From Baja to the Land of Fire #3: Mexico City – Palenque – Merida – Playa del Carmen

3: Mexico City – Palenque – Merida – Playa del Carmen

21 Nov 2001

On the Road
Cats & Dogs

Beautiful Legs
Making Mistakes

On the Road
The trip to Palenque was uneventful, and after watching the English versions of The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Three Musketeers I settled in for a long night. When the sun came up the scenery had changed dramatically from the high-altitude dryness of Mexico City to the humid warmth of the lowland jungle.

I arrived at 07:30 and checked in at the hotel Los Angeles across the street for 90 pesos for a nice clean room. At the reception I read a tour was leaving for the ruins and Agua Azul at 08:00, for 150 pesos, including drinks and lunch. Knowing I would be able to sleep anyway I signed up, rushed to my room, took a (cold) shower and was standing reading 20 minutes later.

After the 15 minute ride we were dropped at the ruins and told we would be leaving again at 14:00. It was still very early but already hot, and I was sweating like crazy in two minutes.

The ruins are very nice as they lay amid a lush, hilly jungle landscape. It is not big though, and I was starting to worry about the many hours I would have to wait before the tour would continue.

I was standing at the top of Templo de la Cruz, when I heard my name from below. Who could that be? Looking down I saw Helge and Stephan and a third person. Very nice to see people you know, makes you feel very comfortable.

They introduced me to a very nice girl called Kirsten from… Amsterdam, yes, my hometown! They had just met early that morning at the bus station. Helge and Stephan had left Mexico City just two hours before me. Kirsten had just arrived with the night bus from Merida, a very infamous bus trip because of the many bus robberies. Kirsten is traveling for a couple of weeks by herself from Cancun to Mexico City. They were staying right next to the ruins; Helge and Stephan were camping and Kirsten had taken a room in a caba�a. And all this in the middle of the jungle. I felt very stupid for having rushed to the nearest hotel.

Helge and Stephan went to take a nap, and after talking for a while with Kirsten I left to continue with my tour. On the way there it was beginning to dawn on me there was something wrong. Thinking very deeply I realized it couldn’t have been 14:00 (a las dos) but 12:00 (a las doce). And yes, everybody was gone when I got there. I guess I have to listen better (and be less tired).

I took one of the many cheap collectivos back to town and tried to set my face into an angry mode and went to the tour operator to complain. It worked, and I got back 50 pesos (I had no lunch) and two bottles of soft drinks. I now paid only 100 pesos instead of the 7 pesos it takes with a collectivo to go to the ruins!

I went to my room to take a short nap before heading back to spend the evening with Helge, Stephan and Kirsten. After another (cold) shower I was lying naked on my bed (always do this when it is more than 25�C, or 77�F), feeling wonderfully weary. I was almost asleep when I heard some people very close by, and opening my eyes for the first time I noticed a window, high in the wall in front of me. One second later a girl walked by, looked inside, raised her eyebrows – I couldn’t move – and she and the others walked on (had they seen me too?). How can they build a window in a staircase at eye level overlooking the bed! Oh well, another thing to check out next time.

In the evening the four of us went to a restaurant at another place along the road, also in the jungle. It was a great walk in the darkness, warm and many stars visible. We drank margaritas, listened to good (live) music, ate dinner and walked back. There was no transportation back to town, so I just stayed at their place for the night.

In the early morning sunlight the place was beautiful with the jungle background. We drank coffee and ate cereal from the on-site restaurant on the terrace of the caba�a.

That evening Helge and Stephan and me would take a night bus to Merida, and Kirsten would take the bus to San Cristobal. But first we would take a day tour to Agua Azul, a pretty river flowing down a hillside through the jungle, cascading down several small waterfalls. We walked a way up and found a perfect spot to swim and relax for a while.

I was glad it was still light when we were driving back. It looked as if the driver was going for a bonus and trying to break the record. We’re talking narrow roads through steep hillsides!

After arriving alive we strolled through the town, drank margaritas, ate dinner and went to the bus station. After asking about the most recent robberies – oh yes, I forgot to mention Helge speaks fluent Spanish after having lived in Mexico for a while! – Kirsten decided to go the next morning with a day bus instead. The Palenque-San Cristobal trip is even more dangerous than to Merida. This bus was also recently robbed.

When we wanted to buy our ticket to Merida anyway we were told it was full. A little annoyed we walked over to the more expensive bus station to see if they still had seats available. They wouldn’t be able to tell until the bus arrived. However the bus didn’t come, at least it was not there when, at 24:00, I decided not to wait any longer. I left Helge and Stephan, who wanted to wait for the bus, and left with Kirsten. The next morning Kirsten and I said our goodbyes and I waved her off, my bus leaving 15 minutes later. I felt somewhat sad saying goodbye. I still have to get used to saying goodbye to people I like, since this will happen more often.

