A Travellerspoint blog


Meridan Meanders

sunny 32 °C

Merida was a large Mayan city when the Spanish arrived in 1542 and used the ceremonial pyramids as the foundation for the first Christian cathedral in the New World. Here’s the façade which faces onto the main square…
And here’s the view across the square to the cultural centre…
At its core the city of Merida is as Mexican as it comes. A wealth of colonial buildings surround the central plaza, and the adjacent streets are lined with Mexican restaurants and small stores selling traditional local products and thousands of dodgy videos – all latest releases are just $2 each…
Sunday is market day, when the square bustles with women in traditional Mayan dress, music blares from every corner and stallholders try to catch the eye of locals and tourists alike. Prices and provenance vary – even the most traditionally decorated Mayan artifact may be discretely stamped, “Made in China.”
There is a vibrancy in the air as happy families wander the pedestrianised zones or cycle along roads which are barred to traffic every Sunday. But the traffic in Merida isn’t at all unruly – most motorists willingly stop at pedestrian crossings and few take chances with amber lights. Almost all roads are one-way streets and there are police officers controlling most busy junctions. Horse-drawn carts have no problem navigating the historic centre…
Away from the centre many of the buildings on the wide tree-lined boulevards are as modern as any in North America or Europe. Costco, Sears, WalMart and other big named retail brands have set up shop here along with all the usual American fast-food suspects. The short, stocky Mayans seem to have a natural propensity for obesity so the last thing they really need is encouragement from the fat cats of Burger King and McDonalds. We avoid the multi-nationals and try to support local businesses - where prices are about half of Canadian prices for most things - so we were surprised when we took a quick peek into Costco and discovered that they charge exactly the same as they do in Canada. The store is almost identical in design and layout to our Costco at home and for a few moments we thought we had been dreaming and had woken up in our local store. Then we stepped outside into the 30 degree heat and came back to earth.
Merida, with a population of one million, is the capital city of the Yucatan, and we will be returning in a few days to participate in one of its major attractions – the Festival of Mardi Gras and the Mayan New Year.
Hasta Luego

Posted by Hawkson 09:34 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

On The Beach

sunny 27 °C

We have been here for more than a week and have yet to visit any of the Mayan ruins and ancient colonial cities that lie just a few miles inland. But we have plenty of time for adventure and, for now, we are simply living life on the beach.
The gently fizzing water is pleasantly warm as we take our early morning dips under a cloudless blue sky, and we are beginning to wonder if we will ever get our Polar Bear swim. But it’s not all plain sailing: clouds bubble up in the heat of the noonday sun and the pleasant sea breeze freshens to a stiff gale that whips up the waves and snatches at the fronds of the coconut palms fringing the endless miles of deserted beach…
And then, as night falls, the wind gradually abates and we are lulled to sleep by the sound of the surf whooshing onto the beach. By dawn the wind has died, the clouds have retreated to the distant horizon, and we are greeted by a clear sky and a fresh new day. Here’s the view from our balcony…
Pelicans and all manner of seabirds endlessly dive-bomb these shallow waters in front of our apartment, and re-appear from the emerald depths with a bounty of fish. We, on the other hand, visit the fish market in Progreso where, on a good day, we can buy numerous varieties of fresh local seafood for about $2 a pound…
If this all sounds a little too idyllic, perhaps we should mention that some of the beach access roads are dumping grounds for garbage and old furniture, that the beaches have a smattering of discarded plastic and broken bottles, and that, in places, there are ugly sandbag groynes as owners desperately try to stop the unrelenting sea from washing their beach, and their house, back into the ocean. It’s not always pretty, but as we walk the soft golden sand we concentrate on nature’s beauty, like the birds, the ever-changing seascape and these incredible shells…
And this relic of prehistoric times – the carapace of a helmet crab…
We're heading inland over the next few days but we've just discovered a bit of a hitch. According to the Mayan calendar the world is going to end in just over a week when a massive meteorite will strike the earth just about where we are standing. Stay tuned for an eyewitness account.

Posted by Hawkson 19:34 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

The Twin Faces of Progreso

overcast 24 °C

A few kilometers along the beach from our Chicxulub home is the sprawling port of Progreso. Most of it isn’t pretty – but it is authentically Mexican. This is hurricane alley, so many of the tiny concrete-block houses have seen better days…
There is no shortage of fixer-uppers here, and almost every other place is either for sale or rent, but there are also plenty of freshly painted little haciendas with bougainvilleas and frangipanes around the door…
There are also many cars that would be quite at home on Gabriola…
Progreso, we read in our guide book, is tipped to be the next Playa del Carmen. But hold your burros – this place has a long way to go in the margaritas and mariachi band department before it will attract the ritzy crowd from the gilded beaches of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. On five days a week Progreso is just a sleepy, inward looking, fishing port where the local Mayans shop in the market for fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood. Here is Estrelle and her mother, our favourite greengrocers, surrounded by the freshest produce available…
Estrelle always chooses the very best for us and delights in helping us with our Spanish, but all the locals are incredibly friendly and very helpful and we have no trouble being understood. However, every Monday and Wednesday Progreso turns it’s face outwards - to the pier that stretches nearly 7 kilometres into the ocean - where cruise ships disgorge thousands of knick-knack hungry tourists, and then everything changes...
Trinket salesman and tourist touts of all kind flood into town to pick the pockets of the cruise passengers and prices go through the roof. The whole place bursts to life with enthusiastic salesmen and massage beds, (some on the mainstreet itself), and this market springs out of nowhere on a dusty bit of wasteland near the beach…
We could wear badges saying, “Yo vivo aqui”, (I live here), but there’s no need. The touts, selling clothes, cigars, hats, and all manner of local products, aren’t at all pushy, and give us a chance to practice our Spanish. As soon as we tell them that we are (temporary) residents the price plummets back to earth.
Progresso is quaint – in a Mexican way – and we enjoy our visits. The clean sandy beach stretches to the horizon, a new promenade is just being completed, and there are plenty of beachfront cafes and restaurants from where we can watch the world, and the pelicans, pass by. “Esta es la vida” (This is the life).

