2019 was an amazing year of travel and discovery.

Lisa and I quit our jobs at the end of 2018 to embark on an extended travel adventure to Mexico and Central America.

Our plan was to travel for at least two years, with a brief return home in the middle for Christmas with families in Australia and NZ, and my dad’s 80th birthday in January.

We didn’t have an itinerary in mind when we left home; in fact we had only booked our first week of accommodation in Mexico City and were intending to ‘play it by ear’ from there.

What followed was an incredible series of highlights – volcanoes, coral reefs, jungles, mountains, food, people, beaches – a simply spectacular period of our lives.

Here is our 2019 story…

January, 2019

We left Melbourne on 9 January 2019, bound for Vancouver, Canada.

Here we met up with our long-time friends from Portland, Oregon, the Mitchells.

We attended an NHL game at Rogers Arena (Vancouver Canucks v Arizona Coyotes). The home team lost in overtime 4 – 3 and to be honest the atmosphere was a bit flat compared to our previous NHL experience in Smashville.

We met some cool animals at Vancouver Aquarium, including a couple of massive walruses and some cute penguins.

We also took a great day trip to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, where we enjoyed the fresh air and views from the various suspension bridges and platformed walkways, which were beautifully lit with fairy lights.

Saying goodbye to the Mitchells, we made our way excitedly to the airport for our flight to Mexico City. Oops, forget to double check our flight time, turned out we were about 6 hours early, so we had a nice wait at the airport.

No problems with Mexican immigration, they stamped our passports and gave us the maximum 180 day tourist visa. One less thing for us to have to worry about in our itinerary planning.

We stayed in a small Airbnb in Colonia Benito Juarez, which is a middle-class residential neighbourhood. Our studio apartment was small but functional and introduced us to some of the realities of life in Mexico – having to use 20 litre bottles of water for drinking, cooking and cleaning teeth; incessant noise from traffic and street vendors; multiple locked doors between street and apartment; and terrible water pressure and temperature in showers.

We quickly got the hang of the metro system and used that for most of our exploring. We did our own walking tour of the centro area, taking in the Zocalo (Plaza de la Constitution), Metropolitan Cathedral, Palacio de Belles Artes and the ancient Aztec Templo Mayor. Going to the viewing platform at the top of Torre Latinoamericano gave us an excellent perspective of the layout of the city. We also visited the massive Chapultepec Park, which at 1,695 acres is one of the largest city parks in the western hemisphere.

Our other big outing in Mexico City was a combination Tacos & Luche Libre tour which was a lot of fun. We sampled some excellent tacos and pulque (local fermented agave drink) before heading off to Arena Mexico for the Luche Libre (wrestling). The show was as spectacular and humourous as we had hoped.

Unfortunately the pulque played havoc with my digestive system and I spent the next couple of days in close proximity to the bathroom, so we didn’t get to see some of the other key Mexico City sights.

After a week, we decided to get out of the big city, and took our first inter-city bus to the beautiful town of Guanajuato.

We absolutely loved Guanajuato. It’s a beautiful colonial town surrounded on all sides by steep hills. The houses are all painted in bright colours, which creates spectacular panoramas from various vantage points around the town.

Our house was at the top of a hill, so we had to walk down a steep path of around 350 steps to get to the town centre every day. And 350 steps back up again to get home, which at 2,000 metres elevation was a bit of a gut-buster. Lisa, with her insane love of stairs, loved going up and down the path. Her record was a circuit of four continuous descents and ascents. Crazy!

We avoided near disaster on our second night in Guanajuato when Lisa fell heavily in the dark on our bedroom step and nearly broke her ankle. Fortunately it was ‘only’ badly sprained, though it continued to trouble her for many months afterwards.

January statistics:

No. of plane flights2
Flight distance kms17,147
Road kms407
Number of different beds4
Kms walked198
Flights of stairs climbed527

January gallery

February, 2019

We enrolled for Spanish classes at La Adelita School in Guanajuato. The staff and teachers were great and we had a lot of fun. Every Friday there was a social gathering for staff and students at one of the local bars. This was a great chance to meet some new people and practise our very bad Spanish.

We loved our lifestyle in Guanajuato. It’s predominantly a student town so there is a friendly, lively vibe about the place. There are beautiful colonial buildings every way you look, including the Teatro Juarez and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato. We loved spending time sitting in the sun in the beautiful squares and plazas such as Union Plaza and Plaza San Francisco.

The food is Guanajuato is fabulous. We were repeat customers at the Tortas de Carnitas stands at the Hidalgo Market, and at the rotisserie chicken restaurants around town.

