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Our March/April 2016 holiday


  • Introduction
  • Mexican History
  • Mexico Today
  • Mexico City & Teotihuacan
  • Oaxaca & Monte Alban
  • San Cristobal de las Casas & More
  • Palenque
  • Merida, Uxmal & Kabah
  • Chichen Itza
  • Conclusion


    "Mexico faces numerous difficult challenges in the immediate future. Some of these challenges are long-term, others are more immediate. Regardless of which issue one places at the top of their list, most will be affected directly or indirectly by Mexico's economy and by the economic and geographic linkages to the United States."

    "Mexico: What Everyone Need To Know" by Roderic Ai Camp

    The Americas - the longest of all the continents, stretching from almost the North Pole to almost the South Pole. We have visited many countries in the different sections of the continent: the United States and Canada in North America, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in Central America, and Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru in South America.

    But there was a big gap labelled Mexico and this was the destination for our latest holiday. The trip was with Cox & Kings [click here] and lasted two weeks. High up on Roger's bucket list is a dynamic wish: for as long as he has the health and wealth, to have visited as many countries as his age. This year, he will be 68 and Mexico is the 69th nation that he has visited.


    Pre-Columbian Mexico was home to many advanced Mesoamerican civilisations, such as the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Maya and Aztec before first contact with Europeans. While researchers do not agree which Mesoamerican culture first domesticated the cacao tree which gave us the wonders of chocolate, the use of the fermented bean in a drink seems to have arisen in what we now call Mexico.

    Between 1519-1521, Hernan Cortés overthrew the mighty Aztec empire of Montezuma in Mexico. Already weakened by the ravages of the new disease of smallpox (itself brought over by Spanish emigrants), the Aztecs thought that the conquistadors were gods returning to fulfil an ancient prophecy and that Cortés had 'secret weapons' in the form of horses, dogs and gunpowder. To this day, when visitors to Latin America suffer upset stomachs, it is said to be 'Montezuma's revenge'.

    Three centuries later, this territory became Mexico following recognition in 1821 after the colony's Mexican War of Independence. Subsequently the Mexican–American War (1846–48) led to the forced loss of just over half its entire territory to the United States which was kind enough to pay a mere $15M for it. The history of the country is one of endless turbulence and many wars - including one with the delightful name the Pastry War (a conflict with France in 1838-1839).

    Modern Mexico dates from the overthrow of the dictatorship in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, which culminated with the promulgation of the 1917 Constitution and the emergence of the country's current political system.

    Pre-Hispanic exhibit
    at the National Anthropology Museum


    Mexico is a large country with a large population. Geographically it covers over two million square kilometres (over 760,000 square miles) which makes it the 13th biggest nation on the globe. It has an estimated population of over 120M which makes it the 11th most populated country on earth. The country has three time zones.

    Officially the country is called the United Mexican States and it is a federation of 32 states (one of which is the capital Mexico City). Economically the country has the 15th largest gross domestic product in the world but, among OECD nations, it is second only to Chile in having the highest degree of economic disparity between the extremely rich and the extremely poor.

    Transparency International's most recent Corruption Perceptions Index lists Mexico, at 95th, as the most crooked of all countries in the OECD. The current president is reformist Enrique Peña Nieto - a return to power by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) after 12 years out of office - but he has been involved in his own scandals.

    Infamously Mexico is best known outside the country for its war on drugs. This has left over 60,000 dead and perhaps another 20,000 missing over the last decade. The drug cartels have as many as 100,000 members. However, most of the narco violence takes place in the northern states and our holiday was in the most southern states.

    Sadly kidnapping is endemic in Mexico and no longer just affects the rich. The true scale of this crime is unknown since most kidnappings are not reported because of the collusion or involvement of present or former police personnel. But they say that tourists are rarely the subject of kidnappings.

    Oh, there's now the Zika virus ...

    The colours of Mexico:
    San Cristobal de las Casas


    Day 1 (Wednesday) of our trip was wholly a travelling day. Flying with British Airways on a Boeing 747-400, at 1.15 pm we departed from London's Heathrow Airport where security was obviously tight following the previous day's murderous terrorist attacks on the international airport and metro station in Brussels. On the journey, Roger read a book titled "Mexico: What Everyone Needs To Know" (Roderic Ai Camp) [click here], while Vee watched three movies: "The Danish Girl", "Spectre" and "Bridge Of Spies".

    Our route was directly across the North Atlantic, then down the east side of Canada and the United States, and finally over the Gulf of Mexico. It was a long flight of just over 11 hours, but there is currently a six-hour time difference between London and our destination of Mexico City, so we arrived at 6.20 pm local time.

    At the airport, the combination of jet lag and the city's high altitude made us feel a bit wobbly - but that might just be old age. Then, when we saw that the official processing our immigration was called Jesus, we thought maybe we had died and gone to Heaven. We quickly came down to earth as we observed more evident security than at Heathrow: soldiers in threes with heavy machine guns.

    We soon met our local guide Luis and our companions for the next two weeks. When we booked our holiday, the Cox & Kings brochure said that the group would be up to 26 but, in fact, it is a mere five - the smallest we have ever known. Besides us, there was only another couple John and Phyllis and a singleton Susan. Indeed it was so small a group that we dud not have a guide with us throughout the holiday but only in each individual location.

    We took a public limousine to our accommodation in Mexico City, the Hotel Galeria Plaza [click here] which is a large (434 rooms), modern, somewhat impersonal hotel centrally located in the heart of the city's financial district.

    Day 2 (Maundy Thursday) was devoted to time in Mexico City.

    The present site of Mexico City was developed by the Aztecs in 1325 when it was known as Tenochtitlan before being destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors of Hernan Cortés in 1521. The Spanish built a new capital which the United States briefly occupied at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. The city suffered a devastating earthquake in 1985.

    Today Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world. The city proper has a population of around 9M (similar to London) but Greater Mexico City has a population of around 23M. The city is the economic powerhouse of the nation and almost a third of Mexico's industrial output is concentrated in the metropolitan and surrounding areas.

    Mexico City is situated in a plateau 2,240 metres (7,350 feet) above sea level and is surrounded by volcanic mountains and, as effectively a large bowl with an atmospheric cover, the city is prone to serious pollution. In 1992, the UN declared it the most polluted metropolis in the world. Since then, massive improvements have been achieved. Nevertheless, a week before our arrival, the city had its first air pollution alert in 11 years as smog was trapped in the valley and an emergency was declared for four days.

