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Archive for the ‘Mexico 2014’ Category

 

— 1 —

We’re back.  We’re very glad to be back, too – it was an excellent trip, but you know, it’s always nice to get home, sleep in your own bed, walk around in your own house, drink recklessly from the tap, flush toilet paper without fear of destroying the plumbing of an entire region,  and shop without awkwardness at your own Publix.

Spoiled!

— 2 —

I have two deadlines over the next four days, but after that, I think I’m going to pull together a separate mini-blog about the trip.  It was that good, and it’s that close and it’s that relatively inexpensive (I couldn’t have done Florida theme parks for a week for what I did Mexico for ten days. If I wanted to do Florida theme parks, that is. Which I don’t. Sorry, not sorry.) I want to have a website out there with all the details on our trip that might just serve the purpose of encouraging folks – individuals, friends, couples and families – to go to Mexico.  Plenty of you do, and I met and saw plenty of Americans every where we traveled, but I just want to do my part to encourage more.

And we’re not done, either.  It won’t happen in the next few weeks or even months, but this trip did not exactly satiate the Maya-Mad One, so I see Palenque and related sites in our future, definitely.

(We flew in and out of Cancun and spent very little time there, but I’ll say that it held no interest for me.  I found the run of huge resorts on the coast between Tulum and Cancun so weird. Be brave. Go beyond the all-inclusive and cruise ship excursion!)

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Excellent Gran Museo de Mundo Maya in Merida – rich exhibits and quite a bit of interactivity.

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— 3 —

Because it’s interesting, fun and safe. Safe, people.  I – a single woman with two children – drove all around the Yucatan, walked in cities at night, and never felt anything but perfectly safe and comfortable (Except when I was about to run out of gas, that is.) There are parts of Mexico I wouldn’t venture into alone, certainly.   Border areas, other places known for conflict. There are parts of the US I wouldn’t wander about alone, either.  But the Yucatan isn’t one of them, and it’s very accessible to the US, and very educational and culturally rich.

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University of the Yucatan in Merida

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— 4 —

There are, indeed, as you hear, frequent police checkpoints on the roads – mostly at the borders of states and in and out of towns.  I probably encountered fifteen of them.  I always met the law’s eye with a direct look, a smile and a nod,  was glanced at and waved through.

(I also always stuck slavishly to the speed limit. Never, ever went over.)

They were also doing selective breathalyzer tests on the road out of Progreso (beach town) last Saturday but, oddly enough, I was not targeted.

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A soccer team doing some training on the beach in Progreso

— 5 —

I stayed in some great places.   Specific shout-outs to the Pickled Onion B & B and the Cascadas de Merida B & B.  Both were excellent, and the latter, in particular, is a model for a small hotel/Bed and Breakfast.  As an introvert, I may not seem like the natural constituency for the relatively close quarters of a B & B, but honestly, when I am traveling to an unfamiliar place where I don’t speak the language, I value the intimacy of a B & B – I need the assistance and advice that the owner can give, and I also appreciate the opportunity to bounce my observations of the day’s touring off of another adult over a glass of wine.

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By the way….if you’re a watcher of House Hunters International, you’ve heard of Merida.  It’s where I first heard of it and became aware of the amazing way in which those relatively plain facades  can conceal surprising interior spaces.

(Other stays were, in order, and for one night each: Mayaland Bungalows, the Plaza Colonial in Campeche, and the last night, the Marriott Airport Courtyard in Cancun. On points!)

— 6 —

Speaking of pickled onions…I didn’t know they were one of the National Condiments of the Yucatan.  I loved them – I’ll be making them myself soon!

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No pickled onions, but, you know…food.

— 7 —

Oh, and speaking of food – everyone stayed healthy throughout the trip.   We were super careful about the water, of course.  Bottled, purified water the whole way, including during teeth-brushing.  We ate plenty of just normal low-end restaurant, street and market food, and did just fine.

Some of the best food of the trip?  Here.  In Progreso. Three big plates – 1 fish and 2 chicken – small plate appetizers set out the way they do (ceviche, pumpkin seed spread, octopus, pico de gallo and something else, along with fried tortillas), four soft drinks, all for 190 pesos, which is about 14 bucks, and crazy.

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Now to those deadlines…..

