Caryl and Brian's World Bike Tour

Santa Rosalia, BCS to Merida, Yuc

Back Home Up Next


Date: Sat, 08 Feb 1997 10:40:15 -0500

Copyright (c) 1997 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.

Chapter 35 - Jan. 19 to Feb. 3 Santa Rosalia, BCS to Merida, Yuc 22,179 KM (13,751 MI) cumulative

Our first glimpse of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) was on a long, windy downhill cramped in the front seat of that Ford Bronco with Carl and Nell. The gray water reflecting the overcast skies was studded with tall white caps as the violent wind tore the water asunder. Carl dropped us off at the nice Las Palmas RV park 2 miles south of town and continued his journey south. We began our 2 day wait for the ferry by heading into the town of Santa Rosalia to see what was to be seen.

Santa Rosalia is perhaps the most uncharacteristic Baja California town we've ever seen. That's because it was originally a French copper mine town. The French carried on mining until 1950 when the Mexicans took over. The mines finally closed for good in 1985. Its streets are lined with wood factory town block style buildings rather than the normal stucco California style. We hear the wood was imported from the coasts of Oregon and Washington. There are two main streets running perpendicular from Rt 1 up into the valley beneath the trailings of the old mine. At the head of the street is a wide squat building with a square cupola bell tower. The former school, this is now the Mahatma Ghandi biblioteca, currently undergoing renovaton. Further down one of the streets is an interesting discount style grocery store and a civic center all contained in what looks like an old fashioned livery stable. The civic center houses a collection of interesting old photos taken during the town's prosperous mining era.

Further down the road is an odd metal church. Designed by Monsieur Eiffel of the Paris tower fame for the very same worlds fair, it was dismantled, shipped around Cape Hope of South America and reassembled on this spot in 1895 to 1897. It has dark grey steel I-beams running vertically along its walls at about 1 meter spacings riveted to sheets of light gray painted steel stamped with a large rectangualar design. The dark on light gray was designed to provide both form and decoration as several of the dark beams curve to form arches above the doors. Peeking inside yields a view of those graceful steel beams curving up to the apex of the roof. There is no attempt to conceal the beams with any roofing material or ornamentation. So, rather than giving the appearance of a house of worship I was more reminded of a blimp hanger. It seemed a bit "factory" like with those exposed steel beams.

Continuing past the main shopping district the merchandizing buildings give way to those small, box like company row houses. Positioned on either side of a large park median, it's easy to still see the former company characteritics of the town. However, with the mine being closed and virtually no agricuture nearby it's hard to pinpoint just what the town's economic base is today, other than tourism. There is some squid fishing and I hear there may be hope for reopening the mines, but not much else is evident. Yet, there's a lot of construction and renovating going on so there must be some sort of industry not within immediate view.

Tucked way up at the end of the valley is the "low rent" part of town. Small shacks constructed of no more than bits and pieces of plywood are tacked together in every possible flat spot in the cliffs and among the scattered trash. Chickens, dogs, cats, and children play in the sloppy brown mud caused by the recent rains. Cars with flat tires seem to have become part of the neighborhood along with the four very colorful bars lining the edge of town. Interesting cooking odors exhude from everywhere. The smell of fresh baked bread from the famous bakery, a legacy of the French culture, pungent smells of frying meat from the street side taco vendors, to the musty aroma of hot tortillas from the corner tortilleria. The streets provide a feast for both eyes and nose.

Above the town on either side of the valley sits more buildings from the early mining era. To the north is what must have been "management row". Square, squat buildings with hipped roofs all having large front proches line Ave. Constitution. A larger building houses the Hotel Frances, open since 1886. A hotel of great former grandeur, it is now showing some wear from age and spotty maintenance. Another large building painted a bright sea green/blue appears to have been some sort of headquarters. A long line of telegraph insulators indicate this was the center for communications. It now houses a museum. The south mesa is home to several residences and a local radio staton with its tall red and white tower.

Early on Sunday morning the ferry pulled out from the small French made harbour headed across the gulf to Guaymas. Apart from the green trees in town, the brown rugged hills are all that can be seen for miles around. Town looks like a small oasis. We waved a sad farewell to this little town we've gotten to know so well.

