Bacalar

We cruised into Bacalar on the last fumes in the petrol tank. We had wrongly assumed that somewhere on the two hour long drive down main road between the two towns there would be a fuel station. There was not. We always carry a back up jerry can, but tend to use that only when we have actually run out. Now safely full of fuel, we headed to Jardin de Venus, a recommended spot by our friends who had travelled this way before us, including Jaro, who we had missed by just one day. 

The owner, Olga, showed us around. The hostel had an excellent location, right on the banks of the lagoon. You could sit in a hammock on the waters edge or sit on the grass and enjoy the boats sailing past. We got settled in, and shortly after we arrived, another couple in a camper turned up. Over the next few days, we got to know some of the other people; Lou, from Argentina, Felicidad from Bolvia with her Romanian boyfriend Mihai and Clem and Alex were our fellow campers from France and Quebec. There was a definite variety and we quickly discovered lots in common with Clem and Alex over some beers that afternoon. Lee had found that there was a bar nearby that did the worlds only blue beer, so the four of us headed over to try a flight. 

Apparently its blue colouring is because of algae. On the plus side, it doesn’t taste of algae but on the other hand it doesn’t really taste of much at all. More of a novelty than anything else. It turns out that Clem and Alex were also vegetarian, so we decided to share a plate of food before heading back to the hostel to cook a joint meal. 

While Merida had appeared to be where all the English congregated, Bacalar was for the French. Another couple appeared named Emilie and Max, they rented out the little trailer on site and where as keen as we were to try out the kayaks. Since we bought our kayak around a year ago, we had tried to use it once and not very successfully.  We had not had all that much opportunity however, but we were both agreed. If we didn’t use it now, we never would. The hostel also had two single and one double kayak, meaning that all six of us could head out into the lagoon. 

The wind was strong and the water choppy. Luckily it was very warm, so it was actually pleasant when a particularly large wave washed over the side of the kayak from time to time. We paddled a little way, before stopping for a swim in the crystal clear shallow water of the mangroves. 

Continuing on, we headed for Cenote Negro. While it is hard to appreciate from the water level, an aerial view gives a clearer picture of the reason behind its namesake. A large sinkhole to the side of the lagoon, it is easy enough to paddle right in. The water then plummets 90m below you, giving it its black appearance. It’s located here on the left hand side of the lagoon just below the town. You can also see from the aerial view how the lagoon gets its name as the Lagoon of Seven Colours.

We needed to stop anyway, the kayak was not as inflated as it had been when we started. The others dived from the various points of the tree we had moored at, no fear of hitting the bottom here. It was nice to enjoy some time out of the wind and with the lagoons calmer waters we got some idea of just how deep it was. 

Having managed to get a bit of air back into our kayak so we could continue, we headed for the next point of interest. The island. This turned out to be very hard work, as we paddled directly into the wind and tried not to get in the way of passing sailboats. Eventually though, we made it and tied ourselves to the outer fence. 

It isn’t possible to actually go on the island, which is a shame but understandable as it’s a bird sanctuary. We summoned our remaining strength for the paddle back. We had covered more distance than we thought, around 9km. While we didn’t feel it at once, we knew some aching muscles were to come. 

There was still plenty more to see of Bacalar, and while our arms needed a break we decided to cycle to Cenote Azul, around half an hour south of the hostel on the lagoon. This cenote is not as deep and is only accessible from an entrance on the land side. Although it is on the lagoon, a small road separates it from being included. Clem and Alex were there with their friends from Argentina, and Emilie and Max joined us later having biked there too. 

I did wonder how many more cenotes I really needed to see, but for only 50 pesos to get in we may as well. It turns out this was actually one of my favourites. The water is an insane bright blue colour and super clean. You can see why they insist that you don’t where sun cream to avoid contaminating it. 

What I particularly enjoyed was the swimming. It was the perfect temperature, the water still and big enough that to get to the other side was a fair swim. It’s not often you get all of those things at once. 

Having spent a pleasant morning, we got back on our bikes and headed back. This time we took the smaller coastal road which was nicer in terms of traffic, but much, much hillier. Back at the hostel we threw ourselves in the lake again to cool off. The afternoon we spent barbequing the rather good veggie burgers and sausages the others had found. Once again the table in the hostel was full of food and conversation.

We spent the next several days enjoying good company and good food. The final of the euros had arrived and with England set to play for the first time in 55 years we located a suitable bar. While the match didn’t have the resulted we wanted, we still enjoyed the food and beer. As the name day drinking suggests, it is a day-long event. We headed to the next bar, and the next, rounding the night off with a huge veggie burger at Mango Chile. 

The next event on the social calendar, was at Xolos, full name Xoloitzcuintle, which is the only breed of Mexican dog and hairless. Probably a sensible attribute for the temperatures here. Despite the name, Xolos is a bar and Luciano, one of the Argentinians, was performing there. Olga recommended that we try costras. They fry cheese so that it becomes like a tortilla, she told us. She didn’t need to tell us again. 

