Day 203: Palenque – Mexico – Jan 6th

Waking up in the dark at 5:30am, we got ready and were waiting for a shuttle to take us out to the ruins Yaxchitlan. The tours seem to be extremely popular, but one strange thing is everybody seems to be on the same tour bus/route/schedule regardless of who you booked with. The tours were very smoothly ruin, despite us not really knowing what’s going on or where we’re going next, just trust where people point you to and eventually you’ll arrive at the destination. Actually, it’s pretty scary if you think about it!

Yaxchitlan is actually in the middle of the jungle, and no roads have been paved to get there. The only way is to enter the national park area, and take a boat into the ruins! Sounds pretty adventurous doesn’t it? The national park area is pretty neat as it has resort-style lodgings outside for visitors who want to stay over night. Seems like a lot of local Mexicans prefer to travel this way! For us, we just endured the 40min boat ride and landed into the ruins of Yaxchitlan. Walking about 5mins through a jungle trail with thick vegetation on both sides, you get damp and wet without breaking a sweat.

Then, rising out of nowhere is the sight of a moss covered building, and you can’t help but imagine what it was like to have stumbled across these ruins a hundred years ago. Walking into the pitch dark ruin (it was the only way through), we were lucky to have brought a headlamp. Looking around inside were the typical Mayan arches, stone walls, and bats. Yes, bats. First time seeing bats in a ‘natural’ habitat, we were somewhat creeped out. It didn’t help that, as we were trying to make a turn into the next room, a bat comes out of nowhere and flies through the doorway, giving us a bit of a scare! Ha ha, creepy gross.

We won’t give too much details about the ruins, but it was well worth the visit. Being the first time in a jungle, we also got to see and hear some monkeys. The monkey species most prevalent here is the howler monkey, capable of making some REALLY awesome howls. It’s somewhat scary though, as you’re wandering around the ruins, and out of nowhere 10m away from you, this deafening howl comes and gives you a scare…haha. There were also many massive trees that dot the main plaza, with their canopies sheltering us from the rain, it was rather surreal as we’re not used to seeing trees about 5 stories tall!!

After lunch at the lodge, we were shuttled over to another site known as Bonampak. Much smaller in size, it had plenty of intricate stone carvings. The coolest part though was the murals inside a stone building, which dates back to 6th century AD. While we were there though, we saw a group of American tourists with a name tag stating “Yale Education Travel”. The tour looked professionally run, and the tour guide gave extremely knowledgeable speeches regarding all the pieces within the ruins. We tagged along and listened a bit and was really interesting. Later on, we found out that the tour guide was actually a world-leading expert in Mayan art, author of renowned Mayan books, and the Dean of Yale College…. Cool.

A tiring day, and getting back to town it was too late for us to shop for groceries and cook. So we grabbed an awesome meal….at Burger King! Good, exciting day!

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Day 202: Palenque – Mexico – Jan 5th

Arriving after a 14hr bus ride, we finally arrived into the city of Palenque in the province of Chiapas. Our backs were stiff and feeling definitely dazed from the whole ride. This town definitely has less of the charm of the few cities we’ve seen in Mexico, and feels more like a ‘local’ city and very few tourists. We were fooled by appearances though, as once we saw numerous hotels throughout town, and our hostel is probably one of the best run we’ve seen so far… except somehow all the water coming from the pipes tastes like rust?!?!? It’s gross. Other than that, this place looks extremely awesome!

A much needed shower in the rusty smelling water, we were all ready and headed out to see the synonymous ruins of Palenque. Before taking the local van, we found a grungy-looking taco stand next to a construction site and a store selling “Brangus Beef”. It was either cheap tacos in the parking lot, or sit down for something similar for thrice the price? Surprisingly, the taco stand guy spoke fluent English and had EXTREMELY good manners too! After we finished our tacos, we saw him fixing some massive pot at another stove, and I ventured over for a gander. He told me it was barbacoa, a type of Mexican pork dish, and then he proceeded to say “May I provide you with a sample of this?”. Wow, who says that! The pork was definitely awesome, and so was the taco stand guy!

The ruins of Palenque are close to the city, but unlike any other ruins we’ve seen, it is situated inside the jungle!! With the thick, humid air wafting in your face and thick moss smothered over aged stone, this matched our mental image of what a Mayan ruin actually should be! We’ll let the pictures do the talking, as we’re no expert on this, except we both know that this is all very, very cool.

The best part about the hostel though, is the fact that there is a kitchen, and a supermarket is only a 10min walk away!!! We managed to FINALLY eat some veggies (Note to everyone: There aren’t many places to eat veggies in Mexican cuisine), and some “home cooked” dishes to go with… instant noodles. Ha ha. Washing it down with a cold beer, and we were two happy travelers.

