Friday, March 28, 2014

Campeche, city of contrasts

We're camping in someones front garden. No, we're not one of those people who impose themselves onto others and expect freebies from people who need it more than us. We're simply camping with a family who have opened up their front garden as a campground. Resourceful lot those Mexicans. 

The plan was to stay for a day, but you know how it goes… There's a lot to see in Campeche, so we stayed a bit longer. Yesterday we rode through a maze of little roads to this 'campground', today we want to walk from here to the Malecon and the historic city centre. The backup plan was going to be a taxi ride back… Finding our way to the Malecon was easy, just walk towards the sea! Not that we could see the sea, but that was a minor detail. An hour and many turns later we saw the sea, or to be precise the Gulf of Mexico! According to our Mexican host the day was perfect for walking as it wasn't warm… She's from a long line of people that grew up here, we are not. The mexicans walk in jeans, while we sweat in shorts.

The Malecon showed us a mixture of modern and traditional Mexico. Modern office buildings and tasteless hotels line the Malecon, while little fishing boats float in the crystal-green waters of the Mexican gulf. Traditional crafts like repairing fishing-nets are still being practised, while the fishermen clean the catch of the day. The catch is being sold on the spot to men with cargo-tricycles carrying big ice boxes. They buy the fish and sell it in town.

We stayed around the pier where they all gathered for a while and made some photos of a way of life that hasn't changed much for generations. Fishermen are hardly known for their clean working practices and here too they simply dumped the scraps next to the boulevard. The smell attracts Iguanas… which was a bonus for us! You can virtually ride along with us from Centro Conservation de la Vida Silvestre in Escarcega to Campeche by clicking on the movie below.

Just 50 metres away expensive executive type limousines zoom past; the modern generation. While the traditional lifestyle is very much connected to the earth we live on, the modern generation is about as disconnected from it as can be. Two very distinctly different lifestyles. In town it's the same story. Traditional mostly Mayan people mix with the modern generation.
Campeche itself is a bit like that too, on the one hand very traditional while on the other desperately trying to cater for generation next. It's a beautiful town with strong historic roots that date back to a fortress fighting off pirates.

Most of the fortress has unfortunately been torn down over the years to make way for the modern. Realising they were in fact destroying all that makes Campeche beautiful, they are now restoring what is left…! It's a shame as Campeche has a long and colourful history. Founded in 1540 it quickly became the largest port in the Yucatan. It also quickly became wealthy, which meant it came under constant attacks from pirates like Francis Drake and Henry Morgan. Fortresses were built, which are now declared world cultural heritage.
The Mayan culture is strong, both in Campeche itself and around it, but I wonder how long it will be before it becomes nothing more than a tourist attraction.

We walked around Campeche and enjoyed its cultural heritage. It's visible everywhere, in every street and every building. That looks can be deceptive was proven again today, when we saw how the traditional flagstone pavement has been replaced by poured in place concrete which was later grooved with a saw to make it look like flagstones.
Perhaps a cheaper way to do it and thus more cost effective, but the noise and dust was bizarre.

Trying to get something to eat proved a challenge. For some reason we found ourselves in an establishment with strange people. It already started with a young lady that was mopping the floor. They had told her where to mop and she seemed programmed to do exactly what they had told her. Obviously I wasn't there when they programmed her and now that I was suddenly there, she was confused. She kept on mopping until she hit my foot… quite hard… and then just froze. She didn't look at me or talked to me but just froze… I looked at her for a couple of seconds but all I saw was a glazed look aimed at the ground.

I moved my foot and she continued mopping, until she hit my other foot and then froze again. We decided to move out of her way so she could continue her 'program' :-) Ordering food was the next challenge… especially the simple milkshake turned out to be a major complication. It took 10 minutes per milkshake… no exaggeration. Handmade and fresh is good,

but this guy had obviously never made a milkshake before and followed a printed recipe to the letter. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion too, even the ice-cream came out of the machine in slow-motion! Instead of making 3 milkshakes at the same time, he made one. When finally finished, he looked at the order again and started on the second one… followed by the third… and the milkshakes weren't all that good either.

Trying to find our way back was, well, trying! I had asked Mike that morning to take the GPS with him, we have a handheld one after all and finding our way back through this endless maze of narrow streets would be all but impossible. Of course he had forgotten to bring it…! But, not to worry as Jeanette had an old fashioned piece of paper with the address on it… which she had lost somewhere during the day… Arrrgh! We walked for hours but amazing really, we did find it back…!

Other campers had turned up in some kind of 4-wheel drive monster. We had seen them at Palenque too. Mike suggested to have an early shower, before the other guests came back from their walk, so that we had hot water. We needn't have bothered as the water heater had died some time before. Unlike Palenque and Teotihuacán, which were sort of proper campgrounds with corresponding fees, I have no problems with this. The people we are staying with now are poor. Really poor. They cook outside on small wood fires… The outside shower we are using is the one they use as well. The daughter of the old lady that owns the house has an old battered car that runs on two, sometimes three cylinders. Her husband hitches a lift to work on a friend's little motorbike. They don't have a hot shower as it's a luxury they simply can't afford.

The lady that owns the house opened an RV park more than 40 years ago, on the other side of the street. No doubt the reduction in tourists, caused b the US scare campaign, has forced her to sell her RV park, which is now the garden of a big house. The current RV park is therefore simply her front yard and has room for 3-4 small RVs. The only reminder of the original RV park is the old sign, which is now in the middle of her garden. We like people like that and are glad we found her!

Still the most iconic car of Mexico, the humble VW Beetle