As regulars to Breaking In The Habit will know, road trips are fairly common for me. Four times in the last two years I have found myself on trips of over 1000 miles, once driving from California to Washington, D.C. to pick up a friend, another time driving all throughout the Southeast to meet the friars and see our southern ministries. Two years in a row I’ve driven roughly 1200 miles on my vacation. It’s apparently what I do, both for work and for pleasure.
Apparently the friars wanted to continue to this tradition. Late last week one of the friars approached us and “asked” us if we were going to accompany him and the other friars on a trip to Cancún to move his stuff to his new assignment. I say “asked” in quotes because the question was less interested in our desire to go on this trip and more a question of us being ready to go in a few days. You can imagine our initial confusion. “Um, what now?”
For some, this might sound like an amazing opportunity, one that we should have felt excited about. And it was, for sure, and I’ll get to that in a second. But mind you, Cancún is not right around the corner. It’s a nine and a half hour drive—without stops—on a mix of highways, local streets, and yes, even a few gravel/dirt roads, sitting three across in the backseat of a pickup truck. Add that to the fact that we were never really asked, and that we would be missing a week’s worth of Spanish classes and contact with the migrants, and Christian and I were a bit, shall we say, less-than-excited about the trip.
Alas, at 5:00am Monday morning (a time that was negotiated away from the original 3:00am start we were first told), there we were crammed into the back of a truck on our way. Obedience at work, my friends! The drive was as expected, long and very uncomfortable, filled constantly with the thought, “What the heck am I doing here?”
And then we arrived to the beach. Suddenly my back pain disappeared, my frustration faded, and my wondering stopped. Just, wow. I have been to beautiful beaches in the US and I’ve seen clear blue water. But not like that. All I could think when I saw the water was that it had been photoshopped: “There’s no way that’s real. Mexico messed with the color settings of this beach.” Standing in the water we could see our feet clearly (and a handful of fairly large fish), the water was just below bathtub settings, and the sky had just the slightest touch of clouds brushed upon an incredible blue ceiling. After just one day on the beach, laying in the shade and drinking beers, the discomfort of the trip was suddenly all worth it.
And then we were gone. Just as quickly as we were “asked” if we wanted to go in the first place, we were “asked” after 24 hours to have our stuff ready to go in the morning when another friar would be arriving to take us some place else. Huh? Why? But I want to go to the pretty beach! Where are we going? The messenger did not know. And so we packed.
The following morning we awoke and packed back into the truck for a much shorter, two-hour drive into the heart of the Yucatán Peninsula, where we would be going to… somewhere. (Yeah, communication wasn’t really great on this trip.) Our first stop was the historical site of Chichén Itzá, an ancient Mayan city. A major tourist stop for both Mexicans and foreigners, the complex was huge, complete with pyramids, temples, an arena for an ancient sport, domiciles, and even an observatory for star-gazing. As the friar that lead the trip was himself an anthropologist, we didn’t need to pay extra for interesting details or cultural feats, they came free!
After a few hours we were on our way again, this time knowing where we were going. Or at least we thought we did. Told that we were going to Izamal, a town where the friars of this province have their provincialate at a large monastery, I pictured a larger city with a fairly new monastery tucked away in the corner somewhere. What we found was that the monastery was the city. Completed in 1561 (yeah, that building is more than 200 years older than the United States…), the monastery was built by the Spanish friars on top of the Mayan acropolis located in the middle of the city and has served as the focal point of the city ever since. The building itself was pretty extraordinary (probably the oldest building I’ve ever been in, come to think of it), especially from the view on top of the roof, but the city itself was quite a gem. Originally deciding to level only the acropolis for the use of the church, the Spanish left a number of other pyramids scattered around the city, maintained even until today. It was very cool to walk down an otherwise normal city street and see ancient pyramids between stores and houses.
The final surprise of the day (yes, we’re not done with surprises!) was when we packed up our things and got back in the car. This time I was legitimately confused. Wait, we’re not staying? Where are we going? Have I mentioned that communication wasn’t great? I was sad to leave the cool little city because I really wanted to walk around with my camera, but alas, we were gone before I knew it.
And I’m glad we did.
The final stop on our whirlwind, unplanned, miscommunicated tour was hands down my favorite: Mérida. Located on the western shore of the Yucatán Peninsula, Mérida is the capital of the state and the largest city in the region, making it by far the most cosmopolitan. Within seconds I was taken away by it. While I’ve never actually visited Spain, all I could think about was Barcelona. The city streets, the culture, the old buildings, the night life, the art, the food. It was just so nice, an amazing blend of historic landmarks and modern living. We arrived just after sunset and the city was absolutely gorgeous. The city square had both the Cathedral and the governor’s building (the latter of which was absolutely stunning, filled with two-story tall paintings all the way around the top floor), live music and dance, restaurants galore (both local and international), and plenty of people taking in the warm summer night. We stopped at a bookstore to get some materials for our Spanish education (The Little Prince and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, both in Spanish), and were off to dinner.
Little did we know (duh) that the “doña” of the restaurant was a close friend of the friars and we were in for a treat. Not only was the food and drink amazing (fresh, healthy, vegetarian menu), their was live music, a comfortable atmosphere, and a host that kept us laughing the whole time (at one point Christian and I got an unsolicited lesson in Spanish swear words, so there was that!) After a few free “tastes of the Yucatán,” courtesy of our gracious host, we began working on our friar-host to convince him to have us stay another night rather than leaving first thing the next day. Surely we can’t see it all tonight. This is a very important cultural experience. Why rush back, they’re not expecting us until Friday anyway. Very funny, but had it worked?
The next morning we met for breakfast and the friar began loading up the truck. Apparently not. Over in just a few days—the best part in mere hours—we were back in the truck for our seven-an-a-half hour trek back to La72. To say that the trip had its moments of discomfort would a complete understatement, but to say that it wasn’t worth it would be lying. I may have been surprised many times along the way, but I can tell you this: it would not surprise me one bit if I found myself in Mérida again one day, only for a lot longer.
There was much more of the trip to share, so make sure you check out my Facebook page for more pictures!