Merida is a graceful town, with its large main square, cathedral and public garden. It would be beautiful and relaxing if it weren’t for the constant plaguing of souvenirs sellers and hammocks salesman (including one that tries to sell us an orthopaedic one!). From Merida we go for an excursion to Celestun, a paradise for birdwatchers, as they say. There was a huge colony of pink Flamingos elegantly perched on their long legs. Unfortunately, our boatman explained, it’s forbidden to approach them closely as they get easily scared and try to fly away in such a bundle of wings, legs, necks injuring each other, with some birds dying in the past. Celestun is also a mosquito reserve, of the fiercest kind – personal record of circa 20 bites, of which 4 on the face!!!
Merida to Palenque, via Campeche. And here is where it starts to go wrong. To make a break from the constant penny-pinching, we splash out for a first class night bus (with air-conditioning and reclining seats, no less!). We relax so much that we put the day packs in the overhead bins, cuddle up in our sleeping bags (the air-conditioning is no joke on a luxury bus!) and drowse till 8 in the emorning when we get to Palenque, Chiapas. In a few minutes we sort out a lovely hotel and are on the whole rather pleased with ourselves, until I pull out my purse to pay for the room, and it is empty! I think to myself: there, I’ve lost 500 pesos like an eejit. Then it downs on me that I have lost all the other moneys hidden around the day pack, the camera, an electronic organiser (memento, perhaps slightly pathetic, of University), my favourite charm necklace, as well as the brand new CD player (with a rather tedious Miles Davis CD, a bit of justice after all) and an opened bottle of factor 8 sun cream. The bus was full of gringos, and the lifting of the sun cream was the confirmation: the theft was no poor Mexican doing the Robin Hood (robbing the rich to give to the poor), but was a traveller like us!!!
We went to report it to the tourist police, whose office is a prefab cabin at the end of the town, with the usual chilly air-conditioning. The officer had us waiting for hours, while he collected the statement of two unfortunates from the Czech republic who were robbed of everything (including passports and backpacks) by bandits on the road to Bonampack, Maya ruins in the Lacandon jungle (this at least puts things in prospective for us).When we began our pathetic story, the officer confided that he had a terrible hangover, and he MUST have breakfast. I stewed there for another hour while he gorged himself on eggs and tacos … There is military everywhere in Palenque and its surroundings; this is already Chiapas, the State with the Zapatistas insurgents. I ask him if it’s dangerous, he goes it’s very quiet, muy tranquilo, the only problem in Chiapas is that it is the main supplier and exporter of electricity (they supply all of Central America), but the electric light costs an arm and a leg …. Boh? The ruins of Palenque are magical, so elegant and grand in respect to those we’d seen before. The main buildings are together in a confined pace, and they don’t inspire fear, but rather seem to have been built with love and reverence.