A Travellerspoint blog

Me Voy....

Adios Amigos

sunny 30 °C
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I am devasted to say that tomorrow I must go back home. My last week here has been like the finale in firework show - packed with mesmerizing lights and fantastic designs. And monkeys! Sadly, though, these last few days I have been incredibly sick. Today is the first time that I have felt well enough to sit up for more than five minutes. Two days ago, walking the impressive grounds of Palenque, my usually very strong and able body began to fail me. My neck and back muscles got stiff and my legs hurt to move them. Since Palenque is a place I have been wanting to visit for the last ten years, and which I saved for last, I kept uttering the mantra "mind over matter, mind over matter." Somewhere inside me, I truly believed that I could will myself not to be sick - even when I spent an hour sprawled out on the lawn by Structure I and Structure II. But hey, if you have lie down anywhere, staring up at two ancients ruins isn´t half bad. I wish I could relate to you the impressiveness of Palenque, but sadly, I eventually became more aware of the muscle aches that, surprisingly, were second to the semi-truck driving backwards and forwards into each side of my skull leaving me, at times, slightly blinded. As I layed on the grass I couldn´t help but feel slighty sorry for myself and imagined that I was suffering from acute bacterial meningitis. I remembered that my sister was positive that I was going to die in Mexico and finally I agreed that maybe she was right. But I was not going to die some gruesome tourist, horror movie death like she had imagined, rather like the aliens in Steven Speilberg´s adaption of War of the Worlds I was done in by an invading strain of bacteria eating away at my system. That night after the fever and chills set in (and the semi-truck banging around my head mutiplied by two), I took a thirteen hour bus ride from Palenque to Cancún. Not realizing what I had I done, I bought a ticket on a second class bus rather than a first class bus. What this means is: no bathrooms, no air conditioning, no leg room, livestock on board, and all the body odor one could ask for. Needless to say, when I finally did make it to my hostel in Cancun I spent the day asleep. In the evening, my headache only a mere pickup truck, and just a few aches and pains, I walked to the store and bought vegetables, broth and made some soup. Today, I am able to write, ignoring how people discreetly shy away from me when I start in on one of my harsh coughing fits. How can I blame them when I would do the same? Sometime today, I will have to find the energy to walk to the beach...how I love that Caribbean Sea.

As for earlier in my week - what a great time! Frist of all, I didn´t realize that two of my planned stops were going to be in the state of Chiapas, otherwise I may not of gone hearing all the hype about the dangers of the state. But how I am glad I went. Chiapas was the most beautiful state I visited on this trip. From Campeche, I took a five hour bus ride to Palenque. Deciding that I wanted to save Palenque for last, I boarded another five hour bus to the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas and stayed there for three days. The ride down to San Cristóbal De Las Casas was possibly the most romantic ride for me. San Cristóbal is at a higher elevation which means we had to drive up into the mountains. As the road curved and swerved through mountainous, tropical forest it began to rain. Wiping the windows to see outside was pure joy - all I saw was endless green. What a change from the hot beaches and swaying palm trees - and equally impressive! Because San Cristóbal is at a higher elevation, the city was much cooler. And it rained everyday. For the first time in two weeks I wore pants, a sweater and took a hot shower. The latter being the impressive thing that had everyone talking. In San Cristóbal I met an array of people that I ended up either travelling with to Palenque, dancing with, shopping with, and, of course, laughing with - basically, a group of people that enriched my time in Chiapas. There was the beautiful young Scottish woman, Hilary, who I met on a tour bus when we went to swim under waterfalls. Since I was going to be in San Cristóbal a day before her, we arranged to stay in the same hostel. Hilary had just turned eighteen and I don´t know if was youth, but a special light burned bright in her. In San Cristóbal, I met an American woman, Bethany, who turned out to be a great dancing partner at a club one night but soon disappeared. I also met an American couple that I went met up again in Palenque and I want to visit one day in North Carolina. And then there was Yolanda, a school teacher from Holland with model quality good looks and a sense of humor that matched her beauty, who I shared a cabaña with in Palenque.