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Day 201: Cancun – Mexico – Jan 4th

This is our last day of Cancun, and we really wanted to make the best of it. Taking the public bus into the hotel zone, we were sort of shocked at the massive size the whole area is. From the city centre area (where we were living), to the very end of the beach area is over 20km! We actually had some time to spare, and took a joy-ride on the bus all the way down the end of the bus line. Unfortunately, we were the only people there and the bus driver charged us again for the return trip back!

The views weren’t very interesting on the main road, as the hotels block off any visible bit of the Caribbean Sea. We stopped over at the newly built mall, La Isla, wanting to dine at the Indian restaurant there (just didn’t want something else for a change). Turns out the restaurant opens at 5pm, so we looked around and ended up at the next best thing, Hooters! Situated right next to the dock, it had a sweet view of the lagoon and the wings were decent, as people like to say when they go to Hooters. The mall itself had this strangely “American” feel to it, probably because most developers here are from the US, but there’s a lack of charm about the whole place. The ocean/lagoon views though, are very nice.

Close to the mall was a public playa, or beach, and we spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the warm glow of the sun. The beaches are very nice indeed! Dinner was spent overlooking the lagoon as the sun set in the horizon, casting an orange glow into the skies. And to top it off, we had rice and naan to go with our curries, yay!

Hopping back on the tourist bus and into the town centre, we grabbed our packs and boarded our 8:30pm night bus to our next destination, all sticky and gross with sand scattered across our bodies. And we didn’t mind it one bit.

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Day 200: Cancun – Mexico – Jan 3rd

Can’t believe we’ve already hit Day 200! Time really flies…

Taking a day to explore another set of ruins in the scenic Tulum, it may possibly be the few places on Earth where you can witness buildings that are centuries old, while overlooking the blue waters with white sandy beaches. Tulum is situated on the edge of the Yucatan peninsula, overlooking the Caribbean sea.

Thinking Tulum was closer than it actually was, it in fact took a 2.5hr bus ride before we got to the ruins. The buses lately have been crowded and jammed pack, similar to what we’ve experienced during our Asia trip. At least these buses were air conditioned and were somewhat comfortable.

The bus stopped outside of the Tulum ruins, and of the whole bus full of about 70 people, we were the only ones that got off!?!? Okay well, they don’t know what they missed out! When we first got to Tulum, we were bombarded with a slew of people trying to sell us snorkeling packages etc, and we were a bit surprised as we thought, well, the ruins are here and the beach is further away and we have no interest in going snorkeling, as we can do all that later in several other places. We want to see the ruins!

Well, when we got there, we were a bit surprised. Situated behind a walled compound, Tulum is as exquisite as you can think for a set of ruins over several hundred years old. There are 3 sides to the wall, as the Carribean Sea makes up as the 4th wall. The ruins totally takes a step back for what everyone seems to come here for: the ocean. It’s pretty amazing to think about how people dealt with the waters, and the deities that they believed to have govern the world. Now, there’s an actual beach people go swimming and have a great family time at! We were quite confused when everyone had towels and snorkel gear when they were walking into the ruins, and now we understand! The ruins itself were pretty amazing and were in immaculate shape, and the landscaping was some what of a dread as it reminded Alan of nicely manicured golf courses… it’s THAT nice! Iguanas lay about, bobbing their heads and hiding in stone crevasses, periodically poking a head out to see whtat we mortals are up to.

The ruins of Tulum are definitely worth the visit as it is really a spectacular place, but it’s probably best if you came as a detour from Cancun/Playa del Carmen instead of coming here for the sole purpose of visiting it.

We took another long bus ride back into town, grabbed dinner at a decent Italian restaurant (with really good service!) and called it a night! Our dorm-mates left and was replaced by a younger, seemingly more naïve roommate who also went out partying as we were going to bed at around midnight. She came back at 2am, but she seems pretty drunk even the next morning when we spoke to her.. ha ha, good times youth.

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Day 199: Cancun – Mexico – Jan 2nd

Between Merida and Cancun, is another famous Mayan ruin known as Chichen Itza. Most people know about it mostly of its grandeur, but also because it is one of few Mayan ruins within a close proximity to Cancun and the beaches of the Mayan Riviera.

Taking the bus from Merida to Chichen Itza, we realized our mistake once we got off the bus. The place was like summer time at Disney Land, and was JAMMED with people! There was a lineup wrapped AROUND the whole entrance just to get tickets…. what’s up with that? Sort of reminded us of China during the holiday season over there, and it’s definitely not fun to have to bump and push your way through everywhere. So, we quickly changed our minds and decided we’ll skip this ruin and head straight to Cancun.

