Very long letter from Merida

Mexico Travel Blog

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Dearest Madre y Padre

The continuing saga of the 2 Aussie "guera's" in Mexico! Thought I was so lucky with my health, nearly 2 months in Mexico and no 'turista' (the runs).  But unfortunately my last week in Mexico City I spent in the confines of a dingy hotel room.  Naomi, the nurse at my beck and call.  I can honestly say I have never been that sick in many, many years.  Still not sure what caused it as we have been careful with our food and drinking only purified water.  The first day I had severe headaches, aches in every joint and a high temperature to chills.  The next night I was well enough to eat but by the following morning I had stomach cramps.  Which began the runs for three days!  Naomi called an English speaking doctor but other than peptol bismol nothing else was available.  Unless of course we went to the hospital but for $US200, my illness didn't seem worth that.  I had been from the bed to the toilet at least 20 times the first day.  No I was not having a good time.  Needless to say I am now fully recovered but am even more aware of the food I eat.  Just leaving Mexico City's pollution was enough to wipe the previous week from my memory.  I spent many a day dreaming of returning to the USA to some good water and food. But let it not be said that a few bad days would end my trip! 

I am even more impressed with the Yucatan and Chiapas.  So much so, that we had our visas extended yesterday until Feb 16th.  Will run out of money before then, so we will probably be back in the States by the end of January.  That will be 2.5 months in Mexico.

From Mexico City we went to Cholula, a small city south-east of the capital.  Built in the shadows of two volcanoes, this quaint agricultural city abounded with pyramids, ruins and many churches. In this area there were at least 40-50 churches.  The skyline was dotted with the domes and towers.  The Spaniard, Cortes must have behaved like a man possessed!  Trying so hard to convert the 'pagan indians', every pyramid he either destroyed or buried, building more & more churches.  In the centre of the city was a huge mound, with a church on top and buried beneath were 5 pyramid on top of each other.  With the ancient indian races, (likened to changes in government) the new successors would build another layer of pyramid on top of the previous one.  We went into the base of the first pyramid to a maze of tunnels leading to "who knows where!" It was very stuffy and after 15 mins we were happy to see the light of day.

From Cholula we went to Veracruz.  The climate a pleasent change from the cooler highland temperatures.  Nothing very scenic here, but plenty of activity, being the 31/12/88.  Spent the morning sitting in an open restaurant at the Zocalo, listening and watching the festive atmosphere unravel slowly.  The zocalo unlike Mexico City's was petite and full of tropical trees and flowers.  For as many people there were birds, swooping from the trees, picking up any morsel of food.  The many vendors roamed the restaurants, their wares included multi-coloured balloons, pink, green and purple fairy floss, wind wheels, chimes, hammocks, leather goods, jewellery and food. Fishermen with baskets full of fresh prawns, buckets of fish pieces and muscles mixed with onions and tomatoes served on tacos.  Shoe shiners, photographers, beggars and of course the musicians.  A different type of music here called marimba, with wooden instruments, shakers and harps.  A lively Carribean style of music.  There were a few more toursits here equally intrigued and amazed at all the activity.  On the corner of the square children chased bubbles blown from coloured bottles by a young Mexican boy.  At his feet a mechanical rat ran in circles trained by the string on his finger.  In the centre of the Zocalo stood caricatures of Los Reyes Magos (3 wise men).  Mexican children write to these kings not santa for their Christmas wishes and then they wait 12 days after Christmas to receive their presants.

Some guitarists started playing near our table and we decided to walk to the waterfront fro some solitude.  Veracruz was certainly not a scenic delight!  It was as I'd read, a port on the Gulf of Mexico!  The water was coated with a film of oil and what sand we saw was tinted black. 

New Years Eve was pretty tame but I wasn't disappointed.  Everyday travelling brings something new and exciting, so New Years Eve was like any other day in the life of a traveller.

From Vera cruz we decided on a bus to San Andres Tuxtla.  Big mistake.  Although there are so  many buses in Mexico, there are so many people and just after New Year everyone was travelling home.  We arrived in San Andreas a city inland and south of Veracruz.  There were no tourists to be seen and we must have been the talk of the town.  Of course the objects of much amusement were our backpacks.  I have often laughed along with them, saying we are 'tortugas' (turtles) with la casa (house) on our backs. Always brings more laughter.  It was hot and humid there and we were close to collapsing by the time we found some hotels.  The first one we looked at had no linen, hadn't been cleaned, had no light and the man at the desk acted "surprised and horrified" when we told him!!!!  Finally found another hotel and the rooms were 15,000 pesos approx $US7.50 for both of us.  We had to hunt out a cockroach, a lizard and a grasshopper but it was better than the other hotel.  We tend to overlook the little "extras" in every hotel.  Especially when we haven't paid over $US8 per night since arriving in Mexico.  Once we paid $2 each.