Eight hours later we pulled into a mirror image of Santa Rosalia. Brown hills surrounded the green trees planted around the village. However, Guaymas is much larger, some 100,000 people. Wandering around we quickly realized how much more advanced and and cosmopolitan a city on the mainland is. There were two very large K-Mart style stores with grocery stores attached. Here the shelves were full and for once the aisles didn't feel quite so spacious. Clothes, paper, computers, furniture, pharmacies, florists, photographers, every thing you could possible want could be found along the main Calle Serdon. All side roads were paved and had sidewalks. Most intersections had stoplights. Even the cars driven by the locals seemed to be newer, cleaner, and in better condition. We realized that, just as in the U.S., remote desert towns in Mexico have to go through a lot of effort to get any commodities delivered. Consequently, they all tend to be rather spartan and backward in appearance.

We had just arrived on the ferry, hopped on the bikes, and headed into town to find a motel for the night when we ran into our first mainland bike tourist and, as it turns out, we were Mike's first tourists. A year ago Mike had ridden from Tierra del Fuego in Chile up to Peru. After spending about a month being sick, he had to go back to the U.S. to recover. Now he was working his way back to Peru to connect to his original route. In between riding he takes on a variety of jobs, maintenance at national parks, odd jobs in hospitals, anything to make enough money for his next bit of travel. He's a wanderer with no desires to settle down and not much capital to travel with. We've met a lot of people like him. For this particular day we enjoyed his company and tales of riding through South America.

Our next task was to figure out how to get from Guaymas in the state of Sonora to Merida in the sate Yucatan, some 2000 miles further south, via the bus. We quickly discovered that if there's one thing Mexico has perfected is its amazing bus system. Buses run the length and width of Mexico with incredible frequency and consistency. Any town, big or small, can be reached via one of the many bus companies running throughout. Even within town I guarantee you can easily pick up a bus from within a block of where you are and get off within a block of where you want to be. Local busses can be anything from old school busses to small vans. But the long distance first class busses are fantastic, putting to shame anything Greyhound has to offer. They are big, plush with comfy seats, carpeted interiors, and of all things, televisions. They provide movies, usually in English with Spanish subtitles. Two drivers man the long distance busses. Taking turns driving, the off man sleeps in a tiny chamber located just forward of the lower baggage compartments. There's a bed and a little door with a window so he can see out. I tell you, sitting on one of these busses for such a long journey isn't bad at all.

Security seems to be quite a concern on these busses. The CIA report I downloaded from the WWW mentioned bus robberies in the states of Sonora and Campeche, both of which we were going through. Guaymas is in Sonora. As long as we were in Senora, each time the bus stopped to pick up passengers it would be stopped only a few miles down the road and searched. All male passengers, shows this is still a bit of a male dominated society, were asked to get off and were frisked, except Brian. I guess they don't have problems with gringos holding up busses.

Our first leg to Merida was to Guadalajara, 20 hours straight. While on this bus we met William, an electircal engineering student from the university in Los Mochis. He's traveling with his mother and aunt for a vacation in Guadalajara during the winter recess. We talked for hours, me in my broken Spanish and him very slowly so I could understand. From William we solved one of the mysteries of Mexico, all those half finished buildings. Evidently back in 1995 when the peso was devalued the cost of labor and materials skyrocketed. So projects that were underway simply ran out of funds. It wasn't poor planning, it was just due to upheavels in the economy. But, now Mexico is allowing their currenty to float at market value. So maybe once things have settled these unfinnished projects can be completed. It seems more and more evident that artificially setting a currency's value is a ticket to a future disaster. The longer it takes for the government to realize this the harder the change is on the general populace. It's like a baloon getting larger and larger until it bursts. The people of Russia have had to suffer the consequences of such a policy and so have the people of Mexico. Mexico, however, is more fortunate in that they were in a better position to start. So their recovery should be much faster, hopefully.

The second leg was from Guadalajara to Mexico City where we needed to change not only busses but bus terminals. From Guadalajara we climbed up and over mountains covered in brown scrubby desert bushes into huge fertile plains where thousands and thousands of agave plants are grown. Agave is used to make tequila, also the name for the town. Towns large and small whizzed by our window and we could only catch glimpses of the plazas, churches, stores, and houses. It's like loking at a snapshot of a place. You never really get to be there.