    We spent all morning - over five hours - at the National Anthropology Museum [click here] as effectively the scene-setter for the rest of our trip which would involve visits to several ancient sites. We drove through the business district - lots of modern tall office blocks - to the nearby museum which is located in Chapultepec Park, one of the great urban parks of the world. The museum was opened in 1964 and is designed around a courtyard to replicate the style of Mesoamerican structures. It houses one of the finest anthropological and archeological collections on earth, so our guide Luis could only give us an overview of the major pre-Hispanic cultures with a particularly focus on the Aztec and Mayan civilisations.

    It's is noticeable that the Mesoamerican civilisations developed at similar times to those of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus and China and for the same reason - that there was suitable climatic conditions to sustain the growth of staple foods. This is why some historians have referred to these civilisations as being located in the "lucky latitudes". In the case of the Mesoamerican cultures, the staple crop was maize.

    Perhaps the most famous and impressive artefact in the museum is the huge Aztec stone of the sun. This was carved in 1479 but not found - near the cathedral in Mexico City's main square - until 1790. It is almost 12 feet (3.7 metres) in diameter and weighs around 24 tons. Some people have mistakingly called it a calendar but it is actually a sacrificial altar called a 'temalocatl'. It is often called the calendar stone or the stone of the five eras because it has at its centre the sun surrounding by four squares representing previous flawed creations of our world. The sun is the fifth creation which is our current world.

    The stone of the sun
    as it looks today

    The stone of the sun
    as it would have looked in Aztec times

    Vee & Roger at the National Anthropology Museum

    After a buffet lunch at the museum, we spent the afternoon in and around Mexico City's main square. We drove there through the historic centre of the city which has many statues and monuments commemorating heroes from Mexican history. The proper name for the square is Plaza de la Constitucion but locals call it Zocalo or 'base' because, in the 19th century, plans for a major monument to the constitution went no further than the pedestal. Indeed the term 'zocalo' has come to mean 'main square' throughout Mexico.

    This one in Mexico City is among the larger squares in the world, measuring 220 metres (720 feet) from north to south and 240 metres (790 feet) from east to west. It is built on the site of the centre of pre-Hispanic Tenochtitlan. On the north side is the Metropolitan Cathedral (close to where the Aztec temples and pyramids were located); on the east side, the Presidential Palace (where Montezema's palace was located); on the south side, city government offices; and, on the south side, hotels and shops. We all felt we knew this square because we had all seen the latest James Bond film "Spectre" which features the Zocalo in a brilliant opening segment. In fact, years ago, Roger set part of one of his short stories in the square.

    The highlight of the afternoon was a visit to the Presidential Palace to see the frescoes of Diego Rivera (1886-1957). If you have seen the wonderful film "Frida" about Rivera's wife Frida Kahlo, you will have seen scenes of Rivera creating these huge and detailed representations of Mexican history from the pre-Aztec period to the 20th century and depicting an eclectic range of characters all the way from Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés to German philosopher Karl Marx.

    An indication of the scale
    of the frescoes of Diego Rivera

    The German revolutionary Karl Marx
    - one of a host of historical figures in the frescoes

    As it was Maundy Thursday, there a raucous ringing of bells from the Metropolitan Cathedral to announce the holding of 5 pm mass. This is one of the largest and oldest cathedrals in Latin America with construction starting in 1525 but extending over three centuries which explains the mixture of styles. When we went inside, we observed the start of the mass which was an impressive audiovisual experience with around 200 robed officiants parading to the gold-embellished altar with candles and incense plus a very loud organ playing and the whole performance shown on a set of large television screens with multiple camera positions plus panning and zooming shots.

    We were back at our hotel at 6 pm after a full day of nine and a half hours during which the jet jag had continued to work its wonders.

    There is virtually nothing to be seen these days of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan because the Spanish invaders destroyed the city and then built a new metropolis on top of it which is present-day Mexico City. But fortunately one does not have to travel far to see the site of another great pre-Hispanic city and it was to this site that we went on Day 3 (Good Friday) of our holiday.

    Teotihuacan [click here], located 40 kms (25 miles) north-east of Mexico City, was the largest known pre-Columbian city in the Americas. Nobody knows who built or inhabited it. It is believed that occupation began about 500 BC and that the population eventually reached a peak currently estimated at around 175,000, making it the largest city in the world at that time. The name of the site is the one given to the ruins by the Aztecs and it means 'the place of origin or creation'. Following its modern-day excavation, it is commonly called 'the city of the gods'.

    It was only after 100 BC that the building of the pyramids began and the magnificent pyramids and palaces once covered 31 sq kms (12 square miles). Only around 7% of the site has been excavated so far, so much remains to be discovered. The city was abandoned in about 700 AD, probably because of climatic changes, but the fate of its civilisation remains unclear.

    The most imposing structure on the site is the Pyramid of the Sun which was completed around 300 AD. This is the third largest pyramid in the world (after the two at Giza in Egypt), stretching 210 metres (690 feet) on each side and standing 67 metres (220 feet) high. Just as Vee was wondering whether to climb the pyramid, she felt her legs collapse and had to be taken by medical staff to a first aid tent. It was probably a combination of several poor nights sleep and the high altitude of the location but, after sitting and resting, she was fine. Roger climbed the 231 steep steeps in less than 15 minutes.

    Roger makes the climb to the top
    of the Pyramid of the Sun

    A view of the Pyramid of the Moon
    from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun

    We next walked the so-called Avenue of The Dead. The original excavators gave the route this name because they assumed that the mounds lining the road were burial sites, but no tombs have ever been found there. At the end of the avenue is the other great structure of the site: the Pyramid of the Moon which is 140 metres (460 feet) on each side and 47 metres (154 feet) high.

    After looking at some domestic living quarters, the final structure that we viewed is called the Citadel but again the name is misleading. The original excavators thought it was a military fort but current thinking is that it was a religious building and possibly might contain a royal tomb.

    After about three and a half hours at Teotihuacan, we went to a nearby restaurant called " Gran Teocallin" where we were treated to a brief display of Aztec dancing in full feathered gear before we had a buffet lunch.

    Modern day Aztec

    Once we were back in Mexico City, we had one more visit: the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe which is a national symbol for the deeply Catholic Mexicans. The story goes that, 15 years after the arrival of the Spanish and Catholicism, an indigenous Mexican boy saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in the form of a beautiful lady in a blue mantel trimmed with gold. He only persuaded the authorities of the truth of his vision when he collected roses in a cloak and these flowers formed the image of the Virgin Mary. In fact, the present site is three churches: a chapel on a hill where before the Spanish Conquest there was a temple; a large basilica built between 1695-1709; and a new circular church completed in 1976 which can accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers.

