A Travellerspoint blog

The City of Aguilars and Playa del Carmen

George reporting

sunny 81 °F
View WOA: GANDA TRAVEL 2014 on woa's travel map.

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After leaving Merida, we bus it back to the center of the Yucatan to spend the
night in the town of Vallodolid, or as I now call it 'The Town of Aguilars'.

Vallodolid is home to several cenotes including Xkeken, Samula and Zaci. We arrived in town
early in the afternoon and had a few hours to spend before checking into our hotel just around
the corner from the ADO station. We take a taxi 4 miles to the entrance of the park, purchase
tickets and begin to get excited about visiting these new cenotes. Xkeken, also known as Dzitnup,
is considered one of the more beautiful cenotes and it is easy to see why. After taking a
winding stone staircase down into the cavern, you enter a nearly enclosed underwater lair
complete with blue water and bats fluttering on the rock ceiling above you. The place has
a joyous air to it and if you are in any kind of sour mood, a cenote like this one will surely
cure it. It may sound scary floating around in an underground cavern with bats flying overhead
but you can't help feeling a sense of calm and joy while being in the Xkeken.
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After about an hour, we walk across to the other cenote Samula which has a more open, light-filled
ambiance about it. I would best describe it as more like an actual large pool that someone
could have built. It seems almost perfectly circular with a tiny rock-filled island in the center
and a small hole open to the sky revealing a dangling tree against blue sky. The water is ultra
clear blue and most of this cenote is about 7ft deep or so.
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Refreshed, we head back to check into our hotel, grab a bite to eat and take time to explore the
main area as dusk approaches. Although Vallodolid is smaller in size and population than
Merida, it is surprisingly LOUD. The cars seem louder and the birds in the trees are screeching
like the birds in my old cinepoem 'Blackbirds'. We wander about in the warm, Vallodolid air and
look up on occasion to admire the bright full moon in the distance. The entire time we are in
Valldolid, we noticed how many shops and stores have the name 'Aguilar' on them. There is Aguilar
Sports, Aguilar Cantina, Aguilar Cafe, Farmacia Aguilar etc. etc. Several homes also carry the
name and even visiting the old convent we saw several gravestones with the name 'Aguilar'.
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The Aguilar surname is very common in the Yucatan as well as all of Latin and South America. It
comes from Spain and in fact one of the very first Europeans to set foot in the America's was
a fellow by the name of Geronimo de Aguilar. He was shipwrecked here for years before being
rescued and he has the off-putting reputation of helping Conquistadors during the Conquest.
Nonetheless, it is kind of fun to see your last name almost everywhere you turn.

Early the next day we hike about 4 blocks over to the cenote Zaci which is essentially in the
middle of the town. It's one of the larger cenotes and is frequent stop for many tourists buses.
We make our way in with a crowd of tourists and walk down to the waters edge and I undress to
my swimming trunks and begin to get into the fish-filled clear water as tourists ring the cenote
snapping touristy-pics. A young man climbs to the top of a tree about 50 feet from the water and
does a high dive to the delight of the crowd.
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We later leave Vallodolid by bus and head to Playa del Carmen which is situated on the Eastern
part of the peninsula between Cancun and Tulum. We arrive and taxi to the Drop By Hotel several
blocks from the beach. However, it's only 10 pesos (75cents) for both of us to take the short
bus ride to the beach.

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Playa del Carmen beach is lovely and we are again swimming in the blue Caribbean waters under
a hot sun. We decide to take it easy and setup camp on a set of beach chairs that comes with
food/drink service and Internet.

Going and hanging out at the beach always seems like a good idea when you've been spending time in
a city but after a day or so, beach life becomes a bit ho-hum. So we grab a ferry ride to the
island of Cozumel the next day and venture to Chaakanab Park, a private area with live crocodiles,
recreated mayan ruins, and apparently some of the best snorkling spots around. The snorkling is
great and we were lucky to have the beach and the waters to ourselves once the cruise ship
crowd vacated. The waters were a bit choppy that day but it didn't matter as dozens of brightly
colored fish swam all around me. I'd never seen anything like it and I'm becoming more and more
of a snorkel lover. Perhaps I'll get into scuba diving next?
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Let's be honest. Playa del Carmen and Cozumel are serious tourist destinations with the people
traffic and costs to match. "How much shopping, eating, drinking and beaching can a person do?", I
wondered. We made plans to stay here for the week but I think 3 days would have been just right.
I mean, I'm writing this post across from a Starbucks that's next to a Haagen-Dazs that's next
to a Victoria's Secret that's next to a...you get the picture.

