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Yucatan Peninsula Beckons
Seekers of Off-the-Beaten-Path, Cultural Adventure Are In Luck
By Theresa Russell
What mysteries lurk in this remote peninsula of Mexico? Crowds are few, rewards many ...
Scattered throughout the Yucatan peninsula, the magnificent Maya ruins provide evidence of and insight into the lives of a people whose ancestors migrated across the Bering Strait thousands of years ago. Traveling by bicycle will take you at just the right pace to meet the people, enjoy the view and savor the experience of a culture that continues ancient traditions and differs from "Hispanized" Mexico.
Departing the Cancun airport access road, a simple decision, a right or left turn means the difference between an insulated, familiar experience and one that will immerse you into the Yucatecan culture. On our previous visit to this ideal cycling destination, we opted for the right turn, fully aware of our intentions on this tour. Our experiences with the locals in the sleepy town of Puerto Moreles confirmed that we had made the best choice and assured that our future travels amongst the warm and friendly inhabitants of this peninsula would be a rewarding endeavor. Our off-the-beaten path route took us through villages never visited by gringos. At the sight of the lead rider, the villagers went on alert, pigs scattered, and dogs lazily raised eyebrows unwilling to move from their spots in the middle of the road. Even without the convenience of phones, somehow, it seemed, the entire village lined the roads, unemotionally staring at this lycra-clad group of foreigners.
Hola! we shouted, and immediately the curious stares melted into smiles and a reciprocated greeting.
Everyday we passed through villages, usually stopping to regroup at the main square, a typical feature of each town, often dominated by a church. Often the locals approached us, wanting to practice their English or to look over our multi-speed bikes. Many rode along with us to the outskirts of town before bidding us, Vayos con dios.
The Yucatan offers many advantages to the touring cyclist. First it is warm, but not too hot, during the Northern Hemisphere winter months. Its location, very near the US and Canada, makes the travel time realistic and not overly expensive. The terrain is gentle, but the scenery is certainly not spectacular. The Maya ruins themselves, randomly distributed throughout the peninsula, make good daily destinations. One of the best features of the Yucatan, is the fact that most residents ride bicycles, which are much more numerous on the roads than automobiles. When we did encounter cars, the drivers were courteous and comfortable with sharing the road with cyclists.
Currently the exchange rate is favorable for the US and Canada. Even with a less favorable rate of exchange, one would be hard pressed to find such value for the money. A budget of $25 per day would provide a comfortable standard of travel. The Yucatecan cuisine consists of several dishes with chicken or turkey the main ingredient. While perhaps not as spicy as Mexican food, it still packs a punch that may be a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated. Pollo pibil, chicken cooked in banana leaves and covered with a wonderful sauce is a treat not to be missed. The Sopa de Lima, a tortilla soup with chicken, also warrants a taste.
Developing an itinerary is a simple matter. Simply choose a map, (not so easy, as they all seem to have inaccuracies) and choose the sites that interest you and get on your bike and go! If you dont have the time to do a loop, just toss your bike on a bus to get back to your starting point. Accommodations can be found in most reasonably sized towns, but it is a good idea to carry camping equipment on certain routes. If you prefer camping, you wont find many official camping sites; but asking the locals, will usually get you pointed in the right direction. Hotels, at the bottom end, may cost as little as $5 and a $20 can be quite nice.
The Internet offers several resources, mostly for the larger cities and larger better-known sites. A simple search using Yucatan as the keyword will return many sites. The rec.travel.latin-america also is a good starting point as is rec.bicycles.touring.
So whether you are interested in visiting popular sites like Tulum, Chichen Itza and Uxmal or the off-the-beaten path ruins like Edzna, Sayil or Ek Balam; you wont find a more ideal place to cycle tour.
Theresa Russell is currently in the Yucatan with 21 companions for a month. Besides being one of the leaders of this youthful group, she is also researching material for her next book on bicycling in the Yucatan. If you have any specific questions about the Yucatan, please feel free to contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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