The next morning I set out to go to Río Largatos solo.
Río Lagartos is a town located on an inlet from the Gulf of México. It’s name means river of the crocodile because the river is well, filled with crocodiles. It is also home to hundreds of bird species. While this is all beautiful and interesting my main reason for wanting to visit the town was to see La Playa de Las Coradas.
La Playa de Las Coradas is a bright pink salt lake in between Río Lagartos and the Gulf of México. The water is a shade of pink from a crustacean called “artemia salina”. The best way to describe a crustacean is something between a shrimp and a lobster. Artemia salina absorbs the pigment of their prey, in this case the pink microorganisms living in the water. The same is true for the flamingos that feed on it, this is why flamingos are pink!
After over a week in Mérida it was finally time to leave. I took a bus to Valladolid, and the trip in total took a little over 2 hours with ticket prices ranging from $115 MXN to $200 MXN (about $6 USD to $10 USD) depending on the time of day.
Getting to Valladolid was scary but also a breath of fresh air. I realized it was going to be the first time I was on my own in about a month. I hadn’t traveled anywhere by myself since arriving in Oaxaca. It felt nice to have some alone time after being constantly around people for so long.
A friend that I made in Mexico City, Perla, decided to come visit me in Merida. She has close family friends in Merida who she hadn’t seen in over a year, and me being there was the perfect excuse to come visit.
Perla’s friends, Jorge, Roxanna and their daughter Andrea, are the nicest people I have ever met. Jorge is like the picture-perfect TV husband and father: very generous, caring and patient. Jorge and his wife made me feel so welcome and part of their family. They own two homes, one of which they use for storage. Perla and I were lucky enough to be able to stay in one of their homes while she was visiting.
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?!
Before my trip I made three goals for myself, to learn Spanish, how to surf and dance salsa, or the three Ss as I like to call it. My new roommates Bernarda and Nelly in Puerto Escondido as well as my Austrian traveling partner, Helena had similar goals so we all decided to take Spanish and surf lessons together. After doing some research online I found a Spanish school close to our hostel, Instituto Lenguajes de Puerto Escondido. It had good reviews and was reasonably priced at $8 USD an hour, so we decided to head to the school to check it out.
The four of us loaded up into a taxi instead of walking because Helena had sprained her ankle the day before. On the way there we realized it was a little farther than we had originally thought, which meant we would have to take a taxi there every day. Bernarda began complaining about the distance and said she probably wouldn’t end up doing lessons there, Nelly and Helena were in agreement. I was thinking to myself, fine then! Find your own damn Spanish school!
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…?