Tag: Beach

Placencia, Belize

Placencia, Belize

The Caye you can drive to, as the locals say.

We skipped Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, mostly because the ferries to the islands were complicated with our van but also because, as we’ve read, and confirmed through other travelers, they’re crowded. And gringo. Expats have driven up the prices and out the local charm. Everyone is trying to access the same reef anyway. Placencia seemed as good a place as any to do so.

Mariposa Restaurant & Beach Suites

We crashed in the parking lot of the Mariposa. The owners, a cordial couple from Canada, just requires campers to eat at least one meal per day in their restaurant. Well well worth it. You get access to their sparkling pool, combed beach, and stunning views for the price of an excellent, albeit slightly expensive, meal.

Flat Wallet

Everything in Belize is expensive. Beers are served in 9oz to 10oz bottles (so you pay more per ounce). Food costs as much if not more than the US. Gas is twice as expensive as the US. And unless you just happen to have a SUV and/or a boat parked down here, to explore the jungles and cayes, ya gotta pay for guides. We spent as much in a week here as we did in two weeks in Mexico.

Belize Love

Nevertheless, we love Belize.

The towns, while not picturesque like some colonial towns in Mexico, are colorful and charming. They’re also clean, especially compared to most towns in Mexico. The highways are gorgeous. The Hummingbird Highway, which bisects Belize, is like driving through a jungle fantasy. The people are also incredibly, obnoxiously friendly. Not obnoxious in that they annoy you, but obnoxious in that they remind you that you’re not that friendly….

And the culture, a combo of British colonial and creole and Caribbean and Central American, is fascinating. And an anomaly in this region. It feels different. The casual tempo, the happy demeanors, the sweltering humidity. It also sounds different. The garifuna drumming, the sing-song English, the rastafari music. It’s a place where you want to sit and do nothing — which, if you do, will save you money.

Beaches

You shouldn’t vacation in Belize for the beaches. They’re nice, but they’re not postcard, sleep-in-the-sand beaches — unless you’re fortunate to travel to one on some remote caye. The beaches are, however, excellent jumping off points for the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest reef system in the world. If you’re a diver and/or snorkeler, this is your place.

Silk Cayes

We took a snorkel tour of the Silk Cayes Marine Reserve. Even though it was overcast (see picture below), which obscured the visibility a bit, we saw as much marine life as we’ve ever seen. Dozens of varietals of coral and tropical fish. Nurse Sharks, Spotted Eagle Rays, Southern Stingrays, and Leatherback Turtles. Even saw a Magnificent Frigatbird get into a Top Gun dogfight with a Laughing Gull. While I’ve been to more easily-accessible reefs (US and Spanish Virgin Islands) and more colorful reefs (Hawaii), I’ve never been to a larger, more diverse reef. You can snorkel for days in any direction.

Snorkel Adventure

Snorkel Adventure

Written by Everett. Typed by Dad.

Date: 12th of April

When we got to the Mariposa, we wanted to go in the pool, so we got on our swimsuits. It was 4ft to 5ft. The next day, we went to The Sidewalk. The next day, we went snorkeling at the second largest reef system in the world. We saw lots of fish.

Laguna Bacalar

Laguna Bacalar

Our last stop in Mexico. And a goodie.

The lagoon of seven or seventy, depending on who is describing or who (like me) is listening and translating, colors. Mostly blue colors, however. All gorgeous.

This, as much if not more so than all of the recommendations we’ve received in Mexico, lived up to the hype. It’s a Caribbean ocean in a lake. Ivory sandy beaches. Encompassing tropics. Gentle surf. Turquoise and sapphire and emerald and indigo and so on blue waters. Yet fresh water.

Hostel Crowd

But nice.

We’ve seen the hostel herds on this trip — mostly trekking the cities in their hipster clothing and with their I’ve-got-a-pocket-for-everything backpacks — but we hadn’t shared campgrounds with them. Until here. The campground keeps a dozen tents semi-permanently erected. Hostel-ites rent them for about $15 USD per night. They charged us more for parking in their lot….

