Last weekend with Merida volunteers

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March 27th 2012
Published: March 30th 2012
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I had an amazing weekend!

I will start with Friday. I think its time I gave some of the volunteering work I do here a bit of a mention, since it is one of the main reasons I have come here. I usually skim over it as it is slightly mundane compared to seeing some of the wonders of the world but it is still incredibly enjoyable and I have learnt loads about the Mexican way of life by doing it.

So. Adam and I caught the bus to Kanasin. Originally everyone thought there would be loads of us, but when the word got out that more than enough people were timetabled to go, the numbers starting dropping until there were just 5 of us, and not a single spanish speaker amongst us. We managed to muddle through though. I taught the middle group, and Michelle, whose Spanish is worse than mine helped me out. I taught then the English alphabet, went through some vowel sounds and food vocab.

After an hour we went outside for a run around in the blazing heat. I sat under the shade of a large tree with some of the little girls and organised a game of duck duck goose. Eventually they got bored and we began to chat. I lost what little authority I had with them when I asked them how many anuses they had, instead of their age, as the word for 'years' - Años, as in 'how many years have you' (which is the literal translation of 'how old are you?'😉 is very similar to the Spanish for Anus.

Later on, Hannah appeared looking flustered. Parminder was having a bit of a crisis She took er off which left me, Michelle and Adam with around 40 kids. Some of them had seen Parminder was upset and kept asking me where Hannah and Parminder had gone which made teaching them difficult, but I did the alphabet and tried to help them with their pronunciation. Hannah and Parminder eventually returned. Parminder had decided volunteering wasn't what she had expected and had rebooked her flights to Sunday, giving her just 1 more day in Merida.

On Friday a few of us went in town for some drinks. We went to a bar called Panchos. It had a huge outdoor terrace filled with palm trees and tropical plants and was bathed in yellow light coming from paper lanterns decorated with Frida Khalo’s self-portraits. Following a few expensive but very tasty cocktails we made our way to Mayan Pub. There was a latin ska band playing. It was a bit of an odd experience to see Skanking on the other side of the world and memories of being 14 and at the Caddy club came flooding back. I had a bit of a boogie and really enjoyed myself.

It was an early start the next morning for our trip to Chichen-Itza, the most famous of all the Mayan ruins and one of the modern wonders of the world. When we arrived, Hannah, Michelle, Parminder, Adam and I paid for a guide. Steph and I had got one at Uxmal and it had really helped us understand the history and significance of the different structures. On entering the site via the visitor centre we walked down an ancient Mayan highway. Market stalls selling local handicrafts were on either side of the wide path, trying to cajole us into looking at their stuff. There were huge, brightly painted wooden masks, ceramic skulls, fine silver jewellery and brightly painted plates. Some of the things the stall holders said in an attempt to get our attention were hilarious. Some of them were selling hollow jaguar models which when you blew into them made the same screeching, hissing noises a jaguar. ‘Something to scare your mother-in-law?’ they asked. ‘Present for your boyfriend? He’s a lucky boy!!’.

Soon we reached a large open space with scorched grass. In front of us stood a huge Mayan temple. Our guide explained that Chichen-Itza is one of the more modern of the Mayan ruins and is only around 1,000 years old. The main temple had been built directly on top of an older temple. He also told us that here at Chichen-Itza, unlike at Uxmal, human sacrifice would have been practised, although it was rare. He showed us a platform under which skulls had been found. We learnt how the Mayans that lived at Chichen-Itza had been influenced in their culture by the Toltec civilisation which originated further north in Mexico city. He also showed us carvings on the side of a large ball pitch which was used for ceremonial sport which told us all about how it was played, how they dressed and what happened to the winner (the ‘prize’ was sacrifice!). We got to test out the incredible acoustics inside the arena. The walls had been built so that they leant inwards ever so slightly, allowing the leader of the tribe, who sat in the best seat, to communicate with some of the other elders at the other end of the pitch, over 100m away, without raising his voice. The Mayan culture was closely connected to astrology and we also got to see an observatory which was much older than a lot of the site, alongside a sauna which was used by the high priests during meditation.

