I’ve been pushed into completing another blog post ASAP – I’m chuffed that you’re all so keen!
We arrived in Merida on Monday 23rd November. Since then we have been taking things pretty easy because we are here for over a week whilst we wait for some post from home. I think you will all relish the fact that Mike, being super organised, forgot his laptop charger (duh!), and we are also awaiting for our travel currency cards from AA – DO NOT USE THIS COMPANY. THEY’RE SHIT.
Tuesday was dedicated to a bit of “life admin”, a swim in the hostel pool (yes! a hostel with a pool! Look up Nomadas hostel if you are planning a trip here), and a walk around the city of Merida. I have fallen a little bit in love with this place and the pictures do not do it justice. Everyone is very friendly and there always seems to be something going on no matter what day of the week.
We bumped into Marco, a german guy we met in Cancún, and together we took a free walking tour of the old town in the morning which was great but a bit long winded. Our group all spoke/understood English apart from one woman who was Spanish, so the poor tour guide had to repeat everything in Spanish for this one woman. As you can imagine, the group got a little restless as it was difficult to distinguish the switch back to English. We were all dripping with sweat which only contributed to the failed concentration.
Wednesday was a bit of a fail on our part. We had been briefly advised by the staff at the hostel to take a collectivo (a mini bus) to a town called Progreso on the Gulf coast. From here, we were told we could do a tour of the small Mayan ruins of Xcambo (pronounced “ischambo”). We walked to the beach which was , dare I say it, disappointing compared to the glorious beaches we have already experienced on the Caribbean coast. Progreso is the home to the longest wharf in Mexico so we took a quick photo of that, and then we attempted to find a bus/collectivo to the ruins. Everyone we spoke to advised that there was no way of getting there other than a taxi that took 40 minutes which we weren’t willing to do. We decided to treat ourselves to a fantastic seafood lunch at Flamingos which was a littler pricier than what we have become accustomed to. Since our trip had failed we thought it was okay to break the budget!
On our walk to this restaurant, we were stopped by a guy called Pedro, who advised that he and his colleague ran tours to Xcambo, El Conchito, Mirador de los Flamingos and a 5 star hotel for the small price of 300 pesos. We told him we would be back tomorrow as we were starving and he was leaving for a tour in 5 minutes.
Thursday – what a day! We went back to Progreso to find Pedro! Our bus took considerably longer than the day before and we started panicking thinking we would miss the 12 o’clock departure for the tour. After trying to call him several times, Marco eventually got through to him and he told us he was delaying departure until 1pm. What luck!? When we got there we realised that this was because no one else had booked onto the tour! We set off as a small group of 5, Marco, Mike, myself, Pedro and the driver (I cannot remember his name).
Our first stop was a small boat trip through some mangroves to El Conchito, a place known for its very small, and I think, man-made cenotes. The boat trip was pretty cool but was very short. I could have sat on the boat for hours just to see all the wildlife. It was pretty smelly though and it was a relief to get the stench of Sulphur from our lungs! We got off the boat and walked to the largest cenote they have there. Unfortunately, due to a lot of rainfall, it was pretty murky so we didn’t really want to take a dip. At this point Pedro, and his amigo, told us they would wait on the other side of the river and gave us an hour to take photos and have a swim. We thought this was a little dodgy but let it happen anyway. We walked back to the clearer cenote and discovered some raccoons and coati. They weren’t shy at all and we got pretty close to them.
We took a quick dip and as I decided to get out we noticed the coati slowly sneaking towards our bags that contained our lunch. I had zipped up my rucksack so wasn’t really worried but I walked over to shoo them away anyway. Now, normally anyone who messes with my food is in for it!! The cheeky coatis managed to get into my rucksack and steal some food – we just found this hilarious. So two sandwiches lighter and a little damp we made our way back to the boat expecting to find that our guides had ran off with our money…
They weren’t there.
Mike lost the little faith he had in our guide and I laughed. Helpful, I know. For some reason I wasn’t worried. Sure enough, ten minutes later, they rocked up in their little van and announced that they had only gone to get some fuel. Faith restored.