If you mention Guanajuato to a tourist in Mexico, they will almost certainly ask if you visited ‘the mummies’. Los Mummias is a museum which houses a number of naturally mummified bodies interred during a cholera outbreak in 1833. It is an extremely creepy place (some of the bodies are horrific), but the whole place is somehow in keeping with the strange and open relationship Mexicans have with death, as evidenced by their Day of the Dead celebrations. There’s a great quote at the entrance to Los Mummias:

Every man dies, not every man really lives

William Wallace

During our stay in Guanajuato we took a day trip to the nearby town of Dolores Hidalgo. Not much to see in this sleepy place apart from a museum in honour of former resident and 50s crooner Jose Alfredo Jimanez. They did have some nice ice cream vendors in the main plaza with plenty of free samples, and there were lots of beautifully painted ceramics on sale.

After a month at Guanajuato we headed to San Miguel de Allende. It’s a beautiful looking colonial town with lots of restaurants, bars and boutiques. It’s also one of the most popular places in Mexico for American and Canadian retirees to relocate to, so for us this somewhat spoiled the local vibe. We spent two nights and were happy to move on.

An absolute highlight of our time in Mexico was a visit to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, on the border of Mexico state and Michoacan. We stayed at JM Butterfly B&B in Macheros, where owners Joel and Ellen are working hard with the local community to help preserve the butterfly habitat and provide income streams for local workers.

The butterfly migration itself is spectacular. Up to 1 billion butterflies make an annual migration from the Great Lakes region of the USA and Canada. A trip to the colony includes up-close encounters with thousands of airborn butterflies as well as massive trees full of sleeping butterflies which spring to life when warmed by the sun.

The nesting areas are accessible by horseback – this wasn’t Lisa’s favourite part of the trip as her horse got loose and she didn’t have any reigns to steer with!

February statistics

No. of plane flights0
Flight distance kms0
Road kms465
Number of different beds4
Kms walked199
Flights of stairs climbed756

February gallery

March, 2019

We spent most of March in Morelia, another beautiful colonial city. Morelia is the capital of Michoacan, a state which gets a do-not-travel recommendation in most government travel advisories due to crime levels in the region. We did a fair bit of research in advance and were comfortable with the accounts of safety in the city.

We are so glad we did!

Our Airbnb host, Nacho was brilliant. He took us under his wing and we went on several day trips with him to nearby towns including Pazcuaro and Cuitzeo, as well as a couple of expeditions to have late lunch and mezcal tastings in the surrounding mountain areas. We were also fortunate enough to be invited to one of Nacho’s backyard paella cookups, where he and his friends spent the afternoon drinking beers and preparing a massive cauldron of delicious paella.

The town of Morelia had some beautiful structures including a magnificent cathedral and a well-preserved aquaduct, as well as some lovely plazas, including Plaza de Armas and our favourite, Jardin de las Rosas, where beers were cheap and the atmosphere friendly and convivial.

We saw virtually no other tourists during our month in Morelia. It truly is one of Mexico’s hidden secrets.

Next stop was Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city. We had an apartment right on the main restaurant strip of Chapultepec Avenue. There was a great vibe throughout the town, plenty of well-dressed young people hanging out in the bars and plenty of excellent cheap happy hour specials.

On the Sunday of our stay we walked a couple of kms into the Centro area. Each Sunday the city closes off the main streets to traffic and turns the city into a gigantic pedestrian and cycling mall. The people descend en masse and there are loads of activities – folk dancing, juggling, tree climbing, buskers, musicians, pet displays, children’s games etc. It was a great experience to be part of.

We also took a day tour to Guachimontones and Tequila town. Guachimontones is an archaeological site around an hour out of Guadalajara and is notable mainly for its impressive circular pyramid structures. We arrived early and were the only ones on site for a while so got some fantastic photos.

After that we headed to Tequila town, notable for the alcoholic spirit of the same name. We were given a fantastic tour of the distillery at Hacienda La Cofradia, including a tasting of the delicious roasted agave plant (the key ingredient of tequila) and some potent overproof samples which just about blew our heads off but which seemed all in a day’s work for our guide. There’s an amazing underground tasting cellar here too. Highly recommended.

While in Tequila, we also took a look around the beautiful town. There were some Mayan aerial artists plying their trade in the main square and there were plenty of other tequila-themed businesses to check out, including the massive Jose Cuervo complex.

After our week in Guadalajara, we had a brief stopover in Colima, notable mainly for the nearby, still-active Colima Volcano. We did a day trip which took in a brief hike on the foothills of the volcano as well as a kayak in a nearby lake.

We also spent a day drinking beers and eating free bar snacks in nearby Comala, a beautiful little colonial town with a great central square.

March statistics

No. of plane flights0
Flight distance kms0
Road kms638
Number of different beds4
Kms walked198
Flights of stairs climbed310

March gallery

April, 2019

Finally, after nearly three months on the road we made it to the beach, a small town on the Pacific coast of Mexico called Melaque, which is a couple of kms from the more well-known Barra de Navidad.

