Day 17 -6th May 2018 – Mexico City to London

We had a lazy start and caught the metro to Chapultepec. The weather was dull and a little chilly when we left the hotel.

The park, which includes Chapultepec castle is a huge area which includes a number of museums, monuments and also the Mexico City zoo.

The first monument that we came across out of the metro station is the Ninos Heroes which commemorates the cadets who attempted to defend the castle against the Americans in 1847.

Sunday is the day that lots of Mexicans use the park and many of the museums are free for residents, and some for everyone. The are hundreds and hundreds of market stalls with a huge variety of wares being sold including sunglasses, touristy tatt, food, ice cream and drinks. It’s also an assault on your ears as the vendors constantly shout out to attract the attention of the hoards of visitors.

Next we stopped at the museum of modern art and had a brief look. Then we spent some time exploring the park. We came across some men doing the Voladores dance. This was one of the strangest, and most dangerous, things that I think we saw in Mexico. It involves 5 men, four of whom, after performing a ritual dance at the bottom, climb the 100+ feet to the top of a pole, without harnesses! One of them posts a pipe and bangs a small drum and performs a prayer for the fertility of the land. They then tie themselves to ropes before launching themselves from the top and spinning slowly to the ground!

After this we walked to the Museo National dear Anthropologica. We spent some time looking at the exhibits, although there were not translations for everything! We also had some food in the restaurant there.

By now the sun had come out and we walked back into the main park. It was heaving with, mainly, locals, enjoying the Sunday afternoon sun and street hawkers and entertainers added to the chaos.

Boating lake

As the zoo was free on Sundays, we walked around there and saw lots of local and worldwide animals including a giant panda. (Mexico zoo was the first in the works to manage to breed them in captivity).

Black panther
Leopard

H

aving spent time in the zoo walked along Paseo de la Reformation, a wide avenue running from the park so that Ed could get some shots of things that we’d only seen from the bus when we did the tour on our first day.

Angel statue with football in front celebrating the 2018 world cup
Independence monument

Christopher Columbus monument

Finally, we walked up to another monument that we’d first seen from the bus before waking back to our hotel to collect our bags!

Taxi to airport and a good flight which arrived early and during such I even managed to get some sleep!

Reflections

Mexico is a bigger country than I realised and has some beautiful landscapes and history. The food is very tasty, although I wasn’t sorry not to have refried beans with my British Airways breakfast this morning! The Mexicans are a hospitable people and are usually keen to help.

Our tour leader was fantastic and went over and above the call of duty to ensure that we had a great trip.

Recommended? Definitely!

Day 16 – 5th May 2018 – Playa del Carmen to Mexico City

Not really much to say about today. After getting up we headed to the airport for a flight to Mexico City. We didn’t arrive until mid afternoon so by the time we had a shower, it was time to head for dinner and a few drinks.

Last day in Mexico tomorrow before a late night flight back to London.

Day 15 – 4th May 2018 – Merida – Playa del Carmen

We left the hotel at 6.30 am and after a very quick coffee stop we arrived at Chitchen Itza at 8.30am. we meet our guide and were taken into the site.

At this time of the morning the temperature was pleasant and not too hot.

Our guided tour lasted about 2 hours and we were shown the various monuments. At Chitchen Itza you cannot walk on the structures so it was all at ground level.

The main temple was the main attraction and we heard how there are actually three pyramids in one, one on top of the other. As with other Mayan temples, the sides are orientated along the cardinal points of the compass. Also when standing by the steps, of you clap then the echo sounds like the call of the quetzal bird. The pyramid also acts as a calendar with various dates being significant!

We moved onto the largest ball park that has been discovered in central America.

Next was the priests temple and living area of the upper classes!

As with most of the sites that we have visited, much of it remains out of bounds or undiscovered. This site is 12 square km!

The observatory

Our tour lasted about two hours and afterwards we had some time to explore on our own. We walked to see the sacrificial well before heading back to the bus.

Chitchen Itza is by far the most commercial of the sites that we’ve visited and there were stalls selling all the usual tatt all over the place, hundreds of sellers plying their wares. I suspect that the reason is the proximity to Cancun, about a 3 hour drive meaning that thousands of visitors come on day trips from the beach resort each day. Certainly by the time we left, the car park was full and there were lots of very large tour groups entering the site and generally getting in the way!!

We left at 11.30 and drive a short distance to a small house where a family cooked us an amazing Mayan buffet which included cochinita, the local speciality, guacamole, salad and home made juice water. The family has plans to open a small restaurant at the front of their house and host occasional tour groups to help them save.

After food we were shown where they prepare the food including a pit which is used to make cochinita and how they cook the tortillas. We also saw their pigs, and one of their daughters and her pet chicken!

