Meant to be a quick update, but it’s not

April 30th, 2010 § Comments Off on Meant to be a quick update, but it’s not § permalink

Chichen Itza was named one of the new “7 wonders of the world” a few years back…Having been there 10 years ago, I can say that the designation has certainly increased tourism there. Prior to that, a woman fell from the top of the pyramid called El Castillo, all the way down, and died on the way to the hospital. These factors have led to the roping off of all the structures: preservation of both the ruins and lives, though I heard a guide say the decision to rope off the structures had more to do with their preservation than people falling to their deaths. Now, that’s the Mayan spirit (you know, they did practice human sacrifice).

So, watching the pulsing red sunburned tourists bussed in from Cancun in their bathing suits (they probably stop at a cenote to swim on the way), I was happy that Benjamin and I have planned to visit many more remote ruins. On the Yucatán peninsula, there are ruins everywhere, from different periods of time, with varying styles & features to keep from getting “Ruin fatigue.”

Now based in Mérida, we’re making day trips to said remote ruins. Today we visited one I can’t pronounce and can barely type: Dzibilchaltun. It was very peaceful and serene, and free from the crowds at Chichen Itza, enough to imagine what life might have been like for the Maya who lived here, as they gathered to sit on the longest set of stairs in all of MesoAmerica that surrounded the public square to watch the goings on. Now, they would have a view of newer ruins in the square: a colonial-era chapel. So much story can be told by the walls of crumbling buildings.

We’ll be visiting more ruins from here along the “Puuc Route,” a day trip that will take us to a handful of sites (Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, X-Lapak, Labna), as well as through villages and past caves and cenotes (natural swimming holes; there are underground rivers here, exposed by sinkholes in the limestone shelf of land we travel upon).

We’re also going to a place called Celestún, a fishing village, where the thing to do is rent a boat and guide to go out on the river and watch the hundreds of pink flamingos that gather here.

And between all that, Mérida is its own hub of activity (well, with a Yucatecan pace). There are free nightly concerts at the parks and plazas. Last night we went to a “serenade” in Santa Lucia Park; several groups of performers played different types of music–a 15-piece band and dancers dressed in traditional costume kicked off the show. And, these shows are not for tourists; they are for the populace of Mérida, who come in droves and purchase 10″ tall ice cream cones & hot dogs sold by vendors who wheel their carts up to the curb.

Yesterday, we met a couple who’d just arrived in Mérida and were on their way to the bus station to get tickets back to Cozumel. They didn’t think there was anything to do here! Having a car at our disposal helps, but all of these destinations are accessible with public transportation, too.

I have yet to discover the secrets of the Mayan calendar, though. It’s one of my missions while here, given that some think it predicts the end of the world in December 2012. If that happens, I really should stop worrying about the fried foods and cheese prevalent in Mexican cuisine. I’d be OK eating happy and being fat for 2 years if the world were actually going to end…

More food shots

April 30th, 2010 § Comments Off on More food shots § permalink

Desayuno Regional (regional (typical) breakfast) | El Quijote at Hotel San Clemente, Valladolid (40 pesos, $3.33)

Burro de Rajas (like a burrito, with sauteed green chili & mushrooms) | lunch at Las Campanas, Valladolid (30 pesos, $2.50)

Pollo Pibil (Yucatecan specialty, cooked in banana leaf) | dinner at Las Campanas, Valladolid (45 pesos, $3.75)

Pollo (off the BBQ) | road side lunch at El Pollo Mexicano, Pisé - just outside of Chichen Itza (75 pesos, $6.25 – for 1 chicken & 2 plates with sides)

Agua de Mélon | lunch at Café Chocolate, Mérida (58 pesos for the pitcher, $4.83)

Panini de Atun (tuna sandwich) | lunch at Café Chocolate, Mérida (55 pesos, $4.60)

Frances de Huevos y Longaniza (breakfast sandwich with eggs & Valladolid sausage) | La Blanca Mérida (72 pesos including coffee & juice, $6.00)