We had an awesome little bungalow which was part of a complex of five apartments. There was a beautiful pool area and BBQ, as well as bicycles we could use for the 2km trip to the main part of town. The garden was visited by some beautiful hummingbirds and was home to a couple of fat iguanas. There was also a lagoon at the back of our property which contained a couple of lazy crocodiles.

The nearest beach was about 500 metres away. There was a bit of a rip so you needed to be extra careful; also the waves broke right on shore so no chance of any body surfing. Nearer to town there were a few more peaceful beaches which also had the benefit of beachside bars selling icy cold Indios.

Melaque is home to a lot of Canadian ‘snowbirds’, who winter in Mexico and return home to Canada after Easter each year. The elderly couple in the bungalow next door took us under their wing and pointed us towards the key activities in town, which included the Sunday morning “cow-paccino” tent on the highway, and a nearby restaurant which featured live music from an amazing electric guitarist.

There were plenty of great, cheap food options in Melaque, including the best prawn tacos we had for the entire trip. The beachside restaurants also served fried whole red snapper – delicious!

The weather in April was just sensational. We defintely didn’t want to leave when our month in Melaque was up, but Oaxaca was beckoning.

April statistics

No. of plane flights2
Flight distance kms1,307
Road kms52
Number of different beds2
Kms walked111
Flights of stairs climbed30

April gallery

May, 2019

We flew from Melaque (Manzanillo Airport) to Oaxaca, where we stayed for a month.

We had a studio apartment situated right below a popular bar. Right below, as in, “dragging furniture around on our ceiling at 1am closing time”. Still, it was a great bar for cheap beers and snacks, so in the spirit of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” we spent quite a few nights there waiting for closing time to roll around.

Immediately across the road was the gym we joined for the month, and on the other corner the sensational La Flamita taco joint. We also had a dive bar up the road, the well named “Drink Up”, where the owner asked us for our favourite songs, then made a Youtube playlist of them which he started up whenever we came in. It would be rude not to spend some quality time in there…

We spent some of our daytime hours working on our Spanish skills with Chris at Amigos del Sol. The owner, Rogelio, was always very encouraging, “Practica, practica, practica”.

Oaxaca is famous for its food, and for good reason. We sampled many of the famous regional dishes, including tlayudas, memelas, empanadas, tamales, seven types of mole (I think I tried four of them) and a selection of meats from the incredible meat hall at Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Their hot chocolate is also pretty special.

We did an interesting day trip to the Mayan archaeological site at Monte Alban, which included stops at the Tree of Tule (stoutest tree trunk in the world, relateable) and the petrified waterfall at Hierve el Agua. We also visited the ruins at Mitla on a separate day trip, courtesy of a dodgy collectivo taxi driver.

We spent the last week of May at the beach in Puerto Escondido. We had the choice – ten hours in a shuttle bus across windy mountain roads, or 40 minutes in a four-seater aircraft. No prizes for guessing.

We had a couple of nice beaches we could walk to from our apartment, though again the rip was strong. The main town was a few kms away and we went in there early one morning to watch the world-class surfers tackle the world class waves. Breakfast from a beach side cafe was excellent.

We did a couple of excellent day trips out of Puerto Escondido. Firstly we did the baby sea turtle release. We were right at the end of the season and there weren’t too many turtles ready for their big moment, however we did get to look after one little guy and help him negotiate the sand (and nasty seagulls) and make it safely to the surf.

Fun fact, baby turtles are born with a built in ‘protein pack’ which provides them with the energy needed to swim around madly for their first week of life.

Our other great day trip was a Bioluminesence tour to nearby Manialtepec Lagoon. We got to swim around in the bright blue bioluminscance; definitely a spectacular and memorable exprience. It was pretty cool seeing fish swim past underwater, glowing bright blue.

May statistics

No. of plane flights1
Flight distance kms257
Road kms0
Number of different beds2
Kms walked189
Flights of stairs climbed155

May gallery

June, 2019

Our next major stop was the Chiapas town of Palenque, which necessitated an overnight stop in Mexico City in order to catch an early morning flight.

We made good use of our free day in Mexico City by visiting the Museum of Anthropology. I’d read plenty of great reviews of this place, but was still blown away by the amazing displays in the various galleries, each showcasing a different region and anthropological group of Mexico – Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs, Olmecs etc.

Highlights of the museum included a massive Aztec sun stone, a replica feathered headdress of Moctezuma II and a reproduced burial tomb from the Monte Alban area we had recently visited.

The next day we flew to Palenque. It was oppressively hot and humid. We had fantastic 360 degree views of the lush jungle courtesy of the fish-bowl like design of our Airbnb apartment. Unfortunately this construction acted like a glass house and it was unbearably hot for the duration of our stay.

