The Riviera Maya (sort of)

If you spoke to me about my travel plans before I left, you may have heard me say that I had no intentions of going to any of the uber-touristy beach destinations in Mexico, such as Cancun, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, etc. Now it’s not that I have anything against these places—I’m sure that the beaches are beautiful and the hotels are wonderful and luxurious and that they make for wonderful weeklong getaways—but there’s a number of reasons that I try to avoid the more touristy destinations:

  1. They tend to be more expensive, and I’m traveling on a budget
  2. You can usually find less-touristy and less-expensive places nearby with beaches that are just as nice
  3. I’m always searching for the most “authentic” experience, whatever that means, and frankly, I don’t expect to find it at a resort

***I want to make clear that I don’t wish insult the tastes of those of you who do enjoy the resorts and luxury hotels– there’s certainly a lot to appreciate with that style of vacationing, and I definitely don’t me to sound judge-y.

This post is going to be about three places I went to, one that was off the beaten path, another that was semi-touristy, and one that was the closest I came to encountering the resort-dwelling gringo masses – let’s start with that one.

Playa del Carmen is one of the most popular destinations in the Riviera Maya (if you don’t know, the Riviera Maya is a stretch of coast along the Caribbean-facing end of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the state of Quintana Roo, and is one of the most popular tourist districts in all of México). Although I didn’t originally plan on going there, a fellow traveler that I had met in Mérida two weeks prior had been invited by a friend to go and party there on a Friday night, so by extension I was also invited, and I never say no to a party.

My general impression of Playa del Carmen was that it was like a big shopping mall with a beach attached to it. To be fair, coming from the quaint and quiet Isla Holbox, the transition was inevitably a little jarring, but still, it was a little overwhelming. While I knew right away that it wasn’t really my jam, I figured that I would at least be able to enjoy the luxuries of plentiful food options and easy access to wifi. I arrived in the mid-morning, and after chilling in a Starbucks for two hours and enjoying the AC and internet (a luxary I didn’t have in Holbox – I guess I’m kind of a hypocrite), I met up my aforementioned friend. We hit the beach, and I must admit, the playa at Playa del Carmen is very nice– the sand is clean and the water is a beautiful shade of transparent blue. However, the thing that kind of irked me about is that there are loads of resorts with their guests and patio furniture lining the beach no matter how far you walk, and while there is room enough between the hotels and the beach for you to set up your towel and sunbathe/swim, it kind of kills my vibe being that close to the splendor. Here’s a thought: maybe it’s being close to the luxury without being able to indulge in it that bothers me? Nah.

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The one photo I took at Playa del Carmen

After going for a swim, we decided we needed to find a place to stay for that night, so we set off in search of a hostel, which surprisingly wasn’t that easy to find. After doing some research on our smartphones, we found a hostel listed for only 120 pesos per night (around $6 USD – that’s cheap even for a hostel), and decided to give it a shot. It was called Shambala Eco-hosel, and it’s situated just a little bit outside of the tourist zone, in a part of the town that is more residential. Upon our arrival, we were arrived we were greeted enthusiastically by Sergio – the do-it-all employee at the hostel – who shook our hands, gave us a tour of the hostel, and showed us our room, which was really one big room designed like a military barracks, about 20 bunks separated by curtains. While Shambala has simple accommodations, it’s so cheap that you can’t complain, and besides that, it also had the liveliest and most social atmospheres of any hostel I’ve stayed in. Before going out that night, we hung out in the common area of the hostel and enjoyed the precopeo (pregame) with 20ish people, travelers from all over the world, and despite the diversity and multitude of languages being spoken, it was incredibly jovial and even felt familial.

We left the hostel around 11:30pm to rendezvous with my friend’s friend and his crew, and from there we all went to a club where they had made a reservation. I don’t remember what the club was called, but it was located at an intersection on the main pedestrian street where it seemed that there was an identical club on every corner, with a covered patio, a huge bar, and small tables and large booths for VIPs, and we were apparently VIPs. The club was lit, with everyone drinking and dancing and having a good time. One thing I have to give to Playa del Carmen is that it is definitely a great place to party, and I really enjoyed my time their in spite of it being too touristy for my taste.

