81 Day Hotel Round-up

I’m back in the states now (!) and have A LOT of posting to do. So, without delay…

I’m a bit of an apartment nomad. I’ve lived in 10 homes in 4 (going on 5) cities in the last 6 years. In fact, 2011 was the first time I’ve ever renewed a lease. My proclivity for moving continued in Central America. On the plane I counted how many hotels I stayed in during the trip. Twenty-one. 21 hotels in 81 days. That may not seem like that many but keep in mind I stayed in a volunteer house in Belize for 31 of those days. I’m just always looking to make improvements: cities, apartments, jobs…hotel rooms. So, I may as well put all that hopping to good use and give a brief review of each of them.

In order of stay:

  • Cabanas My Tulum (Tulum, MX): 4/5 Affordable, clean, good-sized cabanas situated on a gorgeous stretch of beach in Tulum. Best hotel I found for the money on the beach.

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  • Pedro’s Inn (Ambergris Caye, BZ): 3.5/5 Fun hostel with cheap, very basic but clean rooms, 2 pools, a restaurant/bar with delicious pizza, and an owner with a fondness for Jagermeister. It’s a bit of a walk into town through a poorly lit area.
  • ImageYuma’s House (Caye Caulker, BZ): 4.5/5 Colorful, cozy, laid back hostel with affordable dorms, private rooms and an ocean view. Restaurants and bars nearby (keep in mind the island is only 5-6 miles long)
  • ImageWindschief (Hopkins, BZ) 4.5/5: Big oceanfront cabanas with refrigerator and coffee maker.  Great view from the balconies. Owners are friendly and helpful and the beachside bar has great food.

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  • Deb and Dave’s Last Resort (Placencia, BZ) 3/5: Cheap, pretty basic hostel (with some decorative touches) a couple minutes walk from the beach. Rooms get a little hot at night.

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  • Westwind (Placencia, BZ): 3/5 Beachfront hotel with small rooms. Tied up guard dogs can get a bit overprotective (growled/lunged at me a  couple times before realizing I was a guest- apparently one was in heat). Great view from the shaded hammocks out front. Free kayak usage for guests. You can find better for less in Placencia.

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  • Roach Motel (Placencia, BZ) 1/5: I can’t remember the name of this hotel but there was a giant cockroach (that I named Greg) and we left immediately the next day. Actually had decent amenities but EW.
  • Julia’s Cabanas (Placencia, BZ) 4/5: The beachfront cabana has a balcony and an AMAZING view. The cabana was beginning to show it’s age but was clean and comfortable. And oh man, that view.

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  • Casa Rosada (Livingston, GT): 4/5 There is a reason this hotel is one of the most recommended in Livingston. Affordable. well designed private rooms (with shared baths that could be nicer) and seriously beautiful grounds. The restaurant serves great food and management is eager to help with booking trips to your next destination.

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  • Utopia Eco Hotel (Semuc Champey, GT): 2.5/5. This place is new and still working out the kinks. Very limited vegetarian meal options each day, open air dorms that prevent late night socializing in the common area and limited staff. Also, lots of bugs in my cabin ( to be fair it is in the jungle). But, the views are fantastic, and I met so many great people there. It has a lot of potential.

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  • La Sin Ventura (Antigua, GT): 3.5/5 Nicely decorated, relatively affordable (but slightly pricey for Guatemala) hotel in a central location a block from the square. Very clean, comfortable rooms but no wi-fi on the 3rd floor. Friendly staff and great views from the roof.

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  • Posada de los Volcanoes (Panajachel, GT): 4/5 Very clean, thoughtfully designed hotel. Good sized rooms with cable tv and slight lake view from balcony (top floor only). The free breakfast is very tasty. Still, you can find MUCH cheaper hotels on the lake.