We took a collectivo bus from out front of our place to the Palenque Ruins archeological site. It really is a spectacular place, with massive Mayan structures set in a peaceful jungle setting. The distinctive shrieks of howler monkeys rang out across the site making the whole experience even more surreal.

In order to escape the heat, we took a couple of great day trips to nearby waterfalls. The first trip took us to Misol Ha and Agua Azul.

Misol Ha is a single waterfall with a drop of around 35 metres which falls into a single large swimming hole surrounded by lush vegetation. Perfect for a hot and sticky day!

Cascadas de Agua Azul (Blue Water waterfalls) are a series of cascading waterfalls in the Xanil River, around 70km from Palenque. It is a magnificent and picturesque place to visit and the swimming was first class.

Our second day excursion took us to Roberto Barrios waterfalls, which is another spectacular set of cascading waterfalls. The water ranged in colour from turquoise blue to emerald green. There were plenty of great swimming holes. As an added highlight, we came across a family of cute and playful spider monkeys in the tree next to one of the waterholes.

Next stop on our itinerary was the Chiapas city of San Cristobal de las Casas. We took a bus from Palenque – unfortunately, due to security issues on the most direct road, the bus needed to take a long detour via Villahermosa, which turned a four hour trip into an eight hour trip.

San Cristobal is an awesome town, definitely one of our favourite places in Mexico. We had a terrific Airbnb with a beautiful view of the town and surrounding valley. There were plenty of great coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Also the best bakery we came across in Mexico, bar none.

We did an amazing day trip to the nearby indigenous villages of Chamula and Zinacantan. The church at Chamula was mind-blowing. The local religion is a combination of Catholicism and Paganism and they practise many strange rituals, including faith healing, live sacrifices and soft drink worship (!) The floor of the church is covered with pine needles and lit candles (what could go wrong?) and there are processions of worshippers moving in, out and around the church constantly.

Our tour took in a visit to one of the church elders which was interesting and educational.

The second village of Zinacantan was also quite interesting. The townspeople dressed in quite colourful costumes and there was some sort of public ceremony taking place on the day we visited. We visited a local group of textile workers as part of this visit, also got to try a delicious blue corn tortilla straight off the griddle.

We also did a day trip to nearby Sumidero Canyon, a 13 km stretch of river surrounded by vertical cliffs of up to 1,000 metres high. As well as the stunning natural scenery, there was plenty of wildlife spotting on offer, including a large variety of water birds, monkeys and a quite large crocodile. They also had guys selling beers from kayaks at the midway point. A+ for enterprise, fellas.

We loved our visit to Na Bolom, former home of anthropologist couple Frans Blom and his wife Gertrude. They were real-life explorers in the Indiana Jones mould and dedicated their lives to the recording and preservation of local indigenous cultures. Gertrude’s photography is displayed prominently throughout the museum as well as many of Frans’ hand drawn maps of Mayan archaeological sites.

June statistics

No. of plane flights2
Flight distance kms1,656
Road kms452
Number of different beds4
Kms walked150
Flights of stairs climbed180

June gallery

July, 2019

It was hard to believe our initial six month visa period at Mexico was almost at an end.

We arranged a shuttle bus transfer to Guatemala in early July. Our first stop was the town of Quetzaltenango, better known as Xela. We mainly stopped here for a few days to break up the long trip between San Cristobal de las Casas and Lake Atitlan – and boy are we glad we did.

We packed a stack of activities into our four night stopover. First up was a trip to the Botran rum distillery which was beautiful located in the nearby foothills with views of the surrounding volcanoes. The tour itself was quite interesting. Botran has a long and proud history in Guatemala and the museum had plenty of great artifacts dating back to the inception of the family owned and run business.

As with all tours of alcohol producers, the best part is the tasting at the end. Not only did we get to try a flight of rums of various vintages, we were also invited to an outside deck bar where a dedicated bartender mixed us up some delicious rum cocktails.

We also arranged an unforgettable volcano hike to the Santiaguito Volcano Mirador with the excellent local operator, Quetzaltrekkers. We were privileged enough to witness a massive eruption, up close and personal. It was definitely one of the top highlights of our entire trip. We highly recommend Quetzaltrekkers, they’re a not-for-profit who put all of the proceeds of their tours into educational opportunities for the local community. The guides are all volunteers and they do a great job on the hikes.

While in Xela, we also visited a local chocolate maker for a demonstration on how they make chocolate in the traditional Mayan manner. Again, the best part was the tasting at the end. We got to try several different versions, including a hot chocolate drink, some chocolate yoghurt and finally a delicious truffle.

To cap off our stay, we took a day trip to the nearby natural hot springs at Fuentes Georginas. It was very soothing in the warm baths and judging by our wrinkled hands, we may have stayed in a little too long! The springs are set in the mountains and it was quite misty for most of our visit, which just added to the atmosphere.

