Oregon to the Yucatan Peninsula & Back Again 3
Part 3 of 6: A journal of a road trip through the Yucatan Peninsula
We packed the car, ate breakfast at the Dolores Alba and checked out.
Our first stop, the Grutas Balancanchen was only a few hundred yards from the hotel, so we went for the 11 a.m. tour before heading west to Merida. How interesting! Into the “underworld” with your basic cave stalactites, stalagmites and the occasional bat, only this cave had Mayan pottery dating as old as 800 AD set up in alters to Kukulcan, Chaac Mool, and Chaac, the various gods. The Mayans were requesting different things from each god, rain, good crops, et cetera. There were natural phenomena in the cave that were awesome. Places that looked like faces or even carvings, plus some tree had worked its roots deep enough through the earth to be in the cave. The cave ended in a cenote, a sink hole, or sacred swimming hole. This particular cave had been an underground river; you could see the water line from long, long ago. In some distant point in time, there were many underground rivers in this region that have converted into cenotes or just plain limestone caves. It was crystal clear!
We haven’t been here very long, but getting a sense of this area I have experienced something quite unexpected. Being from California, I always associate Mexico with Mexicans with a Spanish or somewhat Spanish-Indian blend. I know that central and south central Mexico was Aztec at the same point in history that the Mayan empire was in its prime. This area of Mexico is MAYAN. I feel like I’m in a country that should have been named for the Mayan people and that they should be the rulers of this region. Yet, there are more Mayan descendants in the lowest socio-economic class that anyone else. There is definitely a caste system here. All of the Mayan people are bi or tri-lingual, leaning the Spanish and even English languages to survive after the conquistadors obliterated the Mayan way of living. The Mayan culture has survived through the handcraft artisans, still spoken language, and (I have heard) some of the religious beliefs. However, much of the religion has been intertwined with Christianity through the Catholic Church.
The road to Merida gave us the opportunity to see more of the countryside. We passed through many more tiny towns, villages even, that had that “third world” look to them. There were broken to semi-broken down houses and many abandoned altogether. Some buildings had no windows or doors. There were people lounging around at midday, even school-age children on a weekday. We also experienced more of the craziness driving! I’m sure glad the Fodor’s guide warned us about that!
It took us only about two hours to get to the Dolores Alba in Merida. Wow! The same dilapidated buildings, dirty streets, et cetera, only here everything was that bustling pace you’ll find in most any large city. There was a common theme in this city though. The façade was just that in many cases – a façade. The moment we stepped into the lobby of our hotel, we found a pleasant, quiet, clean, very elegant setting. There were many large potted plants, terra cotta floors, tile accents everywhere, tables with umbrellas at the café. The room was spacious and equally as pleasant.
We ate a late lunch then J & I headed to the pool. D went to find a banco since we still had that pesky issue of no pesos! It didn’t turn out to be simple, but with a little help from K back home we finally got it all sorted out. Whew! What a relief! There’s nothing worse than being in a foreign country and not having cash or a way to get cash.
It’s began to rain on us a little, but we don’t care. It’s SO warm, plus we’re in the pool getting wet anyway. J & I met our hotel neighbors who were from Belgium: Katrina and Hans with children Victoria and Charles. They were very nice. The kids are adorable maybe we can visit some more tomorrow.
We had a short rest in our room and then decided to venture out into the city. The Fodor’s guide has advised walking as often as possible in this city for three reasons: one, the streets are very narrow; two, there are many one-way streets so you have to route plan and backtrack a bit when getting from place to place; and three parking is almost non-existent. Those Fodor’s writers really know there stuff, though I have a few items I may email them about after this trip.
We were able to walk easily to the plaza at the city’s center. There we find Casa de Montejo, Cathedral de San Ildefonso, Centro Cultural de Merida Olimpo, and Palacio Municipal. We also walked to Parque Hidalgo and saw the Iglesia de la Tercera Orden de Jesus. It seems like this must be one of the very few pieces of open real estate amid these very cramped building and narrows calles. It started to rain, HARD! We found respite under the colonnade at the Palacio Municipal and meet Julio. He is a Mayan. He is nice and friendly but seems to have the same deep resentment that stretches through the generations when his people were stripped of their land and lives by the Spanish. It seems to be a similar story to North America -- the Anglos and the Native American tribes. The conquistadores conquered the Inca’s, Aztec’s and others, not just the Mayan’s, but we are here in the Yucatan right now, today, feeling the effects of their handiwork.
J tugged at me inconsolably, so rain or not, we must find sustenance. The plan is to find La Casa de Frida. I thought I knew how to find it. I believed I had figured out the orienteering for Mexico. It’s pelting down rain; we may be lost. I checked the map again…we should be there, yet maybe we’re not far enough? Another half block took us to the restaurant.
It’s so warm that our clothes dried before we’re even partway through supper. This restaurant was decorated with a theme of the artist Frida Kahlo. The art was stunning. Our meal was tasty, though J’s meal was not what I ordered so I swapped my chicken and rice with him. He’d been jones-ing for a crispy chicken taco for three days and there didn’t seem to be any around. Yucatecan food is less spicy and very unlike the northern Mexican food we see in the southwest or in California. We were waiting for the check before realizing we have to ask for it! Oops.
We decided to take a detour to a small market and procure supplies including breakfast food, dessert, and some snacks. We played games this evening at the hotel before bed and discussed tomorrows plan: We’ll wait to see what the weather is like before making a decision.