Friday, December 9, 2011

Yucatan Peninsula trip

This post has nothing to do with sheepherding, it's just a compilation of my Facebook posts during my trip to Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula. I left November 30 and returned December 8. I was there to cover the World Allergy Conference in Cancun for Medscape, but I carved out 4 days ahead of time to travel a bit.

Read at your own peril!

November 30 at 7:35pm
after a long flight, relaxing on a rooftop terrace bar at the Mundo Joven hostel in Cancun, sipping Corona and gobbling down fajitas.

November 30 at 7:56pm
So on the flight from Dallas to Cancun, I finished reading The Ruins by Scott Smith. It's set in the Yucatan so I got it thinking, hey, some fiction set where I'm going. Only, it's the literary equivalent of the move Se7en. Good book, but I never want to read anything by that author again.

November 30 at 7:56pm
And now the question is, do I get a rental car and drive to Tulum tomorrow as per the original plan, or do I stay where I am, save the money and spend it on a couple of day tours instead? Tough decisions. Maybe another Corona will help?

November 30 at 8:20pm
A look at the map reminds me that the Chixculub crater is here in the Yucatan (think, dinosaurs). Sadly it's too far a drive.

December 1 at 5:34pm
In a hostel in Tulum. Drove the rental car along the beach this afternoon and spotted a tropical espresso stand, so of course I had to stop. Good coffee, and the barista was from Mexico City and in the coffee export business. Had a long, interesting conversation with him about the coffee biz.

December 2 at 2:46pm
Sipping coconut milk. Drove 1/2 hours through the Yucatan interior to Chiquila, then caught a boat to Isla Holbox. The next two nights I'm staying in a little hut on the island. Tomorrow I'll rent a bike and explore.

December 2 at 8:31pm
I know I'm tired when I keep telling the store attendant. No hablo ingles! No hablo ingles! I think she thought I was insane.

December 2 at 8:38pm
Lunch today was in a little village in northern Quintana Roo, in one of the buildings that fronted themain street of the pueblo. It had an open kitchen and it was clear that the family that operated also lived on the premises. It advertised adobo. I saw the sign and had to turn back. Ivy makes adobo from time to time and we've eaten it in the Philippines, so I always want to compare. This was pork and very different, but delicious. The proprietor said it cooks so long that he gets up in the middle of the night to tend to it.

December 2 at 8:42pm
Left the rental car in the coastal village of Chiquila, then boarded a motor boat with 5 other people bound for Isla Holbox. 30 minute ride cost us 70 pesos (about $5). Sat down next to an Australian named Mark. He quit his job at a travel agency in Toronto to, wait for it... travel. We wound up going to dinner afterwards and I told him about my experiences hiking in New Zealand. Do you hike? I asked. "Well, I went to Nepal and trekked to Everest base camp." Yeah, I guess he hikes.

December 2 at 8:52pm
After adobo for lunch, I stopped at another little village to poke through it's market. Found quite an extensive confectioner stand. Bought some candied fruit, possibly plums, and candied limes stuffed with coconut. Mmm...

December 3 at 3:37pm
Rented a bike in el centro for 80 pesos, rode west to one end of the island and spent some time gazing at Bird Island, just offshore. Then I returned to the village and headed east, but the chain broke so I had to wheel it back. With the replacement I made it as far as an inlet that blocked further progress, but it was beautiful. The couple who rents the bicycles also own a Spanish restaurant, where I had an American afterwards. They've been renting bikes for 4 months, but she's not sure it's a good business because so much maintenance is required due to sea salt and the sun. "Do you rent golf carts?" I asked, referring to the ubiquitous mode of transportation on the island. "No, we hate them. They drive past our house every day and it's noisy. That's why we rent bikes."

December 3 at 3:41pm
Best moment today: a close competition between sitting in the sun, sketching Bird Island, and sitting in a hammock in the afternoon, resting after my bike ride, listening to John Denver's Sing Australia. Of course, there's the evening yet, so maybe there will be a new contender. I'm off for dinner in a few minutes, then to peruse the shops (which stay open very late) and watch the kids play basketball and soccer in the park.