After our final 22 hour ride from Mexico City we arrived at our destination, Merida, and I got sick. "Monteczuma's revenge"? you ask. Actually, no. I caught the worst head cold I've had in more than 3 years. One of those achy, sniffly, can't breath, coughy, tired types that totally zaps your strength and desire to do any more than sleep. For three days straight I spent afternoons sleeping and mornings just barely lugging my tired body arund the town of Merida. I just hope this is it for getting sick.

Merida, located on the north side of the penninsula, is the capital of the Yucatan state. It was founded in 1852 right on top of some ancient Mayan ruins. It quickly became a seat of power and wealth as many of the rich Spanish flocked to the city. They built huge mansions around the main square, Plaza de Indepencia, and down a wide boulevard, Calle Montejo compared to the Champs Ellisye in Paris.. This construction was done on the backs of the indegenous Mayan society who became essentially slave labor for the Spaniards. Naturally this lead to an uprising known today as the War of the Castes. Today, class still plays a major roll in the advancement possibilities of the people, People of Spanish descent getting the best jobs and those of mostly Indian descent often having to resort to begging. But there doesn't seem to be the slave labor anymore.

The Spaniards who moved to Merida brought with them their European ideas for town platting and architecture. Consequently Merida has an appearance like no other town in Mexico. In the old part of town buildings are usually 2 stories, each about 10 to 15 feet tall, and have doors and windows that extend the full height of each story. It's an outdoors society so doors are often thrown wide open during the day which alleviates some of the claustrophobic feeling you'd normally get from such narrow streets. Peek inside each door and you'll see an open air courtyard filled with tropical plants, fountains, furniture, all in very Spanish tradition. The town's main plaza is surrounded by buildings having covered front walkways. Arches along the walkway look much like the Morrocan architecture found in southern Spain. Put me down in the center of Merida and I'd guess I was in Spain not Mexico.

Merida is one of the liveliest towns we've seen in Mexico, Every evening there's something new going on. Friday, our first night, we went to dinner for pizza and wound up getting to see a Jarena, a show with classic Yucatan dancing and singing. Sunday the entire city comes alive wtih what they call "Merida en Domingo", Merida on Sunday. All of the squares are blocked off to vehicular traffic. Enterntainment stages are assembled at each and chairs laid out. Enterntainment of all types happen all day, dance contests for kids, reggei or big band or rock music, dancing. You name it, it happens somewhere. Also, stalls for a giant craft mart are set up all over. It's a party atmosphere with all the Merida residents dressed in their full Sunday best and us tourists in our "tourist grungies" intermingling.

Crafts you can find in the Yucatan are rather unique. Panama hats made by weaving palm fronds are favorite tourist purchases, although they don't seem to be so popular to the locals, at least I didn't see a lot of locals with hats. Or perhaps the traditional huilpil dress still worn by many women which is essentially a white shift with a square neckline having fancy embroidery around the neck and the lower edge. Color, open weave, silk embrodery, or cross stich all are unique to an individual town and a person's particular tastes. Hammocks are also a big item. People use hammocks in the summer to keep cool and most hotels provide hammock hooks for your nightly swing.

The wierdest little tourist trinket you could take home had to be the bug pins. They take this bug, about 2 inches long, having a brown back and creepy black legs, glue on some colored glass crystals, and attach it to a chain you pin to your shirt. Here's the rub, the bugs are not dead. They're live and the crawl all over you, "Eeeewwww" was my only thought. I can't imagine too many U.S. citizens buy them as they're rather gross and they're illegal to bring into the U.S. Still, I couldn't imagine wanting this creepy crawly bug wandering all over me, much less paying cash for it.

We spent 3 days just exploring Merida; its plazas, markets, museums, restaurants. And I spent a fair amount of time just napping as I suffered through the worst of this cold. When the cold finally abated we decided to take our first look at some Maya ruins located just 20 Km out of town, an easy day ride. So we rode out of the very European looking town center into suberbia Merida filled with cleaned stuccoed houses with manicured lawns and bushes, past Wendy's, Burger King, McDonalds, TGI Friday's, Dominoes Pizza, Pizza Hut, Sears, Sam's Club while Fords, Chevys, and Chryslers surrounded us. Just where the heck are we anyway?

