Mexico: Entry 2

14 September 2002: Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico

Subject: Mexico

Just time for a quick update. Here's a of the area.


The Yucatan peninsular is divided into three states, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo. Campeche is on the left; I flew there from Mexico City and will be flying on to Costa Rica from Cancún on the opposite coast. I've got about a week to cross the peninsular.

The town of Capeache, capital of the state, was founded by the Spanish settlers on the site of a Mayan town. It was their main port on the peninsular and the place through which much of their plundered riches left the country. This drew the attention of the Caribean pirates, including I think Francis Drake (he has a restraunt named after him, so I have put 1 and 0 together and made 10...). Anyway the place got ransacked quite horribly and eventually they put up a wall, parts of which still stand, along with the defensive bastions at the corners. It is historic enough to be listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site (their list makes a great way to choose your holiday destinations) and they have put some effort into making it appeal to the tourist trade.

I was there for just a day, but it was enough to at least see the difference from Mexico City. One of the first things that I noticed was that it wasn't crawling with police, and the few I did see were wearing shorts and riding bikes! Very Californian, I thought to myself. Then there's the weather; Mexico City was hot and it rained every afternoon (some of you will remember that I bought myself a new pair of shoes before I left with some orange bits on - well thanks to one especially torrential downpour I now have bright orange patches on one pair of socks!). On the way to Campeche I watched a thunderstorm out of the window of the plane, which was quite an experience. Anyway, having come down from 2000m to sea level, it is a bit hotter, but still essentially the same - hot, and rain every afternoon.


I would like to say that small-town Campeche was more quiet and laid-back than Mexico City was, but I don't think that's true. They make up for the fact that it is smaller by creating more noise. I think the Mexicans like noise. On the first-class buses, for example, they show a video, and the volume is so loud I'll be taking ear plugs next time. And practically every cafe have a TV or radio blaring out. But worst of all, in Celestun, one of the bastions in the old wall has been turned into a walled garden, full of palms and other interesting tropical plants. It should be an oasis of tranquility, but to ensure that it isn't they have a radio to fill it with noise!

First major screw-up

Leaving Campeche to come to Mérida I made my first major screw-up of the trip, for which I blame the Spanish and the Mexicans for not speaking the same language (no, it can't possibly be my fault!). I went to the bus terminal at about noon and asked for a ticket on the next bus to Mérida, and was told that it was at "dos y treinta" (that's "two and thirty"). "How strange", I though to myself, "why is she converting from 24- to 12-hour clock? Maybe she thinks I'm an American!" (Note how I try to further displace the blame from my own shoulders at this point...). So I spent the next couple of hours waiting, having my lunch and so on. Then when I tried to check in my luggage my mistake was uncovered. Plainly printed on the ticket it said "1230". How did I misunderstand that? Well "1230" is "doce treinta", which in spain would be pronounced "dothay traynta", quite distinct from "dos y treinta". But over here the C is pronounced like an english S, not as a lisped TH, so it comes out as "dosay treinta": to my ear, practically the same as "dos y treinta". Well, I got here in the end - and they kindly refunded half the cost of the unused ticket.


Yesterday I went from Mérida back to the coast at a place called Celestún, known for its flamingoes. Here's a . Unfortunately this isn't really the right time of year to see thousands of flamingoes, but the boat trip is still worthwhile and we did get to see a few dozen bright pink ones. They take you out on eight-seater boats with huge outboard motors that whizz you along at quite a rate - they have to, as the interesting places are quite a way away. It's not like Poole Harbour bird boats that's for sure. Anyway they take you down the coast and then turn, practically doubling-back, into a mangrove-lined estuary. The mangroves are fascinating, looking like trees whose roots have been exposed. We stopped at one point to go ashore and see some petrified trees that were killed off 120 years ago when their roots became innundated by salt water; but more interesting than the trees were the crabs (the sort with huge claws - what are they called?) living down holes all over the place. Then we stopped again at a point where fresh water whells up from a cave; practically the whole of the peninsular is limestone and it's full of caves. On the way back we saw another fresh-water spring which, like something out of a pirate story (or, dare I say it, Enid Blyton) was out in the estuary and had been built up from the sea bed in a kind of stone well, so that the fresh water could be collected by passing boats.

After the boat trip I had a swim and the water there in the Gulf of Mexico was unbelievably hot - almost too hot! And the beach was white sand and millions of shells. All in all an excellent way to spend the day.


Now I'm back in Mérida, and will be leaving this afternoon to go to Valadolid, East of here. From there I plan to visit Chichen Itza, the most famous Mayan site, and hopefully some of the show caves. More news soon!