Gringos in Cancun City

Breaking News: Six gringos ventured out of the hotel zone into “dangerous” Cancun city and survived! Nah, we didn’t make it into the news… but I think we should have as so few people who visit Cancun stay in the city. We were warned by countless people of the dangers of the city, and countless more people were perplexed by why we would ever dream to stay outside the hotel zone.

People seem to think of Cancun as swarming with drug activity and violence. In reality, teenagers walk alone after dark, kids play soccer and climb on play play structures after sunset; at midnight, families and friends are still happily eating tacos from roadside stops. None of them seem at all concerned about all “danger” that they have to live with everyday. You are so much more likely to get your wallet stolen on the hotel strip while under the influence, than you ever would just walking through Mexican neighborhoods.  A shop owner who we talked to agreed that there are areas where drug activity and crime is greater, no different than Denver, LA, New York or any big city. If you end up somewhere that feels unsafe, trust your instincts and leave.

Upon arrival, my family got of the bus at the station in central Cancun. We had to walk for hours and by the time we arrived to our Airbnb in south Cancun it was almost eleven o’clock. We did not feel unsafe at all walking in the dark, or unsafe fitting six people in a tiny taxi while chatting with our seventy year old driver who thought we were hilarious. We did not feel unsafe getting hamburguesas, tortas,  and tacos from a family business on the side of the road. We did not feel unsafe after getting on the wrong bus home from the beach, and arriving in a neighborhood miles away from where we needed to be. After getting off the bus lost, confused, and unsure of how we would get home, we were greeted by a happy group of locals who were talking, laughing,making and eating empanadas (which were amazing by the way and only a 50 cents). It felt like we were a part of the community.

The hotel zone is great for some people. Its easy, all inclusive, and very American. If you are coming to Mexico primarily for the beach and margaritas, it’s perfect for you. Have a blast! The beach is wonderful. On the other hand, if you came to Mexico to experience the beach and culture, don’t stay in the hotel zone. Rent an airbnb casa or couch surf! You will save a ton of money, learn some Spanish, and stay away from all of the crowds and tourist traps of the hotel strip. However you choose to travel, have fun and stay safe.

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Getting sandwiches while walking home from this family business

Tulum, Mexico

 

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Beach at the Tulum Ruins

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” – Mother Teresa
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 The Ruins are on the a cliff just feet from the beach. Its an absolutely beautiful place, the water is clear and blue and the sand is so white. Getting to the archaeological site is easy on ADO bus or a taxi collective. Taxi collective from Playa Del Carmen costs only 40 pesos -3 US- (bus is 38) which is very cheap and much more affordable than a tour which costs 150 US dollars. When you get off the bus there are a ton of people who try to get you to buy extra tours which is a tourist trap so be careful. Other wise the entrance fee is 60 pesos -4.5 US- to get see the awesome ruins and beautiful beaches.

 

Thanks for reading 🙂 -Izzy

A day in Puerto Morelos

The beaches of Puerto Morelos.

Soft, white sand hugs my feet as I walk towards the ocean in Puerto Morelos. The surf is so calm, a sparkling blue hue as far as the eye can see. Children on spring break are laughing and splashing in the clear shallow water as adults relax and watch from beach chairs on the sand. The cool, clear water water laps around my feet as I walk further from the dry sand. The water is amazing. It is cold and refreshing and well worth the sunny, three kilometer walk from the bus stop. Occasionally, quick boats pass by carrying happy tourists, excited to snorkel and dive, out to the nearby reef. There are shallow places to snorkel near the shore too, providing a  beautiful home to colorful coral and fish and turtles.

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The peaceful little port town is just a thirty minute bus ride from the crazy and crowded Cancun beaches. Not many tourists come to the area as large hotels are limited. However, good food is abundant. Beachside restaurants offer drinks and snacks, or for a cheaper alternative vendors walk down the beach carrying boxes on their heads of delicious fresh fruits, coconuts, and sweet trProcessed with VSCO with hb2 preseteats.

For dinner after a day at the  beach there are endless Mexican and seafood restaurants on the town. Booths of interesting souvenirs are scattered about the lively park in the center of town. Energetic kids slide and swing
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At the end of the day a natural color show of blues, and yellows, and pinks light up the sky. A bittersweet goodbye to a beautiful day in an even more beautiful place.

