MERIDA AND PROGRESO
We had 15 nights in Mexico, our first night we flew into the airport at Mexico City at about 8pm, took the metro to Insurgentes and then walked to Roma where we stayed at Sheraton 4 Points, a good room, we had intended to eat at Maximo Bistro but we didn't as the 'plane was late and we were tired, just had a couple of beers in our room. We had a flight booked for mid-day the next day to Merida so after some coffee and lovely pan dulce in the morning, we quickly caught the metro back out to the airport where, with our flight delayed, we passed the time drinking mescal! Arriving at Merida Airport later, we caught a taxi for 200 pesos to our hotel in the Paseo de Montejo area.
It was Christmas Eve. Our hotel gave us a map and we stepped out: on the road we stopped to talk to a policeman who spoke very good english, he suggested we go to the Cantina Eladio which was just up the street beyond the Monument where we ordered drinks and 5 plates of snacks were served with them: they were delicious, a potato and thinly sliced onion with chilli, another potato, red with spices, a serving of pulled beef with thin slices of onion, radish, and chilli and a squeeze of lemon, a plate of refried beans with a sprinkling of white cheese and one other plate; a loud band was playing, phew it was loud - we enjoyed the vibe and the little dishes and the drinks. After a couple of drinks we returned to our hotel room where we chilled for a while eventually deciding to go out and discover the area, maybe have something to eat. We headed out towards the Americana Hotel, everywhere we went, as usual, the hotel or restaurant dining rooms were holding private fully booked out Christmas Eve dinners, we did eventually find something to eat, arrachera steak and red wine, the steak was not good, a first for Mexico, I always thought you couldn't go wrong with arrachero steak! We then caught the bus into town, 7 pesos, and had a look at the centro but unfortunately it started to rain so, very wet, we caught the bus back to our area.
Christmas morning we decided to spoil ourselves so headed to Rosas y Xocolate restaurant for desayuno where I had bacon and egg, lovely soft unctuous yokes, and Monique, my daughter, had the yoghurt, granola and pan dulce breakfast, it was good, great coffee; a jazz band was playing, excellent music: we stayed on and I had a beer and Monique had a margarita! We spent the rest of the day exploring, walking, we wanted to find Manjar Blanco, a restaurant that was recommended opposite Parque de Santa Ana - it was closed with it being Christmas day. We then walked to the two ADO bus stations to book a couple of bus trips for later travels, then we looked for Cantina la Negrita as we had heard it was good, it too was closed. Eventually, it was now later in the afternoon, we spied a place open with a queue - so we joined the queue at La Chaya Maya, at least it was open! I ordered sopa de lima and Monique a turkey in pipian sauce -with a bottle of white wine. My sopa de lima was good, my daughter didn't enjoy her food, it was a bit tasteless, the wine was great! Altogether we spent about 5 nights in Merida and we ate twice at La Chaya Maya, the next time I had poc chuc which was good, and my daughter had pollo pibil which was a huge serving and, again, tasteless - poor Monique! (Shouldn't this TR rather be in chowhound?! Hahaha). After dinner we wandered over to the Zocalo and the Catedral, also the other plaza where the Gran Hotel is, all very picturesque!
We wanted to take in the museums and perhaps an art gallery when we woke the next morning, so off we set! Then we realised it was a Monday, had a look in our guidebook and most of them, all it seemed, were closed on a Monday, dang! Change of plan. We decided to catch a bus out to Progreso: my notes and the guidebook said the bus route where we could flag down a bus was on Calles 60 or 62, dependent on which source one looked at - so we headed that way and asked people where the stop was. We were given conflicting advice eventually standing outside the church at Parque de Santa Ana on one of those streets, I think it may have been Calle 62 - we repeatedly saw combis heading for Progreso but none of them stopped, they were full. Finally I asked an oldtimer who was also standing waiting for a bus too where the bus stop for Progreso was and he said Calle 64 assuredly: we headed over there and at last managed to get the Progreso bus. The road out there is a very commercial/ industrialI one. I realise there is an interesting archeological site out this way but we decided against stopping for it as I believe it is off the road.