Finally suberbia gave way to a flat plain filled with scraggly looking shrubs and trees along with a few scattered cactus and heneque'n, relative of the yucca plant. The soil is rocky limestone with little topsoil and very little surface water. In addition, native people have been cutting down every living tree for building and fuel since the time of the Spanish occupation. So vegetation is much sparser in appearance than one would expect for a jungle. It's a decidous jungle at that. When rains fail to come, the trees loose their leaves.

One right turn, 4 Km more, and we arrived at our destination, Dzibilchaltu'n (zee-beel-chal-TOON). We started our tour with a long visit in their air conditioned museum, a welcome relief from the humid heat. It contains artifacts from the Maya culture before the Spanish arrival, just after, and today along with expanation signs in both Spanish and English. I found the discussion of the five directions, north, south, east, west, and center, along with their associated colors most interesting as the Hopi of the U.S. southwest have a similar system.

Beyond the museum is a Mayan road built of stones, called sacbe', that is over 15 m wide, 1 km long running east to west connecting the main parts of the city. At the east end is a squat pyramide about 20 ft high topped with a box shaped temple building that has a tall central tower, all total about 40 ft high. The temple has a center room surrounded by a corridor, doors facing all four directions, and windows beside the east and west doors. The temple is surrounded by the foundation remains of several large rectangular buildings that have been determined to have been residences.

At the other end of the road are several more sets of foundations surrounding the main square that is typically found in most Mayan villages. Most impressive was the palace. Believed to be one of the longest buildings in all of the Mayan country, the bottom 15 or so steps of this building extended 130 meters. The building atop the steps had 35 doors. The stairs faced the center square and were probably used as viewing stands for events going on in the square.

The remains of over 8,000 other buildings dot the landscape between the scrubby bush. Most are small, ovel shaped individual residences of the general population. The shape and design of these oval buildings is virtually identical to many of the buildings we've seen still used by Mayan decendents in the area. The oval walls are made from blocks covered in stucco. The steep roof is either thatched or covered in a brown corrugated metal. So it appears that building designs of the ancient Mayas were pretty durn practical, otherwise they would no longer be used.

Walls of the temple and palace buildings are made from roughly rectangular shaped blocks cemented together with a limestone or clay morter and bits of rock chinks to fill in the spaces. What gets interesting are the vaulted ceilings. Whan the wall reaches the desired height they started piling layers of flat, platter like rocks alternating with layers of morter. Each row extends a little beyond the next gradually increasing the thickness of the wall and creating an arched ceiling. When the rock layer on either side was about 1 ft apart, a rectangular cap stone bridging the gap between the two walls was put on. We got the impression that they almost, but not quite, had the idea of how to build a proper arched roof. They didn't seem to quite have the notion of cutting blocks into a wedge shape and then fitting them into a smooth circular arch which causes load in the arch to be transferred circumferentially. Their method still would have essentially vertical loads (here comes that engineer again). For all their incredible mathmatical genius, you'd think they'd have figured this one out. The Romans did.

One final, and really nice, feature of Dzibilchaltu'n was its cenote. In this somewhat arid region of little surface water, much of the water runs through underground caves and caverns in the relatively honeycomb porosity of the limestones. In some places the top crust of limestone has given way and the underground waters have welled up to form pools of crystal clear water. This cenote is about 50 ft in diameter and some 44 ft deep, acording to 1957 diving measurements. It would have provided water for the city during its early years. As the city approached its maximum population of 40,000 people other sources of water would have been needed. Today it is still a crystal clear pool providing a refreshing break from the midday heat. Yes swimming is permitted and we gladly partook.

Dzibilchaltu'n is not one of the major destination ruin sites for tourists. Therefore, there were only a few other visitors during the entire day. This made for an entirely pleasant day as we could wander at will without tripping over someone or getting in the way of someone else, take an afternoon siesta in a shady and quiet veranda, and enjoy a relaxing swim. I suspect when we've finished our Mayan tour, this might prove to be our most pleasant visit of all.

Our second foray out of Merida was to the small fishing village Sisal, about 30 miles north. Once again we left the suberbs, this time through the less affluent neighborhoods, and headed into the flat, flat countryside. Along the way we passed fields of henequen and occasionally we could hear the sounds of someone back in the brush chopping away. Back during the Spanish occupation a major product from the area was the rope made from the henequen plant. The Spaniards set up plantations similar to those in the U.S. south, complete with slave labor and huge mansions. However, the bottom fell out of the henequen rope market when nylon rope was invented and sailing ships were replaced with steam. Add to that the fact that the slavery was ended, the Spaniards either left or had to give up their plantation lifestyle. So now only huge stucco covered shells show scant reminders of the previous wealth and grandeur in the region.

