Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mexico: Day 9 - Time to go home

Time to go home and back to the real world! We took the 4:30am bus back to the airport and checked in for our flight. We joined all the other Dallas-bound folks who were chafing against the long-sleeved shirts and long pants they hadn't had to wear while in sunny Cancun.

2 flights and a layover at DFW later, we were back in Seattle where the weather wasn't nearly as warm or sunny as it had been in Mexico. Still, it felt nice to be home and to join the regularly-scheduled American holiday season, already in progress!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mexico: Day 8 - Back across the peninsula

Today we had the long drive to Cancun ahead of us. Luckily, the two cities are connected by a toll road that makes for easy driving. We did some shopping on the streets of Merida in the morning, grabbed some lunch for the road, and got back in the car. The drive was pretty uneventful, except for when we were stopped by the police after a toll booth. This search was much more thorough than the last, and we had to get out of the car as the officer searched through all of our luggage and the car. Finding nothing of interest, he sent us on our way.

As we got closer to Cancun, Jon and I decided to return the rental car on our way in as opposed to waiting until the next morning. The car agency was going to be closed when we arrived for our flight, and I was a bit nervous about that. Returning it was easy, and we caught a bus to downtown Cancun, as we knew our hotel was right by the bus station. 30 minutes later we were relaxing at our hotel enjoying the last bit of our vacation.

That night, we walked to a nearby restaurant for a nice meal (upscale Mexican, of course). As usual, we were almost the only folks there. It's traditional in Mexico to eat a large meal at lunch, so dinner isn't a popular time to go out to a restaurant. We checked out the Christmas decorations at city hall after dinner and then turned in early at our hotel.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mexico: Day 7 - Back to Merida via the ruins

We had another ambitious day planned, so we got up and went straight to the city's wall (or at least what's left of it). Apparently, Campeche had a lot of trouble with pirate attacks back in its early days. We were able to get on the wall and walk a short distance to get a great view of the historic central area as well as some of the newer areas on the outskirts.

Our first stop after leaving the city were the ruins at Edzna. Well, our first stop was at a police checkpoint where they checked my driver's license and rental contract! Luckily, there were no complications there, and we soon found ourselves in Edzna. As this site is off the beaten path a bit, it was much less crowded than the other ruins we'd see. Edzna was historically a more agricultural settlement, which was a stark contrast to the mostly military ruins we'd seen before. Jon and I had a good time walking around and climbing on the different structures. Some of the Mayan carvings here had also been preserved, so it was fun to look at those items as well.

As soon as we left the ruins, we were ready for lunch and had a long drive to our next destination. We stopped at the first "restaurant" we saw. Guadeloupe, the owner, offered a choice of 3 different meals. We understood our meat choices to be chicken, steak, or pork, but we had no clue about the preparations she mentioned. We took our chances with the chicken, and it turned out great! It was a very nice meal in a very pleasant setting. Guadeloupe was very friendly, although our communication with her was fairly limited. Still, it was a fun experience and the kind of thing I really enjoy when I travel.

Here's the "closed" sign from the place we ate lunch. Apparently, the kids are none too pleased about the lack of ice cream!

No time for a siesta for us after lunch, though, because we had miles to go before we slept! After a nice drive through the country, we arrived a Uxmal. Unfortunately, we didn't have much time before closing to explore the ruins, but we did manage to see most of the excavated site. Uxmal was more of a social settlement, and it was interesting to compare that to what we'd seen in the agricultural and military ruins. Again, I found myself in awe of the sheer enormity of the stone structures.

Back on the road, it was dark before we got back into Merida. That makes the driving a bit more stressful, but again Jon's excellent directions got us back to our hotel without much trouble. We got settled in our room, this time facing the garden. After being in the car all day, we took a nice walk over to a nearby restaurant. It was upscale, and the food was excellent! The place was decorated in blue and pink, so the decor and the food were both pretty vibrant!

After dinner, we went to go hear a performance of local Yucatacan music. This performance happens every Thursday, and the one we saw was the 2206th performance. Most of the folks in the audience were tourists, and we struck up a conversation with a guy from California who was at the end of a bus tour from Mexico City. He said he'd had a great time and was sad his vacation was coming to an end. The music was great, and they even had some local teens dancing the city's traditional dance.