Outside of San Cristóbal De Las Casas , there is a village, San Juan Chamula, that has one of the impressive churches that I have ever encountered. To enter the church you need to obtain permission from the tourist office. And picture taking is strictly prohibited near or in the church - the people believe that when one takes their picture, they are taking a piece of their soul. The Chamulans who use this church still practice and maintain the beliefs and rituals of their ancestors. Entering the church is a powerful experience. When I walked through the door, for a second I had to adjust my eyes because all the candles and lit incense left the room smoky. Banners hung from the ceiling and hay laid on the floor. The walls were aligned with saints and mirrors, and people kneeled on the floor, lighting candles, chanting, offering drinks, eggs and chickens. From a distance all the candles together looked like rows of gold ribbon stretching across the church banding all sides together into one. Watching the faces of the people, observing the faith, I was taken back by how much spirtual energy I felt in that room. There were a few moments so strong, I almost cried. Being allowed the privilege of entering that church and observing people in some of their strongest, and most vulnerable, states is a gift that truly touched my soul.

There is so much more I would like to write about (i.e waterfalls, fire dancers, and, of course, monkeys that sound like huge silverback gorillas as you walk through the jungle at 3am to go to the bathroom) but, honestly, I am tired. I truly love this country and a part of me mourns that I must leave tomorrow. I recommend to anyone and everyone to let go of any preconceived notions that they have about México and come experience the country, the people, for themselves.

Posted by KimiKat26 09:04 Archived in Mexico Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

A Single Piece of Campeche

overcast 34 °C
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I am the only passenger in the van from Mérida to Campeche. Already it is evening and Ricardo, my driver (the same curly-haired driver I mentioned in my Quintana Roo entry), is tired; he has been driving since sunrise. I sit in the front seat to keep him company. At the border between the state of Yucantán and Campeche, the soldiers that stand guard motion us to pull over. We get out of the van so they can search it and make sure we were not transporting arms or drugs - nah, just a smelly, backpacking American. Unaccustomed to seeing men completely armed with rifles, I am very uncomfortable and stand behind Ricardo hoping that we will be able to leave soon. A 180 degree turn from my nervous body language, Ricardo stands in front of the van and uses this break as an excuse to stretch. Meanwhile, the soldiers standing around question him about his shirt that advocates the Zapatista ideals of justice and democracy. I was imagining the worst was about to occur. But like most of my worrying, nothing comes of it but an accelerated pulse and bad skin. We arrive in the city of Campeche around nine that night. The main road into the city is along the coast of the Gulf of México. I can´t help but note the impeccably clean roads; a newly paved bike path weaves beside a pedestrian walkway where people of all ages sit along the ocean wall. I roll down my window and close my eyes to the comforting feel of the ocean breeze on my face. Sitting in the front seat of the van, driving along the coast, smelling the sea air, I tell Ricardo that I feel like a normal person again. He doesn´t understand what I mean and I don´t know if I can convey to him that for these few moments I don´t feel like a foreigner. Right now, in the van, I could be any other local or even, zipping along Pacific Coast Highway, California with a good friend beside me. For a few moments I feel like I belong.

That night at the hostel, Ricardo and I sit on the rooftop with a several beers between us. We hardly talk, each of us content with the view in front of us. The hostel is located in the central plaza in front of an old cathedral. Each half hour someone would ring the large bells and the sound would echo off of the cobblestone streets and bounce along the narrow streets. Somewhere close by, I could hear classical music blaring from someone´s speakers. A few people strolled in the park in front of the cathedral and from my spot on the roof, I could make out part of the four hundred year old wall that surrounds this port city built to prevent pirate attacks. I knew I would love Campeche.

During the day, Campeche is like all cities - alive and moving; people selling trinkets and gadgets, open markets full of local food and clothes, but at night the city shuts down and becomes something special. Saturday night in Campeche is the night when the main square is blocked off and people gather to listen to live bands, vendors set up their carts, and locals play "la loteria," a game very similar to "bingo." As everything was being set up, a dark cloud also came into the main square and with it came rain and wind. I am not going to say I was too upset. I felt honored to watch the palm trees sway and rain pour down. I went to the cafe located in the center of the park, drank coffee and just enjoyed the unexpected gift the storm was giving me. I truly loved my evenings spent in Campeche.

Posted by KimiKat26 14:42 Archived in Mexico Tagged backpacking Comments (1)


The Romantic City

sunny 34 °C
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Mérida is a bustling city. When I first arrived here, the bus driving through the crowded streets, I realized that I hadn´t been in a large city since Cancún. The streets of Mérida are crowded streets, foot traffic competing with vehicle traffic for room down the narrow streets, shops selling the lastest fashion, as well as traditional clothes for the tourists, parks, plazas, and Churches on many corners providing shade and relief from the summer heat, and vendors trying to make a living selling everything from hand carved chac-mools to hammocks. When I first saw all the traffic in Mérida, I asked my bus driver of he liked Mérida, unsure if I would. He exclaimed he loved the city and found it a very romantic place. As the bus stood at a standstill, I looked out my window at all the people and all the cars and thought: Romantic?