Next stop on our itinerary was Lake Atitlan, a massive freshwater lake surrounded by spectacular volcanes. We had a couple of uneventful nights in the gateway town of Panajachel (and a bit of a cash crunch when none of the local ATMs had any cash, though there was one which took $400 out of our account without dispensing any of the folding stuff. All’s well that ends well, and all that).

The lake itself is magnificent and we loved our month long stay at Atitlan Sunset Lodge. We had spectacular views of the lake and volcanoes from everywhere in our apartment, including our bed. It was so relaxing watching the water taxis meander their way across the lake from dawn to dusk, and watching the volcanoes change colours and complexion seemingly by the minute.

It was about a 25 minute walk along the lakeside to get to the nearest village, where there were a couple of small tiendas and a nice cafe with a magnificent elevated view of the lake and surrounds.

We swam in the lake every day and enjoyed jumping in from the elevated piers. I even worked on my diving with help from our Airbnb host. They also had stand up paddle boards and kayaks to use but we didn’t give these much of a run as we were enjoying the swimming so much.

An absolute highlight of our stay was the weekly wood-fired sauna that the staff stoked up every Saturday. Sweat it up in the sauna, jump in lake, rinse and repeat. Highly relaxing and envigorating.

We didn’t want to leave Lake Atitlan when our month stay was up. Would love to go back some day.

July statistics

No. of plane flights0
Flight distance kms0
Road kms433
Number of different beds3
Kms walked133
Flights of stairs climbed372

July gallery

August, 2019

Next stop was the lovely city of Antigua. This pretty colonial town is surrounded by volcanoes, some of which erupt frequently during the day. We enjoyed walking around the city and trying some of the local coffee. We also had a memorable night playing trivia at The Londoner pub – not usually our cup of tea but it’s not every day you have a real life money launderer as a trivia teammate…

Our big adventure out of Antigua was doing a night hike up Pacaya Volcano. Our tour bus picked us up at 1am for the 90 minute drive to Pacaya. On arrival we donned head torches and started the two hour walk up the slope of the volcano, aiming to reach the summit just before dawn.

Not far from the top we stopped at a vantage point to watch in awe as jets of hot red lava spewed out of the volcano and into the night time sky. On reaching the top (a safe distance from the eruption zone), we were amazed to see pockets of molten lava glowing in the darkness on the slopes around us. We were able to get to within a couple of metres of some of these hot spots.

Shortly afterwards, dawn broke and we were treated to a stunning panaroma of the surrounding valleys, ringed by a couple of other volcanoes. While we were snacking on breakfast, we heard a distant ‘boom’ and shortly afterwards saw plumes of smoke erupting from the Fuego volcano on the horizon. The moment couldn’t have been any more special.

The ‘adult packpacker’ portion of our journey started in earnest when we left Antigua. First up was a long shuttle trip across the border to El Salvador. We stayed in the small town of Juayua which is one of the towns that make up the Ruta de las Flores (Flower Route). We were a little out of season to see the spectacular blooms the area is famous for, but we still enjoyed the lush jungle scenery and pretty little towns.

We really enjoyed our day trip to Concepcion de Ataco, which was decorated with many fine examples of street art. While in the town we also took the opportunity to do a guided tour of the El Carmen coffee plantation. We learned a lot about coffee growing and production, and of course the best part was the tasting at the end. Lisa even tried coffee for the first time. (We have created a monster).

We also did the Seven Waterfalls Walk, which was arranged by the very helpful and friendly owner of Hostel Casa Mazeta. The walk was beautiful but unfortunately a bit too challenging for these old knees. Lisa did the whole walk, which included rapelling down one of the seven waterfalls; meanwhile I took a shortcut and met up with the group in time for a swim in the final waterhole.

Next stop was El Salvador’s second biggest city, Santa Ana. We stayed at an unbelievably good hostel, check it out if you’re ever in Santa Ana.

The main reason for our stay was to climb the Santa Ana volcano.

It was, (for me anyway), a challenging but enjoyable climb up the side of the volcano.

Once at the top there was a stunning turquoise crater lake to take in one side, a magnificent panorama of the surrounding valley on another, and nearby Volcano San Marcelino on another. There is also a guy at the summit selling ice creams which he carts all the way up the mountain every day. It would be rude not to partake.

August statistics

No. of plane flights0
Flight distance kms0
Road kms373
Number of different beds5
Kms walked177
Flights of stairs climbed589

August gallery

September, 2019

We continued our trip through El Salvador, spending four nights at a more up-market resort in Suchitoto.

Highlights here included an afternoon sipping beers in an excellent bar filled with revolutionary memorabilia such as recruitment posters, photographs and a rusty AK-47.