I stayed up late — like old-man dad late, so like 10:30pm — one night playing cards with three travelers from the UK. Two coworkers from the Ministry of Defence. One recently divorced and liquidated (sold his business) father. It was entertaining just listening to them talk, first trying to guess, based on accent alone, precisely where each one lived in the UK, second about the inadequacy they share with us United Staters about not being forced to learn a second language, and third about how to get rid of ISIS (we’d had a few beers). They taught me the universal card game for hostels. %&^#head. Or Poophead, as I later told Everett.

You’d dig this place, if only for the conversations.

Quebecois

We traveled for a few days — the last day at Xpu-Ha and two days here — with a cool family from Montreal, Martin, Cathrine, Margaret, and Beatrice. Margaret and Beatrice are beautiful, spunky kids with golden, curlicue locks — they reminded our kids of their cousin, Lucy. The kids entertained themselves so the parents could tend to more pressing issues, like relaxing. They drove from Montreal to Nicaragua and are now heading back in a pimped-out Toyota 4Runner.

Paddle Boarding

The wind is similar to an ocean. Nonexistent to slightly offshore in the early morning. Onshore from mid morning on. By the time I got around to paddle boarding, it was mid morning.

I’d paddle directly into the wind and waves to cross, mostly so I wouldn’t fall off the board yet partly for the exercise. The first time I crossed to the uninhabited side of the lake, I felt intrepid, like a pirate discovering a new bay to stash their plunder. I even thought at one point that I was paddling toward a Mayan ruin — it turned out to be just a very rectangular-shaped tree.

Pink sand from sulfur streams lined a few sections on the opposite side. I’m guessing these streams help keep Laguna Bacalar that near perfect temperature, just cold enough to cool you but not warm enough to remind you that you’re taking a bath with thousands of people.

Lake House

The American Dream: a lake house or ocean cottage. Here, at Bacalar, you can get both. It was one of several (likely hundreds if you ask Andrea) times that I’ve stated: I can see us owning a vacation property here some day. A simple place. You know, thirty to forty rooms, so all of my family and friends can vacation with us simultaneously. Oh, and a large fridge for Mexican beers. Several jetskis. Three pingpong tables. A margarita machine. Bowls of Sour Patch Kids. A bowling alley. I guess. Private chefs. Toucans that deliver messages from one side of the property to the other, you know, since it’s so huge. Pools. Many. Servant monkeys. A water slide that goes from the fourth story of the house to the lagoon. Meat sticks galore.

Or, I suppose, if I can’t afford any of this, which I can’t, I’ll just rent a tent.

Mexico’s Caribbean

Mexico’s Caribbean

We spent the last week of March on the Caribbean side of Mexico. Mainly hiding. It was Spring Break in the US and Semana Santa (Easter week) in Mexico. Everyone was on vacation. Eh. Vree. One. But I suppose we’re everyone too.

Tulum

We initially stopped in Tulum.

Tulum is famous for having one of the best-preserved and only Mayan cities on the ocean. It also has spectacular beaches, often ranking in Mexico’s — and sometimes the world’s — top ten. Unfortunately, while we were there, those beaches were covered with mounds of seaweed. Like two to three feet tall mounds.

It was also blustery. And touristy. Any sense of calm we hoped to inspire from a tranquil beach was eradicated as soon as we exited our van. After an expensive lunch at an inexpensive-looking hotel, and a quick walk down Tulum’s main drag, we decided to search for another beach.

Playa Xpu-Ha

We wanted, nay, probably needed, a spot between the major tourist destinations (from North to South, Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Akumal). We figured we’d visit a few spots, choose the best. We visited one: Playa Xpu-Ha, just north of Akumal and south of Playa Del Carmen. The line of cars from the highway to the parking lot near the beach was a half mile long. We parked at the end and marched to the beach.

As we neared, the thump da thump da thump of house music from various clubs and restaurants could be heard. As could laughter. And the occasional scream from some crazed toddler. The sound of chaos really. But we marched on. Steadfast and determined. Yet increasingly aware of our (presumably) lack of options.

