Our Yucatan Road Trip Route, Day One
We were settled in Playa for six weeks before the travel bug began calling, “Psst! Go see some stuff!” which was all it took for us to chuck in the routine, rent a car and set off with a vague plan: we’d head for Merida, the colonial capital of the Yucatan, our neighbouring state, via Izamal, a town known for it’s yellow painted buildings and awarded Pueblo Magico (magic town) status by the Mexican tourist board.
Unfortunately said plan didn’t include ‘charge your camera batteries’ or ‘take your camera memory card out of your lap top’, and whilst the latter problem was rectified by a return to home base soon after our departure, I wasn’t aware of the former oversight until we were well out of “Sweeeeety, can we pop home one more time?” range.
It amazes me how unorganized I can still be when it comes to travelling, as well as extremely naive as to the meaning of a flashing, red, rectangle in the corner of my camera’s screen. “She’ll be right,” I thought to myself whilst snapping inane shots of the nondescript highway from the passenger seat like an excited child on a school excursion.
In my defense, I was yet unaware of the historical, architectural and natural wonders we would be witness to over the next couple of days, and truth be told, I was just so damn excited to be on the road again.
With Mexican radio cranked up, Tyrhone tried to get comfortable in the tiny space from which he maneuvered our little Matiz. The most economical (cheap) option of cars on offer, it was pretty much the size of a roller skate and handled like a Mac truck due to the absence of power steering.
“Do they even MAKE cars without power steering these days?” I cried, more than a little disenchanted with what $40 a day had gotten us.
Tyrhone was used to driving on the right hand side of the road after our previous road trips through Mexico, just not whilst changing gears and trying not to mistake the brake for the clutch with his size 11 clod-hoppers (my Mum may or may not have invented that word, but just in case, it means feet). He got the hang of it pretty soon however, especially after I assured him it would be a great work-out for his already bulging muscles (wink, wink).
We headed south to Tulum, hung a right towards Coba, then a left at Valledolid; all places we visited last year. When we took a right off the highway towards ‘The Yellow Town’ of Izamal, I was unable to contain my excitement at discovering a new part of this country I had come to love so much.
We sped along the near-deserted highway feeling like the only car in Mexico, passing more bicycles than motorized forms of transport. In the back roads of rural Yucatan, our Matiz felt like a Ferrari compared to the numerous three wheeled, pedal-powered people movers we passed that most certainly did not come with power steering as standard.
A three-wheeled supplies, school children and old lady mover – the most common form of transport in the Yucatan
Out there, under a searing sun, life slowed to an almost-halt. Round Mayan women waddled slowly along wide village roads, and spindly old men sat calmly on crumbling steps, staring into nothing.
If Izamal was the main course of the golden feast we were about to devour with eager eyes, then the little towns that dotted the road leading to it were the aperitif and entree, whetting our appetites with their crumbling colonial facades, obligatory yellow churches and orderly town squares identical in every way except for their size.
Yellow church number one…
With names like Dziztas and Tinum, each little yellow town was a Russian doll identikit of the next, slightly bigger one.
In one town, we wandered inside the cool, cavernous interior of an old Catholic Church as birds flittered around in the domed ceiling, escaping the midday sun.
Just a couple of hours away from Playa, I felt as though we had stepped back in time to another age; the only reminder of modernity being the omnipresent branding of Coca-Cola and various beer companies splashed across shop fronts. Each town, no matter how small or decrepit was home to a colourfully painted and well maintained liquor store, or Cerveceria, branded by whatever beer company got there first to lay the concrete and stock the shelves.
Similarly, most humble corner stores were adorned with bright red Coca-Cola symbols, though of course we managed to stop at the one corner store that Pepsi got to first.
By the time we arrived in Izamal – the Pueblo Magico and the most touristic town on the ‘Yellow Church Road’ – it’s smooth, golden walls and restored colonial shopfronts, whilst beautiful, appeared less alluring to us than the smaller, less dressed up towns we had stopped at along the way.
Izamal was exceptionally photogenic, however; primped and primed with lashings of golden paint and adorned with old-fashioned hand painted signs.
Inside the Franciscan monastery, a short, disfigured man with a humped back, clad in a ‘Tourist Police’ uniform led us into the main hall of the church, sat me down on a polished pew, and proceeded to give me an utterly indecipherable historic soliloquy of the monastery which I wanted so much to understand. Soothed by his husky voice and robotic recital of information which was no doubt very interesting had I been able to understand it, I nodded along, happy to be out of the sun and wondering if he would be expecting a tip.
The impressive monastery of Izamal
Nup, no idea…
Afterwards, we roamed the golden streets in search of a restaurant for lunch, passing by a crumbling Mayan ruin which we were too hungry, thirsty and hot to take much more than a passing interest in.
Ancient Mayan pyramid – meh…
We settled on a touristy, Mayan themed restaurant since it was the only one we could find, and by then our dehydration levels had reached urgent status. We guzzled down chilled bottles of orange sodas along with fresh tostadas and salbutes, which although not earth shatteringly good were tasty enough.
Satiated, Tyrhone returned to the roller skate to cool it down with the A/C whilst I ducked into a store for water. I exited with a chilled bottle of agua tucked under my arm and two freshly made berry ice creams which snaked down the cones and onto my hands.
“Eat it, Quick!” I ordered Tyrhone as I thrust a melted mess at him, though I received no complaints as he devoured the cold, creamy treat it in several swift bites.
Giggling, we rolled out of Izamal, pointing our pint-sized steed in the direction of Merida, grateful for the glimpse into crumbling, small-town Yucatan that it had afforded us, and excited about where it would take us next.