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Chichén Itzá

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Chichén Itzá is one of the most visited places on the Yucatan peninsula, around a million people a year, and is one of the new seven wonders of the world. Prior to Spanish conquest, the city was the major urban center and hub of trade of the Mayan empire from A.D. 750 to 1200. It was a very diverse city, which can be seen by the varied artwork on site. However, it is not known why the city was abandoned in the 1400’s. Historians think it may have been because of drought, over farming, or Spanish quests for treasure.

Seeing this place in real life was an amazing experience. The history and artwork are very interesting as well. The site was a little touristy and busy, but it is definitely a wonder to behold.

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The Mesoamerican ball court on site is the largest in the Americas. It is 225 feet wide and 545 feet long overall. This picture is of the stone hoop that players would try to hit a 12 pound ball through. The two goals were 20+ feet high. The competition was fierce, and the winning teams’ captain would be beheaded by the losers’ as this was the highest honor…

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This is the stepped pyramid known as El Castillo. It has 91 steps on each side adding to 365. Not only did the Mayans invent the calendar but they were so talented at astrology that they could predict solar eclipses.

 

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The Plaza of a Thousand Colunms

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Cenotes (sinkholes) in the city where the primary source of water. They were also used for sacrificing young girls to the gods. The Mayans believed that sacrificing to the gods was necessary to the life of the empire.

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The Plaza of a Thousand Columns

Yucatan Local Travel

In a place with so many transportation opportunities it can be hard to decide how to get around. I mean you can rent a car, a moped, or a taxi, taxi bus, bus, bicycle rickshaw, moped rickshaw and the list goes on and on and on… But in my opinion here are some of the best ways to travel.

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For going from place to place around town we usually just walk, as do most local people, but if you want to get around faster you can take a rikshaw. The prices vary depending on the driver and so do the sizes. My family took one from the bus stop to a mayan ruin about three miles away for 100 pesos (6USD) for six people. You have to be careful though because some drivers will try to overcharge tourists. Make sure you ask the price before you get in.

Further distances from town to town cannot be traveled in a rickshaw. If you really want to IMG_20160217_122206699.jpglive like the locals do, the local 2nd class bus is a good way to go. They are very far from first class but if you don’t mind some graffiti and a bumpy ride they are a great way to get around.  Local buses are usually called “semi-directo” or “ordinario” which means provide the flexibility of getting on and off wherever you would like which is great for seeing the area. A 1st class bus is usually called “directo” which means that they don’t make any stops. First classes busses are more expensive (usually 20+ pesos depending on how far you are traveling) but they usually have either a  bathroom, TV entertainment, or on bus wifi. Another local option is the taxi van, these are the most common way in mexico for locals to get around. They usually seat 12-15 people depending on the size of the van, and are generally nice and have air conditioning. They can be a little tricky to get on if you don’t know the route it takes.

Where and How Much?

2nd Class bus ticket fare very inexpensive just around 7 pesos and taxi vans are the same. Buses follow a specific route to get from place to place so if you are along it you should find one, otherwise they can be found at the local bus stop. Taxi vans are generally the same, however sometimes you have to go to the cities taxi collective if you are looking to go to a specific place.

 

Helpful Tips

You need to know how to flag down the bus: All you have to do is point two fingers out in front of you into the street while the bus is coming your way. Make sure that the driver can see you and they will stop. To tell the driver to stop you just get out of your seat and stand at the fount of the bus.

 

7 Best Things About The Yucatan So Far

After about two months of living here with my family I have compiled a bit of a list of some of the best parts of living in the Yucatan Peninsula.

7) Internet Parks!! Just about every park or monument has free internet which is awesome and very handy. (Parks are also awesome for people watching)

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Mercado Lucas De Galvez in Merida

6) Markets: I can’t say enough how much I love markets,they are cheap, colorful and a great way to practice Spanish with the locals.

5) Mexican Food: Tacos, ceviche, tortas, sopa de lima, hamburguesas, marquesitas it’s all amazing.

