Photos by Jan Behmer Text by Steve VandeGriek April 2022
It finally happened. We got our travel feet wet again. To be honest, it was a default decision. Almost three years ago we booked airline tickets to France, but had to extend them when Janet fell and broke her arm. Several months later we changed the tickets for a trip to Spain, but the pandemic hit and forced another extension. Over time we were fully vaccinated, boostered and meticulously masked, but we continued to sit out.
A couple months ago we learned that those dormant tickets were no longer extendable and were expiring in a few weeks. The old “use it or lose it” gambit, which could apply equally to the tickets and to our travel chops. The kneejerk response was a hastily planned and executed ten day jaunt to the Yucatan Peninsula – familiar territory and a minor aviation commitment from home. Baby steps, because we’re out of practice.
The trip was, suffice to say, informative. Five airport negotiations, at each of which every plane in sight seemed to be overbooked. Therefore, four packed planes to try our mental well being. By regulation, everyone remained masked and, luckily, unprotesting. On the aircraft, at least.
Stepping off the plane in Merida was a slap in the face. The weather forecast we had consulted in the hasty planning stage had promised temps in the seventies. What we encountered was upper upper nineties and equal humidity on every one of the ten days we were gone.
Merida itself was also a surprise. We had spent a few days there almost twenty years ago and found it relaxed and graceful. In spite of my being sideswiped by a city bus. But I digress. Since that time the population has apparently doubled, thus halving the peaceful charm.
That said, the people were invariably considerate of one another. Virtually all of them – the Mexicans, not the tourists – were masked everywhere they went – in the streets, in their cars, on the crowded sidewalks, and in all public buildings. Our hands were sprayed with disinfectant at almost every entrance. The admirable result – in two years of pandemic, with a population of over two million people, the entire Yucatan has had a total of only about two thousand cases. In a place with far less antiseptic capability than up here in El Norte. And in spite of the tourist contingent being far, far less considerate of them in a masking sense, the locals remained hospitable and helpful to all. To be sure, there was the occasional aggressive vendor, as in any tourist destination. But nothing on the level of a place like, say, Puerto Vallarta, where we stopped briefly several years ago. There you could not step out of your hotel at any time of the day or night without being screamingly assaulted by dozens of street hawkers demanding that you buy this or patronize that. They drove me out of town in one day flat.
But I digress.
We decided to skip all the Mayan ruins this time. We’ve seen them before and would like to have done them again – even if climbing them is no longer in our playbook. But we had limited time and wanted to see something new.
So, from Merida we bussed a couple hours down to Campeche. Much quieter, much less crowded, it’s a pretty town on the Gulf of Mexico with no actual beach but a lovely long malecon. It also hosts a very pleasant town plaza, from which radiates a grid of invitingly calm and colorful streets. Campeche is famed for pirates, who are long gone, and for seafood, which is happily still in abundance.
Next it was inland to Valladolid. Another amiable town square, marred on one side by pushy vendors and on all sides by ubiquitous evidence of pigeons. The small city is somewhat colonial in character, but less so than advertised. The in town cenotes it touts are all closed due to the pandemic. And the entire place was inundated with unexpected and unmasked spring breakers. We did, however, have a very easy time there getting the requisite covid tests for our return flight from the Cancun airport, where Janet contracted an expensive souvenir case of food poisoning to carry home. It passed through customs, though, without a hitch.
So we got our feet wet. Every country and every travel experience has its hiccups. We’ve been roaming and savoring Mexico for many years. If this visit wasn’t our favorite, the doing of it was at least less fraught than we had feared. Whatever its disappointments, we were more to blame than the Yucatan. It was a thinly planned attempt and, as stated, we are out of travel shape and not as spry as we used to be. We are, though, now encouraged to resume roaming a bit. Home is good. But we want to wander a little more before we can’t anymore, and we have some accumulated airline miles to use up. I don’t think we can outwait the virus, we can only try to outwit it. With paraphrasing apologies to Willie Nelson, we just can’t wait to get on the roam again. So we’re getting a second booster, digging out our maps, and brainstorming a long delayed venture to somewhere. CRP*
*CRP Covid Restrictions Permitting
As I finish redrafting this piece, most airlines have rescinded the mask mandate on planes. We’ll see how that goes, but we’ll be keeping ours on.