    In the old basilica, we saw a queue of the Good Friday faithful lining up to kiss the wound on the lower ribs of Jesus on a near-lifesize crucifix. In the new church, a moving walkway carried visitors past what looked like a relatively modern and very detailed painting of the Virgin Mary which is claimed to be the original impression from that indigenous boy. Apparently miracles do sometimes happen - after all, Roger and Vee have been married for 34 years.

    We were back at our hotel at 4.20 pm. This evening, Vee joined Roger for dinner out. We found a nearby Argentinean restaurant called oddly "Blah Blah" where Vee had chicken with ham & cheese, while Roger had a mixed grill with chicken, beef & Argentinean sausage.


    Outside of Mexico City, the southern-most Mexican states are the poorest and those with the largest indigenous populations. We were now to visit three of these states: Oaxaca, Chiapas and Yucatan. First off was Oaxaca, the birthplace of two famous figures from Mexican history: Benito Juarez, president for most of the years 1858-1872 (which came to be known as the Reform Period), and his former protege Porfirio Diaz, president for the incredibly lengthy period 1884-1911 (which provoked the Mexican Revolution).

    So Day 4 (Easter Saturday) was an early start: alarm at 5.30 am, departure from hotel at 7.30 am, and drive to Mexico City's airport. On the way, we had an unusually clear view of the two snow-topped volcanoes that overlook the city. One is extinct but the other was dormant for centuries before erupting back into life in 1994. Our flight from Mexico City to Oaxaca - in an Embraer 190 aircraft of AeroMexico - was short at just 45 minutes.

    Oaxaca - pronounced 'we-hah-ke' - comes from an Aztec name referring to a type of tree which grows locally. The state has the country's largest Indian population with two-thirds of citizens coming from one of 16 ethnic groups and speaking one of nine languages. The city of the same name is located about 300 miles south of Mexico City at an elevation of 1,500 metres (5,000 feet). Once the centre of the Mixtec and Zapotec civilisations, today Oaxaca - a city of about 300,000 - is a mixture of pre-conquest, colonial and modern periods and is the state capital.

    We were met at the airport by our local guide Jose who explained that our rooms would not be available until mid-afternoon, so that he would take us on a walking tour of the city before we went to our accommodation in the afternoon. This was not what we were expecting but we adjusted to the new situation.

    So the minibus dropped us off downtown around noon. It was hot (33C/91F) and two of the five in the group had their hats in the locked suitcases now on the way to the hotel. Fortunately we immediately came across a covered market of local artesan products and Vee was one of those to buy a new hat.

    Vee with new hat

    The city of Oaxaca was a revelation: narrow cobbled streets lined with low-built shops, hotels, cafes and restaurants with walls in beautiful pastel colours such as pink and blue and green. It reminded Roger and Vee of several other wonderful Latin American towns of colonial heritage such as Antigua in Guatemala and Trinidad in Cuba. What was different though - and explained by the timing of our visit - was the frequent use of purple sashes or bunting which marked the sorrow of Christ's crucifixion.

    The first real destination of the walking tour was the large Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman. This was built mainly between 1570 and 1608 as part of the city's Dominican monastery and it is named after the founder of the Dominican order. The exterior is quite plain but the interior is sumptuous in its colour and glitter.

    The sumptuous ceiling of Santo Domingo

    Crucifixes for sale in Santo Domingo

    One view of Oaxaca
    from Santo Domingo

    Another view of Oaxaca
    from Santo Domingo

    The next destination was just next door to the church: the State Museum of Oaxaca which only opened in 1998. The greatest treasure was the Mixtec hoard from Tomb 7 at Monte Alban (the site we were visiting next day). The exhibits included objects in gold, silver, jade, coral, amber, pearl and even a skull covered in turquoise.

    The turquoise skull
    in the State Museum

    A view of Oaxaca
    from the State Museum

    It was time for lunch and Jose took us to a restaurant serving traditional Oaxacan food called "Azucena Zapoteca". We sat in a pretty little courtyard and noted the guidance on the menu: "Please be patient with your order, our products are cooked at the moment". We all went for traditional Oaxacan dishes: Vee had chicken, red mole and rice, while Roger had pork and potatoes stewed in a sauce of beans and chillies.

    After lunch, we strolled down to the main square which, like that in Mexico City, is properly called Plaza de la Constitucion but known to everyone as Zocalo. The square is traffic-free and surrounded by trees and arcades. At this time, it was full of families with young children enjoying the Easter weekend with lots of vendors of balloons, bubble guns, and various toys. We wandered through various markets, some open and two large ones covered. The covered markets had grouped sections for every kind of product: breads, meat, fish, chillies, herbs, vegetables, alcohol, hats, dresses, bags, belts, toys .... There was even a stall selling various types of fried grasshoppers.

    The beautiful pastel colours of ...

    .. the colonical city of Oaxaca

    It was around 4 pm when we arrived at our accommodation. Although located in the downtown area in a busy street, it could not have been more different than our hotel in Mexico City. Hotel Parador San Miguel [click here], located near to the Zocalo, was a beautiful, colonial-style building which only has 23 rooms that are spread over three floors and around a central courtyard. In the courtyard, a set of ornate cages house exotic birds who sing a variety of distinctive songs. In our room we found two pages of detailed instructions on what to do in the event of an earthquake.

    As lunch had been quite filling, Roger and Vee chose to have a light dinner of salad and dessert in the restaurant called "El Andariego" attached to the hotel. When Roger paid by credit card, the waiter could only obtain a signal for the authorisation machine by leaning out of a window.

    Day 5 was Easter Sunday and we were woken up from about 6 am with very loud fireworks celebrating that the Lord had risen. Then the covers were taken off some of the birdcages in the courtyard and the dawn chorus started. Next church bells began to toll calling the faithful to mass. All in all, a lively start to the day in downtown Oaxaca City.

    Breakfast was in the restaurant and the television had some news for us. Mexico's federal police announced that they had just detained in Oaxaca state a man identified as one of the top money launderers for drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

    Our morning excursion - starting at 8.30 am - was to the ruins of Monte Alban [click here] where we spent three hours, mostly walking around the huge site, but finishing at a small museum and the cafe. It is located on a high plateau overlooking the city and approached by a long, winding, and steep road.

