A Travellerspoint blog

Mexico

Down Mexico Way Pt 3 Campeche to Playa Del Carmen

Campeche 9th July

The coastal town of Campeche sounded a little more interesting in the guide book than it actually was. It is on the Caribbean, but has no beaches to speak of and a seafront about as exciting as Canvey!

I arrived here after what was supposed to be a 4 hour bus journey (which would have taken about 1 hour if we hadn`t kept being stopped all along the way at army checkpoints). At one stop we all had to get off the bus, and stand at the side of the road while they spot checked the bags. Luckily they didn`t find my hidden stash of drugs and guns I`d wrapped up in my dirty washing.

I arrived in Campeche just in time for the daily tropical downpour, and all the roads turned into rivers – I wasn`t sure whether to hail a cab or a canoe. My hostal, La Pirata was themed after the town`s history of pirate attacks in the 17th century. Apparently they got so fed up with being attacked that they built a big high wall around the town, some of which still exists, as well as several bulwarks. Never mind the bulwarks, the twin towered cathedral was pretty impressive (looked best at night – much like many of the towns I had visited).

My hostal was very "piratey" – lots of sculls, crossbones and dead men`s chests, but sadly no bottles of rum, Captain Jack Sparrow or Wi-Fi! What is the world coming to? It had the most friendly staff though – the young girl behind the desk even lugged my rucksack up the stairs for me, bless her. My room was up some stairs and then over a bridge across the roof – I thought she was about to make me walk the plank! They`d build an annex up there (I prayed there wouldn`t be an earthquake while I was there). It was comfortable, if a bit cramped and I had to dispose of a dead cockroach in the shower - yuk.

By the time I`d settled in, the rain had stopped and I went for a quick walk around. Apart from gate-crashing the last part of the sound and light show and getting a free walk along the battlements, I found that the Campeche W.I. had taken over the town square, selling cakes and knitted clothes (in this heat???). They also had a band playing but 1970`s Big Band Sound is not really my sort of thing, so went to try and find the sea. Harder than it sounds, as it was well hidden behind a big block of ugly 70`s buildings (this town was obviously planned by the person who built Harlow and has a kind of 1970`s thing going on).

Had a nice walk along the prom (it was slightly cooler there) and something to eat before heading back to my very hot attic. Even with no sheets and no clothes on, it was a very hot night (good job I didn`t go for the mixed dorm).

Merida – 10th-11th July

Managed to miss the rain shower this evening by being on the bus – I am beginning to relish the air-conditioned bus journeys as a chance to cool off. Merida is one of the larger towns I`ve visited on my trip and the Zocalo was buzzing when I walked into the centre. The obligatory Cathedral was again very striking and again lit up the night sky. Being a major stop off point for the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula, the place is rather touristy with loads of people trying to flog you things. The sad part is a lot of them are tiny kids – around 6 or 7 years old.

The next day I picked a café to watch the Cup Final, and there was a fairly even mix of Dutch and Spanish supporters. Not quite sure why the Mexicans feel such an affinity with Spain – it`s a bit like India supporting England in the World Cup! Still got chatting to some Aussies who like me, were travelling for a year (one was a travel agent!) – and they gave me some great tips about Cuba. I felt like I wanted Holland to win, and it was sad to see the Dutch contingent go home disappointed.

I have my own room at the hostal here, and it has a pool! (the hostal that is, not my room) – but it looked a bit murky so I decided to cool off by sitting in the garden, unfortunately so had the mosquitos. About fifty bites later, I made a hasty retreat back into town.

Spirits were high that evening, and I came across an incredible sight – they had closed of one whole side of the Square and there were literally hundreds of old Spanish couples dancing to a sort of Salsa and having a great time. One of the smaller squares had a similar event earlier in the day (albeit on a smaller scale) and a good time was being had by all (they even had a doctor going around the crowd with a stethoscope in case anyone over-did it!). Sweet.

Chichen Itza and Tulum 12th July

Julie and Andrew, another American couple who had been on the trip to the canyon and Palenque, were also staying at my hostal, and I got chatting to them on the way to Tulum the following morning. This driver couldn`t be more different from the last. He arranged an English Speaking guide to take us around the Chichen Itza site (one of the largest in Mexico) and even though it was stiflingly hot, he explained the significance and the amazing ingenuity of the Mayans in lining up their pyramids to mean that on the solstices, a serpent would seem to appear winding it's way down the side of the pyramid. All the structures were designed mathematically and formed a type of calendar.

