Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dzibilchaltun Excursion

I picked up my Manhattan-based guests at their Fiesta hotel at 9 am and we made the 20-30 minute drive to the Mayan archaeological site of Dzibilchaltun without much effort, driving along the Prolongacion de Montejo, past the Cordemex sisal processing plant and the malls.

At Dzibilchaltun, about 65 pesos per adult ($45 for the actual ruins and $20 for the so-called 'unidad de servicios' which I assume is the area with the bathrooms) got everyone into the site and we all walked around for an hour or so, followed by a long refreshing dip (along with a herd of tourists fresh off the cruiseships in Progreso) in the open cenote X'lakah.

By the way, in the photo above, see if you can spot evidence of Mayan stones used in the building of the catholic convent wall. This is symbolically illustrative of the relationship catholicism has with indigenous peoples across North and South America. Gotta love those catholics.

After that, a visit to the excellent but small on-site museum and gift shop. The only problem with the museum is the low lighting and the fact that the the lettering on the signs is tiny and beige on a light brown background. Or maybe I am just getting old!

Then it was back to the hotel for lunch!

This trip was about 4 hours in total.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Sotuta de Peon Day Trip

This particular outing involved, once again, my adopted Canadians. While originally conceived as a day trip to Celestun to see flamingos, the possibility of the pink birds not actually being out in full force convinced them to accept my alternate recommendation: the Sotuta de Peon hacienda experience.

For those of you who have read NotTheNews, you know what Sotuta de Peon is all about. For those not in the know, you should read up on it and make your reservations soon.

I picked up the party at 8:30 in Uaymitun and we headed out to the hacienda via Merida. I had made reservations for the 10:00 am tour and we made it in time for a bathroom stop and a look at the sheep before the tour started.

Everyone seemed happy with the tour since it has something for everyone:
  • the social/historical aspect with a look at how the hacienda owners lived with a tour of the house;
  • the technical/historial aspect upon seeing how the henequen or sisal rope is made 'from scratch' by hand and by machine;
  • the historical/anthropological aspect when you visit with Don Antonio, the Mayan man who explains to you, in Maya, how people live(d) traditionally in their palapas;
  • the child in you when you get to splash in a refreshing underground cenote.
There is really something for all age groups!

Afterwards, they decided not to have lunch at the hacienda's good Yucatecan restaurant, opting instead to head back out to Progreso for a late seafood lunch which we finished in time to have them back at their beach house in Uaymitun for the sunset at 4:30 pm.

This was a full-day trip!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chichen Itza Day Trip

Remember those cool Canadians from the previous post? Well, they called me back and this time they wanted to have a look at one of the New Seven Wonders, Chichen Itza. To avoid as many sunburnt, dead-eyed and hung-over gringos from Cancun as possible, I suggested a Saturday outing since this when a lot of tourists leave and arrive in Cancun, and to leave Merida as early as possible.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed, we left their beach rental in Uaymitun at 7 am, along with a cooler with ice cold Modelo beer and thermos of hot, strong coffee, to arrive at the entrance to Chichen just after 9, where we found an empty but open restaurant. Although they were getting ready for lunch service, the obviously entrepeneurial lady in charge said yes to my request for some eggs and longaniza, Valladolid's famous version of the spanish chorizo.

With our batteries recharged by the delicious scrambled eggs, strong hot coffee and Coca Cola, I left them to explore Chichen Itza. After about half an hour, I decided, what the hell, and went in also. The absolutely wonderful thing about being in Chichen at this early hour was that it was empty and the pesky souvenir salesmen ("my fren my fren") are for the most part still setting up shop. I got some great pictures of the Castillo pyramid, with almost no humans in the photo!

At about 1pm, they called me on the Lawson Brick - aka ancient cell - phone provided to them to let me know they were on the way out.

After a frosty Modelo from the cooler, we were on the road to lunch in Valladolid, 40 kms away. But first, a stop at the cenote in Dzitnup, where we were accosted by many little children with embroidered handkerchiefs pleading "hanky hanky only 10 pesos". The cenote was beautiful and we took some photos in the darkened cave. Also at the cenote, up top, I made my guests try fresh chilled coconut water and to suck on 'chinas' like real Yucatecans.

Then lunch at that little palapa roof place a block from the San Bernadino convent in downtown Valladolid. A spendid lunch was had, the waiter suggested bringing a little of everything which he proceeded to do - everything from papadzules to poc chuc to pollo pibil. And these Canadians seemed to enjoy it all! There is nothing more disheartening than a finicky eater, especially with Yucatecan food being so different and exotic. So it was great to see everyone enjoying themselves and eating to the point of exploding.