Traveler tip: If you ever find yourself in the area, do yourself a favor and visit AKumal, and go to the beach. It’s about 30 minutes from Playa del Carmen, about halfway between there and Tulum – so it’s a perfect stop in between the two places. What’s so special about this beach, you ask? Well it is a beautiful beach in its own right, but what really sets it apart is the fact that it is also one of the best places for spotting sea turtles. I was able to swim out from the beach less than 15 yards and sea two beautiful sea turtles grazing on sea grass. I floated above them with my snorkel for what must have been 15 minutes, just watching the beautiful creatures eat their lunch. I was able to borrow a snorkel and mask from another traveler at the hostel, but they are also available and cheap at most stores in the area, and even buying your own would be cheaper than an unnecessary tour.

Tulum

After stopping in Akumal to gaze at sea turtles, we walked back to the main road and caught a passanger-van to Tulum. Tulum is known not only for its beautiful beaches, but also for its Mayan ruins, and since it’s one of the few places that has both, and it is a pretty popular destination, although not nearly as touristy as Playa del Carmen.

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Tulum #travel #mexico #tulum #ruins

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In Tulum we stayed at The Weary Traveler hostel, which is a nice one. While the social atmosphere can’t compete with Shambala, and the price is a bit steeper, I will admit that what you get for your money is pretty good. They have nice rooms, a pool, and a huge kitchen; they offer guests free eggs and pancake mix in the morning, and free rice, noodles, and lentils in the afternoons and evening, which means that if you’re willing to cook your own mean then you can essentially eat for free. The biggest drawback of staying here was that the hostel is located along the main road, which is not in walking distance from the beach – however, all of the hostels in Tulum are located in the same area, unfortunately, so there’s not really that many alternatives, unless you’re willing to shell-out for a beach front hotel.

We only spent one full day in Tulum, but we spent it pretty well: we woke up early and left for the famous Tulum archeological site, which I think is more famous for its proximity to the ocean than for the size of its pyramids and structures, which are modest compared to many of the others in México. Still, Tulum provides a unique experience, with many picturesque photo opportunities and even its own beautiful beach you can enjoy once you’re done looking at the pyramids. After exiting the ruins area, you’re only a stones-throw away from the main beach, which is beautiful and pristine, and a lot less crowded than Playa del Carmen.

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Some of the ruins in Tulum

In our last night in Tulum, we decided to call up a campsite we had heard about from a fellow traveler called Playa Roca. It was apparently very cheap, run by a very friendly man named Max, and located right on the beach. We were told that they had room, so we took a taxi from the hostel to the campsite, where we arrived shortly after dark. We arranged with Max to set up my hammock under a small thatch hut for some $4 USD, and my friend rented a single person tent for just a dollar more. I realized that night that, despite my comfy hammock, I wasn’t very well prepared to camp out, because I didn’t have a blanket. When the temperature dropped to about 60 degrees I was left shivering in my poorly insulated hammock, putting on nearly every article of clothing I had with me to try and stay warm. Despite the chilly night, the morning made it all worth it: I saw perhaps the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen, and took nearly a million photos.

Bacalar

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A view of the Lagoon of Seven Colors from the Green Monkey Hostel

From Tulum I parted way with my friend and boarded a bus to Bacalar, which is located 3 hours further down the southern coast of the peninsula, outside of what is considered the Riviera Maya. Bacalar isn’t one of the most popular destinations, but after hearing from other travelers that it was worth visiting, I added it to my itinerary. It’s a small town that’s not actually on the coast, but what it lacks for in beach it makes up for in big, beautiful freshwater lake that they call La Laguna de Siete Colores, or The Lagoon of Seven Colors.

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The Green Monkey Hostel rents cheap beds inside a repurposed schoolbus.

I stayed at a really nice hostel in Bacalar called the Green Monkey Hostel – it’s located right on the lake, and has a dock and with a thatch-roof hut that provides a shady spot to relax in a hammock. I was only there for two days, but those were two of the most relaxing days of my trip, and they seemed to float by like a dream. The highlight was doing an early morning paddleboard tour; we left before dawn and got to see the sun rise over the lagoon. We paddled around some small islands and floated over a cavernous cenote that is deeper than the length of a football field. I tried to do some yoga on my board and promptly fell in the water. Aside from that, I spent most of my time lounging around in hammocks, chatting and drinking beers with other travelers, and having a few excellent yoga sessions and runs next to the lake.

