Thursday, May 03, 2007

day two: valladolid, chichen itza, merida

May 2 dawned bright and hot in Valldolid; I blearily dressed and packed, and then wandered downstairs. We all had the same breakfast - pancakes, orange juice, and coffee, in the hotel garden. The pancakes were amazing, though I had been sort of hoping for my old friends rice and beans.
There was lots of time before we were supposed to meet to begin the day, so a few of us wandered around the square and bought postcards; I sent a few, but I have no idea when they´ll get there. Some of the more energetic people went into the big colonial cathedral across the street from our hotel and climbed the stairs to the bell tower, but I was just too tired for that.

(The phones where I got attacked by a bat)

When we met at 9:15, instead of piling on the bus right away, we went on a quick walk through Valladolid to see a colonial nunnery and some of the local architecture. The streets here are all very narrow, with narrow sidewalks and high walls on every side. Pictures... the nunnery was beautiful, too. More pictures. I wish Grandma had gotten to travel to a Latin American church; they seem very much her sort of style.
By the time we all got back to the bus, we were getting tired already; I slept a little on the way to Chichen Itza, but it was only a 45 minute ride.
One of the differences between the Chichen Itza experience and all of the places I went on the last trip was that it is full of vendors selling "authentic" Maya souvenirs. They line every path, yelling things like "Two for $5! Cheaper than Kmart!" or "Almost free! Real Maya goods!" and their adorable children follow you around saying "One dollar, one dollar..."
The site itself is very different as well. It has a lot of Toltec influences , and Kukulcan-Quetzelcoatl imagery everywhere (feathered serpents, mostly), as well a lot of death imagery, like skulls. We couldn´t climb anything there, but the sun was so deadly that I´m kind of glad, because the Castillo would have killed me. We had a great tour guide named Raoul who took us to the Cenote of Sacrifice for ice cream. A cenote is a sinkhole, like a well, that forms naturally in the limestone around here; there are no above ground rivers, so sites are almost always close to them. This cenote is apparently full of jewels, gold, and at least 250 human sacrifices, but all we could see were thousands of thirsty little birds circling inside the cenote.
(Anne at the Cenote of Sacrifice)

After the cenote we walked to the opposite end of the site to see the Observatory, but I was getting overheated and exhausted, so I refrained from running up and down the stairs of the Observatory and sat under a tree with Heather while a bunch of tiny girls ran around singing songs in Maya for the resort tourists, who were everywhere, wearing rude shirts or no shirts at all.

(admiring a headless chac mool with Raoul, our guide)

Through a misunderstanding, Anne and I missed our chance to eat lunch; everyone else spontaneously decided to delay the trip and eat while we were chatting with Christiane. We got the last laugh, though; we had been sitting in the bus with Christiane in air conditioned comfort for an hour waiting for them, but when they finally showed up, the AC immediately broke. The bus turned into a 45 degree sweat lodge for the two hour drive to Merida.
Here in Merida, I´m sharing a room with Heather and Sam; they were kind enough to let me shower first to get the dripping sweat off before Anne and I hurried out to get some supper before we collapsed.
We passed a few expensive, touristy looking restaurants before settling on a modest little place by a square. When we went in, the hostess shooed us into the back, where there was an air conditioned section. There was only one other table of customers in the whole restaurant, and they were back there in the air conditioned section; three businessman sorts with cellphones. They invited us to eat with them, and we decided it might be fun.
They turned out to be local politicians; one, Jorge, spoke rather good English, and the other two didn´t have much at all. They were celebrating Jose´s 30th birthday. We ended up sitting and talking for two hours, all about our program and the city and the museums we should see. We both had paella, a rice-based seafood dish like jambalaya; when the bill came, Jorge insisted they pay it for us, because we are impoverished students. It seems like a weird encounter, but people here are very friendly, and there´s a tradition of machismo that tends to translate to chivalry in that sort of situation. It was a great time - definitely one to remember.
Anyway, after Jorge told Anne´s fortune and told me I must learn Spanish, we had to run, because Carlos (who had taken us to the beach) was going to give us a walking tour of downtown, so we rushed back and met the group. We walked past the big theatre where the Symphony plays, and apparently they´re presenting Madame Butterfly (Puccini´s opera) sometime this month. I hope we´re here.
We ended our tour at Carlos´ favourite watering hole, the Mayan Pub. He lives here in the city, and apparently this is His Pub just in the way the Snooty Fox is Our Pub at home. It was very nice - we sat in a walled patio garden with candles for light and had $1.25 margaritas and amazing chicken nachos. Anne and I had a cultural experience - a fruit plate Yucatecan style, which mean oranges and jakimas (like a starchier, less sweet Asian pear) with chili flakes and lime. It was a shock, but really good when you got used to it. We sat with Mitch, Steve, Heather, and Dave, so now I remember all their names; we also met a family of cats who live in the wall of the garden, a mother and three leggy kittens, who begged for chicken. I took pictures of them, but they´re not particularly good pictures.
After spending a while there, we were all exhausted, and wandered back to the Hotel Flamingo to collapse into bed.


Blogger dp said...

Imagine, gramma in Merida. That would be a scary thing for the Mayans. She certainly would have loved the churches, and all the local arts and crafts, but she would have loved the food even more. Too bad she couldn't have gone there.
Your day sounds amazing, and you haven't even started school yet!!

9:41 PM  

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