The bus's final stop was at the market where we alighted, there was a band playing some pleasant music and places to eat. We wandered down to the sea and walked along it for a while, there were lots of pelicans flying above or floating on the sea by the bridge, often diving down to catch fish; it certainly looked as though there was good fish to be had, there was someone selling some along the beach. We walked back up along the road that runs to the beach but it was really very touristy with loud music playing, a bit unbearable. We then stopped off at a cantina facing the beach and had a preprandial drink, they too brought a couple of side plates of snacks. Our intention was to eat at a good fish restaurant out here in Progreso and we found Crabster Seafood and Grill which we had read good reviews about: we were seated and we ordered a ceviche and then tuna steaks for after and a bottle of white wine to go with: the ceviche was not the best I've had but it was good enough, the tuna steaks were yummy, nicely seared, good tuna with some delicious vegetables cooked à point - so - firm -and tasted of what they were, obviously well sourced, carrot, potato, broccoli.
Returning later to Merida and as we were leaving for Santa Elena in the Ruta Puuc the next day, we decided to just hang around our hotel for the night. We packed, we booked a light breakfast at our hotel for the next morning, coffee and pan dulce - and a taxi to get to ADO.
The ADO bus was good and we were dropped off at our Santa Elena stop opposite a large high church, painted red, distinctive, overlooking an empty plaza. We got a ride on a sort of tricycle with our luggage in front of us,10 pesos it cost, and our hotel, Flycatcher Inn, was not far two streets away, if only we'd known... It was set in a large pretty garden with lots of foliage. We were taken to our room which was a pleasant large double room, obviously with bathroom. Our man who was to take us to look at the ruins was waiting outside and after a glass of water, and settling our stuff in our room, off we went. Ruta Puuc was a highlight of our journey - the smaller ruins, Kabah, Sahil, Labna, Xlapac were an absolute delight - they were eye-opening, lovely detailed workmanship, palaces, temples, gates, walls, arches, plazas, ceremonial structures, statues of people - all in pretty wooded settings with the sacbeob leading off to mysterious destinations I didn't know where. Who were these people, I wondered! It was a wonderful afternoon especially being looked after by our patient gracious driver, Santiago - great name! Santiago dropped us off at our hotel at about 5, we were satiated; Uxmal, the main site, we would take in tomorrow morning on our way back to Merida. But, we were starving, we had hardly eaten, only lightly at breakfast. As our hotel only served fixed meals, we headed off to Pickled Onion which we had passed earlier to see if we could get something to eat there. We ordered chimichangas (!!), which came with a delicious salsa and some lettuce, it was good - but then, we were hungry! A lovely chilled glass of white wine to accompany. It was glorious sitting on the balcony at the Pickled Onion looking out to the bush beyond, lots of mosquitoes though, but we asked the waiter to switch on the fan and that sorted them.
We then set off to discover the town, Santa Elena, and to buy some beer. What we saw was a simple country town, typically Mexican, but then we only wandered around a few streets and these towns do eventually open up to one and can be more complex than appears at first. We passed small corner stores none of which sold beer, pretty houses with the front door open where we peeked at religious pictures and statuary inside, a hairdresser still busy cutting someone's hair even though it was dark now, back to the plaza where loud music was blaring out, no-one was there, just three teenagers staring at their mobiles, an old man sitting on a chair outside his door - still we could find no beer. Eventually we were directed to Corona where we, of course, found beer - and a man riding happily on his horse outside, we joked around with him a bit, it was all good fun! Now the streets dark and unlit, we retraced our steps back to our hotel room where I opened a beer before dinner. Dinner was a dip with the ubiquitous nachos, then a pork stew and a moist cake. Generally there are very good reviews of the home-cooked food here so we were looking forward to it: maybe because we had eaten a couple of hours before, although lightly, I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected - I'm not really a fan of pulled meat though, I really do like cut meat.
