The trip from Campeche wasn’t supposed to be long but it was hot in the bus and although we had booked and paid for a direct bus this one decided to stop in all the small towns along the way. The bus station in Merida is relatively central so we set off with our packs to locate a hotel or hostel. As we were in the Yucatan we now had proper hostels to choose from along with the usual budget hotel options. Along route to the zocalo we stopped in to see a hostel who’s rooms looked average to say the least (but certainly not the worst we have seen now). The next hotel we stopped at was cheap and after checking the room out we decided to stay. This hotel was 250 peso per night and was a half block from the zocalo. We aren’t sure why it was so cheap, but hey no complaints. Upstairs in the hotel was a restaurant and we ate there a LOT. It was a great price for tasty food, which had a lot of vegetables for Mexican food, and cheap beers (Tom will always check the beer price on a menu to ‘judge’ the price of a restaurant).
5 am wasn’t the nicest time to be arriving into a new place but as we were a little disorganised it wasn’t a completely bad thing. We had travelled from Palenque to Villahermosa and quickly decided that it wasn’t going to be the nicest place to spend a few days so we jumped back onto an overnight bus to Campeche. So there we were, in town before a lot of things opened, well before the sun was up. Given the amount of day we had in front of us you would think that finding accommodation would be easy. Not so. A lot of the hotels were over our budget here and the ones which weren’t were unsure if they had private rooms available until midday when guests were due to check-out. So we detoured to eat breakfast at the only food place we could find. After re-energising with an eggy breakfast we found a hotel which looked good and were able to leave our packs at reception.
Arriving in Oaxaca meant we were finally back on track to reach the border before our visas were due to expire. As per usual we didn’t have any accommodation organised except for Google maps loaded on my phone ready to go for knocking on hotel doors. Our first stop was a hostel in the area which we quickly boycotted due to the price. Another few hotels later and we located one which was adequate right around when I was about to start complaining about the weight of my pack. We booked a week because we knew we needed time to get one of our cameras looked at. For some reason the image on the right side of our photos was becoming increasingly out of focus as time went on. Not a small nuisance when you are taking a lot of photos. But there was enough to occupy ourselves with in Oaxaca for this to be an acceptable amount of time.
If you read my post on Catemaco then you will know that leaving there we had a small problem with our onward travel plans. The station there was quite small and we had very limited options of onward buses. So we had decided to return to Veracruz where we knew they had a large station with heaps of bus options.
After arriving back in Veracruz we surveyed the bus timetable and decided to change our travel plan to the border to go through Oaxaca. At that time of the afternoon we couldn’t get a bus all the way to Oaxaca as it would arrive in the early hours of the morning which we wanted to avoid. Instead we took a shorter bus to a town called Orizaba which sits in a valley overlooked by the tallest mountain/volcano in Mexico. Sounds pretty right?
In the bus station of Veracruz we even had time to use the internet to look at Google maps for Orizaba as well as some quick accommodation research. With a definite plan we were feeling a lot more relaxed and happily hopped on the bus. For some reason this bus didn’t agree with me and I was travel sick for the first time is ages. I’d been doing so well with the buses until here.
Arriving by bus to San Andres Tuxtla we still needed to make our way another half hour down the road to Catemaco. From the ADO bus station our next opportunity would be an hour away so we sought out other options. A nice local helpfully pointed us towards a new form of transport: collective taxis. These are your usual taxi but you pay per seat instead of for the whole trip. Being Mexico it’s not unusual for these taxis to have six adults (including driver) plus children and shopping in the medium sized cars. Yes this means that the front passenger seat accommodates two adults. We could only fit one of our packs in the boot so the other got to ride on our knees for the short drive.
After being dropped in the zocalo we set off to find accommodation. We walked a loop around the block, down past the malecon (lake front) and back up to the zocalo where we found our to-be hotel right next to where the taxi driver dropped us off. Typical right. The hotel was cheap enough to begin with but while we discussed it in English the lady dropped the price for us by $60 peso; making it a bargain $300 per night. Sure the hotel was super dated but our room was clean, came with towels and soap, had a fan, free water, was cleaned daily and was nice and cool. It was also in a central location; easy for the malecon, restaurants and buses.
Just a quick post for a quick two night visit to the small town of Papantla. Our reason for staying here was solely to go see the ruins of El Tajin, another archaeological site. We are beginning to stack up the list of old ruins we have seen in Mexico. Check out my older posts where we have visited Xochicalco, Teotihuacan, Cholula and Cantona which were all interesting but still different in their own ways.
Upon arriving in Papantla and stepping out of the bus we were greeted by heat and high humidity. Walking the four small blocks to our accommodation got us sweating easily and I was very happy to take off my pack. A change of clothes was my number one plan as I was (for some stupid reason) wearing jeans. Water was a necessity and not supplied with the place we stayed so we brought a big five litre bottle which didn’t even last 24 hours.
