Are ya ready for an adventure? We packed a bag, rented a car, and we’re off! Who am I kidding…..it’s Mexico, thus it’s not that easy. First, the rental agency ‘forgot’ they were delivering the car to the marina. Four phone calls (we REALLY need to learn Spanish) and two hours later putt, putt, putt our little car arrives. Lesson #1- You can’t be in a hurry in Mexico! After we haggle with the agency ‘No, we are not paying a 200$ peso delivery fee, you are two hours late!’ We limp into the Pemex station, because ‘why would the car have fuel?’ ‘Look Hoss, this tire is really low.’ Fueled, tires aired, we hit he road.
First stop Vallodlid and lunch. What we found was fantastic old buildings, lots of color, tamales, and beautiful leather sandals! Yep, hand crafted leather sandals for a bargain price of 400$ pesos (about $20 usd)……oh, how I LOVE shoes!
We drove the scenic route, lots of tiny communities. Wanna know genius? In each of these communities the speed limit would decrease and folks would set up the wares they peddle at the topes. Topes? Well, that is lesson #2 – Tope is a speed bump. Sometimes merely a small bump, other times a mammoth ‘holy crap’ bump. Needless to say, it is wise to come to a crawl at each ‘tope’. Here’s the brilliant part – as you are crawling over the bump, an Amigo is peddling his ‘hand crafted’ goods…..’only a dollar’, ‘cheaper than Walmart’. Only in Mexico, right???
On to today’s main destination – Mérida. This is another example where speaking Spanish would have been muy bueno. I pronounced Mérida so completely wrong it was indistinguishable. Lesson #3 – Roll those r’s. Mérida is pronounced – mare like a female horse, roll some r’s, then end with da.
It just so happens that this day is a holiday – the inauguration of Mexico’s new president. Holiday in Mexico equals Party, with a capital P! As in shut down the streets, live music, restaurants pulled tables and chairs into the street, vendors galore, fireworks, costumes, mass chaos, and loads of fun!
Mérida is the cultural capital of the Yucatan, steeped with colonial history. Narrow streets (challenging Hoss’s driving skills), one way roads (challenging my navigation skills), broad central plazas, remarkable old buildings, truly a great place to explore. So, we spent a day exploring. We had stashed the foldable bikes in the rental car thinking we’d participate in La Bici Ruta – a Sunday tradition. Over 5km of downtown streets are closed for bicycles, roller skates, skateboards, you get the idea, throw in live bands and vendors – a good combination of historic roots and families living in the moment!
Up next? Scenic Ruins! We started with the Grand Daddy – Chichén Itzá, one of the new seven wonders of the world. This is easily the most famous, best restored of the Yucatan Maya sites which translates to tremendously overcrowded, however still immensely impressive. The ahhhhh moment was El Castillo, the pyramid is actually a Maya calendar built around AD 800.
Moving on, more Mexico roads ahead. Thud, thud, thud….yep, flat tire. Wouldn’t ya know it, the same tire that was low when got our hot rod is now FLAT! Mexican roads are notorious for having no shoulders, so we limp along to an overgrown jungle road, hoping the little car doesn’t get stuck. In a few short minutes Hoss changed the tire and we were rolling again. Another 45 km and we find a small service station. For 50$ pesos ($2.50) our flat tire was plugged, remounted, spare tire stowed back in the trunk, and hub cap zippy tied on. It’s a good thing, too because the spare tire didn’t have any air. Lesson #4 Always make sure your rental car has a spare tire and the tools to change a tire. We made sure we had everything before taking possession of the car, however we overlooked the fact that you should also make sure the spare tire has air.
With more archaeological sites to discover, and four aired up tires we are onto Coba. Coba has a totally different vibe. It’s smaller, set deep in the jungle, many of its ruins have yet to be excavated – can you say Indiana Jones?!?! Coba’s architecture is more of a mystery – resembling Tikal, which is several hundred kilometers away, instead of the much nearer sites of Chichén Itzá or Tulum. The wow factor here was Grupo Nohoch Mul, which translates to Big Mound. A Big Mound it is, 42m, and you get to climb the old steps to the top. The view from the top is miles and miles (kilometers if you’re in Mexico) of vibrant green forest.
Dusty and dirty, sweaty and sticky, a dip in a cool refreshing cenotes was long overdue. The Yucatan is sprinkled with cenotes, limestone sinkholes, more than 7000 to be exact. The Maya believed these refreshing pools were sacred, I’m inclined to agree. Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic. Refreshing fun filled swimming holes might be a better description. So, we went in search of refreshment – the grab your bikini, head underground, dip in the water refreshment.
The next road trip highlight? Tulum. We hit the town of Tulum first, saving the ruins for first thing the following day when there will be less gawkers. Tulum has easily jump to the top of our favorite Mexican getaway. Tulum Pueblo is right off the main drag – cheap eats, quaint lodging, the best mojito EVER, a really fun vibe – heck, we were the old people! Feeling like you want more of a tropical paradise? Head 3 km to the coast and you’ll find Zona Hotelera, one tranquil beachside bungalow after another.
Dragging our feet we left the quaint town of Tulum behind, Starbucks in hand, ready to explore the Tulum Ruins. The ruins of Tulum were easily our favorite. Perched on the cliff of a rugged coastline, brilliant beaches, turquoise waters, jaw dropping views they had the right idea! Awe inspiring views aside, the Templo de las Pinturas was the most interesting with its elaborate decoration and colored murals.
Another cenotes or two…..ok, maybe it was three and we’re on the road again. Playa del Carmen. Playa, as it is referred to, is vying for the title of Riviera Maya’s trendiest city. The waters aren’t as clear, the beaches aren’t as powdery, but it sure has the hoards of people. We thought we’d grab lunch. Instead we grabbed a gelato and high tailed it as fast as we could!
Our little car that could was thinking maybe it couldn’t, having a hard time idling, making a funny noise. Five days on the road was five days enough, we were ready to head back to our boat and the glorious sleepy town of Puerto Morelos!