After San Cristobal it was four long days of traveling to go through the Chiapas mountains onto Villahermosa and then onwards to Ciudad del Carmen (not to be confused with Playa del Carmen) and Campeche. Final destination? Merida. Where my sister and brother-in-law were meeting us for some 5-star pampering at a hacienda hotel. I didn’t think it was possible but one day we drove 6 hours without a major blow-out. We had a couple of non descript overnights and were really looking forward to the stop in Campeche where we heard of this posh oceanfront beach club/campground complete with an infinity pool, bars, laundry and hot showers. We were very disappointed and barely holding ourselves together when it turned out to be full. And everything else on the water in Campeche was full as well. Because it was the busiest part of holy week, the weekend leading up to Easter. Yucatan is hot. It is hotter and more humid than anywhere else we have been to. It was mentally not possible for us to camp anywhere inland. Especially when Karen and Gabe weren’t arriving for two more nights. So we got a room at the Holiday Inn! Where we spent the next two nights either in the swimming pool or in the AC room. Campeche is supposed to have some cool fortress that were built against pirates. But when we have a hotel room, we don’t go out very much or at all.
From Campeche it was only 90 minutes to our very first 5-star hotel experience. Hacienda Temozon, part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection. Sounds pretty cool right? Our hotel room was a gift from Simon’s sister. Thank you Sheena! It was without a doubt the most beautiful hotel Simon and I have ever stayed in. Granted, our budget for a hotel room has stayed around $100 for the last ten years. But even my very well-travelled sister and brother-in-law were super impressed with the grandeur of this hacienda. We booked a couple of standard rooms but got upgraded to junior suites. We saw the standard room and we would have been thrilled with that too. But the junior suite was more spacious with a bigger living area and had a private garden with a sunken outdoor tub. The bathroom was amazing and bigger than twice the camper van! The details of the room were spectacular. We all loved the original panel wood doors and the original tiles and even paint work. But we were too busy enjoying the space and didn’t take enough pictures.
Staying at the hacienda is another one of those funny things. After Spain conquered Mexico, land was taken from the indigenous and granted or sold to Spaniards who established the haciendas to manufacture various things. In the Yucatan, that commodity was sisal rope. The haciendas used the indigenous people for labor and paid them next to nothing while hacienda owners became very rich. During the Mexican Revolution, some haciendas that mistreated its people the worst were burned to the ground. So a hacienda is not exactly a happy place. Nevertheless these properties are beautiful and today, many have been restored by local and foreign investors and have become tourist destinations in the way of hotels and restaurants. I’m not sure how this ranks in terms of ethical tourism because as much as we can say we are there for the beautiful buildings and grounds, its historical appeal is what attracts many visitors in the first place. In fact, in this hotel, the rooms are labeled the teacher’s room, the foreman’s room, owner’s house, etc. to play up the hacienda feel. Perhaps enough time has passed and I am over thinking this. Ultimately I think this place is worth going to experience a stay in a beautifully-restored 19th century building. But I wish they wouldn’t play up or celebrate the hacienda part so much.
On another note, this trip was really about family. We were so excited to see Karen and Gabe. For two weeks leading up to their visit, Ty asked every day “Is Yee Ma coming today?” It was even more poignant to me when on the morning after their arrival, Ty woke up and right away asked “Is Yee Ma leaving today?” Four years old and already bracing for heartbreak. Thankfully they were around for the whole week.
The ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Because of its proximity to Cancun, it can get very crowded. Coupled with the heat, the only way to do Chichen Itza is first thing in the morning. Karen also treated us to a guide and we learned that it is not a frivolous thing to be a licensed guide there. You need three years of classes and exams, and ongoing continuing education. So when they tell you the tour cost US$50 for two hours, don’t say it’s a ripoff. Chichen Itza is “only” about 1000 years old compared to the older ruins we have seen on this trip like Teotihuacán and Monte Albán. The most unique thing to us was the Temple of Kukulkán, which among many things is like a 3D Mayan solar calendar. Each side of the temple has 91 steps, plus one platform at the top to make 365 days. Twice a year at spring and fall equinox, the sun castes shadows over the pyramid to reveal a serpent at the edge of the pyramid. It is amazing the Mayans had the knowledge and engineering to build this.
The Yucatan Peninsula is famous for its cenotes which are essentially sink holes filled with crisp clean fresh groundwater. There are thousands of these cenotes scattered all over the peninsula. We have visited a few and must say the most picturesque cenote was Ik-Kil near Chichen Itza. It is really picture perfect and classic. But I would actually recommend against going there unless you can be there when it opens, which then, can be a little chilly. We got there in the afternoon and it was a big zoo. I only got in the water because Ty wanted to and you really couldn’t enjoy it with the noise and crowds.
Next up, Tulum. We have some generous friends from home who rented a house with a swimming pool and were going to share it with us the whole time!