Valladolid Mexico, 1 January 2003

Hola amigos! Everything is going well so far. We landed safely last week in Merida and have been having an awful lot of fun since. We rented a car and have been exploring Mayan ruins and little towns and every two-lane highway in the region (donning the title ¨hon-qui-stador" to symbolize our conquest of the open road here...) Merida is a tame and pleasant but sprawling town on the Yucatan Peninsula about 500 km west of Cancun.

Having absolutely no interest in that wealthy playgound scene, we´ve been avoiding Cancun (until tomorrow when we have to drive there to catch our flight to Havana) and seeing what else the Yucatan Peninsula has to offer.

Our first night in Merida was close to perfect, landing on time at 10pm, cruising thru customs, arriving at the way-too-posh Hyatt, and walking down Merida´s tropical, warm, stunningly decorated/lit wide main avenue "Avenida De Montejo" in search of food. We lucked out at a sidewalk restaurant called "Cumbacho" where the power failure and our un-practiced spanish failed to deter our late night mission to eat soft tacos and drink margaritas.

The next day we hit the road in our road-worn but surprisingly resilient mini-Chevy-Monza (read: Geo Metro) and paid a visit to The Puuc Route and its flagship ruin:Uxmal (we got to Chichen-Itza two days later). These completely amazing Mayan archeological sites feature huge pyramids, stone columns, special sports arenas (where the losing team was sacrificed to the gods), and dense surrounding forest with obviously un-excavated additional pyramids and
structures. Even the throngs of other touristas couldn´t take away from the stunning architecture and compelling carvings to be found out in the open at every turn.

We spent an evening further west in Ciudad Campeche, way off the tourist circuit (a charming coastal town, but little to do or see really) We also braved what was once a paved road (before Hurricane Isadora turned it into stone granola) to a place called Rio Lagartos for a private boat trip into a bird sanctuary full of flamingos, blue herons, frigate birds, snowy egrets, white ibis, tri-color herons, terns, hawks, white and brown pelicans, sandpipers, and many others (complete with preying crocodiles, I might add).

We´ve stayed in a couple of tiny towns including Tizimin and Valladolid both
of which earned our somewhat cynical but much-sought-after seal of approval: "Muy Autentica". Last night for New Years we stayed here in Valladolid, a rather quaint colonial-style town and wandered the pleasant, narrow streets, peeking in at homes/apartments that lie directly behind the walls along the street. The tradition here is to send out the old year by going to a highly-subscribed 10pm "midnight mass," before returning home with the family to celebrate the fiesta. The highlight is stuffing some old clothes with rags to create an life-sized doll, complete with fireworks tucked deep into the torso, then at midnight setting the whole mess on fire in the street for a burning scene of mexi-chaos (imagine a street full of such flaming-smoking effigies). We lucked out and were invited into someone´s home to enjoy some truly unpleasant special holiday foods and a nice chat in broken spanish with the 20 gathered family members. Did we feel like American tourists or what! But it was an honor to have been welcomed in, and we both found it to be indicitive of the widespread friendliness to be found once the tourist centers are left behind.

(On a somber note, we found out about the tragedy in Veracruz in today´s news, but frankly weren´t entirely surprised: at midnight we joined a modest crowd in Valladolid´s quaint central square/park and were completely caught off guard by the pyrotechnics being launched from behind a bush... 5 feet away. Sure, only a few rounds, but full-fledged fireworks with full-fledged ear-splitting lauches and detonations much closer than American Jurisprudence would ever allow.)

We would both say the food isn´t anything to write home about, but look, there, we just did. Let´s just say that there is one hell of a lot of Pork being eaten in these here parts, and that Michael's vegetarian lifestyle has, by necessity, been put on hold for the time being. We try to stick to seafood whenever possible, but sometimes there is not a single menu item lacking pork in one form or another (a mind-boggling arrangment from one point of view). Chock it up to the rich cultural experience at hand.

We´re off to Havana Cuba tomorrow (02 January) and if Fidel´s censorship laws and flailing infrastructure allow, we´ll try to send another text postcard from there. Until then, FELIZ AÑO NUEVO!

-michael & erica