    Located just west of Oaxaca City, Monte Alban was the ancient capital of the Zapotecs and was later inhabited by the conquering Mixtecs. Archaeologists have divided the history of Monte Alban into five phases: Phase I - up to about 200 BC when the town grew to a population of about 10,000; Phase II - between 200 BC and 350 AD when the town became dominant in the region; Phase III - from about 350-700 when the city was at its peak with a population of between 25,000-35,000; Phase IV - between 700-950 when the city was abandoned and fell into ruins; and Phase V - between 950-1521 when there was minimal activity. Today it is a UN World Heritage site.

    We were surprised at the extensive nature of the site and pleased that Jose had suggested we reached it early to avoid the worst of the crowds and the heat. At the heart of the excavations which started in 1931 is the Great Plaza which is over 300 metres (980 feet) long with a variable width averaging about 160 metres (520 feet). There are tall temples with wide stone staircases and various tombs and religious buildings plus a sunken patio and a ball court.

    Vee & Roger at Monte Alban

    Some of the temples of Monte Alban

    We were back at the hotel at 12.30 pm and the official programme for the rest of the day was "at leisure" - a chance to rest and recover in preparation for two flights and another Mexican state tomorrow. After a short sleep, Roger and Vee went out for a couple of hours to stroll around the nearby Zocalo area. First, just north of the Zocalo in the adjoining square of Alameda de Leon, we visited Oaxaca's Cathedral. Construction of this version began in 1553 and (several earthquakes later) concluded in the 18th century.

    Then, in Zocalo itself, we had a leisurely lunch in a restaurant called "El Portal del Marques" where we shared a club sandwich and each had a dessert (apple strudel for Vee and banana split for Roger). We sat on a covered terrace looking out over the square so that we could shelter from the bright sun and indulge in a favourite sport of people-watching: lots of very colourful clothes, lots of enormous stomachs, lots of babies and children, lots of hawkers and musicians, and policemen always walking round in threes.

    Later, when it was night-time, we returned to the Alameda and Zocalo squares and found an even more magical atmosphere. The squares and the restaurants were full of people and alive with noise. As well as the usual stalls and hawkers, there were all sorts of entertainers. A three-piece musical group had lots of locals dancing salsa with panache. A woman in mask and dress decorated with skulls offered children slips of paper from a special box. A crowd watched on a huge television screen a football match between Oaxaca and another Mexican team broadcast from a new local stadium opened only that day.

    Two loves of Roger's life:
    Vee and dessert

    A female visitor from
    the Day of the Dead


    Day 6 (Easter Monday) was a travelling day and it was an early start: alarm at 5 am and departure from the hotel at 6 am.

    The day kicked off with two flights: one from Oaxaca north-west back to Mexico City (just 50 minutes) and then straight away one from Mexico City south-east to Tuxtla Gutierrez (only 60 minutes) - an odd replication of some of the journey but presumably Mexico City acts as a hub for flights in the south of the country. Both flights were with the local airline AeroMexico on locally-built aircraft (the Embraer 190 and 170 respectively).

    We were now in a different state Chiapas where Tuxtla Gutierrez is the state capital. In 1994, the state was convulsed by an uprising of the local indigenous populations through a movement that became the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). This guerrilla movement was opposed to the then government's neo-liberal economic policies as exemplified by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although the uprising was a military failure, it had important political consequences.

    We were met by our local guide Alberto, the first of our guides with a sense of humour. He immediately took us to a nearby jetty for a two-hour trip on the Grijalva River. We all donned bright orange life jackets and then boarded an open motor boat with around 30 passengers and a driver on a raised section at the rear.

    When we were zooming along, it was bumpy and windy; when we stopped to observe something, it was hot and humid; and much of the time, it was misty, but this rather added to the atmosphere. The journey took us through the spectacular Sumidero Canyon which at the highest point is some 900 metres (3,000 feet) above the green water. When Diego de Mazariegos invaded the area in 1528, the local indigenous people the Chiapa threw themselves by the hundreds into the canyon rather than surrender to the Spanish invader.

    Today the main feature of the canyon is a hydro-electric dam completed in 1981 and we sailed all the way to the dam before returning on the other side of the canyon. Along the way, we saw various interesting features such as the Cave Of The Colours with a statute of the Virgin Mary and the Christmas Tree with amazing moss-covered rock formations that looked just like branches of a festive tree. We even spotted some spider monkeys and sleeping crocodiles as well as various birds.

    Roger & Vee don life jackets for the river ride

    The towering sides of Sumidero Canyon

    Back on land, we remained at the jetty to have a cooked lunch at a place called "Restaurante Rio Grande".

    According to our official programme, at this point we should have headed straight to our hotel, but Alberto surprised us with a visit to a nearby town called Chiapa de Corzo which "The Lonely Planet" guide to Mexico describes as - rightly we learned - "an overlooked jewel". The main plaza is surrounded by artesan shops and dominated by a very large and immensely old ceiba tree called La Pochota and a brick fountain completed in 1852 in the Mudejar-Gothic style called La Pila. We also called into the largest local church, Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman, which was built by the Dominicans between 1554-1572.

    Roger tries on a festive mask
    in one of the artesan shops

    After this pleasurable 'extra' we headed east and up into the highlands arriving at our destination of San Cristobal de las Casas at 6.45 pm. From our hotel this morning to our hotel this evening had been a journey of almost 13 hours.

    Our accommodation was the Hotel Diego de Mazariegos [click here], named after the founder of the city. Located in the centre of town, it consists of two colonial-style mansions with patios paved with stone slabs. Adobe walls, tile roofs, and typical Mexican decorations make for a traditional feel. It has a total of 76 rooms.

    Day 7 (Tuesday) was a much easier day since we were just in and around San Cristobal de las Casas and we did not leave the hotel until 9.10 am.

    Located at 2,200 metres (7,200 feet), which gives the town a cooler feel, San Cristobal de las Casas was founded in 1528 by Diego de Mazariegos, a Spaniard who was sent to punish the native inhabitants of the region after they revolted against the conquistadors. The cause of the indigenous Mayans was taken up by Father Bartolome de las Casas, after whom the city is now named. Today it has a population of almost 200,000.

