I was all set to write about the Palenque ruins today, but that's a big post with a lot of photos, and time kind of got away from me on a busy day, so this will be a shorter, simpler post with a potpourri of photos from around town during our stay. Palenque was unlike the cities we'd been too so far -- no brightly colored colonial buildings in a centro historico district and a bit grittier. But even though it was not as beautiful, we always felt safe walking around (including at night). This was a normal city where folks were just out and about living their lives. If the ruins were not so close by, they'd probably never even see a tourist.
Stay tuned for more on Palenque!
After visiting the Old City Wall in Campeche, it was time to check out of the Hotel Castlemar, leave the colorful centro historico district behind, and begin the long hike to the ADO bus station to catch our bus to Palenque, in Mexico's Chiapas state. It was again a warm day, so we got quite a workout carrying our packs. Now you see how we eat so much on these trips without putting on tons of weight!
The bus to Palenque stopped at a couple of different towns along the way. These stops gave us a chance to stretch our legs and get a snack if needed. Escarcega was one of the stops.
Along the way we went over the Usumacinta River, an important trade route for the ancient Maya before roads existed in this area.
We also witnessed (after the fact) a very serious accident involving a couple of tractor trailers. Hopefully everyone involved was okay.
On the way to Palenque, we briefly went through the fourth Mexican state of our trip, Tabasco. There we stopped at another town, Emiliano Zapata. I stayed inside the bus this time, but Barry had a look inside the station, finding it much different from the typically modern, chrome and glass ADO terminals we had become accustomed to. Until he showed me the photos, I didn't understand exactly what he meant when he said that the station was "very Mexican" inside. Once I saw the photos, I understood immediately. This station takes first place in the categories of "most festive" and "most colorful" along our route! Looks like a great place for a kid's birthday party.
After passing through two state border crossing checkpoints, we finally arrived in Palenque, in the Chiapas state, in the late afternoon. There was construction in the center of town, requiring the bus to go way around the block on some tiny, dusty roads to get to the terminal.
Fortunately the walk to our hotel was a short one. The city was dusty from the construction and it being dry season and not all that attractive until we got to the street where the main tourist hotels are located. We found out later that this is called the "La Canada" area of town. Although there was some construction going on here as well, there were lots of trees and jungly shade, and it was very attractive. Hilly too! Quite a change from the flat island of Ambergris Caye where we live.
When we checked in at the Hotel Xibalba, above, we had a stressful experience (one of the very few of the entire trip, looking back now). I had reserved the two nights' lodging online and had written on my sheet that I had already paid for one night on my credit card. However, when I went to check in, the woman working at the front desk charged me for both nights. She didn't speak English, so I tried, in halting Spanish, to explain that I had already paid for one night. She kept telling me "no, no, no". I wanted to check my credit card online, so went outside to a table to try to use their wi-fi to do so. But not only did I not know their wi-fi password, I realize that I had neglected to bring my credit card website password -- something I meant to do. I was sweating and getting a bit panicked.
About this time, they sent an English-speaking manager out to talk to me. He assured me that they do not charge a deposit when booking online. He gave me the wi-fi password, but since I couldn't check my credit card, I ended up going ahead and paying the entire amount, figuring I could dispute the charges after the trip if it turned out I'd been double charged. Fortunately, the place was not very expensive, just $44 US nightly, which included continental breakfast.
As it turned out after we got home, I was mistaken. A couple of the hotels I'd reserved online before the trip did charge one night's deposit, but the Hotel Xibalba was not one of them. I somehow got confused and wrote down the wrong information on my sheet. This was one time that I was very glad to be wrong!
The room was small and basic, but a good deal for the price, especially since breakfast was included. It had air-conditioning and a TV, though reception was poor, so we didn't use it. And there were Scarlet Macaws on the wall. Love them!
As I mentioned in yesterday's blog post, today, December 12, was the La Virgen de Guadalupe fiesta. We had seen more pilgrims on their bikes during today's travels, and they were celebrating in Palenque today. When we first arrived, we thought we were hearing construction noise, but we finally realized it was fireworks. And they continued to go off with a BOOM-BOOM-BOOM all through the wee hours, and even with ear plugs, sleep was fleeting on this night. These things were seriously LOUD and booming, not the quieter pop-pop-pop of some firecrackers. We hoped this would be the last day/night of festivities, but it actually went on for a couple days and nights! Who knew?! We certainly didn't read about this celebration when planning this trip, but I guess it was all part of the experience of traveling in a foreign land.
