Merida road trip, day two…
After a wonderful day driving through the almost empty back roads of the Yucatan, we reached the police checkpoint on the outskirts of Merida. Perhaps we glided through a little too quickly in an attempt to act cool and casual, because they waved us down. Papers, licence, passports and birth certificates at the ready (okay, I may be exaggerating on the last one), I was determined not be prey to another phoney, made-up law by a money hungry cop after my brush with the fuzz last year.
The young officer that stopped us perused our papers slowly, asked us questions about where we had come from in slow, deliberate Spanish, then looked at me with a sudden glint in his eye and told me I would be receiving an infraction for not wearing my seat belt.
“I just took it off to get the papers,” I assured him, not sure if I was lying or not. I actually had no idea how my seat belt was not firmly strapped around me. I come from a country that hands out fines for not wearing a bicycle helmet, so I am not at all casual about vehicle seat belts. In fact, I panic a little in taxis without them.
He stared at me, waiting for me to crack. I held my gaze, mostly believing my story, but wondering if in fact I had forgotten to put it on. Regardless, I stuck to it, and even acted out a little charade to illustrate how I had undone it whilst retrieving the papers from my bag, which must have been convincing because he let me off with a warning.
We rolled into Merida, feeling like prison escapees, throwing out lines like, “Ha ha suckers!” even though I was actually slightly shaken up by the experience. Why, I’m not really sure, since our encounters with Mexican traffic police had so far been harmless and hadn’t yet required a payment of a mordida (bribe) to keep us out of the clink. I guess it’s just the reputation they have for targeting gringos and making them pay for the privilege of their fancy $40 per day pint-sized rental cars.
If only they knew we were heading for a luxurious hacienda-style hotel that we were very fortunate to be hosted by, we may have paid for my seat belt oversight with more than just an adrenalin-induced thumping heart.
“Whoa, this is the big smoke!” I cried, a little shocked by the size of the Yucatan capital. I really didn’t know much about Merida except that it was a colonial town, but it looked like more of a modern city to me as we made our way through the bustling commercial streets. We soon reached the centro historico however, and the streets lined with pastel-coloured colonial facades were more in line with what I had expected.
Beyond the deceptively simple walls of the Hotel Hacienda Merida, my expectations were all but blown out of the water. A luxurious oasis surrounded by high vine covered walls, I feared I would never want to leave.
Exploring be damned, I’ll just be here… luxuriating…
We spent the afternoon swimming in the fresh water pool and relaxing in the opulent room until hunger drew us from the Hacienda’s protective walls and into the night to pound the pavement of Merida’s prettily lit streets in search of dinner.
Presided over by an impressive cathedral, the main square was filled with life; kids brandished colourful balloons bought from over-ladened vendors and elderly couples strolled slowly along lamp-lit pathways. Young guys perched self-consciously on benches, punching the keys of their cell phones, whilst loved-up teens squeezed into the curvy, white concrete couple seats that adorn almost every Mexican square. Older men sat calmly on the low brick walls that lined the perimeter, watching the evening go by.
We checked out a few restaurants that were recommended to us but nothing quite took our fancy; the deadly combination of hunger and indecision threatened to unhinge our wonderful day (the main source of arguments between us is choosing restaurants).
Merida wasn’t going to let us down, however, enticing us into it’s central branch of Los Trompos, the family chain restaurant (I liken it to Sizzler for us Aussies, and possibly TGI Fridays for the Americans…). Not exactly what I had in mind for our romantic evening, but I was kinda out of options if I didn’t want to be left standing on a Merida street corner looking for a date.
We ended up having a delicious meal (Yucatecan pork, or asado, marinated in the local marinade, achiote, for me, and an over-sized baked potato for Tyrhone, covered in the same pork with lashings of cheese and guacamole), and even if it didn’t fit my idea of an ‘authentic’ Yucatecan eatery, the place soon filled up with local families which made it exactly that. The service was excellent, the price was good, and we rolled home afterwards in a blissful food coma-induced haze, falling into the welcoming embrace of our four-poster king sized bed and a deep, deep sleep.
While I could have easily played the spoiled princess role for another day, after breakfast the following morning we headed south from Merida towards the ancient Mayan ruins of Uxmal, about an hour away.
Again, I knew nothing about the place other than what I had read in the hotel’s book on the side table next to the bed. The thing about ancient Mayan cities for me is that I love having been to them, but don’t very much enjoy them while I’m there. Whenever I’ve been to one it’s either searingly hot (Chichen Itza), uncomfortably humid (Palenque) or pouring with rain (Coba and Tulum). I’m always too cheap to spring for a guide, rarely do any research before my visit, and usually try to get through them as quickly as possible so I can go home and point at them in books and say smugly, “I’ve been there, I’ve been there.”
Come on, let’s get this over with…
I’d be lying if I didn’t say my visit to Uxmal began in a similar way to my previous expeditions. It was HOT, which was the main source of my discomfort, and my obsessive shade hopping resulted in views like this:
Ancient Mayan rubble pile…
However, and there is a big however, I began to be quite taken with Uxmal. I dare say it’s my favourite ancient Mayan city to date. The carvings on the stones that formed the staggeringly huge main pyramid as well as several other smaller ones were detailed, curvy and beautiful, and the view from the other pyramid which I protested walking all the way to and then almost didn’t climb in favour of perching myself on a rock under a shady tree, was nothing short of spectacular.
The view from my shady rock, and the reasons (all five of them) I was sitting on it instead of a comfy bench…
My reward for getting off the rock…
Numerous cenotes (natural pools) are dotted around Merida, yet somehow we managed to miss every single one of them on the way home. We did however stop in the cute town of Ticul, to stroll through the picturesque streets:
The cute, old fashioned town of Ticul…
We returned to the hotel for an invigorating dip in the pool, and just as I was preparing myself for an afternoon nap, Tyrhone spoiled things by suggesting we take a drive to the coastal town of Progresso north of Merida.
I looked at him, shocked that he would suggest something as ludicrous as two outings in one day.
“Come on, you can handle two things in one day,” he teased me, and he was right, I was kind of behaving like a pensioner.
So we bundled into the roller skate again and drove an hour or so on an unremarkable highway to the sea-side town of Progresso, images of a fresh seafood dinner at the forefront of our minds.
We got to Progresso, paid a drunkard to watch the car (he said he would… I think) and strolled along the promenade that lined the beach, a wild wind whipping through the palm trees and churning up the milky sea water.
It was nice to see where the Meridanos go to be beside the sea side, but Progresso had a bit of a ‘rough’ vibe that came from more than just the wind and the waves (we were Hacienda dwellers now, you see). So after a quick stroll and a drive through town, we returned to the big smoke and headed straight for Los Trompos. I ordered the same meal, we had the same waiter and we were sat next to an elderly couple who were also dining at 6:30 pm. I’m going to be so well prepared for old age…
Los Trompos, I love you!
In bed before 9 pm (yep, we’re a HOOT!), I seriously hoped Tyrhone was going to let me sleep in the following morning after my exceedingly active day (two outings I tell you!)… but somehow I seriously doubted it.