Llama or Alpaca?

Probably the biggest and most important question which had been raised in my mind over the two weeks I have been in Peru is how you can tell the difference between a llama and an alpacaca.

And google returns some very interesting results.

  1. So one of the main differences between the two is the ear shape. Apparently llamas have long, banana-shaped ears whereas alpacas have very short thin ones
  2. Furthermore, alpacas are the smaller ones and llamas are generally much larger.
  3. Llamas faces are longer and alpacas shorter and more cutesy cramped
  4. Alpacas wool can be used in textiles whereas llamas aren’t so fortunate and are more likely to be used for farm labor and meat
  5. Alpacas are herd animals and llamas are very strong independent individuals

 

Basically llamas are larger and spit more. Another important question answered. You are welcome.

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Cancun

I don’t know what I was really expecting of Cancun. I had heard such mixed reviews from other travelers coming down from the resort town that I was really unsure of what I might encounter.

Seared in my brain as the place of Spring Break parties since my mid-teens, Cancun is definitely equipped for sun, sea and clubbing. The huge stretch of beaches, bars, resort hotels and night clubs lies on a strip some way out from the town of Cancun, and buses run regularly to and from the zone.

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One of the few (blurry) pictures I have of the Cancun nightlife

If I’m being perfectly honest, the town of Cancun isn’t great. Busy roads and large shopping centres hardly create a picturesque and cultural feel that can be experienced in other towns of the country. Going clubbing there is expensive too, with some of the top clubs charging $65 for entrance on big nights. Although this includes an open bar, I know that I won’t be able to drink back my money’s worth. I spent one day with a huge hangover and the next leaving – there’s not actually much to do here apart from partying.

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The ‘real’ Cancun…

So I tried it once, had a good night out, probably wouldn’t return, but at least I can say I have stepped foot in the famous Cancun. Now it’s time to explore some more of the real Mexico away from the resort-lined east coast.

Best Travel Music

So I’ve been thinking about doing a post about this for a while. Music is something very important to pretty much everyone on the planet, and given that I spend a lot of hours alone on buses, my iPod has been one of my best friends this entire trip.

Before coming out here I uploaded a fair few songs which I thought would be uplifting to a solo traveler. A lot of them are classics, but I’ve thrown some of my random favourites in – I should add the disclaimer that I have what I would call a very “unique” taste in music.

On the Road Again, Willie Nelson

I’ve Been Everywhere, Johnny Cash

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), The Proclaimers – I absolutely love this song, not least because it reminds me of How I Met your Mother when it gets stuck in their car record player. So very uplifting!

Forever Young, Alphaville – I get unreasonably emotional when I listen to this; it reminds me how the present is fleeting and something I have to appreciate now in all its entirety, whether good or bad.

The Cave, Mumford and Sons – quite a recent song and not particularly related to travelling, but it reminds me of the philosophical problem of Plato’s about – when prisoners inside a cave think that shadows they see on the cave wall are real and only when they are released are they able to understand that reality is far more complex beyond the cave. Dare I employ a parallel between coming out of a cave and leaving one’s country to experience the many different realities which are lived by people all over the world?

Don’t Look Back in Anger, Oasis – I had to include it; I am one to ruminate and forever regret my past choices. Travelling is a very personal time where you are able to put at least some things in your mind into perspective. This song reminds me that I needed treat my past self with anger – it can’t be changed and maybe it really was the best decision for myself at the time.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Greenday – I cannot explain how important I feel it is for one to understand themselves and be connected with themselves before they can connect truly with other people. A quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray which I have been reading whilst travelling explains this beautifully – ‘ This song is great for reminding me that it is ok to be alone, that it isn’t strange that I’m halfway across the world without friends or a boyfriend and that understanding oneself is something hugely important.

Leaving on a Jet Plane, John Denver

Sweet Disposition, The Temper Trap – I will always associate this with wide spanning movie shots of a sunny open road, I don’t know why.