Stay tuned for our next post about the Palenque ruins. They were amazing!
Before we leave Campeche and move on to the next city on our Mexico trip, we need to backtrack just a bit to share an interesting bit of Mexican culture that we knew nothing about but witnessed up close and personal during our travels.
As we were on the bus from Merida to Campeche, we started noticing both individual and groups of cyclists along the shoulders of the road. Some of them carried flags, posters, lights, and lots of other gear. We had no idea what this was all about at the time, but knew it had to be something other than random chance.
They were riding in pretty poor conditions in some places, like in this construction zone as we approached the city, which was hilly and had gravely shoulders and large vehicles passing by. Gotta give them lots of credit for this difficult journey!
As we took our walk in Campeche after checking into the hotel, we continued to see more of these groups of men on bikes as well as some in trucks.
And on the long walk to the ADO bus station the next day, we continued seeing more of them, riding in the midst of very busy city traffic. The mystery deepened.
Some of these guys had huge burdens -- I don't know how they managed to ride their bikes with these loads.
When we finally had a chance to do a little research online, we discovered that December 12 marks La Virgen de Guadalupe (Our lady of Guadalupe, i.e., the Virgin Mary) fiesta. This date is widely celebrated throughout Mexico's predominantly Catholic community. Many of the faithful make pilgrimages to Mexico City, where the Basílica of Guadalupe is kept; while others travel, primarily by bicycle, to other churches throughout Mexico for the celebration. According to this site almost everywhere there is an altar to the Virgin Mary, a celebration occurs on December 12, which is "one of the most important dates on the Mexican calendar." The photos above were taken on December 10 and 11th as the faithful headed to Campeche's churches for the celebration.
Here are two of the beautiful churches we saw in Campeche. I suspect that the second one, the large cathedral, was where the pilgrims were headed for the fiesta.
Another fact we gleaned from our internet research is that firecrackers mark the night of the celebration. Little did we know how much that would affect us later. (Stay tuned!)
We didn't have time for a great deal of sightseeing during our brief stopover in Campeche, Mexico, but one thing we did do was visit a portion of the old city wall that is open to tourists. The entire centro area of the city was walled in the past, but today only a few portions of the wall remain.
This was where we passed through on our way from the bus stop when walking to our hotel the day before. The largest gate is called "Puerta de Tierra", and an attendant collects a small fee to allow you to go up the stairs to the top, where excellent views of the city can be found. He tells you to ring the bell when you want to come back out as he locks the gate during your self-guided tour. There was only one other man and his son who were on the wall when we went up.
It was fascinating seeing the tops of the colonial buildings. The hotel across the street had a lovely rooftop deck, and a huge tree growing from the courtyard.
Walking along the top of the wall, there was a big contrast between centro historico to the right and the modern city to the left.
Something that was fascinating to us was the discovery that some of the buildings in centro were truly just facades with ruins, trees, and foliage behind -- not actually habitable spaces in their current states. They look pretty from street level, but it's a bit deceptive!
These are a little more well-maintained...
I loved this technique of using small rocks to shore up the mortar...or is it only decorative? I'm not sure, but I liked it!
Looking out to the "modern" part of the city from the wall, we could see the local buses (not the ADO buses we've been taking on our travels from city to city) lining up to take people on their way to different parts of the city. The ADO station was quite a long walk from here. We'd be heading there a little later on this day.
Once we'd seen it all, it was time to ring the bell. Fun!
The following display was built into the wall, as were the restrooms. A bit mysterious!
Although we only had three meals in Campeche on our way through, we made the most of our time and had some really delicious food. Walking from the bus stop into the centro historico, we came upon the #1 place in Tripadvisor, Chocol Ha. We planned to come back to try some goodies later as this dessert and treat place doesn't open until 5:30 pm.
At the moment, however, we were in need of lunch. We walked by a place called Chef Color in one of the lovely colonial buildings and decided to stop in. There was a mix of locals and tourists dining, which is usually a good sign.
Barry ordered his new favorite Mexican dish, Panuchos, while I decided on some fresh seafood ceviche. Both were delicious!
