We finally took our leave from Pasaj-Cap and Lake Atitlán just before the end of November (or should I say Movember for all you guys back home pretending to support charity but secretly just curious to see how you might look as an erstwhile porn star, theoretically making up for your lack of experience and technique with unbridled enthusiasm and a real willingness to put some time into foreplay?), embarking on a brief two week jaunt across southern Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula which will eventually find us in Cancun in time to fly home for Christmas. Our agenda: mostly low profile travel (just under thirty hours from Panajachel to Cancun, albeit broken up nicely into small, only moderately ass-cramping chunks), a few medium profile colonial cities, a couple high profile Mayan ruins, and some really round profile cenotes (large holes in the ground filled with water and surrounded by people selling impractically tiny sombreros). Take that, square pools.
Took a surprisingly uncrowded and more or less painless minibus shuttle from Atitlán to San Cristobal de las Casas in the odd company of an Italian woman who lives in Playa del Carmen and travels to Guatemala to buy things that can then be resold for much, much more to the package tourists on the Caribbean coast (such as multi-coloured huipiles, things that say “Guatemala” on them, and previously used dental dams) and two weirdos from the States who were ostensibly volunteering yet seemed particularly interested in coming up with ways to make big dough in the craft business and took an irrational amount of pride in being able to throw random Spanish words into the conversation (apparently after eight months in Guatemala their abilities have peaked with the words “poco” and “dos”). Oh yeah, and she wore her sandals at least four sizes too big, and he is a magician. So, there’s that.
Smooth border crossing (no questions asked about all the grey hair in my beard that no longer match my passport photo, or the bruises on my sternum in the shape of Laynni’s forehead). After some discussion we determined that this is Laynni’s 9th visit to Mexico and my 8th (if you count the time when I was a kid and we crossed the border in Tijuana to buy cheap rum and browse leather jackets, which of course, I do). We are almost too excited to wait for our 10th visit, when apparently we are rewarded with our choice of either a free balloon of coke (natural, or pre-greased) or seven minutes in heaven with a customs official named Diego “El Gordo” Alvarez.
As always, the bus system in Mexico has been an amazing treat (not quite as luxurious as CBS Studio’s Tom Selleck Moustache Ride, but a full foot rest nicer than visiting the Everglades late on a Saturday night in the trunk of David Caruso’s Rav4). Even though Mexico does, in fact, offer just as impressive a selection of shit buses as the next country, unlike most countries that are astonishingly unfamiliar with both snow and reliable birth control, they also have a luxurious first class option which still only runs in the $3-4 per hour range. Well worth it to have comfortable reclining seats, actual departure and arrival schedules and a seemingly unlimited stash of Disney movies dubbed into Spanish by alarmingly loud and excitable people that are too ugly to be actors. If I was a betting man I would say Shrek had been kicked in the nuts, was none too happy about it, and was riding an unpredictable wave of shadily acquired uppers.
My only complaint would have to be about my bathroom experiences, which is weird, because the very opportunity to defecate while in motion on a Mexican highway (or Greek counter top, or Rhode Island banister) has always been an unfulfilled dream of mine. But that was before I learned that:
a) It is, in fact, both possible to close the door behind you before realizing that the inner door mechanism was mysteriously missing (most popular theories were early retirement, or being held against its will deep at the bottom of Winona Ryder’s purse), as well as a bad idea. Ten minutes later a couple nice girls from Edmonton (the moving sewage world is a surprisingly small one at times) finally let me out, apparently deciding that there was more going on in there than just a really bad reaction to roadside tacos or another member finally joining the two metre high club, solo edition. Oh yeah, I suppose I also learned that if it came to busting down a door to surprise a den of armed and unstable crackheads I’d probably have to swallow my pride and ring their doorbell.
b) Sometimes, for no clear reason whatsoever, when you hit that little red “flush” button (the one that is always hidden somewhere illogical, like under the paper towel dispenser or behind the sink, and is never in the same place twice) you should probably stand back because that thick blue stuff they put in there to mask the look, smell and image of all the very unimaginable things that take place in there on a day to day basis, well, it might just explode out of the toilet in all directions like a pigeon getting caught under the wheel of your rental car at a gas station in Laurel Canyon, coating walls, mirrors and confusing instructional decals alike. It remains a work in progress but you’ll be happy to know that most of it has come out of my khaki pants and I no longer look like I just came from an afternoon of flirtatious horseplay with a Bic pen.
