Saturday, March 29, 2014

Unexpected Merida

Our visit to Merida is a beautiful example why you shouldn't plan too much, but allow the unexpected to happen. We had not planned to visit Merida. That we went there was one of this spur of the moment decisions, that was made in a restaurant while talking to a bikeshop owner. Tony talked about beautiful Merida and one thing led to another… which resulted in us going east instead of south-west, a decision that we didn't regret!

Don't drive in Mexico at night! It's too dangerous! So guess what we did? Not that we had planned to arrive late in Merida, it was simply the result of a malfunctioning ATM card reader and the GPS going berserk for some reason. We had filled up the bikes in Ticul and were ready to go. The only thing left to do was pay for the fuel, but it wasn't going to be that easy… The machine malfunctioned, then the bank said the card's chip was invalid… Three more attempts and we had finally paid for our go-juice. There was nothing wrong with the card.

The GPS then decided to send us south… and over roads that dead-ended in goat tracks through someone's garden. It had never done this before. Resetting the unit seemed to work, as at least it came up with another route, but that turned out to be wrong as well. In the end we did it the Karina way: ask a local!

Just before Merida we saw a group of 30 motorcycles that were pulled off the road at one of the many police check points. They didn't look happy. The policemen looked somewhat puzzled at us, but they had their hands full already and thus let us pass. Shortly after we had a police car behind us with flashing lights… oh, oh! They drove past at high speed and kept on going… pfew. We saw another 20 police cars coming from all directions, drove through a dozen roadblocks and wondered what the %$# was going on here? They even had fires on the road at the roadblocks. Tony told us later it was normal Merida police behaviour. They were simply doing alcohol checks. Hmmm. The alcohol checks are good of course, but the fires left a lot of damage to the roads.

All in all we arrived late at our rendezvous point and Tony wasn't anywhere to be found. After 20 minutes we began to wonder if this had been such a good idea after all. No mobile phone, no internet and thus no way to contact Tony. Maybe he had gone home thinking we wouldn't show up. Just as we started thinking about going to the campground in Merida (if that is still there) Tony arrived.

We followed him home through a maze of roads that seem to be standard in modern housing development areas for decades now, parked the bikes, dropped our gear in his house and went to the historical centre of Merida. Ten minutes later I was already glad we came and concluded it was a good idea after all! Merida's buildings are very different from previous towns we had visited. Even stronger Spanish influences but also Mayan hints.

The main square was full of artists, food stalls and all kinds of little shops. The atmosphere is great! In true Mexican style anything seem to go here and unlike western cities, here it also works. I still haven't worked out though if it works despite or because of the madness…

Tony knows Merida well, so we left it up to him to find us a good restaurant. A good choice! He took us to Trumpus, which we can recommend highly. We had a huge 'special Yucatan style meat and lots of cheese' pizza with a big Mexican twist! We enjoyed ourselves so much that we almost got into trouble. The parking area where we parked the car closed at 23.00, yet it was already 23.40 when we came back to collect it… they were just closing the doors!

The next day we went to Tony's bikeshop in Puerto Progeso on the coast. A slightly smaller shop than in Ticul but just as many, if not more, parts in stock. The shop had only opened 6 months ago, but was already doing a lot of business. Italika is the main brand here as unlike many other brands, Italika spare parts are readily available. Looking around me I see all kinds of unknown brands to me, a reminder that we are yet on another continent. I had for instance never heard of motorcycle tyres made in Brasil.

Puerto Progreso is a nice coastal town. Clearly geared for tourism but not in a nasty tacky way. We had breakfast/lunch at one of the oldest restaurants in town and then went to the beach. It was blowing a gale. Sandblasting our skin and cameras wasn't high on the wish list and we therefore left it at driving past and having a look from behind the windows. We also visited the ruins at Dzibilchaltún, which means 'the place 

where there is writing on the stones' and is located between Puerto Progreso and Merida. They were discovered in 1941, but date from the pre-classic period. Like many ruins, they suffered from 'The Conquest' but are well worth a visit. They also have some unique features. Each year at dawn on March 21 the sun shines directly through the doorway of the 'Temple of the 7 Dolls' named after an offering of 7 figurines which were found in the temple. The Maya museum at Dzibilchaltún is closed every Monday, but luckily not the Maya Museum in Merida!

Ever since I was a young lad, museums have given me somewhat of a mixed feeling. Most museums are, lets face it, boring. Art museums tend to show miserable blotches of paint on a piece of paper stuck to a wall in an expensive frame. Quite a few museums also tend to have the architecture of a cardboard box with complementing boring white interior walls. 
Not my kind of thing I'm afraid and they tend to leave me with a feeling that I've wasted hours of my life which I could have spend much better. The Maya Museum in Merida isn't one of those museums. Not at all! They call it the Maya Museum of the World, and not without reason. It's an inspiring building and once inside this theme continues with informative and beautifully made displays. We spend the whole afternoon in there. It's one of those places where you feel you have learned something and thus spend your time sensibly.
At 9 pm every night they have a light show outside. The people from Uxmal may want to visit this and learn a thing or two how to do this properly… it's an amazing show that shows the Mayan history in a modern and arty kind of way using no less than 16 high quality video projectors. They produce a seamless movie on the whole length of the outside wall. Very well done and according to the guard the director of the museum designed the whole show himself. As it was our last night in Merida, we couldn't have wished for a better way to spend it!

Merida was an unexpected addition to our trip, a spur of the moment thing. Tony told us about Merida and how beautiful it is, so we went there. Things like this make our trip take a lot longer than most, but it also makes it so much more beautiful!
Afterwards Tony took us to another good restaurant in Merida. Good food, good company and an amazing light show was a perfect end of our stay in Merida.