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  • Hotel Aaculax (San Marcos la Laguna, GT) 5/5 Absolutely gorgeous but relaxed hotel with lush, fragrant grounds. You can tell thought was put into every single detail. Even if you’re on a budget, it’s worth staying one night here. Treat yo self.

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  • Hotel Pinnochio (San Pedro la Laguna, GT): 3.5/5 Clean private room with lake view, hammock, “hot” shower and cable tv for 13 bucks? Not too shabby. Still, you can find better for cheaper in San Pedro.

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  • Casa Rolando (San Pedro la Laguna, GT): 2/5 Great lake view and that’s where the merits end. Rooms are fine but the manager is creepy and the bathrooms have a “window” (read: hole in wall) that opens out to the balcony for everyone to hear. Wi-fi was down the entire two days.

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  • Hotel Fe (San Pedro la Laguna, GT): 3.5/5 Shabby but cute rooms, free delicious breakfast, restaurant/bar across the street, cable tv (by request) and lake views. Owner can be a bit…surly but it’s a fun place to stay.

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  • Hotel Paraiso (San Pedro la Laguna, GT): 2/5 Big rooms, mine had no view, decent wi-fi signal. You can stay in much nicer places in San P.
  • Casa Lola (San Pedro la Laguna, GT): 4.5/5 Clean, attractive hotel with large rooms with cable tv, heated showers and reliable wi-fi. Views are great from the balcony. My favorite hotel in San Pedro.
  • Puerta Vieja (San Cristobal de las Casas, MX): 4.5/5 Very clean (and new) trendily designed hostel with really comfortable beds. Large patio with fire pit out back. Owner is fun and encourages socializing. Great central location.
  • Hostel 3B (Playa Del Carmen, MX): 4/5 After walking around in the sweltering heat with heavy bags for (what felt like) hours looking at a bunch of dingy hostels, this place was like a mirage. Very cute, very clean, trendy hostel with thoughtful decorating touches. Beds are comfortable and the area is quiet at night. No wifi on the second floor (or at least not in the 12 bed female dorm). No alcohol allowed.
  • Hotel Acuario (Playa Del Carmen, MX) 4.5/5 Great hotel for the price. Large rooms with A/C, cable tv, kitchen amenities including refrigerator, and balcony (or patio). Small but nice clean pool. Friendly owners. And there is a turtle pond! Hotel is a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle of touristy 5th ave.

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My travel survival guide: Conquering Montezuma

Let me preface this by saying that I am not a doctor. I have no medical qualifications whatsoever aside from my one-time ability to administer cough medicine to a screeching foster cat.

With that said, let’s talk about Montezuma’s revenge.

No? You’d rather not. Sorry this is happening.

Montezuma’s revenge, also known as Traveler’s Diarrhea, is not necessarily something that people want to talk about. For some reason, as a culture, discussing anything poop related makes many of us uncomfortable. This is especially true in regards to women.

I once dated a guy who was adamant about the fact that his ex girlfriend did not poop. She had told him this after all and he’d never seen her do it. I inquired if she was human or perhaps our first evidence of alien beings. I asked if she consumed food or subsisted solely on glitter and rainbows. Exasperated by my line of questioning, he ventered a guess. “Some girls just don’t…go”.

Our “relationship” ended shortly thereafter. I’d just had a big burrito, after all, and didn’t want to disappoint him.

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Let me just set the record straight. Barring any medical crisis or temporary blocking, we all poop. In fact whenever I’m feeling intimidated by someone, I remember this fact. It’s like picturing your audience naked-works wonders.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get back to Montezuma’s Revenge. According to Wikipedia, the trusted fact source of lazy bloggers, it is the most common ailment for travelers. Accordingly, an estimated 10 million people—20% to 50% of international travelers—develop it annually. That number actually sounds low. In my travels, I have not met one person who denied experiencing it. In fact, when traveling, rather than it being a taboo conversation, it can be an ice breaker. You talk about the country where you first got it, suggest remedies to the ailing person, laugh good-naturedly as they eye your meal with a mixture of sadness and repugnance.