    Our guide Alberto started the day by taking us on a walking tour of the centre of the city. It was interesting to note that there was a fair amount of political graffiti protesting at the actions of the police and the authorities. When Roger said to Alberto "So the Zapatista spirit is still alive?" Alberto quickly replied "Very much". We were taken to an open air market which had everything which we had seen before in Oaxaca plus indigenous women carrying live chickens around their necks and others with live chicks in baskets, all waiting to be sold fresh.

    Colourful clothes in San Cristobal

    Colourful spices in San Cristobal

    Next we viewed two churches: the Gothic Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman built in 1528 which was for the Spanish and down the hill in much plainer style the neo-classic Virgin of the Charity which was for the indigenous population. The first of these has a wonderful facade of filigree stucco in the style of vegetation and, since a restoration of the church had just been completed, it sparkled in the sunshine. Inside in one nave, a shaman uttered various incantations to alleviate the problems of two local worshippers - a strange conjunction of religious beliefs.

    Church of San Domingo

    Window in stucco

    Columns in stucco

    Round the corner in the main square Plaza 31 de Marzo was the city's Cathedral which was constructed in 1535. Everywhere we went there were little women with dark faces and colourful clothes representing different local villages who were trying to sell all sorts of wares to passing locals and tourists. Many young children were also trying to sell various items.

    Alberto was ready to take us to visit two nearby villages of indigenous people where the local language is Tzotzil, but we suggested a coffee break first and stopped at a place called "Maya Vinic" ("Mayan Man").

    The prime visit was to a village called San Juan Chamula which means 'the place where the water becomes dry'. Most of our time here was spent viewing the inside of the Church of San Juan Bautista. This proved to be the most astonishingly unusual Catholic Church that any of us had ever encountered.

    There was a main altar but no side altars or naves and no benches or seats. Around 40 glass cases with statutes of various saints and versions of Mary lined the long walls, hundreds of glass vessels held lit candles, and pine needles on the floor delineated the most sacred areas which were covered with rows of tiny candles with groups of faithful. Each group of indigenous people had the requirements for their offering: some soft drink or alcohol, incense, a row of eggs and a live chicken (the end of the offering involved the snapping of the chicken's neck).

    If all this indigenous religious practice in a Roman Catholic Church seems strange, then Alberto described the combination of shamanism and Christianity as "religious synchronicity". We could not take photographs of the indigenous Mayans as they believe that the camera steals their souls (this might explain why Vee is so reluctant to have her photo taken) and we could not take photographs inside the church because the people believe that this steals the soul of God (how could an almighty God be so vulnerable?).

    Church of San Juan Bautista

    Mixture of Christianity and shamanism

    The other indigenous village that we visited was San Lorenzo Zinacantan which means 'the place of bats'. The zinacantans wear multi-coloured outfits with ribbons on their hats signifying how many children they have. Every few years, they change the dominant colour of their outfits and at the time of our visit it was purple.

    Alberto took us to a little artesan factory called "Catalina y Juana" where five women create beautiful coloured textiles using traditional hand looms. We were invited into the back rooms where they live, especially the kitchen to see tortillas being cooked over a wood fire.

    Use of traditional hand loom

    Vee models one of the products

    Our guide dropped us off at the main square back in San Cristobal de las Casas at 3.15 pm and the rest of the day was free time. Roger and Vee went for some lunch in a smart place called "Sensaciones" on the main square. Roger went local and ordered tortillas with pork, cheese and house salsa, while Vee had a veggie sandwich with eggplant, zucchini, sweet red peppers and manchego cheese.


    Day 8 (Wednesday) was essentially another travelling day so it was an early start again: alarm at 5 am and departure from the hotel at 6.15 am with a packed breakfast. We were journeying from San Cristobal de las Casas north to Palenque in our minibus along a single lane road - a trip of 220 kms (140 miles) with a major scenic stop on the way.

    We were fortunate because the Cox & Kings itinerary had warned us that, due to frequent demonstrations by local communities and subsequent restricted access to certain roads, it might be necessary to take an alternative route which would be both much longer and miss our the scenic site. Indeed the two previous days, such demonstrations were taking place, but the Mayan gods must have been shining down on us because today the road restrictions had been lifted.

    The first section of our journey was through the lush scenery of the Chiapas highlands, passing through pine forest covered mountains, coffee and banana plantations, and Indian villages. The good news was there were no road restrictions and, as we drove through the indigenous village of Temo, we saw the pile of rocks that had blocked the road the previous two days. Indeed we saw other rock piles in other villages just waiting for the next protest.

    The bad news was that the road was constantly twisting and turning and there was an unbelievable - repeat: unbelievable - number of 'speed bumps', making the ride somewhat challenging. Every village and every stall and every commercial endeavour (even a couple of kids selling drinks or fruit) would have 'speed bumps' constructed across the whole width of the road both before and after the location. Locals had created these 'bumps' in order to make the occupants of passing vehicles more aware of their existence and offerings.

    Soon the road started to weave its way downwards from the cooler highlands to lower and lower elevations where it was hotter and hotter and more and more humid. After about two hours, we had a coffee and comfort stop. Then we went through villages that were strong supporters of the Zapatista uprising and we encountered a military checkpoint searching for drugs. After another hour and a half, we reached our scenic stop: the waterfalls of Aqua Azul.

    This is a wonderful location at any time of year with a succession of waterfalls surrounded by verdant jungle. We were visiting the site in the dry season which meant that the flow of water was less (but still significant) and the water was at its most colourful (a dazzling turquoise which gives the site its name). It was here that our guide Alberto and Roger discovered that they shared a passion for movies when Alberto described the shooting of a scene from "Predator" at these falls.

    Waterfalls of Aqua Azul

    Turquoise water of Aqua Azul

    After Aqua Azul, it was another hour and a half to reach the town of Palenque where we had lunch at the Hotel Ciudad Real. Our accommodation for the next two nights was different from our previous three hotels. First, it was not in Palenque but a 15 minute drive out of the town. Second, it consisted of separate chalets. The Chan Kah Resort [click here] was built on arid land originally used as a cattle ranch but now reforested to restore the surrounding jungle of some 50 acres that one sees today. The resort comprises 79 bungalow-style buildings called casitas surrounding a separate restaurant and an open air swimming pool.

    From our hotel this morning to our hotel this afternoon had been a journey of nine and a half hours, so we were pleased to leave the heat and humidity and enter our air conditioned casitas.

    Often on these exotic holidays, Roger succumbs to some kind of stomach upset while Vee has a stomach of steel. Day 9 (Thursday) began early for Roger with three bouts of 'Montezuma's revenge' which meant no breakfast at all. Fortunately Imodium did the trick and he was able to proceed with the programme.

