Sunday, June 10, 2012

Happy Guest Comments

After months of e-mailing back and forth figuring out what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go, etc. we finally settled on a loose itinerary and paid our deposit via PayPal...easy peasy. We spent a fabulous week in Playa del Carmen prior to heading to Valladolid for a few days, and then made arrangement with Ralf at Lawsons to pick us up in Izamal to drive us into Mérida. We met him at Kinich restaurant and had a pleasant comfortable drive into the city, chatting just like old friends. We were dropped off at our hotel, Luz en Yucatan, with plans set for our driver, Saul, to pick us up the next morning for our tour.

Saul arrived promptly at 8 a.m. and we were on the road for our adventure! As we meandered through the narrow streets of Mérida on our way out of town, Saul pointed out various landmarks, buildings, interesting things, etc. Very informative. He's originally from Mexico City but has lived in the area for years and truly knows his stuff...better than any travel guidebook. Our first stop was at the market in Uman. The market is only open in the mornings apparently, so we made a quick stop to check out all the vendors. The market is quite large and is comprised of vendor stalls both inside and outside. We bought bananas, apples, fresh peanuts and pumpkin seeds. There was also people selling tacos, cochinita pibil, fresh tortillas, and pretty much everything else under the sun! Hammocks, jewellery, clothing, shoes, leather goods...even animals! There is also a beautiful church across the street -- great photo op for sure. 

After we had our fill of the market we hit the road. Let me just add, we never felt rushed at any moment of the trip. Saul literally let us do the deciding of when we would stop and go, if we wanted to stay longer at one place, or shorter at another. We decided it was best to get to Uxmal as early as possible to beat the heat, so we headed directly there. We arrived mid-morning, but it was already 35 degrees! Yikes! Luckily for us, the place was next to deserted. We saw only four other people the entire time we were there...and no vendors inside the site. Since Saul is a certified licensed guide we paid him to give us the tour, and we're so glad we did! As I said before, he really knows his stuff. He gave us all the detailed history of the site as well as stories and folklore. It was super interesting and definitely beats Chichen Itza any day! We visited all the main buildings, even getting to climb one of the pyramids. When he saw me struggling to get up the last few (hundred) steps he offered his hand to pull my fat gringo ass up the stairs, lol. Again, we were never rushed, and his advised my partner, Scott, of good places to take photos. He also took a few of us, too. After climbing the pyramid he took us down a tree-shaded path to the exit rather than heading back across the whole site again in the direct sun. He pointed out various types of birds and plants as well. I'm so happy we chose to visit Uxmal -- I found this site to be much more interesting than Chichen Itza or Tulum.

Next we decided to go to the furthest point on our journey so we could gradually make our way back home, so we headed to the EcoMuseo del Cacao. Along the way we passed Kabah, and a few other ruins, but opted not to stop in as we were so hot and tired and just needed to relax in the a/c in the car for a bit. He did slow down for us to take photos from the car as Kabah can be seen right from the highway very easily. The chocolate plantation was great, with a very detailed description of the entire chocolate process. At the end of the tour we got to try real hot chocolate the way it is traditionally prepared with spices, etc. Very good. We also stopped at the gift shop to buy some chocolate, cocoa, and even chocolate shampoo. Saul joined us for a cold drink, and we decided to head to Santa Elena to have lunch. 

Ralf had recommended having lunch at The Pickled Onion in our previous e-mail conversations, so after reading up on the place we decided it was a must visit! Unfortunately the owner, Valerie, was away on holiday in Canada so we didn't get to meet her, but the restaurant was still open and the cook was awesome! We ordered queso fundido, gazpacho, and pollo pibil -- soooo good...and cheap! We had a great meal, and an even better chat with Saul about the Yucatan, Mexico in general, politics...just like old friends! 

The next stop was at a local Mayan families' home so we could get a feel of how these people traditionally lived and continue to live in some cases. We were greeted warmly by Hernan and his family who showed us around the various palapa-roofed buildings that make up his home. The first building was a small hut, for lack of a better word, that had a hammock hung in the middle. There was also an alter with various saints mixed with Mayan gods and statuettes. Hernan was so proud, showing us the various things, with Saul translating for us. Outside, we headed for the kitchen building where Hernan's wife was making fresh tortillas for the family for lunch over an open fire. She told us she makes 150 a day just for the family! We were offered some fresh ones to try, and then lead around the yard where they grow various fruit trees, vegetables, and Hernan works on sisal. He showed us how they traditionally scrape the sisal leaves down to the fibers, dry it, then twist it into rope. We were also shown how he's grafted two different types of oranges into the one tree so they have both sweet and sour oranges. My favourite part was meeting the goats and piglets they raise and getting to rub the piglets belly so she rolled over like a dog! Too cute. (I know these will be eaten eventually, though). The family was very gracious in letting Scott take photos of them, so we left them with a few hundred pesos as a token of our appreciation, though we never felt like this was mandatory. 

Back in the car, we hit the road toward Muna. The plan was to stop at an artists shop where they make pottery, but it was closed when we arrived, so we continued on and stopped for some fresh ice cream instead. Good choice, Saul :)  Next we stopped at Hacienda Yaxcopoil. This is an old hacienda that's partially in ruins. We opted not to pay for the tour that takes you inside as it was starting to get late, so we just walked around the public park area in the middle where we could take photos. The sky was starting to get very dark and ominous, and just as we were getting back in the car we could hear claps of thunder in the distance. Within minutes of driving away we could see lighting and then the rains came. For the entire drive back into Mérida we experienced torrential rains, so much so that we had to slow to a snails pace on the highway in places just to see the road! Cars were pulled over everywhere, trees were down from the high winds that picked up all of a sudden, and parts of the roads were flooding, especially as we got into towns like Uman again. It seems the storm drains here weren;t able to keep us with the amount of water coming down so part of the road were flooded up onto the sidewalk! It was something to experience for sure. But Saul was so good, very safe driver and got us home safe and sound after a long hot day on the road.

While we didn't get to do everything on our very ambitious itinerary after all, it was always our choice, and we never regretted a moment! It was just too hot for us gringos to try to do everything, lol. This just means we'll have to come back next year to explore some more! Everything from start to finish was perfect, and Ralf was a pleasure to work with in the planning. We enjoyed every moment of our private tour, and Saul is an asset, as well. This day was worth every penny, and I have no problem recommending William Lawson tours to anyone who wants a personalized experience. Cannot wait to come back and do it again!

Leanne & Scott 
Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan, Canada