Our Home Base in Merida

image of Merida

After a short stay in Izamal, we arrived in the Yucatan capital of Merida. It’s just as described — an energetic and busy city. We easily found a cute hotel that had an adorable air-conditioned room (which we really didn’t need because it was in the 70s most of the week) for 500 pesos a night, Hotel Trinidad.

Trinidad had a resident staff and a lot of sweet ladies. One of them, Isabel, would give me a plate of toast and I would say “No, gracias” (I’m still attempting to not eat gluten with so-so results). She would push it back to me and say “Su esposo!” (For your spouse). Very kind.

The resident cat we all called Possum because there was a sign warning guests not to bother the possum. Since we never saw an actual possum, I assumed that was the cat’s name.

Outside our room at night dozens of bats would be feasting down on bugs and mosquitos. The hotel had a courtyard with hammocks and trees growing some very strange fruit I’d never seen before.

We made our home base in Merida and then took day trips to Uxmal and Ruta Puuk and other sites. Our favorite places to eat in Merida were Cafe Pop, which had delicious cappuccinos, and Chaya Maya, where ladies would sit and make fresh tortillas on a little flame stove and the waiters rush them over in a gourd. Chad, Megan, Eric, Tim and I had dinner twice at Chaya Maya and with everyone getting massive amounts of slow-cooked pork, turkey in three different sauces, beans, and cervezas the bill would come to around 500 pesos (at today’s exchange about 40 bucks).

We did have a really delightful meal at Panchos, which I read was an expat favorite in Merida. We had to wait out a very heavy rainstorm, and so sat tight and sipped the local anise liquor Xtabentun. The bill there was around 2,000 pesos.

I was constantly impressed at how local places with ONE cook could easily serve the tables of 15 people that were streaming in. Of course no one gets their food at the same time — you get it when it’s ready and dig in. I was told in Paris that that’s the real way to serve food (without heat lamps) and so I was happy to start the eating if I was the only one with food.

– Rachel

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Kinich Kak Moo Ruin in Izamal

image of Kinich Kak Moo sign

We read about a ruin just a few blocks off the main square in Izamal and so headed over there about 5 pm. At the end of a simple street was a massive stone structure with what looked like a forest on top. A sign read “Knich Kak Moo.”

The guys quickly headed up the stone steps. The stones were the biggest I’ve seen yet in the region. The Mayans must have had some kind of mechanical advantage. I can’t imagine 20 people being able to lift one of these stones.

Kinich Kak MooMegan and I headed around the back another few blocks. The site is absolutely massive. It is one pyramid that sits on four city blocks. We climbed up the back side to the forest. Once there we were amazed to discover the forest was actually trees on the back side of another pyramid that sat on the top of this one!

The upper pyramid had a large courtyard where it was evident that local youths spent many Friday nights. We could clearly see the monastery from here — which would have been another building.

At Ek Balam we spoke to a man who said estimates that 20,000 people lived in these cities must be wildly inaccurate. Walking around the top of this site and imaging all the rocks below me, it had to be that many just to build this.

The site is actually built on a limestone quarry so the stones needed only to be cut and hauled up.

I’m very excited to do Ruta Puuc tomorrow and see even more Mayan sites.

– Rachel

Fiesta in Izamal

Image of Izamal

Our next stop after the lovely Valladolid is Izamal, or the “yellow city.” Every building is painted a vibrant yellow. Soon after we arrived I dubbed it the “big” city — because everything here is big: the church, the square, the ruins.

Image of Izamal processionWe were surprised and pleased to find a parade starting through town the minute we walked into town. It was some kind of festival parade. A group of people — a family we’re guessing — carries a large cross through the streets along with either a brass band or a giant sound system strapped to the top of a Volkswagen. They have flowers and are led by a couple guys who are lighting four foot bottle rockets with cigarettes (which is the only smoking I’ve seen in Mexico).

The parade then marches up a raised causeway (called a sacbeob in Mayan) and into the Franciscan monastery San Antonio de Padua. In the 1500s, the Spanish conquerors decided it would be too difficult to raze the Mayan ruins and so built the monastery right on top — incorporating many of the existing features. The atrium that is most of the top of the ruin is second in size only to the Vatican. This gives an idea how massive these original structures are.

Izamal was the most important Mayan city — the largest and the center of civilization in the Yucatan. This is very apparent here.

Image of Izamal processionThe parade it turns out was not so much a lucky coincidence for us. An hour after one family’s parade entered the atrium the next would start their parade. This continued as long as we were in town and even the next morning!

No one seemed to be dressed really fancy. We all chuckled a little at one middle-aged man leading a parade whose shirt said in big letters on the back “I’m shy.”

– Rachel

Afternoon at Ek’ Balam

Image of Pokey at Ek' Balam

Ruins … check! Yesterday we visited the Mayan ruins of Ek’ Balam. Just like the guidebooks said, we practically had the place to ourselves.

