Touring the Yucatan Peninsular - Part Two: 10 – 15 March 2013
We started the day early again, we didn’t anticipate that Uxmal would be as busy as Chichen Itza as it is off the beaten track in rather a remote location. However it is still close enough for day trips from both Merida and Campeche so we were there at 9am to beat the crowds.
The ruins are in a much more interesting setting than Chichen Itza, the surrounding land has the only hills on the peninsular so this added another dimension. It was easy to see why the Mayans had deserted this settlement around AD900 due to lack of water, the ground was cracking in the heat, most of the foliage that remained was withering away, even the weeds were dying. Just why they located here in the first place without a reliable water source seems an obvious question.
We enjoyed the ruins, they were in much better repair than Chichen Itza and because of the lay out and the undulating land they were much more interesting to explore. We spent a couple of hours there and left just before noon, there were no queues waiting to enter, no hawkers selling plastic statues or brightly coloured sombreros, and just a few small guided groups roamed the grounds.
Upon leaving we rejoined the Ruta Puuc and drove to Labna, a site quoted in Lonely Planet as “the site not to miss”. Maybe the good bits have crumbled away or we just didn’t find them but after Chichen Itza and Uxmal it was very disappointing.
We passed through Ticul a major centre for weaving and ceramics, dozens of outlets lined a busy street with not a parking in site, on the outskirts of town there was plenty of opportunity to stop but not a ceramic in sight, oh well. So we started our journey south, the countryside was a little more interesting and we went through a few small pockets of crops, banana plantations and orange groves, a welcome change to the dry bush.
Over the past few days we had been “coping” with topes. In other countries these are called judder bars, speed bumps, sleeping policemen and probably alot of other things, in Mexico they are topes and we were learning to hate topes with a passion. It is an excellent idea to have them to slow the traffic down, but when we peaked out at 8 sets of them in about 40 metres we had just about had enough. ALL towns, villages and shacks had them outside, bumpy ones, ridgey ones, big wide ones, small high ones that we would literally fall off the top off – must drive the locals absolutely mad but I imagine there are very few pedestrian deaths in the Yucatan. Anyway, that is my moan about topes.
Modern Art exhibition in a pedestrian street in Campeche
It was a long drive to Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico coast (slowing down for all those topes!!) With around 300,000 population its a reasonable sized town and the old walled town centre was declared a World Heritage site in 1999. Extensive restoration and renovations have ensued, several thousand litres of all imaginable pastel coloured paints have been applied to every building and although it was all very cute we felt it lacked soul, it was just a little too orderly. Even on Monday morning with the shops open and people in the streets it still felt as if it was missing something. Maybe I just wanted it to be more European – geraniums hanging from pots on the balconies, flowering vines and ivy clinging the the sides of buildings, washing lines strung out – something to give it more of a lived in feel. We planned to stay two nights and booked into the Hotel Lopez, the location was good and parking free. But after having a wander around late Sunday afternoon and evening, then a stroll along the waterfront on Monday morning we had “been there, done that” and headed off.
Campeche to Merida
So we still had 3 nights left and we hadn’t originally planned to go to Merida – big city, busy roads, too busy, but cruisers are very flexible so we headed north on a tope free 2 lane highway, what bliss!
Driving around Merida was actually quite straight-forward, once we got used to all the one way streets, round and round we went – 2 blocks this way then 2 blocks that way, we tried a couple of small hotels which were both full then we spotted Hotel Maria Jose with parking, always a bonus, so in we went.
We stayed 2 nights in Merida, this classical cultural city has a lovely old town area, some of the buildings have been returned to their former glory, and some are a tad rustic – paint fading, plaster peeling. There a many squares with huge trees, small parks and then there is the centrepiece, Plaza Grande “El Centro”. The Plaza is surrounded by wonderful building - side walk cafes lie amongst tourist shops, banks, museums and local shops and the ever dominant cathedral watches over proceedings from one end. There is a great blend of customs and cultures and a vibrant feeling to this area.
The Governors Palace (Palacio de Gobierno) and the incredible artwork inside
We visited the art galleries and museums housed around this classical Spanish style square then walked just a couple of blocks and got back into real Mexico at the local market, vendors shouting, all manner of wares for sale, roadside stalls selling peeled mangoes, chilli spiced peanuts, fresh orange juice, all smelling and looking very good.
Merida boasts live free entertainment every night of the year so we tracked it down both nights. The first night was in the town square - young teenagers in costume danced for over an hour, they were very good. The second night was interesting, a few blocks out from the centre a band was playing in a square and all the mature local residents were out in force to party!
We started our trip back across the Yucatan retracing some of our previous steps, more roads with topes, a bumping we will go! We stopped at Valladolid for lunch, another pleasant colonial town with the plaza and church dominating the centre. Then we turned south east and headed to Tulum. Tulum is located back on the Caribbean coast, we had hoped to stop here on our way north in Balvenie but weather conditions didn’t allow it.
It is the only Mayan site situated on the coast so the ruins have a spectacular backdrop of the azure Caribbean sea. We didn’t arrive till after 4pm and they close at 5pm so didn’t get to see them first hand but it was an interesting stop off point on our way back to Cancun. It was the most touristy of any of the places we had stayed over the week offering white sandy beaches with good swimming and diving, Mayan ruins on the doorstep, interesting array of eateries, accommodations, and night life – and just a couple of hours from Cancun.
Tulum home to Balvenie
Our last morning was spent driving up the coast the final couple of hours back to Cancun. Although the road runs parallel with the coast you get to see very little as all the coastal land is bumper to bumper resorts set in very grand grounds with locked gates and plenty of security. I suspect this is done more to make the tourist feel secure than out of necessity, we have not felt unsafe or in any danger at all during our time in Mexico.
We successfully returned our wee car unscathed and were delivered back to the ferry terminal in time for the 11.30am crossing to Isla Mujeres. By 12noon we were back onboard Balvenie at Marina El Milagro.