We went out for dinner and once again we had to say "You never get what you ask for!"  Even when the waiter understands our Spanish.  Really how difficult is it to get a salad - "Una ensalada, por favor" What did we get? Radish leaves and the radishes, one piece of tomato and heaps of onion.  Everything is full of surprises in Mexico.  I suppose thats why its so exciting.  You never know what will happen next!

Well we spent a whole day trying to get on a bus out of San Andreas.  The 1st and 2nd class buses were 3 days for tickets.  I got out my map, asking a driver to point to any city we could get to that day.  None.  We hiked back down to the markets and found the 3rd class buses.  5,000 pesos to Coatzacotyl on the coast.  Not where we wanted but at least we were heading in the right direction.  The bus was just about to leave and we had to plead with the driver and his co-pilot to let us on.  (The co-pilot stands on the steps of the bus and as the driver overtakes vehicles he taps on the roof of the bus to let the driver know he can pull back over to the right side of the road! Side mirrors must be non-existent in Mexico.) First they said only one of us and pointed to a little seat beside the big fat driver.  No way!!!  Anyway it was all just a game to them as further on south they picked up at least 20 more people and squeezed them in the aisle.  We sat on our packs at the front of the bus in the aisle, preferring this spot to being squashed in amongst all the other people.  Only it provided a better view of the road and how the driver was reading a comic (these are really popular with every Mexican) while he was driving!!  Always comforting to see the rosary beads, the crosses and pictures of the virgin of guadalupe hanging at the front of the buses!  The further south we got the greener the vegetation.  Sugar cane, corn, palm trees, horses, pigs, chickens, palapa roofed houses tucked in amongst the trees.  Anyway we made it to Coatzacotyl in one piece.

The city was not mentioned in my "Lets go Mexico" book.  So we had no idea what was in store for us.  A seaside city and port it buzzed with activity.  If Mexico City produces 50% of the industrial output, Coatzacotyl must produce the other 50%.  The many factories on the outskirts puffing out putrid yellow and black smoke, not a welcome sight.  Once again the buses further south were booked out and it would be 2 days more.  Found out the existence of a train which would get us to Merida in the Yucatan, leaving the following evening.  So we booked into a hotel and had an early night, getting tired easily from the heat and travel each day.

This was the first city I had a bad feeling about.  After wandering past the markets and waterfront I understood why. The people on the waterfront weren't very friendly looking.  There were still the same whistles and hisses but more threatening in nature.  The streets and river were full of dead fish and rubbish.  And a fish stench hard to bear.  The so-called beach, one could break a leg climbing over the chunks of concrete dumped there.  The sand was black perfect contrast to the murky water.  So much construction going on but I wonder who would want to live here.

As I said we bought tickets to Merida on the train.  A mere 19,000 pesos ($10)  for close to a 1,000km trip.  The train was due to leave at 8.30pm.  Arriving at the station early we sat waiting until 11pm.  Now starts the saga.  The unbelievable, now comical train ride of torture and endurance.  Patiently awaiting the train, we discussed our plan to rush onto the train before the many other people, in order to obtain a seat. Ha ha! Finally the bright lights came into view and the ever-patient crowd on the platform suddenly came alive into a frantic mob.  We too hurried with our packs to a position beside the track hoping to gain a better boarding advantage. What a joke.  The 3 carriage train sped on past us and the crowd like a herd of frightened animals, moved forward in desparation.  Some daredevils leapt onto the rear carriage and hung on to the rails.  Their bodies laden with luggage but a look of relief on their faces as they turned to face the oncoming crowd.  Yes they had beat everyone else!  Unable to run with our packs we were the very last to reach the train.  As we moved to the front carriage, that sensation of fear swept over us.  We looked into the darkness of each carriage and saw the writhing masses of bodies sitting, standing in every available space.  We considered our altenatives quickly.  Get on or wait 2 more days in this horrid city.  So we clambered on.  The feeling of grief and horror strengthening as we caught in an instant the varying smells of sweat, urine, rubbish and chicken shit!  Yes many a chicken on this trip.  Mmmmmm.  Our one consolation was the darkness so our 'guera' appearance was relatively unknown until the following morning.  We chose our spot in the aisle only after close scrutinizing of the surrounding crowd - is there any thieves amongst you. 

