Sunday, March 27, 2005

Me gusto la cena italiana

A few drugs helped me over this morning's “indisposed” feeling (it's amazing what you can get over the counter here), so we acted on our plan for the day, and rented a car.

We drove around the island, or around the part that is paved, at least, which was probably 20-30 miles. We stopped at a couple points to take pictures, and at San Gervasio in the middle of the island (just off the appropriately-named “cross-island road”) where there is a Mayan ruins site.

We spent about an hour poking around the ruins, which aren't nearly as impressive as those at Chichen Itza, but had interesting history. Apparently the site was a major destination for religious pilgrimages during Mayan times, giving the island an over 800 year history of being a tourist trap. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

We're having dinner tonight at Prima's, which serves northern Italian food, then heading to the airport tomorrow morning for our return flights.

Yo no sento bueno

We've been busy the last few days. We checked in to the hotel Patio last wednesday, in Cancun, which was small but charming, just like the guidebook promised. Ate in downtown Cancun at Rosa Mexicana, which for some reason our cabbie couldn't find. Nice restaurant, and we had it almost to ourselves.

On thursday, we took a cab to one of the local beaches, Playa Tortuga (tortoise). Unfortunately, I did not apply my sunscreen with sufficient diligence, so after a few hours at the beach, I had a couple spots of nice deep red sunburn.

By this point we had figured out how to keep from getting overcharged by the cabbies (Cancun was the only area where we had this problem). When we got somewhere in Cancun, the driver wouldn't tell us how much the fare was. This isn't as unreasonable as it sounds, as there are no meters and the fares are generally fixed price by zone. However, if you asked how much the fare is, the driver felt free to name any figure he felt like.

So, if you hand him (we never saw a female cab driver during our trip) approximately the right amount of money, he would charge you the right amount. Or at least not charge you more than you gave him. We did run into a few honest cab drivers while we were there, but for the most part I didn't worry about it – when you convert to dollars, our cab rides were $2-$5 in downtown.

Thursday night we signed up for an organized bar crawl, which ended up being a pretty good deal. They took us to four different bars – Pat O'Brien's, Dady Rock (sic), Congo, and Coco Bongo – but the part we figured was worth the money was that they ended up at the Coco Bongo, and they skipped you past all the lines. And given that our group was about 200 people, I'm guessing that the line could have been pretty long.

The group (“Party Hoppers”) overwhelmed the first three bars we were in, but Coco Bongo is pretty big. Our handler, Juan, was very good to us, so we gave him a nice tip at the end of the night.

I got some decent photos of the club, which was impressive not only in scale, but in the show that they put on. They had one guy wandering around that was part mini-me, part Beetlejuice, as well as Madonna and Michael Jackson work-alikes, and a trapese show, and they transitioned between them seamlessly. Then again, I had had a few drinks by this point, so I probably wouldn't have noticed any little hiccups.

On friday we made our now-familiar trek to the bus station, took a bus to Casa Del Mar, and took the ferry to Cozumel. Spent friday poking around town, since this is the major shopping part of our trip (as opposed to the buying-things-we-forgot-to-bring shopping we've done on the rest of our trip).

On saturday we took a submarine ride. The actual dive took about 45 minutes, but with the ride out to the sub and back to the harbor the whole trip took about two hours. We dove down to just over one hundred feet, and saw the drop-off where the shelf Cozumel is on ends. We saw lots of reef-life, including a shark and a group of scuba divers. We took pictures of them taking pictures of us.

After the dive we spent some time souvenir shopping. Shana hit a bunch of places looking for Blue Agave brand tequila for a friend of hers, which looks like a red herring so far – lots of tequilas are made from blue agave, but as far as we can tell, none of them are called that.

Spent an hour or so listening to the Cuban band (two guys) playing in our hotel lobby, then went to bed early. Plan for today was to rent a motorcycle and tour the island, but I'm not feeling well and apparently you can only rent scooters or cars, so we may just switch to a car.

And we have to figure out where our laundry went to.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Qiero dos boletos, paro no tengo pesos

A little chat with the bus driver and our remaining $49 in U.S. Currency managed to get us on the bus to Cancun. The bus ride is almost seven hours, so we have a lot of time to kill before we get there.