We ventured through a series of disorganized parking lots, sectioned off by ropes in various sizes and states of decrepitude. Then, in the back of the last lot, we saw it: the last open spot. Then we saw the French family that’d we traveled with a couple weeks prior (our kids love their kids). We took that as an omen. We sprinted back to the van.

The Campground

Like many, if not most, of the campgrounds we’ve crashed at in Mexico, this one has seen better days. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it was just designed with exposed wires jutting from outlets, half- to non-functioning water faucets, and the flair of a geriatric hoarder.

The bathroom was the worst I’ve seen outside of India. I’m not even sure I’d call it a bathroom, just a filthy room where water either goes down or comes out of holes and where mosquitos flutter the good wing and do the bad thing.

Seaweed

The beach, like Tulum, was covered in seaweed. A British family told us it’s the worst they’ve witnessed in their twenty-plus years vacationing in the Riviera Maya. Workers from the clubs spent the mornings raking and wheelbarrowing the seaweed off the beach. A feeble effort. More returned, like an army of angry slime attacking the shore, every hour. (The picture above is just after they cleaned.)

The wind also howled five of the seven days we camped. That two day reprieve, which also fortuitously brought less tourists and seaweed, made this stop worth it, despite all the first world problems described above. It’s pretty amazing how simple and beautiful life can be on a pretty beach. We mostly just sat on that beach, gazing into the ocean horizon, occasionally glancing back to ensure our kids hadn’t drowned.

Easter

The Easter Bunny, as we learned, doesn’t hide eggs in Mexico when it’s raining. Instead, He (do you capitalize this one?) hides pesos in vans and writes notes that those pesos can be spent on candy in the minimart near the beach.

Miguel

We’ve met some interesting folks on this trip. Fellow travelers. Fascinating locals. Miguel was the latter.

Miguel is a fisherman. The purest I’ve met. He lives in an abandoned RV in the back of the parking lot. He fishes three times per day, every day. I’m not sure whether for fun or for money or for both — I resisted the temptation to ask; that’s a much too American question — though I doubt the distinction is important to him.

To fish, Miguel perches on a pile of seaweed, decked in Patagonia gear and with his neon blue fly rod on his waist behind him like a sword in a sheath. He watches for a particular kind of fish. I can’t remember the name. He called them surfers. When he spots them, he leaps off his pile, sprints into the shallows, and begins whipping the waves. It’s mesmerizing.

I often wish I had the passion, the conviction, of someone like Miguel. That my vocation and occupation would sow together seamlessly. That no worldly affliction, whether internally or externally imposed, would bother me, prevent my passion. Be a little more like Miguel in other words.

Playa El Saltito

Playa El Saltito

The road to Playa El Saltito is windy and hilly, yet extremely well-maintained, featuring multiple roundabouts, clay-colored stamped concrete, and landscaped medians — it appears to have been built for a hotel that was never built. We’re following the Peters, a cool family from Montana living in La Paz for the school year (their daughter, Ozel, is next to Paheli in the picture above). After pulling off the road, we drive a few kilometers down a dirt/sand driveway to a gate. The guard jots down our license plate number, instructs us to pay the hombre up the path, and then opens the gate. The hombre requires fifty pesos for “dinero por mi cerveza” to pass and then warns us not to park too close to the beach. We park just behind a pair of tracks that appears to have not headed the hombre’s advice. One other family is on the beach.

The beach is on a bight, a slight inward curve on the coast. Boulders, which Everett and Paheli quickly climb to dangerous heights, plummet into the ocean on the right. An abandoned house is on the left. Isla Cerralvo is in front. The golden-hued beach is coarse in parts— microscopic pebbles intermix with the sand — and steep in parts — it drops precipitously just after the turquoise strip of water that highlights the beach. The waves are gentle, and after setting up our spot for the day, and failing for the second day in a row to fully inflate the wind lounger we bought on Amazon on a whim, I hop on my paddle board and proceed to scout snorkeling locations.

