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Trip Report Another Yucatan trip report

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This is just a quick trip report about our January 9 day trip to Merida, followed by 3 days in Playa del Carmen.
Flights: we debated the pros and cons of using points for essentially free flights from New Hampshire to Cancun, which would be followed by a 4 hour bus ride to Merida vs actually paying money(!) for the convenience of flying directly to Merida. I posted here with questions about the bus, since last year we were able to take a bus directly from the Cancun airport to Merida; a definite con for us was that the afternoon direct bus was no longer running and we would have had to take a bus to the downtown Cancun station, and then wait there for the Merida bus. Initially we booked our RT tickets on SW using points, but the turning point was suddenly (2 weeks before we were to leave) realizing that the outbound portion of our trip was booked through Chicago and that it was idiotic to take a chance on Chicago's winter weather. Thus ensued a scramble to find an alternative. Friends from Massachusetts who were meeting us in Merida were flying United with a change in Houston, directly to Merida. We canceled our SW flight outbound and booked Boston/Houston/Merida and, despite a 5 hour layover in Houston, were glad we did. Next year, we'll do the same and I think by booking earlier will be able to secure flights with a shorter Houston layover. The Merida airport is small, user-friendly, and was a pleasure to use.
Merida: we stayed in the historic district again and love the location. It's walkable to nearly all the things we love about Merida: the parks, churches, cultural life, restaurants, and special activities. We ate several times at Pita, on Calle 55 (breakfast and dinners) with excellent food, cooked by an Israeli chef with a number of middle eastern dishes that were the best we've had; we had tapas at 500 Noches in Parque Sta. Lucia that were fantastic; we ate twice (second time out of desperation) at Tratto and both times had food that was so salty we could hardly eat it; had dinner at Peruana, with excellent ceviche and terribly overcooked and dry chicken kabobs. Returned to El Cangrejito for the freshest, most delicious fish (shrimp, octopus, etc.) tacos imaginable, at the cheapest price that seems unbelievable. Most of the meals (dinners) we had in Merida were very good and cost about $12/person. Our friends, who travel often in Europe, were happily surprised at the prices for food and drink.
In Merida, we went to Casa Catherwood for the first time (Calle 59). Frederick Catherwood was an architect who traveled to the Yucatan in 1839 with John Stephens, sent by President Van Buren; they hired indigenous Mayan villagers to take them to see ruins that had been undiscovered by Europeans. They hacked their way through the jungle looking for evidence of these lost civilizations. Catherwood made detailed watercolors of the ruins and villagers, that he then converted to lithographs when he returned to England. A complete set of the lithographs is located on the second floor of a Spanish colonial house in Merida that is called Casa Catherwood but in which he never lived (it was donated for the purpose of becoming the museum holding the lithographs after being restored by the individual who donated it, and is worthwhile viewing on its own merit). The lithographs take you right back in time and you can feel what it must have been like to come upon these magnificent structures poking out of a thousand years of jungle growth. The detail helps you imagine what the now somewhat worn facades must have looked like more than 150 years ago. Admission fee is practically nothing and there's a cafe and gift shop on the first floor.
We checked out the biciruta again this year, but it had rained during the night and early morning and was much less attended than last year. It's still fun to walk up the Paseo Montejo and look at the ornate mansions built by the Henequen millionaires in the 1800s. The National Archeology Museum is in one of the mansions, located on the corner of the Paseo Montejo and Calle 43 and had an exhibit relating to the eastern Yucatan which was well presented and interesting. Another very reasonably priced museum.
We wandered through Plaza Grande in the evenings, tried to catch a show of Yucatecan dancing which was highjacked by an older gentleman in a white suit who had a microphone and was in love with the sound of his own voice. We were dismayed when we went to 500 Noches for dinner on the evening of a show of Yucatecan dancing in Sta. Lucia Parque and there was the same guy, with his microphone and longwinded patter. Perhaps if we understood Spanish it wouldn't have been as (sorry) boring, but we really wanted to see the dancing and left a short time after we ate. There was a huge crowd there, however, completely filling the park, so obviously other people thought it was interesting.