Henequen is still harvested, although on a much smaller scale. They are desert plants which allows them to grow with virtually no water, poor soil, and little care. The henequen harvesters just need to occasionally replace dead plants. It's a no muss no fuss crop. They do have to harvest, which involves going in with a machette, cutting these sword sharp leaves off at the base, bundling them with twine, and carrying the bunches to the road for pick-up. It's back breaking labor that resembles a sword fight to the death with the victor getting paid squat. But, I guess it keeps the tummy full and a roof over the head.

Half way to Sisal we passed through the town of Hunucma which was busily preparing for its annual February celebration of the Virgin of Tetiz. Our bike tour book, written 8 years ago, describes a scene of small amusement park rides set before a ricketty bull fight ring. To our surprise the same structures were still in use for the festival. In particular the bull fight ring. It's simply made from slender logs lashed together with a few rows of wood planks for seats generously and precariously perched on top of the poles. The whole thing looked little stronger that toothpicks. Some assembly was definitly required.

Turning onto the route to Sisal the traffic settled down to a few trucks and the ever present bus passing about once every 15 minutes. Henequen farms gave way to jungle which gave way to a swamp just before town. Several small boats were being poled around the swampy waters while a second passenger peered overboard, fishing net ready to scoop up some swamp morsel. The entire scene looking like something out of a National Geographic special.

Sisal, a virtually deserted town in the winter, is more of a resort town where Mexicans come to excape the summer heat for a while. It was not a fancy resort town. It's just filled with lots of blockish, pastel colored houses fronting the aqua marine waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There were three small restaurants, one little hotel, and a couple small stores and one large, dilapidated pier. At one time Sisal was the shipping port for all that henequen. But the water was too shallow, so the port was moved to Progresso, which also proved to be too shallow necessitating building a huge pier over 1 mile long. The pier now has three gaping holes where the concrete decking has collapsed, making a great place for fishing. We watched as a young boy, sans pole, tossed in his line with some little silver fish attached again and again only to lose the little fish and finally his hook to the seas. His total take, only three small fish about 4 inches in length. Ah, but not to be outdone, an amigo soon showed up carrying a net and the fishing continued in earnest. Although we did have to wonder, why weren't these boys in school?

We left the sandy beach and turned our attention to finding lunch from one of the stores and a bench in the town square. In the center of a typical town square is a huge concrete pad, often circular and sometimes with some sort of bandstand. There'll be sidwalks coming to the center from each corner and from one or more locations on the side. This results in a square of mostly concrete and a few small patches for trees and bushes. These concrete pads often end up being the ball court for late evening soccor matches between the boys. The town square in Sisal was no exception, although in this case the condition of the square seemed to be a bit underpar when compared to other towns.

Our ride back to Merida took us once again past that temporary bull ring in Hunucma, past the suberbs, back to a nice shower. Temperatures were running in the 90s with high humidity during midday and we were quiickly learning to appreciate daily showers and refrigeration.

Merida was beginning to feel like an old friend. After almost a week we'd visited it's plazas, museums, markets, calles, and post office. But it still had the capacity to surprise. Turning down a corner at calle 64 and 53 (odd streets go east west, even north south) we came across not just one, but 4 well appointed bike shops. This was a surprise because our Latin America bike tour book said specifically not to expect good bike shops in Mexico. Yet, here was one of the best stocked shops we'd ever seen. Granted, the parts were for older style, friction shift bikes and were not of the top quality grade. But, there was a long, glass topped counter under which were bins of every imaginable part availalbe for sale. There were cables, spokes of all sizes, derraileurs, shifters, brake handles, handle bars, chain rings, several choices of mirrors and water bottle holders, handle bar tape, nuts, bolts, pedals, virtually anything you could possible need to repair hour own bike. Things have changed in the 8 years since that book was written.