Fast Car, Tracy Chapman – A classic, I remember listening to this trying to get to sleep in my dorm room in the first year of university. It always reminds me what it’s all about.

I Miss You, Blink-182 – just reminds me of my friends and how much I miss them sometimes – and how that is good because it means they mean a lot to me.

Pure Shores, All Saints – This song will forever remind me of The Beach, how much I love Leonardo DiCaprio and how much I want to go to Thailand.

How Far I’ll Go, Auli’i Cravalho – another cheesy one from the recent movie Moana, but this song has a depth to it about following your heart even if everyone around you is telling you not to.

A Horse with No Name, America – Just reminds me of GTA

The Day we Caught the Train, Ocean Colour Scheme

Livin’ on a Prayer, Bon Jovi

Dog Days are Over, Florence and the Machine

When You Were Young, The Killers

Mr Brightside, The Killers – one of my favourite songs of all time

Every Breath You Take, The Police

Creep, Radiohead – cannot explain how much I empathise with this song!

Youth, The Naked and Famous – A bit random, but I find this song always puts me in a good mood.

Closer, The Chainsmokers – I got addicted to this song travelling through Croatia last October, it always reminds me of travelling ever since.

Get Lucky, Daft Punk – Likewise, this song was all the rage back in mainland Europe 2013 when I was interrailing with school friends. It has reminded me of that time in my life ever since.

Hurt, Johnny Cash – Again not particularly applicable to travelling, but I truly identify with this song and feel it has been so important for me to listen to out here on my own for my personal growth

The Zephyr Song, Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Just because sometimes I really wish I had a zephyr to carry me away

Demons, Imagine Dragons – Again, not really about travelling, but I identify so much

Bailando, Enrique Iglesias – reminds me of a summer I spent in Spain between my first and second year of uni and is always guaranteed to get me in a party mood, even if that means getting up the courage to go to a bar on my own…

Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush – I adore Kate Bush, make of that what you will…..

Cake by the Ocean, DNCE – reminds me of one of my best friends from uni, and of being by the ocean

Life Itself and Youth, Glass Animals – always upbeat and these songs never fail to cheer me up

Have Love, Will Travel, The Sonics

Don’t Stop Believin’, Journey

Big Jet Plane, Angus and Julia Stone

Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper

I’d better stop now, I could go on forever. The take home message is that music can be very personal to a traveler, especially when you are on our own and it is the only one who can keep you company on a cramped shuttle bus from Lago de Atitlan to Flores. One can find meaning in songs far deeper than they ever supposed and this in itself can be rewarding and very fulfilling.

Oh but wait, just one more thing! In case anyone is interested in getting a taste of the music in Central America, please give the following a listen – they play on repeat ALL the time, EVERYWHERE you go…

Despacito, Luis Fanis & Daddi Yankee feat. Justin Bieber

Adios Amor,  Christian Nodal

Reggaeton Lento, CNCO

Dile tu me Quieres, Ozuna

El Amante, Nicky Jam

And now I really must stop, because alas, the Cancun nightlife is calling me.

 

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Just north up from the coast from Tulum and I found myself heading deeper and deeper into the world of American holiday resorts.

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5th Avenida in Playa

Playa del Carmen is again another step up on the tourism scale. A prime beachside resort, the majority of bars and restaurants reside along 5th Avenue, the town’s busiest street. It was the first time I had seen a H&M out here, which I got unreasonably excited about, and several Starbucks for that matter. I also had my first experience in a Walmart which turned out to be pretty much as I expected; a big supermarket.

At night the place is brimming with people and the party scene is evident – two men approached me asking if I wanted “blow or smack” to which I politely declined.

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A bustling open-fronted bar on the strip

The beach itself is reasonable, though far better reviews are heard from Akumal beach where one is actually able to swim with turtles and other marine life. Cenotes such as the El Jardin de Eden are also reachable from here, with crystal clear waters and cavernous rocks to explore.

