There were no collectivos to Mérida, and as it was a four hour journey we spoilt ourselves to first class bus tickets on ADO. Luxurious! And of course, freezing. We cannot work out why the bus needs to be at below zero when outside is a warm 28. We rugged up, watched a weird film or two in español and before we knew it, we had arrived in Mérida!
Mérida has been the cultural capitol of the peninsula since the spanish conquest and benefits greatly from the maquiladoras (manufacturing plants) that open in the 1980’s, this is also when the tourism industry picked up.
We had booked our accomodation with Adam and Rach quiet a few months previously. As we arrived at ‘casa del sol’ (house of the sun) we were amazed with what we had booked, two massive bedrooms, a pool and really nice communal areas for us to all hang out.
Alice of course got chatting with the owner, he had bought the house in 2010 for $3 million peso, around $160,000 US. It had taken him a couple years to do up, but he was very happy with it. The place was so nice that he had a few issues with guests. One Canadian woman liked the house so much she put cash offers in, she didn’t have a limit, she just wanted the house so badly. But when she was denied time and time again, she got angry and she left horrendous reviews on social media and the booking platform saying it was unclean. It wasn’t, it was amazing!
Before we knew it “ two more big backpacks” had arrived, announced one of the cleaners. Adam and Rach!!! After a long while of running through the house and catching up. We headed down a block or two to the market for some food and groceries.
Unfortunately the market was closed so we tried our luck at navigating through the very hectic and frantic city “market”. We found some food to tide us over and decided to grab a taxi to the nearest super market and grab some supplies for the week. A little shop for the week turned into a massive shop that felt like it lasted for hours, and felt like trying to negotiate the whereabouts and needs of four frantic children. We loaded up or car with copious alcohol and fresh food and headed home to cook, swim and drink!
Chairs in the square, Mérida
Adam (stuck in the D) and Rachael @ Mérida sign, Mérida
We had decided that the next day that we would take some time to explore the city, get a car rental to do some excursions and do some necessity shopping. We needed a computer cable as the last one we had bought was completely wrong (yes Dick, we still didn’t have one) and Adam and Rach wanted to look for a laptop. We walked around the city and took in some some historic streets for around 3/4 hours, grabbed a spot of lunch (20 salbutes later) and then busted out a 3.5 km walk in 40mins to one of the big shopping plazas, Las Americas, a shopping mall that promised to have everything.
After an hour or three, we all came out empty handed, decided to toughen up and get a cab to the next “bigger” mall 5kms away that had stores that we needed. Just a quick run around, grab our stuff and get going, we all agreed. Suck it up and get it done.
Three hours later we all emerged, one laptop and a printer heavier. No cord for us, but everyone who worked there knew us and what we needed. At the peak of our frustration we all laughed as Ad and Rach had bought a laptop, which came with a free gift, something that every backpacker needs, they got a free printer! Now, as backpackers, a printer is neither compact enough or useful enough to strap onto a bag and carry it around 20+ countries, so they respectfully declined. The staff would not accept this, and forced them to to take the printer. By the time they had caught up with us… we all had to laugh. We had spent 5+ hours shopping for a cord, and we now had a printer.
We got home and had some much needed drinks.
The next morning Alice and I went to pick up a car rental that I had booked the same morning. The company “EasyWay Rentals” came to pick us up from our casa and took us to the office, amazing!! Apprehensive though, we kept our wits about us, we cannot get scammed by a car rental!
The man who picked us up managed the rental company and is from Cuba. When we arrived at the car rental office, we were amazed with how nice all the staff were (imagine that?! Friendly staff in a car rental!). We had booked only an hour before and all our apprehensive thoughts soon left us. All the staff were extremely professionally and really genuinely helpful and nice. We had read a lot of reviews for a lot of car rental companies around Mexico and how dodgy the car rental business can be, including some globally known car rental brands.
We exchanged details with Alejandra, our customer service agent (also inadvertently offered her a job at jucy…) and we all agreed to meet up that night for Carnaval.
We then ducked to the last store in the world that sold the cord we wanted, our last chance. Finally!
No one was feeling great after our 20 market salbutes so we called it a day, started drinking beer and swam in the pool for the afternoon. It was bliss.
After a while, we decided to go check out Carnaval. Rach was still a bit poorly so she guarded the amazing house while the other three of us headed out. It was a bit of a mission to get there as the event had been moved from the city centre a few years prior, to an arena on the outskirts.
We walked 20 minutes to the free local buses and after a 30 minute journey we arrived to see the last couple floats going past. In hindsight, we probably should’ve looked it up. Alice and I were pulled into a drum circle to dance in which I still couldn’t quite get the beat (even though it was being slammed into my ear drums). Not much else was happening, the police were guarding the pavement really well though. They were all grouped in 10-15 standings around together, still we chose not to loiter and moved on.
Hand Picked Dancers In Drum circle @ Carnaval Mérida
The next day, we planned to be in the car and leaving by 8. So at 10am, we all jumped in the car and headed off for Chichen Itzá. We were super happy with our decision to get a car as it worked out to be much much cheaper to do day trips for the four of us. That was until we reached our first Police check, got pulled over and our car completely searched. The police went through everything, every bag, every door pocket, everything, but not with a lot of effort or interest. They asked a few questions and we got a bit of a telling off for not all carrying our IDs. Lesson learnt, we jumped back in the car, all a little more awake than before.