Now that we'd gotten our pedals wet, so to speak, with a couple short day rides it was time to try some real Yucatan touring. Earlier we had decided to take a short loop tour, head east to see the pyramides at Izmala, north to the ocean, west and south again back to Merida in about 4 days. We got lost a couple tomes trying to get out of town, but once we got out we found ourselves on a reasonably quiet country road with those few trucks and busses. Drivers were unbelievably courteous, often waiting to go around when cars were coming the other way. We discovered this is because there are lots of folks who get about solely on these one speed bikes or these odd three wheeled carts. One wheel in the back with the pedals and seat looks just like the rear of any one speed bike. The front is a big basket made from 1" diameter tubes with a wheel attached on either side. The whole front basket turns to make corners. Some people just use them to haul cargo. But many have been made into bicycle taxis. Vertical wood poles hold makeshift roofs made from all sorts of colored cloth, some people have added radios to entertain passengers, refreshments, and even side panels to protect against the rain. They can carry two adult passengers anywhere around town, but I doubt they could do any hills. Good thing it's flat.

Our first goal was about 30 miles east, the ruins of Ake. A little off the route, our map showed them as being some major archeological site. To our disappointment we discovered just a couple piles of rocks. This area hasn't been excavated or rebuilt so there's not much to see.

Of course, as fate would have it, we would have to suffer a bike failure right there. Once again it appeared that Brian's rear derailleur cable had snapped. Under the big brown watchful eyes of three small children we whipped out the tools and a new cable. I explained that the bike was "rota" but this elicited nothing more than a shy giggle. As we fiddled we discovered that "no" the cable was not broken. The clamping device holding the cable had loosened. In fact we found the threads for the bolt in the clamp had been completely stripped. I guess we'd applied a few too many turns of the wrench. What to do? It couldn't be tightened and without that cable Brian's rear gears were gone. I thought, "hose clamp". We had brought several of the smallest hose clamps we could find along. Wrapping the clamp around the bolt with the cable firmly underneath we got everything back together and working. After so many years of riding we've concluded that you can fix almost anything on a bike with wire, duct tape, and hose clamps.

We finished the 55 mile journey to Izamal in that penetrating heat and humidity to find ourselves in the cheapest hotel we've ever seen. The room was spartan, almost like a hospital ward, with white stuccoed walls, green and white tile floor, two beds with only sheets, one small table and chair. It has a rather small and dingy ban~o with a cold shower. For a mere $40 NP ($5 U.S.) we couldn't complain.

Dumping the bikes, grabbing a shower, we went for a walk. To our absolute amazement we found yet another bike shop in this small town. Again this place had a huge assortment of part odds and ends. We managed to explain the trouble we were having and low and behold he had a replacement screw. Concerned that it wouldn't fit, he pulls out a derailleur, a cheaper Shimano variety, takes it apart, vrifies the screw fits, and then hands the screw back to us not asking for one peso in return. That was so nice.

Izamal has a long history as a major town in the Yucatan. It had been the religious center of the Mayan culture and is home to several huge pyramides interestingly hidden behind the walls of the current town. One pyramide is said to be among one of the largest of the entire Mayan world. Measuring about 650 ft on each side and about 180 ft high it's size far surpasses any other building within town with the exception of the church. Two Mayan roads, sacbe, lead from Izamal to other major Mayan towns, Ake for one. We could see remains of the road sitting in a Henequen field on one side as we road into town. It is said that Izamal is where the Mayan alphabet was invented and the special use for henequen was discovered, but this may only be legend.

In 1553 Fransiscan friar Don Diego came convert and subjugate the Mayans. He also made this his religious capital. In a show of contempt and power he built a huge monastary right atop one of the pyramides, utilizing the same ramps and walkways and also using many of the old building blocks in the church's construction. It was this same Friar Diego who was responsible for destroyng the Mayan codices, books filled with hyroglyphic historical information meticulously maintained by the Mayans. Just imagine the wealth of information lost at the hands of that religious zealot. But, that was one of their methods for breaking the will and spirit of native peoples, destroy their past and anything having to do with their previous religions.

