After yesterday´s long dissertation, I meandered out to find sustenance… and it was Burger King. Sorry to one and all, but it was bound to happen sooner or later. You knew it, I knew it.
And after my quatro grande, I moved on to see the Trova concert in the park nearby… I´m beginning to comprehend Mexican time. I was an hour late…. it still hadn´t started… It cost me the premo seats that the tourists have because they don´t know the darn things start late, but I sat for half an hour of it with the locals. Part of it included the dancers from the other night. Same outfits and everything, just a different park. Imagine their cleaning bill for those white outfits ever few nights, if not more! After half an hour, I´d had plenty. The guy who introduced each song had five minute long bits of dialogue that of course meant absolutely nothing to yours truly, and even the locals I was sitting with had some painfully tired expressions waiting for the next musical number. Beautiful music, but with no comprehension of the lyrics, I can only sit there so long. This trend will continue… Thus ends yesterday.
So, surprise, this morning I rented a car and drove to Celestun. Yes, Mark, driving in another country. The world has stopped rotating, every one grab on to something now!
Background for those who don´t know, but I literally did not drive until I started college. I just didn´t have the interest and lived in a small burg. I drove my first time solo on my first day of college. And although I was a late bloomer, I´ll probably be one of those little old people MANY MANY MANY years from now who someone will have to pry the keys from my fingers. That independence is hard to give up. But whenever I´ve gone abroad, like magic, I´ve reverted to zero interest in driving. It helps that everywhere I´ve been to date has EXCELLENT public transportation so I could make my way around oblivious to the need to be in control. And honestly, if the USA was more like that, you´d probably see me shedding that control more often. Well, Mexico is harder to get around than the rest. I mean, sure, there are the buses, but when you have a fixed schedule, and little miscommunication could strand you heaven only knows where, well, it´s not so attractive. I wanted to go to Celestun today, and I wanted to go on my terms.
I actually knew I was doing this two days ago. I just failed to mention it for various reasons for fear of jinxing myself to giving my Mother a minor coronary. Hopefully she´s still sitting upright as she´s reading this. Surprise!
The experience was… mixed… Being alone, in the end, it cost me more. I could have booked a package tour for less than the $50 car rental and the $20 to re-fill the tank. Plus I paid for a boat trip that would have been included. I probably paid about $40 more than the package tour, and heaven knows the bus would have cost me less than $10. But, I got to call the shots. They included two missed turns and a lot of cursing as I attempted to correct them. Both times I knew immediately, but when you hit streets that aren´t on a grid and miss a turn, as any Atlanta driver knows, it´s a nightmare to fix. The main part of Merida is on a grid, but of course, my first missed term was past the grid… Second missed turn was in the town of Uman, which if there was any sense to its streets, it escaped me. But I ultimately arrived safely in my wee 90´s vintage nissan in the sleepy fishing village of Celestun.
It´s sleepy because it´s in the extreme edge of nowhere. If it were any more nowhere, it would be in the gulf of Mexico. There´s a station in Merida that plays “solo hits en inglese” – so they say. Some of the songs were never hits that I had heard, hit artists maybe but some of their worst stuff, and I could never figure out what “solo” means?? Hit singles I assume, but again, top 1000? I digress, it was still wonderful to hear music I understood, so I stayed on that station all the way to Uman where it began to break up. I pushed it as far as I could until I had to find the single spanish station I could pick up… and then it ran out… and there was much silence… deafening silence… silence that forced me to sing aloud the only songs I know by heart… Christmas carols… you should all be thankful to have missed that… It was a good 40 minutes to Celestun with no music… If being disconnected bothers you, stay far away. If it´s your dream, I have found your destination.
Because the place itself, tho sleepy, is gorgeous. Lovely white sand beach, gulf waters almost but not quite as pretty as the panhandle of Florida (nothing compares). Nothing over two stories tall on the beach, and nothing but trees beyond as far as the eye can see (it´s actually part of a wild life reserve). I snapped photos on that beach for at least an hour. I watched the few lazy beach bums set up their towels and a few people wade in. I mean, we´re talking maybe a few dozen people and most of those were probably from the tour buses I parked beside. And tho the sound of the ocean speaks to me deeply, I hit the point I always do… no desire to lay on the beach and not really prepared to swim… what do I do now?!
