Friday, January 20, 2012

The Yucatan - There and Back Again. "The First 48 Hours"

We left Puebla at 9pm on a bus that wouldn’t stop until we were in the Yucatan the next afternoon. A fifteen hour overnight bus ride sounds like torture, but with comfortable seats, a fair amount of leg room, and movies, I figured it’s still better than two hours in a bus to Mexico City, two hours waiting in the airport, and two hours in a plane.

The beach at our first restaurant.
After 12 hours of not really sleeping, but not really being awake either, we finally stopped at a restaurant on the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. We had thirty minutes to order, eat, and get back on the bus. Ana and I picked a table towards the back of the restaurant that was quickly filling up with other bus riders. We put our bags beneath the table. Another woman sat next to us and began making small talk. She seemed nice. After we ordered, I left the table to go look at the beach behind the restaurant and the shorebirds that I had noticed. When I came back, Ana and this other woman were eating, but my food still hadn’t come. The woman kept on about where she was from, where she was going, what food she liked, and asked us questions about ourselves as well. She even complimented my Spanish. Ana finished eating and then went to see the beach. I kept waiting for my food. The nice woman suggested I go up and ask for it again. The clock was ticking. I was a feeling lazy, and so didn’t get up. Ana came back, and still my food didn’t come.

The bus engine started up, the signal that it was time to go. We got up, grabbed our stuff, said goodbye to the woman and went to the front of the restaurant to pay for Ana’s food and to cancel my order. The cashier included the nice lady’s bill in ours, but we told her that she wasn’t with us. We looked back at the table and she was gone. She had skipped out on her bill. As we got on the bus, I slowly realized that the nice lady had been trying to get Ana and I to walk away from our stuff underneath the table. Like her meal, she was probably going to steal our bags. This was an ominous way to start our trip around the Yucatan.

Three hours later we were in Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan. When we got off the bus at the station, we decided to buy our tickets for the following day’s trips just in case the bus became sold out. We asked around and discovered that we had to go to a different bus station to buy tickets. After walking around lost for several minutes we found a cab and were soon at a new bus station buying tickets: 8am the next day for Celestun, and 8 am in two days to Chichen Itza. 

The church at the center of Merida.
When we got to our hotel, we woman working the desk said that she couldn’t find a record of our reservation for a private room. I told her that I had already paid for the room and showed her the receipt. Still, we didn’t have a reservation and had to stay in the dorm, which wasn’t a big deal because we ended saving some money. We spent a short evening walking around Merida’s center, then taking a “turibus” around its mansion district. 

Being exhausted, we went to sleep early, around 9pm. About four hours later, Ana woke up in pain. She was sick. She called our Peace Corps doctor who groggily suggested we go get some medicine at a nearby drugstore. Then our phone ran out of “saldo”, minutes on a pay as you go plan. We emailed the doctor and asked what exactly we should get, and waited for a response. Finally, the response came, and at 3am in Merida on our first night in the Yucatan, we walked towards the center in search of a drug store. The central plaza was eerily empty, except for a few young men installing new sidewalks. It didn’t take long to find a drug store, get Ana’s medication, and put some more money on the phone. After not sleeping much for over 24 hours, getting to sleep in that crowded dorm room was quite easy, for me at least.

Ana and I woke up the early next morning. I was hoping she was feeling better, but she still wasn’t quite right and we missed our bus to Celestun. We decided to wait around, and by 10am, Ana feeling better, we caught a later bus.  Three hours later we were arriving in Celestun, a small town on western side of the Yucatan on the Gulf of Mexico. We were there to take a boat to see the flamingo colonies in the nearby biosphere reserve. 

When we got off the bus, two Spanish women approached us and asked if we wanted to form a group to save costs on the boat ride. The Lonely Planet recommended that we group up, so we decided to go together to haggle the boat driver. Before leaving the bus station a man approached us offering the boat trip for 200 pesos per person. This seemed like a fair price, although he said we would be sharing the boat with several other tourists. The guide book said that we would pay by boat, not by person, so we thought the overall price seemed too high. We walked to the beach without him, looking to make our own deal. 

When we arrived to the beach the same man greeted us and tried to hustle us into the boat, offering no signs of wavering on the price. I tried to argue but he ignored me. He also ignored the Spanish women we were with, which was a mistake. One of the Spanish women started arguing with him, getting louder and louder, until even I was trying to distance myself from her and join the group already on the boat. It became uncomfortable, and given that I really just wanted to see the flamingos, and this guy’s boat was the only shop in town, I just handed over my money.

Flamingos in Celestun,.

The two hundred pesos was worth it. We saw several thousand flamingos in less than two hours. And so, after the boat ride back to the beach, a quick lunch, some sitting in the sand, and then a three hour bus ride, we were back in Merida. Our first full day in the Yucatan was over. We had left Puebla 48 hours earlier, and I still hadn’t really slept.

Celestun at dusk.


  1. Thirty hours to eat seems like a ton of time to me...same with 200 dollars for a boat ride. You've really gotta tune down your embellishments, Jajean ;)