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Campeche: pirates, pastels and bad pizza

sunny 30 °C


No idea who Don Gustavo was, but he was a whole lot friendlier than the men we encountered in our very first Mexican roadblock.

We think we may be suffering from travel fatigue - at least that is our excuse for our addled behaviour since we've left San Cristobal. With eight hours ETA from San Cris to Campeche, we should have counted on 10 hours and started earlier than 9:15. When it took us 2 hours to drive 65 km. (twisty mountain road in appalling condition), and we had another 500 km. to go, we knew we were in for a stressful day. When we got to Ocosingo, deep in the heart of Zapatista territory, and about halfway to Palenque, we came to a complete stop. We crept forward and stopped, crept forward and stopped.


After about 45 minutes, we realized what the hold-up (literally) was - a very persuasive 5-foot board embedded with nails was strung across the road, preventing drivers from passing until they had paid a "donation" toward the liberation of two gentlemen languishing in a Mexican prison. Their suggested donation was $20, but we managed to get away with about half that. I have a brochure that one of our Spanish-speaking friends can translate for me once we're home again. Anyway, no harm done and nothing personal - just hugely aggravating to be held hostage to a likely unfixable cause.

As a result of our late start and roadblock, we arrived in Campeche around 8:00 pm - having driven in the dark (a big no-no here) for over an hour. In fact, we were in no danger - we were on a pin-straight toll road in good repair, with good signage and lighting, but we were both so tired and crabby that we made a pact NEVER to do this to ourselves again. You can hold us to that.

We drove in to town without getting lost, drove past the floodlit walls of the historic centre, and pulled up in front of our hotel. We were welcomed by two delightful young women who brought us glasses of lemonade while we checked in. This is a small 10-room property - each massive room has 20-foot ceilings and faces onto a stone courtyard, and pool. Our day melted away.


I had very little idea of what Campeche was like - other than it has a history of piracy, that it is very colourfully painted, and that it is on the Gulf of Mexico - all true. It is not as solidly on the tourist radar as other destinations in the Yucatan, and we seem to be the lone Canadians among a sea of Germans, French and Italians.

The locals are very charming - this gentleman was singing as we walked by his bookstand, so we stopped to listen - he had a rich, beautiful voice. We clapped, and he came right over and began to serenade me - ending with an instruction for Stephen to give me a kiss! He then pulled out a photo of Prince Charles shaking his hand, dated 2014.


We met these happy souls outside a cantina, and they happily posed for us. When we walked by a couple of hours later, the cantina doors were locked up, but the singing and playing was carrying on.


Let's get the food out of the way, so I can concentrate on the positives. There are not a lot of good restaurants here, much less great ones. Possibly at a much higher price point we might have found something, but almost every place we've been to so far has been VERY average to mediocre. That is so disappointing to me - I love my food, and I love Mexican food, but so far we have not found a great taco, a fresh salad, an interesting sauce; not even great coffee. Two nights ago, our travel-addled brains kicked in again. There is a main pedestrian-only restaurant street that runs for three blocks, and many of the tables are out on the road - it is beautifully lit at night.


We stopped at one restaurant and ordered a litre of beer to share. It was a pub-style menu, but watching frozen crinkle fries and limp lettuce go by convinced us to move on. I had read on Tripadvisor that Chocol Ha was the #1 restaurant in Campeche, so based on that, we walked up a block and took a table outside.


Our waiter asked for a drink order, and because I thought he said "15 pesos" (in fact, he said 50 pesos), we ordered margaritas, strictly on price point. I rarely drink margaritas as tequila does not agree with me, and Stephen doesn't drink them at all, so what were we thinking? We had already had a litre of beer. Once he was in the restaurant preparing our drinks, we were stuck - we found out too late that Campeche's #1 restaurant, true to its name, specializes in chocolate and desserts. We ordered two paninis, and ended our evening carbed-out and slightly tipsy.


We wanted to visit Edzna, Maya ruins that are about 55 kms. south of here. We asked the young man at the front desk how to get there, and he drew us up a complicated map without road numbers. So we set out, without a proper map, or Google instructions, and ended up driving 2 hours, as we took the coast road and then had to double back. We are hoping three's a charm, and we have shaken off the travel curse.

Full disclosure - I can take ruins in small doses. An hour is just fine, and then I start to feel hot and out of sorts. I'm sorry, Dad - I will think of you when we are in Tulum and in Palenque - I know you would dearly love to see these ruins. I know you would not be complaining about the heat (34 degrees) and humidity (80 percent). You should be here instead of me.
The thing is, they are magnificent, even the minor Maya sites like Edzna. This site was inhabited from 600 BC to 15th century AD, and the integrity of the structures, the unbelievable architecture, and the sheer scale, is quite overwhelming. We climbed up a few structures - the photos do not begin to capture their immensity.