We all returned to the bus hot and sweaty – and the driver suggested a dip in the local “cenote” a naturally formed swimming hole. This really hit the spot and none of us imagined the well organized “pool” complete with hanging vines, real fish, and ultra clean bathrooms. And all for 70 pesos (around £3.50). It certainly tops my list of places to swim – it was like something out of Indiana Jones. An unforgettable experience.

After lunch we were dropped in Tulum. Julie, Andrew and I jumped in a cab to a hotel I had been recommended, only to find it was a bit of a dump, but was close to the ruins (in fact it was in danger of being mistaken as part of the ruins). They only had a mixed dorm available, and since we felt we knew each other quite well by then, we agreed to share. The strange thing is, only a few weeks ago, it someone had told me I`d be sharing a room with a couple I barely knew, I would have found it all a bit uncomfortable, but here I was, and it seemed perfectly normal! Hopefully, they felt the same.

We walked down to the beach just as the sun was setting and it was beautiful – the sky was full of pastel pinks and blues and the sand pure white. Sitting at the beach bar drinking Margaritas until it got dark was a little slice of heaven.

My intention to get up early the next morning to walk to the ruins before the crowds, didn`t quite happen, and it was already very busy and hot when I arrived. Although not as architecturally stunning as the other ruins I had visited, the setting was unique, overlooking the blue Caribbean – they even had their own beach (perhaps they could claim to be the very first all inclusive property along the Riviera Maya??).

Spent a very relaxing afternoon enjoying the beach and the beach bar with Julie and Andrew – they had decided to spend the night in Tulum and had rented a cabana on the beach – must admit I was quite envious.

Playa Del Carmen – 13 – 17th July

Took the bus an hour along the coast to Playa Del Carmen – not the place I remembered when I stopped off there on a cruise 5 years ago. It was awful – a tourist hell hole full of souvenir shops and Burger Kings. The only redeeming factors were that the hostel was within rucksack carrying distance of the bus station and there was a Walmart! I was sharing a dorm with a very strange woman from the Bronx, who now lived in Hawaii. She said she was a writer in the film industry but “didn`t want to talk about it”, was on her way to Amsterdam, and had a very liberal attitude to wearing clothes in the room (bear in mind she was in her sixties) – I reached the conclusion she worked in the porn industry! My other room mates were initially 2 South Korean girls, and then an Argentinean and a couple of trainee doctors from Watford (the first Brits I had properly encountered so far).

Spent the next couple of days trying to avoid being hassled on the main “Strip” and I hate to admit, holed up in Starbucks, where they had free wi-fi and air-conditioning. Took the ferry over the Cozumel to meet up with Kate, one of Dan`s old primary school classmates, who had trained there to become a diving instructor. Had a morning snorkeling and then a very long lunch catching up on the last 12 years since I`d seen her.

Was fairly relieved and excited to be moving on to my next port of call, Cuba – a country that had always fascinated me and that I was desperate to see before the US lifted it`s embargo and the end of the Castro administration. I managed to get my Cuban Visa at the airport with very little hassle – to apply in London you have to send proof of where you are staying, flight tickets, give 20 reasons why you want to visit Cuba and join the Communist party – here, they just look at your passport and take your money – it took seconds. I have a funny feeling the rest of my visit to Cuba isn`t going to be so straight forward!

All I have to do now is to work out how to get from the airport to my home stay in Havana – they did say they would try to pick me up (what in, I ask myself? – a tank perhaps?).

Shiver Me Timbers

Shiver Me Timbers


Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean


Let`s All Dance

Let`s All Dance


Cenote

Cenote


Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza


Tulum

Tulum


Re-union with Kate

Re-union with Kate


Campeche

Campeche


Merida

Merida


Merida

Merida


Tulum

Tulum


Tulum

Tulum


Merida

Merida


Tulum Beach

Tulum Beach

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Down Mexico Way... Pt 2 - Puebla to Palenque

Puebla, Oaxaca, San Cristobal and Palenque 1st – 9th July

The days are flashing by, so apologies for the blogs coming thick and fast now, but I'm trying not to fall too far behind as I risk forgetting where I went and when.