We've decided to forgo the bus this time and will be renting a car so we can drive the two hours
down to famous Tulum and then stay the night at Coba. Coba is a bit more out of the way and
offers our first opportunity to climb actual Mayan pyramids and do a little more hiking and to
get away from the tourists. Not that all tourists are a drag. Andrea I struck up a conversation
with a nice man and his son from Milwaukee while at Starbucks. The father was himself well
traveled and he imparted some nice suggestions for our upcoming European leg. Heidelberg
seems interesting and I think we'll definitely check it out. Anyway, we had a nice, long conversation
and it was fun to hear their stories and for us to share ours. When we told them we sold everything
and our now traveling the world, Don, the father, said we were "living the dream". It's
funny to hear that and I don't think we feel like we are living any kind of dream. The feelings
we have are constantly changing and often times the "dream" is not the word I would use to
describe our lives these days. It's wonderful, don't get me wrong and I can't think of anything
better I would be doing now but I think I just get hung up on the term "dream".

So after Coba it will be on back to the Ik Kil Cenote (Our favorite) for the night and then
Merida where we will hunker down for the winter until mid-February. We'll be taking Spanish
lessons and Salsa lessons and checking out properties as well as socializing with all the
new friends we had already made there.

Wish us luck, or better yet wish us a 'Vaya Con Dios!'
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Posted by woa 10:51 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

City on the Edge of Forever

Mr. George Reporting

semi-overcast 87 °F
View WOA: GANDA TRAVEL 2014 on woa's travel map.

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Okay, I know what you're thinking. "There he goes again with another Star Trek reference."

Well Gosh-Golly, this time I couldn't really help it. I tried to come up with an appropriate title for this post and that one
just seemed to fit what I am writing about.

Firstly, for those who are unfamiliar with the ST reference, the title is from an episode where a 1930's city acts as a kind of
'time station' where time travelers are occasionally trapped. In this case, it's Kirk Spock and McCoy who find themselves here
via a portal or 'Gateway in Time'. Spock theorized that there are some places in the universe that utilize time quite differently
and are focal points for important, historic moments in time.
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I was having a nice discussion with our new friend Carlos who told me that he knew a couple of micro-biologists who studied
Merida and found it to exist in "another dimension". Merida, to Carlos, was a place that embraced him and his wife almost
immediately so they moved here only a few years ago but felt like they lived there their entire lives. He mentioned this to
me at a New Year's eve party we were invited to and then I asked him to elaborate on it a bit more the next day at a New Year's
Day brunch we were invited to. Again the theme of "being embraced" was talked about and as then conversation involved a few
others who also felt like Merida "embraced" them in a unique way. Of course you know from our recent posts that the city
has embraced Andrea and I quite warmly and I'm a bit astonished at the level of this unique 'capturing'.
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There are other aspects too that enhance the mysterious drawing power of this city and perhaps the Yucatan in general. First
and foremost are the various cenotes that dot the peninsula. We wrote earlier about our experience in the Ik Kil Cenote and
since then, we traveled with a nice woman and her two kids to a series of cenotes in Cuzama just south of here and not known by many tourists. To get to the three cenotes, you need to travel by car for about an hour then jump on a cart that is pulled by a horse for about 3 miles into the jungle. The 5 of us journeyed together in our cart to each cenote at around sunset so things were getting dark. I won't go into a lot of detail about the unique challenges each cenote offers just to get down to them. They basically range from a series of iron ladders to big tree roots that act as ladders to the water. It's really the water I wish to convey to you. Yes, there is something in the water of the cenote.
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Originally, I was captured by the visual nature of being in a clear, blue pool of water inside a cave or cavern. True, they are visually appealing but I soon realized that floating and swimming in these waters did something to my skin and body that felt truly energizing. It is kind of hard to explain however I did find myself wide awake late into the night spouting poetic words to people and one person who saw me thought I "glowed". I also realized that I had no aches and pains in my joints and could drink wine without really feeling buzzed or drunk. My skin felt silky and smooth and I constantly rubbed my arms as if I had just been given a new skin via surgery.

I could go on and on about the cenote experience but I'll save it for when I actually see you in person. Then you could see my facial expressions as I tried to describe it to you.