This bottom photo shows the only structure roped off from climbing - the side shot shows how fragile it is in spots.


We were distracted by the lizards and iguanas on site. As we drove into the parking lot, these two fellows were squaring off -
tossing their heads and hissing at each other.

Back to Campeche, which was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999. Like most Mexican cities, the historical centre is the tourist attraction - where the main buildings, museums, hotels, and attractions are concentrated. In Campeche, the historical centre is set right on the Gulf and is surrounded by 25-foot limestone walls and bastions, which creates an enclosed, rather exclusive feeling - the rest of the city teems outside the gates.

This city suffered many years of pirate attacks (hence the fortification), and after that, wealthy Spanish families built mansions; some of which are still in their fully restored state. The cultural centre is housed in a former mansion.


The whole city centre is painted in pastels - greens, blues, yellows, and most of the buildings have been renovated. While the city is absolutely flat, the sightlines are still gorgeous.

The water right around Campeche is not suitable for swimming, but there is a malecon that runs for a number of kilometres along the Gulf. Unlike the beautiful and much-used malecon in Puerto Vallarta, this is cut off from the city by four lanes of (constant) traffic. We made our way safely over, but the absence of shade trees, landscaping and scarcely a single other living soul soon drove us back to the city. Very pretty, completely empty - so strange.



Sas - this one is for you! One of those serendipitous things - we stumbled upon a dance class practising folklorico - we could hear the percussive stomps from around the corner. We stopped to watch a roomful of sweaty dancers, all shod in tap shoes - one of the bystanders told us they were from north of Mexico City studying here in Campeche. Pure joy to watch.


Street sculptures - I am a sucker for them. I love accessible art and these sculptures invite children to climb on them, and silly tourists (like us) to pose beside them.



So much of Mexican life revolves around the plaza. Each night, there is a spectcular light, sound and animation show projected from the plaza onto screens on the Governor's Palace - a half-hour extravaganza that celebrates Campeche's history - showing the ruins, the jungle, the Spanish galleons, pirate ships, birds, animals - just a delight.


Some church and cathedrals - integral to life in Mexico


An odd image I can't make sense of - at first I thought it was a wolf, but I'm pretty sure it is a Chihuahua. Any ideas?


I'm glad we came - the Yucatan is so different from the rest of Mexico, and we're just starting to scratch the surface. I think this painting sums up Campeche for me - very pretty, but a bit confusing.

Off to Progreso tomorrow for a few days - we'll use this small port city as a base to visit Merida, Uxmal and the flamingos.

Posted by millerburr 17:10 Archived in Mexico

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Derrill says:" definitely a giant chihuahua"!

by Laurence

Derrill says:" definitely a giant chihuahua"!
I say:" so sad about the bad food Ginny, I know how it can make you cranky!".
These posts are always a highlight of our day!
Muchas gracias.

by Laurence

Oh how I enjoy your articulate accounts and wonderful pictures, almost feel like I'm there with you ... takes me away from pointless meetings, thesis supervision, my head-cold and etc. Cheers xxx

by Dave

well i think it is bizzare
bald mexican hiding beneath his pet.Always great to travel along with the burrs..sorry about the food that would make me mucho cranky. I am sure you will be rewarded soon with fresh lively fare- travel on!!!

by nanc

Really enjoying your posts, Ginny - and the pix. I have an idea for a future post because I wonder from time to time what Stephen's thinking. Perhaps you could interview him in a post. I know you're the family writer - and a good one - but I also know Stephen is smart and articulate. Would love to hear from him in a post. Something to consider on your next 10-hour drive. Keep up the good work!

by Peter Hohenadel

Stephen who? Very funny -keep an eye open for Stephen's "guest" post! He is quite taken with the idea.

by millerburr

palanque .... aqua azul

Can you feel the love tonight Zimba, your deep.into it now, hey if you encounter an issue just tap your heels together and repeat .... There's no place like home. Actually you probably have once or twice already. Well it's not summer here so enjoy and stop driving at night.

Of and the guy next to you in the car is Jose. He's a happy go lucky drifter from canada but he grows on you after awhile.

by Roberto

Fabulous picturs Ginny, love your posts.

by Annie

Mitch is nodding his head in agreement as we read your account of the heat and humidity when visiting Edzna. We visited Tulum some years ago and Mitch can still feel the heat! Hopefully your next stop offers up better food (Heather's feeling your pain!)

by Heather

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