So, that concludes this tale. Be on the lookout for another post soon about my adventures in the Mexican mainland. Peace!

Connor

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Isla Holbox, Mexico

I want to start this post off with a couple of reflections:

  1. Writing a travel blog is hard. It is for me, at least. When packing up and moving from place to place every few days, there’s a general sense that you should be taking advantage of every moment you have in a particular spot, especially if it’s dope, and all of the places I’ve been in the last month have been dope (not bragging, just being real). I was doing really well with writing really detailed journal entries at the beginning of this trip, but I sort of fell off once I made it to the beach and forgot to open my laptop for nearly a week. On the one hand, I’m grateful that I’m able to go that long without staring at my computer screen, but on the other hand, I committed at the beginning of this trip to stay in touch and keep yall updated on my travels, so I kind of feel like a dick for not posting anything in the last few weeks. But here I am, writing this post, and despite the delay, at least I’m doing it, right?
  2. Connor having a blog is kind of dangerous, because while I’m a ~writer,~ I’m used to writing within certain constraints (be they academic or work imposed). With this I’m my own editor, and I tend to be pretty lenient on myself when it comes to going off tangent/on rants. For example, my last post was pretty dense with historical information, and I didn’t initially intend for it to be that way, but it kind of just happened; I realized that I can’t make every post like that because it requires way more research and analysis than I’m prepared to undertake while I’m also trying to enjoy this vacation. So this post will probably be a little bit more focused on my personal experience, and that sorta makes me worry about the cohesion of the overall “travel blog” thing, but I’m probably the only one who really cares about the cohesion of my blog so I’ll just shut up and move on to another reflection.
  3. Traveling with a yoga mat is worth it. If you do yoga. Which I do, so for me it’s definitely worth it.
  4. Ask for recommendations from other travelers—or even better, locals—and when somebody recommends a hostel, restaurant, destination, or particular activity/tour, follow their advice.
  5. When you’re at the beach, swimming in the ocean every day, multiple times a day, it’s okay to go more than four days without showering. But no more than four.
  6. When you’re backpacking and trying to do things as cheaply as possible, you come across a lot of minor inconveniences and annoyances. You missed your bus and now you have to wait at the station for two hours until the next one leaves. The hostel you were planning on staying at (but foolishly didn’t make reservations at) is completely booked and now you need to find a new place to stay. Don’t let that shit get to you. Let it roll off you like water from a duck’s back. Remember that you’re on goddamn adventure, and every detour is an opportunity in itself, or something like that.

Okay, enough of the reflections, let’s get to the actual telling. My previous post ended with my last day in Mérida, which was my first stop on this trip. From there, I was planning to go to a beach destination that I had heard about when I was last in México, Isla Holbox (pronounced “hole-boe-shh”). Isla Holbox is an island close to the border between the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatán. It’s only accessible by boat or ferry from the nearest port town on the mainland, Chiquilá. The only busses that run between Mérida and Chiquilá are overnight busses that leave Mérida around 11pm and arrive in Chiquilá around 5 or 6 in the morning.

So I took the overnight bus, which was rough, not only because I have trouble sleeping on busses, but also because the driver warned us before we left that it is not recommended to fall asleep during the trip because the belongings of sleeping passengers often disappear during this route. I kept my valuables close and stayed awake for most of the trip, and although I dozed off at one point, I still had my belongings when we pulled into Chiquilá. I boarded the ferry and half an hour later stumbled onto the island, bleary eyed and carrying a 30-pound bag on my back.

