Valladolid to Campeche

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Salvador Dali claimed he would never return to Mexico after a visit there because it was more surreal than any of his paintings. With its present entangled in threads of history that include the Mayan and other early civilisations, the conquistodores, spanish colonialism, tequilla, tacos and chillis, I can see his point. Sitting on the rooftop terrace of  the Monkey Hostel in Campeche, I am seeing yet another side to this wonderful country. We are staying in an old colonial house overlooking the park and cathedral, pleasantly cool after the heat of a first week of cycling in temperatures that reached 40c at times. We have experienced and learned a lot from our first week on the road. Cancun seems very far away, thankfully. Kevin met us there and his zen-like presence was the perfect antidote to what seemed like frantic last weeks of trying to get out of England, of work, leaving life behind. He was heading to Cuba and we were on the road south, but heading west through Yucatan and onto Campeche, an old and well preserved colonial city on the Gulf of Mexico. Vallidolid was our starting point and we were going to follow a trail that led through the heart of Mayan culture.

 

The Mayans flourished from 300 to 1000, but their culture extends well before that. They have left behind thousands of structures buried in the lowland jungle that covers this part of Mexico. The more famous have been excavated and are popular tourist sites with Chichen Itza, Tulum, Palenque among the most well known. They were mathmatically and astronomically adept and build stone structures including pyramids, all very intricately designed. Their descendants hold on to the old ways and customs, and are a striking contrast to the mexicans themselves.

 

 The towns and villages in the Yucatan are colourful and so full of life and of noise, the everyday sounds of a busy and bustling community. Churches, squares and markets are the focal points. The local farmers bringing whatever produce they have to town to sell, the taco stalls, tortillas with everything, and so many three wheeled bike carts that are used to transport everything from people to produce to massive bundles of wood cut from the jungle and used as fuel. Most have posadas, hospijades or hotels if there are any tourists and to be honest, we have seen few so far. One evening saw us arrive in Totuta to find no accomodation. Camping isn’t really an option anywhere and so we were advised to go and talk to El Padre (the local priest). After three hours of waiting around, tired and certainly smelly, the Padre Raymundo arrived and offered us a floor space in a room adjoining the 16th century church. Very surreal, but very much appreciated. That night apart, we have found it easy and cheap to find rooms, and no problems to bring our bikes in with us.

 

 Everyday brings a surprise, chance meeting with locals, some offering us lunch in a tiny village, more working in bakery in a shed with a big old wood fired clay oven and freshly baked loafs and cakes everywhere, and then there were the Mennonites…our first sight was through blurred sunglasses (from 60km of cycling in the blistering heat!) of an unnaturally tall man (mexicans are an average 5ft tall) with transparent blue eyes by the roadside donned in dungarees and a cowboy hat with a look of steel, no messing with him. As we approached Hopelchen, our final detination for that day, we quickly realised there was a whole community of in excess of 8,000 of these Mennonites. Riding into the village was like entering into a scene from twin peaks, heads turned to stare, more dungareed clad males and women in uber conservative dress as well as the local mexican population, peppered the village square. The Mennonites are descendents of dutch and germans, hard working, god fearing farmers that seemed to still exist in the the 1800ths.  And so to Campeche,  we cycled 440km in the first 5 days, some rest in between, trying to get into a routine, early starts, avoid the midday sun, pleasant late afternoons biking in the setting sun, eating and drinking enough, water more than lukewarm as the sun heats up, we will work it out. It is good to be here, looking on the park, a bunch of old mexicans playing music at one end last night, the weekly bingo going on at the other end, outdoors, young and old, paper cards and brightly coloured counters, brightly lit cathedral, observing, learning, enjoying, happy.

 

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