    Today was all about the ruins of the ancient city of Palenque [click here]. The site was only 15 minutes from our hotel and we deliberately went there early (8.30 am) but there were still lots of tourists and just as many hawkers (Vee bought herself a necklace with a symbol from the Mayan calendar for the time of year of her birth). Also it was extremely hot (36C/97F) and really humid (around 95%), so we had to take every chance that we could to obtain the advantage of shade. There was no toilet and no cafe, so for Roger at least it was just as well that the Imodium worked.

    Palenque, which means 'palisade', was the name given to the site by the Spanish, but the inhabitants probably called it Lakamha which means 'big water'. This magnificent ancient city of the Mayans built at the foot of the Chiapas Mountains originated around 100 BC but reached its peak between 600-900 AD, before falling into decline in the 10th century, and disappearing into the jungle. It was one of the first Mayan sites to be discovered (starting in the mid 1700s) and remains one of the best preserved.

    In terms of what has so far been excavated, Palenque is a medium-sized Mayan site, smaller than such huge sites as Tikal in Guatemala or Copán in Honduras (both of which Roger and Vee visited in 2014) or Chichen Itza, (which were viewing later on this trip), but overall it features up to 1,000 temples of various sizes and contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and bas-relief carvings that the Mayans produced.

    We started by standing in the main plaza at the base of a row of four large temples which from right to left are known as the Temple of the Skull, simply Temple XIIA, the Temple of the Red Queen, and the Temple of the Inscriptions. The last and most impressive is a very tall stepped pyramid that holds the extraordinary tomb of Palenque's ruler King Pakal who died at the incredible age of 80 in 683 AD. The stone cover is estimated to weigh some eight or nine tons. The tomb was only uncovered in 1952.

    Moving on to the Plaza of the Cross, we viewed three temples built by order of Pakal's son: from left to right this time, the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Cross (the largest), and the Temple of the Foliated Cross. Unlike the previous temples, these three can be mounted via steep stone steps and Roger climbed up to the top of the third of them which has the fewest steps. The third main area we examined is known simply as the Palace which is a very large and extensive structure of connected living quarters and courtyards plus a tall tower.

    Ruins of the ancient city of Palenque

    Unusual view of Palenque

    After almost four hours at the site, the heat and the humidity were wearing us down and we drove the short distance to a restaurant called "Los Leones" where a three-course meal with drinks was provided - particularly welcome to Roger who had so far eaten and drunk nothing and to Vee who was wilting in the tropical climate.

    After lunch, we returned to the site of Palenque to visit the museum. This is small but well done with some superb fired clay incense burners in the form of decorated faces and a full scale replica of Pakal's tomb compete with detailed glyphs. At the museum shop, Roger bought a book on the history of the Mayans.

    We were back at our hotel at 3.15 pm and said farewell to cheerful and chatty Alberto after four days as our accomplished guide. The rest of the day was free, so we spent it napping (in Vee's case), swimming (in Roger's case) and (in both cases) reading, surfing, eating and drinking.


    Day 10 (Friday) was another flight and another state.

    To give ourselves good time for dressing, packing and breakfast, Roger and Vee were up at 6 am as we were departing the Chan Kahn Resort outside Palenque at 8 am. Since there are no flights to Merida from Palenque, we made the two hour drive to the airport at Villahermosa which is actually just across the state border into the state of Tabasco (known for its sauce). Compared to the road journey to Palenque, this was a dream: a straight road across flat terrain with none of those accursed 'speed bumps'.

    The AeroMexico flight from Villahermosa to Merida was in a turboprop aircraft the ATR 72 600 and took 70 minutes. We were now in another state, Yucatan, and we had another guide, Raul - our fourth of the trip - who doubled up as our driver. Arriving in Merida at about the hottest time of the day (1.10 pm) was like walking into a sauna - it was a blistering 39C/102F!

    Raul led us to our minibus and joked "The problem is that the air conditioning is not working". Actually the joke was on him because it turned out that the air con was the only thing that was working. So we had to abandon this vehicle and wait for the local travel company to send along another. Once the new minibus arrived, the group persuaded Raul to take us first for somewhere to have lunch, partially because we were hungry and thirsty and partly because we wanted to wait for the heat to die down a little.

    He obliged and took us to a place called "Los Almendros" ("The Almond Trees") which serves traditional Yucantan food. Both Vee and Roger ordered a local dish called 'cochinita pibil' which is made with suckling piglet marinated in recado rojo (a regional condiment), wrapped in plantain leaves, before baking.

    We were suitably refreshed and the temperature was a little lower when we left the restaurant at 4 pm. Raul briefed us on the history of the city. Merida was founded by a hundred Spaniards in 1542 on the site of the Mayan city of Ichkansiho. Today it is the capital of Yucatan state - the fourth and last of our holiday - and has a population of about 700,000.

    Raul led us on a walking tour around the lovely main square which is called appropriately Plaza Grande.

    Vee & Roger sitting on love seats
    in the Plaza Grande of Merida

    We went up to the first floor of the City Hall for a good view of the whole square. Next we viewed the oldest residence in the city, La Casa de Montejo built in 1542 with a facade depicting conquistadors standing on the heads of indigenous people. We looked inside a small museum which is now located in part of the residence (the rest is now a bank). On another side of the square, we visited the Cathedral - completed in 1598 - which is very plain compared to the other cathedrals we had seen on this trip but has two claims to distinction: it is the oldest church in mainland America and it houses the largest indoor crucifix in the world.

    The oldest church in mainland America

    The largest indoor crucifix in the world

    Finally we entered the Governor's Palace which on the first floor has 27 murals around the external walls and inside a large hall. These pictures depict historical events relating to Mexico generally but Yucantan particularly. Raul seemed disappointed that these works, by local artist Fernando Castro Pacheco, are not as well known as the murals by Diego Rivera in Mexico City. This might be because the style is more impressionistic and darker both literally and metaphorically.

    After an hour and a half of walking around, we were wilting in the heat and returned to the minibus where Raul gave us cold bottles of water and cold flannels. Feeling fresher, we were then driven around the city for a while to obtain a better feel for the place. Particularly notable was the Paseo de Montejo, a wide, long, classy boulevard that is Merida's equivalent of the Champs-Elysees, and the Monumento a la Patria, a striking sculpture in the middle of a roundabout which has a huge Mayan chieftain flanked by stone murals of Mexican statesmen.

