Friday, March 28, 2014

The Uxmal ruins

Having had more than enough of boring highways, we took the inland road to Uxmal, pronounced as 'Uschmal'. First thing we had to do was getting something to eat in Campeche and then find our way through this city towards the road that would bring us to Uxmal. The first part was easy, the second not. We had breakfast at a place where a huge Mormone family were having breakfast too, so it took a while before we received our order! After we finally had our brekkie, we visited one of old fortresses in town before heading to Uxmal. The 'Fort of San Jose el Alto' dates from the 18th century and houses a Maya museum. There weren't too many visitors that early in the morning but plenty of big Iguanas everywhere on the walls!

One of the many typical houses we saw along the way
Campeche's streets are narrow, riddled with potholes and for some reason everyone in a modern VW drove like a maniac. The many topes and even more trucks and buses gridlocked the whole city. Public transport is said to be better for the environment. In Mexico it isn't. A single public transport bus in this country produces more cancerous smoke than 50 cars. When we finally left the city limits behind us and could breathe fresh air again, we all made a sigh of relief. Ahead of us was a winding road through lots of small villages...! Mexico like we love to see it.

The landscape in the Yucatan isn't very inspiring. It reminds me of Queensland around the central coast and we even drove past a ranch with the name 'Australia'! In Mexico though there are beautiful small villages. People still live in small huts with roofs made from palm leaves. They are obviously very poor by our standards, but yet are much more friendly than in Chiapas for instance. We met a couple this morning who had been a little bit further south into Chiapas than we have and they had seen a group of men chasing a tourist for taking a photo at a festival... They wanted his camera! Here it is luckily very different. People smile, wave and ask us what we are doing. When we tell them we get the thumbs up. How different than just a couple of days before. 

The many small towns we go through also have this lovely mix of spices and cooking in the air again. Cooking done on wood fires and homemade BBQs. The temperatures have soared to 36 degrees and according to a weather report it's unseasonably hot. It's not the heat that hits us like a hammer though, it's the humidity. Sweat pours out of us and makes us very tired. The problem is, again, lack of camping grounds. Looking at the map it's barely 200 km along route '261', but doing that on roads like this, with their seemingly endless amounts of topes, still takes 5 hours.
Still, we all prefer these roads over highways as here 
we experience real Mexican life. We stopped around noon in the old town of Hopelchen for a well deserved cold coca cola. Just 34 pesos for 3 cold cokes and some sweets :-) Sitting under a palapa we smiled as we saw Mexican life go by. Two man transporting a ladder on a scooter, and many three-wheel bicycles with handmade roofs used for carrying anything from cargo to people. Just out of Hopelchen we passed the Tohcok ruins, a small site, on our way to Uxmal.

Halfway the '261' we crossed the 'border' and drove into the state of Yucatan. The Puuc route took us past the Kanab ruins and via the colourful town Santa Elena to the Uxmal ruins. In the western part of Yucatan there are several cities built on a low range of hills called 'Puuc', meaning 'hill' in the Mayan language.

Uxmal, known world wide for its ruins, offers camping. Not on a camping ground, but on the parking area for staff. We wondered what we paid for as there are no facilities and yet they charge almost as much as we had to pay the night before on a campground. Later we found that the restaurant offers wifi, if you know how to break into it and that there are toilets near the pool of the lodge that remain open all night. We were allowed to use their restrooms, after we ordered something to drink. One of the waiters spoke perfect English and helped us trying to contact the motorcycle shop in nearby Ticul, who should have new tyres for us. In between he brought us a couple of ice cold and much needed coca cola's!

The Uxmal ruins are expensive by Mexican standards. Entry is a whopping 188 pesos per person, compared to the standard 59 pesos for every ruin we visited before, even at the much larger site of Teotihuacan. The Yucatan Government asks for an extra 122 pesos per person on top of the standard national fee and Mexican people pay much less than overseas tourists! What a great way to welcome visitors! Our Californian neighbours gave us their tickets, so we had a look around at the end of the afternoon.

The 'Pyramid of the Magician' is impressive and is also the highest building. The 'rounded' corners of this pyramid makes it distinctly different to the other pyramids we had seen so far. Next to it is the 'Quadrangle of the Birds' where you can see representations of parrots, macaws and hummingbirds carved in stone. The 'Nunnery Quadrangle' looks like a patio which itself is overlooked by the Chambers in the constructions surrounding the square. The lintels here are adorned with geometrical patterns and snakes.

We bought the tickets for the 'laser' light show in the evening. The lasershow was a bit tacky and were just coloured lights rather than lasers. We think the loudspeakers blared out a historical story but unfortunately we couldn't understand a word of it as everything was in Spanish while most guests were clearly from overseas... We took photos of the ruins at night in coloured lights and the patterns in the walls of the Nunnery Quadrangle, which gave a very different effect under coloured lights.

The Yucatan is becoming a bit of a ruin tour. The landscape isn't, so far, very inspiring. Don't be fooled though there is an enormous amount of incredible history to be found here. The next 'stop' is not going to be a ruin though, at least we hope not, as it's the bikeshop in Ticul where we hope to fit new tyres!