I should probably explain the golf-cart taxi thing, cause that’s not normal, but neither is Isla Holbox. One of the things that first intrigued me when I heard about Holbox (I’m gonna start referring to it as just “Holbox” from now on) is that there are no cars or paved roads on the island – people get around primarily on foot or by golf-cart or bike. However, I was pretty disappointed to find that things are beginning to change; there are a number of cars on the island, probably like 10, pick-up trucks and construction vehicles, that are being used to help build new tourist infrastructure. I realized pretty quickly that Holbox is in a stage of transition, turning from a relatively untouched and unknown beach sanctuary to an in-demand beach town. It was interesting to see it at a time like this, and I realized that I’m lucky that I got to see it before it changes too much, because despite the handful of cars that were there, it was still one of the most laid-back and relaxed places I’ve ever been, and part of that had to do with the general lack of traffic and asphalt.

My first impression of Isla Holbox was surreal, partly because I was arriving at dawn, and I decided right away that I liked it. It’s unmistakably a beach town, colorful and tropical, and while it is kind of touristy, it also maintains an air of authenticity and simplicity that separates it from the more popular destinations. All of the buildings are on the smaller side, the business are locally-owned, and everyone walks around in flipflops or barefoot. Domesticated-wild dogs roam the streets curiously sniffing the ground, the hands of passing tourists that offer to pet them, and other dogs’ butts – I call them “domesticated-wild” because they have collars that signal that they have owners, but the owners seem to let the dogs roam the island freely during the day, allowing their pets to maintain some wildness.

It only took me about 15 minutes to walk to the other side of the island – it’s narrow and long, and I only had to walk the narrow distance – and then another 5 minutes to the hostel. The hostel reception area was closed until 9am (it was 7), but someone told me that I could wait in the outdoor lobby area, which had a number of hammocks and chairs. I put my bags down and knocked out in a hammock for about an hour, until the other guests started to wake up. At 9 I was able to check in, but I was informed that my room still wouldn’t be ready until noon (see reflection #6). I left my bags in the reception area and decided to walk the beach.

The beach was small yet pristine, the water wasn’t crystal clear but a beautiful shade of blue. I ended up coming across some dudes rolling a joint on the beach – I greeted them and they invited me to join them for a morning smoke – I decided that since I was already pretty out of it, a toke couldn’t hurt. Both of my new friends were Mexican, but not originally from the island; they had moved to the island from the mainland to work tourism jobs and enjoy the island lifestyle, which apparently entails smoking doobies on the beach at 9am on a Tuesday. I found out that a lot of the residents of the island (and nearly all of the tourists) partake in similar rituals without any shame or fear, as there are only about four police officers on the island and they don’t really give a shit. I parted ways with my new friends after getting some tips on where to get a good breakfast for a fair price, the name of a place to get good empanadas, and a bar that houses the fiesta on Wednesday nights. Breakfast was definitely my next priority. I walked over to a local eatery called Las Panchas, where I was served a delicious fruit cocktail, agua de papaya, and enchiladas. It was about 11 by the time I finished eating, and I as I got back to the hostel I was pleased to find that my bed was ready early; it was nap time.

I should probably write a bit about the hostel I stayed at, Tribu Hostel. It was definitely one of the best hostels I’ve visited, with decent prices, clean facilities, friendly staff, and a very nice atmosphere. I’ve found that the most social hostels tend to be the ones with nice common areas, and this one had a great one, equipped with the comfiest hammock chairs that I had ever sat in. I ended up meeting a lot of cool travelers from all over the world, and although I arrived to Holbox alone, I quickly made new friends. The hostel also has free yoga classes every day on a rooftop terrace, and let me tell ya, there’s nothing like doing yoga with a view of the ocean.

Let’s skip ahead to the next day. I woke up early to take a kayak tour. The guide led us to the beach where we were picked up by a boat that took us to the uninhabited half of the island, which is made up of swampy marshes and mangrove forests with salt-water channels running through it. The guide led us through some of these creeks, which wound through the marshland and eventually into the mangroves, which formed a dense tunnel that was teeming with life. Then we reemerged into an open area, where I got to see a bunch of beautiful birds, including flamingos, spoonbills, ospreys, and tons of other exotic birds I can’t identify. The tour lasted in total about 3 hours, not including the time spent on the boat, and for about 25 bucks, I felt very satisfied at the end of it.

