Thursday, December 30, 2021

Something Has Felt Off

I have been looking for an "Ah Ha" moment of realization, a bit of inspiration if you will indulge me. No, not some ridiculous, "oh look at that amazing sunset, the world is awesome" cliche. Word of note, the adjective "awesome" is absolutely the most overused word on Planet English. I have been wandering around Yucatan, Mexico, but something feels off. The tacos are delicious. The people are genuine. The culture is something that must be seen and enjoyed, warts and all. (No, an all inclusive do not count). The language, the madness, the history, national pride and cheap delicious golden lager embraces me like a warm fire on a cold winter's night. However, something is a miss.

Global Covid Madness (GCM from now on) has taken the flow out of every day life and the glorious edge of exploration. This is not going to be post about my theories on GCM. However you can see that it is taking a toll on every day life. Here in Mexico, masks are mandatory everywhere including walking in the street. Many tourists, myself included, do not wear their mask in the street but are put on when entering a store or restaurant, myself included. Now try and speak with someone without wearing  a mask. Holy Shit. Their eyes widen, they walk backwards and sometimes cover their eyes. Yes you read that right, they cover their eyes. This borders on the fear that they are talking to a contagious leper.  People are really scared to death by the drama that they are fed by the governments and the news. Well OK, I do have an opinion in this post about GCM. Now if the only thing separating me from anything is a silly little black cotton mask then so be it. However, when masks start to become fashion statements you have "jumped the shark"

No, this issue rests entirely on my shoulders, my "Ah Ha Moment if you would. I came to the Yucatan with uneven expectations. I know Cancun and where to get mouth watering street tacos for about .50 Cents. Valladolid was over rated but enjoyable. It was in Merida and Progreso that I have spent most of my time. It is Mexico in every way and there is value to thinking about moving here permanently. I just can not get past the fact that it feels like Florida, but cheaper and Spanish speaking.

The majority of Expats roam the streets like they own the place. It is almost a subtle superiority complex. They have found a place where their dollar goes a bit further and with that there seems to be an "arrogance of implied wealth" that they did not have from where ever they came from, mostly Canada and The United States. Do not misunderstand me. I have not been mistreated by anyone. My Expat interactions have been pleasant. Nice conversations that inevitably turn to either health care (Canadians) or politics (USA). A basis for all retirement communities I would imagine.

North Merida could be any city in Canada or the United States. Big Box Stores, Fast Food Chains, wide busy streets with mostly new automobiles and gas at .20 pesos a litre, about $1.24 Canadian. Cool for older Expats who want to retire surrounded by familiarity and lower costs. Merida being cheaper and safer than Florida hits the mark. Progreso is nice enough. There are other coastal towns such as Chelem or Chicxlub (named after the meteor that hit here and killed the dinosaurs) to name just a few. You would need a car if you were to live here full time as well. That presents a whole new series of issues and costs. None the less, I realized that I approached Merida and Progreso as a retirement option, not a travel option. This may have distorted by ability to be open minded about it and just embrace it for what it is. 

I just do not think the whole "spend my winters in Mexico" or "retired to Merida" hits the mark for me, yet. Most people are older than me and moved to Mexico because "it is cheap." . Now, as with all things I did say Yet. This is an excellent option in a few years but I still have quite a bit of Wanderlust in me. That being said, prices are climbing here for the same reason they are in Canada and the USA. People from Mexico City, Puebla, Guadalajara and other large cities and selling their home and moving to be cash positive with remote working a huge draw. So, do I put some money together and build or buy a place now to rent out and move here when the time is right. I am certainly not Benjamin Buttons and time is relentless.

Buddha said "The trouble is you think you have time". Well shit Buddha, thanks a lot dude. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Day Tripping

Day tripping, the travel type not the hallucinogen type, is like a box of chocolates. You never know what your gonna get. Sorry Forrest's Mama.

One trip might be easy and then next a bit trickier. The quality of transportation that you stumble upon could include buses, colectivos, combis, a mystery transportation or any combination could be used to reach your goal. Although this can be a part of fun and adventure of it all.  Yes, you do a bit of research online but you must keep all options available and an open mind. There must be the willingness to accept any change that is beyond your control. "But it did not say that when I was reading it on the website" but never, if ever be apart of your lexicon. In the end, complications and changes can lead to something more interesting and a better story.

