Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Down Mexico Way Pt 3 Campeche to Playa Del Carmen
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Campeche 9th July
The coastal town of Campeche sounded a little more interesting in the guide book than it actually was. It is on the Caribbean, but has no beaches to speak of and a seafront about as exciting as Canvey!
I arrived here after what was supposed to be a 4 hour bus journey (which would have taken about 1 hour if we hadn`t kept being stopped all along the way at army checkpoints). At one stop we all had to get off the bus, and stand at the side of the road while they spot checked the bags. Luckily they didn`t find my hidden stash of drugs and guns I`d wrapped up in my dirty washing.
I arrived in Campeche just in time for the daily tropical downpour, and all the roads turned into rivers – I wasn`t sure whether to hail a cab or a canoe. My hostal, La Pirata was themed after the town`s history of pirate attacks in the 17th century. Apparently they got so fed up with being attacked that they built a big high wall around the town, some of which still exists, as well as several bulwarks. Never mind the bulwarks, the twin towered cathedral was pretty impressive (looked best at night – much like many of the towns I had visited).
My hostal was very “piratey” – lots of sculls, crossbones and dead men`s chests, but sadly no bottles of rum, Captain Jack Sparrow or Wi-Fi! What is the world coming to? It had the most friendly staff though – the young girl behind the desk even lugged my rucksack up the stairs for me, bless her. My room was up some stairs and then over a bridge across the roof – I thought she was about to make me walk the plank! They`d build an annex up there (I prayed there wouldn`t be an earthquake while I was there). It was comfortable, if a bit cramped and I had to dispose of a dead cockroach in the shower – yuk.
By the time I`d settled in, the rain had stopped and I went for a quick walk around. Apart from gate-crashing the last part of the sound and light show and getting a free walk along the battlements, I found that the Campeche W.I. had taken over the town square, selling cakes and knitted clothes (in this heat???). They also had a band playing but 1970`s Big Band Sound is not really my sort of thing, so went to try and find the sea. Harder than it sounds, as it was well hidden behind a big block of ugly 70`s buildings (this town was obviously planned by the person who built Harlow and has a kind of 1970`s thing going on).
Had a nice walk along the prom (it was slightly cooler there) and something to eat before heading back to my very hot attic. Even with no sheets and no clothes on, it was a very hot night (good job I didn`t go for the mixed dorm).
Merida – 10th-11th July
Managed to miss the rain shower this evening by being on the bus – I am beginning to relish the air-conditioned bus journeys as a chance to cool off. Merida is one of the larger towns I`ve visited on my trip and the Zocalo was buzzing when I walked into the centre. The obligatory Cathedral was again very striking and again lit up the night sky. Being a major stop off point for the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula, the place is rather touristy with loads of people trying to flog you things. The sad part is a lot of them are tiny kids – around 6 or 7 years old.
The next day I picked a café to watch the Cup Final, and there was a fairly even mix of Dutch and Spanish supporters. Not quite sure why the Mexicans feel such an affinity with Spain – it`s a bit like India supporting England in the World Cup! Still got chatting to some Aussies who like me, were travelling for a year (one was a travel agent!) – and they gave me some great tips about Cuba. I felt like I wanted Holland to win, and it was sad to see the Dutch contingent go home disappointed.
I have my own room at the hostal here, and it has a pool! (the hostal that is, not my room) – but it looked a bit murky so I decided to cool off by sitting in the garden, unfortunately so had the mosquitos. About fifty bites later, I made a hasty retreat back into town.
Spirits were high that evening, and I came across an incredible sight – they had closed of one whole side of the Square and there were literally hundreds of old Spanish couples dancing to a sort of Salsa and having a great time. One of the smaller squares had a similar event earlier in the day (albeit on a smaller scale) and a good time was being had by all (they even had a doctor going around the crowd with a stethoscope in case anyone over-did it!). Sweet.