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Flamingos #wildlife #travel #méxico #islaholbox

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Having only eaten a banana, an apple, and some pecans before the tour, I was famished afterwards, so I went to the empanada spot that had been recommended to me. I forget the name (El Emperador? Something like that.) but they had some of the best empanadas I’ve ever had. I had a one that was stuffed with chicken, one with lobster, and another with shrimp – I recommend the shrimp. That night I ended up going out with some newly-made friends to a bar called Hot Corner, just down the road from the hostel. While the place was dead when we arrived, around 10:30 a reggae band started to play, and by 11 a sizeable crowd had formed, spilling out into the road in front of the bar. I thought it was cool how diverse the crowd was, with people from all over the world speaking all sorts of different language — I was actually one of the few Americans there, being largely outnumbered by Israelis, Germans and Mexicans. Having already consumed my fair share of Indio and Tequila, I went back to the hostel to snooze long before the party ended.

The next day, my last day on the island, I decided would be purely a beach day. After a hearty breakfast of huevos rancheros, I packed a beach bag, smothered my pale skin in sunscreen, and made a beeline for the sand. I decided that I wanted to walk along the water’s edge until I found a place that was sufficiently free of other beach goers, so I set off in a random direction until I eventually found what I deemed “the perfect spot.” I waded out into the water and was pleased by small exotic fish and even stingrays that I was able to find in the shallow water. After my swim, I laid out on my yoga-mat, but only after applying another layer of sunblock of course. I don’t know exactly what it was, but that day I ended up having one of the most tranquil and pleasant beach experiences of my life.

So before I end this post about Isla Holbox, I feel obligated by my duties as a blogger to share the one and only thing I didn’t like about the island: the mosquitos. There are hella mosquitos in Holbox, probably because there is a lot of standing water, and that paired with the hot, humid weather, and fresh supply of sweet, juicy travelers creates a perfect storm. At certain points of the day – mainly around dusk – it is difficult to be outside without being eaten alive, and that’s a damn shame because it makes it hard as hell to enjoy the sunset when you’re swatting at pests the whole time. In fairness, it’s not that big of an issue for most of the day, and I think it’s something that you kind of stop caring about after your first night, or maybe that’s just me. Overall though, Isla Holbox was amazing, and I can’t wait to go back. I’m gonna sign off with that.

Thanks for reading. Peace!

Connor

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Beach daze. #travel #beach #selfie

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Mérida, México

Imagine returning to a city that you once knew well, but it all looks and feels different. At first you can’t put your finger on what’s changed – overall, the city itself is pretty much the same, and what differences do exist are minor and mainly cosmetic. You slowly begin to realize that it’s not the city that’s changed, but you. You’ve undergone a profound transformation since you’ve last been here, without even realizing it. You’re not the same person you were when you were here before. Sometimes it takes being back to realize that.

So that was pretty heavy. Let me bring it back down for a minute.

If you were wondering if I’ve been enjoying myself in México, if I’ve been having a lot of fun and if I’ve been staying safe and all that good stuff, the short answer is yes. Yes I have. All is well, I’m safe and having tons of fun, buckets of it. And yes, I already drank a corona on the beach at 10:30 in the morning, I’ve had plenty of shots of tequila, and I’ve been eating like a king. If that’s all you were concerned about, then I’ll give you permission to stop reading and continue scrolling down your fb newsfeed or whatever you were doing. But if you want to hear a little more about the history this place that I’m in, read on.

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Proof that I'm here #mérida #méxico #travel

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My first stop was Mérida. For those wondering how to pronounce this, the emphasis is on the “e” (hence the accent), and it sounds like “Mary-duh,” NOT “Mare-EE-duh.” Mérida is the capital city of the Mexican state of Yucatán, and the largest city in the Yucatán Peninsula. For some geographical reference, here’s a map for ya’:

Mérida has a rich history that predates the arrival of Spanish conquistadors by more than a millennium. The Yucatán Peninsula, as well as other parts of southern México and Central America, was once populated by the ancient Maya civilization, and their descendants still live there today. The ancient Mayans are known for having been a fairly advanced society at the height of their splendor between 250 and 900 AD, having developed their own systems of writing, architecture, astronomy, politics, and more.

