Palenque- Merida- Chichen Itza
Northern Mexico’s landscape reminded me of a Lucky Luke back drop (to my delight) but it was amazing how quickly how surroundings changed as we drove South. After some Mexican driving maneuvers (I’ve adapted quite well to the 3 imaginary lanes) we arrived at Palenque to see the Mayan Ruins that most people miss on their trip to Mexico. We were surrounded by a lush emerald green jungle, with mongos (monkeys) swinging and shouting to their mates in what can only be described as a zombie scream. I am not exaggerating. The worst part is that every merchant is selling this toy that makes the exact same sound and I will let you guess just how many children managed to convince their parents to let them buy one…
I managed to tune out the irritating noise to focus on the beautiful ruins surrounding us. The beauty of these particular ruins, compared to those of world-famous Chichen Itza for example, is that you are allowed to climb up the stairs, or into the ruins themselves to see where the former tombs were, or to study the details of the carvings. At one point you even get to hike alone into the jungle where the ruins are hidden between the trees.
We turned in that night at our first campground that included showers, bathrooms and even a nice clean pool: MayaBell. Other campers were parked next to us in their big truck-converted-into-RV type of vehicles. We actually met three groups of people doing the same drive to Argentina. An older german couple from Alaska, a younger couple from Virginia and some Brits in what looked like a converted armored military truck. This was probably the best camping I’ve done so far, excluding the part where I thought I was being attacked by a sea of zombies at 4am. Now I know how Brad Pitt must have felt in World War Z. Silly shrieking monkeys interrupting my beauty sleep.
Next stop is Mérida, a small lively town in the Yucatan known for its culture and food. The people were so kind and helpful, but I can’t say that the food was my favorite. What I was the most excited for was the Edam cheese ice cream (cheese ice cream??) which I would describe as interesting, to be tried once at least. We found a great quality hammock at one of the markets but other than that you will mostly find trinkets.
Chichen Itza was next on our list and we wanted to beat the tour bus crowds by getting there early so we settled at the nicest and cheapest place we’ve stayed at yet, the Mayan EcoHotel in a small village in Yokdzonot near Piste. The next day, we made our way to Chichen Itza, dubbed one of the wonders of the world. The “Castillo”’s presence is breathtaking, and it’s amazing to think that inside there is a similar, smaller pyramid built by the Mayans before they were conquered by the Itza. Nearby you will also find the Sacred Cenote that was once believed to be the entrance of the underworld. People and objects were sacrificed as a form of worship. When the first group of explorers dove in, they found bones and artifacts everywhere.
We do recommend coming early as the crowds and their little zombies start arriving around 11am. We arrived at 9am and still managed to get pictures of El Castillo without a single tourist in them.
Tragedy had struck the night before when we realized that the laundromat in Merida had mixed up bags. The neon pink men’s shirt with a wide-eyed dog was my first clue. The problem was that Merida was now an hour and a half out of the way and we were worried we would not see our clothes again. We made a point to not bring clothes we cared about too much but we still wanted them back. After a tense conversation with the laundry-lady in Spanish (I am not nearly as threatening in Spanish as I am in English or French), she told me she managed to get the bag back and we made our way back to Merida for the switcheroo.
We did want to get to one of the cenotes around Chichen Itza before we arrived at Playa Del Carmen but we knew that the famous one, Cenote Ik Kil would be incredibly crowded at 3pm. We looked up a more secret cenote, Cenote Samula, located just 10 min away. This round cenote is underground, unlike the others cenotes, and only has a small round opening in which you can see the tree’s roots (that made the original hole) hanging down.