The ruins at Ek Balam, near Valladolid, Yucatan


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Page 6: On to Campeche, February 3 - 6

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 luck.

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.

Soon 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 indeed friendly.)

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 plants.

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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