Trip 1

I went with my friend Ana to Dzibilchaltun, a Mayan Site which included both ruins and a Cenote. We took an UBER (stupid tourist) as it was only about 30 minutes from Merida. The site was nice enough, small but historically important. We spent a few hours exploring and taking photos. Ana needed photos, lots and lots of photos. She actually asked me to hold her purse once and I laughed out loud. She responsed with "Mexican Boys Do It"  and I had to remind her I was not Mexican. She looked puzzled. I laughed, she frowned but we moved on. As with many Mayan sites, it was wide open and hot, Africa hot! 

The trip back was a bit more fun than an UBER ride. Leaving the site we needed to get to the main road to flag down a bus or taxi, which would have been about a 20 minute walk. Not a huge issue but again it was crazy hot and my Mexican friend was starting to complain a bit about it. "Seriously, you are Mexican and are complaining about the heat" I asked. Again, an unhappy puzzled look was returned in my direction. As we left, one of the site security guards explained we could take a Moto or motorized scooter into the town of Dzibilchaltun where we could catch a local bus back to Merida. Sold! The Scooter cost 30 pesos and the bus back was 12 pesos each. Total trip was 54 pesos, about $3.35. The UBER was 250 pesos, $15.00. Still reasonable but with a bit of work you can save money when you travel allowing you to go further and longer. You just need to put in the effort. Plus the motor scooter was pretty cool.

Trip 2

Izamal, The yellow city, was an easy one hour bus ride from Merida. There is a secondary bus terminal in Merida on Calle 50 which was easy enough to find. Although the COVID safety at this terminal was the most extreme I have come across so far in Mexico. The land of "COVID, yeah whatever".  I read quite a bit that the buses to Izamal were run down and a terrible ride. To that point I always take any review with a proverbial grain of salt. Reviews are subjective. For this bus,  I think many of the traveler's expectation were pretty high for an $8/1 hour bus ride. Sure the buses were not all shiny and brand new like ADO. A little worn but it was clean, safe and modern, I did not see a chicken or goat anywhere. As I said, I take all reviews on anything with a grain of salt. Some expectations are pretty high and complaints are usually petty like "there was no soap or shampoo and the free breakfast was not very big" for a $10 a night hotel. Keep an open mind.

Izamal did not disappoint. I was greeted with the huge entrance to the Monastery which gave me great views of surrounding town. As I wandered I was greeted by a toothless old man selling oranges and I made eye contact. That was it. I figured what the hell and I bought a few (they were sour) and we chatted for a few minutes. With no teeth and am not sure if he was smashed or just did not have the ability to speak properly. As I was leaving he asked for more money. Don't make eye contact.

My next stop was Archaeological Zone of Izamal. It is larger than it looks and is short walk from the town square. I missed the entrance and actually climbed up the pyramid from the backside, to the amusement of the few tourists that we at the top and quite a few locals on the street. Once I found the top there was a great view of the surrounding area including the "yellow town" itself. 

It was a nice town to just wander around and explore. There were few tourists and was told that is usually the case, which is amusing to me. An easy daytrip to such a great place. 

Trip 3

Uxmal is an important Mayan site about an hour south of Merida and the second most visited site after Chitzen Itza. I met Michiko at the hotel earlier in the day then bumped into her at a local bakery. She was getting snacks for her trip to Uxmal the next day so I invited myself along which she happily agreed. She is a Digital Normad working for the Japanese portals of, AirBnB, and a few other aggregators.  She has traveled extensively and was really interesting to chat with. We ended up hanging out a quite a bit over three days, as you do.

At the end of the tour of the site we headed back to the highway to wait an hour and half for the bus that would be coming along. There were about a dozen or so other waiting so there were lots of hellos and easy conversations about travel. A Taxi/Van pulled up offering a ride and someone had the idea that they had read you could get a taxi to the Lazaro Caderas, the next town up the road on the way back to Merida. From there, there are more buses leaving to Merida. We had been waiting about 45 minutes. I looked at Michiko and it was obvious, we both were going to wait. We had our return ticket. So, off about 8 of them went, crammed into the van, on the way to find a quicker bus. The final warning to us was that the bus would be coming from Campeche and would be full, we would probably have to stand the entire way. We waved good-bye

Our bus arrived about 15 minutes later, almost empty and we merrily boarded and were back in Merida within an hour. The 8 of us who waited smiling knowingly that the others were going to get to Merida after us. 

