I only have five days left in Mexico. This fact hit me out of the blue, and like a ton of bricks. I am sad. I am not sure I want to leave. And I am suddenly almost paralyzed, with the thought that my life will be oh so normal again, in just a few short days.
The first time I ever traveled, was with two people I still consider to be two of my best of friends, Dannie and Leah. We met at the concourse of DIA in 2001, and flew to Paris together. On the airplane, we stole drinks from the stewardess, since we were not yet 21. We got good and drunk on that plane, and were pretty inseparable for the following month.
We would try to be normal during the day. We tried to go to our art classes. We went on every organized tour, and to every museum. I took tons of photos. And by tons, I mean like 12 rolls of 24 exposures, because I still shot film, and film is expensive.
As soon as the sun would set, we would hit the town. Sometimes out taking photographs, but more often just enjoying the drinking laws in France. We would close down bars. We would wander the streets, making rubbings on the concrete. We would watch the sunrise. We would get into trouble the next morning, for being too loud, too late.
I fell in love with France. I fell in love with the idea that one could actually get paid to wander the streets of foreign cities, take photographs, and make a living doing so. It was all I wanted to do.
Life at 35 looks a lot different than what I had imagined at 20. I love my job. I love my school. I love my little condo in cap hill. But all this time in Mexico, has made me wonder- did I just give up on that 20 year old, who dreamed of a life made of new foreign places, of waking up each morning excited to pick up her camera and roam the streets? Did I accept second place- a life where I work two jobs so that I can afford to indulge my wanderlust each summer? Is it crazy to think that a life as a travel photographer/ writer/ blogger/vagabond is even possible?
A week left in Mexico has forced a bit of uncomfortable evaluation of these things. These questions made me a bit of an emotional wreck. I spent my days wandering the river, exploring museums, and just sitting in parks, observing the people around me.
Orizaba's slogan is a "magic town". I truly believe that.
I'm in Campeche. I'm having breakfast with the owner of the house I'm staying at. She has dug out maps, history books, and magazines, to show me what I might do while in Campeche. She is an amazing woman. Originally from Mexico City, she came to Campeche five years ago, fell in love with a house and bought it. She rents out rooms, to make up for the expenses.
Campeche is the most beautiful city I've seen. It has a fortress that surrounds it, built hundreds of years ago, as a defense to keep pirates out. The entire interior of the fortress was named a UNESCO heritage site, almost 20 years ago. Each building inside the city wall is meticulously well kept- vibrant yellows and pinks and blues. Outside the city walls, is the exact same architecture, the same colors, but not as well maintained, which is just as visually appealing.
My host is incredibly proud of Campeche, and I try to show some enthusiasm as she directs me towards yet more ruins just outside the city. At this point I cannot bear to see any more ruins. She must have seen it in my eyes.
"You've been to Pomuch?"
No. I haven't even heard of it. She smiles from ear to ear, and begins to tell me about the cemetery in Pomuch. She tells me that they bury people, then after a year, they excavate them, clean their bones, and store them in little houses throughout the cemetery.
I had been planning on leaving Campeche shortly after breakfast, but these little houses full of bones seems like an opportunity not to be missed. Pomuch is forty five minutes from Campeche, and a relatively small village. I'm one of the few cars in the village, and definitely the only gringa. I stumble upon the cemetery, and at first, I think I've been had. It looks like many other cemeteries in Mexico, brightly colored cement boxes, decorated with flowers are clear from the outside. But once you peer inside of the brightly colored boxes- you see that there is a skeleton nicely tucked inside. Most of them have little embroidered handkerchiefs that line the box. Some of the skulls wear wigs. Some of the skeletons are kept company by other skeletons. Some of the skeletons, should have decomposed a bit more before they were excavated...
