It was day two of the trip and Nic and I actually woke up very well rested. We got dressed and decided to skip breakfast at the hotel and walked into town instead. We went to the main square and found a convenience store. We stocked up on supplies (coke, water, juice, cookies, chips, sandwiches, pudding :)…the necessities of course). Everything was so cheap, we couldn’t believe it. It was under 6 US dollars for everything! I feel like I spend that at a gas station in the US when I only get a bag of chips and a pop.
There were a lot of street vendors out and we bought some cheese empanadas with salsa and crema (sour cream) for breakfast. 3 for 10 pesos…what a steal! I thought they were great. Nic wasn’t impressed. Either way, they filled us up.
- Note: 100 pesos equals around 8 dollars and 1 dollar equals 13 pesos.
After we had breakfast, we packed up and left the hotel early. We had some miles (correction – kilometers) to cover today. The plan was to drive from Merida to Santa Elena, near the ruins of Uxmal.
Once we got off the highway, the roads get very interesting. They were mainly dirt and there were potholes everywhere. Another thing to look out for, was topes aka speed bumps. They are honestly every hundred yards and when you come into a town, they are unavoidable. You get used to them after a while and just have to drive really slow. The houses also started to look more run-down as you got farther away from the big city. The several small towns that we went through were very humble and cute though. Straw-roofed, mud huts and little gardens. The towns started to take on more of a Mayan culture. But like bigger cities, ever town has a main square with a church, park and municipal services.
All along the roads, you can see signs that are marked for tourist destinations, even though this area didn’t look very touristy. They had signs for caves, archaeological sites (ruins), beaches, hotels, etc. We weren’t really planning on it, but we saw the signs for Mayapan ruins and decided to stop. It was close to the main road and only cost 35 pesos a person. There was only one other car in the parking lot. We paid the fee to a local guy who was sitting with a bunch of men playing cards, and walked in with no direction or map. We just wandered around about about a half hour. It was very, very hot! The ruins were very nice and restored pretty well. You could see all of the details in the carvings. Iguanas were everywhere, which was a trend that followed at every ruin site. We had the place to ourselves, which was really nice.
Back on the road and it was still before noon. We stopped in the town of Mama to eat our lunch that we bought at the store in Merida. We just parked at the zocalo and ate, while watching all of the school children get out of school for the day. And they were watching us too! Two light haired, light skinned people eating lunch in this town was obviously not an everyday thing.
- Note: Because of the heat, most Mexicans get out of work/school at noon everyday and don’t go back to work until 2ish (I’m not even sure if the kids go back to school afterwards). So around this time, you see a lot of people out and about.
For the lack of street signs and the not-so detailed maps that we had, Nic and I navigated the roads surprisingly well. We didn’t get a gps with the rental car, but Nic packed his cling-on compass and we stuck that on the windshield. It helped us tremendously and we ended up calling it our “gps”, haha. We did get a little turned around in one of the towns on this day but once we found the main highway, we just followed it to the next town and kept going. We finally reached our destination of Santa Elena around 2pm, which was much earlier than we expected.
We stayed at this little place called The Pickled Onion. I found it on Stumbleupon and it is owned by Valerie, a very friendly English/Canadian woman. If you ever travel to the Yucatan, make sure you stay here! It was beautiful. The staff is incredibly friendly and the grounds are covered in gardens. It also had a clean and cool pool, which we lounged around a lot. We stayed in a traditional Mayan palapa, which is a little hut that I mentioned before. It was equipped with a bug net (that you really did need!) and it was so cute and cozy. You have to remember that we were right in the middle of the jungle at this point and had no air conditioning in the 90+ heat. Yes, there were creepy crawlies inside and yes it was pretty rustic, but we didn’t care at all. I truly feel that if you go to another country, you need to experience the local culture as much as you can, even if it does mean to give up your luxuries. Live it up!
After Nic and I got settled into the hut, we explored into the little town of Santa Elena. It was a typical Mayan village. We went searching for the underground tunnels in the town that supposedly went all the way to Merida. The Mayans dug these so they could escape when the Spaniards invaded the Yucatan. But we found out that the tunnels were sealed up with cement because one of the locals said they saw an “eternal light” in it and it scared the rest of the villagers. Mayans are very superstitious!
We then went and checked out the church, bought a couple cokes (Mexicans love their Coca-Cola!) and then went to the small Mayan museum that they had in town (10 pesos a person).
The day was still young and the sun was still high in the sky. After we hung around the pool for a bit, we headed out for another adventure. There was a chocolate museum that got great reviews online, that I really wanted to check out. It was called the Ecomuseo de Cacao and you cannot miss it if you are in the area. It cost 80 pesos per person and we learned so much here. The gardens were awesome and it explained a lot about Mayan culture. We even learned how hot chocolate was made and how the ancient Mayans used it in ceremonies. We even got to try some. Yum. Nic was fascinated by these stingerless bees that they had at the museum. They apparently make very delicious and expensive honey. Also, there was a very mean turkey here :).
For dinner we ate at The Pickled Onion and it was amazing. Nic had a special chicken dish that was made with orange sauce and the guacamole was out of this world!
I just realized that this day was full of a lot of events and I basically just wrote a novel, so I will stop now. But I hope you are enjoying the blog and continue to follow as I write about the next 6 days in Mexico!
*Click on pictures to enlarge