We got an even better insight into the Salvadoran civil war the next day when we spent a few hours chatting with Don Rafael, a former rebel commander, followed by a tour through the former mountain stronghold of the rebel forces. It was incredible to think that the guerilla forces and their families spent years living in these primitive jungle camps. Don Rafael had some amazing stories about the events leading up to the war and what life was like in the camps. Highly recommended.

Another interesting day trip was a kayaking birdwatching trip on Lake Suchitlan. We were up at dawn to see the sunrise and spent a couple of enjoyable hours paddling around the lake and spotting the excellent variety of bird life on offer.

Next stop was the capital, San Salvador, which was pretty forgettable apart from the magnificent El Rosario church, notable for its spectacular stained glass windows. (The Cadejo Brewery pub is another reason to allow a few days in San Salvador).

Our final stop in El Salvador was at Surf Farm, outside of the surf town of El Zonte. We spent a week off the grid here, in a small studio apartment with compost toilet, outdoor shower and an absolutely beautiful resident dog. The kitchen and living area were outdoors, with the place set right in the jungle, It was a very peaceful and relaxing way to spend a week.

We arrived in the town of Copan Ruinas, Honduras, when the whole country plus Nicaragua and Guatemala had a major power outage. Fortunately service was restored by nightfall, though our air conditioner was nowhere near loud enough to block out the rooster perched about 2 metres away on the neighbour’s side of the fence.

The Mayan ruins at Copan were quite interesting, though for some reason our guide repeated every story he told us twice, so it took a little longer than expected to get around the site. There were some wild scarlet macaws in the trees and on the ground near the entrance, which was quite a sight. The on-site museum was unexpectedly well put together, with a reconstruction of an underground burial chamber the centrepiece of the large museum complex.

We took an afternoon trip over very bumpy roads to the Luna Jaguar spa and hot springs. The entire complex is set beautifully in the jungle and has naturally fed hot and cold streams and pools. Some of the hot pools reach 90 degrees celsius, so read the signs before jumping in! It was so relaxing switching between the hot and cold pools and sitting under natural waterfalls of warm water. We definitely didn’t want to leave.

We also spent a very enjoyable morning at Macaw Mountain, which is a rescue and rehabilitation centre for macaws and other native birds. They have an excellent release program (which is how the macaws now living at the ruins site came to be there). There are some amazing wall-sized photos of the various mass releases that have taken place over the past decade or so. The pride on the faces of the staff and patrons watching the birds fly free is something to behold.

Honduras gets quite a bad rap as a tourist destination due to security and safety concerns. Copan itself is isolated from most of these issues and we didn’t experience any problems at all in our time in the town. The town itself had a great selection of restaurants and bars and the people were exceedingly friendly. It was one of our favourite towns on our whole trip.

From Copan it was a long shuttle ride back across the border to Guatemala, to the town of Rio Dulce. We stayed two nights at Hotel Kangaroo (run by two Mexican brothers, of course). It was a beautiful setting, sitting right on the water on a tributary just off the main branch of Rio Dulce. There was an excellent resident river dog to play with and some decent Mexican food in the restaurant.

Highlight of our stay was a day trip to the hot waterfall at Finca El Paraiso. We caught a collectivo from Rio Dulce town. Luckily we got on early and found a seat. By the time we reached our destination an hour away, the 15-seater van had almost 30 people on board, hanging out of open doors and sitting on the roof!

The waterfall itself was superb. The naturally heated water had a strong steady flow and was hot. As in ‘this shower is about as hot as I can stand without burning myself’. We were fortunate that there were only a few other people in the spring so it was quite peaceful. There were plenty of little bitey fish to give you a free fish pedicure, also a nice little alcove where you could stand behind the waterfall and enjoy the flow.

Our next stop was at El Hotelito Perdido (little lost hotel), which was about as far off the grid as we got on the trip. The hotel is eco-friendly, operating almost exclusively on solar power and is located on the river mid-way between Rio Dulce and Livingston.

The bungalows are built right in the jungle, above mangrove swamps. There are kayaks available for guests to explore the nearby sights (manatee reserve, caves, hot springs etc). There is also the most beautiful dog who insists on coming on every kayak trip.

We had a peaceful stay at Hotelito Perdido. We slept like babies in the small four-poster bed, despite the lack of air conditioning or ceiling fans. Maybe this was because we spent at least an hour floating in the river every night, trying to cool down.

As well as doing a couple of short (hot) kayak trips, we took a day trip up the river to the Garifuna town of Livingston. We had an interesting impromptu tour through the Garifuna settlement with one of the local guides before taking a pretty walk to a nearby waterfall and beach.

September statistics

No. of plane flights0
Flight distance kms0
Road kms682
Number of different beds8
Kms walked171
Flights of stairs climbed420

September gallery

October, 2019

October was Belize month. It had been on my bucket list for many years and it didn’t disappoint.