However, by the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the indigenous Mayans of the Yucatán had already experienced a significant disintegration of their society, having abandoned most of their major cities and dispersed throughout the peninsula in small agrarian villages. There are different theories that explain what caused this decline, and one is that following the peak of their power and social organization, the Mayans began to suffer from a combination of environmental changes (like drought) and a depletion of natural resources that began to place major stress on their society (sound familiar?). The result was a collapse of the ruling political bodies and the widespread abandonment of major cities – one of these abandoned cities was eventually stumbled upon by conquistadors, who decided it would be a good location to build a new colonial city in its place. The conquistadors (re)named the city Mérida, after a city in Spain (real creative, guys).

Mérida was “founded” in 1542, and to give you some historical context, Jamestown (the first colonial settlement in the U.S.) wasn’t founded until more than 60 years later, in 1607. By that time, the Spanish had already finished construction a cathedral in the center of Mérida, making it the first cathedral to be built in the continental Americas.

You know how I mentioned earlier that the conquistadors decided to build Mérida where there once was an abandoned Mayan city? Well, the Mayan city that the Spanish found is still there, in a way; a lot of the oldest colonial buildings in the center of the city (such as the cathedral and the governmental palace) were built using materials from the Mayan pyramids that were found there. The conquistadors— or rather the indigenous people that they enslaved to do the work for them—dismantled and recycled the limestone materials of the Mayan city to build the city that stands today. This sort of history is common in México, and although the colonial architecture is beautiful in its own right, it also serves as a bittersweet reminder (and poignant metaphor) of how the European colonists, in building Mérida and many other Mexican cities, dismantled major elements the indigenous culture and then unintentionally reintegrated it back into their attempts to replicate the culture of their homeland. The result is something entirely different: la mestizaje, the product of mixing distinct cultures and race.

 

Talking about the history of the Mayan people often brings up an important and common question: what happened to the Mayan people? Where did they go? Well, the best answer I have is that, well, they didn’t really go anywhere – they’re still here. After suffering enslavement, persecution, and attempts to literally erase their culture/religion/history from the face of the earth, the Maya (along with other indigenous groups in México) have endured, and this endurance has manifested itself in various ways, from some indigenous people becoming integrated into the mainstream culture while others have remained more autonomous and isolated.

According to research published by the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, the indigenous population makes up an estimated 46.9% of the population in the Yucatán Peninsula. This is a pretty impressive and perhaps surprising statistic, but I believe it. In Mérida, and even more so in the villages of the Yucatán, you see and meet a lot of people with dark complexions, people that can trace their ancestral roots back to the Mayans. There’s also a significant portion of people that still speak the Mayan language as their first language, although this number has been dwindling steadily for a long time due to societal pressures, and currently we are beginning to see more efforts to preserve the Mayan tongue. Despite the brutal history and the continued marginalization and inequality suffered by indigenous populations in México, it’s undeniable that the Mayan culture played (and continues to play) a huge role in shaping the city of Mérida, making it a wonderful destination if you’re interested in the indigenous history and culture in México.

 

Okay, so that was a kinda long-winded (yet admittedly uncomprehensive) overview of the history and culture of Mérida. I know what you’re thinking: when is Connor gonna’ get to the part where he recounts the dope things he’s been doing? Well I realize that I’ve written a lot without even talking about my own experience, so I’ll try to describe some of the highlights of the 10 days I spent in Mérida.

One of the highlights has been just being back in the city that I once (albeit briefly) called home. On the one hand, it brings back a rush of nostalgia for a very formative time in my life—the first time that I had faced a really challenging situation that pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone and challenged my perceptions of myself, the world, and my place in it. With those memories also comes the strange sensation that I attempted to describe in the first paragraph—realizing that I’m seeing the city now with different eyes.

Aside from just being back in Mérida, I was also very excited to see some of the friends that I made when I was here before. This includes some people that I met through an English-Spanish exchange program we did when I studied abroad her. Three friends I met through that – Noemi, Karen, and Erika – all took time out of their busy lives to see me and hang out with me, and it’s a great feeling to know that you can still be friends with someone after not seeming them for more than 2 years.

