Straddling two turquoise coloured oceans, Mexico has been one of my favourite destinations. From the colonial cities in the East, through Huichol art, to the Aztec pyramids facing the Ocean, all embellished by a Mariachi Banda in one of these famous cantina, I will always keep an inexhaustible memory of it.
Based for many months in the “Bahia de Banderas”, in the state of Jalisco at the foot of the Sierra Madre, I assisted the sales and marketing department of a star resort. With the benefit of a few days off and some weekends, I spent most of my time in the suburbs of the surrounding areas. Open by nature to dialogue, I met many local people who made me discover the beauty of this country and even became good friends…
“The turquoise colourful array of this island is as extensive as the number of Aztec temples in this state.”
As my professional project was coming to an end, my friends strongly advised me to go to the other side of Mexico (East side) to discover another aspect of the country, new places, a new culture, equally varied dishes and a breathtaking natural habitat. So for about ten days, my friend and I decided to “dar un reccorido” throughout the state of Yucatán and Quintana Roo. Fleeing with all our legs the “all inclusive” and the setbacks offered by the most eastern city of the country, we barely jumped in a boat taking us to an island of barely a few hundred meters wide bordering the Caribbean Sea. The range of turquoise colors offered by this island is as extensive as the number of Aztec temples existing in this state: that is to say, infinite!
The Spanish conquistador Hernandez de Córdoba gave it the name “Isla Mujeres” at the beginning of the 16th century, surely referring to the beauty of the site but also to the numerous statuettes representing these women. After a time spent far from the hustle and bustle of the cities, we raised our modest tent and went down to the town of Playa Del Carmen. Although this former fishing village has remained for a long time in the shadow of the development of Cancùn, tourism is growing massively and the resorts are gradually nibbling away at the vast white sand beaches to the detriment of the rainforest. A few evenings spiced up with local agaves drinks and a few salsa dances later, the bus taking us to one of the most beautiful archaeological sites of an ancient Mayan city along a heavenly beach stopped in a tiny little town barely listed on a map. Our research on this impromptu stop was extremely meagre but our adventurous curiosity won us over.
We then left the so-called “Camión” and began our exploration. Vast hotels had been abandoned. Vines hung here and there inside what had long ago been the lobby of a boutique hotel and many green plants were strewn across the floor covering the entire reception area.
“Large crocodiles stretched all the way along the roads at nap time, a few toucans, tarantulas, parakeets and spider monkeys.
Once out of the forest, a long stretch of white sand as fine as icing sugar stretched under our feet. We pitched our tent between a few pieces of sand sticks covered with a light fisherman’s net. We were not very happy because a few hours later, the first hurricane and tropical cyclone of the season, one of the rarest according to some people, decided to dislodge us and tore our tent away in no time. Soaked to the bone, our only option was to retreat into the most unsanitary rubble.
teeming with mosquitoes, crabs living inches below our feet and various leaks reminding us how strong a hurricane can be.
Once this trip was over, we made our way to one of the most magnificent temples that the region has to offer. The hurricane did not decide to leave us alone, so we thought it was essential to go inland to a village as remote as possible, home to an ancient Mesoamerican civilization; we then discovered many small lakes where large crocodiles swarming along the roads at siesta time, a few toucans, tarantulas, parakeets and spider monkeys. But the most surprising by far is the City of Cobà where the famous “Iglesia” dominates the surrounding jungle from its few dozen meters high.
The desire for sumptuous colonial cities, filled with heavenly beaches, picturesque villages and Mayan archeological sites, each one more sublime than the next, won us over… No sooner had we arrived in Valladolid than the local food surprised us pleasantly! So many different flavours in this beautiful peninsula! The Yucatan specialties are as rich as they are varied. Then, we were told that a local bullfight was taking place in a very small village a few kilometres away, in the village of Tekom; the opportunity to see such an event in such a rustic environment was great! Far from the bullring of the Spanish bullfighting towns, the “corrida de toros” took place in a dirt field where the grass was struggling to grow, surrounded by wooden scaffolding a few storeys high. We were more worried about sitting on those thin planks that were just waiting to collapse than about the bullfighting spectacle we were not used to.
One last high heart in this multicoloured city and we head towards the famous freshwater chasms. These wells represented for the Maya a direct link with the afterlife and it is for this reason that many offerings were thrown inside. During our journey, we had the chance to visit many of them: some were in the city, others required the descent of several steps, others revealed a pierced dome from which a breakthrough of brightness made both the scenery illuminated and the water of great darkness. But the latter was quite different… Indeed, having opted for an improvised walk advised by street cooks, the three cenotes were connected by a most original railway. Instead of locomotives, it was horses that pulled a tiny little wooden wagon in which we settled. It was on this rustic, authentic, traditional and entertaining means of transport that we navigated through the Yucatan fauna and flora, refreshing us from time to time in the many roadside dolines.
As the trip came to an end, our last stop was the city of Merida, the cultural capital of the Yucatán Peninsula and rich in colonial history. Before celebrating our last callejòn in a lively and dancing crowd, we spent our last day in the sublime and elegant site of Uxmal, where the “Governor’s Palace” and the “Pyramid of the Soothsayer”, a masterpiece of Puuc architecture, were masterfully built.
This trip combining knowledge of ancestral art, diversified dishes, Caribbean and colonial landscapes will remain an intense memory for a very long time. I can never say it enough to my friends and acquaintances when I tell them about my adventures: the real journey begins when you get off the beaten track and out of your comfort zone.