Enter the bus tour… Now, I had been told and had read you should go there with a group so that you can get enough people to make the tour reasonably priced. You see, if there´s 8 people, it´s around $15 a person (maybe a little more if you are lucky enough to find a boat “captain” who speaks english). I didn´t even hope to be so lucky. But what I had hoped would happen worked out. They needed an 8th person to fill out a boat and approached me! So, no work on my part, just jump on the boat with 7 other people. Two were couples traveling together, not sure of much about them, they spoke spanish and stuck together, so relatively speaking locals, I think. The next three were a Swiss couple and their daughter. The daughter spoke spanish. The father spoke some english, so I got any information about what I was seeing third hand. The parents have been here 5 weeks, the daughter 6 mos… Wow, these European people get some real vacations… geez…
The boat was typically Mexican. I have some photos of ones like it. The boat is an old fiberglass boat worn a little tent canopy deal going (usually advertising some beer) and 4 benches, each with, I kid you not, mismatching plastic resin chairs with the legs sawed off and the remainder lashed by whatever means necessary to the bench. The gas tank was a large plastic jug of which I had the pleasure to sit near. When the captain, if the owner of such a vehicle can be called such, had a big plastic bag attached to the hose that ran from the tank to the motor (the only really capable looking part of the boat), and he would squeeze that bag to start the gas flowing. I might add that he would periodically bail out water. I could never see the source of it, but when he drove, he went like a bat out of hell, so we were constantly hit with water, so that may be it.
In the course of over 3 hours, we saw Flamingos (Celestun´s claim to fame is that the Flamingos stay there, hence the nature reserve, this time of year) and a pile of other birds. We also saw a petrified forest and a mangrove swamp. Some of the group went swimming there, but the Swiss family and I abstained. The water was clear and beautiful blue but heaven only knows what all was living in amongst those roots, we saw tons of tropical fish and little crabs and even a nest in the trees with an eagle.
After all that were heading back. The captain gave us the option of taking the boat back to the beach where we came from, or we could get off and walk back from this bridge he stopped at for a few minutes. As I said, this was communicated to me third hand. I ended up going with the Swiss family and walking back, but if I had understood that the walk back was in fact the same road I drove in on, I would have stayed in the boat! Not much to see that way.
After about the promised seven minutes stroll, we got back to the main square. I said adios to the Swiss family and went back for a couple of photos and a souvenir from the lone little artisan tent on the beach before going back to the car to figure out what was on next.
I had high hopes of also taking a drive through what Lonely Planet calls the Ruined Hacienda Route, which is full of these old decaying Hacienda´s from when sisal was king in the Yucatan. Said to be very picturesque. It was, however, after 4pm. I could return the car to the garage anytime tonight and go by the office in the morning to square everything up, however, sun sets about 7:30 and I had zero interest in being out in the wilds of Mexico after dark as confusing as the roads are and as many of those blamed speed bumps as they put up willy nilly throughout the countryside. See Mom, I have some common sense after all.
I got back here about 5pm. I took advantage of having the car long enough to meander through one of the main cemetario since I wanted some photos of those grave/shrine things they have going here. I really must read up more on this at some point as they literally are little shrines. Some are small, some are big enough for a few people to go inside. I thought they were mausoleums from the road, but it looked like most were shrines built atop graves. I´ll share the snapshots at some point for those who care to see. I didn´t take a lot as I wasn´t sure what the reaction would be to a gringo wandering through the cemetery taking pictures.
So, that´s pretty much today. I dropped the car off well before closing and am square there. Whew! The car rental place was recommended, but it still had me a trifle worried no matter how nice they seemed at the outset. Heavens, this morning, he showed me every nut and bolt on the car… you have thought he was giving his only daughter away or something. It´s a car! I´m used to America where they tell you where in the parking lot to find it and never bother to show you anything. I mean, literally, “This is the key, it opens the doors, the gas tank, and you crank the car with it.”
Anyway, that experience done, I went shoe hunting one last time. My sandals are totally past it and it´s so blasted hot it´s all I want to wear. The beach trip was the end of them. I found this shoe shop on the corner. Again, I discover the Mexicans have yet to discover the joys of a good sports sandal… straps on toes, arch, and around the back… I mean, they have nice leather ones exactly like that but absolutely nothing completely casual… So, I managed to find what they called sandals but just amount to fairly nice flip flops that will do. And they fit… wow… And I know this will make one person in particular out there laugh, biggest ones they had…. $8…
Tomorrow is up in the air. I´ve been to a few tour companies, and they all started listing off Chichen Itza (been there), Uxmal (ditto), and Celestun (would you like some sand?). I finally found one that has a Hacienda tour, but of a working Hacienda that´s kind of like a living history exhibit. uhmm…. not so sure… On the good side, they also include a stop at one of the cenotes… hrm… Can´t decide but they are open until 11pm so I have a little time to think on it.
The hours of places here is just…. bonkers… I think the heat and all has just totally changed people´s time clocks here. If I eat dinner at 6pm, I am inevitably one of a few people there. In the early afternoon, half of the town shuts down. I mean, literally, I had to wait to check in with the car rental place because they close from like 1pm to 6pm but then stay open late. Most everything is like this, close a few hours then open late. So, at least it gives me time…
Tomorrow is the last full day here. Sunday will be migrating to the airport and the flight back to the US. I´ll miss being out here, seeing new things, but I´ll also be kind of glad to move on from Merida. A beautiful place no doubt, but if I had longer in Mexico, there´s no doubt I´d have shoved on to a different spot even if I had to come back to fly out. That´s how a lot of the people on the hostel circuit are doing it, of course, stopping over here on way elsewhere for a few days.
Okay, time to run!