Feeling like new women after exiting the cenote, we change clothes, get back in the car and continue our road-trip through the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s now 4:00pm and we have three more hours of driving. We’re behind schedule, but schedules are made to be broken.
We get back on Highway 180 which should take us all the way to Merida. The problem is that there are two Highway 180’s. One which is a pay road and is more direct (indicated by a red line on the map), and one which is free but a bit more circuitous (a yellow line on the map). Due to our lateness, we’ve decided to take the pay road. The problem is, as they’re both numbered the same, we have no idea which one we’re on. With both roads traveling to Merida, and even running parallel for quite some time, we don’t worry too much when we figure out that we’re on the yellow road and, eventually, we find a town which has a connection from the yellow road to the red road. As we see a blue sign with a gas pump on it, it’s here that we decide to fuel up. We drive through town, and back seeing no gas station. As we’re not men, we roll down our window and ask for directions. In our broken Spanish, we ask, “Dónde está una Pemex (the Mexican version of a Shell station)?”
The man points and indicates for us to go past the square, to the right and down a little. We follow his directions and finally find the Pemex. Getting gas takes about thirty-minutes as we seem to be stuck behind two trucks and the slowest gas station attendant ever. People pull up behind us, wait, go around to wait behind cars at another pump, and still make it out of their before us. This guy is so slow that even the Mexicans are signaling their frustration. Eventually, we pull up. Note, if you’re renting a car in Mexico, bring cash. Some gas stations don’t take credit cards. The attendant pumps the gas for you (wow, Mexico is like Oregon) and, if he cleans the windshield it’s customary to tip him.
Finally, we’re back out on the open road, or at least the red line. We literally drive off into the sunset. And, while I know I’m driving to Merida, unfortunately, I’ve lost my printed directions to Stewart’s guesthouse and I have no Wi-Fi. I figure I’ll deal with it when I get into town. This is a mistake. I had no idea how big Merida is (over one-million people) and how absolutely crazy its downtown area is on a Friday night. What’s more, there’s nothing resembling a Starbucks in which I can order up a Grande, Iced, Sugar-free, Vanilla Latte with Soy Milk and some free Wi-Fi. The streets seem chaotic, with cars and buses everywhere, thousands of people walking and standing around, dozens of people lining up as if a parade is about to begin, as well as gathering around a square to watch street performers. People at food carts as well as other booths selling children’s toys, jewelry, ladies purses and more fill the square to its edges. I learn later, it’s just a typical weekend evening in Merida.
After much frustrated driving around, illegally parking at various shops in order to pop in and ask in broken Spanish where I can find internet (I later learn that it’s available free in every park), and driving around looking for a sign indicating Wi-Fi, I stop at a hotel and beg the lady at the front desk for two minutes of internet usage. She politely offers up their code and, thank goodness for WhatsApp (great for international travel), I tell Stewart where I am and he instructs me on how to get to his place.
After a long day, we arrive to see the friendly faces of Stewart and his partner Jesus (Chucho) standing out front. I haven’t seen Stewart in ten years and am looking forward to this visit. As it’s been a long day, they show us upstairs to their guesthouse, Casa Alux, to allow us to freshen up before we all head out to catch some food and a much needed drink. The place is lovely and has everything we could possibly need – a King sized bed, a kitchen area with a hotplate (pots and pans included), toaster, refrigerator, microwave an all-important coffee maker with actual coffee stocked in the fridge, a small dining area, a television, a DVD player (with a small DVD library),a desk and a lovely veranda. I could live here.
We do a quick wipe of the armpits and head out to walk to El Templo Bar (to read Stewart’s review on it click here) to share a few buckets of beer and a Tlayuda (a kind of Oaxacan pizza, made with a crispy tortilla crust which you crack upon its arrival). While they tend to eat (and party) late here, it’s been a long day and we’re very tired (and there’s the whole need for me to write) so Stewart borrows the car of a friend who has joined us for dinner, and drives us back to Casa Alux.
In the morning, we wake up much more refreshed, have a not-so-quick shower, as the water in this city is supplied by gravity as opposed to pressurized. It not-so-much sprays from the shower head as it simply falls from it, turning my hair conditioner into a mostly leave-in kind. Not a problem as I seem to wear a hat to protect myself from the sun for nearly every minute of the day here.
We make a quick stop to see Stewart and Chucho’s shared office (Stewart is a crewing agent for cruise ships and Chucho owns a printing business) before heading out to visit some flamingos. We drive for about forty-five minutes to get to the coast and then another forty-five minutes along it. There are salt ponds out here where the flamingos gather. We see a few fairly far away on our way in, but many more close-up on our way out. In between, we stop at a great little beach restaurant in Telchac Puerto to try some local seafood specialties and make fun of the poorly translated English menu – I think about trying the “Potatoes to the French” and some “Fish Fillet to the Cream.” In the end, I have some Octopus a la Mexican, a traditional Mexican seafood dish, and a Michelada, a drink made with beer, lime juice, Worcester sauce, salt and Jugo Maggi (a salty, liquid seasoning). We also throw in an order of Kibis which are dry cakes of fried bulgur wheat and taste like, well, nothing (as in, they have very little taste). The food is fine, but the view makes up for anything lacking. We see, hear and smell the ocean. Well, not the ocean at all as, unlike Akumal, which borders the Caribbean Sea, we’re now on the Gulf of Mexico.
We take just enough time to dip our toes into the Gulf before getting in our car and heading over to the small ruins of Xcambó. Unlike the commercialized ruins I’ve visited thus far, there are no vendors selling ancient Mayan replicas of anything. Just ruined buildings surrounding a square of the greenest green one can see. We climb to the top of the small pyramid and breathe in the beautiful sea of green trees and grass. The Mayans sure had good landscapers.