Our trip to Merida turns out to be a nightmare, just after one am in the middle of nowhere we are woken up by an announcement in Spanish we don’t quite understand. However, we notice that the bus has stopped and everyone is getting off so we follow suit. We stumble out half asleep and are momentarily blinded by the headlights of police vans surrounding the bus. We are also a little bewildered to see a squad of policemen bearing serious looking machine guns. One of the passengers tells me that the police presence discourages any would be opportunistic robbery or kidnapping before a replacement bus arrives to take us back to the depot. I shiver a little and wonder what or who could be waiting out there on these dark roads.
It turns out that we now have to go all the way back to Palenque (after already having been on the bus for seven hours) where we first started out a week ago to catch a connecting bus to Merida….the whole journey takes us 21 hours instead of 14 and we get into town exhausted in the late afternoon. Peter compares this to a 24 hour bus from hell journey he did in the Philippines which had the air-conditioning permanently stuck at super freeze until you couldn’t feel your face anymore, combined with the stench of vomit permanently leached into every nook and cranny of the bus all the while having a typhoon bearing down on you. Things could be worse.
Regretfully we’ve missed the massive Day of the Dead celebrations being stuck on the bus and most things in the city are closed because of the public holiday. We decided to stretch our legs and wander around town after checking into our hostel and discover delightfully that Merida has maintained much of its indigenous identity and culture having fiercely resisted Spanish colonisation, this is very evident in the artistic flavour of the town itself and even the cuisine here retains much of their traditional fare. Merida, located in the Yucatan region is one of the most colonial towns in this region, a close second is the town of Valladolid where we are headed tomorrow as we weave our way through a series of the region’s most impressive Mayan ruins. We enjoy strolling down cobbled stone streets again and watching the lively nightlife all around us in the town’s pretty main square. Despite the late hour, Merida’s streets are still bustling with people watching street performers in the main square, we join families at the corner store for ice cream while we make some decisions about how we are going to spend our last few days in Mexico. After the horrors of the bus journey, we decide to hire a car for the rest of our time as we want to see as many Mayan ruins as we can. Being the biggest city we’ve been in so far, everyone speaks English and we manage to hire a car for a good rate.
On the way back to our hostel, we stop at a Mayan artisan’s warehouse where all proceeds go to support about 50 Mayan families in a collective. This assuages my conscience as I blow three-quarters of my shopping budget already on some incredible pieces of jewellery and handicrafts.