Over breakfast the next morning we did see - a flycatcher! I believe there is good bird-watching in the garden - but - we had to dash off. Really one could relish a couple of days here. Speaking of birds, we saw lots of vultures (condors) in the Yucatan, the usual pretty little fawn doves, filigree; a grey bird that often sat on the telephone/ electric lines, looked like a shrike but was a bit small for a shrike. We were really lucky to spot a woodpecker at Chichen Itza, colourful with its dots, got a good look at it, very exciting! Lots of water birds, especially exciting for us was the frigate, flying high and glorious above the water in Tulum and Campeche, later in our holiday. We thought the hotel, Flycatcher Inn, was owned by Rosa, but it turned out it was owned by an American from the USA who came across to chat with us at breakfast. Man, the whole of the Yucatan is owned by these guys, it must be a colony!! After breakfast we went with our luggage to the corner to flag down the bus to Uxmal, it cost us 15 pesos each. Uxmal was about 15 minutes away.
The Piramide del Adivino, our first sight as one walks through the gate at Uxmal was stunning, breathtaking in its beauty, I just stared and stared, spellbound. Wow!
This was the most beautiful Mayan archaeological site I saw in the Yucatan. We moved on to the Nunnery quadrangle, it too was stunning. Four very well preserved sides form the quadrangle, such detail on much of them, many Chacs, the Rain God, a coiled rattle snake with a warrior emerging from its jaw, birds, patterns. arches. Iguanas sunned themselves on the walls of the ruins, male and female. Later the ball court, the Governor's Palace, the Gran Pyramide, very well-preserved - a beautiful site indeed!
Now to flag down the bus back to Merida where we were spending the night, our next destinations, Chichen Itza and Valladolid. But first, thirsty, we stopped off at the bar at the hotel opposite the site, a converted hacienda I gathered, for a beer for me and an orange juice for Monique. Later, it was tiring hanging around for about an hour waiting for the bus, luckily we got a seat. Back at our hotel in Merida, we dropped off our bags, made a telephone booking for Manjar Blanco and then quickly walked down there for a well-deserved late lunch, early dinner, 4pm : it was a tasty lunch but hardly fine dining, not as good as what we expected - but maybe we chose badly (suggested by our restaurateur!), a sort of tapas plate to share - the Valladolid spicy sausage, plantain wrapped in cheese and deep-fried, cochinita pibil on tacos, etc - and two glasses of red wine each, it was good wine.
CHICHEN ITZA AND VALLADOLID
Despite getting to ADO for the 6.30 bus the next morning with the bus arriving at Chichen Itza two hours later (but taking ages to get to the actual carpark because of the huge queue of cars etc!), it was a circus! Chichen Itza, although it is one of, if not the, largest and most complex of the Mayan archaeological sites in the Yucatan, is not a pleasant ruin at all to visit - it is full of tour groups (this despite us being urged on TT etc to catch the 6.30 am bus to get there by 8.30 in order to avoid them and the vendors): each of the tour groups, scores of them, loudly clap their hands at El Castillo, as then a sound is effected coming out of it! Vendors made a noise blowing their toys which made the sound, perhaps of a jaguar, continuously, and generally make a racket trying to conjure up sales, not many forthcoming, all rather unpleasant. This being said, we were overwhelmed at the immensity of the ball court, the largest I have seen, imposing indeed! El Castillo too was a sight sitting alone on its grand plaza with huge serpents guarding monumental stairways ascending the face of it; this area was backed by the Temple of the Warriors and the thousand columns, photogenic! For me the most fascinating section was the southern half of the site, not so well preserved, but I loved the Observatory, El Caracol, and the Monjas palace complex.
