Mostly Maya (Yucatan & Campeche, Mexico)

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May 20th 2010
Published: May 24th 2010
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(Day 776 on the road)After ten days in Mexico now, I finally feel that I have arrived. The first few days here had felt a little surreal somehow, but now that I have seen a bit more of the country and its people I got a much better feel for it. It just feels great to be in a completely different region of the world again - after almost 18 months in (south-east) Asia and and then six months or so in mainly western countries (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the US), I am ready for some different experiences. New cultures and everything that comes with it await. How very exciting!

As with most countries that I go to, I had very little real knowledge about Mexico, apart from the usual information one gathers over the years: Beautiful colonial architecture, great food, fiestas & siestas, millions of legal and illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States, high level of (drug-related) gang crime. Well, I didn't see the later, but all the former items are certainly true.

And then, Mexico is so much more, and I have really been pleasantly surprised more than once by this beautiful country with its incredibly friendly people so far. I had expected a rather poor country, existing in the shadows of its much richer northern neighbour, and taking into account the large number of tourists Mexico receives, I figured there would be a lot of rip-offs and hassle everywhere. But to the contrary: Whilst bargaining is certainly the order of the day here, we are almost never charged inflated tourist prices, and there is virtually no hassle from hawkers. How nice, and how much more enjoyable the overall experience becomes because of this. Way to go, Mechico!

After the Maya ruins of Tulum, we headed straight for the next set of Maya ruins at Chichen Itza, the most famous of all the sites in Mexico, and a close second I guess to the one at Tikal in Guatemala. Chichen Itza was a focal point for Maya culture during the height of their civilisation, and the site is vast by any standard. Tino had been here twelve years ago and decided to give it a miss, but I happily walked around in awe for a few hours. Peace was hard to come by however, as buses and buses of tour groups prevented any chance of solo-exploration. But never mind, you cant' have it all of course.

The colonial town Merida was next and we spent a few days there, taking it easy, exploring the historic centre, drinking copious amounts of fruit juice (jugo de naranja was the preferred choice), enjoying the free wireless Internet in the city's park (again: Way to go, Mechico!), and sampling superb Mexican food at every opportunity.

On Sunday we explored the nearby Cenotes de Cuzama, an hour or so away by collectivo. Dodging the horse-cart mafia cartel after they refused to give us a reasonable price for their services (we decided to walk the mere three kilometres to the cenote) resulted in many an articulated curse and aggressive threats in Spanish from the monopolistic cart drivers (the word police was part of the whole scene more than once). Wow, cool, I can't remember when I had this much action - four or five angry Mexicans running after me, shouting insults and looking to pick a fight! But not to worry, we kept our cool, and the cenotes and the way to get there are on public land, and it is perfectly legal (and feasible) to walk there rather than being pressured into taking a ridiculously overpriced horse cart.

Now, a cenote, in case you wonder, is basically a open-top cave (a sinkhole) filled with typically very pure groundwater. Interestingly, many of these cenotes here in Yucatan are connected by underground cave systems, the longest being 100km long. The one we visited was in a perfect jungle setting, and the water was indeed as clean as it could be, making for a wonderful swim for us and a number of Mexicans, who had come out here with their families to cool down and while away the scorching Sunday afternoon.

Next up after Merida were the Maya ruins of Uxmal (pronounced "Oosh-mahl"), en route to the colonial town of Campeche, our next major destination. Uxmal was much less frequented by tourists than Chechen Itza, plus most structures and pyramids except one were open to be explored and climbed upon at will, an opportunity I couldn't let slip away of course. The jungle setting of Uxmal added to the lost-world feeling, and standing atop the Gran Piramide and looking at what is left of the former great Mayan city, I tried to imagine what this place once looked like when it was still inhabited by an estimated population of 25.000 people. Fascinating to say the least.

A missed bus and a subsequent hitch-hike on a truck later Tino and I found ourselves inspecting yet more Maya ruins, this time the ones at Kabah. Whilst Uxmal had been pretty empty, Kabah was 100%!d(MISSING)eserted of any other tourists except us two, as virtually all tourists - except die-hard ruin fans - drive straight past Kabah and the numerous other, smaller ruin sights in the area. Only missing our bus had brought us here, and we spent a wonderful hour or so scrambling about the ruins, especially enjoying the Palace of the Masks, a well-preserved temple sporting hundreds of masks on its facade.

Feeling a bit ruined-out at that point, we decided to take it easy again in beautiful Campeche. We found a hostel that overlooked the Zocalo, the main plaza and focal point of life in the city, and soon felt like we would never leave. In the evening, there were free concerts in the plaza below, and there was simply no better place from which to observe Mexican life and listen to the great music than sitting on our hostels' balcony or roof.

Speaking of Mexican life: The favourite past time of the people here seems to chill and relax in their cities numerous parks, watching other people and chatting with their friends. There is also an abundant number of young lovers around, also sitting on the park's benches, flirting away with their loved one. It is a very harmonious sight, although I have to say that Mexican people are generally quite plumb for my liking (if not to say outright fat in many cases, especially older women). Strange, I have yet to figure out why that is, as the food here doesn't seem that fatty or full of calories.

The historic centre of Campeche with its brightly coloured houses was just gorgeous, and we ended up staying longer than anticipated; the fact that the bus to San Cristobal de las Casa, our next stop, was booked out was just another excuse to stay an extra day. How nice it can be when things just don't work out...

Next stop: San Cristobal de las Casa & Palenque (Chiapas, Mexico).

To view my photos, have a look at And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


24th May 2010

Viva la Mexico
Hi Ben Thank you for taking me back to Chichen Itza and especially Tulum. Make sure not to miss the little known but nonetheless fantastic ruins of Bonampak and Yaxchilan when you're in Palenque.
24th May 2010

My name is Tuong and I come from Vietnam. Your trips is really impression. I want to share some experiences with you about the land where we have been stayed. Did you come to Vietnam? If you interest, you should find some informations about our country, the man, life and nature..... I hope you will have best feeling. Cheer Tuong
24th May 2010

Are many Mexican plump ?
Yes I agree with your perception, many Mexican are plump. But I think it also has something to do with there food, they start to eat Tortillas already for breakfast. Nice to read that you also go to San Christobal. I hope you like this City as much as I liked it. Excellent Photos and very interesting Blog - like always. I look forward for your blog about Guatemala. Felice Viaje! walter
25th May 2010

Ben, I must admit this is prob' one of the most positive blog entries ever! U must love Mejico a lot! ;-) It sure sounds great! My memory from Mexico was just as good. Back then I was still a 'youngster' (19) and managing pretty well (although i was with 6 other older students). No hassling indeed, friendly people who love to have a chat with you... I had a good time untill I hit US border again and how they were making a fuss out of a stupid detail (my visa was due in December and I flew back on the 9th of january)... Viva la mejico gringo!

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