If you have the chance to visit Campeche whilst in the area, do. A pleasant old colonial town set on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, it was once a Mayan civilization until the Spanish Conquistadors conquered it in 1540 and subsequently built on top of it. A fortified port city which plays an important role as a commercial, religious and military point, in 1999 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Cycling it’s cobbled grid patterned streets (which didn’t last long before we duly gave up and locked them up), within the city walls the colours are an immediate vibrancy which the city itself exudes. Walking through the main plaza, where you can find a really helpful tourist desk under the rotunda, the towering ‘Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción’ complements the shaded space, and if you can find yourself a seat in the shade that isn’t covered in bird shit, it’s also a great place for some people watching. Easily negotiable on foot the city walls can be walked around and will bring you to the Land Gate museum and mock pirate ship, which Matt just had to indulge.
Popping over to the Fuerte de San Carlos, where the market is located, for some cheap, fresh produce for lunch, we endulged in some cheap tamales before hitting the fruit and veg market where we paid peanuts for some tomatoes and an extortionate amount for a cucumber. We about faced, walking down the pedestrianised street of Independenica or Calle 55 with it’s various sculptures and through to the Sea Gate, which at the time was under renovation.
In Piste we arrived late and in the dark. The first place we wanted to stay, The Piramde Inn, looked totally closed down so we ended up at the Stardust hotel next door. Shitty just about sums it up. Although they were nice enough, they claimed that their camping was closed for the season, so for the rich sum of 250 pesos we got a room with no working AC, hot water, or TV, with all of the above installed just for show. After a long days driving we couldn’t be arsed arguing and took off down the bar.
Redes Bar is the place you want to go if you want a local vibe mixed with international clientele. If you do talk, to Rafael behind the bar. A massive, and we mean MASSIVE, man, both weight wise and personality too. Rafael is of Mayan decent and is wildly passionate about the history of the area and moonlights as a tour guide. Needless to say we got into a drinking session with the man, with a mix of beers, shots of tequila and Micheladas making the bill. Now for those of you not game enough to try them, theses are a beautifully concocted mixture of beer, lime, usually tomato or clamato juice, various spices and whatever other alcohol the bar man see fit to slosh in, all surrounded with a chilli salt rim. Soon enough Mexican tapas started arriving at the bar like it’s a Chinese buffet. Thankful for the onslaught of food, we just manage to keep the giddiness of too much indulgence away. Not only does the food act to keep us on a sober edge it’s also bloody delicious*.
Waking early and seeing in the light of day that the courtyard swimming pool was not the most appealing, we took the short walk to Pirmade Inn and discovered that they were open last night, just very dimly lit. Paying a more wallet pleasing 150 pesos (still too much) we again were without power, and the WiFi would only work if you sat on top of the reception counter. Having said this, being only two of about five people staying there, the place was peaceful and had one of it’s own ruined pyramids in the backyard.
The place was originally built in the 60’s by the current owners father, and has most likely had its heyday due to the now daily tours from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen which mean people no longer stay overnight in Piste to visit the ruins, though it’s great pool and manicured gardens make it a great place to relax after the chaos of Chichen Itza. You can pitch a tent in the back garden with full access to all facilities, or park your van/RV out front on the lawn.
Which brings us to the aforementioned archeological site. Arriving at 11am in the morning ain’t going to beat the battalions of tourists ferried in from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, you’ll need to get here a lot earlier than that. Herded through the gates with the rest of them, we passed through an avenue which you can’t avoid, packed with hawkers whom we were told are specifically warned not to hassle the visitors into buying.
On the prowl for some indigenous masks from around the world, we had one nice chap give us the run down on the meaning of the various objects carved into their surface and natural colours used, with a passion for the work but without that pushing vibe you so tend to get in places like this. Moving into the main area, the overhanging trees soon open up to reveal main event and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the 24m high Kukulkan pyramid, surrounded by a succulent green lawn. Eves-dropping on a local tour guide, we were amazed to learn that the pyramid was supposedly built to mimmick the sound of the native quetzal bird, whose long, emerald tail feathers were (according to somebody) more precious to the Mayan’s than gold. Watching the tour guide then start clapping whilst standing on the grass in front of the pyramid, you can hear the corresponding echo eminating from the chamber atop the temple, and it does actually sound a bit like a bird. Read it for yourself, even National Geographic may agree!
Though not in as spectacular a location as Palenque, Chichen Itza still evokes sensations of what life would have been like in the ancient days. This is nowhere more so apparent than the ball court, a marvelously preserved structure still with it’s hoops intact (where debates still continue as to whether the winners or the losers were sacrificed). Walking around to the shaded structures of Grupo de las Mil Colunmas, our first sight of an iguana filled us with inquisitive joy.
Taking leave of all the tourists and hawkers, we found some cheap tacos from a little roadside stall just outside the entrance, then road the bikes back to find solitude in the gardens of the Pirmade Inn, cooling off in it’s pool for the rest of the afternoon. *Disclaimer: We’ve since read a few reviews from people linking Redes Bar to credit card fraud…we paid in cash so can’t comment, but if you’re unsure just pay in cash. Oh and you can find more Mexico pics on our Flickr page here!