Playa El Saltito gets the nod over Playa de Balandra, where we’d visited the day before, for snorkeling. Needlefish and sardines are seen from the shore. King angelfish, sergeant majors, Cortez rainbow fish, and various triggerfish and pufferfish are seen within seconds of diving. And while the coral is sporadic and achromatic, the rock formations are intriguing. It’s in one of those rocks, a hole within the rock actually, that I saw an octopus, for the first ever while snorkeling. I believe it was a just reef octopus, based on the maroon color of its head, but I can’t be certain. It could’ve been a hubbs’ or veligero, according to Google images I checked later that day.

Playa El Saltito is excellent for snorkeling and solitude. We visited on a Sunday and the day before a Mexican holiday, and only a few other families joined us throughout the day. I’m guessing you’d have this beach to yourself most days of the week. However, since we have kids, and since I found Saltito less scenic than Balandra, I’d choose Balandra those other days of the week.

Playa de Balandra

Playa de Balandra

Though I’ve never quantified this before this post, I suppose, whether subconsciously or consciously, I’ve used the following criteria to review and rank beaches I’ve visited:

1. Gentle, caressing surf. As my in-laws in California can attest, I’m a horrible surfer. I gave up trying a few years ago (though, occasionally, if the waves entice me, I jump back in). Wave height, break, swell: no muy importante. I simply desire mellow waves that provide just enough ambient noise to lull me to nap and that don’t interfere with two of my other favorite beach activities, snorkeling and paddle boarding.

2. Floury, white sand. I can certainly appreciate other colors — I’ve seen colors ranging from black to pink to gold — but the whiter, the better, in my opinion. Does that make me beach racist? Probably.

3. Clear, turquoise waters. Dirty or murky or kelp-y is not to my liking. I want to be able to see the bottom of the ocean beneath my paddle board. Turquoise also makes me feel wealthy.

4. Excellent snorkeling around the corner. Not right in front. I prefer just the sand there. But nearby, preferably in eyeshot of the beach so my wife doesn’t freak out that I’ve been eaten by an orca. Also, the more color and things that can kill me, the better.

5. Gulfs, bays, coves, or bights. When getting a massage under a palapa while sipping on a frozen lime margarita and listening to “Yellow Bird” by Arthur Lyman, I wanna see land in the periphery of my prescription Ray Ban Clubmasters. And I want that land to look…

6. Lush and hilly. Ideally, I’d arrive at a beach the day after rainy season, when everything is green and vibrant and aromatic. I’d even tolerate some humidity in this scenario.

7. Goldilocks temperature. No beach on the Pacific Ocean in other words.

8. Land in the near distance. I suppose, to me, it’s about perspective. Visual perspective. A vast, empty horizon makes me feel small. Weak. I like seeing islands, mountains, or peninsulas dot the horizon. Or perhaps, subconsciously as a native landlubber, seeing other land within kayaking distance makes me feel secure, like there’s no way Poseidon, with all this land around, can drown me.

Playa de Balandra, just north of La Paz, leaped, nay, catapulted into my top five favorite beaches within minutes of arrival (I’d only rank a few beaches on the islands of St. John, Culebra, and Ko Samui above it). The surf was slight. The sand was white. The water was light. And the views were tight. It only lacked, based on the criteria above, lushness — it was mostly surrounded by craggy canyons, save a few mangrove patches — and excellent snorkeling — not much coral, so not much biodiversity. However, in terms of family-oriented beaches, beaches that you can drink that margarita under that palapa with occasional attention on your kids, Balandra would rank tops. The bay, much like the bay in San Felipe, is shallow. Kids, you know, those miniature humans, can walk to opposite peninsula at low tide — it’s actually somewhat disconcerting to see your children hundreds of yards off the shore splashing around waist-deep. The water was also, while we were there at least, that perfect temperature, just cold enough to cool you off but not make you shiver. We hope to head back to Balandra at least one more time before we leave La Paz.