Monday, March 11, 2013

Yucatan trip!

I'm going to begin writing about our recent trip to the Yucatan Peninsula in February 2013.  I'll write about it in multiple entries, partly because my spare time is limited, and because we fit so much into our trip that I want to cover, it would be overwhelming to put it all into one document.

We flew overnight from Seattle to Denver to Cancun, arriving at 5:25am.  We had scheduled a rental car and they were supposed to pick us up at 7am.  When we arrived at the airport, the sun was just beginning to rise, and the taxi drivers told us that our rental company didn't actually open until 8am.  Luckily, a few other people had made the same arrangement with the same company, so we all waited together until the shuttle came.  While we waited, we soaked in the warm air, watched the sun come up, heard increasing and unfamiliar birdsong, and watched an animal that looked something like a capybara, but smaller, running around in the bushes.

We had paid for the rental car online, or so we thought.  It had been remarkably cheap, which was a deciding factor in choosing to rent a car rather than use public transportation.  However, the fee we had paid did not include insurance, as it turned out, which is vital.  (Do not rely on your car insurance or that provided by your credit card!)  But, the insurance cost was more than triple the cost of renting the car, and the total we paid came out closer to $600.  This was a shock, but by the time we got this news, we were in Mexico, at a rental car counter, and utterly exhausted after traveling for over 12 hours overnight.  Also, they gave us an SUV instead of a compact, which added significant gas cost on top of the rental.

Despite all of that initial disappointment and sticker shock, once we were on the road, it was smooth sailing and we were grateful for a vehicle that could contain our luggage and allow Anouk to sleep comfortably during the 3 hour drive to Merida.  Had we taken a bus, the trip would have taken much longer, and we would not have had the opportunity to see all that we did over the next 2 weeks.

*Note: We paid about $40 in tolls.  It would have been less if we'd had pesos, and we could have taken a smaller road without a toll.

When we arrived in Merida, around noon, it was not exactly what we expected.  Coming from the relative affluence of the U.S., our expectations of the capital of the State of Yucatan were very different from the actuality.  Buildings are run-down, half built, dirty, and with walls or rooftops that sometimes look like they were blown off in a tornado and just left that way for years.  Streets are crowded with people, cars and motorcycles shifting lanes and honking unpredictably, and all of the architecture and streets are very old.  The directions I printed from google maps proved useless.  Streets were numbered, but we couldn't make sense of it because we would see 14th and expect the next street to be 15th, but there would be no 15th, yet we would cross 63rd and think that would lead us to 72nd, which didn't work out either.  Later, we learned that all even numbers go one direction and all odds go the other.  When you know this, it makes getting around supremely easy, but that first day, we were sleep deprived and very lost.  We finally just followed traffic to the City Center and found our hotel almost by accident.  The exterior matched the rest of the city, but when we stepped inside, we were pleasantly surprised to find beautiful courtyards, a pool, and and a nice, clean room.

It was lunchtime, we were hungry, and we didn't want to fall asleep early in the day.  So, we headed out onto the streets to find food.  We ate at a chain restaurant called Los Trompos, which was very satisfying.  I was surprised how hard it was to make sense of the menu items, despite plenty of experience ordering and eating Mexican food and Mike's half-Mexican background.  I know the names of meats and veggies, but had to guess at the way the food would be cooked.  I don't think I ever ordered something I really didn't like, though.

After our late lunch, we hired a man with a very emaciated horse and carriage to take us around the city.  We were so tired, this worked out well.  We could just relax and look around, making note of things to go back to later.  After a long and circuitous walk back to the hotel, interrupted by hawkers insisting that we look at their wares or directing us to follow them to one of the Mayan cooperatives, I literally passed out in the hotel room and slept for about 12 hours.  That was our first day, and I've already written a much longer entry than I intended.
This is the oldest cathedral in the Western hemisphere.  Spanish colonizers tore down Mayan temples and used the stones to build this structure.

*Our hotel was the Dolores Alba, and I would recommend it for budget travelers like us.  However, the food at the hotel restaurant was absolutely awful.  Mike and Anouk ended up going to a nearby Dominoes for dinner while I was unconscious.  The continental breakfast was fine, however.

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