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We are nearing the end of this Mexican journey.  We’ve seen a ton, made new friends, developed new tastes and learned a lot.

I’m pretty wiped out tonight.  Perhaps in the morning I will write a bit more, but tonight, just a few photos and the quote that indicates transitioning back into the US is starting to happen in our American chain hotel here in Cancun:

“Mom, is it okay for me to flush toilet paper yet?”

These are from Coba.  I drove from Merida to Coba to Tulum to Cancun today.  I’m glad we did Uxmal and other Ruta Puuc sites because they were heads and shoulders above these in terms of interest and detail.  It was delightful to ride around Coba on bikes, and the setting of Tulum is gorgeous, but there is just a lot more at the other sites and the almost cruise-ship port vibe of the way into Tulum (not the site itself, which is, I repeat, lovely and well-done) is really off-putting.

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I find the obsequiousness of the Maya ball game, pok-ta-pok really fascinating.

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Touring Coba would have been fairly hellish if we hadn’t rented bikes.

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One of mine is one of the blue specks there.

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It was the end of a fabulous tour of the Sotuta de Peon – a living history hacienda dedicated to demonstrating the growth,  harvesting and production of the henequen plant – sisal – which brought great wealth to the Yucatan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Cart ride out into the fields.

 

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Visit with a Mayan man who had worked at the hacienda beginning in 1947, telling us about the process, in the Maya language.

 

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Arroz paleta – tasted like rice pudding.

 

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Maquech Beetle jewelry. It’s alive and it’s a thing. Look it up.

 

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Monday night in Merida – more dancing!

 

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Adios, Merida and gracias! We learned a lot and you were a lot of fun!

 

 

 

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Progreso, Mexico.

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— 1 —

Well, I tried….

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Kabah ruins

 

 

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Kabah Ruins

 

I was thinking that this would satiate him.  It does not seem to have taken things in that direction.

— 2 —

It’s gone great so far.   I’m not enamored of driving on Mexican roads, though.  It’s not that they’re dangerous or treacherous.  They’re in excellent condition.  It’s just that they are incredibly boring.  At least in the parts of the Yucatan in which I’ve been driving.  They’ve been mostly two-lane with a decent speed limit, but with vegetation growing slam up to the side of the road and few breaks in the scenery.  The breaks that exist are towns and villages, all of which are marked by serious speed bumps which Must Be Obeyed.  It’s okay.  It gives you a chance to observe the scenery without seeming to rubberneck, but after a while…it can get tedious.  I was ready to arrive in Campeche today, and ready to ditch the car for a day.

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— 3 —

At one point,  a bit up in the distance, a strange animal started to cross the road.  For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it was…some sort of huge weird badger with a skinny body and long tail? A…what?  Joseph yelled, “IT’S A MONKEY!”  And in retrospect, I do believe he was correct.

— 4 —

It’s an obvious thing to say, but spending even three days in this climate affords a real education in how culture develops in relationship to said climate.  Life is very busy starting about 6am, then by noon is spent…and you can really understand why.  And you can understand why things perk up again around 5.  It just makes sense. Nothing original about that observation – it’s just good to experience it.

— 5 —

Walking around Campeche, I was twice approached by different trios of awkward high school students, needing to conduct an interview with an English speaker for their English classes.  I was recorded answering questions like “What is your name?” and “How old are you?” and “Do you play any sports?”  It was very sweet, and it was enlightening to see how difficult it was for these kids to pronounce English, even in this world in which we think that because of the prevalence of American pop culture, it should just come naturally to everyone.

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Campeche Cathedral

— 6 —

One point I’m glad to see emerging on this trip is this teachable moment:  When you are aware of Mayan history, you are aware of a history of a civilization that rose and fell without any reference to Europeans.  That broadens the mind tempted to narrowness in a couple of ways.  First, it’s always good to learn about an accomplished non-European civilization.  Why not.  Secondly, the dominant narrative out there in pop history (an umbrella under which I would group most school-taught history) is that if there’s a fallen non-European society…Europeans were probably at fault.   Of course, since the Mayans collapsed centuries before Europeans were even thinking about showing up, that undercuts those assumptions nicely.

