Having finals a week earlier than my friends at Notre Dame originally seemed like a curse. They were enjoying the winding down of their semester while I was frantically doing physics problems and identifying cell organelles. However, the tides have turned. Notre Dame students are currently taking their finals and I am on vacation throughout the sunny Yucatan on our ‘scenic’ route to Cozumel.
The rush of adrenaline after finishing our physics final was palpable. While we have had a wonderful semester in Mexico, the academics were not the highlight and we were mixed happy/sad to be leaving UPAEP for the last time.
When asked what they were going to do once done with finals, the most popular response of the group was go to the club and dance. My response? Go read my Wheel of Time book. And folks, that’s exactly what I diduntil 10’oclock when I got ready to go to the club.
Friday dawned a bit too early and I frantically packed for our ten day vacation amid writing about Guanajuato and snagging a page of my book. (Wait, are you telling me that you didn’t write that post as soon as you go back from the trip?? – Heh, yeah. Back dating for the win.) Without much further ado, we were off!
Nine hours and several bathroom stops later, we arrived to the “hotel” in Palenque, Chiapas. The damp bedding in the middle of the jungle brought back fond memories of Quetzalan and we were all asleep within 30 minutes of our arrival.
Despite an early morning, you can see that everyone was super excited to go climb the ruins at Palenque. We were in for a surprise. Palenque was so much more than I had expected and I cannot express how glad I am that we went . We were able to climb everything that we wanted to and our calves and quads were burning (along with my very fair skin) by the end of the day.
We climbed our first pyramid thinking, well, this is pretty cool. It’s got a temple on top. Then we kept going. We climbed four distinct pyramids, one of them being El Palacio. We got a beautiful bird’s eye picture of it from another pyramid/temple.
Dripping with sweat, we met our driver, David, as we walked back to the hostel and were off again for our next destination: Campeche. Reminiscent of Guanajuato, Campeche was the first beach side town that we have visited since Puerto Escondido. We tried to sing Christmas songs in the 85 degree weather but it didn’t last for long. We did find this really weird painting on the side of a building. Make of it what you will.
We walked along the waterfront as a group throwing the Frisbee around until one misplaced throw landed it in the water. Thankfully, one of the guys immediately was shirtless and climbing into the water to salvage the disk. A strong gust of wind came up causing one of the girls to lose her hat but wait! He was already in the water and could swim over to grab it. To dissuade potential swimmers from getting in the rather smelly water, there was a steep concrete sea wall that caused skidding and sliding no matter what shoes you wore – if you dared to try it. To save the guy who had saved both hat and Frisbee, we formed a human chain across the two meters of sea wall to pull him out.
Much to our delight, we found an empty playground on our way back to the hostel complete with swingsets, seesaws and monkey bars. There was even a small skate park! You would think that college kids would be “too mature” or “too cool” for a small children’s playground and you would be wrong. I would show you a picture but let’s be honest, I was too busy playing to take photos. We swung and seesawed until the entire structure creaked and we fled for our lives.
Even after our exhaustion from playing, we Notre Dame students prudently went to mass in the Cathedral at Campeche and since it was the day after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the bishop of the diocese was giving mass. Right before he sent us off to spread the Word, the bishop walked all the way down the aisle until he was in front of the first row of us. (We had to separate into small clumps because try as we might, we were typical and snuck into mass right before the entrance procession began.) He asked, “¿Hablan español? Do you speak Spanish?” and at our positive reply, proceeded to have us stand up (You don’t disobey a bishop during the middle of mass) and be applauded for going to church while on vacation. I don’t think I’ve felt that out of place since I was in India. Mind you, this was a congregation of around two hundred people clapping for the American college students going to mass.
It was absolutely hilarious. We had people coming up to us to say hello (in English) and even before our standing ovation were overwhelmed during the Sign of Peace. It was just another day in Mexico— sixteen Notre Dame students receiving applause from a bishop for attending mass. And to think half the group almost didn’t go…
We rushed out, stomachs grumbling and begged David to take us somewhere with good seafood. We pulled into a line of waterfront restaurants and before they even looked in the window to see that we were foreigners, the waiters were screaming and banging on the bus window to get us to come to their restaurant. The bus was still in motion. The decision came down to the Dolphin, that pink place or the Crab. We decided before exiting the bus on the Dolphin much to the dismay of the other restaurants. I didn’t find out until we were already seated that the pink walled place offered free margaritas for everyone if we went there! I was not upset with our choice though, the Dolphin treated us like royalty and we got three appetizers per table on the house. A jaunt through an indoor bazaar later and we were back in the bus to continue our pre-Cozumel tour of the Yucatan.
We arrived in Merida in time to explore the Zocalo and the markets. I was drawn to a small stand advertising Marquillitas by a very familiar panda.
It was like a hard crepe/waffle cone pancake. I shared one stuffed with cream cheese and Nutella (Thinking of you, Margaret!) We bought some presents and a few even danced salsa among the crowd. I tried, promise. There comes a time when having ten girls and six boys becomes very unfortunate – looking for a dance partner is one of those times. We got back to the hostel that night and because Katelyn had been dying to go swimming, I dragged myself outside and grudgingly forced myself to lay in a hammock strung over the water with my book next to a nice young Canadian named Jeff. (Is that laying on the sarcasm a little too thick? I don’t think so.) We shared travel experiences and gave him some advice on places to visit since he was taking our trip in reverse.
Merida was the first place that we stayed for more than one night so I rationalized than an extra hour of sleep would do me well and turned in. We left the hostel the next morning for what we thought was a cenote or underground spring. When we got to the site we were slightly disgruntled to see more ruins. The prehispanic ruins are absolutely beautiful but after Teotihuacan and Palenque and plans to go to Chichen Itza, we had seen the best. Another shocker was the amount of English speaking tourists. I was imbued with a desire to speak Spanish to try and differentiate myself from the tourists and was informed that I was experiencing reverse culture shock. Who knew that graph the OIS office gave us would come in handy? It was extremely strange to be addressed in English by people outside of our group. We climbed some of the ruins almost mechanically working up enough of a sweat before finding an open spring and jumping into it with a variety of poses: swan dive, pencil dive, flips and the classic cannonball. Little black fish nibbled our toes as we waited our turn to catapult into the water once more.
Exhausted, we bussed back to our beautiful hostel. Half of the group went back to the Zocalo to explore and half stayed at the hostel. I grabbed my book and joined some friends to read in hammocks poolside. It was quite relaxing and we stayed outside until the bugs came to call and we had to grab spray. Since we had eaten a large lunch no one was very hungry but when a group came back with supplies for grilled cheese our stomachs suddenly became empty. I was a part of the bread buttering assembly line and enjoyed my fair share of the sandwiches.
We were up and out of the hostel early Tuesday morning headed first to Chichen Itza and then to our resort in Cozumel. Chichen was packed with people even though we got there early. The office was astounded and barely believed that we were actual students of Mexico despite our official UPAEP ID cards. It was beautiful, like the rest of Mexico , and I was able to cross off a few more gifts on my list. We’re headed to Playa del Carmen to take the ferry to our resort on the island of Cozumel. Goodbye bus travel and hello all inclusive resort!