“Yucatan is More Than Mérida”
By Jonathan Chim
Last week I had a friend visiting me from Belgium. It was the first time that she visited Mexico arriving via Cancun. My friend, whom I met in Thailand, is a very experienced traveler, so when she started making the arrangements to come here, she told me something that, took me by surprise but totally understandable. It was the following:
-“This will be my first time in your country; I will be staying in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Mérida. I´ve heard a lot of good things about your city such, like the fact that it is very safe and the food is superb. I just would like to ask you a little favor, spare me all the normal touristy stuff, I want to do something different, I want to see the other side of your state, the side that other people only dream of.”
When she finished the sentence I thought to myself -“Ok… ¿A donde chingados la llevo”? – Which literally translates to “Where the heck do I take her”?
I´m a little ashamed to admit that every time a friend of mine, from anywhere around the world, Germany, France, Norway, Spain, Morocco, Sweden, etc. have come visit, I always take them to the usual touristic stuff… The Cathedral, Centro Histórico or Helados Colón in order to taste our favorite Yucateco ice cream place and of course, some of the usual archeological sites such as Chichen-Itza or Dzibilchaltún to wrap it up in Yucatan before taking them to Cancun which is the place where they truly wanted to go, just like many foreigners that hears the word “Mexico” and that is the word that comes to mind.
I cannot tell you how many times in my travels, every time I said I was from Mexico, many of the people in the room would ask me: -“You live in Cancun?”– Or -“Is Cancun as cool as everybody says?”– And my personal favorite –“How are the girls in Cancun? Are they…“approachable”? – In clear reference of… well you know exactly what they were asking-.
As many of you probably know, Cancun is famous for its beautiful white sand beaches, the turquoise sea and for some sort of people, specially my age -23- the “it” that overshadows everything else, the partying and “clubbing” in the superclubs, bars and lounges that make it a great place to have tons of nightlife fun that can last, basically, into the next day. So you can probably imagine my reaction when my friend told me she wanted to do something different. It took me 2 days of surfing the web, calling friends and asking people in order to find something different from all the stuff that I normally do with my guests. Well, surprisingly for me, there are many things to do that, to be frank some of them, I had never even heard of.
I picked up my friend at the CAME bus station and it was a nightmare. It turns out that the “señorita” working at the ticket station in Cancun sold her a second class ticket to Mérida which makes a normal 31/2 to 4 hour bus ride into 7 hours since it passes every single little town scattered around the trajectory of Quintana Roo to Yucatan. After we picked her up, we took her to the market of “Santa Ana” in the beginning of Paseo de Montejo –yes, Paseo de Montejo actually starts on 47th street- so she could taste the famous “Tamales and Salbutes”.
Downtown, so she could have a taste of the colonial part of Mérida and its beautiful architecture as well as some of the history behind some its most recognizable landmarks such as the “Twin houses” –Las Casas Cámara- or the museum “Palacio Canton” amongst others. That took us the entire morning and after our Merida’s scorching sun that heavily fell on us; we decided to go for a different scenario… It was beach time, so we headed to Chelem.
We arrived to the beach at around 3 o clock and decided to hang the hammocks and just lay there to enjoy the day. It was a hot, but windy afternoon, with the beach practically for us sharing it with an American couple. The ocean was extremely revitalizing and later on, got to enjoy a stunning sunset that painted the sky with deep strokes of pink and orange colors.
We woke up feeling energetic and ready to start the day. We had breakfast in my favorite cart (there are many around the city) where she had her first encounter of what has become one of her new “loves” in life… Cochinita pibil. She had never had it before and it was love at the first bite. It sort of reminded her a little of Thailand cuisine because of the spicy flavor. Then, off to Chichen Itza.
After coming out of Chichen Itza we were starving and really thirsty, courtesy of the blazing yucatecan sun. So more out of a necessity than choice we stopped at the first restaurant we saw in the town of Piste, where Chichen Itza is located. We spotted this kind of thematic restaurant called “Pueblo Maya”. It had a garden with plants and trees endemic of the region and a very interesting area where you could experience firsthand how the Maya lived. They have a characteristic Maya hut, and how they used to farm their food and take care of their bees.