Posted by Hawkson 17:22 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Our Chicxulub Home

sunny 27 °C

While Playa del Carmen may be the swinging Blackpool of the Yucatan Peninsula, Chicxulub is a like a forgotten little backwater clinging to the edge of the Norfolk Broads. There is nothing swinging here – apart from the coconut palms and mangroves that fringe the sandy golden beach…
Bumping into Chicxulub along its wide, hot, dusty streets is like driving onto the set of a 1950s spaghetti western. Any minute now Clint Eastwood, sporting a Pancho moustache, will swagger around the corner and pull a couple of pistols from under his poncho while muttering in spanglish, “I hate gringos.” But nothing happens; the streets are almost deserted, and a few local Mayans welcome us with a “Buenos dias,” and seem content to share their peaceful little hideaway with us as the world and time passes by. The only concessions to modernity are on the beach where a veneer of opulent villas and low-rise condominium apartments stretch to the horizon in each direction. The contrast between the scruffy concrete bungalows crammed along the village streets and the monstrous mega-homes that haughtily hog the shoreline are a stark reminder of the gulf between the haves and have-nots. But many of the haves here are Mexicans. Although there are a few gringos – almost all apparently from Canada – most of the villas are reputed to belong to the local drug barons who consider this area to be out of bounds as far as any ‘funny business’ is concerned, (everyone needs to get away from the office sometimes).
Chicxulub beach is a paradise for bird fanciers, (the feathered variety). Flocks of pelicans, cormorants and kittiwakes fish in the warm waters while frigate birds soar effortlessly in the clear blue sky on a constant breeze…
The shallow sea of the Gulf of Mexico would love to be as clear and cerulean as its Caribbean neighbor but the churning winds turn it an aquamarine green. However, the blue skies and sea breezes mean that we will be spending a lot of time on the beach and on the sparkling new pier in Chicxulub over the next two months…
Hasta la vista.

Posted by Hawkson 09:04 Archived in Mexico Comments (4)

Touchdown in Mexico

overcast 26 °C

Many apologies dear blog followers for our tardiness in the telling of intrepid tales from the Yucatan but, much like the characters in Lemony Snickett’s books, we have suffered a series of unfortunate events – though we have emerged completely unscathed.
Our misadventures began when our plane let us down instead of lifting us off and we waited for half a day in Vancouver while a couple of techy-types gave it a ‘talking to’. We arrived in Cancun very late and just a few minutes behind Marjorie, a Scottish lady who took a liking to one of our brand new suitcases in place of her slightly battered, but otherwise identical, one. We have often wondered why some airports have big signs saying, “Make sure you take the right bag.” Now we know.
Sheila’s first day was spent in Playa del Carmen with friends Keith and Helen. Here they are…
Keith may appear as though he had a rough night, but he doesn’t always look this good.
Playa del Carmen is the Blackpool of the Yucatan peninsula – lots of “Kiss-me-quick” sombreros, bingo and booze – and here’s the beach on a quiet day…
Notice the perfectly clear blue sky? No… neither did we. However, don’t feel too bad for us: it’s a balmy 25 degrees and the weather is slated to improve by the weekend.
While Sheila and her muchachos took in the sights, James spent the first day trudging back to the airport to retrieve our wayward suitcase - sorry, no photos – and then we set off to our home away from home near Merida
The road from Playa del Carmen to Merida is as straight as a Saskatchewan highway and just as flat. The only hill in four hours was an overpass where we crossed another road. From the air we snaked through miles of endless jungle, but all we could see were the scrubby hedgerows lining the road. In the first two hundred kilometres we saw just 10 other vehicles, a couple of cyclists and a dog with a limp.
But what of the series of unfortunate events? After awhile the front wheels of our hire car got fed up going straight and kept trying to turn right. James kept them in line, but as darkness fell one of the headlights just refused to work. No matter – we made it to our lovely apartment on the beach at Chicxulub. Now all we have to do is to get the internet working faster than a somnolent sloth and we will be able to show you all the sights of this intriguing country that is, simultaneously, so near yet so far from our Canadian home.
Hasta luego.

Posted by Hawkson 08:58 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

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