Cancun and Isla Mujeres
Today we met our fellow travellers. There are eighteen of us on the trip - two other Aussies, an Irish GP, a Canadian, two Americans and the rest are English. Our guide Edgar, our mechanic Gabriel and our driver Francesco are all locals. After a briefing we all walked a couple of blocks to a quiet plaza where the bikes awaited us. We were all given a previously allocated cycle and spent the next 20 minutes or so getting seat heights sorted and gears and brakes checked.
Our first ride was to the ferry terminal at Puerto Juarez which fortunately had only right turns so no need to cross against the traffic. The ferry was packed and it took a while to get all the bikes aboard. I used the Garmin to check the ferry speed and found that we were hurtling along at 43km/h.
The Isla Mujeres or Island of Women is a long thin piece of land which looks like an early version of Surfers Paradise before the high rises. We started cycling South into a stiff headwind, passing souvenir stalls and hotels and then some open areas before reaching the Southern top of the island. There are two stories about how the island got its name. The myth is, that when the Spanish first arrived on the island all the men were out fishing so the only people on the island were women. The 'truth' is that the island once had a temple to a fertility goddess whose statue now adorns the Southern end of the island. Women wanting a child would come out to the island to make offerings to the goddess.
We then turned North and had a lovely tailwind for 10 km down to the Northern tip of the island stopping at a few places on the way to enjoy the sights of this more rugged coast. Edgar took us to a restaurant in the 'strip' where I over-ordered three starters rather than two mains. There was too much food. I will need to be more careful next time. After lunch some of the group went for a swim while others, Maree and I included, went for another ride against the headwind to a turtle 'farm'. This place started as a breeding and study centre for turtles but is now a slightly seedy tourist attraction.
The return ride with the wind was once again very quick. I should have mentioned that, every day so far, there has been a quite strong wind. We can only hope that the wind drops off as we get away from the coast otherwise we could be in for some long hard days.
It seemed that everyone wanted to leave the island at the same time, it was a Sunday after all, so we joined the queue to catch the 5 pm ferry but couldn't get on so had to wait till the 5:30 voyage. Interestingly the return trip was done at only 38 km/h. The tide and wind must have been the cause because it was a much bumpier ride. We were entertained by a guy who sang, played pan flutes and ukelele which made the trip go faster. By the time we reached the hotel, well after 6pm, we were hot, sweaty and tired. Maree had done really well on the bike despite her concerns. After a quick shower and tidy up we headed for our favourite restaurant for another delicious meal.
The next morning, after an early breakfast, our group were all packed and ready by 8am. We loaded aboard two vehicles, one towing our bike trailer, and set off for our three hour trip to Merida, the capital of Yucatan province. The journey ended up taking the best part of four hours so we arrived at nearly the hottest part of the day. Edgar quickly took us off for lunch and once again, despite my efforts to be frugal we ordered too much. I guess I just like to try all these new flavours. Reece, one of the young Brits, took a bite too much of an innocent chilli pepper and spent the rest of lunch trying not to breathe too hard and desperately trying to cool his mouth and throat. I'm not sure that the second margarita actually helped all that much.
After lunch, while Maree read, I had a swim in the hotel pool - very refreshing. At about 4:30 when the day had cooled a little we set off for a 'city tour'. Firstly we visited the market - a medley of strange smells, noises and tastes. We got to taste some weird fruits whose names I did not catch due to all the background noise. We observed tortillas bing made by the truckload and saw all kinds of spices and dried fish and vegetables. Every store keeper had his or her radio on a different station or music and all were going at full blast while somewhere you could hear the voice of a trader calling his wares. The din was astounding!
A visit to the main square with a bit of the history of one of the famous buildings was followed by a once in a month chance to see the ceremonial lowering of the town's flag. A band of policemen with drums and bugles, commanded by the bugle major rather than a drum major marched about drumming and bugling while a troop of armed police gently lowered the flag and marched it away. The whole affair took about twenty minutes and was accomplished with much bugling and drumming and fanfare. The visit to the cathedral was somewhat of an anticlimax after this. Thus concluded our visit to the city of Merida. One more bit of culture awaited us after dinner where I once again overordered, much to Maree's disgust but I did want some salad. In the city square there was some folk dancing so we went along and watched a few sets. They were nicely done and it was apparent that the performers were enjoying themselves despite the temperature still being around 30 degrees at 9pm. We have two 40 degree days coming up next which will be a real test for us all. We hope to make an early start and thus an early finish.