We'd hoped to catch a Pok a Pok Mayan ballgame in Plaza Grande on Friday evening but both of us messed up the time it was to start and we arrived at 9 only to find everyone leaving, as the match had started at 8. It might be a touristy thing to see, but it looked like it would have been fun to watch and next year we'll try to arrive on time. Like most of the cultural events in Merida, the city had set up bleachers along the sides of the park and closed off adjacent streets to traffic, so they are perfect events to take in the sights, do some fantastic people watching, and enjoy the balmy night air.
Daytrips: we hired a guide/driver, Rodolfo Puch, of v.i.p. Mexico (recommended by our hotel) to take us to Uxmal and Ruta Puuc. One of our group is well over 6' tall and we didn't want to be crammed into a small car for the long drive, so Rodolfo brought a mini-van which was perfect. Rodolfo was a great guide; he is and speaks Mayan and gave us a better understanding of the ruins than we'd had by touring on our own last year. The cost was extremely reasonable considering he spent the whole day with us, acted as a guide as well as a driver (saving the additional cost of hiring someone separately), and the recently increased cost of gas in Mexico which has added greatly to the costs of everything Mexicans eat, use and buy. We asked Rodolfo to recommend a place to stop for lunch along the route and he took us to a family-owned and run restaurant/bar called Cana-Nah, at KM 12, Carretera Muna-Uxmal. Our initial impression was a little sceptical because it seemed like a large cafeteria, but the restaurant was filled with local people and the food was excellent. We all had typical Mayan dishes, including the best sopa de lima I've ever had, poc chuc, pollo pibil, cochinita pibil, etc.
Another driver from v.i.p. Mexico, Mario, took us to Celestun to see the flamingos. Mario was the perfect guide and driver. He negotiated our fee for renting a boat and driver out into the lagoon (costing us less than what I think is the usual rate); we had the boat to ourselves, just the 4 of us plus Mario and the boat driver. The driver slowed to a crawl as we approached thousands of flamingos, carefully coming to a stop almost within touching range of the birds. He pointed out the black stripes on the underside of the birds' wings, and it was an amazing sight to watch them take off, come into land after seemingly walking on water, and stand around sqawking while we watched them. The boat driver offered to take photos with our cameras through his binoculars as we approached. The birds' bright color was much more vivid than I had imagined. When we'd shot our billions of photos, he turned back and took us through some mangrove swamps, showed us roseate spoonbills and other water birds, and then headed back to the dock. The tour was about an hour and a half and very worthwhile, although the ride out to Celestun was pretty long (perhaps almost 2 hours?) because the road goes through several small towns. We asked Mario for a suggestion about where to get some lunch, and he took us to Poseidon, a hotel on the shore, with a restaurant facing the aqua sea and not another person in sight. We had incredibly delicious ceviche (ordering a second platter, and proving that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs). Poseidon allows you to swim in their pool or use their beach if you are just eating a meal there. Mario explained a lot of what we were seeing during the trip and was happy to answer any questions, as was Rodolfo, about Mexican life, economy, etc. They both spoke excellent English and we would highly recommend their services.

We took the bus to Playa del Carmen in order to visit an old friend who lives there. He took us to see Munil, ruins just south of Tulum. You can walk around the ruins, there are some helpful explanatory signs, and then walk on a boardwalk for about 15-20 minutes through jungle, emerging onto the shore of a lagoon. This is located in the Si'an Kaan biosphere and I hadn't done enough research about this part of our trip, but there are government guides who will take you in a boat across the lagoon (and out across another lagoon, down an ancient Mayan canal and out to the Caribbean). There's a lot of information online about this location, but I can't offer any firsthand info because, for a number of reasons, we didn't take advantage of what we might have done, but this is a location that would be fun and interesting to go to.
Most of our stay in PdC was just enjoying time spent with our friends, but if you want a lot of activity, shopping opportunities, bars and restaurants, this would be a great place to visit.

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