So we did make that flight, although a far from smooth transition as we’d spent the previous night with Havana locals on the beach until 7am. We’d met a chap from Switzerland called Adam who ingratiated himself by smuggling two bottles of rum into a salsa club and plying our already translucent Cuba Libres with added ‘zest.’ Through Adam we met Max, a freelance photographer (whose business is entitled ‘Loose Canon’ – very clever) through whom we met every drunk Cuban in Havana. We sang songs on the beach front until I looked through the haze at my watch and figured if we wanted to catch our flight we better get home and sleep a little. Home is an accurate term, as at no point in Cuba (apart from the communist Butlins on the beach) did we stay in a hotel or hostel. All accommodation was supplied by families in “casa particulars,” which were effectively home stays, where you agreed time for breakfast and dinner (and their respective prices) with the matriarch of the family and slept in a spare bedroom they could provide. While this sounds wonderfully authentic and cosy, in reality it was a fairly easy conduit to awkwardness. For instance on our first day in Havana we didn’t make it clear enough that we didn’t want dinner – well we thought we had but we clearly hadn’t. Returning at midnight after a baseball game (they are fanatic about it) and some rum (they’re fanatic about that too) we were confronted by the husband who enquired in gruff Spanish if we were now ready for dinner as they’d prepared it for us. Chicken and vegetables apparently. Lovely. Took ages to cook. We had to grovel and beg forgiveness, as we simply weren’t hungry. In the end we didn’t get fed and we didn’t get forgiven. It’s safe to say we chose a different casa on our return to Havana.
Back in the land of tacos (oh how we gorged ourselves) we picked up a 5th member of Team Gina (our babe of a jeep waiting untouched on a Cancun sidestreet thankfully) in the shape of Ellen’s friend Alison. Car as suitably stuffed as our stomachs we ventured south down the Yucutan coast to Coba – Mayan ruins dotted throughout the jungle which we cycled between. This included a 42 metre tall ruin you could climb up for an all encompassing vista of the green canopy below. Yucutan’s ruins are as varied as they are prolific, and Coba was a solid stab at representing the best bits of all of them – a good intro for Alison we reckoned. We also squeezed in some more cenotes, which apart from ‘authentic’ Mayan mask shops and Pemex petrol stations, are the only things that outnumber the ruins. These cenotes clung to the edge of a glassy lake near Bacalar, allowing us to swim from it’s relative shallows over a narrow shelf and into a 180 metre sink-hole bordered by jungle. It was a grand footnote to our whole time in Mexico. The word Yucatan is Mayan for “we don’t know what you’re talking about,” which is what the locals yelled at the Spaniards when they politely enquired where on earth they were. The name stuck but it could be used nowadays to cover the whole country, especially in response to all the criticism it keeps getting from outsiders. I have no idea what they were talking about. Before we crossed the border we were told by various Americans that the food was terrible (it’s incredible), it was dangerous (not dangerous for tourists, not dangerous at all) and there was nothing to see (I doubt there are many countries on earth with more to see), so to them I say “Yucutan!” Or just, “shut up, stop fear-mongering and go visit for yourself, you may learn something.”
We’re now in Belize, home of Caribbeans, Mennonites, money with the queen on it and a lot of fish. We just spent the day snorkelling amongst them courtesy of a hilarious Rastafarian bloke called Benedict (he liked to call me ‘baby’). G caught three fish with a spear gun, which was incredibly manly. I couldn’t even reload the gun. At one point we were surrounded by 5 foot wide sting-rays and reef sharks. The coral was heaped on top of itself like a huge aquatic bakery, great spans of purple wafting in the current like mouldy crepes. I stayed in the water for so long I got sunburnt, which seems to be my new inauguration ceremony for every new country we visit. So it appears we’re going to stay on this little island of Caye Caulker for a couple more days before heading to shore and heading west to Guatamala. Gina just loves those border crossings.