Here's one of the translated signs from one of the ruins. I'm pretty sure somebody mis-translated the word "alien" in here :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mexico: Day 6 - Celestun and Campeche

We had another long travel day planned, so we got up early and got our "gift" of breakfast at the hotel. Neither of us were able to finish the rather large portions, and as we left we both became concerned that the hotelier would require us to finish what we hadn't eaten when we got back to Merida the next night!

The trip to Celestun took quite a while, and we encountered more topes than we had expected along the way. We even managed to see a crew building a new one! All of the travel was worth it, though, because we took a boat out to see the flamingoes. They were hanging out eating young shrimp and crabs (which is how they get their pink color). We shared a boat with a tourist from France, and the boat driver only spoke Spanish, so we had an interesting time communicating. The tour included a walk through the mangrove trees in the area which gave us a chance to spot some other local wildlife.

Next we headed into town for a nice seafood lunch. Unfortunately, the gas station marked on my map in Celestun didn't really exist, but we had just enough left in the Attitude's tank to reach the next closest one.

We drove down to Campeche and got there just in time to see the great sunset over the water. Afterwards, we walked through the walled city to a restaurant where we enjoyed some Mexican food and watched some children play in the public square. The main plaza was decorated for Christmas, so we stopped on our walk back to the hotel to check it out.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mexico: Day 5 - Chichen Itza and Merida

We got to an earlier-than-usual start and said good bye to our hotel in Tulum. We had a lot of driving to do, and I wanted to make sure we minimized the amount of driving after dark. The first leg of the drive was the same road we'd taken to Coba, but after that stretch the road conditions changed dramatically! The road was narrow with many potholes and large buses passing by, but I got behind another car who knew when to swerve to avoid the potholes and slow down for the topes.

In late morning, we reached Chichen Itza. We had beaten most of the tour buses there, so it wasn't too crowded as we admired the large central pyramid and surrounding buildings. Again, the enormity of these buildings is striking: with no CAD software available, the Mayans were able to build all of this and have it last for thousands of years!

We had lunch in the nearby town of Piste and enjoyed some local specialties which were very good. I was surprised as food near large tourist sites doesn't tend to stand out.

We also visited a local cenote (limestone sinkhole).

Then, it was back to the large toll road to Merida: our stop for the night. The drive to our hotel was fairly easy, and the numbered streets made it easy to find.

The B and B we were staying in was quite unusual, and the rooms are all unique with different layouts. We had reserved one of the nicer rooms for the night on the top floor with its own balcony. When we checked it, we were asked to sign a contract promising, among other things, that we wouldn't smoke anywhere in the hotel. One rather peculiar paragraph encouraged us not to think of breakfast as "included" but rather as a gift from the hotel staff that would provide us enough nourishment to have a good start to our day! Jon and I exchanged puzzled looks, but we signed anyway.

It had been a very long day, but we took advantage of the City of Merida's free cultural program after dinner and went to hear a local community band play 1940s Big Band music. The playing was ok, but the real attraction were the folks dancing. Many people were showing off their moves in the town square, and I really enjoyed watching the people dancing and enjoying themselves.

Tired from a long day, we went back to the hotel and turned in for the evening.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mexico: Day 4 - Tulum Ruins

Another sunny day greeted us as we ate breakfast in the garden of our hotel. On our last full day in Tulum, we visited the Mayan ruins at the other end of town. This was the only site built on the water, and it was definitely set up as a center of defense. A fortified wall surrounds all the important buildings, and there are only 4 entrances to the interior. This site was much more crowded than yesterday's excursion to Coba, but we were able to enjoy the nice view of the water from the high points above the shore.

We spent part of the afternoon searching downtown Tulum for a set of speakers to plug into Jon's Zune. Our rental car radio did not work, and with many kilometers of driving ahead of us, we would need some entertainment. After checking in all the cell phone stores, we finally found one merchant who had a pair of speakers to sell. They weren't great, but they'd do the job.

That night we had drinks at one restaurant and picked up a small dinner at a taco stand we had been trying to eat at during our entire visit. We relaxed at the hotel in the evening, and I finished off the first book I had brought with me. Even though we enjoyed taking it easy in Tulum, we were anxious to get moving and embark on the next leg of our adventure.