From Valladolid, we headed non-stop back to Merida, where we made a visit to Costco to restock the beach house bar which was running dangerously low on spirits...

We finished our day at 9:30 or so in the evening, after a full day of exploring the Yucatan!

This was a full day trip.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Airport Pickup

Last week I had the opportunity to get to know some laid back, cool Canadians from beautiful downtown Surrey, BC, who contacted me to arrange for an airport pickup. They wanted an english speaking driver to take them grocery shopping for supplies and then on to their rented beach house.

This was quite fun, in spite of being so mundane. I guess it was the fact that the two couples were just so relaxed and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

From the airport, we drove via periferico - as opposed to the scenic Avenida Itzaes route - to Sam's Club, where they were able to use my membership card to get their supply of bulk basics. Then we stopped at Chedraui (formerly Carrefour) next door for vegetable and few other basics like real PEANUT BUTTER and we were off.

The beach house looked great except for one tiny little detail: the owner had not let the caretaker/fisherman know that the house was rented, so he was out fishing! I explained the situation to his wife (no English) and then to the Canadians (no Spanish) and she quickly had the place clean, swept and mopped, had pulled out and arranged beach furniture from storage in the house and filled the small pool out front.

Once they were more or less settled, I made a run into nearby Chicxulub for charcoal briquets, mosquito repellent and credit for an old Nokia cellphone that I left them so they could call me in the case of an emergency.

The whole experience worked out to about 3 hours.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ek Balam and Ria Lagartos Day Trip

I got an email in July or August from a gentleman who wanted to visit Ek Balam and Ria Lagartos with a friend and we agreed on a day trip into Yucatan's interior.

A 6 am pickup followed by a 2 hour drive to Valladolid and Temozon, where we had a tasty and extremely typical taco and torta breakfast from a cart in front of the village church.

Ek Balam was 10 minutes away and shortly, we were exploring the Mayan ruins there. The heat was oppressive thanks to the humidity but we spent a good hour or so exploring. The view from the top of the main pyramid is amazing!

From Ek Balam, another 1.5 - 2 hour drive to Ria Lagartos, in pouring rain (a real downpour!!) which dissipated until it was a mere drizzle, which accompanied us for the rest of the trip. The flamingo and bird watching tour was great, especially if you are the bird-watching type. There are also crocodiles which the guide will point out for you. Personally, I thought the highlight of the trip was the opportunity to float in the salty canal (where the local salt industry produces table salt) and the muddy facial applied by the tour guide to those willing to indulge.

Lunch in nearby San Felipe (much more picturesque and especially photogenic when the afternoon sun comes out after a rainfall) was seafood and quite good.

Then, the long drive home which was done in one fell swoop. Long, a little tiring but overall, worth it. I dropped off my guests at around 11:00 pm.

This was an all-day trip!

Typical Drive Around

At the beginning of the year, February or March more likely, I had the opportunity to meet some fine folks who were visiting Merida and actually bought a home here to fix up and rent!

I picked them up at their downtown hotel and we drove out to Dzibilchaltun, where we explored the Mayan ruins and visited the excellent museum. After that, a drive out to the coast and Progreso's malecon (think boardwalk without any boards) for a look around and finally, a stop at my home to have a drink and check out the local vegetation in my backyard which was one of the things they wanted to see.

This little tour lasted about 4 hours, not including the time spent chatting at the house!

Introduction Part One - Driving the Yucatan with William Lawson

Jerry Seinfeld said that only a male mind could conceive of going all the way to the moon and then getting out the car built specially for driving on the moon and just 'driving around'. Most of us do; I know I like to just get in the car and if it is a different route from the daily routine, my mind wakes right up.

However, there are people - especially when they are on a trip and even more especially when they think of driving in Mexico - that are hesitant about getting behind the wheel. Their main concern seems to be mostly regarding other (Mexican) drivers and the quality of the roads, followed by fear of traffic cops and "bandidos" (really, someone told me this), and finally the possible ripoffs involved in renting a car and or the time and hassle involved in travelling by bus.

This is where I come in. I figured that after living in the Yucatan for about 20 years of my existence, I knew a little about the local culture and mindset and that, combined with my love of driving around (see Jerry's comments above) would enable me to provide a unique service to some travellers who wanted a glimpse inside the Yucatecan lifestyle, provided by someone who also had a complete understanding of where they were coming from.

So I started Lawson's Driving Service. The idea is not to replace any particular form of transportation but to provide a combination of insight and answers to all those questions you might have (ok most of them), while getting a ride somewhere.