I am oddly not at all disturbed by any of this. My hostess referred to them as "little apartments for dead people." It's no stranger than burning a body and keeping it above your fireplace. What astonishes me more than all the skeletons surrounding me, are the brightly colored houses that they are kept in. It is not the black, white and grey cemetery, that you see in the United States- it is bright and vibrant, and even with piles of bones surrounding you, it doesn't feel so sad.
In Mexico, death is not the end. Death is not feared. Death in Mexico means something different.
My trip to Merida was ominous from the start. A trip that was supposed to take six hours took more than ten, and I arrived in Merida just as the sun was setting. I opened the door to discover an empty pool. I turned on the shower to discover that the water was scorching hot. I went in to town the next day for fifteen minutes, to find that walking anywhere in the middle of the day was almost unbearable due to the heat and oppresive humidity. I canceled my week of Spanish classes, knowing that I would be miserable walking 25 minutes to the school each day. Instead, I bought a bottle of wine, some pasta, and locked my doors for a day. I listened to constuction workers next door pound away on the shared wall of the kitchen.
Travelling is sometimes exhausting, and I've definitly grown tired of it here in Merida. The funny thing is, that I almost expected it, becasue this has happened three weeks into almost every trip I've ever taken. Trying to oriente yourself in a new city, struggling with language, cultural understanding, and even just trying to figure out what to eat is sometimes overwhelming.
So I stayed in my little America, without my pool, and my scalding hot showers for a few days. Each time I went into the city center, I would meet lovely people, who would suggest what to do. And then I would get to their destination and be like, "Seriously?!? This is it?!? This tourist trap of stores, this colonial street with expensive stores, this church that looks like a million other churches in Mexico, THIS is what I absolutely, positively cannot miss in Merida?!?"
Each time I would go home, drenched in sweat and feeling guilty that I could not gush over textiles, or hammocks, like so many others can. I have come to realize though, that it is ok to not like a place. And I don't like Merida.
I have also realized that half of the joy of Merida, is getting the hell out of Merida. I think a lot of people use this city as a "homebase" for exploring much of the Yucatan. So a few days ago I took a trip out to four different cenotes. Cenotes are giant sinkholes, filled with fresh, cool water. Mayans used them to get drinking water, and shamans still use them to retrieve "holy water" for their ceremonies. Although I'm pretty sure they are not using the same ones that tourists have been bobbing around in...
Taking a tour is sometimes nice, even if you have your own car, not only for the information provided, but because you get to meet other people! And with my foul Merida mood, I could definitly stand to talk to other people....
I was picked up in a Mercedes Benz, with great AC, a great guide, and great couple from LA. We drove out to our first location, and transferred to a horse and cart, that took us down quasi-rairoad tracks, to our first cenote. We bobbed around in the cool clear water, I screamed every time a fish came near me (I hate swimming next to fish), and had a great time. Our next two cenotes were a bit disappointing, since a large tour bus had just arrived, dumping off 30 plus people. We forego these two cenotes, and our guide, who must have understood that we didn't want to swim with 30 other people, took us to another cenote that was not on the tour. This was the best as far as swimming goes- it was huge, relatively empty, and full of colorful stalactites (or is it stalagmites?).
We later went to a great restaurant, where our waiter had a sperm tattooed on his forearm. I'm sure it wasn't a sperm, probably some ancient Mayan snake, but it looked like a sperm to me, I could not stop laughing each time he came by.
I had to admit that since I have been in my grumpy pants, that I had not actually eaten at a restaurant in the Yucatan until this point. I was surprised to find that the food is completely different from the interior of Mexico. Tacos, tamales and tlayudas have been replaced with more traditional Mayan food, such as papadzules, panuchos and poc chuc. I'm not a foodie, so I'm not going to detail any of these. They are all, good, but just as I prefer the interior of Mexico to the Yucatan, I also prefer it's food.
I woke up yesterday, still pretty happy from the cenote experience, so I decided to get the hell out of Merida again, and tour a Hacineda. I went into town, had lunch before the tour, and was dissuaded from my tour to the Mayan Market instead. My waiter told me that it would be closed the next two days, making it my last chance to see it. He also told me that my Spanish was wonderful, and that it would probably improve with another Michelada, so I'm not sure why I believed him....