Mexico City to Puebla - 1st July

Got to the bus station full of trepidation, but was pleasantly surprised by the first class bus and service – my tickets were waiting, and they even checked in my bag and gave me a ticket for it (I have nightmares about losing my rucksack). Still, after a relatively effortless and comfortable 2 hour journey I arrived in Puebla and waltzed off the bus with all the other passengers into the "Arrivals Hall". But the luggage carousel was no-where to be seen, and I was left with no idea what had happened to my bag. After several miserable attempts to ask people for help (they thought I wanted to buy a bag – so much for my Spanish!) – a young man who was unloading bags, went off with my ticket and luggage receipt. With visions of my bag returning without me to Mexico City and with no proof that it ever existed, someone came to my rescue and managed to translate my predicament to the powers that be. At that moment the young man appeared with it out of nowhere – so panic over! Now I know, you have to actually get your own bag off the bus –the first class service obviously ends when you get off the bus!

My Hostal was an old 17th century colonial mansion with a pretty inner courtyard. I had a dorm to myself – free reliable internet and a continental breakfast– all for £8 a night – bargain.

Went exploring only to find the only branch of Woolworths still in existence – it`s here in Puebla! Sadly there was no pick and mix. There was also a memorial to John Lennon – imagine! That evening I experience my first tropical rain storm. Lucky for me, I did have an enormous bright blue rain cape that I bought in the 99 cent store in San Francisco. I`m sure I looked very stylish as I slid home (the Aztecs obviously hadn`t accounted for the perils of walking on polished stone pavements with flip flops when they built their towns), looking like Batman`s mum.

I did get chatted up (before I donned the cape) by a drunken young Mexican, but the language barrier got in the way (must learn: “I`m old enough to be your madre” in Spanish).

Oaxaca (which is pronounced like someone clearing their throat) 2nd – 4th July

After a fairly comfortable 4 hour journey, I made it to Oaxaca, managing to collect my luggage this time. Found I was sharing a dorm with two nice girls – one from Delhi and one from San Fran.

Unfortunately they were here first, so I got the top bunk! I`ve not slept in a bunk bed since the boys were small, when I used to fall asleep reading them a bedtime story. Still it`s all part of the fun. Good job I don`t sleep walk.

Oaxaca is another fairly pretty colonial town and during my first outing I discovered that the local elections were taking place this weekend, and they seem to be a great deal more enthusiastic about them than we are! They had firecrackers, a band playing in front of the cathedral and a parade – at that point, I really felt that I had arrived in Mexico.

After being chatted up by a nice young man who somehow guessed that I was looking for a vegetarian restaurant and said that he thought I had lots of positive energy but was slightly unbalanced! (A scarily accurate description all in all). I didn`t hang around for him to try to balance me out, and found the veggie restaurant which was owned by a guy who used to live in Seven Sisters! I tried out the “mol-e” which is a speciality of this area – basically a thick brown spicy gravy, made with chocolate – and yes, it really is as disgusting as it sounds, especially with tortillas and cheese.

Had an interesting day out visiting Monte Alban, another temple complex – this time on the top of a hill so amazing views, and it is almost complete, so the lay out is fairly apparent. I wonder when I`m going to get fed up seeing piles of old stones??? Stopping off at unusual unfinished convent at Cuilapan, the heavens opened again, just in time to make it back to the hostal. Later that I evening I braved the rain (sensing it had eased off a bit, judging by the fact that the fireworks had started up again – either that the local candidates were having a shootout). Headed off back to see my mate Augustin at the Veggie restaurant to reminisce about North London.

San Cristobal 5 - 7th July

My first overnight bus journey wasn`t too bad, but I found myself linguistically challenged as my neighbour was from Toulouse. Between her not very good English, and my not very good French, we managed to hold a fairly decent conversation! It was a bit confusing for me, having been struggling with my Spanish for the past few days, to have to drag my French back to the front of my mind (with a bit of Italian thrown in for good measure).

I thought that if I could manage a 12 hour plane journey, a first class bus with reclining seats and loads more first class legroom should be easy. What I didn`t account for was the fact that it seemed to be going round and round bends on the mountain roads all the time (thank god it was dark) lurching from side to side every few seconds. The bus seemed to come to a complete standstill every half an hour or so (maybe to wait for a goat to get out of the way perhaps?), plus there seemed to be speed bumps every few yards for most of the journey (or maybe they were the goats they didn`t slow down in time for??)*.

The Posada Ganesh is quite sweet if not a bit rustic. I`m in a “cabana” in the middle of the garden, which is a glorified shed really, but at least I`ve got the shed to myself. While waiting for my cabana to be prepared (they probably had to move the lawn mower and the rake out) I had breakfast with some lovely Polish youngsters, who spoke better English than wot I can. Then had a long chat with Yoko, a lovely Japanese lady around my age who was, like most of the other Americans I came to meet in Mexico, from San Francisco.

