Thursday, December 24, 2009


I had two nights left (not counting my last night in Playa del Carmen for the sake of catching my flight home), and I thought about going to an eco lodge, going to the biosphere, staying in Vallodolid longer or going back to Tulum. I really kind of wanted to stay in the interior, but in Late Feburary, when I am waiting for the brown line train on a wind-whipped platform and the most mexican thing about my day will be the lean cuisine chicken enchiladas suizas at 12:07PM, I don´t want to think ¨I really should have spent some more time on that beach in Tulum¨.

I was worried about not finding a place to stay, this being extremely high season, christmas week and all. I had no reason to worry. I found a place to stay right away. Here is my casita at the Luna Maya:

I had to move next door the next night, but there were places to be found. Tulum is a little pricey, but worth it.

I missed happy hour and had my Drin after 5PM. But I bought it from the grocery store and had it on my porch so it was cheap anyhow, suckas!

I took a walk along the beach and through the woods:

and found a hippie sweat lodge!

I also went to see the famous Mayan ruin, Tulum. I enjoyed Uxmel more because there were less annoying people around, but these ruins were very impressive, despite the Cancun daytrippers with bad cornrows of braids:

When I got back to the beach, I discovered another Mayan ruin. It´s amazing!!

Not much to do in Tulum. It was perfect to be alone there. No nightlife to be found. Actually I´m not going to lie and say the food was good, because it was not. I could have been anywhere. I had above average wood fired pizza for dinner on the beach at a cute place, but it wasn´t like the culinary experiences I had been having in Merida and Valladolid. But really, it´s OK.

The view from my second casita room is below. After the sun went down, I laid on a beach chair and looked at the stars and listened to the waves for a good half hour. It was nice.

Das German youth hostel in Valladolid

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Merida. I could almost live there. Sometimes you just click with a town for no real reason. If you asked me why, I could not rattle off too many reasons. There is a lot of public art and I liked the vibe. It does actually have a small American retirement or ex-pat community. I really liked being ignored and not watched as I walked down the street or beckoned into every shop. People didnt start speaking to me in english as soon as I sat down someplace. I could butcher my bad spanish and nobody minded. For my final night, I went back to the town square to watch more dancing in the closed off street. I am a little bit of a Christmas grump at home but I enjoy Christmas in Latin America. I loved it in Guatemala, Brazil and I love it here in Mexico. People aren´t stressing about shopping or snow, they just eat and dance.

Alas, it was time to move on. I only had a week to travel and I couldn´t be the village idiot wandering around Merida forever. Valladolid is another sorbet-colored town (pic above). It is famous for the area cenotes, which are wierd caves and underground pools scattered around the yucatan. I took a two hour bus, going through many small towns. They were typical modest little rough-around-the edges towns you would see anywhere in Asia or Latin America, but many of them were very clean. There was no trash. The houses had peeling paint but someone had cared enough to plant some flowers and mend the fence. I like the way the people dressed in the little towns - it was almost like they had a dress code. They wore the traditional clothes I saw for sale in Playa del Carmen and Merida - the men wear the button-down shirt with the two little striped designs down the front (guyabera?), and the women wear the white dress with the flowers emboridered around the yoke of the neck and on the hem. They have specific names, but I forget what the shirt and dress are called. After many bus rides over the years, I have noticed that all small towns must have the following things:
  • skinny brown mutt dogs that look dead when they are sleeping in the sun, or are pregnant and have 25 nipples.
  • an auto repair shop with an open garage door that is a complete mess with a fat man smoking inside
  • Rosa´s Cocina restaurant, or some variation
  • A store with a large display of plastic shoes
  • a cinder block school with faded pastel-colored paint
  • an inglesia, of course
  • the corner bar with one window
and in this area, a store for pinatas and balloons. I saw a disproportionate number of pinatas y globos shops in Merida and Valladolid. They just love balloons. In Merida, there were people selling balloons from huge bundles of maybe 100 balloons at once. If you spontaneously needed a balloon, that would never be a problem here.

In Valladolid, I checked into the hostel to save some money. Germans and Dutch people love Valladolid, I found. Practically everyone in the hostel was from northen Europe. The guy who checked me in even pronounced my last name the traditional German way - it sounds kind of like Share-ieh-mecccch. Hans and Dieter (well, in my mind that is what their names were) lounged around on the couch and chatted away. It was also the first youth hostel I have ever stayed in where I may have been on the younger end of the average age. I had my own room, and my next door neighbors were maybe in their early 50s. Everyone looked to be between 30 and 60. It was interesting.

