Cities of the past and present: Tulum and Belize City.

Written Tuesday, December 22 – Cozumel, Mexico

It’s midnight, and we’ve had a tiring day. For the last two hours, we’ve been sitting around putting together the puzzle I brought along – even though it’s only the third day of our cruise and vacation, we’re about 60-70% of the way done! At the same time, there’s been this karaoke going on downstairs almost immediately below our room in the Pearly Kings Pub, which ran through all the popular songs but is over now, thank goodness. No more drunken crowds singing out loud to Uncle Kracker.

This morning, we got up bright and early, and had a long travel to the Tulum Mayan ruins on mainland Mexico. We docked in Cozumel around 7 am, which is an island, and immediately to a medium-sized ferry to transfer to the mainland. I brought some Dramamine to ward off potential seasickness, and took it going and from the island, but mainly just resulted in me feeling very, very tired the whole day. We had a 45-minute ferry ride and then an hour-long bus ride before we arrived at Tulum. Our lively tour guide Liliana took us around Tulum, a really interesting Mayan complex housing the elite, that was tucked away high on the coastline. It was gorgeous there – all the original palaces and temples were made out of limestone and some even retain their original carvings and formations. Tulum itself was positioned right on the coast next to the water but also at one of the points in the Yucatan Peninsula that the sun dawns on first. We walked with the tour guide for a while, and then we walked on by ourselves. My mom visited several years ago when she and my dad vacationed in Mexico, so we walked by ourselves around the complex. It was pretty crowded – full of people from all over. I heard a French girl of about four year old having an epic meltdown between her parents, screaming and crying, “ATTENDS!” in a gut-wrenching voice. It was pretty funny. The crowds were not quite as bad as I’ve seen in Taiwan and China, but bad enough here. We were trying to get to and from more quickly, and kind of ran into some crowds. Iguanas lounged everywhere, and had the run of the palaces and temples which people weren’t allowed into. Smaller iguanas were the females, and larger iguanas, sometimes twice the size of their female counterparts, were the males. They had also many more spikes all over their body. My mom must have taken a hundred pictures just of the iguanas!

Overall, I was impressed by the site, but somewhat underwhelmed by the experience. I think it was a combination of the hot intense sun, high humidity, and the Dramamine, but I felt like I was sleepwalking through half the day. When we got back to the ship, we took a shower and had a nap. After dinner, I helped my mom transfer some photos out of her memory card to make sure she had enough room to capture tomorrow’s sightseeing. It turned out we hadn’t seen some of the photos she and my dad took from their cruise to Alaska two years ago, so we looked through those instead. They had a great time on a Holland America boat, which did look fabulous. They had such a giant library and a sweet theatre with individual sofa-seats. I was impressed. They also visited glaciers by helicopter, and it gave me such a longing to see the Northwest again. I’ll have to make sure Steve and I get to go sometime soon.

Finally, this evening, we went around to watch the main show going on in the Stardust Theatre, which happened to be a husband-wife magic show. It was typically fun – he sawed a lovely volunteer woman in half, produced his wife out of a box that was way too small to contain a human being, and generally did a bunch of other illusions and tricks. It was fairly entertaining and rather pretty. It made me think of Now You See Me and other such movies. Afterwards, we came back and did some more puzzles, halting only when I realized it was nearing midnight. Tomorrow, we land in Belize City and must take tenders to the city – that is, the cruise ship is too large to dock in the city proper, and must anchor offshore. Instead, small boats will come take us to the shore. We’ll mostly just walk about the city and get a sense of the culture and history. Until tomorrow…

Written Wednesday, December 23 – Belize City, Belize

Today was another energetic day. I feel positively exhausted by the combination of our travel and physical activities today. We started this morning off lazily enough, lounging around until after 10 am. Why? Because we were waiting to get off the boat. Our ship anchored this morning about five miles off the shore from Belize City because the city’s port is not nearly deep enough (or developed enough, as it turned out) to accommodate large cruise ships. So we anchored in the middle of the ocean, and nearby were several other ships from Carnival and Royal Caribbean and even another Norwegian ship, this time the Norwegian Star. We picked up tender tickets this morning, which is their way of giving us a way to queue up without having to stand in line for hours. However, our tender ticket was #7 which took a long time to board. We passed the time by working on our puzzle before they called our tender.

