Day two with our car rental in Merida we decided to set out and explore the local cenotes we had heard so much about. A cenote, meaning sacred water, is a sinkhole created from collapsed limestone exposing groundwater underneath. There are over 6,000 cenotes in the Yucatán peninsula.
There were several tours offered through our hostel Nómadas, signing up for tours through hostels is a really great way to explore the area. They usually pick you up in the morning and drop you back off at your hostel in the afternoon. You’ll also be with other travelers from your hostel so it’s a great way to get to know people while traveling alone.
I was ready to get the hell out of the jungle and into an actual city. Mike’s plan was to go to Merida on Friday night. Nelly and I were on the fence about what to do. That’s the problem when you can do anything, you tend to be very indecisive. After changing cities twice in less than a week we decided it’d be nice to set up camp somewhere for a week or so. We had heard great things about Merida and without Mike we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves, so we decided to join him. The band wasn’t going to break up just yet!
We decided to take a night bus from Palenque to Merida. This would not only make sure we didn’t waste a day in travel time but we would also be able to save on accommodations. The bus ride from Palenque to Merida cost around $400 MXN (about $20 USD). When we arrived at the ADO bus terminal in Palenque our friend José from Chile was there and waiting to take the same bus! He hadn’t booked a place to stay in Merida yet so we suggested he stay at the same hostel as us.
It was time to hit the road again and our next stop was Palenque! The three amigos were sticking together for one more city! Mike was even already planning out our days before we left San Cristóbal. We were told by the ADO bus station that the bus ride to Palenque was 7 hours from San Cristóbal. Since the bus ride was only 7 hours, if we had taken an overnight bus we would arrived in Palenque at around 5 or 6am, meaning we’d have to wander the streets until check in time, which is normally around 12pm or 1pm. So we naturally opted for the morning bus in order to arrive at a decent hour.
Right next to the entrance to the Palenque ruins we heard there is a small community located in the jungle called El Panchan. Someone had recommended we stay at a place called Jungle Palace which is located in that same community. They have no phone and don’t respond to emails so we were just going to have to show up and hope they had room.
After spending a week in Puerto Escondido, it was finally time to hit the road again. Helena would take a flight to Mexico City and then eventually to Lima, Peru. Bernarda would go North as well, but to Oaxaca. Nelly and I had decided to head east to San Cristóbal de Las Casas on an overnight bus. Before leaving our hostel for the bus station, we met a guy named Mike from New Zealand who was on the same bus as us and staying at the same hostel in San Cristobal.
We boarded the bus to San Cristóbal at 7pm. It was a 13-hour bus ride that arrived at 8am. ADO seems to be the only bus company in Southern Mexico. Our tickets were $500 MXN (about $25 USD). Most of the backpackers I’ve met while traveling seem to prefer overnight buses. By traveling at night you don’t lose a day of exploring or have the added expense of a hostel for the night. I, however, am not a fan. I have never been able to sleep on an overnight bus and I just end up feeling groggy and out of it the next day.
Continuing with my three S plan, I set up surfing lessons with a company called Vidasurf Ecotours, which was recommended by my hostel. The owner of the company and surf instructor, Antonio, picked us up in the morning for our surfing lessons. It was $300 MXN (about $15 USD) per person. We then headed to La Punta, a beach about a 10 minute drive away from our hostel. La Punta is a great spot for beginning surfers because the waves are small. Playa Zicatela just down the road is where all the best of the best go to surf; the waves are much larger and stronger there.
Antonio wanted each of us to carry our own boards over our heads with one hand holding either side. Before waiting for his instructions, I placed my board on my head. The weight of the board snapped my neck back and to the side. I heard my neck crack. “Oh my God… I broke my neck,” I thought. Obviously, I didn’t because I wasn’t dead but I couldn’t turn my head to the left! I was in excruciating pain! I generally like to think everything in life happens for a reason. What was the reason for this?! I kept thinking, “Why, God, why?” Surfing was on my checklist of things to learn and now that I’m learning, this happens! What was the reason? What’s the point?!
My next stop after Oaxaca was Puerto Escondido! I had put it down on my maybe list of cities to visit. Most of the backpackers I met in Oaxaca were headed either there or Muzunte, a smaller beach town close to Puerto Escondido after Oaxaca. One of my goals for this trip was to learn how to surf and Puerto Escondido is famous for surfing so it was my obvious next choice.
I was happily surprised that Helena, my Austrian friend decided to join me! To get to Puerto Escondido from Oaxaca there are two options, you can take an ADO bus which takes about 10 to 12 hours or take a taxi collectivo which only takes about 6 to 7 hours. The ADO bus goes around the mountains and is a much smoother ride while the van goes through them, it takes less time but in my opinion is not worth it.