Valladolid next - we stayed at a private B & B run by an American from the USA, as usual, of course! We had a large but sparse room upstairs, I had to ask for a chair, can't sit on a lounger! Also the curtain looked as if it couldn't keep out the sun so if one wanted a lie-in, it wasn't going to happen. Otherwise it was a pleasant place, set on a small square with a pretty church its focus, expensive - £85 per night for a double, close enough to the centro, a few streets away; the owner had a good book collection and I borrowed a book by an archaeology writer by the name of Coe, he was good, and I managed to fit in quite a bit of reading, we were only there for 2 nights unfortunately. Time to discover the town - and for lunch! We walked to the centro and wandered around a bit, it was all very pretty, the Zocalo and the Cathedral. We wondered if we could get a table at Hotel El Meson del Marques. yes we could and were led to a table overlooking the sunny courtyard. We ordered poc chuc for Monique and for me Lomitos de Valladolid, and a bottle of wine. It was very colonial, it was lovely.
The next morning I ran into Dennis, our hotelier, and he asked what we had planned for that day and I said other than Ek Balam, another archaeological site, perhaps some art, an art gallery and that's when he presented me with a brochure for Casa de los Venados and said that it was the house of an USA American who opened his house to the public every day to view his collection of art - the time for this was 10am so after breakfast we set off to see if we could take this in: well, the dwelling itself took up almost a whole street, it was built in the style of a typical Mexican hacienda, almost turned in on itself, closed to the street, but inside, a central feature, a courtyard with swimming pool - it was a very big "house", colonial, apparently originally built by an important official when the Yucatan was still a Spanish colony - the present owners found it in rack and ruin and, with the help of an award-winning architect, brought it to its present, almost palatial, status and eventually were able to bring in their crates upon crates of, mainly Mexican folk art, beautifully and tastefully organised over 5 bedroom suites and many living rooms - art from "Mexico City, Guerrero, Matamoros, Metepec, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Patzquaro, Puebla, Tonala, and Valle de Bravo, to name a few. Everything from all wool hand-woven area rugs from a village near Oaxaca, to contemporary paintings, watercolors, and original prints that need to be framed, lots of ceramics, barro (clay), and carved wooden folk art items". It was one of the best art collections I had seen in Mexico, tastefully arranged, quirky too - for example, in the dining room the chairs around the table are painted with life-size famous Mexican artists and celebrities - Rivera, Frida Kahlo (of course!!!!) etc, the chairs almost become the persona, likewise the card table in the card room!
We did get out to Ek Balam late that afternoon but, as Monique had developed a bout of food poisoning, we just rushed out there forgetting to wear climbing shoes, just wearing our sandals so we couldn't climb the pyramid which had interesting sculptures on it - a pity. Earlier we went to the Zaci Cenote in the middle of town to have a look, we didn't like it - too built up, it hadn't been allowed to retain anything natural I felt!
COBA AND TULUM
After breakfast the following morning we caught a taxi a short ride to ADO bus station for onward travel to Coba Archaeological Site and Tulum, Monique still very unwell with food poisoning - this, combined with the rain which came pelting down soon after we had taken in the first pyramid, La Iglesia, at the entrance to Coba, determined that we should take a tricycle around to get to The Great Pyramid, it was all a bit disappointing mainly due to the rain and our circumstances, although it was amusing seeing the stray dogs climbing way up the Great Pyramid - I do, however, think the appeal is the sense of it being in the jungle, also the height of the pyramids,it must be amazing views. I believe it is a huge area if one has time to cycle around it at one's leisure - back at the entrance on our way to catch our bus onward to Tulum, it was lovely sitting in the bar looking out over a shallow lake, a different eco-system now from north of here it seemed. We,... well, I..., did take in lunch at the restaurant opposite the bus stop as recommended by many on this website, it was very good, a lot of travellers there, obviously a favourite place.