San Cristobal was comfortably warm during the day and cooold at night, although still nicer than last time I was there, from which I remembered surprisingly little except for climbing a ton of switch-backed steps up to some church with a view, plenty of rain and a fairly fun evening that started off much like one of the jokes my grandma might tell after four double rum and cokes – so, a guy walks into a bar with a Jew, a Mick and a Belgian – and somehow the night gets a little foggy from there…
This time around we enjoyed a little more sun, a little more wandering around the beautiful old highland city and a whole lot of day and night fireworks in honour of the Festival of the Virgen de Guadelupe (albeit twelve days in advance), including a small handful actually set off during daylight hours using a long line of some sort of explosive powder run all the way from a church on the hill down to the middle of town (probably ten blocks, also known as the area within which you could reasonably expect to find roughly thirteen shoe stores anywhere in Mexico).
Campeche was quite stunning at first glance, like a real live Lego town done up in pastel with plenty of fat people in tight jeans. As the venerable Roxette once said (and still rakes in royalties from, I’m sure), Campeche most certainly had “the look”, although, regrettably, it was much more reminiscent of that girl from Warman I dated for two thirds of a weekend with outrageously sharp fingernails, in that it really lacked “the feel”. Plus, it had almost no restaurants, and they had even replaced the ubiquitous Mexican taco stands with dessert stands, which did nothing to solve our supper dilemmas but did go a long way to explaining why the average Campechian is built like Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Despite all the rave reviews we had heard and read about our next stop, the, you guessed it, colonial city of Mérida, and state capital, after plenty of wandering around the busy streets and narrow sidewalks our overwhelming opinion on it was “just another city”. Feel free to scorn that in depth analysis, if you wish, but we’re sticking with it. It didn’t help that its picturesque central plaza was all boarded up and under (somewhat half-hearted) construction which, from what we saw, mostly involved a lot of sweeping, turning in circles and meeting in large groups to get caught up on all the latest cleavage on last night’s episode of “Esperanza del Corazón”.
We did, however, stay in a very cute little B & B with a friendly owner and a TV on which I was able to watch the only Champion’s League game out of eight that had absolutely no ramifications whatsoever (Barcelona, naturally, on three different channels, perturbingly). They even had a little pool (which, much like sustainable forms of green energy, we never got around to using) and an included breakfast although, disappointingly enough, that only consisted of cookies and some pre-toasted packages of bread that were like if you were to take croutons and reassemble them into a perfect square. Then if you want to switch back to croutons again all you need to do is try spreading cold butter on them and brace yourself for some explosive fun.
Valladolid, a smaller city near Chichen Itzá, is hands down our favorite stop on this leg of the trip. It has a quiet, relaxed ambience, still plenty of colonial charm and even has one cenote (a deep natural pit, or sinkhole, similar to Cameco stock, or Laynni’s belly button) right in town. There are also a few more in the surrounding area which we visited on rented bikes one morning. I was lucky enough to get apparently the only bike in town with gears, plus it was super heavy, which is great for going downhill or ramming mouthy kids off their tricycles.
Laynni’s was actually quite a nice orange Schwinn Summer Cruiser (with matching naranja helmet) that had a big wide mom-bum seat and snazzy fenders. Her posture has never been better. As for the cenotes themselves, they both had eerie cave-y atmospheres (being almost exactly really wet caves and all). We went swimming in X-Keken, floating around in the dark ghostly water among the roots, stalactites and catfish while a tiny bit of sun shone in coyly through a small opening in the roof, drawing the eye and seemingly really pissing off all the bats. Across the road, Cenote Samula, was probably even more photogenic due to the huge network of tree roots reaching down from the surface in a futile attempt to quench its eternal thirst in the cold clear waters below. Not as enticing for a swim, though, what with it being more or less just a pond with a tree in it and all.
