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Day 233 – The Way to Mahahual

May 31, 2011

Location: Mahahual, Mexico

Date: Tuesday, May 31, 2011

There are many ways to get to Mahahual. My way:

· Bus from Valladolid to Tulum (2 hours): The trip from Yucatan to the neighboring state of Quintana Roo is all tropical—outside the bus. Inside, though, is like being a Freeze Pop that’s traveling in an ice cream truck in Antarctica. One girl wraps herself in a blanket and wears a hat. I shipped all my winter gear home after Patagonia. I’m wearing flip flops. I wonder what it would be like to die of hypothermia in the Caribbean. Read more…

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Day 232 – Chichen Itza Is the Future

May 30, 2011

Location: Ruins of Chichen Itza, Mexico

Date: Monday, May 30, 2011

Chichen Itza is one of the modern seven wonders of the world. At least that’s what some Canadian-Swiss guy says; he conducted a worldwide vote where Machu Picchu, The Great Wall of China, and a giant Jesus also made it into the top seven.

The vote reportedly was the largest Internet poll at the time. It was, to put it another way, a popularity contest within the elite group of people who could afford a computer, had an internet connection, and knew there was a “Seven Wonders” election going on.  A decided advantage went to some sites.  For example, Peru and Brazil’s governments begged their citizens to vote. Mexican celebrities lobbied their countrymen for Chichen Itza. Read more…

Day 231 – Cheesy Pop! Tastes As Good As It Sounds (Ek’ Balam & Dzitnup Cenotes)

May 29, 2011

Location: Ruins of Ek’ Balam and Dzitnup Cenotes, Mexico

Date: Sunday, May 29, 2011

As a foodie, you’re supposed to take the taco truck over Del Taco. As a man, you should choose Scarface over Bridget Jones’s Diary. And real music connoisseurs choose Velvet Underground over Kelly Clarkson.

Me. I can’t help it. Sometimes, I’d rather curl up on the couch with a Del Classic Chicken Burrito and be “Alllll by mysellllllllffff!”. Ain’t no one can tell me different.

For example: As a backpacker I’m supposed to love ancient ruins. They’re “real.” They’re culture. They allow me to experience “the other.”

Moreover, a real backpacker should shun the gentrification, the Disneyfication, the cheesification of any natural wonder. Who–in God’s name–wants to visit Yosemite and be subjected to El Capitan: The Laser Show or dive the depths of The Great Barrier Reef and be bombarded by The Britney Spears Underwater Sound Extravaganza (sponsored by Pepsi)?

Don’t laser it up. Don’t paint it orange. Don’t pump in panpipe. Don’t hang a flat panel with a cartoon tour guide. “You’re taking away from my moment of Zen!” cries the traveler (who loathes being called a “tourist”).

But what if you can’t help it? What if you’d discover you prefer cheesy pop over ancient culture? Read more…

Day 230 – Unpronounceable (Valladolid)

May 28, 2011

Location: Valladolid, Mexico

Date: Saturday, May 28, 2011

I cannot say “Valladolid.” Oh, I know how it’s pronounced (Vaya-doe-lid). I just can’t remember the word without looking at it. Vadallolid?

Which is unfortunate because Vallalad is a nice, quaint town. It lacks the rich cultural scene of Merida, but it makes up for it with small town charm. Furthermore, it serves as a less touristed base to visit the surrounding ruins (foremost: Chichen Itza) and cenotes (sink holes).

The streets are richly colored. There’s even a historic monastery that happens to share the name of the largest county in the United States (San Bernardino, if you care). Much like Guanajuato, Valadollid has chosen to douse its historic street in garish colors. Against the unreal jungle blue sky, it works. Read more…

Day 229 – Why Visit the Ancient Mayan City of Uxmal?

May 27, 2011

Location: Uxmal and Kabah ruins, outside Merida, Mexico

Date: Friday, May 27, 2011

The Yucatan peninsula is strewn with ruins. So many, in fact, that it’s easy to get burned out. One magical monument blends into another. After your third site, it feels like you’ve seen that rectangular rock somewhere before. Was it in Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan, or Zkhmyprppppk? The question becomes, which ruins should I see?

Allow me to help. Here are a few reasons to see the ancient Mayan city of Uxmal, a set of ruins outside Merida. If these aren’t your bag, skip it and see something else. There’s plenty more where Uxmal came from. Read more…

Day 228 – Merida Bus Tour

May 26, 2011

Location: Merida, Mexico

Date: Thursday, May 26, 2011

I have mostly avoided the city tour bus. You know the one. Sometimes it’s a double-decker with an open roof. Sometimes it’s a caricature of some local icon (in San Francisco, it’s cable cars). In others it’s those open top vehicles that can go on land and water.

Every single one, though, has that taped or microphone-in-the-mouth voice droning on about this bit of architecture or the city’s average rainfall or just how many ice cream stands there are in town.

As a local watching one of these go by you can feel a range of emotions. Sometimes it’s a shrug (“Eh”). Other times it’s a flash of projected embarrassment (“Don’t they know everyone down here’s staring at them?”). Sometimes it’s that feeling you got when you were invited into the cool kids circle in high school and the nerds walked by (“Poor you, but yes, continue to wish you were part of this like me”). Often, though, there’s an into the looking glass moment—while the tourists gawk at wherever you’re at, you stare back and say, “Wait. . .what could they possibly be looking at in this part of town?” As the bus drifts off and the droning tour guide fades into the distance you catch yourself saying, “Wait! Come back! Tell me what’s so cool about being here!” It’s a moment of symmetry. The tourist and the local invade each other’s world and for an instant each wonders at how strangely the other lives. Read more…

Days 222-227 – Wedding at the End of the World (Puerto Vallarta)

May 20, 2011

Location: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Date: Friday, May 20 – Wednesday, May 25, 2011

This week my cousin got married in Puerto Vallarta. I grew up with her like a sister and I had to attend the wedding (no man wants to suffer the wrath of a sister, even a pseudo one).

I kid, of course. I’m thrilled for my cousin and wouldn’t have missed it for all the tacos in Mexico. Plus, I got to welcome a new member into our family. (No. She wasn’t pregnant. I’m talking about her new husband.) Read more…