BootsnAll Travel Network

Days 720-751: Mexico

Chetumal, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Chichen Itza, Merida, Palenque, Ocosingo, San Cristobal de las Casas, Tutla Guitierrez, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Tijuana

It was pleasant to find Mexico so clean and modern when coming from Central America. Loads of ancient sites and beautiful beaches. The people of Mexico were particularly friendly and honest. What a great country to finish the trip.

Coming from California, we had visions of fat burritos and tasty veggie fajitas on offer. But our first meal in Mexico was a lard-fest plate of meaty rice and beans and was about the closest thing to “veg” food in the Yucatan. Quite to our surprise, after our first meal we had a very hard time finding beans (forget rice) on the menu anywhere. Fortunately, there are good grocery stores in most Mexican towns and we could get chips, salsa and canned black beans to make our own dinner. Eating in was even better when we could find a tortilleria that was churning out mountains of steaming-hot corn tortillas for under a buck. Just for the record, a kilo of tortillas is stack about 6″ thick.

“To begin the day, divorced eggs.” Hmmm….

We went to Playa del Carmen to do some serious snorkelling. But the weather didn’t cooperate and it was so windy that we couldn’t go out. Guess that means we’ll just have to come back. The real trouble with the ocean churning up all the sand is that it gets into every nook and cranny of your hair and body and no amount of showering can get it all out.

Playa was still jam packed with after-Easter crowds and was really pricey. We were lucky to score a room with a kitchenette and bathroom at a new hotel for barely more than gnarly open-air party hostel rooms with bathrooms down the hall.

Posh and touristy Playa del Carmen was definitely not authentic Mexico.

Mexico has really great transportation infrastructure. The highways are well maintained and the buses are excellent and generally frequent. To get to Tulum from Playa we took a posh little minivan, which was fine. The driver, however, had the interesting habit of rearranging his CDs while driving and dumping the empty CD cases out the door on the highway.

The Mayan ruins at Tulum have to have the sweetest location in all of Mayadom. They are located right on the cliff edge and overlook some of the most beautifully-blue water we’ve seen. The buildings themselves were not much to speak of, but the site was still packed with hordes of tourists and iguanas sunning themselves. The tourists did their sunning on the little white sand beach down below the ruins.

Ruins with a view.

Talk about a full-service hostel! Not just breakfast and towels, they even provide “shits” too.

We had a really cool snorkelling experience in Tulum. There is a huge network of underground caverns full of stalagmites and stalactites, all connected by underground rivers. This made for some surreal snorkelling. All of the rock features really gave us the feeling of floating in 3D. It’s hard to describe how otherworldly it was, but it was definitely a snorkel highlight of the trip.

One of the eerily-lit caverns we went snorkelling in.

We hoofed it to the ruins at Chichen Itza near Piste early in the morning and beat the crowds. Kelly had visited 11 years ago with her family. Back then she was able to climb the huge pyramid, El Castillo, but managed to miss the limited opening hours of the tunnel to the throne below. Unfortunately, both climbing the temple and visiting the throne beneath are both permanently off limits. Well crap.

The stepped sides of the remarkably well restored El Castillo pyramid yearn for the return of the shoes of tourists.

There was quite a lot of impressive stonework at Chichen Itza. The eating of human hearts by eagles and jaguars seemed to be a common theme. There is also a really impressive ball court, but the murals on the sides showing decapitated losers made the game seem a bit too serious. Just imagine how much more professional ball players would want to be paid if that was the policy today.

The only second-class bus we took in all of Mexico was between Chichen Itza and Merida, and it was nicer than the vast majority of buses we’ve taken on this trip. We both really liked Merida. It has lots of character, it’s easy going, and even has some restaurants that a couple veggies can eat at. Marc was perturbed by the conspiracy of broken espresso machines so close to a celebrated coffee growing region. We did find a place with a working machine and had one remarkably salty latte.

Cool door knocker on the San Ildefonso cathedral.

Fancy horse carriages just waiting to take you around Merida.