4) Limes: Limes get their own slot on this list because the limes here are the best in probably the entire world.

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3) The people: The people we have met here are so friendly, welcoming, kind, and hardworking. On my families’ first morning in Merida we were looking for food for breakfast and we came across this woman who was selling omelets, hotcakes, and hamburgers inside her home to make a living. She welcomed our large family to sit in her living room where she preceded to serve us all delicious food which ended up costing a total of 100 pesos, around 5 dollars (top). (below) This woman is our next door neighbor who my sister and I talked to in Spanish, and I asked if I could take her photo.

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Relaxing in a hammock at the Pickled Onion BB in Santa Elena (awesome place btw).

2)Hammocks: Hammocks are the best and here everyone sleeps in them and homes are actually built with integrated hammock hooks which rocks. They are great in the hot weather as the air circulates through them.

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(Taken at Tres Cenotes of Cuzama)

1) Cenotes: Cenotes (or sinkholes) can be found all over the place in the Yucatan. They are fresh water pool and sometimes caves which early Mayans would use to get fresh water. The water is amazing, cool and clear, and oftentimes filled with fish and plants (and sometimes waterfalls). Sounds great right?

Thanks for reading 🙂 -Izzy

Ruins and Cenote of Dzibilchaltún

The Yucatan is known for not only its amazing beaches, but also its rich Mayan culture and history that is evident not only in people but in its numerous Mayan ruins.

The Ruins of Dzibilchaltún were built thousands of years ago and are located about thirty minutes outside of the Yucatan’s capital city, Merida. It is thought that the ancient builders were trying to get as close to the ocean as possible, where salt production was taking place, without building in infertile land. There is a cenote here as well, where thousands of years ago people would go to get fresh water , but today visitors can swim in it.

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(Above) The Cenote was amazing to visit. The water was crystal clear and very deep in parts. The water lilies were beautiful.  If you stay still long enough the small freshwater fish will nibble on you feet which is very cool. After a couple hours in the sun looking at ruins the cenote is the best way to cool off!

The Mayan civilization was conquered by the Spanish conquistadores starting in the 16th century. During this time the Mayan people were forced to become Catholic and many of their cities were destroyed.

Of the ones that remain to this day, the ruins of Dzibilchaltún are very interesting. The main ruin is called the House of the Seven Dolls. It is named this because when it was being discovered archaeologists found seven small sculptures of people. In the middle of the ruins there is a ruin of a Catholic church which was built by the Spanish destroying some of the Mayan temples and buildings and using the stone to build their church.

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The house of the Seven Dolls

Mexico: Tips to Eating on the Streets

 

I have decided that there is no better way to grab a quick pick-me-up than too be handed steaming, hot, delicious tamales out of the back of an old man’s pickup truck. Although I’m only about 13 days into three months of living in the Yucatan, Mexico but I compiled a list of tips n’ tricks for buying off the street food.

  1. Don’t necessarily rush to the most crowded stands as some of the less popular ones have the most delicious food.
  2. Do ask how much it costs first (¿Cuánto?: Most street food is cheep but if you don’t like the price you can always walk away.
  3. Do tip: Mexican wages are low and for many their street business is their only income, a couple pesos is very much appreciated. With that said, if you are unsatisfied with the food don’t feel obligated to tip.
  4. Do try new things: Many people, like the old man I mentioned in the intro, have made a business out of selling food out of their cars. They shout out in Spanish their product so you probably won’t know what they are saying, I recommend you just buy one of whatever they are selling because it is usually really good.
  5. Make sure you have cash (especially coins and small bills): Asking for change can be confusing and no one takes credit cards.
  6. Do count your change: Under-changing to tourists is a very common scandal
  7. Frequent vendors you like: this way they begin to recognize you, and can engage in some small talk and practice your Spanish speaking skills.
  8. Watch the locals: Locals obviously know best what’s good so watch and listen to what they order and how they order.
  9. If someone offers to sell you something you don’t want (which happens often) just wave them off and don’t make eye contact. It seems rude, but it’s the way they know you are not interested.
  10. Say thank you (Gracias!): Simple and much appreciated

Thanks so much for reading! -Iz