Posted by: lianadevine | 25 February 2008

The Poor Man’s Pyramids and Playa Tour

Early Sunday morning, February 10, we packed up our beachcamp at Xcalacoco, said Adios amigos to Bob, Joaquin and Juan, and hit the road for Tulum, our first stop on Harry and Maryann’s tour of the Yucatan.  We intended to arrive when the gates opened at 8 AM, to avoid the deluge of tourists who woáuld arrive later that morning.  Calvin and I had both seen Tulum several times, the latest only a few weeks before with Doug and Lisa, so I walked Harry and Maryann to the  entrance, then set them free to explore.  Back at the bus, Calvin was finishing the little details of packing and sorting that had gone by the wayside in the rush to leave.  Two hours later, they returned, remarking that indeed the park had filled up “I told you so!”  Off we went, inland toward Cobá,  stopping at the side of the road to eat a picnic lunch of our ever improving frijoles charros.

The Mayan ruins at Cobá are expansive and largely undeveloped.  The tourist parking lot at Cobá is expensive and equally undeveloped.  On our Poor Man’s Tour, we declined guide services, and depended on the minimal signage to guide us through the forest to various groups of ruins.  We speculated on the nature of the game played at the Ball Court, surmised that the Mayans must have invented golf according to carvings we interpreted ourselves, and watched Harry climb the tallest pyramid onsite in his flip-flops.Harry, it’s not that steep! He refused to go back to take a photo from the top.

Our first night’s camp was in the grassed yard of Hacienda Ticuch restaurant, just outside of Valladolid.  Live music was playing as we arrived, the pool was full of sparkling clear water and we thought we were in poor man’s paradise, until we saw the baños.  We took the Thing into Valladolid in search of internet and a camote (sweet potato) for supper.  While Calvin and I checked our email, Harry and Maryann walked around the zocalo in the centre of town.  It was dusk and the birds were gathering in the trees; as we returned to the car, I felt something wet hit my shoulder.  Though it was only water, my reaction of looking up before looking at my shoulder struck the funny bone of a woman sitting on a park bench, a visual that transcends any language barrier.

We toured the dark streets of Valladolid for some time, looking for a supermarket where I could buy a camote.  After I called over to a fellow stopped alongside us at a red light, and he gave us directions, we found a store easily enough.  But he kindly escorted us there, then drove away with a smile and a wave as he saw us pulling into the store’s parking lot.
Our Comida Mexicana that evening was chuletas ahumadas, nopales with tomato and onion, and camote in an adobo sauce we had made from scratch ourselves.

The roar of traffic on the adjacent highway that night was not as soothing as the constant waves and wind we were accustomed to from our month on the beach.  All too early the next day, we had to rouse the restaurant staff to unlock the gate so we could get underway to Chichen Itza.  Our plan was to set up camp in the town of Piste, then visit the nearby ruins before the crowds and the heat got too bad.  On arrival in Piste, we saw the telltale signs of an RV caravan.  I investigated, and found they were in the process of leaving, so in the time it took us to turn around for better access to the yard, they were gone.  This was in a grassed lot alongside the Stardust Hotel, which offered us a beautiful pool as well.  We promised ourselves it would feel great to have a swim after a hot morning of touring Chichen Itza.

Recently acclaimed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza Pyramid at Chichen Itzahas risen to its world-class status.  The entrance is as impressive as any modern tourist destination; it reminded me of the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller Alberta.  The entrance fee had also risen to world-class levels, matched by the price of the guide who toured our little group around the site.  However, the narrative provided so much information I felt it was worth the splurge to finally get the explanation of what the Ball Court was about, Believe It or Not.

We got rained on a little at the ruins, and the swim we had hoped for was also ruined by the rain.  So we walked around Piste, a nice friendly town, and put in our order for a pollo asado for supper.  When I picked up the barbecued chicken, it came with so much rice, beans, salsa and tortillas, we were able to eat like kings for two days.

Our Merida destination allowed us a relaxed Tuesday morning, so Calvin and I baked eggs in beans for breakfast, a new Mexican dish we’d liked from the cookbook our friends Dawn and Noé had given us.   In Merida , we settled the bus in the RV park on the north end of town, then loaded into the Thing for the ride along the impressive Paseo Montejo into downtown.  Signs of the continuing wealth of this capital city of 400,000 appear on both sides of this wide boulevard: high end car dealerships, large bank branches, lavish homes.  El Centro is more modest and typical of all Mexican zocalos, bordered by the church, the state government building, the municipal building and Casa Montejo, home of the founder of Merida, Francisco Montejo.  Our walkabout downtown led us to a museum of the City of Merida, then further to the mercado where the locals shop.  Here we bought some tropical fruits and treats unknown in Canada, so Harry and Maryann could try them.  We had a wonderful demonstration of hammock use and care by Francisco, and I bought a small one for siestas, knowing that Merida is THE place in Mexico to get hammocks.

By dinnertime, we wandered up to La Parilla, which had been recommended by our friend Carolyn, who lives in both Bacalar and the house she is renovating in downtown Merida.  It was an excellent meal of grilled meats, enjoyed in excess by us all.  A long walk afterward, looking for the park where live music played nightly, helped digest the meal.

We had planned a beach day for Wednesday, so packed the Thing for a reconnoiter north to Progreso.  I wanted to check out two other potential campsites in nearby beach towns; the one at Chelem was beautiful, clean and inexpensive, but the one further west at Chuburna seemed not to exist anymore.  We returned to Progreso and had a beach picnic lunch Beaching in Progresoof fruit, crackers, and jicama and pepino (cucumber)in lime and chile, a favourite Mexican hot-weather snack.  We watched a group of little girls walk the make-believe runway along the malecon, strutting and pirouetting with style.  We politely declined sales and demos by beach vendors.  We watched birds on the beach and traffic on the four-mile long pier that stretches out into the shallow Gulf waters that only Calvin and Harry tested.

Back in Merida, Harry and Maryann gathered their belongings and bought their bus ticket back to Cancun.  We had some time to kill before their late-afternoon bus, so we went to a restaurant-bar across the street from the bus station.  Both the rowdy live music and the employees were entertaining, in a queer way, but the beer was cold and the snacks tasty, which pleasantly surprised us, given our surroundings.

With hugs all around, we said goodbye to Harry and Maryann before they boarded the bus.  We’d had fun with them during their long-anticipated visit, we were delighted with the mail and goodies from home they brought us, and we appreciated how game they were to experience the real Mexico with us.  It was the end of the Poor Man’s Pyramids and Playa tour, but the fun was not yet over.  While Harry and Maryann rode the Mexican ADO bus for 5 hours back to their hotel in Cancun, Calvin and I decided to reconnoiter the trailer park we’d spotted on the way into Merida. THAT’S a story in itself.


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