Tales from the Yucatan

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North America » Mexico » Yucatán » Merida
September 29th 2011
Published: October 3rd 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

It has taken me a little while to write but that's because Mexico is awesome so far and we've been to busy eating, drinking and exploring to sit down for a period of time.

We arrived in Cancun on 22nd September after a loooong 10 hour flight. I am used to medium haul flights due to returning to Sydney regularly however this one left at 10am so I was wide awake. Its saving grace was that it was super empty and the BA staff tried to ply us with alcohol as they were bored. Needless to say it worked and there was no more vodka on the plane by the time we got off!

Cancun was hot and steamy and our hotel was in the centre of town. It was an eco hotel and ok but there wasn't much around us. We went for a walk and found a cantina for a first meal of tacos and cervesa and it was yum! We were so tired we didn't do much for the rest of the day and ended up eating dinner around the corner at the Mexican version of McDonalds ie overpriced, average fast food.

We had decided to avoid the hotel or really touristy part of Cancun and for this I was glad - when getting off the plane there were numerous ads for Hooters, Playboy Casino and 'drink til you puke'bars like Coco Bongo. Maybe another time - not!

We had planned to head to Cozumel to go diving the next day but due to illness decided to cancel that and head to Chitchen Itza (Chicken Itsu) instead. We booked a night's accommodation at a hotel close to the ruins and jumped on a bus first thing the next morning. The hotel was super quiet as everywhere seems to be at this time of year, which is working in our favour. We got upgraded and again were some of the only guests in the hotel.

We headed out to the ruins and met an Aussie guy called Leo and we all hired a private guide to explain the wonders of the site to us. No surprise it is one of the 7 modern wonders of the world as the Mayans built it all without compasses yet managed to get the measurements of north, east, south and west precise and even magnetic north thrown in for good measure. They were amazing astrologists, and our guide Rafael who is an archeologist explained their achievements by saying they had a lot of what we no longer have today - time and observation. Very true, and he sprouted all kinds of amazing mathematical and geographical facts at us for 1.5 hours.

Of interest was a Mayan ball game they used to play on a massive court, with leather balls that were 4 kilos and they could only use their hips, kness and feet to get these havy balls through a ridiculously high goal. The prize for the captain of the winning team was to be sacrified to the gods by the losing captain. Not a game I would like to play nor win!

We happened to be at the site on the autumn equinox, but missed the special 'serpent effect'that can be seen on the side of the main pyramid as storm clouds started to gather. So far the weather hasn't been too bad - very hot and sticky but hardly any rain. Well, a massive storm gathered while we were still at Chitchen Itza which made for some awesom photos. We finished our tour just as it started to pour, and got a taxi back to the hotel.

We sat on the porch of our room in rocking chairs and ordered margaritas from th bar and watched the storm roll in whilst listening to sounds of locals and birds. It was fabulous! I probably had one margarita too many and so we headed out into town for dinner and an early night.

We did love the tiny town of Pinte that we stayed in - they had a few restaurants that sold only BBQ chicken (cooked in front of you) served with rtice and salad and the inevitable salsa verde, salsa piccante (green chilies, tomato and onion) and limes (which they call lemons). I am loving the food here and these accompaniments are most welcome! Other faves to date have been tacos with chicken and beans, huevos Mexicana (scrambled eggs with eggs, peppers and onions), quesadillas and sopa de limas (chicken soup with limes - YUMMO).

One mistake and something to be avoided is Sol beer 'con comatle'. Steve picked up a couple of takeaway beers at a nearby 7-11 and we discovered these are beer with tomato juice. It tastes as gross as it sounds!! The maid got 2 of those as a tip

Pinte was very cute, very small and had a shop that only sold huevos ie eggs. They were all the same size and very white and we loved that shop!

Next morning we took advantage of the pool before jumping on a bus to Merida.

Merida is the cultural capital of the Yucatan and for good reason. It has a population of around 750,000 and is steeped in culture. We were lucky enough to arrive on a weekend and on each day every weekend they have a cultural fiesta, both in different parts of the city.

Again we booked a hotel just before we arrived in the town and got upgraded to the 'penthouse'room which had its own balcony and views over the city. It was great for breakfast in the morning!

We missed lunchtime and arrived about 3pm. We were starving so headed to a restaurant that was recommended by Lonely Planet and tucked in! I had sopa de limas again, followed by chichinita pibil, which is pork marinated in chilis and slow roasted. The pork was a whole plate (with beans) and then came with the usual basket of tortillas, and salsa etc - so we were stuffed!

It was really hot and humid so after walking around for a bit we headed back to the hotel with the intention of heading out to the evening fiesta. Jetlag and heat caught up and we passed out around 8pm and slept right through to the next morning!

We booked an overnight bus from Merida to Palenque leaving the next day at midnight so had the day to spend in Merida exploring and enjoying the fiesta. We knew all about the happenings thanks to the very helpful locals who would chat to us in the main park under the pretense of practising their english but all had a friend who had a shop who sold local Mayan and sisal products and we had to go and see it! They were probably the least pushy of any touts I have come across in my travels and so we learnty a lot about Merida from them in the process. We also confirmed our Spanish names - I am Angela (prounounced Ang-hel-a) and Steve is Esteban which he is quite proud of!

We headed out to find lunch and went to the local markets which we had read were very good for 'street stall' cheap eats. We found an area which had stalls selling pork tacos and sandwiches and sat down for a feast. We found out the pork had been slow roasted underground for 10 hours and it was gorgeous and tender. The sandwiches were made with pork, chilies and a dip of the pork juice (yum) and tyhen of course we added the salsa and limes. Delicious!

The market was interesting to wander through, with the usual selection of fresh fruits - in abundance were stalls dedicated to chilis, huge avocados that looked like melons and also huge onions and tomatoes. YUM.

We checked out the local Mayan museum as we wanted to understand more about the culture and history. In particular, I wanted to learn more about how and why the Mayans manipulated the shapes of their childrens heads so they were elongated. The process for doing so looked quite barbaric and painful for small children (think using vices on their heads) but apparently scientists have found that it allowed more room for their brains. Go figure!
After lunch we felt like a beer and found a great cantina that had Mexican music and free food accompanying drinks. We stayed there for a while and then went to the main square where we checked out local cultural dancers from a very good vantage spot - a seat in a cocktail bar right near the part of the square where the dancing was!

I have become quite partial to margaritas since arriving so a couple were drunk

After the cultural dancing finished the salsa started on a main stage close by. It is hard to believe it happens every weeknd as the set up was amazing! What was also amazing and so lovely to see were lots of people dancing to the music - and in couples. You would never see that in Australia!Safe to say the square and main park were packed and 'going off'.

We hauled our tired selves to the bus station in time to get an overnight bus trip to Palenque ............where my stories will continue!

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