We spent 8 wonderful days in Merida with Daisy’s parents, and had the full Mexican experience with them. Highlights include Mayan ruins, a horse-drawn tour of underground swimming holes, a broken down rental car, potential tourist scams, and a diagnosis of intestinal parasites. It is hard to believe we fit so much into such a short time!
Our first day here we went to pick up the rental car that we had reserved online months ago. However, we learned that reservations of cars are ‘subject to availability at time of pick-up’. Um… what?! This means that your reservation is more or less a joke, and in our case it was really a joke. There was no car for us! We had to come back the next day, wait for over an hour, and finally got a teeny -tiny car for a much higher rate than we expected. Oh well, we were so happy just to have a car. Booking tours for four people is pricey, and having the car meant freedom to plan our own itinerary for tourist sites.
The first order of business was Mayan ruins. We visited two sites in the vicinity of Merida. The first was smaller, but really fun because it included a dip in a cenote. These are very deep freshwater pools that provided water for the Mayans and often ended up preserving many artifacts that helped archaeologists learn about their culture.
The second ruin we visited was Uxmal, a once-great city that is still beautiful. The carvings were exquisite on all the buildings, and there weren’t too many tourists to clutter up our photos (hee hee). We saw lots of iguanas lazing about in the sun, and even found some bats that had set up shop in the ruins.
Our favorite tourist activity was a visit to three famous cenotes. The locals have set up a unique way to access them: horse-drawn rail car. We had to visit twice, since the first time we arrived in the afternoon and they had run out of horses to tow the rail cars about. The next day we arrived early and were among the first to set out. It was quite an adventure! The rail car seemed to be held together with a combination of metal wire and grease, and the horse bounced us up and down and all around. We even had to walk a section of the route since someone had inexplicably stolen some of the railroad.
The cenotes themselves were incredible. The first one was accessed through a tiny hole in the ground and a ladder made of re-purposed railroad ties. Once down the hole we found ourselves in a cave packed with stalactites and stalagmites. We descended to the water using a single rope to keep from falling, and the way was illuminated by our guide’s single flashlight. We lowered ourselves into the water and swam through the cave. It became pitch black when our guide moved his light elsewhere, and we had to find our way around by touch. It was incredible!
The other cenotes we visited were a little more stereotypical: crystal clear water in underground caves with rays of light streaming in from above. Tree roots descended from the ceiling in search of water, and we loved swimming in the cool depths. This is absolutely a tour we would reccommend, but not for the faint of heart! It was kind of scary getting into and out of the cenotes, but well worth it.
On the way back from the cenote tour we had another experience: rental car break down. We were driving on the highway when the engine just stopped working. I was incredulous, but luckily managed to coast to the shoulder and put on the blinkers. We were able to call the rental car company and they sent out a tow truck and a replacement vehicle within two hours, which was actually very nice. The whole family just relaxed and read our books, so it was really pretty similar to a siesta!
A few of the eight days were spent lounging and doing chores. While in Merida we took care of a lot of chores that we’ve been putting off for a long time. This means that we changed our bicycle chains, sterilized our water bottles (they all had some green growth at the bottom), and rotated our tires. We also managed to re-pack and get some new gear for cold weather (more on that below!)
Also in the good news department – I think we’ve finally got my ongoing stomach problems figured out. I got myself to a doctor, and got prescribed a round of antibiotics and anti-parasitics. Apparently folks in Mexico just de-parasite themselves every 6 months because they are so common here. I really hope the medicine works, since I am super sick of having stomach problems on bike tour!
Now, finally, the big news…
The Philtrons Pedal South is becoming The Philtrons Pedal North. Once we reach Cancun on January 11 we will fly (in an airplane) to the southern tip of Chile, and then we will ride north again all the way back to Cancun. We agonized over this decision, but in the end I think we will be very happy with it. Yes, it will break up the continuity of the trip and probably throw you readers for a loop, but we have good reasons!
There are roads in southern Chile that pass through incredible mountain scenery, complete with ferry rides, gravel, glaciers, and more. We have dreaming about these roads for years. The problem is that they are only accessible in the Chilean summer: January through March. If we rode our entire route North to South we would arrive far too early in the season to ride them… The solution? Ride the second half backwards! This also helps with other timing (like getting back to work, someday), and lets us avoid the problem areas of Central America until the end of the trip. In this way, we can get rid of everything valuable before entering areas where we are more likely to be robbed.
So, we hope you’ll keep following our adventures despite the sudden discontinuity! We’ll re-visit this decision in a couple more posts, for those folks that miss this one. We are super excited for this next leg to begin.