The old facade on the Casa de Montejo with some conquistadors showing exactly how highly they regard the locals by standing on their heads.

There are a load of archeological sites from the Puuc Maya culture south of Merida. We got a transport-only bus trip out to five of the sites and were really impressed by the detailed stonework of the Puuc. The most prominent god represented was Chac-Mool, the rain god, because the area was so arid. There were some buildings that had entire walls of Chac-Mools, with his distinctive hooked nose, to try and entice him to deliver the goods.

A whole wall of Chac-Mools on the Palacio de los Mascarones at Kabah.

The town of Palenque wasn’t much to write home about, but the Mayan ruins nearby were impressive. Surrounded by lush jungle we kept hearing the eerie sounds of howler monkeys and pretty sounds of toucanets.

“Dude! Don’t bogart that smoke.”

The ancient Mayans weren’t the only ones doing battle at Palenque. A pair of local snakes mixing it up.

When we entered Palenque we also entered the state of Chiapas which is renowned for its flavorful coffee. Frequent readers of this blog will know that Marc fancies himself as a bit of a coffee connoisseur. So he was shocked and incredibly disappointed by virtually every cup of coffee he drank in Chiapas.

Kelly guessed the ride to Ocosingo was going to be a windy one and took a dramamine for motion sickness. Marc would advise all those considering skipping dramamine for this ride (because they are normally not susceptible to motion sickness) to seriously reconsider. Marc yak’d it up big time and thought the two hour ride would never end. Even better, the bag he used leaked all over our pants. Nice.

Marc looks on with trepidation at the thought of another bus ride. Note the grainsack he put his backpack in to help make it less interesting to would-be thieves.

Next we visited the old colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas. We really liked the large laid back town of San Cristobal. Lots of neat colonial churches and marketplaces full of ladies selling embroidery, little Zapatista dolls, and stuff from Guatemala.

The Templo de Santo Domingo has an incredibly intricate facade.

Dang! This always seems to happen when we roll into town.

Interesting color scheme on the cathedral at San Cristobal.

Church bell at the same cathedral.

We love new bus terminals, and we were welcomed by one in Tuxla Guitierrez. It was great until we stepped outside and realized we had no idea where we were. So we just started walking. It was a really long walk into town, but we found our way. We did resort to taking a taxi on the way out of town.

We visited a nearby canyon, taking a river boat cruise up and down it. The walls of Sumidero Canyon were about a kilometer high.

Oaxaca has to have one of the coolest city names (pronounced wah-ha-kah). It was also a large colonial town with more crafts you could shake an armadillo at. The Oaxacans make some phenomenal hot chocolate. It’s wonderful to walk down a street lined with chocolate shops and inhale.

Oaxaca had great smells until you walk by the chili-fried cricket cart.

“Daylight come and me wanna go home.”

In Oaxaca we knew we were getting very close to the end of the trip. As if we needed a reminder that we were nearing home, we awoke one morning to a 5.1 earthquake. Marc was obviously getting sluggish since he didn’t make it out of bed before it was over while Kelly was in the doorway with enough time to drink a cup of coffee.

A neat foyer ceiling in the Oaxaca Culture Museum.

Fruit of the loom.

Fake flower vendors in front of the Inglesia de San Juan de Dios.

Every square inch of the inside of the Santo Domingo cathedral is covered in decoration.

What’s the deal with Cinco de Mayo in the States? It celebrates some victory over the French at the town of Puebla and pretty much nobody could have cared less in Mexico. We’re pretty sure that most Mexican-Americans are not actually from Puebla, so why the big party?

Marc was happy to start seeing chipolte chiles on the menu.

What is the deal with the skeletons all over Oaxaca anyway?

The hilltop ruins of Monte Alban were created by the Zapotec people. Nice enough place unless you’re a captured warrior since they cut off your genitals before sacrificing you.

Neat fuzzy moth at Monte Alban.