First up was a long travel day between our digs on Rio Dulce and the Belizean town of Placencia. It went something like: river boat – ferry – intercity bus – taxi – water taxi – local bus. To our surprise, all of the connections were like clockwork. It was also refreshing being back in an Engligh-speaking country after nine months of Spanish.

Our Airbnb in Maya Beach was set in the jungle a little off the main road. We had plenty of wildlife to keep us amused – iguanas, agoutis, racoons, quashes and plenty of birds. It was hot and humid and we spent a lot of time at nearby resorts, drinking beers, eating great food and swimming in the resort pools. One of the restaurant recommendations from our host was a pizza shop inside a bowling alley. Expect the unexpected.

We went on a half-day catamaran snorkel trip and loved it so much we went out again with the same operator two days later. The coral reefs were just spectacular and there were plenty of fish and other marine life to see as well. And there were bottomless rum cocktails on the way home.

Next stop was the quiet Garifuna town of Hopkins. Again it was hot and humid. We spent one night watching the local drummers do their thing. The food options in town were fantastic, especially the pork chops with pineapple curry sauce at Ella’s Cool Spot. Definitely one of the best meals on our trip, and very friendly and welcoming service to boot.

Another decent travel day and we were in the town of San Ignacio, which is a regional hub for many of the adventure travel activities in Belize.

We did a half day cave tubing trip to Nohoch Ch’een Caves Branch which was a lot of fun. The tour involved carrying our tubes across a few moderate rivers, then floating through the cave system in the dark. There were bats, stalactites, eyeless fish and Mayan paintings on the ceiling. Our tubes were tied together for safety on the caving section but we were allowed to float solo down the river at the end.

This whetted our appetite to tackle the more difficult Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (ATM Cave) adventure. We had to switch to full Indiana Jones mode; our day involved 6 river crossings (2 chest deep), a short swim in crystal clear water to enter the cave, wading 1 km upstream through the underground river, scrambling over rocks, crawling through crevasses, climbing boulders, and squeezing through tiny openings until we reached the Mayan ceremonial part of the caves. Here there were over 1400 artefacts and the skeletons of several victims of sacrificial practices, as well as incredibly large chambers and amazing crystal like stalactites and stalagmites. A simply unbelievable experience.

While in San Ignacio we also visited the Green Iguana Conservation Project, where we got to pat a few lovely big iguanas (and Lisa spotted some wild toucans in the trees). We also took a hot walk though town to the Cahal Pech archaeological site to check out some more Mayan ruins.

All of this adventuring surely called for some down time, so we made our way across Belize to the beautiful Caribbean island of Caye Caulker, stopping en route for a walk around the fantastic Belize Zoo. The highlight here was a close encounter with some of the native tapirs.

We loved our time on Caye Caulker. It’s a laid back little town with hardly any vehicle traffic. There are great casual restaurants and bars (try the local lobster and crab) and plenty of activities to partake in. We took the opportunity to brush off our PADI cards and completed a refresher scuba course before embarking on a series of four ocean dives. The diving was fantastic and we both really enjoyed the coral and marine life (which included some extremely close encounters with reef sharks and nurse sharks).

We left Caye Caulker early one morning to make the long trip to Playa del Carmen. Our day involved taking a water taxi via San Pedro to clear Belize customers, then on Chetamul, Mexico to clear Mexico customs, then taxi to the ADO bus station and finally a 5 hour bus trip through to Playa. It was nice to be back in Mexico again.

October statistics

No. of plane flights0
Flight distance kms0
Road kms766
Number of different beds5
Kms walked171
Flights of stairs climbed180

October gallery

November, 2019

We really enjoyed our time in Playa del Carmen. We initially had a three week stay while we waited for our first vistors (Glen & Nellie) to arrive. We went to the gym every day and also took advantage of some of the great cheap restaurants located on 30th Avenida.

While in Playa we took the opportunity to do four more scuba dives with Scuba Playa (highly recommended), including two in nearby cenotes. All of the dives were incredible but we particularly enjoyed the cenote dives at Dos Ojos (“Two eyes”) and The Pit. The way the sunlight shines through the crystal clear fresh water is just spectacular (though it does get a bit eerie when you descend through the halocline level). There were plenty of submerged stalagmites and stalactites to check out as well.

My brother, Glen, and his wife, Nellie, arrived mid November and we were very excited to have some people to play with after 10 months on the road. We had a couple of days at Cancun before heading back to Playa.

We had a great day visiting Cristalino Cenote. We arrived early and were pretty much the only ones on site for a while, apart from a newlywed couple doing a ‘trash the wedding dress’ photo shoot. It was great fun doing bombs off the cliff into the clear water, and exploring the various water holes with our snorkeling gear.