I got it in Thailand. I’d been a vegetarian in the states but when I got to Thailand, within minutes I was eating balls of unidentified meat on sticks purchased from questionably hygienic street vendors with reckless abandon. It’s a wonder it only lasted a couple days.

I got it in Belize, too. But this time I had a secret weapon.

When preparing for the trip I remembered with zero fondness, the days of Montezuma that culminated in a filthy Bangkok train station bathroom in which toilets were slightly elevated holes on the ground.

Not wanting to relive that, I did some research on remedies. I read about all the old standards: pepto, immodium, cipro (which I had a preemptive Rx for, but the potential side effects never seemed worth it for me). Then I read about Oil of Oregano (OOO).

According to the article, OOO was anti-biotic, anti-fungal, anti-septic, anti-everything bad ever. The article was a bit questionable considering the URL was something along the lines of http://www.healthsupplements.realscience.buynow.com. Don’t click that. But the more I researched, visions of a dimly lit train station flashing in my mind, the more I became convinced that I needed to at least try it out.

The price tag was a bit less convincing: about 45 bucks for a bottle of gel caps at the health food store. But the employee helping me enthused about them so passionately and seemed so genuine that I decided to put the cash. By that I mean my mother paid for them.

When I got to Caye Caulker, Belize and that familiar rumbling and discomfort started, I popped a couple peptos, drank a lot of water and hoped for the best. But when it persisted, I finally popped an oil of oregano pill (along with a probiotic as recommended by the health food store guy). At that point I was still very skeptical.

But after an hour or so I felt completely better. My stomach was calm and undisturbed. I could eat without being within sprinting distance of a bathroom. I was amazed but did not rule out the possibility of a placebo effect.

But it happened again in San Ignacio: a day of food seeming to bypass my stomach completely. I popped a gel cap and within an hour Montezuma was gone.

In Placencia, I started to feel a cold come on. Almost as a joke, I took an OOO. It had been my miracle cure after all. The next day my symptoms had vanished. A fellow traveler, who had been experiencing the same early symptoms, was sick for days. (she declined the OOO-most people do. “Who is that creepy girl trying to push pizza pills?” I imagine them whispering)

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I did some more research and apparently it can be used for colds as well.

Now, I don’t want to sound like some kind of witch doctor (although I’ve read that they have their merit). OOO has worked wonders for me on this trip but that doesn’t mean it would work for you. Nor does it mean that it wasn’t just a coincidence that my ailments disappeared after taking some. That’s quite possible. But I know my body and I’m a believer.

Now we are in Guatemala and this morning Montezuma has returned with a vengeance (ok it’s really not that bad).

Little does she know, I’m ready for her.

Serious Person Disclaimer: I only take it if symptoms lasts more than a day and the water/pepto combo don’t work. Also, diarrhea can be life threatening so please call a doctor if it becomes severe.

Day 3: Mexico to Belize part 2

The bus ride from Tulum, MX to Chetumal, MX took about 3 hours. I slept for half the journey. The bus had the A/C on blast and was freezing cold. I had anticipated this and had layered up but it was still uncomfortable. I treasured the 6 minutes that it would turn off (yes I timed it) after 20-30minutes of cold blasts.

Once we arrived at the bus station in Chetumal, we purchased bus tickets then went to grab lunch at an eatery a block away. Travel tip: don’t get a cab from one of the terminal taxis that hound you when you walk outside (30-40 pesos). Walk up the road and hail a cab for more than half the price (around 15 pesos). Also, if you speak Spanish (or pretend- thank you phrase book) you will have more negotiating power.

The eatery was swarming with flies but the food was decent. I forgot that “huevos” meant eggs so half of my meal went uneaten. (I had a bad eggs-perience in Thailand). Meals finished, we cabbed to the port and went through immigration. I tried to fight the 26 dollar(!) exit fee (you should only have to pay if you are there more than a few days) but my Spanish was not good enough to comprehend his responses. Fine, sir! Total ripoff.