After a long journey home we had a quick dinner and began to get ready for our big night out. It was Joe’s birthday. We went to a local bar before heading to a club in an out-of-town entertainment centre. Amy organised two bottles of vodka to have at the table between the lot of us and a load of shots. After a lot of dancing, silliness involving hats and a mini-tantrum from Maj, we made our way home. Hannah, Joe, Adam and Lisa had gone ahead of me and were in the pool by the time I got home. Joe and Adam were in high spirits and had thrown Michelle in and almost drowned Hannah a few times. I joined them for a bit but soon went to bed.

The next day was another early start for our trip to Celestun to see some Wild Flamingos. We didn’t really know what the trip entailed but it sounded like fun. I was glad when Joe decided to join us, since Adam and Hannah had got a bit cosy the night before and I wasn’t too keen on being a third wheel! After a two hour coach journey we arrived in a tiny town with next to nothing there, except a sweaty looking Mexican on a bike asking us if we wanted see the flamingos. After a quick trip to a shop to stock up on crisps in an attempt to stave off my hangover, we followed the man to the beach. There were a few hotels along the beach front and 6 or 7 speedboats, one of which was to be ours for the afternoon. We were joined on our boat by two Mexican ladies, and a girl of around 7.
Hannah and I thought she was incredibly brave, as on our way out to sea we crashed over the surf, flying up into the air and slamming back down into our seats over and over again. Adrenaline kicked in, my hangover disappeared and I had a huge smile on my face. I was on my big adventure, on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico under a bright blue sky on our way to see wild flamingos.

Before heading inland to the Mangroves, we caught a glimpse of a dolphin in front of the boat. I didn’t think my day could get any better after that. We also saw huge black sea birds with big bills like pelicans diving into the sea and black and grey birds with long sharp beaks. Eventually we made our way inland up a wide, tree-lined river mouth. Wooden poles in the water marked depth and no-go zones, and on top of them sat interesting looking birds. We travelled at quite a speed for around half an hour until the Flamingos were in sight. Thankfully the ride was a little smoother away from the ocean.

When our captain cut the engine and all we could hear were the strange squawking sounds of the 200 or so bright pink birds in front of us, walking across the river bed in a huge flock, although it looked like they were gliding. We saw a few of them flying, which was a strange but fascinating sight – their necks and legs are so long that they look gawky but still graceful. After staring mesmerised and taking a load of photos we set off towards the coast again. Suddenly, Fernando turned the boat into a tiny inlet. We went at a snail’s pace through the mangrove swamp. The trees were eerie, their huge roots reached out of the water and big black termite nests nestled between their branches. When we came out the other side, Fernando stopped the boat again, this time at a little jetty. We managed to understand that we were stopping here for 20 minutes, and got out to see what all the fuss was about. A rickety looking wooden walkway, which was busy with Mexican tourists, led to white-blue ponds between the mangroves. Hannah managed to read the visitor sign which explained that these were natural volcanic springs. Adam and I went for a quick dip. It was quite warm. There were crocodiles around here but it didn’t seem like they were anywhere around here. We returned to the boat and made one final stop to see a section of forest which had become petrified, I am assuming from volcanic activity underneath the waters.

We got back to the house a few hours later. Unfortunately on the way home the noisiest child in Mexico sat in front of me, making sleep impossible. I began to get a bit grumpy. I can’t believe I managed such a busy day on only 4 hours sleep! It had been such a fantastic experience, but sadly it was Adam and Joe’s last day in Merida. They were leaving with Amy, Nichola, Maj, Dave and Lisa on the overnight bus to Belize City. Everyone packed rather speedily and left just after 8. I felt quite sad saying goodbye to everyone, but will hopefully manage to meet up with some of them later on during my trip. The girls dorm room was now home to just me, but had been left in a bit of a state. Hannah and I made some attempt to sort it out, filling 3 big bags full of left behind rubbish, toiletries and left behind manky clothes. We kept the best stuff for ourselves – Aussie shampoo, Insect repellent and a mustard yellow t-shirt were among my favourite finds. The house felt so quiet with 8 less people in it, but it would only be a few days before Hannah and I would be leaving.


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