Last stop: Mexico City. It may have a lot of traffic and pollution, but as far as capitol cities go we found it to be a thoroughly pleasant, cosmopolitan town. Friendly folks, pretty clean, convenient metro, great architecture, churrerias (places that make churros), lots of Starbucks and 7-Elevens, but surprisingly not a single decent grocery store downtown. Every street seemed to have a brown jumpsuit-clad dude playing a hand-cranked music box for tips and the metro and buses had some remarkably good street musicians. We found ourselves tipping much more frequently than we usually do.

Flowing shiny metal sculpture in Mexico City. It distorts the reflected image like a funhouse mirror. In fact, it almost looks like Kelly is drinking a Starbucks, but that’s nuts.

We hoofed it out to the enormous ancient capitol of Teotihuacan. The ruins have been heavily restored but you couldn’t help but be impressed by the enormity of the two huge pyramids of the Sun and Moon.

You would think we would have figured out how to take a self portrait after 20,000 pictures. That’s the Piramide del Sol at Teotihuacan in the background.

Colorful frescos at Teotihuacan.

We scored one hell of a great hotel room in Mexico City with the sole exception of the speckled walls. That may not sound like a serious flaw, but it made it virtually impossible to track down the pesky mosquitoes. Marc did spot one on the ceiling of the bathroom and gave it a good whack with the pillow. He got the mosquito but shattered the huge ceiling tile. We left an extra big tip to keep the cleaning lady quiet.

The inside of the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico city was an odd mix of art deco and Chac-Mool worship.

Apparently the folks at the old Palacio Nacional were a bit shorter back then.

We had heard that the area around the Archeological Museum had a high incidence of robbery. We had a loaded up with cash to buy Cuban cigars and were extra wary. As we were walking toward the museum, two guys with suitcases ran by followed by a half dozen cops (who were losing ground). Yikes! Turns out they had just ripped off a tourist bus across the street. At least the tourists will be travelling lighter now. We think the cops need bicycles.

We did make it safely to the museum. The place is enormous and we were completely exhausted by the time we left. There were a lot of amazing cultures in ancient Mexico.

Really wicked stone-encrusted skull.

We couldn’t get enough of the Mayan glyphs. Just not enough monkeys and monster skulls in today’s alphabets.

Marc posing with a stern-faced Olmec head.

The famed “Aztec calendar” isn’t actually a calendar, but it was surprisingly huge and very cool.

There are very few remaining books in the ancient languages of Central America. These “codices” are really incredible (this one is a reproduction but you get the idea).

Flying Toltec pole dancers outside the museum. That pole had to be 60 feet high and it took a good five minutes for them to come all the way down. How do these guys not pass out?

The Palacio Nacional was full of murals painted by Diego Rivera showing the evolution of old Mexico City through to modern times.

One heck of an altar in the Mexico City Cathedral.

Marc had to seriously twist Kelly’s arm, but the most entertaining thing we did in Mexico was go to a lucha libre match at the Arena Coliseo. Just to let you know what kind of place it was, there were moth bits in our orange soda and loads of crazed fans yelling something to the effect of “Chingas tu madre!” at the wrestlers. Even though it was totally fake, the fans took it quite seriously. There was a section upstairs that was caged off from the rest of the seats that was full of unruly fans cheering for the “bad guys”. Loads of fans had fashioned together half a dozen air horns powered by three bike pumps and it was pretty loud in the tiny arena.

Oooh the excitement! Lucha libre posters.

The wrestling was really acrobatic and pretty much everybody left the ring with serious welts on their bodies. The bad guys (you could tell them by the black outfits and the fact that they constantly cheated with impunity) won every single match! The matches were supposed to be three-on-three tag team, but they usually had the three bad guys beating up on one good guy while the refs looked away. The last match had a midget dressed in a furry costume who joined in the celebratory dance at the end, but we had no idea what his deal was. Even for non-fans of the WWF, it was a hell of a lot of fun for less than $6.

“You’re going down TarzanBoy!” No cameras were allowed in the arena, but we caught the next match on TV.