Chichen Itza and Tulum 12th July
Julie and Andrew, another American couple who had been on the trip to the canyon and Palenque, were also staying at my hostal, and I got chatting to them on the way to Tulum the following morning. This driver couldn`t be more different from the last. He arranged an English Speaking guide to take us around the Chichen Itza site (one of the largest in Mexico) and even though it was stiflingly hot, he explained the significance and the amazing ingenuity of the Mayans in lining up their pyramids to mean that on the solstices, a serpent would seem to appear winding it’s way down the side of the pyramid. All the structures were designed mathematically and formed a type of calendar.
We all returned to the bus hot and sweaty – and the driver suggested a dip in the local “cenote” a naturally formed swimming hole. This really hit the spot and none of us imagined the well organized “pool” complete with hanging vines, real fish, and ultra clean bathrooms. And all for 70 pesos (around £3.50). It certainly tops my list of places to swim – it was like something out of Indiana Jones. An unforgettable experience.
After lunch we were dropped in Tulum. Julie, Andrew and I jumped in a cab to a hotel I had been recommended, only to find it was a bit of a dump, but was close to the ruins (in fact it was in danger of being mistaken as part of the ruins). They only had a mixed dorm available, and since we felt we knew each other quite well by then, we agreed to share. The strange thing is, only a few weeks ago, it someone had told me I`d be sharing a room with a couple I barely knew, I would have found it all a bit uncomfortable, but here I was, and it seemed perfectly normal! Hopefully, they felt the same.
We walked down to the beach just as the sun was setting and it was beautiful – the sky was full of pastel pinks and blues and the sand pure white. Sitting at the beach bar drinking Margaritas until it got dark was a little slice of heaven.
My intention to get up early the next morning to walk to the ruins before the crowds, didn`t quite happen, and it was already very busy and hot when I arrived. Although not as architecturally stunning as the other ruins I had visited, the setting was unique, overlooking the blue Caribbean – they even had their own beach (perhaps they could claim to be the very first all inclusive property along the Riviera Maya??).
Spent a very relaxing afternoon enjoying the beach and the beach bar with Julie and Andrew – they had decided to spend the night in Tulum and had rented a cabana on the beach – must admit I was quite envious.
Playa Del Carmen – 13 – 17th July
Took the bus an hour along the coast to Playa Del Carmen – not the place I remembered when I stopped off there on a cruise 5 years ago. It was awful – a tourist hell hole full of souvenir shops and Burger Kings. The only redeeming factors were that the hostel was within rucksack carrying distance of the bus station and there was a Walmart! I was sharing a dorm with a very strange woman from the Bronx, who now lived in Hawaii. She said she was a writer in the film industry but “didn`t want to talk about it”, was on her way to Amsterdam, and had a very liberal attitude to wearing clothes in the room (bear in mind she was in her sixties) – I reached the conclusion she worked in the porn industry! My other room mates were initially 2 Sou
th Korean girls, and then an Argentinean and a couple of trainee doctors from Watford (the first Brits I had properly encountered so far).
Spent the next couple of days trying to avoid being hassled on the main “Strip” and I hate to admit, holed up in Starbucks, where they had free wi-fi and air-conditioning. Took the ferry over the Cozumel to meet up with Kate, one of Dan`s old primary school classmates, who had trained there to become a diving instructor. Had a morning snorkeling and then a very long lunch catching up on the last 12 years since I`d seen her.
Was fairly relieved and excited to be moving on to my next port of call, Cuba – a country that had always fascinated me and that I was desperate to see before the US lifted it`s embargo and the end of the Castro administration. I managed to get my Cuban Visa at the airport with very little hassle – to apply in London you have to send proof of where you are staying, flight tickets, give 20 reasons why you want to visit Cuba and join the Communist party – here, they just look at your passport and take your money – it took seconds. I have a funny feeling the rest of my visit to Cuba isn`t going to be so straight forward!
All I have to do now is to work out how to get from the airport to my home stay in Havana – they did say they would try to pick me up (what in, I ask myself? – a tank perhaps?).