had been a very long time since I last went to a class. It hurt just to sit down! When I started moving about my body was creaking like the tin man. At the start of the class I couldn’t even touch my toes but an hour later my body was much more responsive. The teacher was wonderful and I left the class feeling very calm and content. I went to a couple more classes at a hotel overlooking the beach opposite Pedro’s where I did hot yoga for the first time. I’m not sure if it was intentionally hot yoga or if the teacher just didn’t like air conditioning. Once I got over the initial desire to faint or vomit, I found the heat made the class challenging but also made my body more flexible. On my second visit I was the only one there so I got a private lesson. I followed this with a cheesy eggy breakfast bagel and a massive ice coffee to counter-act my good work. I love yoga and I am determined to make an effort this year to really get back into it.