From Amsterdam to Merida

Well, one of the reasons we wanted to move away from Amsterdam is because it’s a cold and rainy country. I’m currently in Merida, Mexico, where the temperature is 34 degrees (and humid) with a “real feel” of 44 degrees. I’ve been living in Celsius for long enough that I don’t really convert back to Fahrenheit anymore, but I had to look up what 44 degrees celcius is and had a small heart attack when I learned that’s 111 Fahrenheit.

So it’s true what every single person says when they talk about Merida: it’s fucking hot. Really, really hot.

First Day in Merida

Backing up a bit. I live in Mexico now. Myself, my 13.5-month-old-daughter, and my partner no longer live in Amsterdam. We survived the long flight(s), we got rid of almost all our stuff – even sold our apartment – and now we live in Mexico. We’re staying in Merida for about 2 1/2 weeks and then moving to our new/old home: San Andres Cholula, in the state of Puebla. So there have been a few changes in the past few months – I really wish I had written about everything as it was going on because looking back, it all seems like a blur. The fact that we really sold our apartment, got rid of our things, and made a very very big decision to officially leave the Netherlands – de-registering from the city of Amsterdam and giving up our residency and working rights – it still doesn’t quite seem real. But once we made the decision, we had to just run with it. Now that there’s a small toddler in the picture, we don’t have the same kind of time to just sit around and ponder and process and go back and forth the way we used to. Decisions happen much more quickly.

We didn’t buy an apartment in June 2015 thinking that we’d sell it 16 months later, but thanks the housing market in Amsterdam, we had the chance to sell at a huge profit versus renting it out. Despite that fact that I just became a home owner and bought a nice couch and bed and got curtains made and all that stuff – it really wasn’t that hard to say “oh well, let’s let it all go.” I briefly entertained the idea of shipping some furniture over to Mexico but that idea was squashed as soon as I realized it would come with a €4,000-ish price tag. Other than the bed, sofa, some kitchen things, and curtains absolutely everything in our house was second-hand. I was sentimentally attached to some of Ayla’s things and MAN I loved our bed, but in the end I either sold off or donated just about everything and didn’t really think twice about it. It started to sound funny to me that people seemed so concerned about our stuff and what we would do with it – this isn’t the first (or second, or third…) time that I’ve gotten rid of just about everything, packed a few suitcases, and moved countries. There are plenty of sofas and beds and bicycles and new toys for Ayla in Mexico, and it just makes sense to mostly start over. Right now we have three big suitcases, three carry-on suitcases, a stroller, and about 7 boxes that were sent via the postal service from Amsterdam to Mexico City. We shipped our books, winter coats, some gifts, etc.

I am very much looking forward to “settling” in San Andres Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. I want to get a nice, comfortable apartment with a great big sofa, a cute bedroom for Ayla, a nice big bed for us, etc. I want a dog, I want to enroll Ayla in some sort of daycare, I want to take regular yoga classes again and join a gym. But I also never want the reason I chose to stay anywhere to be because of stuff. Even if we stay in Cholula for the next twenty years, I always want to remember that if we want to go somewhere else, we can go somewhere else.

Eating in Merida

Basing our lunch options on which places have A/C

So I’m sitting here in this hot, humid city in Mexico and feeling quite free. All of our belongings can fit into 7 boxes and three suitcases. We have absolutely no debt. Enrique will start a new job in January, but until then he’s relatively free – which means I can continue to work easily enough (I work about 10-12 hours a week, remotely) and we can sort out our new life together, slowly and without a rush. And one thing we sorted out for sure is the fact that Merida is way too hot and humid for us to enjoy ourselves as a family, so fuck it, change of plans. We rented a new place at the beach and that’s where we’ll stay for the rest of our time in Yucatan. I’ve been trying to figure out what people in Merida do with small toddlers and all answers lead to “leave Merida and go to the beach/cenotes/etc” so it doesn’t make much sense for us to sweat it out in the middle of a city until the end of the month. I do love that Ayla is living in a diaper or just going naked, but I hate that she has about 15 mosquito bites and a slight heat rash.

