When I had asked fellow travellers what they thought of Merida, the answer was always the same..."it's great, the arts scene and the culture is great." Having received this advice, I decided I couldn't miss it.
I arrived from Valladolid and settled in possibly one of the coolest hostels in the world. This was a bit of a curse however, as planned days to visit Merida's sights effortlessly turned into lazy days lounging by the crystal clear pool and immacuate garden, reading, practicing Spanish and watching Vice documentaries (if you haven't seen "inside North Korea, watch it now). Probably the highlight of Merida was the cool people I met.
On my first day I went for a stroll with this Swedish chef I had just met, who just came from Cuba equipped with fascinating stories. We had heard good things about the Museum of Anthropology in the city, so we headed there. It turned out that the city just decided to be dead that week, and the museum, along with many others, was to be closed during my stay. With the visit to the museum out of the question, we had our heart set on another fascinating cultural activity...a visit to Wallmart. Neither of us had ever been to Wallmart, and ever since being obsessed with the website, The people of Wallmart, in which I indulged in one of my favourite past times, i.e. judging people, I had wanted to go. Yeah, not that interesting. Prices were inflated and the whole place was depressing, and I didn't see anyone that fit the profile of a 'person of wallmart.' On our way out, an African American woman asked us if we spoke English. After replying, she reached into her bag. I turned to Simon, the Swede, and said to him, 'I bet you 20 bucks she's gunna try and flogg Jesus and Christianity. About thirty seconds later, I felt like doing an I was right dance, as she handed us a pamphlet saying, "don't worry, I'm not a Jehovah's witness." It wasn't until later that I received a heavy case of doorstep wit (the definition of walking away from a situation and then later thinking of something witty to say), I should have told her I was a Jehovah's witness and got extremely offended.
According to Simon the Swedish chef, Cuba is a special place where life is extremely slow, and all there is to do is dance, drink, have sex and get educated. Absolutely everyone asks for money, even when simply meeting someone on the street. Most of the women aren't 'prostitutes,' but ask for money for sex after the fact. Sounds like pretty much the spot on definition of a prozzie to me, but apparently if you ask them that they get extremely offended. It can be more considered as a "selling of talents." There have been slight changes in Cuba, but it sounds like no one knows what's next. They no longer lock up homosexuals, and the government will soon allow people to leave. There is a catch, of course. First of all, to apply for permission to leave and get a passport costs hundreds of dollars, and as soon as you hand it over to Cuba's sprawling and inefficient bureaucracy, they ask you how you came across such a sum. Since the only real way for most people to make that kind of dough is through selling shit on the black market, it's an elaborate trap to fuck people over.
Nomadas hostel, the amazing hostel i alluded to before, offers free Salsa lessons every weeknight, and considering I can't do salsa without breaking girls' arms or crushing their feet, I thought a good way to prevent unintentional violence against women was to take up on the hostel's generous offer. I considered giving up during the first hour, frustrated at my lack of practice, dancing partners doing their best to hold back their frustration at the natural disasters that are my dance moves. I began to slowly pick it up however, and was thoroughly enjoying myself by the end.
Unfortunately, almost every American I've met on this trip, and that's not many...they don't seem to travel much, who knew two words of Spanish and had eaten a taco has thought they were all knowledgeable on the topic of Mexico and Mexicans, and translated Spanish into English, even though in many cases my Spanish was better than theirs (that's pretty hard to fathom). This dude at the hostel was no exception. Partnered up with a cool Australian girl, who may as well be punching a bag of feathers, he loved telling me that "Tulum was shit," and "Fuck Tulum," when I mentioned I was a fan. He said he hated ruins with heaps of people, which I empathise with to a degree, but his hatred of tourist filled ruins almost paralleled the hate Nazis have for Jews, or the Westboro Baptist Church's hate for gays. I stayed away from that douchebag from then on.
Although the city's museums and a lot of their bars seemed to be closed, there were plenty of free concerts in public squares, equipped with 70 odd year old MCs who made women squeal with his suave talking. Before he'd introduce a new song, or poetry reading, he would approach middle aged women in the crowd, usually with fake tits, and hit on them, telling them to bring their daughters...it was creepy but hilarious, creelarious. The music was ok...but there wasn't really any salsa which was a tad disappointing.
So i was getting cenote withdrawal and it was time to visit three in one day. I spent a day with the swede and an Italian who got really worked up when people added too many ingredients to pasta, travelling on collectivos, tuk tuks and a cart that run along a train track connecting all the cenotes which was pulled by a horse...quite a bizarre experience. We arrived at this village that clearly did not receive many visitors. Either that or they saw me and thought Jesus had returned. The cenotes were simply beautiful...as most of them are. Two of them were completely underground, the only way to reach them was by climbing down a slippery, wobbly ladder, and the other one was half hidden. At ground level, there were about five human size holes that lead to a drop into the water of about ten metres into a water depth of about one and a half metres. They were not closed off, and we were told to 'be careful.' If they had holes like that in Australia, they would be sealed off by fencing, and you wouldn't be able to get within ten metres of them. If this weren't the case, some spoilt kid from Double Bay would fall in, break a leg and his South African Jewish mother would sue the state of Mexico. After we got back to the little town, I was stared at like I'd just murdered ten poor Mayan children in cold blood...couldn't wait to get out.