The tender was a small boat holding about 40 or so people. It was rocking like crazy up and down in the choppy waters next to the relatively stable cruise boat. We sped off toward the mainland, and ten minutes later, we emerged onto the Belize City docks. The cruise village was pretty much what every other cruise village looks like. It was filled with people trying to drag tourists off to tubing in some crystal caves or to see some Mayan ruins that were approximately an hour or so away. No thanks! I did however glean a free roadmap off of some vendor, which we then utilized to do our own walking tour of the city. It was very humid, and the sun was intense. We first stopped by a lighthouse by the tourist village. Off in the misty distance behind it, we could see our cruise ships all bobbing up and down on the water. As we walked further on along the seashore, my mom pointed out that we could see the Taiwanese flag in the Radisson hotel we passed. I remarked that it was because Taiwan was one of the countries gave foreign aid to Belize, and one of my classmates from school had in fact interned in Belize City this summer in the Taiwanese embassy. After a little while of walking, we found the actual Taiwanese embassy! I took a bunch of pictures of the building and the flag and the plaque, intending to Tweet it to Steve later.

The Museum of Belize proved to be the highlight of our tour. It was housed in a wide, low building of two stories in red brick and white plaster. The building’s windows were crossed with bars, because it used to be a prison, constructed in 1857 and the first prison in British Honduras (which is the colonial name for Belize). It still retains much of the structure. Inside, one of the first things we could see was a wide jailhouse gate. According to the receptionist, this actually stayed a prison until 1993, which is way too recent. We walked around and learned a lot about Belizean history, maritime customs, its transportation and development, etc. There was one section where you could learn about how to tie knots, which I happily practiced on some string they provided – I learned how to do a clove hitch, a double-hitch, a sheet knot, and even a double-eight. It was pretty cool. We also took a look at the stamps, which were very beautiful and historic. They had a great collection of all the stamps going back in time. They used to issue a lot with British royalty on them, being a former British colony. We then went upstairs to check out the archaeology portions. Throughout, the building was pleasant and sunny and cool, being well air-conditioned, but it was very easy to see how it was a former prison – though most of the walls were knocked down, you could see multiple doorways with small barred openings above them that the displays were arrayed around.

We walked around for the rest of the afternoon to some other destinations. We tried, but didn’t make it to St. John’s Cathedral, which was in a very residential part of Belize City. Overall, I think Belize is really low on the Human Development Index (HDI). It seemed really poor – some people in the bustling city center, arguably the most developed city in Belize, seemed well dressed, but most stores had peeling paint on their storefronts or handwritten signs. We got a lot of “Ni Hao” from people, and every other block, a car would slow and a head would poke out to inquire if we wanted a taxi. It’s obviously a tourism-dependent sort of place, but everyone we met was quite nice.

We ended up going back to the tourist village, where I found a few gifts that weren’t plastic and made in China and then shipped over here. My mom and I also had a virgin mango daiquiri each on a bar by the seaside to enjoy the weather, and then we boarded the tender back to the ship. Arriving back in the afternoon, we got lunch and then were off to the pool. We spent the rest of the evening sunning ourselves, having a swim, and enjoying the weather. I’ve really missed the hot humid weather! Despite having lathered myself with sunscreen, I may still come back to the US pretty tanned. Before we had dinner, I went off to the gym and did some more running, happy to add to the step count on my FitBit.

This evening, we watched the Second City troupe perform a comedy show, which went off pretty well. Second City of course is the renowned improvisational comedy troupe originally from Chicago, so named because Chicago believes it’s America’s second city. More or less true! They had five performers doing a few skits, doing a little bit of improv (my autocorrect keeps changing it to improve, which I think is hilarious) and even song numbers. The last song they sang was about a child born in Cook County and how she would never learn cursive or dance without an XBox Kinect, but some things will always be the same – “our schools are going to hell; the politicians are always for hire, and there will always be an Illinois governor in jail!” I think some of the jokes fell a little flat because they were way too liberal-sounding. This is more of an everyman cruise, so I’m not surprised they didn’t get the best reception. For example, in one mini-skit, one woman asked another what being gluten-intolerant meant. After a pause, the other one responded, “It means I’m upper-middle class.” It was great fun, and I hope to look up their closing song when I get home so I can watch it again. Also, they have an adults-only purely improv show on the last night of the cruise. Guess who’s going!

Tomorrow morning, we meet on the pier in Roatan, Honduras to take a short ferry to Maya Key, a private Norwegian island set-up with a great animal sanctuary, beach, and snorkeling. What a great way to spend Christmas Eve! Then it’ll be Christmas, Boxing Day, and then we’ll be back in New Orleans. I’m having fun out here, but I’m also missing Steve and being on terra firma. Soon enough…

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