One remarkable thing about our trip (and off whatever topic I was on) – we traveled Amsterdam-Milan, 4.5 hour layover, Milan-Merida. About 13.5 hours of flying time and almost 24 hours of travel time. We were all beyond exhausted and jetlagged … but Ayla had herself sorted out by the third night, and she’s been sleeping fantastically. It was a lot of work to do that kind of travel with a 13.5 month old, but no scary stories to tell. While she’s breastfeeding less and less these days, I was still able to use that as a tool during the flight if things ever got rough, and I was so grateful for that. And I wondered if after breastfeeding I-don’t-know-how-many-times throughout the flight if she’d start to go back to wanting more milk during the day, but in fact the opposite happened: ever since our second day in Merida she’s dropped pretty much all daytime feedings and now only breastfeeds in the evenings. She is turning into a little girl, but when I’m breastfeeding her I still have my baby in my arms, and that feels so incredibly special.

One more full day in Merida, and then we’re off to Chuburna Puerto. I can’t wait.

 

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Valladolid, Mexico – the logistics

Where is it and why? Valladolid is a small city (more like a large town) in the Mexican state of Yucatán. It’s about 100 km/1.5 hours to Tulum, about 2 hours from Downtown Cancun, and maybe a bit more than 1.5 hours to Merida. It’s in the middle of the peninsula, not on the sea at all. I chose Valladolid as a starting-off point of a 6-week trip through Mexico mainly due to one reason: we were flying into Cancun, and I had no desire to stay in Cancun, so I looked around for places – in particular places that weren’t the super-obvious choice (eg. Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujers) – that would offer me something different. I’ve been to beautiful Mexican beaches before, I’ve seen great Mexican cities and mountains and towns … I was after sun, warmth, a different type of culture, and access to nature and swimming. I also wanted to keep this as inexpensive as possible. I knew that later on in my trip we’d have plenty of time for beaches, so beach was not a priority for me at all. New, different, interesting, and sunny, not far from Cancun. That’s what I wanted – and Valladolid was perfect.

How we got there: We took a looong flight from Amsterdam –> Cancun on Condor, an airline I’ve flown with before. It was fine – unremarkable enough. From the airport in Cancun we walked over to the ADO bus area (which is within the airport grounds) and bought a ticket to the downtown Cancun station (about 30-40 minutes). After one night in Cancun, we rented a car and drove to Valladolid.

Where we rented our car: It seemed pretty difficult/expensive to actually rent a car in Valladolid, so we used Tulum Car Rental in downtown Cancun. Their service was great in the sense that there were no surprises with hidden costs, everything worked, and the people were friendly. I would absolutely use them again. We spoke Spanish in person, but I made the reservation and communicated about pickup times in English with no problem.

The road from Cancun to Valladolid: Amazing. There’s zero need to take the quota (toll) highway – go for the libre (free) road. Compared to other parts of Mexico, the roads felt like… well, like not an issue at all. On the free highway you pass through some little towns where you can stop and eat, and it’s green and lush and flat the entire time. Perfectly safe and very easy.

Where we stayed in Valladolid: The beautiful and amazing Hostel la Candelaria. I booked through Hostelworld, which is where the link will take you. We aren’t really hostel-dorm-room types anymore, but I still like staying among groups of younger or like-minded travelers. The private room on the upper floor of this hostel was the best of both worlds for us – we had privacy (though we shared a bathroom, which was no problem) when we wanted it, but we could hang out in the beautiful garden and chat with other people when we felt social. The free breakfast every morning was delicious, the location was perfect, the employees were great, and the other guests were fun. Our room had two strong fans (I love sleeping with fans over an A/C). Wifi didn’t reach our room, which we didn’t care about (it worked fine in the garden and common areas). There were sinks to hand-wash clothes and a clothesline for drying. The water temperature in the showers fluctuated, but when I’m in a warm/hot climate, I really don’t care so much if I take one cold shower (it was mostly fine though). And as a nice plus, the guests of the hostel weren’t just limited to the under-22 crowd – there were at least a few other over-40’s there, and everywhere in between.