I think it was the following day I met an interesting Mexican at the hostel from Guadalajara. He built big boys toys back in his home city, that is to say, custom made four wheel drives. When I told him I loved Guadalajara, he went on this rant on how it was really fucked up at the moment, getting so worked up that at times he approached yelling and covered me in spit. His reason for leaving his shop and wanting to set up shop in the Yucatan was the result of his run ins with NARCOs. First of all, he told us this story of when he was in a club in an upscale Guadalajara neighbourhood, ducking as NARCOs shot to death a man who had made the moves on the wrong girl. Later on, he recounted a story of when he was working away in his shop when this massive Suburban rocks up, and out jumps a NARCO, who I imagined having gold teeth, a cross and a tear tattoo. The gang banger said he would offer him an obscene amount of money to make a secret compartment in the car where, the mechanic assumed, they could stash drugs and money. He told him that if he did the job right, there would be another fifteen beasts to work on. That was the last straw, and he decided to look into opening a shop in the touristy region of Yucatan.
The last real thing I did in Merida, or rather in its surroundings, was to hire a car with the Mexican, the Italian and the Swede and take the Ruta Puuc, a dirt road linking six Mayan ruins. It was pretty cool and interesting, but by the end they were all just rocks to me. The most annoying thing about visiting ruins in Mexico, forgive me if I've already alluded to this in the past, is the lack of information on the history/significance of the specific sites. All information, free information anyway, explained the shape and age of each building, e.g. this building was built in 900 AD and is ten metres high. Yawn. Our drive home was perhaps the most interesting/terrifying/frustrating part of the day, being pulled over and searched for drugs by the Yucatan police. As soon as they saw our white faces, it was time for a search...I'm sure to us we were life sized dollar bills that spoke terrible Spanish. They went through everything with a fine tooth comb, and we pissed off that the Swede had not brought his passport and that I had some medication with no doctor's ceritificate explaining what it was. Something tells me that they wouldn't have believed it anyway, as the copy I have is written in English. After they had interrogated us, searched us and the car, they had a chat saying they were nice to let us go and if they were doing what their job description entailed and following Yucatan and Mexican law, they would keep me and Simon in a holding cell, until they contacted immigration to make sure Simon was documented, and discovered that what I was carrying was not in fact 50 odd pills of ecstacy. They would appreciate a token of "thanks," they said. I really did not want to give these c***s a bribe, but swallowing my pride, I reached into my pocket and gave them the equivalent of five dollars, realising that my life was in their hands and really not wanting to spend a night in one of Mexico's quality prisons.
I left Merida the next day for Chetumal, en route to Flores in Guatemala. I'm not even going to give Chetumal a blog entry, it's a shit boring city with absolutely nothing to do, a poluted "beach," and not so friendly locals.
After a solo 8 hour trip from Chetumal, through Belize and into Guatemala, I arrive in Flores. At first extremely confused and uncertain whether I will be picked up by the hostel I had booked for, I walked around the Island for at least half an hour looking for the meeting point where the owner was to take me to the hostel. It turns out his hostel was not actually in Flores, but an easy 2 minute boat ride to the town of San Miguel, up a steep hill, and on a big property with stunning views of the lake. The hostel was amazing, run by super friendly Neil and his wife, whose name I've unfortunately forgotten. They made great food and had the cutest 18 month old in the world. The town was humid and jungle like, with plenty of awesome paths to explore, while howler monkeys make their unique and disturbing calls overhead. The people here were super chilled, and despite the heavy influx of tourists, were genuinely interested in finding out about life back home and the details of each gringo's travel plans.
The day after I arrived, I hopped on a tour headed for Tikal, undisputably Guatemala's most well known ancient Mayan cities, set amidst a plethora of biodiversity, typical of a Central American jungle. Despite my cynism, as I was utterly sick of piles of ancient rock, Tikal was indeed impressive. Temples built for Kings towered above the jungle canopy as hippies pining for an alternative lifestyle conducted yoga sessions in front. I tried speaking to some of the people on the trip, but they, and in particular a group of Belgians, one of which was a splitting image of Jack Black, gave me that "I've already got enough friends already" attitude.
I think our guide was seriously on something. He would go from yelling as loud as he could to whispering intensely. It was certainly entertaining, and he had an extremely keen eye in spotting wildlife. He spotted a Toucan at least 100 metres away and brought out a turantula half the size of my hand...it was a tad ridiculous.
That brings me up to date...if anyone wants to know how I would some up Flores, on my second day there, a local man of about 50 years asked me, "friend, everything good?" To which I replied, "si, todo esta perfecto"