We made our way across the Yucutan peninsula towards Mérida, deciding to first stop at cenote Xcanche, a wide-open sink hole reaching far into the sky from below. We were the only ones there so enjoyed the sounds of the birds chirping and water drops as we floated peacefully on our backs. After a while we hopped out, showered off, and headed into the small city of Valladolid for the night.

We pulled into town and the first thing we did was buy some lunch from the local supermarket before having a wander to get our bearings. In true Yucutan style, the city was filled with old-style pastel coloured buildings with quiet streets and friendly locals. Wandering around the city was such a pleasure as every turn presented us with another stunning mix of colours. We walked through the town square to Cenote Zací, a spectacular sinkhole located in a public park only a few hundred meters from the centre. After spending some time gazing down we walked back across to Calzada de los Frailes, a street which is said to be one of the most beautiful in the city, full of colonial homes and architecture.

After our drive from Tulum, our dip in the cenote and a walk around town, we were feeling pretty tired so decided to leave the rest of our planned cenote visits for the next day. We did however find a cinema that was showing 2-for-1 movies although entirely in Spanish. For only 3AUD we decided “why the hell not?” and sat through ‘Kingsmen: The Golden Circle’ while trying our best to keep up with the plot.

We woke up a little tired the next morning as a security guard asked us to move on from vanping in the cinema parking lot at 2am. We fixed that with a strong coffee before jumping into the van and heading for cenotes X’keken and Samula. These two were a little different as they were in caves and with clearer water, but we were still lucky enough to be the only ones there. After a paddle we dried off, jumped back in Fuego and headed for Mérida.

After yet another “random” roadside search by federal police, an annoying reality of driving a van with the word “Colombia” on our plates, we finally touched down in Mérida. We were greeted by volunteer Caity and owners Sara and Paco and shown around the hostel where we’d be working for the next two weeks. We decided to go for botanas for dinner, a type of Mexican tapas, then headed back and rested up for the night.

The following week was filled with standard hostel responsibilties – checking guests in, tidying up around the place, and actually my very first painting of a mural on the wall of the hostel. We did however manage to get out every now and again, taking trips to Market Lucas de Galvez and managed to do quite a bit of sampling of the local cuisine.

One evening we ventured out to try a botana restaurant popular amongst locals on the other side of town. Anita and I arrived to a desolate restaurant and the waitstaff sharing a beer with some fairly drunk diners. Given that it was only 7pm we thought that we were just too early by Mexican standards, so ordered our beers and waited for our free botanas to arrive. Moments later three plates arrived with crackers, nuts and some wedges of manadarin. Anita and I looked at each other, half smiling, half annoyed as we were starving. We assumed the plates must have been to keep us satisfied as the REAL food was being cooked up, but after 20 minutes of waiting, the food never arrived. After speaking with the waiter we realised that the restaurant only did lunch and we‘d actually arrived after closing. Instead of turning us away the guys just pulled together what they had lying around in the kitchen, which turned out to be nuts and a mandarin. They still charged us full “botana inclusive” beer prices.

On one of our weekends off we drove down to the little yellow town of Izamal to explore the bright maze of streets, then continued on to Las Colorades, an area known for it’s salt-rich lagoons which appear bright pink in colour. We were lucky enough to even see flamingos there, something which usually has to be reached by boat. The next day we joined hundreds of Méridans on their Sunday bike ride through town, a weekly activity where the city council shuts down a major road for the morning to allows friends and family to cruise around aimlessly. It was great fun.

On our last night in Mérida we joined the city in celebrating Dia de Muertos or the Day of the Dead, a major celebration where relatives and friends of those who’ve passed remember and celebrate their lost ones. It’s a really joyus celebration, with lots of colour, costume, music and dancing. The celebration often is a week long, although we only joined in on their parade and biggest event – Paseo de Ánimas.

And so as our time in Mexico was coming to an end, we packed the van, said goodbye to everyone, and thanked Mérida and the Yucutan for showing us the very best of what it had to offer.

Next up, we return to our family in San Luis Potosí, but not without a few stops along the way.

– Dek

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