When I arrived to Oaxaca I had chosen to stay in a co-ed dorm in my hostel. I thought why not? More opportunity to make friends. At first the room was completely occupied but slowly as the week went on people began to trickle out and no one was coming to replace them. There was an older man in his 70s, who was a chain smoker with a terrible cough and had been in my room the entire time I had been there. He didn’t look like he was going anywhere anytime soon. At breakfast one morning I asked the two remaining guys in my room when they were leaving, they said today, so after that it would be down to me and the old guy in the room. I decided I had better move into an all female dorm.
That morning a new woman arrived at the hostel and was staying in my new dorm room. Asta is from Norway and backpacking Mexico solo as well. She will eventually fly to Colombia where she will spend three months. Asta LOVES Colombia, she thinks it’s the greatest place on Earth. She was compelling me to skip Central America and just fly straight there after Mexico.
After Guanajuato, I spent the night in Mexico City with my friends Cinthia and Perla before catching a morning bus to Oaxaca. The 7 hour bus ride would be my fourth this week and I was exhausted from traveling around so much. I decided I would stay in Oaxaca for a week and take a Spanish and cooking course. In addition to rest, I needed a little more structure to my day and I also desperately wanted to improve my Spanish.
Just as I was about to doze off on the bus a rock was thrown at one of the windows! It immediately shattered into a million little pieces. Everyone quickly moved to the other side of the bus as the shattered pieces of glass began to fly into the bus. The bus driver knew the window had been broken but didn’t stop. I’m not sure if it was because there was no where to pull over or if it was because he didn’t want to stop anywhere near the person who had broken our window. Welcome to Oaxaca…?
While I did enjoy staying with my host, Angel in Morelia, I was very lonely. I was also missing Cuba terribly. There was something about that Caribbean vibe that I missed. Maybe I was just missing constantly being drenched in sweat. I decided to change course – instead of going North into the cold as planned, I would go South and start staying in hostels to meet other travelers. Before making my way South I decided to first stop in Guanajuato, I had heard amazing things about this city and didn’t want to miss it.
On the bus ride to Guanajuato I met a woman named Grecia – I hadn’t had anyone to talk to in over a day so, I was so exited to make a new friend. Grecia grew up in Oregon and ran away from home to Mexico when she was 16. Her parents are Mexican so she speaks Spanish and has dual citizenship. She got a job on a border town then eventually found her way to Morelia where, she’s been living for 7 years.
I caught a bus the next morning from to Morelia – which is located about 5 hours to the West from Mexico City. My plan was to be in Patzcuaro, a small indigenous town just an hour away from Morelia for, El Día de Los Muertos. My new Couchsurfing host, Angel had contacted me through the website. Angel is an architect for Cinépolis, a worldwide movie theater company. He was nice but a little anal. Angel walked me through how to use the keys to open the three separate gates to enter his apartment building. Then he wanted me to demonstrate to him I knew how to do it. I’ll admit, it was a little difficult.
When I arrived, I was completely exhausted and could care less about exploring Morelia. I decided to nap. My friend Alexis back in Seattle had recommended that I come to Patzcuaro for El Día de Los Muertos. She connected me with Alejandro, a friend who she had met a few years prior while volunteering at a monarch butterfly sanctuary in Morelia.
The next day Alejandro picked me up at 3pm. He had invited me to an event he was working at for El Día de Los Muertos. I hadn’t heard too many of the details but it sounded fun so I was in.
Back in Mexico City and at first I was enamored! The delicious food on every street corner, the abundance of everything – including water and medicine, the ease of getting around and most of the comforts of home. After the first few days the novelty of it all wore off and I began to miss Cuba. I still miss Cuba. I couldn’t tell you why exactly. Cuba had really pushed my limits – I had experienced every emotion there from depression and heart break to love and pure bliss. Even after all the ups and downs, I still love Cuba. I think what I really missed was the friends I made there and the times we shared.
In Mexico City, I was luckily able to stay with the same Couchsurfing host again in the neighborhood of La Condesa. After sitting in traffic for an hour on my way from the airport to my host Gerardo’s, I met up Cinthia and Perla to grab tacos! I quickly filled them in on everything that had happened in Cuba while I’ll filled myself up with tacos. In a way it I felt like I was back home.
During the 7 days I was in Santiago de Cuba, I can honestly say I didn’t do much – there also isn’t that much to do. My days consisted of sleeping in late, taking a few cold showers, going out to eat and taking naps. I got into a routine of getting a daily cappuccino at my favorite coffee place, Wen (for only .45 cents), then trying to do at least one thing with my day.
I’ve now learned that once you’ve been traveling for awhile many of the things that use to be important to you stop being important. I just don’t have the energy to care about things that don’t directly impact my trip. As I’m writing this, I’m on day 43 of my trip – I don’t wear makeup anymore or really put that much effort into my appearance. Just thinking about how I wanted to bring my eyebrow dye on my trip makes me laugh – even though they really need it.