We waited two loooong hours for the ferry to Belize during which we mostly stared at the ocean then played a rousing but short lived game of “Would you Rather”

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Finally it was time to head to the port. After 20 minutes of waiting, a military truck showed up loaded with Mexican soldiers carrying enormous guns.
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I knew to expect this from my research but it was still disconcerting. After another 20 minutes of sitting around waiting they brought out the “drug sniffing dog”. The dog legitimately looked like a stray they had just picked up off the street. It was a mutt, a bit scrawny and more interested in giving kisses than putting in a day’s work (I totally understand, pup). It would casually sniff a few bags then walk over to a passenger with it’s pleading eyes asking to be petted (or possibly fed). Its handler had to keep pulling it back to focus on the sniffing task at hand. It was pretty adorable.

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We finally boarded the speed boat, anticipating a relaxing 45 minute minute ferry ride to our destination of Ambergris Caye (also known as San Pedro). In the words of the internet: LOL. The 2 hour ride felt like a slow motion bus crash. It alternated between flying through the air and slamming down HARD against the ocean. I popped a Dramamine 5 minutes into the ride which resulted in me falling asleep sitting up then jolting back awake every few minutes then falling back to sleep and repeat for two hours.
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When we finally made it to the next port I was pretty sure I was going to need to see a chiropractor to get my entire body realigned.

Getting through customs was pretty quick and painless. I don’t think they even glanced at my bag. Finally we were able to walk out onto Belizean soil and get a glimpse of San Pedro.

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That island had no idea what we had in store for it over the next 4 days

And vice versa.

Day 3: Mexico to Belize Part One

My soul was weary, but now it’s replenished”

As our bus drove out of Tulum and through the Mexican countryside, Lauren Hill singing soulfully in my ear buds, I teared up a little. Tears of happiness over the fact that after months of planning and research and waiting, this trip had finally come to fruition. It just felt right.

For two years in Baltimore I worked in the poorest neighborhoods and saw and heard some ugly things. My job was to work with the downtrodden and cast aside. It was draining to say the least. Now, as I rode out of Mexico, everywhere I looked was beautiful. Even the slums were brightly colored, the skies above them magnificent. I am fully aware that there are multiple political, economic, and social issues in Mexico. But as I rode out of there, I felt renewed.

My soul was weary, but now it’s replenished.
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Day 2: One day in Tulum

As I mentioned previously, on the first full day of our trip we stayed in Tulum, MX. I fell in love with Tulum for it’s pristine beauty, laid back vibe and friendly locals. We spent the day laying on the beach, sampling food and drinks at the local restaurants and watering holes, practicing spanish with the exceptionally helpful (and patient) locals and repeatedly saying “I can’t believe we’re actually here”.

One thing that surprised me about the first day was how much I loved speaking Spanish. When planning the trip, I had these gradiose plans to learn a significant amount of Spanish pre departure. So I ordered an English-Spanish phrase book, opened it once, got really bored after about 10 minutes, then put it in my pack and never looked at it again. I’m not exactly a scholar when it comes to learning languages. I pride myself on being able to count to 100 and ask to use the bathroom in German. But when I arrived in Mexico, phrase book in hand, I found so much enjoyment in learning words and phrases, trying to pronounce them correctly and getting kindly corrected and coached by friendly locals. “Estoy apprendiendo” and a smile became my calling card. I was actually nervous to head to Belize because it is an English speaking country and I didn’t want to lose my newfound knowledge. Plus, we will be headed to Guatemala in May and understanding/speaking very limited Spanish would be a big hindrance there. I planned to keep up the practicing, even if it just elicited confused stares.