In my hostel, I became friends with a Frenchman and we spent a day exploring the city. We walked in and out of cathedrals, visited palacios and stared at large murals depicting the struggle of the Maya against the Spaniards. We spent some hours looking at artwork on walls in museums, listened to the distinct sound of horse hooves on pavement, walked down brick sidewalks lined with old colonial buildings, and in the streets of Mérida, I felt my first twinge of romance. That night, in Santa Lucía Park, the locals, the foreigners, the young and the old came together to watch ballet folklorico, a traditional style of Méxican dance. On the stage, lit up by lights and backed by live muscians, the dancers entranced us all. The women were breathtaking in their traditional white embroidered dresses, red lips and dark hair adorned with flowers; the men handsome in their panama hats and white suits. An elderly couple danced in the crowd, laughing, and watching them, I couldn´t help but wonder is dancing together the secret to a successful marriage? Like all happy, public gatherings all over the world, friends gathered and gossiped, older kids ran around happy to have an excuse to stay up late, younger kids slept in their parents arms, and everyone ate sweet bread and ice cream sold by the vendors. From where I stood, I watched a man greet his beautiful lover by putting a large white flower in her hair. Ah, a romantic city indeed!

The next morning, finding myself with more time in Mérida that I had anticipated, I decided to go to the nearby coastal town of Progreso. The town of Progreso is along the Gulf of Mexico and, according to my travel guide, boasts the longest wharf in Mexico at 7km. For my fellow Americans - I have yet to do the calculations and convert kilometers to miles. Walking the streets of Progreso, I didn´t see another person that resembled a tourist until my day was half over. When I arrived, I headed straight for the beach, happy to see the ocean again. After less than a week away from the beach, I missed it - how spoiled I have become! Instead of the tri-colored green of the Carribean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico is two distinct colors: murky green and the dark blue I associate with the Pacific Ocean. Another notable difference between this beach along the Gulf of Mexico and the beaches on the Caribbean side of the Yucatán was the sand. Instead of the soft, white sand of the Riviera Maya, the sand in Progreso was littered with sea weed and sea shells. I couldn´t help but feel like a young girl as I walked along the shore collecting the prettiest sea shells I could find. In my head an old tongue twister played: "Suzy sells seashells...." Finding a shady spot under a palm tree, listening to the distinctive call of seagulls, I watched four men at the water´s edge take starfish out of an old rusty row boat and carve them in half. One man would beat a starfish on the side of the boat, while another, with a long knife, sliced the starfish in half, lengthwise, so not to ruin the shape of the animal. What a feast those men will eat tonight! Although people ignored me, I was acutely aware that I was the only gringa there. The thought made me uncomfortable and I allowed the rythmic breaking of waves to lull me into a comfortable daydream. When the hour came for me to go, behind I left a mound of shells either to be scattered by the wind, birds or passing people, or, hopefully, to be found my some child looking for that perfect shell - may it be in the pile.

Posted by KimiKat26 13:14 Archived in Mexico Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Chichen Itza

The sleepy side of life

sunny -17 °C
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I have always prided myself that I can sleep through anything. I am one of those annoying people that can lay down on a bed of rocks and be snoring, loudly, within seconds. I have even been known to sleep through an earthquake or two. This all changed last night. Despite the fact that the backend of my hostel is beautiful - banana trees cover the patio, hammocks strung up, a man playing guitar - the frontside, I learned, is not as serene. My bedroom is at the front of the hostel, directly next to the street. The ventilation in the room is next to none and to get any moving air, all the windows must remain open. What this means for me, and the eight other people in this room, is that all night I was woken up to terrible rumbling noises. Several times I was sure that the trucks I heard passing by were going to come right through the wall. Seriously, several times the trucks were so loud, the room shook. I know that I wasn't the only one suffering from the noises of the streets: everytime either I or the French guy in the bed below me rolled over, the whole bunk bed would move. And he rolled over quite a bit. The minute I saw any sort of daylight, I rose and headed for a hammock out back...I decided a few mosquitos and a nice breeze in quiet tranquility was better than fearing that one of those trucks was going to drive right into my room. At least then there would have been some cool air coming through. For breakfast, I am rationed four slices of bread and one cup of coffee. After last night, and due to my slight caffine addiction, I would gladly trade in three slices of bread for another cup of coffee. Ah, life in a hostel.

