Tuesday, April 29, 2014

MEXICO! Merida & Chichen Itza


We landed in Mexico on the 23rd of April and caught an ADO bus straight to Merida - coined as the 'Cultural Capital' of the Yucutan Peninsula. Merida is a Colonial town inland from the coast. The colonial architecture makes strolling around the centro area a great activity in itself. With the highest percentage of indigenous people per capita than any other large city in Mexico - the traditional Mayan Culture has a strong presence here.

We started our first full day off with huge enthusiasm, walking a few blocks to the main plaza - Plaza Grande which was full of people conversing and strolling through at 10am on a Thursday morning. We checked out the Cathedral (also jam packed with people praying), the market and the museum. Whilst the museum was quite boring, and most of the signage in Spanish - we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the free air conditioning as we had begun to melt outide, not to mention the free bano! (toilet). We spoke to quite a few friendly Merida locals along the way who told us about a free fiesta in Santa Lucia Square from 9pm that evening. Unfortunately for us the day time temperatures in Merida were basically unbearable (39 degrees) so we had to ensure we remained submerged in water in the hostel pool throughout the middle of the day. It was a tough few days lounging there with the hammocks and my beloved kindle.

After a big swim and a siesta we headed out for dinner - traditional Yucutan cuisine at La Chaya then headed to the fiesta. The entire plaza was filled with mainly locals, and a scattering of tourist on lookers and we got to watch some superb and authentic Yucutan dancing, and Trova music. The crowd was so enthusiastic, and so many families out enjoying themselves. The 70 yr old (or so) man in front of us was chanting for the band to continue when they finished their 'last' song along with the rest of the crowd - and was elated when they agreed to one more - go him! We also sampled some delicious coco ice cream in a freshly made waffle cone before wandering back to the hostel.

We stayed at Hostel Nomadas which was just perfect - a huge pool, free salsa lessons, free cooking lessons and live Trova music every night at dinner time. My only complaint would be that the rooms were absolutely boiling in the evenings due to no air conditioning (approximately 30 degrees) and the fans sounded like 5 helicopters circling over your roof. Combined with the resident opossums clambering over the tin roof meant that my earplugs got a lot of use.

Entrance to Plaza Grande

Alex in the hammock over the pool at Hostel Nomadas

A walk down Paseo de Montejo - "The Avenue" - beautiful colonial buildings

We booked in a bus trip to take us to Chichen Itza after 3 nights in Merida as it was on the way to our next destination - Tulum. After sleeping through one alarm at 5.15am we frantically packed and made it to the bus station to catch our super early ride and ensure we missed the floods of official tour buses that arrive at the ruins mid-morning.

The ADO buses (bus service) here are extremely punctual, and wait for no one! When they make a stop the yell it out and you need to get up almost that minute and start collecting your things if you're going to get off in a timely manner. Due to the purchase of the worlds best travel pillow (HERE) I now have the ability to sleep almost anywhere so when the driver yelled 'CHICHEN ITZA!' I woke with a fright and stumbled into one of the new Seven Wonders of the World half asleep.

Alex and I are not particularly patient or self driven at these sorts of historic sights so we forked out the 650 pesos to hire a guide for a two hour tour. Was well worth it, sounds silly - but the one of the coolest bits was when he told us to clap under the northern entrance to the main pyramid and a sound emits through the top of the temple like a bird call - so bizzare! YouTube example HERE.

There is also a Cenote here (a natural underground reservoir of water such as occurs in the limestone of Yucatán, Mexico) where women and objects were sacrificed to the Mayan rain god. Chichen Itza was abandoned by the Mayan people long before due to drought/war and was overgrown with jungle hence not identified as such a huge historical site. An American bought Chichen Itza in 1894 and in 1904 began dredging the Cenote after hearing stories of the sacrifices made there. He found gold, copper, jade, human bones and other artifacts that he sent back to Harvard University (illegaly) - some have been returned to the site / Mexican government - but some have unfortunately been lost. Anyway - long and short of it is that you would not want to swim in this Cenote!

Few snapshots - some of the care of our guide who was keen to get shots of us in front of almost every structure on site.

This is a jaguar throne where the king would have sat

In the 'ball court' some creepy sounding game where warriors from the city would battle it out (spectators sitting on the tops of the high walls surrounding) and one player would be sacrificed at the end of the game. Our guide told us the winner would be sacrificed as their blood was the strongest, hence best to offer the gods. This seemed grossly unfair to me. The lonely planet guide said the loser would be sacrificed so let's hope they're right.

Iguanas - absolutely everywhere around Chichen Itza and the entire Yucutan. Hostel Nomadas had a dedicated iguana garden. Our tour guide told us that his grandma used to cook him iguana for dinner and that it tastes like chicken.

We're in Tulum now which is beautiful, off to eat a 20 cent mango right now.


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