Had a wander around the town and got chatting to a weird and wonderful bunch of hippies from Minnesota, playing a cross between Country and Zydeco music which was really good. They`re travelling all around South America in an old school bus, so maybe I`ll catch up with them again somewhere – maybe even Glastonbury next year?

What`s there not to like about this place, it`s kind of cool and chilled out with musicians on each street corner – every other restaurant is vegetarian, the wine is less than orange juice at 90p a glass and there`s an Indian that also does Lebanese food! No wonder the Zapatista rebels wanted it to themselves.

My tour to the Sumidero Canyon proved a nice change from cities and churches and ruins. The views were stunning, and we got to see several crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks, as well as monkeys, storks, pelicans (and sadly the last of my hat, as the speed of the boat and the wind blew it right off my head). Met a really nice Danish couple that had been on the overnight bus (I think I eventually got to know almost all my fellow travelers on that bus whilst in San Cristobal).

Back in town in time for the second half of the footie, I remembered to pick up my washing which set me back the princely sum of MEX$15 (about 75p) – I wondered how much it would cost to post all my washing here from Brentwood? Back at the hostal, I found that that Katie and Gautam, the nice American couple I had also met on the bus, had taken my recommendation and come to stay there too. I don`t know what their room was like, but they were jealous of my shed!

Had a very enjoyable evening with them, and tried out another local speciality - Caldero – a watery soup with tortilla chips (tastes better than it sounds!). We then walked right up to the church overlooking the town for some great views of the lightning storm in the distance.

Palenque – 8th – 9th July

An early start on Thursday for my transfer to Palenque by minibus. The bus driver was the grumpiest git I`d encountered so far. All the other tour buses managed to stop right outside the hostal, but he had parked half a mile away so I had to lug my bags all along the street and round the corner (of course he didn`t help me). I was the last one on the bus, so I had the privilege of sitting on the rock hard seat in the middle next to him. After telling me off for trying to eat the cake I`d brought for breakfast, he eventually (and reluctantly) stopped after 3 hours at a roadside café right in the heart of Zapatista territory. This was obviously not on his itinerary, as he cut our time short at the next two stops on the 10 hour journey – a couple of lovely waterfalls – Agua Azul and Misol Ha. We arrived at the Palenque Ruins just in time for another torrential downpour, and after being harassed by the guides who proposed a tour in English (this must have been quite limited as they didn`t even understand when we asked them the way to the toilets), I decided to make my own way round. It was impressive, being set in the middle of the jungle, but had nothing on Angkor Wat in Cambodia (maybe I am getting a bit templed-out now!).

It`s was so humid and hot, I was so grateful that I splashed out on a “hotel” for the night – I couldn`t wait to get the air con on and jump in the shower. The driver was not very happy about dropping us at our accommodation (even though this was the service advertised) as he claimed he didn`t know the way! Facing an uprising not seen since the Zapatistas heyday, he reluctantly agreed to take us, with me navigating. Despite this we managed to find The Hotel Chablis (I think this town has a bit of a drink problem – there`s also a Hotel San Miguel – I`m was looking out for the Hotel Pinot Grigio), and although not the Ritz (or the Dom Perignon), was just about worth the princely sum of £23 a night (about 3 times what I had been paying) and I had a good sleep.

Palenque offers very little other than the ruins, but as I didn`t fancy another overnight bus journey, I faced the prospect of another whole day here. I spent a day avoiding the rain (the trusty blue rain cape made another appearance), buying a new hat (the Spanish for hat is actually “sombrero”, so I was a bit worried about what I would end up with) and sitting in the really cool bar across the road where they played great Cuban music and served fantastic food, writing my blog and catching up on e-mails. An early start the next morning to catch the 8am bus to Campeche, where I hit the coast for the first time in Mexico – the beaches are beckoning!

  • Joke: ©D.Harris

Memories....

Memories....


Everybody Dance

Everybody Dance


Monte Alban

Monte Alban


My Shed

My Shed


Crocodile..rock...

Crocodile..rock...


San Cristobal

San Cristobal


New Iron Maiden Album Cover?

New Iron Maiden Album Cover?


My new best friend!

My new best friend!