Monday, December 6, 2021

Welcome to Merida

Vibrant and Safe. These are the two adjectives that I have heard over and over when talking about Merida, Mexico. It was also explained to me that outside of El Centro and as you head North towards Progresso, it could easily feel as if you are in south Florida, however without all the "legally concealed hand guns and the insane "stand your ground" law. There is a large Expat community here and with that you do get all the comforts (trappings) of where you came from such as a Walmart, TGIFridays or any myriad of fast food franchises. Nothing says living in a foreign country like having all the amenities and comforts of home. Yes, of course it is still Mexico, but ultimately it's not my Mexico. You will understand what I mean if you travel through the states of Chiapas (my absolute favorite), Oaxaca, Campeche, Veracruz or Puebla. If you did not know, there are 32 States in Mexico, and the official name of the country is the United States of Mexico. Take that USA!! Merida and the surrounding area is an excellent place to relax, explore and enjoy yourself. The 45 minute bus ride to the beach at Progresso is something to look forward to, and I suspect the Indio or Medelo is ice cold.

My plan was to spend about a month in Merida/Progresso. I have friends who have moved here and it was with their coxing that has me exploring a possible new home base. There are volumes of information about this area being the best place to retire/live in Mexico so it was time to find out for myself. Plus having Mexican residency would just be very cool.

With that being said and after a 2 hour ADO bus ride from Vallodolid, my first stop was Casa Lool Bah. I booked for 9 nights because it took me to the end of the month. Merida El Centro is in a grid pattern so finding anything is as easy as it gets. Google Maps/GPS is always the go to as well. The reviews were consistent, the location was close enough to the main Zocolo and there was a shaded pool. It turned out fine. The hosts were great. Jose was from Spain and Ananda was from Mexico City. They were renting the house with their dogs Rulo and Valentin, and then converted it to a hostel. It was peaceful and they were very welcoming. I had access to the kitchen to cook my own food. I don't do this often but sometimes it's a nice change of pace. 

I was excited to be here. First things first. it was time to get my walking shoes on and head to El Centro. Mexico has this great country marketing program, where each city has its own colorful city sign.  I have notice other countries are picking up this trend. These signs are tourist attractions and are a photo "must have". The sign in Cancun, which is at the far end of the beach zone is actually embarrassing to observe. There is a lineup of tourists waiting patiently in a long winding line under the intense head to snap the shot. Cancun is my "go to spot" to fly into Mexico. I stay downtown and catch the bus to the beach zone, where tourists pay thousands of dollars to sit on the same beach as I do.  One time I sat on the beach and watched the madness of the Cancun Sign photo party. It was approx a 45 minute wait. Damn. I sauntered up as there was a transition of people and just clicked my Cancun sign shot. A bit of a sloppy thing to do, but so be it. You cannot be an angel every moment of the day. As for Merida, it was mid-day and siesta time. So I had free reign over the sign.

Observations on my first day or wandering. This town is a great walking town. Colonial buildings, wide boulevards, quite a few parks, and smiling people. However you must always remember, Mexicans gather on the sidewalks in groups so you might have to do a bit of dodging and weaving. The sidewalks are often raised so if you are not careful a broken ankle is not out of the question. Also, cars always always always have the right away, regardless of any traffic law. 

With all the initial exploring I did have an endpoint, Hennessy's Irish Pub. I tend to find an expat pub wherever I go and they are usually Irish. Way to go Ireland. It was a very westernized Irish Pub with quite a few large screen TVs playing sports which is OK by me. There was a very nice long bar, lots of places to sit as it was not  busy for an afternoon, and the staff were friendly enough. I am sure they see their share of wide eyed tourists and expats so I was not too over the top with any questions or conversations. I kept it simple and low key. I was going to be coming back and first impressions are everything. The Indio was ice cold.

After a few pints it was time for some street food and I was not disappointed. I devoured a few friend meat sandwiches and found my way back to my BnB. I was full, a bit drunk and content. Not a bad first day Merida. Not bad at all.

Thursday, December 2, 2021


As a jumping off spot to a few Mayan Ruin sites and Cenotes, Valladolid is a decent place to start. It is located half way between Cancun and Merida, about 2 hours on the ADO bus. I found it a decent stopover for 4 days. Anything more that that would have been nothing but pub time at the St Patricks. but I digress. I am not much for google or trip adviser reviews as they really are subjective. I did like the stories and videos from other travelers blogs. So Valladolid it was.

A sure sign of a growing town is road construction and this town was getting it done. Roads were being updated all around the centre part of town (El Centro). The upside was that it was keeping  what little traffic there was at bay. Many streets were short term de facto walking malls, without all the popup stalls.