We left for the final leg of our journey to Playa del Carmen. When we arrived it was very hot! Our hotel is located a few blocks back from the beach but in a convenient location. The town, as we suspected, is rather tacky and touristy and certainly no where near as clean as the other places that we’ve visited.

Or orientation walk took us around 20 minutes and then we retired to a bar on the beach for a couple of beers. Marion, Steve and Kaye joined us too.

We met the group again at 7pm for our farewell meal. Valleria took us to a bar on the beach and whilst breezy, it was still definitely warm enough to eat outside.

After the meal we wandered back and some of the group went on to the hotel while 6 of us had a nightcap and then ice cream.

Daft 14 – 3rd May 2018 – Merida

The rest of the group were heading off to some pools any potholes today but as Ed didn’t fancy that, we arranged for a tour to see more Mayan ruins at Uxmal. The tour was due to pick us up at 9am. However, things didn’t quite go to plan and, eventually the tour was cancelled!

We decided to walk into the main square and see if we could pick up a tour. However, the ones that we found were very expensive! So, we decided to be adventurous and catch a local bus to the site, about 50 miles from Merida.

We walked to the bus station and booked our tickets and the bus left on time and we arrived at the site without incident at about midday. (Perhaps not the best time to arrive when it is 35 degrees!)

The site had a number of explanations and we elected not to hire a guide.

The picture above gives some detail about the site itself so I won’t copy that here!

We spent the next couple of hours wandering around and marvelling at the engineering of the Mayans!

House of the magician

Quadrangle of the nuns – named after the similarity to European convents

Ball game court

The great pyramid

Double headed jaguar

There were also lots of iguanas baking in the sun around the site.

Some of the steps on the pyramids were very steep and there were quite a few unguarded drops!

Once we had finished had an hour or so before the bus back to Merida and so we had a (quite expensive by Mexican standards) lunch, with it was really nicely presented!

The afternoon seemed to keep heating up and by the time we were waiting for the bus it was roasting! There were already quite a few people waiting to get on the bus when it arrived but fortunately we were able to get a seat. The 90 minute ride back was something to be endured as the air conditioning on the bus really couldn’t cope and we baked for most of the journey. It was a real relief when we got back to Merida.

Swimming pool

After the walk back to the hotel I went for a swim with some of the test of the group who had already got back and then for a shower.

A few of us meet at 7 and went for a meal at a traditional Mayan restaurant. The food was excellent and I had the Porc Chuc!

Porc Chuc

After the meal we stopped for an ice cream before heading back to the room for a night cap and an early night…6.30 am departure tomorrow!

Day 13 – 2nd May 2018 – Merida

We had a lovely breakfast in the hotel… Scrambled eggs on toast without and beans or tomato sauce (!) and then met the group for the orientation walk at 9.30.

It was already very hot and we wandered to the main square and then and some of the other streets. The architecture here is different again… Quite French in places and also some art Deco buildings. This church was built from stones of old Mayan ruins and you can still see some of the inscriptions in the current building.

We were left to our own devices for about an hour and Ed and I spent some time just wandering! We took some photos in the main square and had a quick refreshing drink overlooking the main square.

Cathedral

We strolled through the markets before finding somewhere for lunch and we were grateful for the air conditioned interior! The thermometer suggested that it’s 37 degrees!

We headed back to the hotel and on the way stopped for some lunch in another air conditioned bar/restaurant!

Back at the hotel, after a freshen up I took a long dip in the swimming pool before getting ready for our evening activities.

First, Valleria took us to a Cuban style bar where we sat outside for a couple of hours drinking the home made brew! There was a band playing and the atmosphere was good and some of the group tried a little dancing, although not Ed or me!

The stuff on the plate is refried beans!

After that, we walked to the meeting point for our evening cycle ride… Yes, after we’d had a drink!

There were hoards of other cyclists congregating and we headed off, without lights (!), around the streets and suburbs of Merida. The trip was well organised with cyclists stopping the traffic when we crossed intersections! Halfway around we stopped for a break before heading back! It ranks as one of the most bizarre experiences that I’ve had on an Intrepid trip, but definitely worth doing!

After the ride, at about 11pm, we walked the short distance back to the hotel to bed!

Day 12 – 1st May 2018 – Palenque to Merida

An early alarm call and breakfast at 7 so that we could get to the Palenque archaeological site early. It was already warm and humid as we set off in the minibus for a 20 minute drive to the site.

We’d booked a guide of for the morning to take us to both the archeological site and for a jungle walk. Before we started our guide told us about the site at Palenque.

The map shows the buildings of the city that have already been identified and number approximately 1,000 in all. However, there are estimations that there are more than 2,000 in total. Only about 3% of the buildings have actually been excavated though.

