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:: Mexico, Central America, Travel Stories ::

Sadly, after 2.5 amazing months of traveling Carrie and I are hopping on a plane to California tomorrow morning [ed: tomorrow morning = May, 2007]. I will be out there until June 1, when I make my triumphant return to New York City for the summer. This internet cafe is slow and the photos have not finished uploading, and there are also more stories to be told…but in an effort to not have my Mexico email be as long as the Guatemala one, here is part one of Mexico!

Getting to Mexico is Half the Fun!

After all the transportation problems we had in Guatemala, we decided to let a company in Tikal help arrange our voyage to Mexico. For a few extra bucks we were supposed to get air conditioned (AC) rides all the way and not have to pay a fee at the border. Well, after waking up at 5am to catch our first ride, it turned out to be a hot microbus that tons of people had to cram into.

Eating corn in San Crisobol de las Casas, Mexico, in 2007
Eating corn in San Crisobol de las Casas, Mexico, in 2007

To give us some air the windows were open, which would not have been so bad had we not been driving down dirt roads for hours inhaling pounds of dust. Finally we arrived at the dock where we would take a boat to the Mexican border…this part went fine except for the fact that the microbus driver had decided not to cover up our bags on top and they were all covered in dust.

A 40 minute boat ride later we arrived at the Mexican border and learned that we did, in fact, still have to pay the fee to enter the country. Making matters worse was the fact that we quickly learned that instead of the private AC bus, we had another hot microbus that would be stopping ever 10 minutes to pick up or drop off a local on the side of the road.

The worst part was that the microbus DID have AC, but the driver refused to put it on because he said it wasted too much gas and that he had not been paid as a private bus…hence why he was picking up other passengers.

Despite around 10 people complaining about the heat the whole time, he still held his ground and we pulled into Palenque, Mexico, nine hours after we left Tikal…hot, annoyed and with lungs full of dust.

Still, we refused to start Mexico off on the wrong foot so we blamed the whole incident on Guatemala and wiped the irritation-slate clean. There was still plenty of beautiful exotic resorts, breathtaking places to scuba dive, and a whole lot of Mexican culture to explore.

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The Mayan Ruins of Palenque

A tower in the Mayan ruin city of Palenque
A tower in the Mayan ruin city of Palenque

After our annoying transportation to Palenque, Carrie and I, along with Andrew and Lucie who had also travelled with us, checked into the first hotel we could find with AC.

The plan was to relax for a while then go out and party, as we had arrived in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo and figured there would be parties everywhere. Well, I guess we got a little too comfy in our AC (or we set our alarm for 7am instead of 7pm…you choose), as Carrie and I took a nap and woke up at 3am.

Determined to still make the best of it, we wandered around looking for parties and, of course, found nothing. We learned the next day that Andrew and Lucie had gone out and found nothing, so we really didn’t miss anything. Big bummer considering how excited we were to be in Mexico for Cinco de Mayo.

The next day we headed to this cool cabana community to make our home base for a while. While it was a beautiful area, the noise of the cicadas was deafening, it was hot as can be and we got attacked my mosquitos on our porch. Other fun moments included when they started doing construction at 7am one day and when we realized that the pool was filled with lake water, algae and fish.

As for the Palenque ruins, they were the most massive of all the ruins we have visited…basically a reconstructed Mayan city. Despite being told that half the ruins were off limits without a guide, we still decided to go at it alone, as we had not brought enough money for a guide and they were a rip-off anyway.

Sure enough, half of the park was roped off and when we tried to hop over we immediately got yelled at and told to go back…oops! Still, the ruins were amazing and well worth the visit…if not the guide.

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Scuba Diving Underground in the Yucatan Cenotes Caves

Before leaving the Yucatan, Carrie and I were determined to get in a few more scuba dives. Our first stop were the cenotes, which are natural limestone freshwater caves filled with stalactites, stalagmites, cool rock formations and even some fish you could feed with fruits from the nearby forest that had fallen into the water.

The dives were amazing and like nothing we had ever seen before. One highlight was when we turned off our flashlights and saw the outlines of the rocks with the sun gleaming in and the forest above…very surreal. Our other dives were off the coast of Cozumel, where we got a chance to check out the second largest barrier reef in the world…tons of amazing coral and animals to see as well as some fun caves to swim through.

My favorite part was that the warm water let us scuba dive in only our bathing suits for our last dive. So, in total on this trip Carrie and I have logged 19 dives in under two months and are completely addicted to the sport of scuba diving…not bad considering we were both very nervous going into it when we started.

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Observations From Mexico, Central America This & That

  • The new Mexican money is made out of some kind of plastic that you can’t rip or get wet.
  • Mexico is very Americanized…especially the Yucatan.
  • We wound up travelling and hanging out with Lucie and Andrew for more than a week in two countries.
  • While taking photos of fruit at a market a woman threw a half-eaten veggie at me to get me to stop.
  • I finally watched my first movie entirely in Spanish…it was Hotel Rowanda at 1am on a bus…interesting choice huh?
  • People everywhere drive the old VW Bug. Ss they just stopped selling them in Mexico a few years ago, no one has the new ones.
  • You can get Coronas in 40 ounce size here…but Mexicans don’t drink Corona and say it is the worst beer.
  • There are tacos everywhere…and they’re cheap and delicious!
  • As long as you are not in a tourist trap town you can still find a hotel with private bathroom for $16 a night.
  • We took a day trip from Palenque to the Misol-Ha waterfall, Agua Clara and Agua Azul where we got to see and swim in some of the bluest water I have ever seen.

For photographic highlights from our trip “South of the Border,” check out my Mexico Photo Gallery

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Or read Part II of Hot Times in Mexico

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Or… scroll through the unedited photos that I sent out along with this e-mail back in 2007.

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