Similarly, I was able to see the kids that I worked with when I studied in Mérida – for those of you who don’t know, my study abroad program included a community service internship in which I worked with a group of kids to expose them to a different culture and help teach them to use computers and speak some basic English. After working with this same group of kids (and their incredible mothers, who are constantly seeking out more opportunities for their children) multiple times a week for 6 months, I had formed really strong bonds with them, almost as if they were a second family of mine. To be honest, I was pretty nervous to see them again after so much time. Would the kids remember me? Would they be shy at first, like kids often are? Of course, my doubts were totally unfounded, as I was immediately welcomed back into the family with open arms, and words cannot describe the joy I felt being with them again.

ninos

When I was planning this trip, I was hoping that someone would tag along with me, because I was honestly a little bit intimidated by the idea of travelling alone. However, I haven’t felt alone hardly at all during this trip, because not only have I been able to reunite with old friends, but I’ve also made plenty of new ones. The best advice I can give to someone that is planning to travel alone is to stay in hostels. Sure, hostels have their downsides: you usually have to share your room with at least 4 other people, which can suck if you’re a light sleeper, but it’s worth it because not only is it a lot cheaper than a hotel, but it’s a lot easier to meet other travelers. I was lucky to befriend two other travelers at my hostel in Mérida, one from the States and another from Mexico (shout-out to David and Joshua). We hit it off quickly and one night, when we went out for beers, we ended up befriending a group of extremely nice (and beautiful) girls from Mérida that we ended up going out with a few times – they even drove us to a a few cenoes, which was clutch because they are sometimes difficult to access via bus.

Which reminds me, you probably don’t know what cenotes are. Cenotes (“say-NO-tays”) are natural pools of fresh water, sometimes open like ponds, other times hidden in subterranean caves. They are usually pretty deep and have channels that connect with underground rivers; I’ve talked to some hardcore scuba divers that specialize in exploring these underground rivers and caverns, and I can’t even imagine how amazing it would be to see that (life goal, for sure). But cenotes aren’t only good for diving, they also make great swimming holes, which is crucial when you want to escape the brutal heat of Mérida, and then of course they are also just cool, magical places to see. There are hundreds of cenotes in the Yucatán peninsula, and we visited three that are located in the village of Homún. They’re a bit off the beaten path, but totally worth visiting.

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Cenote #travel #méxico #yucatan

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Mérida is also close to a lot of Mayan ruins that have been well preserved and today serve as tourist attraction. The most famous archeological site in the state of Yucatán is called Chichén Itzá, followed by Uxmal, both of which are accessible from Mérida. I already saw both of these sites when I studied here, so rather than retreat too much old ground, I decided to go to another archeological site that I hadn’t visited before: Dzibilchaltun (I’m not even going to attempt to explain the pronunciation of that). Located just 30 minutes outside of the city, I was pleased to find that unlike the other ruins I’ve been to, this one has a way smaller crowd, which makes for a more intimate and mystical experience with the ruins. It also has a cenote that you can swim in, which is nice for cooling off in after walking around in the heat.

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Visited some Mayan ruins today #travel #méxico

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So before I end this post, I want to reflect on a question that one of my new friends asked me before I left Mérida: what are your favorite things about Mérida. I don’t remember exactly how I responded at the time, but I’ve been thinking about her question and I think that I’ve narrowed it down to three things: the people, the history/culture, and the food. I’ve already touched on the first two, but I haven’t said much about the food. Well, the food here is amazing. Panuchos, salbutes, cochinita, poc-chuc, brazo de reina, papadzules, sopa de lima… I know that none of these words mean anything to you, but if you ever make it to Mérida, I promise that these foods will change your life. I think I’m going to end this post here because I just got really hungry. Peace!

Connor

Going, Going…

I’m about to leave for a trip. I’m leaving in less than 12 hours, and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that this time tomorrow, I’ll be in a different country. I’m going to be spending the next two months or so travelling through México (yes, I write it with the accent), and eventually working my way down to Belize to do an internship on a permaculture farm (more on what this entails later). I thought I’d write something to sort of organize my thoughts about this, concerning not only my plans but also my motives in undertaking this trip.