We barely had 36 hours in Tulum with arriving late in the afternoon, it was New Year's Eve. I can see why people love to come here, the colour of the turquoise/ aquamarine Caribbean waters! The sea is beautiful, it is a lovely coast, we spent some hours on the beach on New Year's Day after a downpour and it was glorious watching the birds swooping and playing in the air above, pelicans and seagulls and frigates, they were enjoying the wind; we managed to get a drink at the beach bar and there was a band playing, some good music a great vibe. However, we stayed downtown, on the other side of what struck me as a long truck stop, the highway running through town. Very expensive accommodation, just over $160 per night for a back room, a good bed though and a small tasty breakfast was included. Typically the restaurant we fancied for dinner on New Year's Eve turned out to be closed except for a reserved crowd - however, we were lucky to find a restaurant where we had a delicious fillet of fish with a lovely lemon flavour, and great crispy chips - it was such a disreputable looking joint and then we had this stunning fish and chips - such a treat! Gosh we must have lost a lot of weight those two days walking backwards and forwards to our little "hotel", the taxis were always full, only one ever stopped for us the whole time we were there. Just a tip here though, one can just ask the combis that are heading to Playa del Carmen to get from way over in the pueblo to the beach area by the ruins, probably saves one 100 pesos per taxi ride, it's like a colectivo - we paid 20 pesos each both there and back.
Here's a list of places to eat/ good music I picked up in a write-up by our host at our little "hotel" of recommendations in Tulum:
BEACH:- 1) Hechizo; 2) Restaurare - vegan but great Mexican food (few steps from Beach Road; 3) Taqueria la Eufemia, Carretera Tulum, Boca Pailam Km 10 next to Hotel Coqui
TOWN:-1) Puequeno Buenos Aires; 2) Teetotum - on the road to the beach
BEACH BARS:- 1) Mezzanine - on the road that goes to the ruins; 2) Zamas -on beach (live music); 3) Mateos - great fish tacos; 4) Puro Corazon. Beach Road - llive music; 5) Pancho Villa - live reggae music.
TOWN:- 1) Curandero - live music/ dance DJ; 2) Batey - live music most nights.
BREAKFAST/ DESSERTS:- 1) Babel; 2) Panna y Cioccolato: 3) Campanella
Unfortunately, with it being New Year, most places were closed - very typically Yucatan, when we were in Oaxaca on previous years, everything wasn't closed over the festive season - so disappointing!
MERIDA (again) AND CAMPECHE
Thoughts now turned to the end of our little sojourn in the Yucatan and so early the next morning we caught a taxi to ADO and a few hours later we were back in Merida where we had 2 nights and then we were to head on to Campeche for a day there, then to fly out. We had a lovely time back in Merida, at last we managed to find La Negrita Cantina open and we enjoyed a sundowner there, there was some good jazz playing with a great songstress fronting, it was fun, we shared a jug of Margarita's. We had breakfast again at Rosas y Xocolate, a favourite place, and at last located Marlin Azul, a sort of hole-in-the-wall joint, popular with the locals, and where we had great ceviche on two occasions, cervesa too, and great orange juice for Monique; we hung around the Centro discovering and photographing many colourful buildings including the town hall, and did also manage to get to take in the Museo Palacio Canton, some great exhibits, which brought alive the Mayan sites we had recently visited throughout the Yucatan.