Cenotes are simply sinkholes that are created when part of a limestone surface collapses into one of the myriad of underground rivers that exist everywhere underneath the Yucatan. You can learn about how cenotes were formed here at the very interesting Mundo Maya museum which interestingly enough resembles a Borg ship with its exposed steel grid wrapped in bright green tentacles.
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BTW, did you know Merida lies within the crater that was created by the meteor that first wiped out 90% of all life (including dinosaurs) many millions of years ago? Cue 'Twilight Zone' music.

Did you know the Mayan city of Chichen Itza is considered the center of the New Age movement? Cue same music again.
Did you know that Neal Cassady, the inspiration for the main character in Jack Kerouac's novel, 'On the Road' often traveled to and from Mexico and eventually died there under mysterious circumstances? Well, maybe not so mysterious as apparently it was some kind of drug overdose.

Okay so this story has other ST references. Another aspect to that episode is the famous 'Guardian of Forever', a portal that lets others travel through time. Ancient Mayans believed that cenotes were portals to the otherworldly or another dimension and they often conducted elaborate rituals around them. Spanish conquistador Ponce De Leon search for the famous 'Fountain of Youth' may have in fact been the quest for a cenote. According to info on wikipedia, Ponce may have misunderstood what the natives were telling him and instead of looking in the Yucatan, he headed to Florida which he is credited for accidentally discovering. Ponce may have once said to himself, "Well I was looking for the fountain of youth but all I found was Florida." How disappointing is that?

The general understanding of a 'Fountain of Youth' is some kind of water filled pool that either makes you immortal or cures age-related ailments almost instantaneously. I have read stories about a few Spanish conquistadors who are still alive today secretly living in palaces who swim in their own private cenote to stay alive. Is it true or not?

Merida and the Yucatan has been a very unique experience for both of us that is a certainty. We both came here with little knowledge of the region and, little by little, we are discovering something quite mystical and timeless. Does Merida exist in some kind of other dimension? A dimension beyond that which is known to man? Is it in a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity?
Or is it the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition?,
And does it lie between the cenote of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge?
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Okay I did start out by referencing Star Trek but ended up in the Twilight Zone!

"Loneliness is a cold sweater to the Artist."
-Said while riding through the Yucatan jungle at night under a full moon and after a cenote swim

Posted by woa 11:49 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Nothing changes on New Years Day, or does it?

by Andrea

(photo taken at Cozuma, in a horse-pulled cart on our way to cenotes, w/Jennifer, Jack, and Zoe)
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Thank you 2014, and Chinese Year of the Horse for the leaps into new places.
Leaving behind the job that felt too small and worn out,
and wore me down.
Leaving our lovingly-restored Victorian
to a new owner
and galloping into the world only with
backpacks, open minds, and each other.
Leaving family and friends only geographically,
with room for new kindred to enter.
There are new blessings every day
in this nomadic life we have entered:

  • opportunities to see long-time friends in different states and countries
  • the warm, turquoise Caribbean sea
  • a conversation with a kind Puerto Rican on the entire flight from Miami to Puerto Rico
  • experiencing the magic of cenotes
  • kindness and generosity from strangers
  • crossing paths with people who quickly become new friends
  • love and encouragement from near and far
  • meeting cool parents who expose their young kids to world travel
  • yoga in new places
  • invitations to holiday meals and gatherings

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(Jennifer, Maria, and me)

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Dear 2015,
We hope to see more of the world, in good health and strength. We hope to see more old friends and make more new friends. We hope to learn and grow as we venture forth, and discover our second act.

Dear Friends and Family,
May you spend time each day doing something that matters to you, take a chance on something you want to do in this life, and dream big.

Feliz Año Nuevo y
Vaya con Dios

Posted by woa 14:17 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

The Architecture of Merida pt. 2

Andrea reporting

As we walk the streets of Merida, which are sort of crumbly, we continue to be drawn to the peeling paint colors and old Colonials.
Bougainvilleas flourish here and add such pretty color as they stand tall, or drape over walls. Even though parts of sidewalks are cracked and broken (you have to watch your steps), it's pretty clean overall. Perhaps because there are little trash cans placed all around the city.

And surprisingly, we see many Chevy Sparks every single day here!

I made a collage of sites that caught my eye:

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Posted by woa 14:34 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

The Architecture of Merida

George Reporting


View WOA: GANDA TRAVEL 2014 on woa's travel map.

There was a request from one of our blog fans for more pics of Merida architecture. It is quite diverse stemming from its varied European influences.

I am posting just a few photos that we've taken but plan on adding more when I get in the habit of taking out my camera!

Enjoy and Feliz Navidad!

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Posted by woa 14:35 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

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