Merida, Chichen Itza, Palenque (whew!)
Trip Start Feb 03, 2006
37Trip End Jun 20, 2006
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From Caye Caulker, it was a short water taxi to Belize City, then an international bus to Chetumal, Mexico. Also aboard the bus was a Swiss/Italian woman and her 3-year old that had stayed with us in Caye Caulker, and a tour group of about 20-odd people who were travelling together for 3 weeks. What was shocking was that most people on the tour were pretty young--usually the age group you associate with backpackers, not tour groups.
Anyway, all was fine and dandy until we got to the border. The tour group had all been in Mexico before, so they just flashed their tourist cards and were waved through. We, along with the Swiss woman and her kid, were delayed as we filled out our paperwork and waited for a large Mennonite family to get through the customs dude (there are a LOT of Mennonites in Belize)
Needless to say, we were irritated as we left the customs area. We had been told that the bus would have to park a bit away from the border area, so along with the Swiss woman and child, we set out to find it. Unfortunately, the cherry on the shake was that the bus had abandoned us. We had to pay $10 (split with the Swiss woman) for a taxi to the Chetumal bus station....where we ran into the tour group. Now, we had been chatting with several members of the group throughout the bus ride, but evidently none of them had seen fit to inform the bus driver that we were not aboard. At the bus station, Andrew asked one if they had noticed us missing (come on--that Swiss kid was LOUD, and the only child in sight!) but they looked at us blankly, like they had never talked to us before. We began to understand why they had joined a tour group (they were stupid).
From there, it was on to Merida on the blessed Mexican bus system (yay for reclining seats, movies (sometimes in English, but hey, I really got the point of King Kong without understanding the dialogue!), and air-conditioning so cold it makes your toes numb
Merida was great. It is hot there, but not so bad as we had been lead to believe. As long as you stayed in the shade, anything was bearable. Merida is the Mexican center for hammocks and Panama hats, and everywhere you turn, someone is trying to sell you one or the other (or they try to sell you Cuban cigars or try to get you to go to their restaurant or souvenir shop). Their favorite opening line with Andrew was "hey, man, you're really tall!" As if he hadn't noticed that before. After hearing that about 10 times a day, it began to wear.
Nonetheless, we did pick up some great hammocks, and a deal at under $14 apiece. Andrew considered many fine Panama hats, but in the end couldn't decide whether he really wanted to drag one around Mexico for a few months. Perhaps on another trip...
The food in Merida is squarely Yucatecan. We had lots of new foods, including sopa de limas, which features a perfume-y sort of lime only found in the Yucatan. We also had panuches, which are sort of tostadas with beans, hot lettuce (mmmmmm!) and turkey (sort of turkey jerky, really, but good). Also had some old favorites, tacos al pastor, although the al pastor in the Yucatan is considerably brighter than elsewhere--there's a lot of achiote (ground annatto) involved
We had great plans for excursions from Merida, but we were sidetracked by a varied and entertaining cast of characters at the hostel. We even met a friend of Greg Weber's from Antarctica. So, instead of hitting numerous Mayan sites, we only made it to Chichen Itza.
Chichen Itza was impressive and interesting, but it was hot as Hades and there were nasty tour groups everywhere. There were also people selling shit everywhere you turned. We saw a sign (in English) on our way out asking that you not buy goods from these people, as they were in the park illegally. While reading it, a child approached Andrew with some sort of statue. Andrew pointed at the sign and pointed out that it was illegal to buy things from the boy. Andrew then asked the boy if he was a bandido. The boy, realizing that the transaction was not moving along, decided to change course and pulled a different statue out of his pocket to offer Andrew.
Joining us at Chichen Itza was a Brit named Simon. The best thing about Simon was his deep hatred of na´ve hippie travellers. He dreamed of dousing them with a super-soaker filled with soap. At Chichen Itza, he approached some poor woman saying "hey have you got any crap for sale
We scored doubly on bus rides to and from Chichen Itza--a puker each way. Simon had the dubious pleasure of sitting beside the first puker, and right behind the instant-messaging bus driver. The second puker, a girl about 13 years old with her hair in those god-awful braids you get in Cancun or any other nasty beach resort for that matter, waited until the bus had just come to a complete stop at the station before filling the aisle with her stomach contents. We had to jump over it to exit. Simon, luckily, was sitting ahead of it, and exited when he saw her head go down. At least the first puker had a bag.
From Merida, it was an overnight bus ride to Palenque. It is nice to take an overnight bus because you save on the hotel room and you don't waste travel days, but then again you don't really sleep either...
If we thought Merida was Hell, Palenque was child-molester Hell. In addition to the heat, Palenque seems to pride itself on 200% humidity
The ruins at Palenque are awesome, with a stunning setting hacked out of the jungle-covered hillside. Most of the major structures are pretty totally reconstructed, and you get to climb most of the temples (unlike Chichen Itza, where you can only climb El Caracol--and not all the way to the top). However, it was too hot for us to climb everything, although Andrew made a more valiant effort that I. We did make a point to climb the temple that one of the original researchers, Count de Waldeck, lived on for a few years (1831-33)--it was nice and cool within the temple, and a good view to boot.
We stayed outside of Palenque town at an area called El Panchan, run by the extended family of one of the Palenque archaeologists. It is a winding jungle complex of cabinas and a few restaurants. While our hotel room was killer--cheap, clean, and a view of howler monkeys in the morning, the restaurant we visited had mediocre food and awful service--they couldn┤t keep any order straight. Unfortunately, we didn't have the option of not tipping them--they added it on to the tab.
We only got to stay in Palenque one night, as we were excited to go to San Cristobal, and need to get to Oaxaca soon, where Andrew's mother, Leslie, will be joining us for a few weeks.