Valladolid as a whole had a great, relaxed feel, a bunch of good restaurants and some decent walks, not to mention one giant assload of tourist buses between four and five every afternoon when they briefly interrupt their journeys back to the coast to snap a few photos and browse shops full of mescal and more tiny sombreros. One other activity of note, not just in Valladolid but all over this area, is that in continuing honour of the Virgen de Guadelupe the highways and city streets are filled with small parades of bicycles featuring a large variety colorful head gear, wildly flashing beacons and a constant wail of sirens that sound just like car alarms. Apparently, our illustrious virgin didn’t only have a really great hooker name, but also a love for eco-friendly forms of transport and an ardent belief in preventative vehicular security technology.
After San Cristobal we spent a couple nights in Palenque, a place I had also visited four years ago and which soon taught me just how useless my memory really can be when it comes to timelines, people or figuring out how many days I’ve been wearing this particular pair of underwear. Apparently if it doesn’t involve sports statistics, the number of beer I can get for a palm-full of crumpled pesos, or which movies Marisa Tomei shows her breasts in, it doesn’t warrant a prioritized chunk of my hippocampus.
Anyway, Palenque was just as impressive as the first time around, plus this time I didn’t have to ask strangers to take pictures of me as I stood around the ruins in awkward and unpleasant poses. No, thankfully Laynni was around this time to capture those always priceless moments.
The room we stayed in (Margarita & Ed’s in El Panchan) was surprisingly modern considering its location hidden well back in the jungle, the only downside being the jack off lingering somewhere in the surrounding foliage practicing the bongo drums while his overweight and under dressed girlfriend worked on teaching herself to juggle, the two of them maybe trying to live off the land, well the land and the “even though you are a steaming douche we don’t quite want you dead” email money transfer his parents sent him for Thanksgiving so that he and Moon Belly were able to continue training for the Thai hash circuit.
Then, on a day trip from Valladolid, we visited Chichen Itzá, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, most likely because they have more souvenir vendors per square inch than anywhere else in the world, including Mickey’s Toontown and the Scrimshaw Gallery. It is a huge Mayan site focused mainly around one irrefutably stunning pyramid looming above the rounded plains around it like Viggo Mortenson’s tailbone. Worth the trip for the strange stirrings in my loins alone, we nonetheless did find the rest of the place a little underwhelming. We were pleased that it wasn’t really all that busy when we were there, having been concerned about the hordes of package tourists that frequent it on day trips from the coast but, other than that, it seemed as though almost everything was roped off – monuments, ruins, paths, eminently huggable security guards, everything. Well, maybe not the shirtless guys selling jaguar whistles (who knew jaguars were so well trained, or so devoted to sweaty, dumpy teenagers with perpetually wet hair). All said, we came to the conclusion that many of the ropes were actually a clever ruse to direct us (i.e. the rats) along the proper paths (i.e. the maze) to where we would be exposed to the maximum number of tables full of tacky souvenirs of the Mayan/Yucatan/Keychain variety. A conservative estimate would be that 79% of all nineteen year old Julio’s in Mexico are currently employed in sales at Chichen Itzá.
Anyway, after a thorough examination of the site, Laynni eventually proclaimed the entire area very “Brazilian”, as in “well manicured”. Her mischievous chuckle made it clear her comparison referred to a very comprehensively waxed genital region, and that such an unlikely comparison was certainly the height of ancient Mayan wit. Only time will tell if our post-Christmas visit to the reputedly more primitive ruins at Calakmul will, in fact, turn out to be less “Brazilian” and more “married Canadian woman in late January in Saskatoon”. Personally, I’m torn. On the one hand it would be a nice experience in a more natural, pleasantly fluffy sort of way, but on the other hand I do get tired of losing so many pen caps.
Well, there you have it, we have nearly made it to Cancún, from where we’ll be flying back home this week, just in time to spend the holidays catching up with family and friends, swearing ineffectually at icy windshields and eating unhealthy doses of Shreddies. And probably shivering. Yeah, lots of shivering, I’m sure.