Run the equator: First impressions

Thursday, April 26, 2007

First impressions

We’ve been in Mexico for three days now and we still feel like vacationers… who just forgot to buy their return tickets. We are trying to grapple with the Mexican way of life; blending in is out of the question with Angela’s red hair and the huge Canon camera hanging on my neck, but we can at least try to understand the locals’ way of life and interact with them on a level a tad deeper than that of the average tourist.

Chichen Itza
Click on picture to view slideshow

It’s only been a short time since we got here but we have learned a few things already. Follow the link below to find out what.

  • We overpacked! - No doubt, we took too much junk with us, especially clothes. I have four long-sleeve shirts. Really, what was I thinking... More about packing coming soon in a dedicated post.
  • It is very hot – that is of course a commonplace statement, but worth remembering. Although we have not had the best that the Yucatan sun can give, we have had more than enough sun to make yuppies from Seattle cringe in desperation and ask “why did I leave my nice shady, cloudy town?” I’m kidding of course, but nevertheless, we need to get used to the heat or else… Hats and sun block are a must at all times of the day.
  • Leave early in order to avoid the crowds at the ruins – Chichen Itza is the most famous Mayan ruin, with its ball court and the Kukulcan pyramid (which unfortunately cannot be climbed anymore) and it attracts the most tourists. They come in throngs by buses and most of them arrive around noon. We left early and got there before 10am and this got us two advantages – few other people were on the grounds and the heat was still bearable. By noon, as we got out, busload after busload of people was pouring in and the heat had become unpleasant.
  • Get a guide at the ruins – unless you are an expert in Mayan matters you are better off taking a guided tour. The guides are locals (well, Mayans) they speak good English (at least ours did) and they have enough knowledge of Mayan history to answer most of your questions. A multi-person tour costs 600 pesos (we split it 5-ways with 3 women from Utah) and then you have to tip the guide about 50 pesos per person at the end of the tour. At Ek’Balam, close to Valladolid, a smaller, less famous ruin, as no guided tours were available, we tagged for a while with a French group that had a very knowledgeable guide – at least she sounded convincing… It helps to know some foreign languages, no doubt.
  • People will try to scam you – remember the price listed for the entrée you ordered and verify your bill; check the change you get back at any counter before shoving it in your wallet. The guy at the Ek’Balam ticket booth tried to cheat us of a hundred pesos of our change money, and we caught a waiter that added 10 pesos to one of the items on the bill. His tip may have been bigger, had he not done that…
  • Use your common sense when a waiter says “we do not have this or that but I can get it for you” – they may charge you three times the price you would pay if they had it on the menu. We fell into the trap and got bottled water from a waiter at a stand in a food court when he offered to get it from somewhere else and we paid 15 pesos a bottle. They go for 4 to 5 at the grocery store and 7 to 10 in restaurants. So depending on how much you want that one thing…
  • The food is great – everywhere we’ve eaten so far we had nothing but the most delicious dishes. Whether it was a tiny taco stand on a village road or a well-established eatery we picked from a guide book, they offered mouth-watering traditional Mayan and Mexican cuisine. The best so far was the restaurant Las Mestizas, in Piste, just outside of the Chichen Itza archaeological zone - even the bones of that pollo pibil melted in my mouth and the poc-chuc (pork) mixed with the marinated onions and tomatoes is beyond any words of praise! However, I wouldn’t bother looking for European cuisine – the pizza and pasta at the fancy (and relatively pricy) Italian restaurant we visited tonight were sub-par. I wouldn’t mind eating just Mexican foods for two weeks but if you need variety and really miss the best America offers to the world, Merida has a few McDonald’s and Burger King.
  • Around here everybody loves the Nissan Tsuru - aka Nissan Sentra in other parts of the world!

7 comments:

Steve said...

You are going to get a big fat I told you so from Ry on the packing thing :).

BTW, I like the pics from Itsa Chicken

Angela said...

Chichen Itza...do tour guides still refer to it as 'Chicken Pizza'???? Too bad you can't climb to the top anymore...that was one of the best parts when we visited ....10 plus years ago....

Big Fat Rat said...

Steve:
That's obvious... we're thinking of stuff to offload now...

Ange:
Yes, that's still the first joke the guide throws at you.

Not with a bang but a whimper said...

We got really paranoid about people ripping us off for the same reasons - but then felt like complete jack asses when we were in the rural areas and off the tourist path because we were second guessing people who turned out to be more than reasonable. This was especially true in the small Mayan villages.

Personally, we've had terrible experiences with tour guides and we never hire them anymore. The best guides we found were the ones who weren't selling themselves as tour guides - local school teachers, park rangers, archeologists, boatmen, etc.

Big Fat Rat said...

Jeremy:

I guess there are a lot of bad guides. The one that we had was a fun guy and seemed to know enough about Chichen Itza. We haven't gotten guides at the oter sites, since we did out homework (read some things ahead) and we were cheap...

Not with a bang but a whimper said...

In theory, Katie and I like to read up on the place before we go. Of course, in reality we rarely did - and when we did it sometimes takes away those moments of awe because you've already seen photos of everything.

My main problem with the guides is that I'd ask a lot of questions and started getting really contradictory answers from different guides - and so I started thinking they were just feeding us a line. That's probably why I liked the spanish guides better; they may have been bullshitting me, but I didn't understand the language well enough to catch it.

Big Fat Rat said...

Jeremy:

Our spanish-speaking guide for the Celestun natural reserve was like that - lots of stories (well, how he and his brither chased a tiger to the jungle...) but who cares if it's true?