Google maps says the trip from Merida to Cancun is an approximate 4.5hr drive. It took us 9hrs to get from point to point!!! By the time we got to Cancun it was already dinner time, and to save money we stayed in the downtown area and not in the resort zone of Cancun, leaving us a very different impression of the city compared to everyone else. Tired of having unflavourful local disasters, we grabbed dinner at the most internationally recognizable brand name in food: McDonald’s! Man…. it was much better than what we’ve had ever since leaving Oaxaca.

Heading back to the hostel, we sat down at the bar downstairs thinking the night is young and we can grab a beer before going back to bed. Well, turns out, the bar was CLOSED…..and this was 10:12pm. W T F? This is Cancun?

Our only reminder that this was Cancun was that, when we headed off to bed at around midnight, our dorm-mates came in, got changed and put on make-up. Our first reaction was: “Why does anyone put on makeup before sleeping!?!”, then when they said “Have a good night, we’ll try to keep quiet when we come back”, was when we realized, midnight is just the beginning of the party. Definitely too old for this!!

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Day 198: Merida – Mexico – Jan 1st

Our first event of 2013 was to visit the Mayan ruins of Uxmal.

So far, all the ruins we’ve seen were laid out by different peoples over different times, well, pre-Hispanic times before the Spanish came and made history as we know it. Just a quick recap, Teotihuacan = many peoples, Tenochitlan = Mexica, Monte Alban = Zapotecs, and so this would be our first view into Mayan architecture.

The site is extremely well furnished, and there are even several resorts located right next to the ruins. Very strange. The ruins itself is situated within a forest, and contains more ‘buildings’ similar to Monte Alban? The pyramids definitely look different though, and the main building is the Governor’s Building, which is rectangular in shape and with very distinctive ‘Mayan’ facades. It’s hard to pinpoint the differences without technical architectural knowledge, but the whole place definitely “feels” different! The layout, the carvings, the columns and the jungle-like setting all add to the allure of this spectacular site. Well worth a visit!

We returned to Merida, and we really wanted some variety in our dining options but unfortunately there isn’t much to choose from in this town. In the end, we had dinner at a Chinese buffet, which as you can imagine, had pretty poor tastes but was rather cheap. The owner was nice and chatted with us a bit, even providing us with free ‘juice’, or what was most likely just Mexican Kool-aid. After dinner, we realized that the mosquitoes in there also went on a feast of their own, as Alan was bitten well over 10 times, leaving his leg dotted with red bumps. Gross!

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Day 197: Merida – Mexico – Dec 31st

 half the day wandering around the town of Merida, and the other half at the hostel researching our adventures. Being in a laid back part of Mexico, most shops were closed by 1pm, and even a lot of restaurants didn’t even open for the day! The ones that did though were jammed and we ended up having the hardest time trying to find a dinner spot. After wandering the streets of Merida for about 1hr and several closed restaurants later, we finally stopped at a cafe that had several people dining at.

Glancing through the window, there was even a TripAdvisor sticker, which (so far) has been providing us with pretty delicious meals, so we quickly parked ourselves into the mostly empty cafe. After ordering several overpriced dishes, the food came and we quickly understood why there were so little people…. It was just horrible. The first thing that came to mind half way through the meal was to leave as quickly as possible, find a convenience store, and drink a can of Coca-Cola to wash off the taste.

It was 10pm, with two hours to go before midnight, we arrived at the centre of town awaiting the arrival of 2013. There were about 50 people in the whole square, mostly foreigners idling around trying to waste time like us. In the end, we somehow managed to wander around in circles for an hour before giving up and headed back to the hostel. We counted down in the lounge area of our hostel, sleeping on a hammock and getting constantly bit by mosquitoes!! Happy New Year!!

Apparently here in Merida, they spend the night with family members, then after midnight they light fireworks and start going to the houses of friends and families, where a drink is offered and when the “real” party begins. Since this only applies to locals, tourists will have to watch from the balconies of their hotels like us. =)


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Day 196: Merida – Mexico – Dec 30th

Not quite sure what it was, but somehow the buses in Mexico are great, but the rides are always horrible and you just feel like crap afterwards. The overnight bus was a bit delayed, but this is better for us because we got to town at 8:45am instead of the scheduled 6:30am! Don’t think my B&B owner would be happy with two red-eyed guests knocking on the door that early in the morning.

The streets of Merida instantly feels much different than the previous cities we’ve been to, with much less ‘colonial’ architecture and with many more buildings in ruins, it’s a stark reminder that although Mexico has a vibrant economy, there still are many places where life isn’t as colourful as the shades of pastel painted on throughout the exterior walls.

The rest of the day was spent resting, as during the night bus one of us experienced some signs of food poisoning. May have been the fruit, we’re not sure!! Either way, even the supermarkets in this town are much smaller and less widely stocked. Grabbing some fruits and crackers, we spent the day dozing in and out of consciousness and living of fruits and water.

Aaahhh, the hazards of traveling!

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