Cenote Zaci

Just a Weird Disc
Calzada de los Frailes 

Late Night Street Food

Ladies cooking great Street Food


The Centro is rustic colonial and a bit weathered which was nice. Having been to quite a few Mexican Colonial towns that are spit and polish updated. I liked the rustic look and feel. There is a free walking tour of the town, which is common in many Latin America towns. It is a fun way to get orientated and the guide did have a pretty good information. Included was something I would have never even thought about. Over 75% of the people in the town still spoke Mayan and some it was their first and only language. Considering they flourished in 2000 BCE (Before Common Era) some 4000 years ago it is pretty impressive. They Mayan era ended about 900 CE (Common Era). This is definitely not to be confused with the Aztecs who lived and flourish around 1300 to 1521 BCE. Here is a link showing the comparisons of both cultures.

At the turn of the century there were only 2 hotels and a few run down hostels. Valladolid was not on the Gringo Trail. Tourists stayed in Cancun or Playa. It was just a stop over, to try and sell souvenirs, on the way from Cancun to Chitzen Itza. During the walking tour and when this was explained to me, I suddenly flashed back to around 1983. I was working for Disney Epcot and had travelled to Cancun for the first time. Our little group did take a bus tour to Chitzen Itza and we made a stop along the way. I never knew what the town was that we did stop at, but it must have been Valladolid. My personal circle of travel life. The city has been steadily growing and its proof is in the number of modernish hotels and other accommodations....and the roads, lets not forget those new roads.

AtrapaSueños, which means Dream Catcher,  was as good as any any place and 4 nights cost me $75. It was clean, safe and had lots of hot water which is a must. That may seem odd but depending on the town, the area and even the time of year, hot water is not always available, and cold showers suck! You never ever get used to them. There were only 3 rooms and the manager was friendly and chatty which was fine as I need to keep practicing my Spanish. I also did not hear a dog or rooster the entire time I was there, so win win.

Rustic Colonial Building
Modern Hotel
Local Church
Cenote Zaci

One of the main draws is Cenote Zaci in the centre of of town. My hostel was a 10 minute walk and I passed it on the way from the bus terminal. This was my initial introduction to said street construction. It looked abandoned as I passed but this is Mexico, everything can look abandoned. Alas, upon my return it was closed to the public due to the construction. The restaurant was open so I popped in for lunch and took a few photos. Cenotes are really beautiful and their significance can not be understated. The theory is that the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago, the Chicxulub impactor plowed into the Yucatan. Sure it killed most things on the planet but the bits and pieces smashed down and the Ring of Cenotes were created as result of that meteor. There is more science involved including the rock in the area being limestone and very porous. The result is you will not find any major rivers in and around the Yucatan, they are all underground making the cenotes a major water source during Mayan Times.

My time here was rather uneventful. I took a day tour to the Mayan Ruins of Ek Balam. I wandered around the town exploring side streets and various historical areas and spent time at a fairly new Irish Pub, The St. Patrick's, located 2 blocks from the main Zocolo. Daniel the bartender was a friendly guy who told me epic tails of his time working along the beach strip in Cancun. "All inclusive tourists really are dumb and easy to exploit because they think we are all very poor". There were a few expats (I forget their names) who called me over to sit with them. A Canadian from Ottawa, USA dude from Jacksonville Fla. and a Brit from London who has been here for about 30 years. From the moment I sat down the Canadian pestered the guy from the USA about US Military History and American politics in general. When the American guy justified that any country that the United State ever invaded deserved it, that was my signal to scram and I did a Speedy Gonzales.  I ran into them the few times back to the pub but the conversation constantly turned to US politics. I just put myself on mute.

Daytime City Sign and Convent
Nighttime City Sign and Convent
Hidden Little Coffee Shop
So Many Flavours and Colors
Market Madness
Town Square with Fountain

I wandered the cobbled streets and discovered interesting little coffee shops and very good restaurants. A walk down Calzada de los Frailes takes you from the centre of Valladolid to the convent of San Bernardino di Siena. The fountain in the centre of the Zocolo is a main attraction and having lunch in the park watching the world go by is as interesting as it is relaxing. I tried to let my mind wander back 4000 years to Mayan times, but since I have a hard time remembering what I had for lunch yesterday,  I just kept my time machine in the present.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Ek Balam and Cenote Xcan ché

I spent some time reading a few travel reviews of the Mayan Ruins at Ek Balam. Overall they seem to be a bit over the top. When compared to the madness of Chitzen Itza, which they all inevitably are, yes it is a less touristy site and yes you can climb the main temple but thats about where it should end. I enjoyed this site for what it was but it is not some splendor alternative to Chitzen Itza.

