I’ve always wanted to visit Mexico and a few months ago, I decided that this was the year I was going to do it. When I started hassling my boyfriend Nick about it, he asked me why I wanted to go and it got me thinking: ‘yeah actually, why do I want to go?’ I couldn’t think of a reason why, it’s just always been somewhere I’ve wanted to visit. Not to see any particular sites or anything because to be brutally honest (and I haven’t admitted this to anyone before writing this) a few months ago, I didn’t even know Chichen Itza existed, let alone the fact that it was one of the seven wonders of the world and was based in Mexico. I could give Karl Pilkington a run for his money. I just wanted to go to Mexico to experience Mexican culture, basically.
So a few weeks ago, off we popped on a flight to Cancun, knowing only that we were going to be living in Mexico for two weeks and had our first three nights booked in a hotel in downtown Cancun. After that, we didn’t know where we going.
Nick and I were a little daunted at first because neither of us are the typical backpacking types – Nick usually goes and sits on a beach in Goa for two weeks every year and apart from my 12-day backpacking trip around Thailand a couple of years ago with a friend who is an experienced backpacker (which gave me a taste for lugging a big bag about on my back), I’ve only done week-long package holidays to Europe before.
After the first full day in Cancun, I started to panic about how we were going to cope for two long weeks – sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it, to be worried about how I was going to get through my holiday? But the source of my panic was the fact that we’d just shelled out £30 each for a day trip to Chichen Itza and my thoughts were: ‘surely backpackers don’t spend that much on day trips, do they?! How the hell are we going to afford the rest of the holiday at this rate? And where the hell are we going to stay after we leave Cancun tomorrow night?!’ Someone crack open the Kalms.
After some deliberation and a mad dash to the ADO bus station to see where the bus could take us to next, we decided to head up to Isla Holbox, which was initially recommended by a friend. As soon as we stepped off the tiny ferry boat, I instantly fell in love with the small, quirky island. Instead of using cars, everyone drives golf buggies and there is always an array of friendly dogs wandering around on their own (they had owners though, and weren’t strays). It was here, on day four of the trip, that my anxiety melted away and I finally relaxed into the Mexican way of life. We spent a fantastic few days relaxing in the sun, eating amazingly fresh seafood, spotting flamingoes, storks and other birdlife on a boat trip and we even took a golf buggy for a spin round the island.
It was in Isla Holbox that I fell in love with a chubby little Chihuahua called Connie, who belonged to the owners of the local shop. When our eyes met across the shop, she came bounding over to me and I could literally see her smiling. That was it then, I was hooked and made sure we went past the shop about five times a day just so I could get a glimpse of my crush. It smacked of the time I was about 12 and my friend Sophie and I would spend all day in the local Somerfield, trying to spot this geordie student called Terry that we fancied.
Anyway, next stop – Tulum, back on the mainland. We decided to visit this place because we wanted to check out the Mayan beach ruins but we expected to be heading back to a bustling city just like Cancun, which we were apprehensive about as we hadn’t been overly keen on the place. But on arrival in downtown Tulum, we were pleasantly surprised by how chilled out the place was and our hotel, set back from the main strip on a side street, felt like we had got a little closer to ‘real’ Mexico.
It seemed that we were to be blessed with animals throughout our holiday because the owner of Maison Tulum, where we were staying, had an array of cats that would just casually wander into the room and make themselves at home if we left the door open. On one occasion, I came in from the balcony to find a black cat curled up on the chair. He didn’t offer to chip in for rent though, the bloody chancer.
We hired bicycles and cycled down to visit the Mayan ruins on Tulum’s beachfront, which are absolutely stunning against the backdrop of the Caribbean Sea – undoubtedly one of the most amazing sights I saw in Mexico. Iguanas obviously agree that it’s a beautiful site too, because there were plenty of those guys kicking around here.
From Tulum, we headed three hours down the coast to our last destination of the holiday, which was Mahahual; a small fishing village that gets inundated once a week in low season and every day in high season by cruise ship tourists, thanks to its cruise port. Luckily, we didn’t see any cruise ships arrive throughout our five-day stay, so we were able to enjoy the more low-key buzz of the place.
In Mahahual, we stayed in a room above a restaurant that was rented out by a lovely Mexican/American couple who lived in the same flat with a couple of cats. And, true to the animal theme of our holiday, we had six kittens sleeping in a little box next to our room, where their stray mother would come along every once in a while and feed them before wandering off. Also in Mahahual, we chased some fish around a reef on a snorkelling trip, hired some knackered old bicycles for a few hours and met Martin, a local good-time-guy who talked a lot and encouraged us to “live the moment, not the life.”
So, on our last night in Mahahual, we took Martin’s advice, drank too many tequilas and margaritas, and then I fell into a wall and ended up with some bruises. A perfect end to the holiday and the only Mexican hangover we experienced. Thanks, but I don’t want another one.
Before we set off on our journey, I was assured by quite a few people that Mexico was the kidnap/murder capital of the world and we wouldn’t be coming back alive. But I am so glad that we went and experienced this amazing place. And as for the rumours of evil kidnappers – whilst we didn’t visit Mexico City, which is allegedly more rife for kidnappings – I can honestly say that I have never been anywhere and met such genuinely friendly people who don’t just see you as one big dollar sign because you’re a tourist. People, on the whole, were simply interested in chatting to you and helping you when needed, without expecting some cash in return or hurling you in the boot of their taxi and making a quick getaway.