We skipped breakfast this morning, since after the hotel bill and the tickets for the bus, we have 50 pesos and some pocket change left. We went shopping yesterday at a small market that seemed to be some sort of minature Costco. They didn't carry many products, but everything they had, they had a lot of. We picked up a one-liter Coke and a king-size box of assorted cookies, which are substituting for food until we get to Cancun.

I may never look at a cookie quite the same way again.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Es lo un cambio de moneda aqui?

We're spending the night at the “Restaurant and Hotel Calakmul,” which is the nicest hotel (and restaurant) in the town of Xpujil. It is also the only restaurant in town with an enclosed dining area, so that should give you some idea of the competition.

Xpujil is the definition of a sleepy little Mexican town. Everything of note in the town is on the main street (also the highway) – the bus stop, pharmacy, army barracks, grocery store. We spent a few minutes walking around town and taking pictures.

Our room is a cozy little unit, with nicely-made wooden furnishings and two beds on concrete frames (standard in the hotels we've been in so far – if you can't build it with concrete and cinder block, it doesn't get built around here).

I have now achieved a tourist-survival level of Spanish. I've got my basic numbers down, and I can belt out “la cuenta” with authority. Still haven't quite gotten to using verbs, but a basic set of nouns seems to go pretty far. And it's not like we're in danger of being mistaken for locals. In addition to our pale skin, Shana is on the tall side here, and I easily tower a head over the natives.

Spent most of today on the bus. Merida to Xpujil is 7 hours on 2 different buses, so it was 5pm by the time we got to the hotel. Going to spend tomorrow checking out nearby ruins, then it's off to Cancun.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

La cuenta, por favor

Pool turned out to be cold this morning, so we passed on it and checked out. We took the second-class bus to Merida and checked in at another hotel in the same chain -- “Hotel Delores Alba.”

We walked around town for a bit today, then went back to the hotel. After lunch, we took a nap for a few hours, watched TV for a bit (we watched whatever was on the WB 'cause it was in English), then went to dinner. This proved to be a bit of an adventure, because the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed.

We consulted with our cab driver – an interesting discussion, since he spoke about as much English as we spoke Spanish. We settled on the Hacienda Xcanatun, which turned out to be about 10km away. As compensation, it is one of the best restaurants in the area, according to our guidebook.

Tomorrow is festival day in Merida, so we'll see what that's all about.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Hola, yo soy un tourista

Got in to the hotel late last night, after a minor travel adventure. Both Shana and my planes were late, so we took a little while to find each other, and then we had to convince a shuttle driver to give use a ride to the bus terminal.

We showed up a little before 8PM, and the girl at the counter looked at us a little funny when we said we wanted a 2nd-class bus ticket to Chichen Itza – she asked “Manana?”

We've noticed that drivers here tend to have the A/C cranked, all the time. Had to put on my fleece for the bus ride here.

Woke up late enough this morning to miss breakfast, so we had to hang around until they started serving lunch (noon). After that we caught the hotel shuttle to the ruins of Chichen Itza.

We walked in past a couple hotels right next to the park entrance, a long a trail leading to the main pyramid. The pyramid itself is pretty impressive. We climbed the 91 steps to the top, which is the first challenge – the steps are fairly high, and very narrow. Each step is only slightly wider than my foot – maybe 6” - which makes the pyramid fairly steep. Enough so that while climbing up was merely strenuous, getting back down is more of a challenge.

The park has fixed a knotted rope that runs down the middle3 of the steps, and many people were either clinging to the rope, or going down on butt-and-hands. Shana and I ended up walking down sideways. We deduced that the Mayans must have had small feet.

After seeing the pyramid, we visited the rest of the site. There were a number of temples, and a very large ball court. The ball game was some variant of putting a ball through a hoop, called “pelota.” We also say the “temple of a thousand columns,” the bath house, a “cenote” called “the well of sacrifice,” and the observatory – which looks very much like a modern observatory.

Had dinner at the hotel (after cocktails, of course). The hotel has a respectable kitchen; I had thinly-sliced pepper steak, and Shana had fish which she guesses was cod. Both were served with potatoes which must have been at least half butter.

Plan for tomorrow is to get up early, breakfast, have a quick dip in the pool, and head in to Merida to do some shopping.