Impressions of Valladolid: We stayed for four nights, which felt like the perfect amount of time. Valladolid is tranquilo. Ask locals what they think about it? “Tranquilo,” in the most positive sense. Tranquil. It’s chilled out. It feels incredibly safe. I didn’t experience or see any problems with traffic. There are a ton of female police officers/traffic cops. Bike lanes – real, legit bicycle lanes – run in and out of the city. People walk and cycle easily. I don’t think I heard a single dog barking at night or fireworks popping in the streets. If I had only ever gone to Valladolid in Mexico and stayed for 4 nights (and I didn’t read the news), I would leave not having any clue that there is terrible poverty and violence and crime in Mexico. My fiancé grew up in Mexico City and has traveled pretty extensively throughout Mexico, and he said Valladolid was like no place he had been before. Tranquilo. Everything just seemed to work.

You hear the Mayan language, eat Mayan food, get tempted to buy Mayan clothes, and see Mayan people all the time, all over the city. The indigenous culture is everywhere, and not just on display for tourists. It just… is. Outside of the city there are Mayan villages all over the place (we were lucky enough to visit Xocen one day and spend some time with a family there). If you want to hear and see and explore an Indigenous culture in Mexico, Valladolid is a perfect place to start.

Valladolid nights

Evening in central Valladolid, Mexico

So what is there to do in the actual “city?” (it’s more like a large town, not really a city) Well… not much in the actual city, outside of shopping and eating and wandering. I guess that would be the down side, though it didn’t matter so much to us. We did find one super raunchy, fun bar where the beer was cheap, the crowd was clearly very, very local, and some (or maybe all) of the women probably didn’t present themselves as women during the daytime. We got some looks when we went in – you know the looks you get when you’re the only couple that is clearly not from the area and everyone inside knows everyone? Those looks. But I grew up in a small town, I know those looks. I’ve probably given those looks at some point. Anyway, it was completely fine after 3 seconds and we each drank a few beers.. Another night we found a different cantina with super friendly people. I mean, in general Mexicans are friendly and nice people, but these guys were just… the epitome of warm, friendly, and helpful. I liked both places, but kinda preferred the raunchy place. We gave it a half-hearted shot, but didn’t discover any real nightlife options. The city was pretty dead by 10pm, but there were always people hanging outside at the hostel. And I’m guessing if we cared more, we could have found more action, but we were more, well, tranquilo.

If you go to Valladolid, you should go there thinking it’s a place to unwind and relax. Enjoy the weather, eat the food, and most of all: get on a bike or rent a car and go swimming in cenotes and hike through Mayan ruins. It was super easy with a car, but even if we didn’t have one, we could have easily gotten to at least 6-7 different cenotes just by bike alone. After one day, you’ll most likely already be in the habit of waking up by 7am (to the bright sunshine), doing active stuff all day, and being exhausted by 10pm. My normal routine is as opposite from this as is possible, but I fell into my Valladolid routine happily and easily.

There were definitely tourists in Valladolid, but it didn’t feel like a heavily-touristed area. I think tour groups will come by on buses in their “let’s explore Yucatan” tour groups and stay for a couple hours and then leave again, which is an absolute shame (for them). Because the city isn’t on a beach, I think it gets overlooked – and this is crazy to me. You could be at a beach in 1.5 hours if you wanted, but also… cenotes! I’ll have another post all about cenotes, but seriously, if you want to swim, swimming is everywhere. Nature and ruins are so easy to get to. The food is way better and way cheaper than you’ll find in crappy touristy restaurants in the beach towns. If you want to buy beautiful, artisanal  clothing or hammocks or anything like that, it’s all over the place. So listen up, especially east-coast Americans and Canadians that have to suffer through another terrible winter and are within a cheap flight/not too far of a distance: in December, I was wearing shorts and sandals, swimming every day, hiking through lush forests, and eating amazing food in an incredibly safe, chilled-out environment. Go there for a week. Recover you vitamin D deficiency. Eat ice cream as you stroll down the street at sunset, happily tired from swimming and hiking and being outside in the sun all day. It’s literally 2 hours from Cancun and buses go from Cancun –> Valladolid all the time (or rent a car). And remember: bring your underwater camera.

Cenote Selfie

Underwater in a Yucatan cenote