A Travellerspoint blog

March 2012

Adios Mexico

sunny 34 °C


As we sit by our poolside palapa we are ready to say goodbye to the Yucatan and its friendly people. This young lady was thrilled with the beads Sheila gave her at Merida Carnaval…
Despite an abundance of fancy haciendas and flashy cars most people here are not wealthy, but they are surrounded by riches that others should envy. The Yucatan has a rich Mayan heritage, and although vast numbers of the ancient monoliths are buried beneath the jungle there is still much to see. Our favourite site is Uxmal – a Mayan ruin with more than 150 buildings that stem from three major periods in Mayan history, and there wasn't a pesky trinket salesman in sight on either of our visits. This is the enormous governor’s palace from the 9th century AD…
And this is the 117 foot high pyramid of the magician…
The Yucatan also has a rich Hispanic culture with many colonial cities built around an economy based on the henequen cactus – a fibrous plant from which rope is made. Every sailing ship in the 19th century needed miles of rope so the Yucatecans became rich, and the port of Sisal from which it was shipped in huge quantities gave it its name. Henequen is still grown here, but its heyday is long past. But, above all, it is the richness and diversity of wildlife that makes this region special. We have enthused about the flocks of flamingos, frigate birds and comical pelicans, but the skies here are alive with a wide variety of birds, and the waters are simply teeming with fish. This is a tiger heron trying his luck at a cenote…
While this pelican was just happy to pose for us...
But life here is about to change: most snowbirds have already flown home to Canada and northern climes to await the arrival of the summer sun, and next week the Mexicans will arrive en-mass. This week we have twenty seven apartments, a swimming pool and a lovely beach to ourselves, while next week the place will be heaving with locals wondering why on earth crazy northerners would come here in midwinter when the temperature hovers around a measly 30c.

Thank you faithful blog readers. Knowing that you are following our meanderings means a lot to us, and we hope that our travel tales will inspire some of you to pack a suitcase and hop on a plane. But for those who simply can’t do that – sit back and enjoy the ride. We are already digging deep into our bucket list and we will soon resume our quest to bring the world to your computer. In the meantime, as we take a final stroll into the Yucatan sunset, we are moved to a little poetry...
Swaying coconut palms shade the shell covered sandy shore while soft sea breezes send seabirds soaring into the sapphire sky, and then, as the fading sun turns crimson and sinks slowly into the ocean, we say adios to Mexico. Thank you for sharing your riches with us and with our friends.

Posted by Hawkson 18:30 Archived in Mexico Comments (2)

In a Mexican Market

sunny 34 °C

As far as the world’s markets go, Merida can’t hold a candle to the 8,000 stalls of Bangkok’s Chatuchak, Cairo’s ancient Khan el-Khalili Souk, or the dangerously cluttered lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. But Merida’s tightly packed, bustling, market halls are certainly worth a visit. The somewhat sterile Sunday market in Merida’s central square, with its entertainers and inflated prices, is just a show put on for the tourists in comparison to the real business of trading that goes on in the Lucas de Galvez market. Here, in a labyrinth of dimly lit stalls, an eclectic mix of costermongers, butchers, bakers, florists, fishmongers, hatters, tinkers and cobblers, spend their lives serving the community while scratching a living. We don’t envy marketeers. Most work seven days a week in hot, cramped, smelly conditions, although there is clearly a camaraderie that enables them to remain sane and be ready with a smile for every customer - but this old fruit lady had clearly had enough…
And this florist was catching up on the day's news...
By Asian standards, Merida’s market halls are palatial and pleasantly scented with fragrances of fresh fruit and flowers. These pineapples are truly enormous…
While these golf ball sized radishes would make a bouquet of roses for a banquet…
But it is the peppers that take pride of place here…
No Mexican meal, or market, would be complete without chillis – capsicums of every variety and colour: red, green, orange, yellow and variegated bell peppers along with jalapenos, poblanos and even scotch bonnets. But fresh peppers are just the tip of the iceberg, ( a very hot iceberg), in Mexico. They are such an essential ingredient in almost every dish that they are sold dried, pickled, smoked and powdered and, of course, in the form of fearsomely hot sauces like Tabasco. The Yucatan is the world’s largest producer of habanera peppers, which originated in Cuba, and this market stall was just swamped with them…
Tortillas are the other staple at every Mexican meal, (although white Wonder bread and its highly refined Mexican cousin called Bimbo are taking over as the locals aspire to a North American diet), and tortillerias can be found on many street corners. Most tortillas are made by machine today, but this lady still makes them by hand in the market...
It's our last week in Mexico; the sun is shining, the sea is warm. and we're off to the beach for lunch.

And the winner of the fruit competition was Catherine who rushed down and accepted her prize so that she could shower us with ice - thanks. The fruits are: guanabana, mamey and anone.
The runner up was Jordan - nice try.
Hasta luego.