There is also a hammock section where you can rest after lunch, my friend really enjoyed the hammocks.
One of the most interesting things was the section of local food and tortillas that are handmade and they even ask you if you would like to try to make some! I really sucked at it!
To drink I tried a local plant called “Chaya” (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) which supposedly is very refreshing, my friend had pineapple and lemon. Unfortunately nothing we did would stop the heat so we asked the waiter if he knew of a place where we could go swimming. He mentioned a very cool cenote close by, more for the locals than tourists, and according to him, it was a lot better than the one everyone goes to. By the way, a cenote is an underground river.
The cenote is called “Yokdzonot” about 15 minutes away from Chichen Itzá. This was probably the first time that I saw my friend awe shocked since Ko Phi Phi in Thailand. She told me she was dazzled by the beauty of the place, with its calm, fresh and transparent blue water.
What an amazing experience! You can rappel, zip-line and jump to the water from an 8 meter (24 ft.) high point. It was as refreshing as it gets, and the invaluable opportunity to admire the natural beauty of it. After resting for a while, we went back to Chichen Itza, to see the notoriously popular “light and sound show”. Honestly was one of the most impressive spectacles I´ve ever seen, with state of the art technology and a prodigious animation, the only two problems that I noticed were that it is in Spanish, which it wouldn’t be an issue if they provided or rented translators, those machines with different languages that simultaneously translate, the second one, that the show only lasts 20 minutes. I think it could last a little longer since the Maya history is so rich and vast! From my point of view, a great experience! It was the first time I had witnessed that show.
Initially, the itinerary for the day was to visit the “Chocolate Museum” and Ek Balam, but due to logistic reasons we decided that it was better to drive to The Chocolate Museum and just across the highway to the archeological zone of Uxmal.
The Chocolate Museum was of special interest to her since she likes chocolate and she has been to the Chocolate Museum in Cologne, Germany. The exhibition hall is divided into sections, the expositions are in Maya style huts, where the early history of the Cocoa is explained and how much it meant to the Mesoamerica civilizations, actually being worshiped as an almost like deity by the Mayas, the tools they used to work it and the story of how it got imported to Europe and some parts of Asia. My friend´s favorite moment of this experience was the “Maya ritual of the Cocoa”, where at the end; people are blessed with a plant.
After the tour ended, we crossed to Uxmal. By the time we got to the main temple we had already sweat away around 2 liters of water. We stopped at the base of the pyramid where there was some shade trying -unsuccessfully I must say- to take shelter from the unforgiven sun.
After two hours, there was still plenty more to see and explore, however the 41 degrees Celsius heat (105.8 Fahrenheit) made it impossible. We had enough and went to visit San Ignacio in the locality of Chocholá.
There, the cenote is below a restaurant that makes delicious traditional Yucatecan food. We went for a little swim in the fresh clear waters of the cenote, the most refreshing sensation of the entire day. After a great swim, it was time to eat, so we ordered “Poc Chuc” a plate of pork meat, marinated in sour orange and cooked on the grill, served with rice, pickled purple onions, refried beans and avocado. The food took a little longer than expected, but it was worth it since it was superb!
Last day in Merida.
My friend was tired of all the physical activity with the inclement heat, so we decided to take it easy for the last day. We went to Paseo de Montejo and did some sightseeing. I invited her to pay a visit to my grandparents’ house near Paseo de Montejo so she could see a colonial house form the inside. After that, she wanted a burger -Anywhere but Mcdonalds please!- She explained that in Belgium that´s about all they have when it comes to burgers, so I took her to Carl´s Junior. I think it is worth mentioning that she found that Merida resembles some cities of southern U.S. like restaurant franchises, Malls, and way of living, or at least that´s was her view on this city.
I can conclude that the State of Yucatan is a perfect tourist destination to people from all over the world, who would like to appreciate cultural as well as natural and adventure activities.
Come to Yucatan, try out new and exotic dishes, visit archeological vestiges and have some of the most amazing fun with outdoors activities. It will make a life long lasting memory.
By Jonathan Chim B.
Student of Tourism and Hotel Management
Universidad Marista de Mérida
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