We met up with our friends Chad and Megan here in Valladolid a few days ago. To get to Ek’ Balam, the three of us negotiated a round- trip cab fair of 300 pesos. This included 2 hours at the ruins, while the cab driver waited in the parking lot. The drive was about 30 minutes and went through a cute town that smelled like a campfire. Women were weaving on a porch.

At Ek’ Balam, we walked down a short path and were confronted by an extensive Mayan city and grand pyramid. Unlike a lot of other sites, we were allowed to climb the pyramid and go inside some of the buildings. Several of the structures were still just big rock piles and I had to imagine the buildings underneath.

Exiting Ek’ Balam we paid 20 pesos each for fresh green coconuts and sucked them dry. For another 5, the vendor chopped them open and scooped out the meat for us.

– Rachel

Valladolid

We rolled in to Valladolid, Mexico, last night at 10 after a three-and-a-half hour bus ride from Cancun. (I found out later there was an express bus that uses the toll road and takes only one hour fifteen but we had missed it). From the bus window, I saw storefronts taped up in X’s to prepare for tomorrow’s tropical storm.

In the morning we visited Cenote Zaci, which is an open-air cenote. Just a few people were milling around. This town is set to handle a lot more visitors than are currently here. The restaurants have a lot of seats. I tried the local sausage, langaniza. It was sweeter than chorizo with a similar consistency.

For dinner, we stumbled upon the best place in town. A little restaurant down a sidestreet with a sign reading “Mr. Taco.” Best tacos in Mexico! Valladolid has so much to offer. We also tasted the local sweet liquor, Xtabentun (pronounced “shta-ben-tune”). It’s a sweet anise-flavored liquor. I bought several small samplers and quickly drained them. Down another sidestreet we found a Mayan chocolate shop. They showed us how the dry and grind the chocolate. They also had an anise flavor, and cinnamon, and the most popular: tequila flavor.

– Rachel

Image of Street in Valladolid

Hahahahahahahurricane!

You always wonder what the last minute complication is going to be. The important thing you left at home and remembered on the tarmac. The influenza that strikes the day before departure. But we lucked out. The Yucatan is about to get creamed by Rina.

Rina

Tropical storm Rina as of 9 a.m. today (Thanks, U.S. Naval Research Lab)

It touches down less than 24 hours prior to our arrival. I don’t know what happens now. Frontier Airlines has not yet revised the flight, and they tell me that I just have to wait and see what happens. Our one night of luxury accommodations are for the day we arrive, and we got that reservation as a perk for booking with Airtreks. Will the reservation hold? Does our travel insurance cover this and get us a per diem here in Seattle? Are we jumping to conclusions and we’ll be flying out on time anyway? Our apartment is pretty much packed up but it looks like we’ll need to wait until the last minute to determine if we pack up the mattress.

-Eric

Entering Final Preparations

How much floss is too much?

Only four days left and Eric and I are packing, re-packing, and re-re-packing. We have both made lists and checked them twice. On a related note: I’m on a mission to collect as much floss as I can find from friends and relatives. (In addition to cleaning my teeth, I could create an emergency zip-line out of a hotel room).

The toughest part of packing right now is all the things I’m on the fence about. There are at least 2.5 good reasons to take each of these items on a round-the-world trip.

  • Furry vest – it can get cold at night everywhere in the world, right? I’ll need handwarmer pockets.
  • Big duffel bag. I’m planning to carry-on my backpack, but if I have to check it, I’ll need a big duffel bag.
  • Ultra-light tripod. I spent a few extra bucks on a really light tripod so I could set up some video shoots on our trip. But now — though light — this item just seems really bulky.
  • Water purification.  I described my Katadyn water bottles and Virustat filters. Well, these are really big. And the filter needs to be replaced after 4 months. Do I really want to carry big filters around to use them 4 months from now?  I could just carry iodine tablets and wait 4 hours to drink the treated water.
  • Noise-cancelling headphones — in typing those words just now, I have eliminated them.
  • Hiking boots. This is the really hard one. People have weighed in on both camps. They are light boots, and waterproof. I’ve worn them tons and they feel better than my tennis shoes. But they’re probably hot and I’ll only wear them a couple days a month, if that.
  • Sleeping bag and/or sleep sack. Most people have said to leave it. But I’ve also heard that hostel sheets can be dicey and you may want your own sleep sack. But I can’t imagine I’ll want to zip myself up in a sack when the overnight low is 85 degrees.
  • Notepads, drawing pads, pencils, knitting needles and supplies and other hobbies. So tough. Will I be bored? Will I be able to find art and craft supplies on the road? They don’t weigh much but they are bulky.
Definitely #firstworldproblem territory, but not easy decisions. For now, I have cut all of the above and will pack without them, then weigh my bag and add stuff back a pound at a time.
– Rachel