Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Indiana Jones Tour

Today I met some lovely folks from England who wanted to see what the Indiana Jones tour was all about. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are some photos of their trip into the jungles and caves of Muna, which will literally take your breath away, so if you are thinking you might want to do this, cut back on the smokes and wear sturdy shoes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Inflammatory Events Lead to Rescue

The title of this article reminds me of a headline for the Onion.

Yesterday, when returning along the Cancun highway from Izamal after a hard day of eating tacos at Wayan'e, visiting antique shops and visiting the yellow city of Izamal, I passed a car parked on the side of the highway just in front of a state police truck, lights a-flashing as usual.

Glancing back in my rear-view mirror I noticed two white people and a pile of suitcases next to the car and thought to myself "these folks could probably use a little assistance" and upon returning to the scene, found a mother and daughter pair of Canadians who were stuck there and had been for the last 3 hours.

Turns out their rental vehicle - a crappy little Nissan Tsuru - had caught fire (literally, there were flames coming out of the motor) and they had to abandon the vehicle before a good Samaritan in a BMW stopped with an extinguisher and put it out. Also, villagers and passers by offered water for the now red-faced (from the sun) Canadians. Things were friendly enough but the state police folks wouldn't let them go until the federal police showed up to take over the situation (the Cancun-Merida highway is a federal highway) and make sure everything was hunky dory. The state police had already contacted the feds, but three patrol cars had already driven by and none had stopped; meanwhile the rental folks back in Cancun had told CanadaMom and daughter that someone was coming, but of course as they had no office in Merida, this might be a while. Needless to say, Mom was a little tense but they were good sports about it and had been talking about food and recipes with the policemen who were reluctant to leave the scene or the ladies.

After talking to the rental agent in Cancun and telling him where his rental car was and where his customers would be to get them another vehicle, and then the police assuring them that everything would be fine and the ladies were coming with me, I loaded them all into the car and away we went.

They assured me that they at no point felt unsafe or threatened in any way; just frustrated with the pace of the resolution of their situation. Let's see the North American newspapers print this story!

Lessons learned:

1) Rent your car from an agency that is established and has offices in both Merida and Cancun in case something like this ever happens to you. It's an unlikely scenario, but it can happen.

2) If your rental car catches fire in Mexico, make sure you are in the Yucatan, the safest state in the country.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Day Trip to Campeche

Many people coming to Merida are blissfully unaware of this pretty city just a few hours from here; while others are adventurous and want to see what the UNESCO-designated World Heritage site is all about.

The drive over is about 2.5 hours in either direction right now, with the construction of an improved highway throughout a large part of the route, which fortunately does not affect one's driving too much except in one or two places. When done, the highway will be 2 solid lanes in either direction with plenty of shoulder space and good asphalt and that should bring driving time to 2 hours or less, I am guessing.

As for what to do, well, there is a pirate ship that provides visitors with a glimpse of Campeche from the ocean; for 80 pesos and about an hour of your time you are treated to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack shamelessly played over and over while a pleasant narrative voice recounts some of the more memorable pirating highlights from back in the day when Campeche was THE port in the Yucatan (no Sisal, and definitely no Progreso) and besieged by these characters looking for loot. Landmarks on shore are also pointed out and explained along the route. Unfortunately, this narrative is only in Spanish and the only piratey thing about the tour is the ship, which has masts and plenty of rigging, but runs on a couple of deep throated diesel motors thank you very much. No pirates on board either except for a mannequin strapped to a fake steering wheel or whatever the nautical term is for the giant wheel. Drinks and snacks are available on board for purchase. It's a little cheesy, but on a cool and sunny day, it is a rather pleasant way to spend an hour of your time. Some photos:

Another thing to do in Campeche is to visit one of the forts (there are several) left over from the days when Campeche was a walled city and had several of them (the forts) sitting on the hills overlooking the town that would raise a smoke signal alarm when pirates were sighted off the coast. One in particular, the San Miguel fort, is now a rather excellent Mayan archaeological museum with plenty of pieces on display from the area, most notably the Mayan site of Jaina, where the Mayans apparently had enough time and creativity to put out some incredibly intricate art, much of which is on display at this museum. Some more photos from that museum and its fantastic view from the top:

And finally, with plenty of little boutiques, art museums and fantastic seafood restaurants, the main attraction of Campeche is the restored historic center and the malecon, or boardwalk, which makes Progreso's look like a kindergarten project! Here are some photos of the downtown (note the absence of overhead cables and tacky signage as well as the colorfully photogenic facades):

So if you are wondering if Campeche is worth a trip, in my humble opinion I would say, yes, definitely.