Merida is a delightful town, originally Mayan, and then conquered by the Spanish in 1542. The streets are now all numbered, but many of them retain their signs from the early Spanish days. We passed El Elefante, El Armadillo, and El Jaguar, all accompanied by delightful illustrations. While Calle 56 x 61 is very easy to find, it would be fun to live at the corner of Squirrel and Pelican. Mexico is full of beautiful plazas, full of trees with painted white trunks and benches, and bustling markets on Sunday. The main plaza square of Merida has been the centre of the town since Mayan times, and is boarded by the old homes of the conquistadors Francisco De Montejo, and the Catedral de San Ildefonso.
The churches in Mexico were very shocking and disappointing. They are the same colour as the Mayan temples, which is not surprising, because the Spanish forced the Mayans to dismantle their own temples and rebuild them into churches. Every white limestone church I saw reminded me of another Mayan temple destroyed.
The food was amazing – fresh coconut and palm hearts, pineapple, banana, and watermelons. We ate plenty of tortillas and tacos, and the rice was also surprisingly tasty. It was delightful to be able to eat chocolate ice cream in the homeland of the cocoa plant.
From Merida we ventured west to Celestun, a small fishing village in the middle of a biosphere reserve, with tightly regulated seasons to permit renewable harvesting. Nearby is the Eco Pariso resort, set back from the beach to allow the sea turtles to hatch in peace. We stayed in one of a small handful of thatched huts overlooking the ocean, and could watch the sun set over the Caribbean from our lounge room.
Mexico was really beautiful, and I loved walking around saying “buenos dias” or “buonas noches” – the first time I actually got to speak a foreign language in a foreign country. I swam in the Caribbean, and was surprised to find the sea actually warm, which was a delightful indulgence. The bird life was amazing, and often Grey Pelicans would join us in the sea. Geckos invaded our thatched hut during the night, and made cute chirping noises, although later I found that these were feral geckos that were driving the native species out of inhabited areas. At first we thought that there were three different species of lizard in the area, however later we learnt that they were actually just the three distinct life stages of the Black Iguana, who must begin life emerald green to avoid being eaten by its elders.
We had an amazing guide who showed us the surrounding wildlife. We went on a boat cruise during the day to explore some of the wonders of the region. We saw a semi-petrified forest, complete with turkey vultures perching on the grey skeletal trunks. We went swimming in a freshwater spring in a hammock mangrove forest. We boated past thousands of bright pink Greater American Flamingos, feasting on crustaceans and mosquito larvae. Occasionally they would take flight in a very ungraceful fashion, their lanky legs running across the water as they built up speed. At night we went on an expedition to attempt to catch crocodiles for measurement and tagging, and watched our guide attempt to achieve this by jumping into the water and splashing through the mangroves whenever the eyes of a crocodile were revealed by a flashlight. Perhaps not surprisingly, no specimens were actually caught, although we did see a juvenile Morelett’s crocodile and a three-meter long American Crocodile, which was amazing. We battled storms of mosquitoes to find rare plants, and I even saw the tequila plant growing in the wild.
Our days at Celestun were very relaxing. Adrian and I share a love of siestas, and we were able to indulge in delicious food, warm swims in the ocean, unique wildlife, and afternoon naps. After my hectic past few weeks, I really appreciated the chance to wind-down, and get used to being Adrian’s girlfriend. This involves being constantly reminded how wonderful I am, and being surrounded by love, acceptance, joy, and romance. He is a fascinating person – gentle, creative, kind, and brilliant. I feel very lucky to be able to have him by my side as we share in so many amazing experiences.
We spent a day at Chichen Itza, which was astounding. The main temple, built in the later stages of development, towered over the rest of the complex, with the number of steps and crevices representing the Mayan calendar. The ball court was huge, with the large stone hoops staggeringly high up. The engravings on the sides of the walls, which I had only seen in books, were startling in their immediacy. The illustrations reflected the Toltec influence of curves and realism, lacking the heliographic writings of the traditional Maya. There were no names or dates on the carvings, but the message was clear. The two teams faced each other, and the captain of one team held the head of the opposing team’s captain. Nearby was a platform carved with skulls, where the skulls of the defeated captives were displayed to the rest of the town.
The sacred cenote of sacrifice was breathtaking. A deep jade colour well inside a huge limestone pit, with just the foundation of the temple remaining beside it. People, animals, and incense was thrown into the cenote to ask for rain, although most of the artefacts found are thought to be from one final cleansing ceremony when the city was finally abandoned. The items were deliberately broken, and the people turned away from a kingdom structure back to smaller individual farms.
The observatory was a surprise, as I was not expecting to see any circular buildings in Chichen Itza. The drinking cenote was black and still, hidden behind the lush green foliage that once covered the whole site before it was restored.
The original Maya buildings, built in the traditional manner, were one of the most fascinating areas of the complex. There was a two-tiered tower decorated with images of the big-nosed rain god, built facing north so that the sun would arc over it during the day. The ahou (God/king) would stand upon the top platform, performing his bloodletting rituals in front of the people gathered in the plaza below.
After a hot few hours in Chichen Itza, our guide drove us a short distance up the road to swim in the Ik Kil cenote. It was just magical – a limestone cave cenote filled with birds, waterfalls, and vines reaching all the way down the deep well. Stalactites hung from the ceiling, and Yucatan catfish swum calmly in the waters.