    It was growing dark when we reached our hotel at 6.30 pm, over 10 hours since we had left our hotel in the morning. Our accommodation was the Hotel Gran Real Yucatan [click here] which is situated in the historic centre of the town. The property was converted from the former 19th century mansion of a wealthy family which produced a native plant called henequen. Today it is a hotel with 73 rooms, each with a small balcony, and there is lovely central courtyard with elegant classical columns.

    Sensibly Vee decided to spend the evening chilling in the hotel, but bravely Roger thought that he would try to walk to the main square to see a re-enactment of the Mayan ball game that was to be held there. He strode on down poorly-light streets that all look the same, along seriously uneven pavements that regularly trip one up, while the heat and the humidity took their toll.

    After half an hour he gave up. But then it took another half hour to return to more or less where he started. By this time, his legs were starting to turn to jelly and his body was dripping with sweat. There was only one thing that would revive this intrepid explorer and fortunately he found it at a place called "Cafeteria Impala" at one end of Paseo de Montejo: a delicious banana split.

    Day 11 (Saturday) was spent visiting two small Mayan sites to the south of Merida. As usual, our local guide was keen to leave earlier than the official programme so that we avoided the crowds and the heat, so we departed at 8 am instead of 9 am.

    Driving through Merida confirmed just how pretty this colonial city is, with its cobbled streets lined with single-story buildings in all sorts of light, often pastel, colours such as cream, pink, sky blue, russet, lime green, ochre, sun-kissed yellow. There are lots of little squares with trees and love seats (a pair of stones seats connected but facing towards each other).

    Before we left Merida, Raul wanted to show us the General Cemetery, the oldest and the largest of the city's seven cemeteries located on the outskirts near the airport. He explained the local burial traditions. Coffins are buried in a hole, but no soil is put on top, only a capping stone. Then some three-five years later, the grave is opened, the casket is brought out, and the bones are cleaned before being placed in small ossuary which is positioned at ground level. All this is done by the family of the deceased. If this practice seems bizarre to non-Mexicans, then to older Mexicans at least it is quite normal even necessary.

    Merida's General Cemetery

    Cleaned bones including skulls

    There are plots in the cemetery for various wealthy families or government departments or labour unions and there is a large memorial to a guy called Felipe Carrillo Puerto who is something of a local hero. He was the founder of the first political party in Latin America to join the Communist International and a socialist governor of the state of Yucatan before in 1924 he was executed together with three of his brothers at a spot actually in the cemetery where the memorial now stands.

    It was another hour's drive south before we reached the first of the Mayan sites that we were visiting today. Uxmal [click here] (pronounced 'ush-mal') is smaller than the other pre-Hispanic sites that we had been to earlier in the tour: Teotihuacan (outside Mexico City), Monte Alban (outside Oaxaca), and Palenque (outside the town of the same name). But it was the best presented with a modern visitors centre built around a courtyard with cafe, shops, and toilets and with descriptions around the site in Spanish, English and Mayan. And, in any event, less than 5% of the site is open to the public.

    It was fractionally cooler today with a temperature of 'only' 36C/97F! So we all wore hats or used umbrellas, took every opportunity to seek shade, and did not climb the steps of every pyramid. We spotted quite a few iguanas who confirmed to us that it was really, really hot today.

    Uxmal means 'thrice built' in the Mayan language but it was actually built five times. It was inhabited from around 500 BC and was the seat of Mayan political and economic power in the 9th-12th centuries AD. It is a classic example of one of the five main architectural styles of the Mayan civilisation - the one called 'puuc' in which the temples have an elliptical base that emulates the elliptical shape of the thatched roof houses in which ordinary people lived.

    Recurrent motifs at the site are zig-zag patterns relating to the the twisting of a snake and diamond patterns relating to the scales of a snake and representations of snakes entwined with one another. For the Mayans, the snake was a sacred animal - which did not go down well with the Catholic Spaniards who viewed the snake as the cause of the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden.

    The first temple we saw is called the Pyramid of the Dwarf because there is some evidence (which we saw) - including a small stone chair in a theatre and a stone throne decoration on a wall - that the ruler at one time was a person of limited stature. The pyramid rises to 38 metres (125 feet). Next we strolled through the Quadrangle of the Birds, named because there are birds decorating the walls, and the Quadrangle of the Nuns, named because of the 88 cell-like chambers. Other locations included the Ball Court, the Palace of the Governor, the House of the Turtles, and finally the Great Pyramid rising 32 metres (105 feet).

    Arches at Uxmal

    We share Uxmal with lizards

    After around two hours walking round Uxmal, the heat was really getting to us and so we were pleased to find that lunch was in a restaurant just by the entrance to the site. The place was called oddly "Coole Chepa Chi", a reference to a popular woman who served the original explorers of Uxmal. As the latest of the explorers, we enjoyed cool drinks and a three-course meal.

    Suitably refreshed and revived, at 1.30 pm we set off to see another, smaller Mayan site which was another half hour's drive further south. It is called Kabah [click here] and we spent an hour there. Like all the pre-Hispanic sites we visited, the origins went way back - in this case to around 500 BC. But, again like all the sites we visited, there was a 'golden age' - in this case, from 700-1000 AD.

    Many buildings at archaeological sites have more than one name. Here in Kabah, the main building - a long, lowish structure - is known either as Codz Poop's Altar of Glyphs which is Mayan for rolled-up carpets (because part of the front could be said to look like such carpets) or La Mano Ponderosa which means 'powerful hand' (because two statues at the back have out-stretched hands). Another special building is called the Palace of the Masks because it is decorated with 260 'masks' - actually stylised faces with missing noses.

    Before leaving the site, Vee and Roger bought a souvenir of the Mexico trip: a hand-carved representation of the face and crown of Pakal, the famous king of Palenque. We purchased it from the carver himself who dated and signed it - he was called Jesus. Close by the site, we drove first through the little town of Santa Elena where some locals still live in 'housing' in the Mayan style - a elliptical-shaped structure with a thatched roof, open doors and no windows. We were back at our hotel in Merida at 4.45 pm.

    Fortified by his superior geographical knowledge of downtown Merida gained from his meanderings of the previous evening, tonight Roger successfully led Vee to a local square which was the scene of a special Mexican Evening with singing and dancing, before returning to last evening's venue of "Cafeteria Impala" where he devoured another of those gorgeous banana splits while Vee indulged in a brownie and ice cream.