Our next stop was Mirador de los Flamingos. I don’t think we actually reached the official reserve as we just stopped a few times down a quiet road. Despite this, we saw hundreds of wild flamingos on a huge stretch of water. A piece of advice – if you want to take some quality photos of wildlife, do not get a GoPro (or a GoPro wannabe in my case). I have already started to regret not bringing my DSLR, but I don’t think that would have been plausible either due to size. Luckily, Marco has a pretty decent camera so we are stealing some photos from him.
We then stopped at Xcambo – we were the only ones there. This was a highlight because, as you well know, I don’t much like people! It is an incredibly small ruin compared to the likes of Chichén Itzá – but I preferred it. The lack of visitors and the trees that have invaded this village space permit an eery feeling.
It felt much more like a ruin and nature is rapidly fighting to take over again. The hustle and bustle of Chichén Itzá, and the crowds that flood in every day make the city still feel very much alive and not lost at all. Xcambo is the complete opposite – and it’s great! You are also allowed to climb over the ruins here and so we clambered up the tallest pyramid and the views were stunning!
Pedro then took us to some salt lakes where we paddled around and found some fascinating salt crystals. He then took us to a plush hotel which I was initially a bit dubious about. Again, weirdly, we were the only ones there and had the use of two swimming pools, a gorgeous beach front, and a volley ball net. We made use of the cheap bar and grabbed a beer whilst catching the last of the sun’s rays. We asked Pedro to play a quick game of volley ball with us and then made our way back to our bus.
On the way back to Progreso we asked Pedro to make a quick stop in the town of Chicxulub, famous for being the central point of impact of a meteorite thousands of years ago. Wiki this for exact facts because my brain does not allow me to remember them. It was pretty huge and killed lots of plants and dinosaurs!
Overall, we were more than happy with this tour. It cost us less than £15 each and it was, essentially, private. I don’t know how good their other tours are but if you want to look them up if you’re in the area search Sergio tours. Pedro was fantastic and catered to our wants and needs – we shared a beer with him afterwards to celebrate the fact.
On Friday we decided to check out the Loltún caves (or Grutas de Loltun) used by Mayans as a water source and, later, a safe passage through the hills near the town Oxcutzcab. It’s a relatively short tour (1 hour) but very impressive. The caves were littered with humongous stalagtites (no stalagmites as the cave’s floor used to be filled with water) and the roof of the cave was occasionally interrupted by huge holes that would have previously been cenotes. Trees and vines now creep and peer over the side, making travel over the hills extremely dangerous for animals and humans alike. Mayans therefore started using the caves as a safer route. There is evidence of cave paintings and carvings. Our guide, Pablo pointed out some hand prints on the walls and Mayans used this technique as a mapping system to find their way through the caves – consider breadcrumbs in a fairytale. These prints were fascinating as they used a form of ink and a hollow stick or bamboo to blow ink around their hands, an art that is still used today in the form of spray cans or, – if any of you had a cool enough childhood – Blopens, yeeaahh! We travelled for about two hours each way to Oxcutzcab which was annoying but it’s worth it. I would suggest combining this with a tour of Ruta Puuc and Uxmal to make the most of your journey. However, we wanted something cheap and cheerful and so wrote off these other tours. My camera (disppointment yet again) was not able to get any particularly great photos of the caves so maybe a Google is essential here as well.
We had a relaxing day by the pool again yesterday. It’s important not to burn out or spend lots of money in one place! There is still a fair bit to see but we are here until Wednesday, so there is no rush.
There was lots going on in the main plaza of old town last night. I don’t know if this was a Saturday thing or something special – my guess is it happens every week. Roads were closed to cars and the restaurants brought all their tables and chairs onto the streets. There were musical acts near every set of tables ranging from musicians, dancers, and singers. My personal favourite was an old fellow who was able to play the saw.
Bare with me – so he had a few different sized saws, and a few sticks of different shapes and sizes. He would ask a member of his audience to use the stick to beat the saw and he would bend it so that each angle made a different sound. He had also made a bow from one of these sticks and was able to play the saw like a violin. He played tunes like ‘Twinkle Twinkle little star’, ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles, ‘Silent Night’ and others. Very impressed! I assisted him in playing a few and this made my night!
Apologies for the extremely lengthy post – again! I have probably put a bit more detail in than you care for. I should really do this more regularly.
Until next time! x
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