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The typical resort beaches at Playa del Carmen

Continuing my interesting and extremely thought-provoking tour along the resort trail, my next stop will be the iconic Cancun, a place which I am very curious about owing to the many mixed reviews I have received from other travellers. Me in Cancun alone on a Friday night, what could possibly go wrong?

Tulum, Mexico

I took a chicken bus from Belize City all the way north to Chetumal in Mexico. There is an annoying exit tax when crossing from Belize – $20 US in fact, which I wasn’t too happy about. From Chetumal it was an uncomfortable second class ADO bus to Tulum, arriving at dark to a very chilled out hostel.

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Me relieved to have finally got to the beach!

Tulum is an odd town, not what I expected at all. The google pictures of it show sprawling beaches, which there are, but they are about 5km out of town – believe me, I walked it! Most people hire bikes which I would probably recommend as the best way of getting around, though collectivos and taxis are available.

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Beautiful sprawling coastline

Also the most obvious difference from any other part of Central America that I have travelled so far is the tourist trade. Even volunteering in Monteverde – a town that lives for tourism – I felt it more authentic than the coastline with resorts and hotels fencing every bit of sand.

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Main road in Tulum

There are ruins in Tulum, and they are quite impressive being directly on the coast. It is recommended to get here early (as with any tourist spot) and there was a random road train ferrying people around, though I have no idea of its origin or destination.

The town itself mainly lies along a long strip of busy road consisting of tourist restaurants. Mexico is cheap in comparison to Belize and towards the less busy end of the road I found an extremely nice street-food style burrito shop Burrtito Amor. This place has a great atmosphere and fast service, not to mention amazing burritos at a very cheap price; my hefty portion of a cheese and bean burrito cost me less than $3.

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Burrito Amor, for a good, cheap streetfood style experience

But alas, it is time to move further north, delving ever deeper into the lands of the American tourist.

Caye Caulker, Belize

Off the shore of Belize lie a number of Cayes, or small islands with their own communities and rich marine life. I took a ferry from Belize City to Caye Caulker, a very small Caye with only one main street.

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My time here was mixed. Some of the locals act a bit oddly towards tourists – some of them were high and drunk some of the time and one got very angry when I refused a spliff at two in the afternoon.

The beach is small, but the water is clear and beautiful and very refreshing to swim in. Lots of snorkelling tours go out from the island with chances to sea sharks, dolphins and even manatees among other colourful coral fish.

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The island is quite expensive compared to the rest of the country, but I did have a great time going out to the Sports Bar on Saturday – where most of the island seems to go. Furthermore, I met a very hippy, spiritual guy in my hostel room who played a ukelele with whom I stayed up to about 4am talking about everything, from experience of consciousness to how his father reacted when he chose to move to the jungle. Very weird, very surreal, I was somewhat relieved to get back on the mainland and continue my journey north to Mexico.

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Into Belize – San Ignacio

A public bus from Flores and I arrived at the Guatemala-Belize border which was quite easy to cross in comparison with the Costa Rica-Nicaragua.

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The Belize border

Belize feels very different to Guatemala. A former British Colony and situated on the Caribbean Sea, there is a distinctively Caribbean feel. Indeed, although many can speak Spanish, many people around here speak with a beautiful Caribbean tone. It is also very green and flat, reminding me a lot of some places in Europe.

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Sign in San Ignacio…

My first port of call was the town of San Ignacio about 20mins or so from the border. This small town is nestled in the middle of rolling countryside and there are plenty of cave tours and Mayan ruins to see. For me, I took the time to walk to a river crossing where you could swim.

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River crossing and swimming!

I also made friends with some nice waiters at Tandoor restaurant on the main road. Glenn was fantastic to talk to and they all made me feel very welcome.

A good stopover city, but now it is time to head for Caye Caulker on the Caribbean Sea.