December 3 at 8:26pm
Wound up meeting up with Mark the Australian again for dinner (a quesadilla-like dish made with Arabic bread, served with 4 widely varying sauces and a bean stew. All scrumptious. Then we found an Italian restaurant and drank Bohemia Obscura, a dark Vienna beer brewed in Mexico by a company now owned, alas, by Heineken. But they apparently haven't ruined the beer, as it was quite good. Mark and I talked mainly about movies -- Die Hard turns out to be a favorite of both of ours. We quoted lines and laughed quite loudly and drunkenly, I'm afraid.

December 3 at 8:51pm
On the way back to the cabana, I stopped at a little store to pick up a Corona, then added some mole sauce and horchata mix for souvenirs.

December 4 at 6:21am
time to say goodbye to Isla Holbox. Time for breakfast then a ferry back to Chiquila, then a drive to Cancun with a possible lengthy detour to Chichen Itza, depending on time and energy.

December 4 at 9:12pm
Arrived late at the Gran Melia here in Cancun after touring the ruins at Ek Balam. The hotel lost my reservation, and the woman at the reservation desk was singularly unhelpful. I thought I'd rely on my cell phone to pull up the confirmation email, but first I had to find a place to plug it in because it had run down. Reservation woman was unhelpful with that as well, but finally, grudgingly, allowed me to use a plug behind the counter. But silly T-mobile wouldn't give me a data connection for some reason. So when I swore softly in frustration, a (helpful!) staff member overheard and offered to let me use the hotel's internet, where I found the reservation and talked the unhelpful reservation woman into giving me a room after all. A request for couple of drink vouchers for my (45 minutes of) trouble fell on deaf ears naturally. 

But finally I arrived in my room, which is on the 5th floor of a building shaped like a pyramid.

Which has a hot tub on the balcony.

All is forgiven.

December 5 at 1:37pm
Yesterday on the advice of Palle Hoffstein and Dawna Read, I toured the ruins of Ek Balam. Very impressive, though apparently later period and not as architecturally sophisticated as earlier periods such as Chichen Itza. I climbed to the top of the biggest structure and had a look around, then walked around the base and followed a little path into the jungle, far from where the tourists who were intended to be. After several hundred yards, it led to a little thatch hut with a large pile of corn cobs next to it. Closer inspection revealed a stash of corn beneath the hut and a nearby roasting pit. Then I noticed that the open space nearby was filled with dried up, harvested corn. I hadn't noticed it before, and me an Iowa boy.

December 5 at 1:43pm
Near the convention center I saw an Argentine Steak House. I won't be dining there. Driving around the peninsula I saw recent, extensive deforestation and cows wandering around in the leftover rubble. It was quite depressing.

December 5 at 5:49pm
So, one of the... benefits?... of traveling alone is the weird offers you sometimes receive. This afternoon I stood outside the convention center and was hailed by a guy running a tour operation from a nearby stand. "You want to see the jungle? Maybe swim with dolphins?" I shook my head. "Or maybe... have some fun?" He flashed a brochure for an adult day spa. I shook my head and said "I'm not intothat." But then my curiosity got the better of me and I asked to see it. It contained pictures of semi-naked women, with he visa and mastercard logo at the bottom. "It's legit! They pay taxes," the guy told me. "$150 for a half hour massage with happy ending. $300 for one hour all you can do." 

So now I know the going rates in Cancun. And I have a name and phone number.

The bidding will begin at $50.

December 5 at 6:48pm
Marc Wisniak (the Australian) and I met on the motorboat to Isla Holbox and discovered that we were both staying at the Ida y Vuelta hostel, which I already knew was about 1 1/2 km from the dock. I was prepared to walk the distance because I'd been driving all afternoon, but Marc inquired with one of the golf cart taxis (yes, you read that correctly), and they said, "oh, it's not that far. You can walk." It was indeed 1 1/2 km, and we wondered that taxi drivers would turn down an easy fare. Later, Marc talked to the owner of the hostel, who told him that he refuses to pay the taxi drivers the 100 pesos (about $8) per passenger commission, so the taxi drivers often subtly refuse to bring guests to the hostel, or sometimes even claim that it's closed. Wow. Budding mobsters on Isla Holbox!

And last, but not least, here's a link to the news articles I wrote from the conference (incomplete as of this post, there will eventually be 10)