Our last day of the trip found us getting up at about 3AM to get to the airport for our flight to Tijuana. There’s no better breakfast that coffee and a thousand calorie Cinnabon. No wonder we couldn’t get any sleep on the plane, or maybe it was the anticipation of walking across the border in a couple hours. At the TJ airport we had a difficult time figuring out how to get to the border without paying $20 for a cab. Eventually we found out that EVERY bus goes to the main drag of La Revo for about $0.50, which is where we were meeting our relatives who had made the trek south to greet us. So we got to La Revo and were welcomed by the sound of a baying donkey coming from a bar. Thankfully, it wasn’t until later that we found out what the donkey show is all about.

A gaggle of Marc’s relatives met us at the Tijuana Arch. From left to right: Kelly, Jody, Nita, Butch, Dennis, Jon, Lynn, and Marcus.

We were happily surprised to see so many relatives at the border. It was great to see everyone!!! We tried to score some celebratory margaritas, but nobody would serve them at 10AM. We thought the party never stopped in TJ.

Kelly & Marc at the Tijauana Arch.

We all walked to the border and somehow never saw a Mexican immigration officer. Why the hell did we pay $21 each for the Mexican visitor fee if nobody was going to look for it? The US immigration officers were impressively rude, but we had no issues crossing and they didn’t find the Cubans.

There’s no place like home: back in the US of A.

It truly was an incredible trip, but it is nice to be back home. It’s funny how you can be away for more than two years and come back and everything seems so familiar – like nothing has really changed much except you. We really expected to be hit with culture shock, but everything just felt comfortable. It probably helped that we were surrounded by relatives for the first few days. It was, however, pretty awesome having to adjust to some things, like endless warm showers, using the tap water for brushing teeth, and tossing TP in the toilet. One of the best things was that we knew that we didn’t have to pack all our stuff into a small bag, hop on a bus for five hours, find a hotel, and search for some food. Everything is just really easy.

What a great experience we’ve had the past couple years. It could probably be described as a life event and was definitely the trip of our lifetime (so far!). We’re really glad that we “Lived the Dream” while we were young and healthy (well, we think we’re still healthy). The weird part now is getting back to “real life”. Settling down, getting a home, working regular jobs. After travelling for so long, the idea seems almost mundane and yet very attractive. Does that mean that the Dream is over? Not in our book – it’s just another chapter.

Thanks to everyone for joining us on the ride!


3 Responses to “Days 720-751: Mexico”

  1. Giles Baker Says:

    Thanks for this quick trip into Mexico. The idea of putting a rucksack into a grain bag was pretty clever, but then you probably got the locals even MORE interested in what an ovbious northern-looking tourist was doing with a whole sack load of something.

    You’re right about the monkeys and monster heads in these new fangled alphabets: there’s just no fun in 26 featureless squiggles.

    Take care and enjoy life (if that’s not a contradiction).


  2. Posted from Spain Spain
  3. ¡Viejo Papá De la Inflamación! Says:


  4. Posted from United States United States
  5. - Bob - Says:

    Thanks letting me join your adventure. I can’t wait to see the other 17,267 pictures. And of course we have to ask,
    What was the best:
    1. country
    2. town
    3. cup of coffee
    4. people
    5. historic site
    6. animal
    7. plant/flower
    8. bug/spider
    9. food
    10. most relax-full place you want to return to?

    Still praying for you,
    – Bob –

  6. Posted from United States United States
  7. Kirsten Walsh Says:

    That was such a nice last page. Again, I would love to see it in book form 🙂

    As for Palenque, it is just so sad to see what they did to that. When I was there, it was so impressive. It was backed up to extremely lush jungle and some of the areas were very hard to see let alone get there. I should be able to dig up an old photo and email it to you some time. Later, we went and saw that and it almost makes you cry.

    Also, one of our favorite spots was at Teotihuacan. We climbed to the top of the sun every time and of course the moon was a breeze after that. Do they still let you go to the top?

    My husband and I visited Tulum in 2001. We got a kick out of the beach with the topless bathers, right behind the ruins. That was a neat site.

    I am truely impressed by your travels. I have been inspired to get working on writing my travel adventures.

    Keep in touch. Your “real” jobs sound very interesting and I would love to hear more about them.


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