Page 6: On to Campeche, February
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We left Santa Elena quite early,
just after 6:30, because we weren't sure what we'd find in Hopelchen,
the town mid-way to Campeche City, the capital of Campeche State.
If we didn't find a hotel or someplace safe to hang our hammocks
in Hopelchen, we wanted enough time to catch a bus onward to Campeche.
For a major road, this was very
lightly traveled, not quite the middle of nowhere, but close.
Above right, we cross the state border, leaving Yucatan and entering
the State of Campeche.
The 50-mile ride wasn't as hard
as it would have been, had we not gotten an early start and also
had partial cloud cover. Even stopping a couple of times along
the way, we were in Hopelchen by noon. It had gotten very hot,
so we stopped in the shade and sat on a stone wall in front of
someone's home. The owner came out he spoke Spanish and
German, but not English and managed to tell us that there
were hotels in town, and the best was also the newest and cheapest.
We had to ask directions several times, not understanding much
of what we were told, but eventually we found the place. It was
indeed new, very basic, obviously not geared for tourist trade,
but clean and comfortable. It even had a tv that of course we
didn't watch. We both fell asleep for a while before wandering
through the little town. Below left: downtown Hopelchen.
We saw many people here and there
who looked like Mennonites, and we learned that there are large
Mennonite colonies in this part of Mexico Amish also. Above
right: Mennonites are conspicuous in the town. Apparently the
group near Hopelchen has been here about 25 years, but drought
in northern Mexico has driven even more to this area, and now
there are a few thousand. We learned about the Mennonites from
an English-speaking German Jehovah's Witness, who said he is working
here as part of a special mission to convert the Mennonites! Good
Hopelchen was not a bad place, but we were ready
to move on the next morning for Campeche. It was a little over
50 miles. The countryside was becoming quite different from Yucatan:
more large scale agriculture, with some huge irrigated fields,
and more cattle. There was an occasional moderate hill, but by
and large it was easy cycling, with one flat tire to slow us down.
We were pulling into Campeche a few minutes after noon.
The outskirts were like those of any fair-sized
city, with lots of traffic. There, we had our first near-accident.
Barbara was being too daring, squeezing between a bus in the left
lane and a car in the right. I yelled at her that she shouldn't
be there, and she lost her balance and toppled over. She says
it was my fault for yelling at her. Anyway, it wasn't quite as
dangerous as it sounds, because in these situations of jammed
up traffic, everyone is moving slowly. Still, it made us think.
after we arrived in Campeche, we had our brief moment of fame.
A tv cameraman and a photographer on a motorcycle stopped to film
us, and after a while someone else came out from the station
a reporter or producer, we presume to interview us. Anyway,
we didn't see it, but apparently they did a story for local television.
The historic center of Campeche is quite compact.
It's also well-defined, because Campeche is on the Gulf of Mexico,
and it is surrounded by walls and fortifications built initially
to fend off pirate attacks. Inside the walls, everything is neat
and attractive, many colonial buildings in a rainbow of colors,
and a gracious park in front of the cathedral. The historic center
of Campeche is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it shows.
When we arrived at the
Hotel Colonial, one of the elderly, "quirky" owners
just scowled at us and said "No bicicletas!" That was
that. We headed for Hostal del Pirata, which looked reasonably
comfortable, friendly, and cheap, with a breezy roof-top kitchen
and dining area. (After three nights there, we were more aware
of its shortcomings and were ready to leave, but the staff was
Above, a government building on
the main square of Campeche; Right, the Cathedral. As
in many Mexican towns, the main square is beautiful.
Typically, the squares come alive
in the evening, and that is true in Campeche. Below, with
the lights on, the town squares can be magical.
We stayed in Campeche three nights, partly because
we had high expectations of the city, and also just to do practical
things like laundry and bike maintenance. We enjoyed Campeche,
especially cycling on the fine new malecon (below left) and watching
a Mayan family playing flutes, drums, and guitars in the plaza
on Sunday afternoon. (Below right.)
The walls around Historic Campeche were strengthened
by several baluartes or bastions. Most of these old fortifications
seem to be used as museums, but one, below, has been turned into
a small botanical garden.
Above, the exterior of the old fortification,
now the Botanical Garden. Inside the walls, there are
a few paths wantdering through a profusion of tropical
While Campeche has a well-preserved colonial
center, it is not a smaller version of Merida. Campeche does not
have the grand buildings and many parks that Merida does. And
since it is so much smaller, without Merida's wealth of cultural
and educational institutions, it is simply a less exciting place.
Campeche does, however, have murals unlike anything
we saw in Merida or, for that matter, anywhere else. We thought
they were extraordinary, and Barbara is definitely a mural-phile.
Two of the best are below.
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