For a while the town became the capital of Yucatan. But as Merida gained importance, the capital was moved and Izamal dropped into obscurity. Now it's a quiet town filled with tall yellow painted buildings, two squares, the church and pyramides. Tourists occasionally stop by to visit for the day but rarely stay for the night. So during our evening stroll we found ourselves to be the sole gringos around. But people seemed perfectly happy to ignore us or just stare as we walked by. The town hall came alive for a while as small pickup trucks with tall wood cages in the back came pouring into town. Out of the trucks jumped dozens of panama hat clad men, looking a bit like the contestants of one of those "stuff an many people in a VW as you can" contests. They conferred for a while, strode purposefully into the mayor's office, and then filed out one-by-one about 1/2 hour later, business finished. We have no idea what the business may have been.

We spent 2 nights in Izmala as Brian came down with some sort of stomach ailment, maybe it was the tomato he ate. So we got to spend a full day in this interesting village. During the heat of the day it's quiet, hardly anyone is in the squares or out walking around. Except for a bunch of school kids performing practice drill squads. They march around, stiff armed, stomping every other foot, into several different formations. One carries a pole representing a flag. They must be preparing for some sort of drill team competition.

As the sun sets the square comes alive. Couples stroll or sit on benches, children play tag or soccor, vendors push carts loaded with citrus fruit they peel and serve with chili pepper and salt, teenagers ride around and around on bicycles, the horse carriages clip-clop past. There's laughter, music, and talking. It's real lively and since it was dark we could sit on a bench and blend into the shadows. We got to observe without being the ones observed.

The next day Brian seemed to be feeling somewhat better, so we packed up and headed out. Passing a few small towns, each one preparing for a big February festival with their individual, toothpick rickety bull ring, concrete center plaza, stucco buildings lining the main streets, and small oval shaped Mayan style houses on the outskirts. Each one looks so much like the last, but just a little different. In between each town we pass mile after mile of that strange scraggly jungle, there's lots of plants but everything seems rather brown or lacking in green leaves. Yellow, purple, red, and white flowers abound alongside the road. Bicycles and cows outnumber cars on many roads making for an easy relaxing, slow paced ride. Kind of your Sunday ride around the block.

Unfortunately, it turned out Brian's stomach bug was not quite completely licked. We got as far as Dslim de Bravo on the beach, grabbed a hotel room, and decided to sit tight until whatever it was finally passed. What a hotel room. Located on the second floor of a white stucco building with red trim and a small front patio, we could look across the street to coconut laden palm trees fronting a white sandy beach, the dark blue and light green waters of the gulf acting as a back drop. Little fishing boats of all colors bobbed up and down on the waves. It's a spartan room with not much more than a bed, fan, toilet, and cold shower. But with this million dollar view and a cost of only $40 NP ($5 U.S.) it's worth every dime.

We woke to sunny skies, a roaring tail wind, and Brian feeling somewhat better. So we decided to head on. Continuing north along the flat, flat road past white sandy beachs covered with coconut palm trees we finally came to Progresso, our last stop before returning to Merida. Progresso is the big, big resort town where all the Meridians come to escape the summer heat. In the winter, however, it seems almost like a ghost town. For several miles before hitting the center of town we passed huge, vacant condo complexes, boarded up beach houses, closed restaurants. This isn't the busy time of year for the town, so much of town is deserted. Looking for a hotel, we found the most incredible deal we've found so far. The room was bigger than many houses we'd seen and had 3 rooms, a huge bedroom, an attached kitchen with frig and 2 burner stove, and a huge bathroom. Located on the ground floor in a hotel right across from the beach and costing just $70 NP ($9 U.S.) we found we were in heaven. Naturally, we just had to stay 2 nights before returning to Merida.

Appendix A - Route

Ferry from Ste. Rosalia to Guaymas, busses to Merida, Rt 80 to Izamal, north-east through Temax, Dslim Gonzolas, to Dslim de Bravo, coastal route to Progresso

Appendix B - Campsites

Baja California

Las Palmas RV Park in Santa Rosalia ($), Hotel De Real ($),

En route to Merida

Hotel Santa Rite in Guaymas ($), La Parada hotel in Guadalajara ($), Motel in mexico City ($)


Casa Bowen in Merida 6 nights ($), No Name hotel in Izamal 2 nights ($), Los Flamingos hotel in Dslim de B. ($), Playa Linda hotel in Progresso 2 nights ($)

($) indicates fee camping


Copyright 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.



We'd like to thank my father, Charles Johnson, whose diligent mail forwarding and other logistical support make this journey far easier than it could be otherwise.


Wendy Strutin Riedy for archiving the newsletters on her WWW site,

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