December 23-26, 2015: We continued the Mérida adventure by leaving it.
On Wednesday we all drove out to Celestún, on the Gulf on the west side of the Yucatan.
On the way, we were reminded by public health message that mosquitoes are a real threat here, with recent outbreaks of chikungunya and dengue fevers.
Celestún is in the middle of the Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún, a wildlife preserve that is home to flamingos in winter months. We took a boat out to see the birds. Sometimes, Celestún has clear green water the color of the sea and lots of flamingos. When we were there, lots of rain had fallen in the previous days causing brown water. It was also high tide, which the flamingos don’t like, so we didn’t see large numbers of birds.
Some pictures you’ll find of of the flamingos show flocks of thousands. We won’t show you any of those pictures for comparison, because Michael is paranoid about copyright. But he suggests you click this link if you’re interested. We suggest timing your visit with low tide, at least if our guide’s explanation was accurate.
The tour also included a mangrove tunnel and a natural spring. Although we didn’t see gigantic flocks of flamingos, the tour was very enjoyable.
After the tour of the estuary we went into town and had lunch on the beach.
The next day was nochebuena (Christmas Eve). Our friends ventured out to see another ruin, Uxmal, and tour a hacienda. As our time in Merida was coming to a close (and we’ve been to Uxmal twice before), we chose to stay home, take a walk and work on organizing our house.
After all that work, we felt entitled to some refreshment and decided to explore the Meridian botana experience at El Pocito. Botanas are just snacks, but rise to great heights in certain cantinas. You order a beer, you get a round of snacks (free).
You order another beer, you get another round of snacks.
We only got through two rounds before we were too full to continue, though we were quite intrigued to see what would have come next. Were they just messing with us with the pig ear?
It’s worth mentioning that historically women were not welcome in Mexican cantinas. These bars are often signified by a set of swinging doors that don’t allow passers-by to see into the interior. Laura did some research before we went to El Pocito to make sure it would be OK for us to be there. It was, but we first entered the swinging door side of the bar – it was 100% men and we felt confident it was not a spot for us. We then went to the “family friendly” area where there were tables and waiters. We felt comfortable there, but it was a pretty full house with only a handful of women present (and zero kids).
Don’t get us wrong, this wasn’t in any way a “rough” place, not suitable for woman and children. The men there were very respectable looking, many dressed as if they had just come from the office. There was no leering or poor language or behavior or overt drunkenness. These are just places that men in this culture have historically kept to themselves. (Though we aren’t making claims as the the suitableness of all Mexican cantinas.)
When our friends returned from their day’s adventures we went our for more botanas to Eladio’s, a local chain. This was a stark contrast from our earlier experience, more a family restaurant than a cantina, more Applebee’s than Matt’s.
Leaving Eladio’s (earlier than anticipated as they closed early for nochebuena) we took a new route home to avoid a menacing dog. It was a fortuitous decision, as we came upon a dessert shop, Pays & Pies, where we bought desserts for Christmas morning breakfast, brownies and miniature pecan pies. Both were delicious!
Christmas morning we enjoyed the desserts and then headed out for our final day trip together. First, we hit the ruins of Dzibilchaltún.
This is a relatively small site just outside of town. Historians believe that the Mayans chose the site because of its cenote, giving the city an ample source of fresh water. Today, site visitors are allowed to swim in the cenote, and we did. It was nice and refreshing, a clean freshwater pool. Shallow enough to stand on one end, it descends 40 meters into caves at the other.
Then we headed to the north side of the peninsula to the Gulf Coast city of Progreso. As a curious coincidence, we spent Christmas day there in 1996 with our families. In the intervening 19 years, Progreso has grow quite a bit. And repeatedly pointing out such facts makes one feel old. Oh, well, it’s still a great place to spend a Christmas, and thousands of other tourist, mostly Mexican, felt the same.
We had Christmas dinner on the beach, consuming a giant whole red snapper. Or at least most of it. This was a big fish.
We are grateful that our friends chose to spend their Christmas vacation with us. We said farewell on the morning of the 26th, sending them to snowy St. Paul and heading back to the Caribbean.
Will we find a place to park?
Will we find a place to dump our tanks?
Tune in next time . . .
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And have a happy new year!