For dinner that night, we walked around for awhile looking for a place that appealed to us. We ended up at Luz de Luna. This place was decorated with vibrant colors that beckoned us right in from the street.
The proprietor of this place is a lovely Mexican lady who speaks excellent English, and the menus were in both English and Spanish, which was very helpful. I ordered vegetarian burritos, and Barry tried the chicken flautas. Both were delicious. If you go, be advised that the restaurant does not serve alcohol. We had the "water of the day", which was a limeade and very tasty. The glassware and tableware here was so beautiful as it so often is in Mexico.
The check (la cuenta) came in this adorable little bag where you could place your payment. Charming!
After dinner, it was time to hit Chocol Ha for a bit of dessert. What fun! I indulged in a chocolate frappe, while Barry tried the decadent chocolate crepes. A wonderful way to top off a meal.
Believe it or not, the sweet decadence of the crepes only whetted Barry's appetite for dessert, and he had to have some ice cream too!
The following morning brought us back to the irresistible Luz de Luna for breakfast. Anticipating a fairly long travel day with only a couple of snacks for lunch, we wanted to make sure to eat heartily enough to hold ourselves for awhile, and we succeeded.
They start you out with some delicious coffeecake-like bread. It would be really hard to eat low-carb here, so no need to try.
I had delicious French toast, and Barry had a great-looking omelet. We also shared a fruit plate but somehow didn't get a photo of that.
After all that feasting, we were well-stoked for another day of travel. But before we leave Campeche, stay tuned for more photos: there's even more to see!
Although there's no sandy beach, one of the unexpectedly delightful features of Campeche, Mexico is its gulf-front pedestrian and bike path. This path was only a couple of quick blocks from the Hotel Castlemar, where we were staying. It borders the Gulf of Mexico, providing a beautiful sunset view to the west, and a safe place to walk or ride a bicycle. We didn't have any bicycles with us, of course, but we enjoyed watching a few serious cyclists (on road bikes, even!) fly by. Barry was especially impressed to see how many locals were jogging or fitness walking in the early evening and morning.
The path is long, and several attractive monuments and small parks are strategically placed along its distance. I never made it the entire way (saving my tired feet for the long trek to the bus stop with my pack), but Barry was determined to see just how long it was, so he walked its entire length. He discovered that it was over three miles long, end to end. Definitely a fine place to get your fitness on!
We really loved this statue of a woman contemplating the sea, her "hair" blowing in the breeze.
In the morning, the fishermen bring their catch in right at this dock off the trail.
Stay tuned for more from Campeche -- the food is next!
As I mentioned in the previous post, we only had one afternoon, evening, and the next morning in Campeche, Mexico, but we managed to make the most of it and got a lot of walking in. This city we knew nothing about before arriving really did charm us with the beautiful cobblestone streets, colorful colonial facades, and handsome architecture. Here are some of the sights from our walks around town during our short visit.
Stay tuned! Next we'll head to walking/bike path along the Gulf of Mexico on Campeche's west side.
This morning we were off to our next destination, Campeche, in the like-named Campeche state of Mexico. We chose to stay there on the way to Palenque to visit the ruins mostly to break up the trip into manageable-length bus segments, not because we had any burning desire to visit the city. And that was too bad, as it turned out to be a really, really nice place, and we only had one night to enjoy it. (We would later have another night there on our return trip, but we hadn't planned that all out at the time.)
Larry, our host at La Casa Lorenzo, gave us a ride to the ADO bus terminal in Merida as he was heading downtown to a hardware store that morning. The ride was helpful as we knew we had a fairly long walk to the hotel from the Campeche ADO station, and the less we have to walk with our heavy packs, the better.
On this leg of the trip we noticed how similar the Mexican highways look to US interstates in places, right down to the blue service signs. We had great seats right in the front of the bus, so Barry was able to get some good shots out the window. We really enjoyed being able to see where we were going.
And there is the little matter of traffic stops. These exist when leaving one state and entering another, and sometimes at other places in between. The buses always seemed to get sent right through, but there were indeed police with machine guns at the stops.
Entering Campeche town...
And here we are at the bus station.
I went ahead and bought our tickets for the next day. One thing we found is that very few if any of the ADO employees spoke any English, but I had figured out in advance how to order tickets (boletos) in Spanish. And they had me type in our names so there would be no confusion or spelling errors.
