After what should hopefully be our last overnight bus, well at least for a couple of months anyway, we arrived in Merida; the capital of the Yucatan Penninsula. Mérida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo y León ("el Mozo") and named after the town in Spain. Some historians consider it to be the oldest continually-occupied city in the Americas. The city architecture has a lot of French influence and walking along the Paseo de Manejo you are surrounded by beautiful French colonial mansions with ornate woodworking, although these days they are mostly occupied by banks or other international head offices. Coming from the DF, Oaxaca and Chiapas regions we were surprised to find that the Yucatan feels very different - much more American-ised, with TGI Friday's, Chilli's and Walmart dotted in between international hotel chains.

The hostel we stayed at offered Yoga a couple of days a week and we arrived just before the class started so I jumped in and used the opportunity to stretch out all my tight muscles from the bus trips. Ty was a bit frustrated though as the class turned out to be an hour and a half long so he was left waiting for me to go exploring but I felt so much better afterwards. 
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Pulled pork tacos - YUM!
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Beautiful Meridan architecture
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On the boat going flamingo hunting
Seeing as it was Sunday there was a big market on in the centre of town so we walked in to have a look around and stopped for some more of those delicious pulled pork tacos I talked about before. The day was absolutely roasting and our hostel was the first one we had come across with a pool so we couldn't resist heading back to cool off and chill out for a couple of hours before we took part in the free cooking class that was happening that night to learn how to make Papadzules. We have been in Mexico for almost a month now and I was still yet to have a Margarita so we headed out to one of the bars for a quiet drink. Unfortunately the bar tender needed a few lessons so I left feeling pretty disappointed with my overpriced drink - will just have to continue the search! haha.

Day 2 we booked on to a tour to Celestun, a tranquil fishing village located west of Merida. The main attraction is the Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Celestun (Celestun Biosphere Reserve), a large coastal wetland reserve and wildlife refuge which is home to thousands of flamingos. The reserve is an impressive 146,000 acres and is one of the largest areas of mangroves in the Gulf of Mexico. Freshwater from the ria (estuary) mixes with saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico creating a habitat that’s perfect flamingos and waterfowl, and the reserve is home to more than 300 species of birds including egrets, pelicans, herons. Unfortunately for us, you cant control nature and we lucked out only seeing about 50 flamingos (the day before there was 5000 of the buggers!) but we had an enjoyable boat ride and marvelled at the braveness of some local children swimming rather close to an alligator. Our captain said there were two gators living in that area of the mangrove - I'm still not convinced he was real but I certainly wasn't going to get in to find out, especially after a local made a crack about him preferring the taste of gringo!

We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying a leisurely lunch and swim at Celestun Beach before heading back to Merida. Driving back we saw big ominous looking storm clouds gathering and by the time we arrived the heavens had opened and it was pouring down. Within minutes the streets were filling up with giant puddles and I was very glad for the door to door service the tour provided! The silver lining to the first rain we've had in over a month was it gave us some time to sort out our plans for the next couple of days and book things we needed to. 
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Flamingos!
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Railroad 16th century style
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Real or not i'm still not getting in!
The Yucatan Peninsula is full of Cenotes (sinkholes) which occur when limestone rock collapses exposing groundwater underneath creating the most amazing swimming holes if you can get down to them. Because they are dotted all over the place here we werent sure which one to go to. Some were located pretty much in town and didn't take a lot of effort to visit (one even has a restuarant built on the edge with a diving platform) and others require a guided tour. Basing our choice on the theory that the things which are hardest to get to are usually the best we booked a tour for the following day to the cenotes near Cuzama. To get to the sinkholes the locals take you on an extremely rickety horse and cart type contraption which sits on 16th century rails. I'm pretty sure we could walk faster than the horses were pulling us but it all adds to the adventure and these rides are most likely the main income supporting the locals who live there. 

We visited three cenotes and had the chance to swim in all of them, although climbing down the wooden ladders held together with chicken wire didn't inspire confidence! The water was so astoundingly blue and crystal clear it was amazing! But the weirdest thing was that there were fish in there! Our guide explained that they are Catfish and because all the sinkholes are connected by underground rivers despite it looking like there are no exits they have got themselves in somewhere along the line and so now they stay. Heading back on the carts to the town we were practising our spanglish with our guide who was telling us about the region and its specialities, particularly the food. We had seen a number of Iguana's sunning themselves on the rocks during the day and Ty cheekily asked whether or not they ate them, which he said they do and did we want to try it. Up for the challenge he took us to a local restaurant and we ordered Sopa De Lima. Living up to the old 'tastes like chicken' adage I'm not convinced it was Iguana but either way it was very tasty and I'll happily order it again!

Next Stop: Spring Equinox at Chichen Itza
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Not a bad place for a swim!
 





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