I wandered out to get some lunch. I would hate to see the kitchen, but I had some delicious panuchos here:

Panuchos are just flat, fried tacos with refried beans in between two layers of fried tortillas, with a topping (like chicken and cabbage) on top. Delicious.
I walked over to the closest Ceynote in town:

There is even a special breed of eyeless black fish that live in the ceynotes. People go swimming in here. But nobody else was swimming, and the algae and the the thought of eyeless black fish scared me off. (I mean, wouldnt eyeless fish scare YOU off?) In case you didn´t know you were in a cave, they had the international sign for you are entering a cave:

and the virgin of guadeloupe had a shrine in the cave as well:

Unfortunately, the town square was under construction for renovation. It is going to be lovely when they finish it. Here is the church:

the front of my hostel room:

For dinner I had conchinitas pibil again. These were the best ones yet. They gave me a reasonable portion (not like that pile of pork I showed you the other day), and it was amazingly good. The masa tortillas tasted like they were made 5 minutes ago. There was a beautiful atmosphere in the restaurant, too. A lit up fountain and candles. I tried to stretch my meal as long as I could. I caught myself making faces and looking at my fork a little too suggestively after I was tasting the food and I had to stop that immediately. I would make fun of someone else doing that. Anyhow, conchinita pibil - yeah, very good in Valladolid.
At night, in the Plaza right outside the hostel was a mysterious talent show going on. The talent was bad. I bought a couple of cans of beer at the convenience store, sat down, watched and tried to figure out what people were saying and singing. Perfect night out!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Estoy LLENA!

After being a little partied-out in Playa del Carmen, I decided to be slothful in Merida. And after climbing up that damn ruin yesterday, I thought I´d just wander around town, eating as much as I wanted for 24 hours and write about it. Aren´t you shocked that I would do such a thing?

OK, I´m not just cramming it all in, I´m learning many things here. I´ve been a big fan of Rick Bayless for years and my dream is to feel like I am filming an episode of "one plate at a time". First of all, I can´t find a chile relleno to save my life. But we are in the Yucatan, and we have PIBIL!!

This is either pork or chicken, cooked in a banana leaf underground with spices. I´m not sure if they really dig a hole in the ground, or if that is an exaggeration. Either way - the pollo pibil I had after the ruin yesterday and my pork pibil for dinner (pictured above and below) - was delicioso! They give you tortillas, to make little tacos, see? And purple pickled onions to sprinkle on top.

Yes, I finished that big pile. And I loved every minute of it. With 2 beers, this came to less than $15 with tip. They aren´t crazy about cheese here. But that´s OK. the food is so tasty that I don´t miss it. No queso tamales to be found.
The next morning, I ate a tamale, which I forgot to take a picture of. There is some sort of celebration going on, and everyone is selling food in the streets and people really eat spicy meats for breakfast. I thought maybe only a few people did - but nope, after walking around to the market and back, I noticed everyone did. As a person who has been known to have leftover thai food or pizza for breakfast, I had a chicken tamale. And then I had ANOTHER ONE. And what´s that I see? Churros?! well, don´t mind if I do!!!

This was all before 10AM. This is a typical food stand. Believe it or not, I did not have room for the barbacoa...

but don´t think I didn´t consider it....
Here´s a guy roasting some onions to put on those pieces of meat:

They have conchia pibil, the regional specialty and last night´s dinner!

I went thought the entire market, and watched people buy their groceries. As in most countries, people here want to see their meat up close and talk to the butcher first. Nothing is frozen, it´s all just hanging up by hooks.

You would think all that raw meat might kill my appetite. Well, think again. It´s time for CORN ICE CREAM and a MERANGE! woo woo!

The end.
When I get home, I am going on a huge diet.

Colors of Merida

Not really a post, but just wanted to show you some photos of this little town you´ve probably never heard of, where I called home for three nights.. These were taken during the only quiet time, on Sunday morning.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mayans and hard boiled eggs

Friday morning JT and I bid a sad goodbye at the bus station. I took a 4 hour luxury bus north inland to the capital of the Yucatan, Merida. Merida calls itself the center of culture for the Yucatan, I could see immediately that this could be true. Art museums, bookstores, live musical and dancing perfomances every night! Merida also paints a lot of its buildings a multitude of pastel colors, which are beautiful in the hot, bright sunlight. I was happy to arrive to a bustling real mexican town where people were just going about their business. I walked out of the bus station bracing myself, expecting to be hassled and barraged with questions and offers to get me where I was going - but happily this did not happen. I walked about 20 minutes to a hotel that I had seen on the internet a few weeks ago - Luz en Yucatan. Like fate, they had one room due to a cancellation. I told the owner, Tom, that I was just going to take it one day at a time and I didn´t know how long I´d stay. Tom from Colorado, who was about as chillaxed as all the expat hotel owners I´ve met, said "that´s a good idea. And a good way to go through life in general." I took a walk around town, admiring and soaking it all in. One thing I like about Mexico is how they don´t put signs up as much as carefully paint on the building itself. If the painter had a good eye and nice handwriting, it has a nice aesthetic thing about it. There is also some bizarre drainage system that allows for large, dark random, bottomless holes in the sidewalk at various points in town. For many reasons, but probably this most of all, I am not going to drink much when I am here.