We positioned our packs together on the grimy floor and sat our sweating bodies down.  We spoke quietly for awhile as every word turned the heads of the crowd toward us and we certainly didn't want any more unnecessary attention.  We sat pensively awaiting the beginning of the trip.  The people moved restlessly around us and this continued for 1.5 hours before the train finally jerked and rattled out of the station.  So much for rushing on!  It was oppressively hot and the stirring movement brought a welcome breeze into the carriage.  Half an hour from Coatzacotyl the train stopped, we peered out the windows for the lights of yet another station but there were none.  3 long hours we sat, without a breeze, with a fidgeting crowd moving up and down the aisle looking for a space to sit or to disembark from the oven to the cool outdoors.  Children crying and their parents looking for ways to relieve the heat.  Sleep alluded me as 3 pushy women attempted to find space near my legs.  At one time I had to tap a womens knee to remove it from my back. My patience was being pushed to the limit and Merida seemed an eternity away and I knew I woud not last another 20 hours or more. I discovered many new aerobic positions in the effort to sleep.  Every stop dreaded as many more people squeezed on and lessened our available space. We resisted the urge to drink, this was no salvation compared with the ultimate horror of a visit to el bano (toilet).  So we ate mandarins to quench our thirst and prevent dehydration.  At some stage during the night I slept and awoke in the morning to find myself stretched out in the aisle!  Daylight hours did nothing to alleviate the horrors of this trip, if anything they were heightened by the sight of my surroundings.  Everyone was now aware of the tourists on the train and our every movement was watched by at least 30 pairs of dark eyes.  The closer we approached Palenque the weather became humid and it began to rain.  Of course the windows got closed and it was so hot I could have easily smashed one in a flash to feel the cooling rain on my face.  Water began to leak through the cracks and shattered glass panes of the many windows.  The floor soon became a pigs haven of mud mixed with all the trash of 3 days travel from Mexico City.  My pack was soon black, wet and slimy.  The children began to scream from the heat.  One family in particular had 3 small girls, ridiculously dressed in thick red & white santa style jackets crying with thirst.  I gave one of our bottles of drink to the mother and felt relief when the girls stopped crying.  Finally two hours or so from Palenque we got one seat next to the window; a kindly Mexican man had indicated to us that he was getting off at the next stop.  It turned out that in the adjacent seat was a Canadian girl, Christine.  Hooray our first English speaking person in over 3 weeks.  She had been on the train for 3 days since Mexico City.  Unbelievable!  She had an apartment to use in Palenque belonging to her Mexican friend.  The offer was extended to us to stay a few days with her.  It took very little time to consider such a proposition.  I have never been so relieved to say farewell to the train and will always travel by bus!!

Palenque a sleepy, hot town crawling with a few tourists.  Quite a change from the past few weeks where we've felt like the only white people for miles.  The ruins here were fabulous.  We spent most of the following day there before catching the bus to Merida.  We plan to return to palenque on our way back as there were some waterfalls that we want to see.  Merida was 8 hours on a 2nd class bus.  Second class means broken windows or ones that don't open, seats that are dirty or broken and no limit to the amount of people.  I cannot believe how patient the Mexican people are.  Conditions like the train or 2nd class buses are a norm and these people often stand for hours.

Merida not a bad city.  Did a bit of shopping, it is well known for their hammock making.  Did a bit of extraordinary bargaining and got a hammock for $10.  A big fiesta was happening in the Zocalo.  The end of Christmas, the 6th January when the children receive their presants.  Many fireworks, music and people.  We went to a really neat restaurant/bar. Met an Aussie and a Danish guy and spent the night catching up on the fountain of information from Brendan about home. 

Today we arrived in Piste, a small town near the most famous ruins of the Mayans called Chichen Itza.  They hava a sound and light show in English tonight at 9pm so we'll have a look at that.  Tomorrow we'll spend the day exploring the ruins.  Anyway I think 13 pages is plenty for this letter.  Will be in Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Isla Cozumel and Tulum for about 10 days.  Then back to Palenque and San Cristobal in Chiapas.


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