Phew, this is going to be a long story. But don’t worry, after this I will be taking it more easy and won’t have many stories to tell.

I arrived in Merida after a 9-hour ride through flat, wetlands watching the English versions of The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Three Musketeers (yes, again). Sometimes we drove for hours on one long, straight road.

Five minutes after checking in to my room at the Hospedaje Latino (90 pesos), the man from the reception knocked on my door to give me a note from Helge and Stephan. They had already checked in and had paid for three persons (40 pesos per person). So I moved my stuff and got my money back. The next day we took a long bus ride (2 hours) to Celestum to see flamingos and go to the beach. Well, the flamingos were very nice, but the beach was a disappointment.

On my second day in Merida Helge and Stephan left for Isla Mujeres and I went to the ruins at Uxmal. After a one-and-a-half-hour bus ride I arrived, walked around for 45 minutes and left again. I enjoyed walking around the ruins, set neatly in a low jungle, but I just get bored after a while. Other people spend hours (or even lifetimes) at the site. To each their own.

In the afternoon I finally bought my hammock. Merida is world-famous for their hammocks. I was kind of disappointed by the low price. I tried to let the salesman know I was in for the best hammock money could buy, but he just kept saying this is the best. Well, I can’t help it, I thought it was going to be 300 pesos instead of 150 pesos.

The next day I left Merida with a tour that would take me to the famous Chitzen Itza ruins and drop me off later in Cancun. From here I could take a bus to Playa del Carmen.

Even though I could have done this on my own for half the price, I was glad not to have to think about anything this day. And it included a guided tour and all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. I really stuffed myself until I was hurting. I had not eaten so much since I started on my trip.

Chitzen Itza was nice. I listened to the guide, looked around, climbed the pyramid, looked around and finally we left. I was disappointed, mainly because I thought it would be much bigger than the other sites. I think the main reason Chitzen Itza is so famous is because of the big pyramid (but much smaller than the one in Teotihuancan).

Finally I arrived yesterday night in Playa del Carmen and was able to sleep in my new hammock for the first time. We all (8 persons) slept under a big palapa in our hammocks, side by side. Everyone had a locker with lock to keep their stuff safe.

The place is both for camping and has caba�as, and it lies directly on the beach in the middle of Playa del Carmen! Very nice for the price (50 pesos). And this while Playa del Carmen is very expensive. I like the town though, I think it is even somewhat romantic and will take my girl with me one day when I find her. I see a lot of couples here who are just the way I was five years ago. It is not a backpackers’ town, so I am getting out of here tomorrow and going to Tulum to really relax.

This afternoon I bought a pair of flippers (320 pesos) and went on a snorkeling tour for two hours (250 pesos). It was nice, but I have seen nicer in Indonesia. I expect better in Belize and Honduras later on.

After the snorkeling trip I went to Cancun. Since Creel I have been looking for the new LP guide for Central America, which came out this summer. Mine is 4 years old. I have been looking everywhere, but even in Mexico City I couldn’t find it. My last chance would be Cancun and… I couldn’t find it. I am disappointed with this, I would have liked to use the newest information available. Back to top

Cats & Dogs
Unlike the movie, the cats and dogs in Mexico live together in harmony, seemingly with the humans. There are more dogs than cats, and they are everywhere, I have never seen so many dogs on the streets before, alone or in groups. And, most peculiar, you see any type of dog that exists, though I have not seen a St. Bernard yet.

Cats, dogs and humans seem to live together without bothering much with each other. Very strange. The dogs are not aggressive nor afraid, but they will not come when you call to them. Back to top

Beautiful Legs
Mexican women have beautiful legs, and I see them everywhere. I don’t just mention this because I happen to fall for the legs of a woman, but also because I was not expecting this. In the LP guide it states very clearly for Western women to dress conservatively, like the local women, if you don’t want any undue attention. Well, the local women don’t dress conservatively, both young and old; they are wearing shorts, skirts, tight shirts and tanktops. I am not complaining. Although I don’t give them any undue attention after hearing stories about brothers, honor and revenge… Back to top

Making Mistakes
I feel that during the past week I have made several mistakes. Normally I don’t mind mistakes, but now they usually hurt my budget. And one mistake often leads to the next.

A few examples are:

  • Not understanding the right time during the tour to Palenque and Agua Azul costing me 100 pesos.
  • Not buying the tickets on-time for Palenque-Merida; the next bus was more expensive, plus there was an extra night’s hotel cost.
  • The trip to Uxmal was actually a tour to four different ruins, but I didn’t understand how it worked until it was too late, and I only saw Uxmal.
  • Because of the previous mistakes I wanted to relax, and took the expensive tour from Merida-Chitzen Itza-Playa del Carmen. I could have done this faster and cheaper by myself.

  • Another thing, I should have brought even more slides. They sell slides here, but they are hugely expensive, USD$9 for one roll 36 exposures!

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