Weeks 22-23 and 25 on the road in Yucatán.
A month ago I reluctantly left Oaxaca - my home for five months - on an overnight bus to Campeche. This post reflects on my ride through Yucatán down to the Mexican border, and my experience of starting to re-adjust to life on the road. I include some general reflections on Mexico.
I must be honest, I've been having decidedly mixed feelings about being back on the road. I love camping in beautiful, secluded places, but there have been times - waking up on a village football pitch or next to a petrol station - I've found myself thinking 'um, why am I here?' At times I really miss my four walls and my shower!
Having said that, in five days' time I'll have crossed tiny Belize and met up with Claire in eastern Guatemala in order to travel down to Colombia together. I'm really looking forward to the completely different experience of touring as a pair (which I haven't done for more than 10 days with anyone since Zoe). I'm also really looking forward to Claire's company and a few things I hope to learn from her.
Specifically Claire seems to have nailed 'the art of asking' (e.g. for a safe place to camp), whereas I'm extremely reluctant to approach people and prefer to try and be self-sufficient. This is partly because I'd hate to be a nuisance and partly because I can't bear fuss and would often rather just be by myself than be fussed over. I did experiment with Claire's approach in Yucatán however, with positive results. I'm also hoping Claire's greater friendliness will get me talking more Spanish more often.
In addition, we've agreed that Claire will get me up in the mornings with coffee so we can start early to avoid the afternoon heat, in return for my willingness to prepare lentils for dinner.
Yucatecan/ Mayan villages are really interesting to ride through with their Cotswold-esque dry stone walls, thatch-like palapa-roofed cottages and bicycling villagers of all genders. In between villages however, there's nothing but arrow-straight roads through identical, totally flat jungle. I'd have found it mind-numbing if I hadn't been reading 'Open Veins of Latin America' on my Kindle.
On my way from Campeche to Uxmal I took an off-road detour suggested by Google Maps that turned out to be gated in the middle. Despite officious signs I took my chances and hoiked everything over two high barriers. I love the sense of adventure and triumph when a risk like that pays off.
On my second village football field I was approached by the rozzers at 11pm and advised to pack everything down and move to right outside the police station in the central square. At the time I was irritated but in retrospect I'm amused. Near Chichen Itza I decided to ask the police first, and it turned out they have an established tradition of letting people camp inside their covered car park!
From Chichen Itza eastwards I became more and more aware that the majority of gringos who visit Mexico visit Yucatán. A proliferation of tourists turns any place into Something Entirely Different. Notwithstanding, Yucatán has many exceptional things to see and do, in particular all the Mayan ruins and bizarrely beautiful cenotes (sinkholes). I especially enjoyed less-busy Ek Balam and X-Canche, and resolved to go back there with Lisa the following week.
In Valladolid I had an excellent haircut from another woman barber and spent a night in an otherwise good hostel where my beloved shorts were stolen from the washing line overnight.
In Playa del Carmen Lisa helped me go through my kit yet again to reduce weight, and kindly returned to Vancouver with several bulky items, mostly clothing.
In both Akumal and Tulum I was amazed to get away with camping/ hammocking on the beach by setting up after dark. Free camp on Caribbean beach? - check!
After Lisa's visit I did some really long, hot, boring days down the highway to Chetumal. My hands, feet and bum all hurt, and I resolved to replace my cycling shoes. Boy am I going to miss Mexico's wonderful shoulders, by the way.
Here in Chetumal I've worked through a long list of life/ travel admin stuff, such as finally sending my signed and witnessed will and living will to one of my executors and getting the broken zip on my tent inner replaced.
I've also had time to do a tiny bit of research into Central America, and though I'm nervous it's going to be much tougher in parts than Mexico has been, I'm basically looking forward to more newness and some great scenery.
Let me not mince my words here: Mexico is an utterly exceptional country. I'm not going to generalise too much about 'Mexicans', but I will say that the prevailing atmosphere includes some qualities I appreciate very much, both on and off the roads: calm, courteous (but not obsequious), sensible. Other Latin American countries are going to have to pull some pretty exceptional things out of the bag to impress me as much. Thank you, Mexico, for being the glorious antidote to the terrifying cultural wasteland that is your northern neighbour.