Puebla

Puebla


Cuilapan Convent

Cuilapan Convent


View from Monte Alban

View from Monte Alban


Oaxaca

Oaxaca


Oaxaca Fountain

Oaxaca Fountain


Oaxaca

Oaxaca


Sumidero Canyon

Sumidero Canyon


San Cristobal

San Cristobal


Agua Azul

Agua Azul


Palenque

Palenque

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Down Mexico Way... Pt. 1 - Mexico City

Down Mexico Way...

Pt 1: Mexico City 29th June – 1st July

This is it – have finally made it to Mexico. Moving from the relative familiarity of San Fran right out of my comfort zone, was a bit scary at first, but I guess it`ll take a bit of adjusting. I really wished I spent more time (or had more time) before I left to learn a little more Spanish. I`m struggling a bit here, and they don`t seem to understand my Italian which is a bit frustrating! If only the Italians had invaded before the Spanish, I`d be alright!

Arriving at my first hostal in Mexico city was a bit worrying as it looked a bit like a garage on the outside, but was clean and comfortable and was opposite a police post, so I felt fairly safe! Tried out their underground system, which is about as hot as ours, but much more reliable and the tickets only cost….wait for it….15p! Boris could learn a few lessons from Mexico. And no buskers, just blokes with huge boom boxes in their backpacks trying to flog CDs. Who buys CDs anymore! Haven`t they heard of illegal downloading here??

Mexico City is very different place from San Francisco! You can cross the road whenever and wherever you like for a start! Although you do run the risk of being mown down, there are no homeless people and it`s HOT!

They had closed off the Zocolo (the main square) and all the surrounding roads to show the football. This is a nation that takes the sport seriously! And I`ve never seen as many coppers in my entire life in one place – they`re everywhere! I soon found out why – there seems to be a bit of a "protest" culture here.

Since I was feeling a bit tired and hot, I decided to get one of those hop-on-hop-off bus tours. Well, after waiting about an hour to hop on it, I didn`t feel much like hopping off, and just stayed on it while it did a 2 hour tour of the what looked like the back streets and industrial estates of downtown Mexico City. They did have commentary in English for the first half hour, but then that packed up, so I had no idea what we were looking at. I kept nodding off, only to be woken up by branches from the low hanging trees bashing into my head.

The following day I went on a tour to Teotihuacan (which I still can`t pronounce) which the Aztecs regarded as the place where the universe was created – it didn`t look like a black hole but was pretty impressive nonetheless. We had stopped for lunch at the obligatory craft workshop, which was better than most as they showed us how they made mescal (with several free wormless samples) and also 101 things you can do with a cactus! The soundtrack on the bus was circa 1966- 70 (Santana, Hendrix and The Doors) which certainly added to the hippy experience.

That evening proved quite a surreal experience. I went to find Garibaldi Square where all the mariachi bands play. It was hilarious – I felt like I`d walked into a Monty Python sketch. I imagine a pretty square full of cafes, where the mariachis would wander over and play a song for a few pesos. I got within half a mile of the square and they were hanging around like hookers on the street corners dressed in their full costumes, touting for business and brandishing their instruments quite menacingly!

I expected Michael Palin to come lunging up to me with his trumpet shouting "Tune missus???". The square itself was quite scary, and I got offered my first joint of the trip – at that moment, I didn`t feel I needed one!

The next morning, despite my complaining feet, I set off for the renowned Museum of Anthropology, which was indeed a fascinating and comprehensive insight into the history of the Mexican people from the Stone ages onwards. Looking forward to my first bus journey (only 2 hours, so breaking myself in slowly).

Spain vs Portugal

Spain vs Portugal


Where`s My Mule???

Where`s My Mule???


The Mariachis Take on a Gang of Local Youths

The Mariachis Take on a Gang of Local Youths


Museo de Antropoligia

Museo de Antropoligia


Museo De Antropologie 2

Museo De Antropologie 2


Mexico City Cake Shop (Especially for Dave)

Mexico City Cake Shop (Especially for Dave)


Eros`s Girlfriend

Eros`s Girlfriend


The Biggest Organ in the World!

The Biggest Organ in the World!


Teotihuacan 1

Teotihuacan 1


Teotihuacan 2

Teotihuacan 2


Teotihuacan 3

Teotihuacan 3


Bride over-does her pre-wedding Diet

Bride over-does her pre-wedding Diet


The Mexican Team

The Mexican Team


The Gang Leaders Have a Face-off

The Gang Leaders Have a Face-off


They Bring In the Big Guns...

They Bring In the Big Guns...

Posted by kathystravels 16:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]