The adventure starts in Mérida...
The first stop on our journey is the small, beautiful city of Mérida. The city is full of life and color, with people constantly hustling about and scattered across the central plazas. It has a peaceful atmosphere and we are grateful to have a soft place to land at the beginning of our travels. We have been staying at Hostal la Ermita, where the staff has been nothing but accommodating and the other guests full of interesting life stories. While waiting for Rita to arrive, we have limited freedom, as all of our adventures require public transport and the logistical planning around it. So, in our down times between excursions we have spent our days people watching en el centro, walking to the market for groceries, hanging poolside, tasting local foods, and playing pool at the hostel. It's been a good balance of acclimating to a new culture, relaxing, practicing our Spanish, and having awesome adventures. All that said, it has us dying to have Rita back and hit the road (although we know it will come soon enough).
Hostal la Ermita. This pool area is an awesome escape from the blistering heat. It's been up to 100 degrees here in the afternoons. That said, it's also a favorite hangout of the mosquitos. We spent one night sitting in those chairs drinking beers with our new Columbian friends and I got EATEN ALIVE (they don't like Mitch as much because he's not as sweet). So, bring on the 98.9% DEET- no more of this 30% stuff.
Relaxing nights at the hostel, planning the itinerary for the days to come on the road! Our dear friend Shon is meeting us in Belize on the 12th so the next ten days are planned to perfection to get him in time! Oh yeah, and I've started my travel journal!
Every night in Mérida there are different cultural events in the center of town. This particular night, it was a representation of the traditional Mayan game called 'pok a tok'. The whole square was full of people-tourists and locals alike-there to celebrate the Mayan culture and learn about their way of life.
Walking through the mercado where we often go to get lunch and things to cook back at the hostel. They have everything you can imagine there: local produce, canned goods, meats, shoes, live animals, etc. (Note: The guy on the right isn't checking me out, we zoomed in...he's just living his life and buying some lettuce).
Zona arqueológico de Mayapán
The first day trip we took from Mérida was to las ruínas de Mayapán. We planned to take a second class bus out of the Noreste station at 8:30 (we were told buses to Mayapan only left at 8:30am & 4:30pm)...thank goodness when we got to the bus station at 8:45 our bus had been delayed until 9:30. So, we grabbed a pastry from the panadería across the street and after a quick wait we were on our hour and a half long bus ride to our first set of Mayan ruins! We read on a couple blogs that Mayapan was a stand out even among the close by Chichen Itza & Uxmal ruins, mainly because what it lacks in size it makes up for in the lack of crowds. We instantly understood why. We only saw two other small groups while we were there, and were completely free to wander among the ruins and climb up the temples with only the pelting sun urging us to move forward. I was completely stunned by the ruins. From the top all you could see was vast jungle on the horizon. It was a place where you could really feel the history beneath your feet. The size and intricate carvings/drawings on the walls had me constantly wondering how they did it and what it would have looked like to be there years in the past. After a bit too much sun, we flagged down a bus back to Mérida from the roadside and headed back to the hostel. The day left us extremely excited for the rest of the ruins on our agenda, and feeling satisfied with our decision to skip out on the Cancun crowds at Chichen Itza.
Las grutas de Calcehtok
After our new friend Brett rolled into the hostel and we had an amazing dinner at the local restaurant, La Chaya Maya, he presented the idea to go to las grutas the next day. We looked into it a bit and found a lot of reviews from people that had gone to the caves. There are local guides at the entrance that take you in (so you don't get lost in the massive cave system), and you select the level you want: tourist, intermediate, or extreme. People talked about how intense and difficult the tours were. We scoffed a bit, thinking we were badasses, and the next morning we headed out on a taxi colectivo. We opted for the intermediate level, mainly based on the fact that 2 hours sounded like enough time in the caves. It was definitely more intense than expected. Some of the smaller tunnels were something straight out of your worst nightmares. And as we all went sliding on our butts down the slopes of the caves collecting bruises, our guide flawlessly navigated in his rubber flip flops. That said, it was a total blast. Our guide was really knowledgeable about the history of the caves, as well as the routes, having gone on multi-day trips throughout them. He explained that over 10,000+ Mayan people lived in the caves at one point, and pointed out all of the animal forms in the rock, broken pottery, and even bones. My favorite part was when we entered a very large area of the cave, with high vaulted ceilings, somewhat teared surrounding walls, and a raised rock in the center of the room. Our guide explained that this was the room where people gathered to perform and watch rituals and sacrifices. We turned off all of the lights and just stood in the profound darkness of the cave. Our senses were completely useless in the eerie, dark and quiet space. The energy felt unique and unlike anywhere else I have ever been. Although we loved the experience, we all agreed that we probably don't have a very big future in spelunking.
The main opening of the cave system in Calcehtok. The passageways go all over the peninsula, connecting to other Mayan cities such as Uxmal.
Taylor & Mitch going through one of the incredibly small passageways. This is what we mean when we say we were slithering through!
Much of the cave system was made of Quartz crystal. As we shone our headlamps around the different rooms, the crystal often caught the light and sparkled. This our guide shining his headlamp through one of the Quartz stalagmites.
Happy Mitch covered head to toe in clay after a long couple hours in the caves! Somehow our guide, flip flops and all, exited without a smudge of dirt on him.