Now that being said, I may be a bit jaded having been to some sites of various grandeur in and around Latin America. These include Palenque, Chitzen Itza, TulumTeotihuacan, Cantona, Cholula and Ndachjian (Mexico) Copan Ruins (Honduras) Tikal (Guatemala) Cahel PechXunantunich (Belize). This site was small, although most archeologist I have read about mentioned that many Mayan sites uncovered and that are on display, there is usually an equal amount of that site lost to the jungle.

The park is about 25KM north of Valladolid. The best option for me was a share taxi called a colectivo. The colective location was easy to find but a first timer might be scared off because it was not the sexiest of taxi stands. That being said there were lots of friendly smiling faces callout out plus a few confused tourists not quite sure of what to make of it all. You jump into a taxi with 3 others and pay 70 pesos each and off you go. If there are not 4 people the taxi will wait, and so will you, until a forth arrives. I showed up and was on my way in about 10 minutes. 

* The colectivo location is on Calle 44, between 35 and 37. It is the only building with a large driveway that heads into a courtyard. The drivers are in white shirts and will shout out and wave you over if you are not sure. 

I just read that there are over 4,400 Maya sites throughout Latin America. That little fun fact blew me away.

The entrance did have some very nice murals, mostly of jungle cats. They are native to the jungle that I was about to trek into. As the local guy at entrance said when I knowingly and jokingly asked about puma and jaguar in the area. "If they are here you would never know, until they were chewing on the back of your neck". And with that, I was off.

Ek Balam as a site was small, 5 or 6 buildings plus the grand pyramid. The bonus here is you can climb the steep steps up the Pyramid, which I did. Fun Fact. Three days later my legs are still sore as they were shredded from the climb. I am out of climbing practice that is for sure. Although my last hike in Borneo destroyed my legs. Maybe, just maybe these old bones are starting to tell me something like less climbing, more SCUBA. If you want to learn more about Ek Balam you can click on the link. The best part of wandering this site is the climb to the top of the pyramid. The views of the surround jungles were brilliant and there were only a few people on top to share the experience. As I said, the steps were steep and it was slow and steady. I was feeling confident with each step, then a local guide passed me running down like it was the easiest thing he has ever done. Stupid Mayan blooded local. Time for a swim to wash off my tourist shame.

The second part of this day trip was that the Cenote Xcan ché was a 15 minute ride down a winding and bumpy jungle path on old rickety bicycle. This bike chain had not seen oil since the Mayan Times. It is a part of the same Archelogical site but a separate admission, naturally. It was a well spend 170 Pesos (C$10.28).

You had to take a cold shower before you went to the cenote. I don't ask why but I figured with all the lotions and sprays people put on now there was no desire to have any of those finding their way into the clear and pristine cenote water.

I have read all about he cenotes in and around the Yucatan. I did see one in Chitzen Itza but it was pretty nasty. Plus Centoe Zaci in Valladolid was closed although you cold take photos. This time everything was a go. There were some steep and very slippery metal steps you have to navigate down but before I did that I just stopped to have a look. It was an impressive site. A deep sink hole filled with clear blue water surrounded by hanging jungle vines. There was a man made water falls which added a nice effect. Once safely down the stairs of Mayan Doom you could pick up a life jacket (yes I did) and there were a few small inner tubes available (yes I did). 

There were about 10 others there and I found a rock to put my things on. There were lockers at the entrance but aside from my phone I was fairly confident nothing was going to disappear. Loaded up with my life jacket and small tube I walked to a small platform about 5 feet off the water and jumped. It was refreshingly cool and after sweating in the heat of the jungle this was exactly what I needed.  I just bobbed along like a cork as I was not putting any effort into avoiding the small black and harmless catfish that were everywhere. There were a few Tik Tokers and Instagrammers there,(I am sensing a recurring social media theme on this trip) which was fun to watch as they argued about getting the best shots. There was one little blondie who had her doting and sadly submissive boyfriend take continuous pictures of her at the same spot with different poses, I counted 27 different poses so who know how many pictures. There was a close up of her ass which was amusing. Then they moved onto videos and I got bored.

I picked up the colectivo back to Valladolid from the spot I was dropped off a few hours earlier without much of a wait. I did grab a coke and a bag of chips from a local vendor which cost $5. So be it. I needed the sugar and salt. This was a nice daytrip to start getting back into the grove of of seeing the world outside the boarders of my comfort zone. Although Mexico is as about as easy a country to travel in as any I have been in. None the less, and with all due respect to Kerouac. I am back "On the Road"