We ended the night in Tulum having a large delicious meal of fileted Snapper at a beach front restaurant and going to bed early in anticipation of a long day of traveling to Belize. When we head back to Mexico in June I also need to check out Tulum pueblo (the downtown area- a couple miles from the beach) and possibly the ruins (I may be “ruined-out” at the point).

Tulum felt like such a peaceful, serene safe haven and was a great way to start out a trip that I’m sure will not be all rainbows and kittens.

Stay tuned for posts about the next leg of our journey: The islands of Belize!

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Eating like kings

Before this trip we were living in the US and subsisting on a diet of mostly pizza and…pizza. Suffice to say I wasn’t sure my bathing suit was even going to fit. We constantly justified this gluttony by saying “well we’re going to lose a ton of weight when we get to Central America”. We even had a “last meal” of Bojangles fried chicken because obviously it would be our “last unhealthy meal for a while”.

False.

The food in Tulum was delicious and appeared to be portioned for two. Our hostel in Belize has a PIZZERIA in it and the pizza is incredible. It is literally around the corner from our room. I mean what kind of sick joke is this? For some reason we also feel the need to eat every 2-3 hours.

Sample dialogue:
Zina: you hungry?
Jill: of course I am

2 hours later:
Zina: I am inexplicably hungry again
Jill: Yep, me too

The (multiple) pizzas, boneless chicken wings, French fries, fried jalapeños, fried eggs etc we have been consuming for the last 4 days aren’t exactly local delicacies. And aren’t exactly helping our whole travel weight loss theory. I had fruit for breakfast yesterday and my body was so confused. Nutrients? As we prepare to head to the next island, Caye Caulker, I am making a commitment to eat only local foods, and much, much less often. My waist line depends on it. But man has it been a delicious week.

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Day 2: Life’s a beach

The beach in Tulum is breath taking. Powdery white sand, clear water, and not crowded with tourists or big hotels. You feel like you’re on a serene private beach. The beach stretches for miles and is lined with palm trees, cabanas and boutique hotels. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. Check them out:

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I’ve been to beaches in Thailand and throughout the Caribbean but this one was my hands down favorite. I can’t wait to go back in June.

Day 2: Cabanas My Tulum

We woke up early to the sounds of chirping birds and waves crashing against the beach. In the early morning light we were finally able to get a look at our cabana and the hotel grounds. The room was surprisingly large and nice. I wasn’t expecting much from a beach front “eco hotel” with 50 dollar private cabanas. Most of the other hotels I checked out were much more expensive. Our Cabana had a king sized bed, a queen bed, a sofa and a private bathroom with large shower.

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As well as our own watch dog (and cat)

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I could hear and smell the ocean but wasn’t sure where it was exactly. So, I wandered down the sandy path through the hotel grounds and I audibly gasped when I stepped onto the beach. I’ve been to a lot of beaches but this one left me speechless. More in the next post.

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If you’re staying in Tulum, and looking for cheap(ish) accomodation I recommend Cabanas My Tulum. The cabanas are basic but clean and nice, the beach is a 30 second walk through the hotel grounds and the staff is super friendly. Plus, there are cats.

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Day 1: Tulum, MX

We flew into Cancun on the night of April 7 and took a 2 hour ADO bus to Tulum then a cab to the beach, arriving around 11 pm. The eco hotel grounds were pitch black when we arrived and the reception desk closed. Apparently Tulum is off the Mexican power grid so each hotel is self sustainable. Our hotel turned off the electricity at night…something I probably should have made note of when booking an evening flight.

A helpful stranger tried to find us an employee to no avail. After roaming around in the dark with our heavy packs for a few minutes we began to think we might end up sleeping on the beach, hobo style. I finally checked back at the reception desk and noticed a handwritten note addressed to me. In broken English it instructed us to look for the cabana with the “candel” outside. We finally found the cabana and as I happily marched to the door I narrowly avoided stepping on a dog dozing at the door step. Oh, Mexico. A few hours into our trip and I already knew we were in for a ridiculous 2.5 months.

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