We did the jungle walk first and spent a couple of hours both on and off tracks! Our guide told us that we were walking on many of the buildings from the older post of the city, which were first built around 600 BC. When the Mayans left, the jungle simply took over. There was evidence of buildings with walls crumbling and covered in vegetation.

Covered wall

Exploring a building!

We were also shown the aquaduct that the Mayans used and walked through the tunnel under the path. There was also a fully constructed swimming pool!

Aqueduct

Walking through the aqueduct
Climbing out of the aqueduct
Mayan swimming pool!

Our last stop on the jungle was to visit a temple which, because of its size, hasn’t been completely covered in vegetation. We climbed approximately 30m and saw an amazing temple!

Finally, our guide explained that there are ongoing discussions between the agency which is responsible for architectural stress and the ministry for the environment as to whether to protect the environment or to carry out further archeological work.

We left the jungle and the next couple of hours was spent being guided around the main archeological site. We were shown the tomb of King Pakal, the red queen and others. The scale of the excavated site is truly impressive.

Red Queen temple

Red Queen sarcophagus

The site is the only place in the Americas where they have found sarcophagi. The main temple has the body of King Pakal and next door is the tomb of the red queen. There are also various temples to others and the main palace complete with a sewage system and therefore toilets!

Mayan plaster work

The palace

Red Queen temple in background

Mayan toilet

The final buildings that we visited were built by Pakal’s son and were temples to various gods. The walk up the largest was worth it for the views of the site, but very hard work!

It was now 12.30 and so we walked back to the bus and met up with Valleria and our driver. She told us that the temperature was now 32 degrees with 99% humidity. While we had been sightseeing she had been to a supermarket for provisions and we were all very grateful for a cold beer from the cool box.

The afternoon was to be spent driving the 400 miles to Merida! Fortunately the roads here seem far better… They are certainly straighter and have less speed humps. Therefore we made good time and stopped around 3.15 at a roadside steakhouse. The steaks were excellent but rather large! The humidity seems to have dropped, but the temperature is still around 39 degrees!

After food we drive on, eventually arriving at a town on the Gulf of Mexico the road followed the coast for a while and we child see the sun beginning to set over the sea.

We finally arrived at our hotel in Merida at some 9.30pm. We’re here for three nights and the hotel seems nice. Our room walks right out onto a swimming pool!!

It was still really warm and so after a shower and freshen up Ed and I walked a couple of blocks for a beer ( the hotel bar has stopped serving and the was no changing the rather surly woman’s mind!)

Day 11 – 30th April 2018 – San Cristobal to Palenque

The alarm went off at 3.30 am I’m time for us to get up and out for our 4am departure. We met up with our driver for the next week, Fernandez, as the remainder of the trip is by private minibus.

The journey to Palenque takes about 5 hours, mainly because the roads are very windy and there are speed humps everywhere.

We stopped at 6.30am for some breakfast in a weird place that served a buffet style. It’s clearly the place that all tour buses stop as when we arrived it was empty but within 15 minutes the place was heaving! There was a rather odd arrangement with bring given a ticket before entering which was swapped for another ticket when you paid at the entrance. This was then collected sometime later from the table. We never did really find out why any of them were necessary!

After another 2 hours we arrived at our first stop, some natural waterfalls, Agua Azul. The setting was beautiful and we walked from the car park alongside the river seeing different waterfalls as we went. The route was also lined all the way up with loads of stalls selling crafts, clothes and also some restaurants serving food and drink.

At the top we were able to swim in the river. It was really refreshing as the climate has changed from the previous places that we’ve been.

We’ve now descended and will continue to do so all the way to Palenque, which is 60m above sea level, compared to our last town which was over 2200m. This means that it is now much more humid, and our route is lined with forests and jungle!

The journey to Palenque took about 2 hours and when we arrived it was hot and humid… About 10 degrees warmer than we’ve been used to. We checked in to our hotel and then went for some food.

For tourists, Palenque seems to be mainly a town that people visit to see the Mayan ruins and so there isn’t a huge amount to do. So, bearing in mind our early start, the afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool in the hotel opposite!

Dinner was back to the same place that we had lunch and we had a relatively early night.

Day 10 – 29th April 2018 – San Cristobal

We skipped breakfast and had a coffee in the courtyard of the hotel just before we meet the rest of the group at 9am for today’s top to a canyon – Canyon de Sumidero.

We had a private minibus booked and the trip took about an hour, much of it downhill! On arrival we were given lifejackets and we boarded a speed boat.

The boat took us through a canyon for, apparently, 32km and every so often the driver stopped to point out some wildlife or interesting facts about the canyon.