Yesterday, I went to Chichen Itza. When I arrived, I couldn't help but think: Alright, let me see what the fuss is about this place..... As I walked the grounds of Chichen Itza, my camera permantly pressed against my face (I think my left cheek still has the imprint of the zoom button), all I could think was Wow! What a fascinating place! As much as I tried, I could not understand why Chichen Itza affected me more than the other ruins I have visited. Maybe because the glyphs are still visible or maybe because, despite all the thousands of people, there is still something serene about the place. All I know is that I am not alone in my feelings about Chichen Itza -the world has voted it one of the seven new wonders of the world. During the equinoxes, the setting and rising sun produce the illusion of a serpent on the staircase of El Castillo, a 25 meter high structure in the, seemingly, center of the site. Every evening there is a light show that re-creates the image of this serpent. I had to catch my bus to the city of Merida and was sorry I was going to miss the spectacular show. Along all the walkways, there are stones scattered. At one point I realized that all the stones around me were carved - each a broken glyph and to my right laid the remains of a serpent's head. At that moment, I truly realized the magnitude of the place, how amazing and special it really is. And not because the temples represent the Maya calendar or that the way the sun hits the temples twice a year give the illision of a moving serpent, but because I am here, learning about the past as history corrodes. Someday, all this magnificent stone will again be dust.

Posted by KimiKat26 07:01 Archived in Mexico Tagged backpacking Comments (1)


sunny 34 °C
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Last night I dreamt that I was already back at home after only a week. In my dream, I kept saying But I have two more weeks! What a relief to wake up in my dormitorio with sleeping half-naked strangers. I am learning very quickly that nothing in this country is black and white. This statement, I am sure, encompasses more layers of truth than I am willing to acknowledge, but I refer to the visible colors on the streets. The buildings are hues of orange, pink, yellow, and creme, the sky blue, the ocean a tourquoise green, the plants red, green and purple, and me - shades of tan, white, and red, from the heat rash spread across my upper thighs.

The last couple of days I have been staying in the city of Valladolid. Valladolid is an old colonial city that was built around the 1500-1600´s when the Spaniards stole it from the Maya. During the day, streets are always alive - Mayan women sell fruits on every corner, young lovers kiss in central park, men hang out of doorframes, and friends congregate near the local street vendor. My original plan was to stay here only 2 days, but after a few hours being here, I decided to stay longer. Valladolid is the perfect hub city to take day trips to Chichen Itza, different cenotes (water-filled, limestone caverns), and various other ruins and nature reserves.

When I first arrived here, I rented a bike, naturally, to ride out to a nearby cenote. The bike was a bit too small for me but I didn´t mind since it appeared to be in great condition Alas, nothing is quite what it seems. As I rode down the street, everytime I stopped pedaling, I would think whoa -someone behind me has a pretty rusted bike. After several times thinking this, I looked behind me, slightly irritated, to see who in the world would still be following me, only to discover I was alone on the street; there was only me, the cracked pavement, and my rusty bike. When I reached my first stop sign, I discovered that my feet were better brakes than any appartus that orginally came with the bike. This made hills a bit interesting. I just chalked it up to my Mexican adventure and found the bike path. (Yes! A bike path - how can you not love this town?) The bike path was a gravel path lined with trees. The day was hot, but the breeze as I rode out of town lifted my hair, cooling the back of my neck. A dark lizard with translucent red legs ran beside me as I followed the yellow butterflies that played Tinkerbell to my Peter Pan. Despite the fact, or maybe because I felt like an overgrown ape on a toddler´s bike, I laughed the whole way to Cenote Dzitnup.

