In the summer of 2008, Monica and I went to Mexico for a week.
Landed in Cancun around 8:00 AM. Picked up our bags, sifted through taxi drivers to find our car-rental agency (it turns out they changed the name of the company...). The guy at the renter gave us directions to get on the highway to Merida; a little shortcut to help us avoid Cancun traffic. We thanked him, got in our tiny white car and drove away.
I noticed that the gas gauge showed only 1/4 of a tank, but of course the guy that rented us the car knew that because he noted it in the paperwork, so I assumed the route he suggested must lead us past at least one gas station.
The highway that he directed us to turned out to be a very special expressway toll road –this means two things:
- There are no other cars on it because everyone else is on the free roads
- There are no off-ramps until you reach Valladolid, halfway across the Yucatan peninsula
We watched the gas dwindle away. I began driving slower and slower to conserve the few drops we had left. Eventually we rolled into Valladolid, running on fumes and I spent my remaining cash (American) on ½ a tank. The gas station attendant attempt to refuse some of my bills on the grounds of their physical condition (only in Mexico…) but I told him off and we were on our way (I even made him take my coins!).
a typical off-highway road in the Yucatan
After stopping a few times to get directions, we found our way to the center of the city and the bank. There was a cenote near-by with a restaurant next-door and we were very ready to get some food and relax.
The cenote waters were dark and it was nearly abandoned. The food was good, although worrisome (I fretted over the possibility of food poisoning the entire trip).
We continued to Chitchen Itza, the site of the biggest, most famous Mayan ruins. It was really, really hot.
Our final destination for the day was Merida, the capital city of the region. We arrived as the sun was setting and found ourselves immersed in the local evening commuter traffic.
The hotel was very nice and had a little card in the bathroom that claimed the tap water was safe to drink. I stupidly indulged the card. Monica, wisely, did not.
We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and I tried the local specialty; pivel pork.
I woke up with diarrhea, thanks to the hotel water. Monica was working on 10 hours of sleep and woke up around the time I was recovering. We drove to Uxmal, one of the oldest ruin sites, and wandered the ruins, nearly alone. We saw birds, bats and iguanas.
That afternoon we returned to Merida and went downtown to browse the shops. A few friendly locals eagerly chatted our ears off (you’d think they’d never met an American before) and one of them suggested a fair-priced authentic Mayan jewelry dealer.
A local stops working to draw me a map
I haggled the salesman there for the sale of his life and, exhausted, he eventually gave us the nicest fire opal necklace and bracelet in the store for a price he was clearly not proud of. We also picked up a bottle of local tequila, Sisal (we didn’t try it until we had returned to the states –if we ever go back, we’ll buy four).
We drove to Tulum, stopping in Valladolid again for lunch. We visited the Grand Cenote and then proceeded to check in to the wrong hotel. The guards at the entrance assured us that we were in the right place and the guy that checked us in gave us a key even though we weren’t in his book. If I had know Mexican hotel staff were such pushovers, we wouldn’t have paid for any of our rooms… Monica was shocked at how much the hotel differed from the description on-line, but we didn’t think much else of it, after all, Hotel Paradisio / Hotel Paradisyo was a simple spelling error. Our room was a bungalow on the beach and Monica tried the famous Coco-loco at the beach bar (a suggestion from the woman who cut my hair a week earlier).
This marked the first night that we weren’t exhausted and didn’t have anything to do. We figured it might be nice to get a bottle of rum and sip drinks on the beach, but apparently it was Sunday and the clerks at the market refused to sell us any. We played with a tiny frog in our bungalow instead.
We stopped by the tulum ruins and went cave snorkeling at Hidden Worlds with a guide and then drove to Chiquila at the north end of the peninsula. We left the car at a lot and caught the ferry to Holbox. A gas-powered golf-cart taxi took us to the hotel and as soon as we arrived we realized we should have booked more than one day on Holbox. The hotel was adorable, the beach was beautiful. We searched the sand for shells until the sun went down. Then we made friends with a dog named Brownie, ate dinner at the hotel (I joined Monica in her all-fish-all-the-time diet for a night) and set the alarm for 5:30 AM.
The next morning we walked down the beach and met our Whaleshark group.
The trip started poorly – there simply weren’t any whale sharks. The pilot drove our boat around and around while everyone drifted off to sleep. Eventually we were awoken to good news – we had found another boat which had located a shark.
The group went in two at a time, so as not to overwhelm the shark. Monica and I were in luck -the captain aimed the boat right in the shark’s path on our dive. We were directly over it as it swam beneath us and I was able to touch its skin. After the group had it’s fill of shark-swimming we went fishing (really easy where we were and consequently, really fun). The snorkel guide and the captain made a fresh ceviche out of the fish we had just caught, and considering how starving we were by that time, it was the best thing any of us had ever eaten.
Frigate birds followed us once the guide started throwing fish heads off the boat
By the time we arrived back at the hotel we realized we were rather sunburned.
We took the ferry back to the mainland and discovered that I had left the headlights on in the rental car. A group of nearby Mexicans lounging in the shade noticed our plight and found a taxi driver willing to give us a jumpstart.
We drove to Cancun and became hopelessly lost as the darkness set in. Eventually we found the hotel, and tired and burned, we crashed for the night.
Our last morning in Mexico was spent watching TV in bed with the AC on. We made an attempt to find an art museum, but finding an art museum in Mexico is like finding a taco bar in Austria and instead we found a police officer who wanted a bribe. I gave him the last of my pesos and we decided to go to the airport a little early. I still had one peso left and an airport guard convinced me to give it to him in exchange for looking the other way while I drove up a one-way driveway the wrong way to drop the car off at the rental office.