The river want originally navigable until they built a hydro electric dam at one end which made the river much deeper… From 30m deep where we started to 250m deep where we turned around.

The river rises in Guatemala and ends in the gulf of Mexico. On the to we saw Crocs, spider monkeys, various birds and amazing scenery.

Apologies for the wrong way around cap!

Vultures
Spider monkey 🐒
Shrine
Crocodile!
Rick formation, caused by waterfalls in the rainy season

Another crocodile
Heron

The canyon is apparently 1km deep at this point!

The tour lasted about 2 hours and then we made the return trip to San Cristobal. When we got back it was time for some food and we ate in a lovely courtyard. The food was average but the setting was lovely.

Ed and I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets, soaking up the atmosphere and watching the world go by! We walked to one end of the town to a church which have great views of the whole town. San Cristobal seems to be one of those places that hippies congregate in and never leave. Hence, the atmosphere is relaxed and had a mixture of local people and hippies plying there wares and entertaining crowds which makes for a colourful scene.

We then walked back into town and spent some time watching things in the town, interspersed with some refreshments.

This included a really large rally in support of the upcoming elections in July! It was all pretty peaceful, but very noisy, of that’s not a contradiction in terms!

After going back to the hotel for a shower we meet some of the group and ended up in a pizza place for some food.. which was delicious. Ed and I had a final nightcap at the wine bar from last night before heading to bed for an early night, ahead of our 4am departure tomorrow.

Day 9 – 28th April 2018 – San Cristobal

We caught taxis to our hotel which didn’t take too long as the streets were quiet. There is a chill in the air here as we’re back up to 2200m altitude.

Unsurprisingly, our rooms were not ready and so we walked across the road for breakfast.

Our hotel – Casa Margherita
Breakfast!
Making tortillas

After breakfast we were taken for our orientation walk. San Cristobal is in Chiapas state, the most southerly of Mexico’s states. Our hotel, Casa Margherita is very close to the main square and our walk took us to the Zocalo and we were shown the highlights of the town. It seems that there are many different settlers here and it is apparently quite a political town. There are plenty of coffee shops and the market specialises in silver and amber. The are also lots of street sellers with various embroidered items for sale.

Sadly many of the churches and other buildings are not accessible as they were damaged during an earthquake last September.

Street scene
Santa Domingo (another one!)

We walked back to the hotel and even though it was only 10.30, the were some rooms ready. Sadly it took until 12.15 for ours to be ready by which time we were grateful for a hot shower!

We walked back to the main square to find some food and had a beer and club sandwich in a roof top bar overlooking the square.

We met most of the group for a trip to a local village called Chamula. Valleria led us through some of the back streets of San Cristobal. The were local markets and it was dusty and hot!

After about 15 minutes we arrived at a local taxi rank where Valleria arranged for a minibus to take us up to Chamula. The traffic in town was very busy and it took us about half an hour to get there. This village was higher still than San Cristobal and the main attraction was the church. We arrived in the main square having been warned by our leader that the local people don’t really like having photos taken.

There was a bustling market going on when we arrived.

Valleria showed us the town hall, as the village has a local governor.

Next we went into the church in front of the square.

We weren’t allowed to take photos on the church which was a real shame as I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. We arranged a local guide, dressed in the traditional sheep’s clothing. (The villagers consider sheep to be sacred and don’t eat them)

The church was originally Catholic, but in 1871 there was a fight between the local people and the church because the Catholic church did not want animal sacrifices in the church. The people there worship as Christians, but with a Mayan influence. So, for example, Jesus is represented by the sun.

In the church all the furniture was removed in 1871 and the church is not recognised as part of the Catholic church. Down each side of the church were saints, 46 in total, with John the Baptist as the main saint – it is the church of John the Baptist! The saints are looked after by a ‘butler’ for a period of one year and it’s considered to be a great honour. In front of the saints and around the church were tens of flower arrangements, such as you’d see in a flower festival. These are maintained all of the time by the butlers!

Lighting the church were thousands of candles in glass jars which have been lit in thanks for something.

The floor was conferred in pine needles, which comes from the Mayan culture. Each family has a healer who advises the family if someone is sick. For less serious conditions, the sick light candles of different colours on the floor, as advised by the healer. For more serious illnesses a chicken (or rooster for men) may be sacrificed as they believe that the illness is transferred to the animal.

After leaving the church we headed back to San Cristobal.

The plan for the evening was to have a coffee of drinks at a local wine bar. We all meet at 6 and walked the short distance down the street. We sampled some Mexican wine which was really rather good.

By the time we left the bar the street was buzzing with entertainers and lots of tourist and locals. However, for us it was time for bed.

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