We were excited for the most talked about and famous ruins of Mexico- Chichen Itza. We were pretty disappointed as we walked through the over commercialised entrance, paid the most we have for ruins and then continued into the park. We had hoped that, like previous ruins, this would be a place of quiet admiration for the beautiful architecture. Instead we were constantly surrounded by vendors trying to sell wooden masks, hand crafted temples and amoung a bunch of other stuff, wooden hand crafted jaguar heads, that when you blew air through them, they made a noise of a Jaguar growling.
This followed us throughout the whole park. That noise, and the “one dollar, one dollar, basically free”. Beautiful ruins but pretty frustrating. Nevertheless, here is what we know about Chichén Itzá (CI). The first major settlement at CI was Maya during the late Classic period. The city was largely abandoned in the 9th century, and resettled in the 10th. One of the main attractions is El Castillo or The Pyramid of Kukulcán. The 25m high structure was built over the top of the previous structure which was believed to have been built around AD800. A women fell to her death in 2006 causing the pyramid to now be closed for climbing and exploring up close. El Castillo is a Mayan calendar in a shape of a pyramid. It has 9 levels, Split in two by a staircase. The 18 separate terraces commemorate the 18, 20 day months in the Maya year. The four stairways have 91 steps, which combined with the top platform make up 365 days in the year. On each facade there are 52 Flat panels symbolising the 52 year round Mayan calendar. “Growling jaguar noises”.
There are 8 ball courts in CI, three Cenotes (it is believed that El Castillo sits atop a Cenote, which gives it a great risk of collapsing) and hundreds, if not thousands of buildings. “Growling jaguar noises”.
Hot and a bit bothered we headed toward a local Cenote and took a dip. Only a couple of people around, but it felt like we were alone in this massive limestone sinkhole. The sinkhole is so deep that we were forced to wear life jackets (once we saw the water we didn’t argue nearly as much). Swimming in these sinkholes is unlike any experience. You are surrounded by the steep walls covered in trees and other plans that look like the are either falling off, or climbing up. Underneath your toes, which you can see cristal clear, nothing but pure black nothingness. Well, we all hoped there was nothing, we also decided not to talk about it any further.
We headed home, only pooping ourselves slightly as we were waved through the police check point. I feel confident that the reason we weren’t pulled over was that as he looked through our window all he could see was four little white faces all trying to act cool, but being the complete opposite. My hands have never been so accurately at 10 and 2.
We all took to Carnival that night. Caught the parade which was ok, mainly attractive gym bunnies in tiny clothes not really dancing. Alice was a bit disappointed with the lack of actual dancing. Where were the dance routines they’d been working on for the last year? We then had a look around with a few drinks and grabbed some dinner before heading to the carnival games. Carnaval was not what we had expected. It was a bit like an Easter parade back home.
Adam and I killed the gun game again, or at least that’s how we remember it, then, no one knows how or why, but we ended up in line for a ride that can only be explained as a twirling whirling nightmare. Especially after we had all just eaten tacos, pizza and a few beers.
None of us spoke to each other until the next morning when our food had stopped swirling. We still don’t know who decided that was a good idea.
We got out as much on time the next day as we had the previous and headed an hour and a bit to the coastal town of Celestún. Here we jumped on a little boat and headed up the river. Within five or so minutes the blurs of pink on the horizon came into focus and we were pulled up next to hundreds of vibrant pink flamingoes. Some took flight, others watched us as intently as we watched them and others didn’t flap a bright pink wing at us and just continued ducking under water to eat.
Our tour took us around a few groups of these flamingoes and to some other good bird spotting places. We then went through a little cut out through the densest mangrove forest and into an area where salt meets fresh water in a spring. Here we saw, in my opinion, a fake crocodile. It didn’t move the whole time we were there and it was just in such a obvious spot. BUT everyone else says it was real so let’s go with that. Adam then jumped in a nearby spring and punched a crocodile right in the stomach when it had snuck up on him and got him in a death roll. It was an incredible feat of manpower.
Our last trip together was to Uxmal. Better planned and more prepared we got to enjoy these ruins whole heartedly. No vendors trying to sell us all the things we neither needed or could carry.
Uxmal or “thrice built” but was actually constructed five times during different centuries. It is famous for how the Maya survived here by building numerous reservoirs and cisterns, that they lined with limestone to catch and hold water in this very dry area. Due to the lack of water here, Chaac, the rain god or sky serpant was surpreme in importance. His image is immortalised as stucco masks on most buildings at this site. Uxmal remains lately still undiscovered. It was a really good trip and much more enjoyable than Chitchen Itza.
After a good old fashioned three hour game of “pool lime ball”, it was our last night out on the town.
Our week together had flown by, but we had some how managed to make plans work to ensure we met back up within a few weeks, hopefully!
We all said a sad farewell for now as Adam and Rach headed for Valladolid and us to Cancun to fly to Cuba!! We couldn’t wait to be disconnected and in a country we have heard so many amazing things about!