We stayed at Hotel Plaza Campeche in Campeche, it was a lovely hotel, sumptuous rooms, a comfortable double bed each, just remember to stay away from the street noises and make sure you book a room on the other side. As soon as we arrived, with it being lunchtime, we caught a taxi out to Chac Pel , Ave Lazaro Gardenas, outside the walls, as someone either on TT or Fodors had raved about the appetisers there, it was a big disappointment, the shrimps tasted of chlorine, anyway an interesting way to see the city - the city is large outside the city walls covering a big area. We also wandered down to the Malecon, it was strange, almost industrial, what we liked best though was, again, watching the water birds, often flying across the sky in large flocks especially at sunset, we did love seeing our new favourite, the frigate! We ate fish twice at La Pigua, it was lovely and tender the first time, the next time it was a bit dry. We only had one night there, so the next morning after breakfast we checked out of our hotel and hailed a taxi for the airport to catch our flight to Mexico City where we were to spend 2 days before flying out back to Britain. When we arrived we discovered our 'plane was delayed until that evening, we were pretty fed up with Interjet, especially as they had only sent us an email at 2am that morning (I hadn't looked at my gmail that morning), we were relishing the idea of 2 full days in Mexico City. Anyway, Interjet paid for us to catch a taxi back into town and for the same company to take us back to the airport that evening. We made the most of the day, we enjoyed Calle 59, I think it is, where tourists go apparently, our hotel had called it "the tourist street(!)" -stopping for a coffee, later we spied people on the streets eating a sort of pizza/ panino that looked yummy, we hadn't had time to have breakfast earlier - so we found the shop which sold these and bought one each, they were interesting, a mixture of sweet and savoury, with pieces of some sort of meat/ ham decorating the top. Then we saw a boutique shop so we wandered in there and Monique tried on some clothes, they were an interesting take, modernised, on Mexican flair - we bought quite a few of them, it was good fun - why not?! Later that day there was an air of festivity, we passed a band playing in the street near the cathedral, long trellises were laid out and decorated sweet bread was laid the length and breadth of these trellises throughout the streets of Campeche - this is the el Dia del Reyes festival, which is when children receive gifts rather than at Christmas apparently, we were sorry that we couldn't taste the sweet bread because we had to leave before it all started.
We only arrived at our hotel in Mexico City after midnight, very disappointed at losing almost a day there. Anyway the next day after breakfast we decided to explore a new area - Colonia Juarez, apparently it's up-and-coming: there was a lot of building going on even onto the pavements so it was difficult to negotiate walking, however it is a charming area with some unusual old colonial buildings, also buildings with art deco or art nouveau influence, often cheek by jowl with a 1970's style skyscraper, interesting architecture, we got some good photos! There were many food stalls on the streets, they smelt delicious, lots of people eating at them, buzzing they were, unfortunately we had had a big buffet breakfast at our hotel so we were full. We wandered in to a shop specialising in chocolate, queues of people, we joined the queue and bought some mango with chilli flavoured chocolate, it was really good - so, not that full! We also wanted to buy some chilli to take back to the UK - love the smoky flavour of the Mexican chilli - so we caught the metro to Mercado de la Merced where we bought chipotle, morita, and lots of different chilli from the chilli lady and generally took in the market, it was an interesting experience, as usual, we love markets! Later we returned to Zona Rosa where we were staying at the newly refurbished NH Hotel to put away our stash of chilli, and to have something to eat at the 24 hour eatery around the corner from our hotel - there was a long queue, you need to take a ticket with a number on it and then you wait about 20 minutes, we took our ticket and quickly had a cheeky cervesa next door! Soon after our number was called and we shared a plate of flautas, one stuffed with chicken, the other beef, and the third one potato, - and then a white sauce over with shredded lettuce and white cheese, it was good. Returning to our hotel we chilled there for a an hour or two before heading out to Zona Roma for a pre-prandial drink before dinner at Maximo Bistro.
Our final day loomed in Mexico - so after breakfast we headed over to Contramar Restaurant which is in Cuahtemoc/ Roma where we found out about making a booking for later to eat a late lunch there; then we caught the metro to Palacio de Bellas Artes, we have been there two or three times before but we just love the architecture and décor, the exterior of the building is primarily Neoclassical and Art Nouveau and the interior is mainly Art Deco - stunning - and then of course the magnificent murals by Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo and more: so refreshing to see it again. There was a marquee set up outside in front and people were watching a movie of, I assume, a famous Mexican singer, it was all very festive. Now for lunch - we made our way back to Contramar and soon we were seated at our table and we ordered a ceviche to share, a tuna tostada and a bottle of wine, we also had read in the reviews that one should order the sweets early as they are often sold out so we put in our order for a strawberry meringue and a fig tart - well forget the ceviche and the sweets - oh my goodness, the tuna tostadas were utterly delicious, we had to order another, too good! Thank you Mexico City, and au revoir!
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MERIDA AND PROGRESO