I wasn't planning on staying in Mérida — I was going to just head straight on to Valladolid — but I'm glad that I ended up spending two nights here. Mérida is the gateway to the Yucatán Peninsula. It's very safe, fairly sleepy, quite hot, and a bit on the expensive side. It also has great people to meet at its hostels, and it has impressive Maya ruins, such as Uxmal, relatively nearby.
The main square of Mérida.
I'd heard that Mérida is a city of fine arts and of classical entertainment, and that this has led to the people being a bit on the snobbish side, and to food being a bit on the expensive side. Unfortunately, this is all true: but it wasn't as bad as I anticipated. It's still possible to have some cheap, uncultured fun in Mérida, if you know where to look.
Several different locals here in Mérida told me that President George W. Bush is going to be here, in town, today! I found this hard to believe, so I did a bit of research, and it looks like it could be true. Anyway, I was off at Uxmal all day today, and I didn't really notice a thing. But it's kinda cool to know that I was in town with the world's most powerful and most stupid man.
In between our Uxmal day tour, and the Uxmal evening light show, the Uxmal road trippers went to a corrida in Santa Elena. A corrida is a kind of rodeo / country fair affair. We got some seats on the top level of some rickety stadium-ring stands, and watched a gang of Mexican cowboys and matadors have fun with a bull. Check out the video.
For us 5 Uxmal road trippers, the Uxmal ruins themselves were definitely the highlight of the day. Uxmal is probably one of the least visited of Mexico's must-see ruins, and yet (I think) it's also the best. The light-jungle surroundings, the serene environment, and the very impressive pyramids and temples, all combine to make Uxmal a great Maya site to visit.
The 5 Uxmal road trippers stopped in Santa Elena to grab a nice, cheap, Mexican lunch. Our first try was an over-priced restaurant in the middle of town. But after a bit more in-depth searching, we managed to find a family-home-slash-little-restaurant joint that opened up especially for us, and that treated us to a massive taco feast for a very reasonable price.
At 8am this morning, 5 backpackers piled into a Mexian rental car, and took off on a day-long road trip to the Maya ruins of Uxmal. We covered a big route through the area south of Mérida, and then we visited Acanceh, Mayapán, Mama, Labná, Kabah, and Santa Elena, as well as Uxmal itself.
Matthias and Kanako found these two girls in Mérida, and convinced them to come with us on the Uxmal road trip. Julie and Kimiko are both Americans, who have spent over 2 years in Honduras, and who both speak very good Spanish. They were willing to squash into the back seat of Matthias's rental car, and to climb the pyramid of Mayapán and Uxmal.
These crazy, married backpackers are two of the nicest and most streetwise people that I've travelled with so far. Both of them have spent over 10 years travelling to the most remote and out-of-the-way places on Earth. Matthias, a Frenchman, is an expert in cutting costs and in proving his favourite saying: "you have a lot to learn about the French". Kanako, a Japanese girl, is much more adventurous than your average Tokyo girl.
These two British lads (both from the London area) are studying at the hotel here in Mérida with me. Karl's just a bit older than me, and is going around the world the opposite way to me: Mexico is also his first stop, though. James is a fair bit older, and is just hanging out in Mexico for a few weeks, while he's got some time off work. Being British and all, these guys were more than happy to go out for some beers, with me and various other people, at whatever pubs they could find.