Huevos Motuleños (Yucatecan specialty: fried eggs on fried tortillas smeared with refried beans, topped with peas, ham, cheese & sauce) | breakfast at La Blanca Mérida (52 pesos including coffee & juice, $4.33)

Glad I don’t depend on credit

April 30th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Thanks, Chase Bank, for noting my travel dates in Mexico and then:
a) declining dinner charges (for under 40 bucks)
b) freezing my account
c) locking me out of online account access
d) inability to reverse the online access restriction for 3-5 days after having made the expensive international call to clear things up

Is it because I’m in Mexico? I gave my travel dates at the beginning of the trip. The customer service agent says it’s not because I’m in Mexico, but because the charges were suspicious. Since when is a $40 charge at a hotel/restaurant in Mexico suspicious when you are reportedly traveling in that country?

Something about usage patterns was mentioned… I guess since I don’t use a credit card that often at home, the flags went up?

Why then, did a charge from my health insurance company for much much more than dinner get accepted? Because it’s an American company? Incidentally, hearing about this charge on the phone call with the customer service agent was not a nice way to find out that my insurance rate has gone up by a hundred dollars or something like that.

What’s the take away here? While I appreciate security, sometimes it can go too far. There should be a better way for Chase to contact me when I’m NOT HOME TO ANSWER THE PHONE before they go and pull the plug on me.

San Miguel Pics

April 27th, 2010 § Comments Off on San Miguel Pics § permalink

Benjamin, on the road to the top of San Miguel de Allende

Go to Flickr set

Aventura numero dos

April 27th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

We’ve started the second part of our adventure, having left central Mexico, and its cooler climes, to arrive yesterday in the Yucatán, and its hot, humid stickiness. Gone is the urban sprawl of Mexico city, and the old silver towns with their stacks of colorful homes in the mountains to its north. Here, the land is flat as far as the eye can see, with a tangle of jungle, one with a rather petite height, on both sides of the road.

It seems to me that many more people speak (or understand) English here. I have gotten used to answering questions in Spanish, and though my responses are minimal and to the point (often, yes or no), the response I get is, “Habla español?” “Hablo expañol muy poco,” I reply while pinching my index finger and thumb together to show that I’ve nearly used up my entire vocabulary.

We visited some ruins today called Ek’ Balam. They’re close by to Valladolid, where we’re staying for 2 nights on our way to Mérida. We’ve stayed here before, about 10 years ago, back before there was Domino’s Pizza in Mexico. There’s one right next door to our hotel–a slight disappointment that this rustic old colonial town has had a good scrub and modernization means an American pizza chain. I say slight because it’s wrong to expect the quaint and wonderful places–the ones trapped in the past that don’t necessarily want to be a time capsule, but are that way because of economics or other misfortune–it’s wrong to want these sorts of places to stay backward for our amusement.

Still, despite the Domino’s, Valladolid has the same Spanish colonial charm I am getting quite familiar with from our travels through Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. If only the picturesque and colorful towns did not mean the demise of the buildings and culture of the former inhabitants of these cities, the native populations. Here, in the Yucatán, it was the Maya who lost out.

The weirdest way to eat corn

April 26th, 2010 § Comments Off on The weirdest way to eat corn § permalink

This street food snack from San Miguel de Allende  is 15 pesos (about $1.25) and is prepared as such:

1) insert wooden stick into ear of corn
2) slather corn with mayonnaise from a huge jar that has been sitting, open, in the heat since it left the factory
3) sprinkle on some cheese that is similar to parmesan
4) sprinkle on chili powder


April 26th, 2010 § Comments Off on Margarita! § permalink

Learn more about Tequila here

Uttering 2 words successfully: a small victory!

April 26th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Small victories are a plenty when learning a new language on the road, and actually being able to use it with the affirmative return gesture of a nod or the word, “yes.”

Like just now at breakfast, I pointed at the cereal and fruit in front of me when presented the menu and said, “Es todo.” Or, “That’s all.” It’s not an award winning speech in a foreign tongue, but the words sort of slipped out naturally, without thinking about them. The fact that they made sense to another human being is that small victory I started out talking about.