Because sure enough, I walked down the street, and some guy said "Mayan Market, come in" and it was just a bunch of people selling textiles, and jewelry, and I was now officially too late to see my tour. I went home and pouted for awhile, then got the good sense to go to hacienda on my own. I had read that there was an entire road filled with old abandoned haciendas, which is right up my alley. But I also read that many of them are owned by angry old men who don't want you anywhere near them. So I setteled on Hacienda Yaxcopoil, which is open to the public, and more like a partially preserved, partially abandoned hacienda.
Don't know anything about haciendas? Neither did I until a few days ago...
Haciendas are like plantations in the United States. Spaniards came to Mexico and soon realized that they could make a shit ton of money producing henequen, which was used widely at the time to make rope, bags, and other things. The Spaniards built these ginormous houses, churches and factories, and used the Mayans as their workers. The Mayans were paid, but in a coin that was created by the owners of the hacienda, that could not be used anywhere else. Essentially, these workers were slaves, working everyday, and paid in money that had no value.
This all changed with the invention of plastic. Haciendas were quickly forced out of business, and went bankrupt, which is why there are so many abandoned haciendas throughout the Yucatan. There has been a revival of these haciendas in the last couple decades, and many have been restored and turned into luxury hotels, where an average night costs $500. I'd like to see how much they pay their workers, because I doubt there is much of a difference between the slavery of old and new haciendas..
Once again betting on getting out of Merida, I took a tour to Ixtmal today. Ixtmal is lovely. My tour was not.
One would think that your loneliest times, might be when you are alone. But they are not. The loneliest times are when you are surrounded by people, and acutely aware that you are still somehow alone.
And that was the case in Ixtmal. Our guide, was a well meaning man, whose English was a times undecipherable. I was accompanied by three women from Baja. The extent of my casual Spanish conversation is something along the lines of, "What's your name? Where are you from? What do you do? How long have you been in Merida?" I can also ask about peoples hobbies, but I don't cause I think it's weird. So after I exhausted those four questions, conversation was pretty much done for. Beside me offering to take their photos, and them offering me gum.
Tours in Mexico are like this- hit or miss. Sometimes you get a guide who offers you a lot of freedom, and goes out of their way to make sure you experience certain things. They'll take you to great restaurants, buy everyone flowers or shots of tequila. Other times you get a guide who you suspect has a "hussle" going at every place you stop. So you stop at certain handicraft stores for 30 minutes, you are only allowed to eat at the restaurant the guide chooses, etc. and get the feeling that you cannot deviate from the path chosen by the guide. My tour to Ixtmal was the later.
I woke up today, eager to head out to a restored hacienda, where they still make henequin. I plugged the address into google maps, and set out. I ended up in the middle of nowhere. I reread the email and discovered that the meeting point was on the far opposite side of town. I sent them an email, telling them that I was on my way, but when I finally arrived- 20 minutes late, they had already left. I contemplated driving out there, but realized that by the time I got home, and drove out there, that I would still be over an hour late.
At this point I was trying not to cry in the middle of the street in Merida. Between the heat, the dry pool, the hot water that makes it nearly impossible to shower, the lizard that made a home for itself in my luggage, the lonliness, and the missed tours, I was done. I hiked my ass another half mile to the grocery store, with the intent of buying a bottle of wine and getting hammered at 9:30 am. I was turned down. Apparently you can't buy a bottle of wine a 9:30 am in Merida.
I settled on Horchata and Jumex instead. I'm debating if I should just call it quits here in Merida, hole up with the lizard currently hiding out somewhere in the bedroom, or try to go explore on my own....
I'm Lauri. Teacher for nine months of the year, vagabond for the other three. I've traveled to France, Russia, West Africa, SE Asia and all over the US. This summer I'll be driving to Mexico with my little dog, Nilo.