So, why am I doing this? Well, I guess the first reason is that I really want to do it. I think can think of little else that I want to do more at this moment. As I like to put it, I’ve got itchy feet. There’s also the fact that I actually can do it right now, and do it on terms that I’m comfortable with. I’ve saved up enough money that I feel financially secure enough to go at least 3 months without a paycheck, and I’m very fortunate that that’s the case (for more on this, see my post that was published in my friend Esther’s blog a few weeks ago: https://selectivelyrussian.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/connor-parental-dissonance-iv/). And the whole farm internship thing – sustainable living and agriculture is something that has become more and more interesting to me recently, and I think that doing this is a good way to get some hands on experience with something that I think might correlate with a direction I want to explore. So there’s that.

And then there’s another reason that I don’t think even originated with me, but with the 10+ people that have said it to me when I told them about the trip: “now’s the time.” Now. Is. The. Time. It sounds like a cliché, and it absolutely is, but it’s also true. This is a time in my life where I have very few responsibilities or obligations (no children/spouse, mortgage, car payments, important career, etc.). I’m relatively untethered, and while it’s kind of sad to think that this is the only time of my life that I’ll be so “free,” I’m honestly not so sure that that’s truly the case. But if it is, at least I’m taking advantage of this special time in my life.

So there’s that, but why, am I going to México? Why not another country? Well, as some of you may know, I studied abroad in México when I was junior in college, and it was, to say the least, a formative experience. Not only was I thrown miles away from my comfort zone for the first time in my life, but I also fell in love with the country, and especially the city I studied abroad in, Mérida (pronounced “Mary-duh”. I’ve been wanting to return to Mérida since I left it in June 2015, and it’s hard to believe that it has been more than 2 years since I was last there. I’m excited to go back to some of my favorite bars and restaurants that I used to frequent when I studied there. Even more than that, I’m excited to see some of the friends I made when I was there. I’ve tried to stay in touch with the cool people I met, but it’s tough, and I know I’ve only done an okay job. At a certain point, I realized that if I wanted to preserve the relationships I built when I was there, I would have to go back, and sooner than later. I’ve reached out to a few of my friends there, and I’m excited (and even a little nervous) to see them again after so much time has passed.

While Mérida is my first stop, I’m only going to be there for about a week or so before I take off for a few other destinations: Isla Holbox, Guadalajara, and Mexcio City to name a few. What’s nice is that I don’t have a strict itinerary planned out – I’ve just got a list of placed I’d like to go and things I’d like to see, as well as some time, some money, and a backpack. I could try to give you more details of my very tentative plans now, but I think it’s better that I wait until I’m there – it’ll give you more to read about later.

Eventually, I’m guessing sometime in early to mid-November, I’m going to make my way down to Belize, which, if you don’t know, is a small country that sits right below México, and shares a border with Guatemala. I’ll be honest: Belize is kind of a mystery to me. I don’t think I even realized it existed until a few years ago, when I was in Mérida and realized that I was pretty close to a country I hadn’t even been aware of. The “official language” of Belize is English – which is bizarre to me, but I guess that has something to do with it being a former British colony. Anyways, I’m excited to explore a new country and hopefully have a dope experience at this permaculture farm.

Which brings me to the last thing I want to talk about here, which is the permaculture farm. What is permaculture, you ask? My first response: http://bfy.tw/3YvQ. My second response: sorry for being snide with my first response. If I’m being real, permaculture is something that seems simple on the surface but can actually be pretty hard to wrap your head around, that’s part of why I want to go see it first hard. If I was hard-pressed to describe it quickly, I’d summarize it as such: permaculture lies somewhere near the intersection of organic agriculture, ecological conservation, sustainable living, and social justice. Does that sound slightly intrigue and very convoluted to you? Yes? Well, good! That means I’ll be able to write a better explanation later.

So I’m going to wrap up this post here, because I want to have things to talk about in later posts. Yeah, I’m going to be blogging. I had the intention of blogging when I went to Colombia, and it didn’t really happen aside from one post. I hope to do better this time. I will do better this time. Do me a favor: if you notice more than a week go by and I haven’t posted anything, give me some shit for it. I’ll do my best to follow through with this.

Thanks for reading.

Peace, love, and all that good stuff.

Connor

P.S. go Cubs!