It’s fun and makes me want to keep learning and trying to speak, though most of the time I get nervous and tongue tied.

Last night, trying to say bottled water, “Agua embotellada,” it came out all broken and wrong. At these times, I am a 2-year-old with a speech impediment. The waiter understood me, though, with a smile. The kind type of smile reserved for idiots and fools one feels sorry for.

After that, I repeated the word… Em-bot-ay-odda. I knew how to say it–though it is a tough one–several times to myself. Benjamin leaned in towards me and said, “Do you realize you’re sitting here in a restaurant saying the word ‘bottle’ over and over to no one in particular?”

Just call me loco.

We are but children here

April 23rd, 2010 § Comments Off on We are but children here § permalink

Looking around the café, we are the youngest white people in town, by about 20 years. I knew of San Miguel as an artists’ community. I’d pictured an enclave of more middle-aged and even 30-something women with hairy armpits and an eclectic fashion sense, and men who wore tunics and smelled of pachouli. I’m not saying that artists are, by essence, hippy types. But for whatever reason—the small-town mountain locale?—this is what I’d pictured.

Instead, I should have envisioned a community of white-haired, newly retired dream seekers and followers from the U.S. and Canada, mixed in with some real ancients who must use 2 canes to walk and look as if they could keel over at any minute. There are much fewer of these men and women–who, I should add–ingnite the girl scout within me: I so desperately want to help them cross the street. But, here they are taking their baby steps on slick, flagstone streets and eating solid food at Argentine-style steakhouses. Catching a glimpse of a couple who must have been in their mid 90s at the market the other day as they held on to each other for dear life while stepping off a high curb, Benjamin asked with a smile, “Is that us?” (obviously speaking in future tense).

It’s quiet here, as one would expect. It’s peaceful. There’s not a lot to do but gander at churches, visit the many art galleries, peruse the market. Perhaps we should have stayed longer in Guanajuato, where there is more to see–we didn’t scratch the surface there, of museums, tunnels, and silver mines.

But, our time here is not wasted. We met an indigenous couple hunched over intricate works of beads at the market selling Mexican handicrafts. They are from Nayarit, Huichol Indians–animists–who practice peyote ceremonies. I asked if I could take their photo. The man said no, until after we made some purchases, at which time he donned a large feather-decorated hat and posed for my camera.

We bought treats at a bakery. The system here is to grab a large, silver tray (about 18″ wide) that resembles a large pizza pan, a pair of tongs, and fill the tray with as little or as much as you want. Benjamin chose about a dozen items–cookies and an empanada for 41 pesos (less than $3.50). We nibbled on our treats in El Jardín Principal, the central plaza, and washed them down with aguas frescas (fruit water) while telling a few people with clipboards and empty plastic cups waved under the nose, “No entiendo.” I think I’ll use that back at home when asked for my signature or money on the street.

San Miguel, like Guanajuato, is a colonial-style town with the low, boxy buildings bedecked simply and minimally with wrought iron window grates, old-fashioned street lamps, and painted goldenrod, burnt orange, various shades of red. What I like most, though, are the narrow flagstone streets and sidewalks. There is history in each stone’s placement–the town was founded in 1791.

The sidewalks are so narrow that you must walk single file in some places. Holding hands, one must walk on the street while the other walks on the sidewalk, a foot or two higher. Oncoming pedestrians either step on the street or you do to make room for each other–otherwise you squeeze by each other as if in a crowded bar, though you might be the only 2 people on the block. I like the noise car tires make when they take a corner. They squeal and squeak on the flagstone, and otherwise make a comforting crunkle sound when driving upon it, like the sound of tires on gravel, which–to me–is the sound of arrival and anticipation. A sensory memory, perhaps, from camp grounds when this noise might represent the arrival of friends, or maybe it goes even farther back to childhood, when it meant house guests had turned up.

Check out trip pics on Flickr!

April 23rd, 2010 § Comments Off on Check out trip pics on Flickr! § permalink

Especially the mummy photos in the Guanajuato album.