Sunday, 20 February 2011

Cat Stevens & Chicken Pizza

The weather turned as we left Cozumel. I'd planned to head for the cenotes, but those dives are best done on a bright, sunny day to best appreciate the atmosphere within the caverns. We decided to head to the colonial town of Valladolid, and the ruins of Chichen Itza. Hopefully there'd be less American tourists there; on the ferry across from the island we'd had the dubious pleasure of being sat next to four day-trippers, whooping and yelping to the live band while shouting for sangria. They were half-cut at 11am, and were noisily crowing about their love of Senor Frogs, the tacky beachside franchise beloved by their countrymen. Only they pronounced it Senior Frogs. When the latino band asked for requests they screamed for Freebird. Peasants.

The bus rattled along cobbled streets as we entered Valladolid, the afternoon sun soaking the pastel-coloured buildings lining the streets. From the depot, it was a short walk along a quiet calle filled with fruit hawkers to our destination at Hostal Los Frailes, run by a lovely woman named Rosa. Friendly staff, quiet rooms and a pool table...what more did I need?

I took a walk around this pleasant, tranquil town; it's very photogenic. From the gorgeous tree-filled plaza opposite the church, a wealth of pretty, dusty streets lead to the quiet suburbs. Hand-painted signs adorn the walls of the shops and businesses, some of them crude, others skilfully done. The colours vary from street to street, house to house; faded pastels and crumbling cement; rust and rot. Beautiful. If you like that sort off thing, anyway. But a wandering day is enough, and the next we were boarding a bus for the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. On the journey, we passed a local eatery with a huge angular M in yellow, and the legend McGomez beneath it. I wasn't quick enough with the camera to record Sr Gomez's amusing cheek. But then again, had I posted it, those bastards would probably shut the poor fellow down, and then bulldozed his house. With him inside.

Chichen Itza is a fair-sized set of ruins, the main pyramid being in the best condition. It's set in a peaceful jungle clearing. The trouble with this place is the hawkers. Not content with mobbing the entrance, they line the route to each pile of rocks, trying to sell you the same tasteless tat: blankets; hammocks; miniature pyramids; fridge magnets; wooden masks; huge, awful paintings. You name it, they sell it. And the man next door but one sells the same stuff. It's impossible to stand and absorb what you are looking at without someone walking up and blowing into the wooden carvings which make the sound of a jaguar. Apparently. If that's what jaguars sound like, I'd say they need to lay off the fags and whisky.

While walking about looking at piles of rubble and not looking at shit souvenirs, a curious sight caught my eye. A young white man wearing a small, tight, bright orange turban was looking at me. I returned the stare as we passed. Had to be American, I thought. "Bloody hell" I'm murmured to Kneehead "it's Cat Stevens." Thinking no more of it, we had an overpiced ice-cream and headed for the exit as the hordes began to arrive. Declining further offers of hammocks, we jumped a collectivo minibus back to the sanity of Valladolid.

Playing pool that evening, who should walk in but Cat Stevens and companero? While we played they were asking a western girl about where she'd been, the safety of travel in Mexico, and the need to book ahead on buses and collectivos (local minibuses you just turn up to use, and they leave when full...these lads thought you could book online). They mentioned Playa, and I piped up and said they should avoid it, as it was full of their bloated compatriots. I told them I meant no slight, and that we have the same English equivalents in Spain. They obviously took slight, as Kneehead informed me that, when I went to the bathroom, Cat had remarked to his mate "Jeez, what a welcome...I didn't realise that guy was such a nationalist!" When I returned, Cat was telling the girl that he was looking for "spiritual experiences" and that what he'd seen so far was "not very spiritual". He planned to go to Bacalar because "I hear it's pretty spiritual down there". Do me a favour. Why not save your money, and just go straight to Mecca? I got chatting to his mate, and we talked about our respective trips. They were only away three weeks, and wanted to visit Belize and Guatemala too. I suggested they might be doing too much, especially after he said he wanted to visit Belize "for a day...just to take a look and see what's there". When I told him that most of the day would be spent travelling for an hour's look, he asked about border crossings. "Will they stamp my passport? Or will they just rush us through? Do you think there'll be queues, or not?" Eh? I have two extensive maps of Central America, and I got them out for him so he'd have a better idea of the terrain involved, the guidebook maps having no contours. "Woooow" he gasped "this map's got shitloads of countries on it...like...it's got everywhere." I was guessing they don't get out much.

A couple were leaving next morning and, as they were settling up with Rosa, Cat asked if he and his friend could accompany them to the station. They rushed to pack...obviously fearing for their lives on the short walk. Lots of dangerous 3-foot tall fruit-selling grannies out there...it's a dark place, is Valladolid. On hearing this couple were also destined for Tulum next, Cat suggested the four of them could share a room to save money? The look on the girl's face as she worriedly searched her frowning partner's face was a picture.

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