Sweating profusely we walked to the zocalo to find food. Neither of us were used to this heat anymore, it was like a Perth summer with the humidity cranked up. The fan in our room was noisy but we tolerated it to get to sleep that night. Being the cheap backpackers we are we opted for only a ceiling fan over an (old) air-con unit and stand fan to save peso. Our logic was that we wouldn’t be able to sleep with a noisy air-con running either. I internally questioned this logic a few times during our two night stay. The next morning showed signs of being hot again so we packed our water, ate some fruit for breakfast and headed for the bus.
After waiting for about an hour (we must have just missed a bus) we were on our way to El Tajin. The bus only took about about half an hour so we were soon back out in the heat. Our short walk to the entrance was full of people trying to sell us food, clothes and other assorted touristy junk we definitely didn’t need. But being a Monday I imagine there was a lot less vendors than if it had been a weekend.
The site isn’t huge but the quality of the pyramids is well done and very different stylistically from others we have seen. This is obvious to see in the Pyramid of the Niches, which to me almost has the vibe of an Asian temple. The different structures seem to have a lot of decorative elements as well as plazas from where you can see the grandiosity of the most important pyramids. Towards the back of the site there was an area under restoration where we could see staff working on uncovering or perhaps preserving some frescos on the side of a temple/pyramid/building. I would have loved a little more information on what the process was but distance to where it was happening and lack of Spanish made that impossible.
After exploring the site sufficiently we walked back to the entrance all sweaty and gross looking from the heat. At least everyone else looked the same as us. Even locals from the area were affected and complaining about the weather so we knew it was irregularly hot. I can only hope that continuing on our travels we don’t encounter more humidity and heat like this, or at least I can hope to become magically acclimatised to it.
Just before being dropped off by the bus that morning we had seen a stand selling crema de coco agua frescas nearby so we headed there for a refreshment. Cold coconut beverages in hot climates really hit the spot and Tom drank a whole litre so I had to get a cup for myself, only 500 ml mind you.
Catching a bus back to Papantla we still had a few hours of afternoon left which we dedicated to food, exploring, relaxing and then more food in that order. We couldn’t really justify heading straight back to our room to sit under the fan as we only had the single day in Papantla. Food came first so we chose a cheap fonda for it’s air-con and had the easy choice of tortas with another large jug of agua fresca to keep hydrated.
Wandering around the town in what ended up being a 43 degree day was a little crazy but made us feel like we saw a bit more than just the ruins. There is a cute zocalo and up the hill is a tall statue of a Volador. Voledores are the people that perform the crazy aerial feat of hanging from their ankles while spinning around a tall pole and slowly lowering to the ground. This is accompanied by a recognisable tune of flute music. I can’t really describe it better than that. We have seen them in Mexico City and Cholula but the Voledores de Papantla seem to be the most famous.
After a cold shower and some time relaxing under the fan in our accommodation we felt more human. After the sun had set the temperature also dropped a little (it was still mind numbingly hot though) and we felt like a bite to eat. Earlier in the day we had found the market but the food area was just too warm to contemplate. It was still open when we passed by so we each had a few tasty tacos. Yes it was a lazy/unhealthy food option day for us. The next morning we happily headed back to the bus station with our fingers crossed that our bus would have air conditioning and our next destination would be a little cooler.
So after five weeks in one place we finally finished up in Mexico City and moved on. Not far mind you, Puebla was a short two hour bus trip and we arrived without fuss. Getting to our accommodation (again airbnb) was another issue entirely. A nice gentleman helpfully informed us that we could take a local bus then the new Metrobus line to get where we needed to go. Being brand new the Metrobus was even free the entire time we stayed in Puebla which was great. The only problem was that it was rush hour and the buses were packed full like sardine cans. Boarding with our packs was a mission and we finally squished on one. The weight of the pack plus the other people crammed shoulder to shoulder around us was quite unpleasant to say the least. We finally made it to our stop and popped out from the press of bodies in the bus into fresh air.
So we finally made it to Mexico City! It’s been four months and 15 destinations since we left New Zealand and longer still since we quit our jobs and left Australia behind. Needless to say all routine is gone out the window and we travel planning only a day maybe two ahead of ourselves.
Arriving by bus we drove through what felt like endless city before arriving at the northern bus station. Being one of the top 10 largest cities in the world it’s not surprising that it feels huge. So far we have had no issues with getting around; using the metro, tren ligero, bus and of course our feet we can get ourselves anywhere we need to. Straight after arriving we were off on multiple metro lines to reach our airbnb accommodation in the San Cosme area.
The metro was busy (as always) but we had no issue with our packs. Once off the metro it was a short two block walk to the apartment where we met our host, a cool American girl who was a similar age to us and settled into our room. Continue reading