Posted by Hawkson 05:49 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

The Safe Side of Mexico

sunny 35 °C

Much has been made lately of the dangers of Mexico but there is a reason that 1.6 million Canadians flee south each winter and it’s not just the balmy weather, the inexpensive food and the cheap booze: Canadians feel safe here.
Eating is safe: The food is edible and most dishes are recognizable, even if the chef at Merida’s best restaurant honed his presentation skills in a prison cafeteria…
Fortunately we are here with the chef from Cafe Bliss, so here’s our dinner...
Many restaurants here have English menus – sort of! Try working this one out…
Travel is safe: the kink-free highways of the Yucatan are quieter than the back road to Tuktoyaktuk, and there are no bears, deer or moose to fly through the windscreen. Stray dogs, cats, iguanas and tejons, on the other hand, are simply considered speed bumps. This cute tejon – a Mexican badger – was very much alive…
…and this iguana is just one of the thousands we have seen - dead and alive…
Vicious man-made speed bumps, called topes, are ubiquitous and will happily ruin a speedy motorist’s day, (and his suspension), as will any of the thousands of cops who constantly patrol the roads looking for people to shake down for baksheesh. However, such vigilance by the boys in blue keeps caballeros to a minimum. The roads are terrific; not like the potholed minefields of India jammed with camel carts, sacred cows, and buses with passengers clinging to the roofs. However, here there are plenty of pick-up trucks crammed to the gunwales with standing workers, together with overloaded tuk-tuks, tricycle rickshaws and motorbikes equipped with several squishy kiddie airbags. Here is a reminder of a motorcycle airbag from our Asian adventure...
We have no photos of airbags or overloaded vehicles in Mexico but these hitchhiking pelicans had the same idea…
Most motorcyclists have helmets – though generally not the baby airbags – but safety equipment for construction workers is as rudimentary as a baseball cap and plastic sandals, (unless the government inspector is visiting). Many of the concrete structures are built using beach sand and sea water so they fall apart faster than an Audi, but hotels, holiday accommodations, and most washrooms, stand up nicely. There is nothing here to frighten granny.

As for our personal safety? We’ve not had the slightest cause to be concerned about the locals; wonderfully helpful and friendly souls who have made our visit thoroughly enjoyable and have helped us enormously with our Spanish. Our Canadian (ex)friend Catherine, on the other hand, was so incensed that we had avoided taking part in yet another Polar Bear swim this year that she tracked us down and showered us with a bagful of ice…
Oh jealousy - thy name is Catherine.

Posted by Hawkson 11:56 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Mexican Watercolours

sunny 34 °C

Here in the Yucatan we are engulfed by a vibrant palette of colour that daily turns our world into an art gallery. Blue predominates in both sea and sky, but at times the waters take on rainbow hues that demand every letter of the alphabet from A to Z, from aquamarine to zaffre. In minutes the sea and the salinas can subtly shift from azure to cobalt, indigo to navy, sapphire to turquoise, and even magenta to flamingo rose. But, as beautiful as the coast may be, the freshwater cenotes hidden among the mangroves are unquestionably the stars of this vivid al fresco show …
A picture paints a thousand words and these colourful kaleidoscopic works of art, these aqueous collages, these watercolours on nature’s canvass, are as complex and compelling as Monet’s masterpieces: the shimmering sunlight on softly swirling water; the languorous movement of tropical fish, the reflection of gently swaying vegetation revealing snippets of sky blue. The mystical images created in the depths of the Yucatan’s cenotes defy description – so just enjoy…

So much to see - and so little time.

Posted by Hawkson 15:29 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

Name That Fruit!

sunny 28 °C

Here in the Yucatan there are no stickers on fruit – no pesky little hard-to-remove labels proclaiming, “Produce of Mexico”. Origin labels in the produce department here are as redundant as fur-lined parkas and woolly long johns. This is the land of perpetual summer where, until recently, there was no question as to where all these sweet treats came from…
But things are changing: rumour has it that due to globalization and free trade nearly all chicken in Mexico now comes from Canada, and, just as at home, there seems to be few foodstuffs, (apart from a wedge of strong cheddar cheese), that cannot be found here. However, while globalization may have brought the world to our local superstore in Canada in doing so it has diminished the excitement of experiencing new foods for world adventurers like us. Even truly exotic fruits like rambutan, durian and dragon fruit can now be found alongside the apples and pears in almost every supermarket. Canadian grocers’ coolers are filled, year-round, with out-of season crops and many proudly proclaim their fruit to be ‘Jet Fresh’ without for a moment counting the environmental cost of flying what is essentially a ton of flavoured water halfway around the world. (And don’t get James started only the total insanity of bottling water - plain, simple, unadulterated spring water – and shipping it from one side of the world to another: frequently to countries like Canada which already has a massive excess of its own water).
But we digress. March is fruit month in Mexico when citrus trees are loaded with ripe limes, lemons and oranges, when there are melons, watermelons and strawberries a plenty, and when papaya stalks hang with fruit the size of prize winning vegetable marrows…
Clusters of fresh golden coconuts sway under palm fronds like giant Christmas baubles…
And avocados are shiny green bells hanging in a pretty blue sky…
The trees here, and the stores, are simply bursting with succulent and easily recognizable bananas, mangos, pineapples and papayas – and they all taste so much better when they have come straight from the orchard – but what is the strange looking green giant in the foreground of the first picture? Here’s what it looks like on the inside…
This fabulous fruit tastes like pineapple and strawberry crossed with orange and coconut and it is reputed to contain a chemical which prevents some cancers.

And what are these ostrich egg-sized fruits…?
If you close your eyes when eating this fruit you will believe that you are eating crème caramel…

And finally...
This soft, sweet, fragrant fruit, the size of a tennis ball, has the texture of custard and is also reputed to have medicinal benefits.

If you can name all three of the Mexican fruits you win a one week all-inclusive holiday for two in the Yucatan – airfare and airport transfers not included. (All prizes must be claimed and holidays taken before 31 March 2012 when we head home to finish the dregs of last year’s apple crop and wait for the sun to return to ripen our blackberries).

Posted by Hawkson 13:22 Archived in Mexico Comments (7)

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