Luciano played some enjoyable music, while the latest additions to the hostel, two Mexican twins, danced very enthusiastically in front of him. They were doing enough dancing for all us, I concentrated on my costra. Olga was right, it was very good. 

At the end, Clem who is also a musician arranged to play in the same bar a week later, we debated whether to hang around, we hadn’t planned to stay so long. 

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the food. Lizzie was getting plumper by the day and while she still projectile snotted on occasion, we wanted to get her vaccinated in preparation for the border crossing.

The vet had been happy to give her one vaccine, but as she was still sick they wanted to wait 8 days for the other. There isn’t much to do on the route back to the Guatemalan border and with Clem set to perform in a week, we decided we were happy to hang around. 

There was still plenty to see, including the free entertainment in the village. This is one of the advantages of staying in a hostel, you get to hear about events going on. This one took place in a small amphitheatre behind the ruins near the town centre. It featured some quite good, if clearly amateur acts; a lady with lots of hula-hoops, two other ladies who did some fire dancing and a very enthusiastic but not particularly talented compere. It also featured some distinctly odd acts, including a lady who read page after page in a monotone which I can tell was boring even if you could fully understand it and another lady who dressed as a rock or technically a stromatolite. 

To give context, stromatolites look exactly like rocks, but are actually quite rare to find alive today. They are made up of layers and layers of microorganisms and their fossilised remains provide us with the evidence of the first life on earth. Bacalar is one of the few places in the world where these structures continue to exist in a living rather than fossilised form. The point of rock lady was to highlight the importance of this and protecting the lake and the environment that it provides. A truly worthwhile message, which was a little lost on me for some time until my Spanish caught up and I realised she wasn’t a) an avocado with arms or b) a small plucked bird; the costume being rather open to interpretation. 

Still, for free entertainment you can’t complain. 

Having access to a proper sized kitchen inspired us to cook up a proper curry and we weren’t the only ones who liked to cook. Having watched Felicidad, who spent a large part of the day cooking (and looking after Mihai who was recovering from some major sugery), she offered us some Bolivian peanut soup. It was delicious and she told me that if I bought the ingredients she would teach me how to cook it. True to her word, she showed me the recipe which I copied down into my ever growing travelling recipe book. 

Still, the food continued. We enjoyed a rather good sandwich and at the vegetarian café, Yerbabuena. 

The final meal of note was Italian night, cooked by people from France, Argentina and England. Two French girls had come to stay for a few nights and cooked up some pretty amazing pizzas. The Argentinians came and made beetroot gnocchi. I attempted to make pasta without a pasta machine and I’m actually pretty happy about the results. 

While the kitchen was filled with pizza and pasta, the rain poured down outside as is normal for the time of year. Slowly the hostel grounds disappeared under water, Lou was the only one who this really affected, her tent now being somewhat submerged.

Having the kayak still inflated, we decided to take one more short trip over to the Canal de las Piratas. We weren’t actually allowed down the canal like proper pirates, but we settled for seeing the other side of the lake. Once again, our paddling was rewarded with crystal clear waters and mangrove swamps.

The last place that we visited was Xul-Ha after having already seen Sac-Ha. Apparently we had missed the cacao ceremony and estactic dance that happened around here earlier in the week. Although that was really not my cup of tea. Both these spots are nice ‘beach’ type spots. They are cheap to enter and give you access to the beautiful water. Sac-Ha is busier, and we went in a thunderstorm, which seemed to mirror that days cooling problems with our engine. Xul-Ha by contrast is quieter, probably as it is further from the main town. We also managed this drive, just before we left without any problems which probably made the time we spent here more relaxing.

Our time in Bacalar was coming to an end, the last event was going to be Clem’s performance on Monday night. This got rescheduled to Tuesday night as the bar got shut down for breaching covid restrictions. However, when we turned up on Tuesday it was still closed. We walked down to another bar which we knew had live music and Clem managed to blag herself a spot as the warm up act. It was great to actually see her perform, and in actual fact the replacement bar paid more, had better sound quality and gave us a free pizza. 

The only downside to the end of the stay was the disappearance of Lee’s ipad. After hours of watching the CCTV it was either the French girls in their kombi or a rather shady looking guy who lives under a tarpaulin on the other side of the lake. We paddled over in the kayak and confronted him, as he was the obvious choice but nothing came out of it. We had to right it off to bad luck and move on, annoying as we had lost two expensive pieces of equipment that week. Lee’s phone had got full of water on the last kayak trip and a repair shop informed us that it would be more economic to buy a new phone than repair it.

Nothing will change my view of Bacalar however, we enjoyed two brilliant weeks there and it seemed fitting that we left to go south on the same day that Alex and Clem headed north, following in each other’s respective footsteps. Let’s just hope Ruby behaves for once.

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