We had a long (approximately 2 mile) walk from the bus station to Campeche centro, where our hotel was. It was a hot day and rather windy, so I had to hold onto my hat!
Below is a large store we saw in several cities in Mexico. Turns out they are affiliated with Wal-Mart. Also note the VW Beetle nearby, not in very good shape. By the way, a reader informed me after a previous mention of the ubiquitous "Bugs" in Mexico that there was actually one last remaining VW Beetle manufacturing plant in Mexico. However, this article indicates that production stopped there in 2003. Still, they were produced in Mexico for much longer than elsewhere, so there's no wonder we saw so many!
Several segments of the wall around the centro historico portion of the city remain -- I believe this is the longest portion. We had to walk a ways to the east to find a way to cut through the wall into centro.
Once on the other side of the wall, I wondered if we had suddenly entered Disneyland! Campeche centro was so colorful, clean, and tidy, it almost didn't look real. Apparently the government has really put a lot of time and effort into restoration and beautifying the colonial buildings, at least the facades. I loved all the pretty colors!
Since our hotel was still quite a bit farther, almost all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, we stopped off for a late lunch. More on that in the food post, but in the meantime, I liked this photo Barry took of our packs. Yes, we traveled with just this for sixteen days! We did have to wash out a few things, of course -- thus is the beauty of quick-dry clothing.
We finally located our hotel, and it was absolutely charming. Although I had booked it based on Tripadvisor reviews, I couldn't remember what it looked like so was delighted to see how lovely it was. One of my very favorite colors too!
Here are some inside views. So incredibly pretty!
Stay tuned for much more from Campeche!
On Sunday around lunchtime, we were walking around downtown Merida where a variety of outdoor food vendors cluster to serve the shoppers and walkers. I wasn't very hungry but was hoping to find some Sopa de Lima (Lime Soup), a classic Yucatecan soup I'd heard so much about. Although the booth we stopped at said they had it to lure us in, they didn't actually, though they had some other kind of chicken soup. Realizing it was probably too hot for soup anyway, I settled for a cooling Horchata (a traditional rice beverage) to drink, and Barry got a panucho.
Since we had such a light lunch, we decided to eat dinner early and tried one of our Tripadvisor picks, Amaro. Since we were eating so early, we had the place to ourselves. I started with a michelada, another specialty drink in Mexico, and Barry had one of their special cilantro/habanero margaritas. We also ordered some guacamole, chips, and salsa to whet our appetite as we perused the menu.
I still had Sopa de Lima on the brain, and we'd planned to go for sorbet after dinner, so I decided to have a light soup dinner. Barry had a chicken dish.
After our relatively light meal, we strolled back up to the Paseo de Montejo for some sorbet. We'd eyed this place the night before but had chosen fancy desserts at Hennessey's.
We neglected to get a photo of the breakfast Larry prepared for us on Sunday morning, but it was very good -- fresh fruit, granola, yogurt and toast. On Monday, the day we were hitting the road again for our next destination, we asked for a hearty breakfast (but sans meat) since we'd be eating only snacks for lunch.
Before heading to the bus station to be on our way, Barry was determined to stop at the French pastry shop, Cafe Creme, very close to where we were staying. A Frenchman owns and operates it, so it is authentic and lovely. We figured we'd pick up a couple treats for the bus ride, since we wouldn't be having lunch.
After meeting the owner and getting a few free sample tastes, we picked our poisons. It was all so delicious we could hardly go wrong with any choices.
Stay tuned as we travel from Merida to our next destination, Campeche!
Once the sun goes down, Merida, Mexico definitely does not roll up the sidewalks. After dark, people are out and about, walking, shopping, dining, and the city lights are very pretty -- especially at Christmas time, when even more lights than usual decorate la noche (the night).
On Saturday night as we were strolling around after dinner, we were lucky enough to happen upon the area at the south end of the Paseo de Montejo all lit up and filled with vendors selling food, jewelry, leather items, clothing, and other things. In addition, there was a musical stage performance set up in the park area. All the singing was in Spanish, but the costumes and voices were charming. Quite a large crowd was sitting and watching the performance.
The huge Christmas tree in the same area was all lit up.
More night scenes from around town...
The beautiful Merida Cathedral at night...
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Merida food...and then we travel to our next Mexican city!