    Mexican Evening in Merida


    It was the last full day of our holiday - Day 12 (Sunday) - and Cox and Kings had managed to organise the programme so that effectively the best had been saved to the last: a visit to the famous Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.

    Roger and Vee were awake at 5.45 am (the clocks had gone forward an hour in the night) which gave us plenty of time to pack and have breakfast before Raul collected us at 8 am. The weather had changed totally overnight: the temperature was down to 29C/84F and it was cloudy and rainy, so it felt much cooler and much pleasanter.

    We drove due east to Chichen Itza which is mid-way between Merida and Cancun, a journey of about an hour and a half. Since it was drizzling, an enterprising local was selling yellow plastic ponchos for $5 each but we were delighted to have such more equable weather conditions which enabled us to spend a comfortable three or so hours touring the site.

    Chichen Itza [click here] was a ceremonial centre of the Mayans over several centuries and was inhabited for about 800 years, so the oldest buildings date from 600 AD and are Classical Mayan, while structures built after the Toltec conquest of 950 AD exhibit Toltec stylistic elements, and it is this blend of Mayan and Toltec architecture that makes it such an extraordinary site.

    The most famous of the many notable buildings on this vast site - only a small proportion of which is open to the public - is the Temple of Kukulcan, the Mayan name for the god Quetzalcoatl who is usually represented as a plumed serpent. It is a pyramid reaching 25 metres (82 feet) high with a temple at the summit. It is the not the tallest pyramid that we had seen - that was the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan - and since 2010 one cannot climb the steps, but it was the most interesting because of what the construction represents.

    The whole thing is a giant calendar. It consists of nine levels faced with a total of 52 panels - the number of years in the Mayan-Toltec cycle. The staircases on each face of the pyramid have 91 steps making a total of 364 which, with the square platform at the top, totals 365 - the number of days in the solar year. At the spring and autumn equinoxes, the shadow cast by the sun on the northern staircase appears to cause a massively long 'snake' to crawl down the building and link with the stone serpent's head at the foot of the staircase. You can see the effect in a short video on YouTube [click here].

    The Temple of Kukulcan: a giant calendar

    The snake's head at the foot of the temple

    Roger & Vee at Chichen Itza

    Another impressive structure is the Ball Court, a common feature in Mayan cities but in this case the largest in ancient Mesoamerica. This would have been the scene of a complicated game in which small teams of players attempted to pass a heavy rubber ball through a stone hoop high up on the wall. The ball weighed 3-4 kg and could not be touched with the hands or feet, so it had to be kept in the air with elbows, knees, hips and backside. A score could take hours so one score was sufficient to win the game. We know that some the games concluded with the beheading of the losers. As Raul put it: "This was a brutal place". A bit different from soccer but perhaps not so different from the behaviour of some English football fans abroad.

    Many of the other structures on the site have exotic names: the Temple of the Jaguars and Shields, the Platform of Skulls (festooned with carvings of 2,000 skulls and eagles tearing out the hearts of human victims), the Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars, the Temple of the Thousand Columns (actually 'only' about 860), the Ossuary, and the Snail (a kind of observatory).

    Unusual view at Chichen Itza

    Unusual shape at Chichen Itza

    Another remarkable feature of the site is one of the 7,000 'cenotes' in the Yucatan peninsula. These are sink holes created by water wearing away the limestone terrain. The one at Chichen Itza, called the Sacred Cenote, is big: 60 metres (200 feet) in diameter and 35 metres (115 feet) wide. In fact, it is the cenote that gives Chichen Itza its name since it translates from Mayan as 'at the edge of the sink hole of the water magician'. Apparently, on one of the explorations of the bottom of the green water, they found the skeletons of 127 children aged 11-13 - the only such case of human sacrifice known in the Mayan world.

    The cenote at Chichen Itza

    Lunch was at a nearby restaurant called "El Jardin" which was more popular for being the site of another cenote called Ik Kil and this one - as we saw - is where you can go swimming (although the children use life belts because the water is very, very deep).

    The cenote of Ik Kil

    Finally, at 3.30 pm, we arrived at our sixth and last hotel where we said farewell to Raul, the best of our guides. It was a place called Hacienda Chichen [click here] whose cottages were originally the homes of archaeologists of the Carnegie Institute, who established their headquarters here in the 1920s, before they were extensively refurbished and redecorated for tourists.

    On the last evening of our trip, Vee and Roger invited fellow traveller Susan to join us for dinner at the hotel. Roger - who is not noted for his alcoholic consumption - decided that he should conclude the holiday with a shot of the national drink tequila and chose something called 'hornitos reposado'. A happy holiday ended with a happy man - or so it seemed ....

    Day 13 (Monday) was our day for travelling home and we had the morning free at Hacienda Chichen. This meant that Roger and Vee could sleep until the lazy hour of 8 am and enjoy an omelette for breakfast. But then Roger was struck by 'Montezuma's revenge' again and this time it was much more severe than at Palenque. Fortunately there was time before our pick-up for the Imodium to do its work again and for him to rest on the bed.

    One more minibus with yet a different driver collected us at 12 noon. It was a straight drive east along a dual carriageway - during which we had a fair bit or rain - to the airport at Cancun where we arrived at 2.20 pm. The place was heaving with holidaymakers who had been enjoying the sun and the sea on local beaches. One should not comment on this type of tourist - but let's just say that the airport did not contain a single bookshop which may be telling.

    We flew home with British Airways again, this time on a Boeing 777, departing Cancun at 6.30 pm in driving rain. It was a flight of just over eight hours which, allowing for the six-hour time difference meant a landings at 8.50 am the next day. Although we had started our holiday by departing from London Heathrow, we returned to London Gatwick which is much further from our home but kindly Vee's brother-in-law Derek met us at the airport.


    Indigenous women of Chiapas state

    Abiding memories of Mexico are just how large and varied it is, just how much fascinating history it has, and just how colourful the people and the buildings are. Like all our trips outside Europe, it had some physical challenges, but it was a delight to visit such a vibrant nation.

    We did a lot of travelling by road and took four internal flights in order to stay in six very different locations. We visited a total of six pre-Hispanic archaeological sites from different civilisations and had other varied experiences such as boating through a deep canyon and viewing an azure waterfall.

    As always on our travels, we learned so much about different people and different cultures and, while over there, reading and conversation enabled Roger to construct "A Short Guide To The Mexican Political System" [click here].

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