Cenote Dzitnup was increible! I walked down slippery stone steps into the underground. I felt like I was on a greek journey into Hades. The only light available was a single bulb strung on a line. I clung onto the thick rope provided and wondered two things: 1) was I walking to my death? and 2) where did I make a wrong turn? But like all risks I have taken into the unknown, I ended up in a place of such natural beauty that I, in my most colorful dreams, could not have created such exquiste artistry. When I reached the cenote and my eyes adjusted to the darkness, there in front of me was a huge swimming hole in the midst of limestone formations. Stalactites and roots from the strangler fig trees above ground hung from the ceiling. The only light came from a small hole in the ceiling where the sun rays lit up the water. The water was so clear that at times I couldn´t decipher if the light rays came from above or below the water well. I immediately put my things down and jumped into the cold, fresh pool. I wish I knew how to explain what a delight it is to swim underground, between hanging roots and small fish. Looking up at the ceiling, birds or bats, maybe both, flew from limestone formation to limestone formation. I am smiling right now just recalling the experience. I must look like a gringa loca in this internet cafe. Fijate, people have told me there are better cenotes in my future - how can that be possible when I already tasted a piece of heaven?

That night, cooking my dinner at the hostel, I met another American. Up until then, all the other travellers I have met have been European, Israeli, Mexican, and Canadian. A common joke among people is that the Americans stay in Cancun getting drunk. I had begun to believe it, so I was thrilled to meet Carly. Carly is a graduate student at the University of Florida studying tropical conservation. After talking a bit, I decided to go with her to visit the ruins in Coba. The next morning we met in the hostel lobby, boarded a bus and began our trip. Carly, who is in Mexico learing Maya, was a wonderful travel companion. She, with her professional camera (and tripod), liked to stop and take tons of pictures, while I, with my journal and pen, was happy to stop and just write for a bit. And that is how we saw Coba - writing and taking pictures, talking, and happy to have eachother. We both agreed it was nice to have two pair of eyes; one of us often noticed some intricate detail that the other had not seen. In addition, for me, Carly was a wealth of ecological knowledge about the area. If it was not for Carly, I would have refered to Coba as a jungle, but now I know it is a secondary sub-tropical dry forest. I still don´t agree there is anything dry about the forest in Coba. All around the spectacular ruins are "tourist trees," reconizable by there flakey bark, and hanging spanish moss neighbored by bromeliads. The Tourist Tree´s bark can be boiled and used as to alleviate the pain of rashes, mosquito bites and sunburns. Being a victim to all three aliments, I should have just uprooted and taken a whole tree back to the hostel with me. Spread about were Trumpet trees, a broad leaf plant, in which the branches are used to make blowguns and flutes and the leaves are often rolled and smoked (no, I did not try this!) or boiled into a tea to treat diabetes. Leaning against one of the Tourist trees, illiterate in glyph reading, I stare at the ruin in front of me and the stela of a ruler with two captives at his feet, once a vivid image, now worn by time. I hear the voices of tourists around me and wondered: what were the voices like in AD 730? Carly questions how did the Maya carry all the stone? I want to know how they kept the stone secure? How did they build pyramids so that they didn´t fall? Carly takes pictures and I, my smile lit up from inside like the sun behind a full moon, listen to the birds hoping they will whisper something about the ghosts that play beside me.

Carly and I take a small foot path that leads into the forest. We are amazed by all the life that encircles us: yellow, black, red, and brown butterflies fly about the canopy, green and red lizards run under fallen tree branches, trees whose roots remind me of elephant legs stretch out under and above us, damsel flies sit on palm leaves, and wasps the size of our first two finger joints sit under broad leaves, thankfully, ignoring our prying eyes (and camera lens). I try to ignore the noises behind me, praying that it is only a small, harmless lizard and not a crocodile from the lake only a few meters from us. We observe a white spider, a grasshopper with red wings, and suddenly a bird starts crackling in the distance. What was once a insect metropolis suddenly becomes a bird sanctuary. I stand still to experience this completely foreign world knowing that soon I will be back on the main road, back among the other visitors.

This morning I woke up and walked to the Mercado Municipal, an open air market where people come to sell fruits and vegetables. I am amazed by all the fruit local only to this area. I walk booth to booth, asking the Maya women how to cook and eat the fantastic looking food. On a dirty corner, live turkeys with bound legs lie on the ground, soundlessly opening and closing their beaks. I try not to cry, not to show how disturbed I am, aware that I am the foreigner; I am here to learn this culture, not to force my American ideals on these people - that is the job of the Missionaries. Inside the market, fresh butchered meat hangs from thick steel hooks. The smell of blood permeates the air and I swear not to eat meat again. Despite my aversion to the meat, I do enjoy the market. I head back to my hostel, arms full of fresh fruit, vegetables, and pan. An old woman laughs at the rapid pace I walk down the sidewalk and I remind myself that I am here to slow down and enjoy life, not race through it like I have something better to do.

Posted by KimiKat26 10:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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