Another great day trip was catching the ferry to the nearby island of Cozumel. The island is world-famous for its excellent snorkeling and scuba diving, and we arranged a three-site snorkel trip, which was out of this world. The shades of blue in the ocean around the island were just spectacular, and the underwater visibility was probably the best I’ve ever seen.

We headed further south for a few days, to the town of Akumal which is mid-way between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Our Airbnb place had a nice jungle setting and we had a large group of quashes visit one day as well as the ever-present iguanas. Across the road was a small cenote that had a resident family of monkeys that (unfortunately) were severely overfed by tourists. But they were still pretty cute.

Unfortunately I had a major face plant incident on the journey to Akumal and jarred my knee quite badly. I was housebound for a couple of days so missed doing the day trip to Tulum with the others. Luckily I got to visit a few months later and see these spectacular Mayan ruins for myself.

A few days later we visited the famous turtle beach at Akumal. It was quite chaotic trying to negotiate the aggressive touts and get to the beach itself, and to then work out how to see the turtles without paying exhorbitant amounts to go on a crowded supervised group tour. Lisa managed to find a great spot in the unrestricted, public part of the beach and spotted four large turtles. The beach itself was quite nice and one of the cafes does an excellent frappuccino.

We hired a car for a day (our only day’s driving for the year) to visit the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. The huge main temple dominates the site, but there were plenty of other impressive structures to check out as well. We had the most perfect blue skies for our visit and the photos look incredible. It was a long day but definitely worth doing.

Next stop on our itinerary was Havana, Cuba.

To be honest we didn’t know what to expect.

There were a few things we needed to get our heads around before our visit. The dual currencies. The impact of US trade bans on things like credit cards. The lack of roaming for our phone. The resultant need to do a lot more pre-planning than for many other countries. But it was definitely all worthwhile. We had a ball. Cuba is a great country to visit.

We did two separate free walking tours of Havana, the first to Old Havana, which focused on the older, colonial part of town, and the second to Central Havana, which is the more residential, gritty part of town. Both tours were led by passionate and enthusiastic locals and we learned a lot about the colourful history of Havana, and about life in Cuba in general.

No visit to Havana is complete without a ride in a vintage American car. Of course, we had been expecting to see a few of these cars in town, but we had no idea there was a fleet of around 3,000 vehicles, most in immaculate condition. We actually did two vintage car tours, the first which took us on the standard loop of tourist sites and the second to the unique, Gaudi-esque suburb known as Fusterlandia.

We did a fair bit of walking around town, checking out the mish-mash of grand old colonial mansions, dilapidated buildings and everything in between. We spent some time at the massive Revolution Square, and went up the lookout at the nearby Jose Marti Memorial for some panoramic views of the town. We also took some long walks along the malecon (sea wall) from the old town back to our Airbnb at Vedado, possibly stopping for a few rum cocktails along the way.

The food in Havana was cheap and delicious, especially the seafood. There were also plenty of bars with great live music. Our time in Cuba was definitely too short and we hope to return some day to check out the rest of the country.

November statistics

No. of plane flights1
Flight distance kms520
Road kms262
Number of different beds5
Kms walked189
Flights of stairs climbed90

November gallery

December, 2019

The final stop on our 2019 adventure was a return to Mexico City.

We stayed in the upmarket neighbourhood of Roma, which was certainly a step up from the more modest area of Benito Juarez that we stayed at back in January.

We did a free walking tour of the city with Glen & Nellie, which took in most of the key sites in Centro as well as a few off-the-beaten-path places.

Probably the best $5 we spent all trip was for another fun night out at the Lucha Libre wrestling. There were some spectacular and hilarious antics and the locals in the crowd around us were getting right into the spirit of things.

We visited the Mercado de Artesanias (artisan’s market) for some last minute souvenir shopping (not my scene at all), but everyone else was happy with the range. More interesting for me was the nearby Mercado de San Juan where there was a fantastic range of local produce (cheese, wines, smallgoods) as well as some exotic foods such as grasshoppers, scorpions and cockroaches. (No we didn’t try these, but we did have a grasshopper garnish on one of our meals earlier in the trip).

Our final Sunday we visited Bazar de Oro and had the most amazing, oozing grilled cheese sandwich. Not particularly Mexican, but still a delicious way to end our 2019 adventure.

Our flight home was Mexico City – Vancouver – Melbourne and we enjoyed some of Canada’s finest craft beers during our 12 hour airport hotel stopover.

December statistics

No. of plane flights3
Flight distance kms18,900
Road kms0
Number of different beds2
Kms walked124
Flights of stairs climbed151

December gallery

Total Trip Statistics

No. of plane flights11
Flight distance kms39,787
Road kms4,530
Number of different beds36
Kms walked2,010
Flights of stairs climbed3,760
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