November 1993. I am turning 40. Wow! In the middle of a masters degree at UBC. Living still at 1235 E 20th Ave. Our first house. Purchased in 1988. A few renovations. Two cats in the yard. Micheal and Ann-Marie in the basement suite.
A month long trip to the Yucatan to celebrate my milestone birthday. Cancun. Merida, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Palenque. San Cristoble de las Cassis.
We start in Cancun. No reservations. We tell the cab driver our budget and that we want to be on the beach. He delivers. A two and a half star, tired, concrete tower on the main beach for about $30/night. Perfect.
Cancun town is dreadful. All shooter bars and loud music and barmaids with whistles … they blow them shrilly when someone does a shooter. By midnight everyone is plastered. Staggering tourists clog the cobbled streets.
We take a bus to Merida. Our hotel has a courtyard and is in an old house. The town is Mexico meets the Caribbean. Not many tourists.
We rent a car and drive to Chichen Itza, then Uxmal, then Palenque. All three are mesmerizing.
In Campeche, on the coast, I get a bad stomach bug and spend a few days lying flat on the passenger seat of our rented VW bug. Thankfully the seat fully reclines. I see the inside of some of the worst roadside gas station bathrooms possible. Just outside of Palenque I start to feel better and we stop at a hotel in the nearby town for lunch in their restaurant. I can still taste the homemade chicken soup. Mostly clear broth but so nourishing and flavourful. Maybe it is the Mexican chickens, but I love me a Mexican chicken soup. I used to get the same one every trip to PV at Las Palomas. We buy Guatemalan style cotton shorts at a small outdoor shop.
Palenque is deep in the lush green jungle and this lends it a special beauty. Butterflies too numerous to count. The jacaranda blooms sweeten the evening air. Spiritual. The Mayans seem to be watching us at the end of the day. From where? The trees? The past? I sense their presence.
The drive south and west to San Cristobal de las Casis is through mountainous jungle. The road climbs and twists. Green everywhere. The occasional village. A few small farms and roadside shops. The roadblocks.
Chiapas, the state we are in, is home to indigenous Indian tribes. They stop us on the road with make-shift barriers that they deploy when they see us coming. Sometimes it is just kids with ropes. They say they are collecting for the Festial of the Virgen Guadalupe. We give them money. They eye our cameras. We learn to keep these out of sight and to dress shabbily for the road. The dirtier the car gets the better.
We stay a week in San Cristobal de las Casis. Breakfast at Tierra Madre cafe is memorable. Mother Earth knows how to make a muffin and brew a coffee. Our hotel has a small patio surrounded by blooming poinsettia. The town is quaint and very indian, especially on market day.
We drive back north and return the rental car in Merida. Next it’s the bus back to Cancun, to the hotel we’d been in at the start. It’s fine. The beach is nice. I turn 40.
Once home we learn from the TV news that a rebellion has broken out in Chiapas. There are images of dead bodies in front of the church that was across the street from our hotel in San Cristoble de las Cassis. The money collected at roadblocks was apparently used to support an insurrection. We’ve missed it by a few days only. We feel foolishly out of touch with the local vibe. So like tourists. Bravely off the beaten track, for sure, but still just tourists.