(By the way, Michael and I went to a totally cheesy but somehow winning presentation of the history of Campeche that combined a desultory tour through a fort (in Spanish), a video projection on a wall of said fort, and some exciting live action up on the ramparts.  The mix of cultures was celebrated not decried, and – shock of shocks – the coming of Christianity was presented as a good thing – as the introduction of a God “who asked only love” into the culture. )

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Sayil, another ruined city nearby.

Uxmal was far less crowded, much cooler, and more interesting than Chichen Itza – the decorations on the facades is still intact.  More later.

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Random notes from Chichen Itza and other parts:

  • So yes, we made it.  We stayed at Mayaland! A very nice resort-type place that I picked because the hotel property is adjacent to Chichen Itza.
  • My intention was that was be able to get up, eat breakfast, and enter the park through the rear entrance (a minute walk from the hotel) at 8am – a couple of hours before the tour groups arrive, a good bit of time before the vendors set up, and, of course, also a bit before it gets really hot.
  • GREAT IDEA!
  • Except for the cold, hard facts that:   1) When getting money out of the ATM at Cancun airport, I really could not remember the whole pesos/dollars thing,and didn’t get enough.  Clearly.   2)I handed over a bunch in the whole PLEASE GET ME GAS SO I AM NOT STRANDED ON A MEXICAN TOLL ROAD IN THE DARK WITH MY CHILDREN thing   and 3)the Chichen Itza ticket office takes cash only   and 4) the atm at the hotel didn’t open until 9.
  • So there was a bit of disappointment on that score, but we got over it.  We just chilled, then went ahead and checked out of the hotel, stored the luggage and studied the peacocks until 9.
  • It’s an interesting site.  I’ll not have anything to compare it to until we go to Uxmal, so I should probably withhold judgment till then.
  • One thing Chichen Itza is famed for are the souvenir vendors.  They are permitted to be all over the site – the only one of the main archaeological sites in which this is so.  The purveyors of Mayan calendars, huipil, hats, statuary, magnets…jaguar “whistles” which are sounded the minute a child comes in sight…all “almost free!”  AMAZING!

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  • I must confess, though, that while the place would certainly be more authentic without guys alternating fake jaguar cries and checking their cel phones and telling me it was all “almost free!” it didn’t bother me that much.  The street vendors in Rome and Paris are far more aggressive with their “Un Euro Un Euro Un Euro” for their little Eiffel Towers and light necklaces, their scarves and umbrellas
  • And yes, it was hot.  Everything they say about the hotness of Chichen Itza is true – it is largely unshaded, flat, and by noon, I was ready to go….and I enjoy the heat.
  • Also at the hotel was a large group of French tourists.
  • Dinner last night?  I’m going to trust that you are uninterested in the boys’ dinners, because they are not much different from what they have north of the border. Yet. I’m working on it.  I had a Chiles Rellenos dish, which was okay.  Tonight (in a different place), I had Poc Chuc, which was DELICIOUS.
  • In driving through this part of Mexico (I am careful not to generalize, because I am only in the Yucatan, so I can’t say, “in Mexico”…even though it might be true.  I don’t know.)….speed bumps are a constant feature. Serious speed bumps, forcing you to drastically slow down as you pass through towns.  What impressed me were the enteriprising purveyors of items like roasted corn and tamales who stationed themselves at those speed bumps, knowing that drivers would have to almost stop in order to preserve their undercarriage.  I didn’t get anything today because of the uncertainties of our destination, but I will, I hope, before we leave.
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    If he ever becomes a famed archaeologist, date it to this moment. He turned around and exclaimed, “I can’t believe I’m really here!

     

  • The people are lovely.  Don’t be a skinflint with your tips, and they will be even lovelier  Just sayin’.
  • I had warned the boys that there might be police stops on the road, and yes, the police might be carrying machine guns, and to not be alarmed.  Indeed, on our travels today, there were four brief stops (but only once were they sporting machine guns) – we were waved through every time, although every time, a car in front of us was motioned to stop and pull over.  I don’t know what the criterea were.
  • Oh, and for those of you who haven’t followed us for the past few years.  This isn’t our first time in Mexico.  The first substantive time was a few years ago when we went on a parish mission trip led by the Family Missions Company to General Cepeda, Mexico, a bit west of Monterrey and Saltillo.
  • Quote of the day from the middle of the Yucatan:

    Me: “Are you American?”

    Guy I’m asking advice from: “No, I’m Estonian.”

     

 

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