My room is twice the size of the Playa del Carmen hotel and I have a private balcony and maybe 20 foot ceilings. The floor and bathroom are old marble. Plants, hammocks, palm trees and a twinkling christmas tree with a tray of various tequilas. I didn´t have any of the tequila but I like knowing it is there. I chose a cute old romantic courtyard place for dinner and tried one of the local specialties, papazules. These are hard boiled egg-filled, pumpkin seed sauce-covered enchiladas. OK....haha.. maybe not the best thing I´ve ever had. I strolled through the streets and stopped to watch the locals enjoying themselves. Near my hotel is the funniest place - there is singing all the time and fake smoke on the stage, but it seems to be a wholesome family place. I am too intmidated to go in there just yet but I know if my friends were here, we would. Merida isn´t that touristy, and I don´t get the sense that people care too much about ripping me off. They may be, but they hide it pretty well. There are more europeans here for sure. And that brings me to my trip today, to the ruins of Uxmal.

I love these trips that throw a bunch of randoms together on a bus. Out of 21 people, there were three americans, four japanese people, some italians, some austrians and a guy from London. Our guide, Juan, is pictured above in the white shirt. I had a cup of chaya, which is a green plant that helps the stomach or whatever ails you. Also joining us on the tour were an octogenerian and his 30-something wife with the biggest, jaw dropping diamond ring I´ve ever seen in person. Uxmal was interesting. There was a wall where you could clap loudly and a wierd bird sound would echo off the wall. I wish Jeffrey had been there, my friend who can clap louder than anyone in the universe. The ancient mayans also played a game where you try to kick around a ball into a percariously placed ring. Sometimes it would take days to get the ball into the ring (and apparently the whole city had the patience to watch), but when it did, people ate and drank for days until they would fall down. Unless I didn´t understand Juan correctly, those mayans were quite dramatic. There were also plenty of phallic symbols scattered thoughout and many cool symbolic animals in the stone. We also went the ruin Koba, which was extremely spooky. The wind whistled and animals howled in the bushes. Between Uxmel and Koba, our bus was sideswiped by another bus when we were both going about 50 miles per hour in opposite directions. It broke part of the windshield and completely knocked off the rear view mirror. This w0uldn´t have been so bad except that I was right in front behind the driver, with no partition. I heard glass break and I screamed and ducked my head, thinking that glass was all over. Luckily nobody was hurt and we could keep using the bus. It was scary. We just continued on the excusion with a half-cracked windshield. I saw the whole thing and our driver was not at fault. Oh well... I am so grateful that I can be at the internet cafe right now, and not having glass picked out of my head in the hospital. But you can put your minds right at ease, because Lonely planet says the hospital is very good here.

It doesn´t count as the REAL Mexico but....

I didn´t plan on blogging about the first 5 days of my trip. The idea was to go to the beach, get out of the cold, recover from a work project (JT) and as it turns out, eat. Gaining 5 lbs was not our intention, but I think that might be what happened. Planning a beach trip to Mexico was completly frustrating and like stabbing in the dark - all of the places sounded exactly the same to me, and everything was kind of "eh" on the internet... so I picked Playa del Carmen simply because they don´t allow buildings over 4 stories, and the beaches are supposedly some of the best in Mexico. Indeed this was all true. The hotel, La Tortuga, was charming and boutiquey - I loved the design. There was a jungle in the middle with a little lazy-river style pool where you could sit and watch the neon-colored birds, read about Winston Churchhill and Ghandi (JT) and the story of a Somolian refugee (me). The beach we had access too was great - so clean and the water was perfect. Playa del Carmen was pretty tacky, but fun. We made fun of the horrible shirts that said such things as "I´m not a ginecologist.. but I´ll take a look!". Massages were $30 per hour. We drank and danced. We put bad songs in the jukebox. JT took a lot of naps. We took a side trip to Tulum, which was awesome. Actually some of the restaurants in Playa town were fabulous, particularly John Gray, where JT took me for a belated birthday dinner. We met a nice older couple from Vancouver because we accidentally sat next to them at three different restaurants at three different times. JT looked him up today and he is a world-renouned concert pianist. I had time to explore my love of chiliquiles, a mexican breakfast that I´ve had in Chicago. Meaning I had them every day. Chilaquiles always remind me of JT because we had them on our first date, and they remind me of Mexico. Playa del carmen was fun. Neither of us counted it as "travelling" in the sense that we normally do. That´s about all there was to it... JT left yesterday and I went on to Merida. I will try to blog about Merida today if not tomorrow.