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Yucatán Adventure: Campeche to Oxkutzcab


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I can't take off from work until after Christmas so we always have to wedge our winter break trips into ten or eleven days. That meant we still had an extra three or four days after seeing the highlights of the Yucatán to explore areas that were a little off the beaten track. That gave us enough time to visit Campeche on the west coast of the peninsula but not enough to venture into Tabasco state. Laguna de Términos and its barrier islands looked interesting on the map but I couldn't find anything to justify stretching our itinerary that far. Instead we spent two nights in Campeche and then stopped in the smaller town of Oxkutzcab on the way back to Mérida.
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Thanks to our detour to the Cuzama Cenotes it was already dark when we arrived in Campeche. We had a really cool hotel in the colonial center with a tiny indoor plunge pool on the ground floor. We picked a restaurant near the hotel and found an entire street blocked off with tables where people were eating al fresco. At our restaurant there was a collection of colorful sombreros and plenty of creative artwork on the walls.
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As usual our first order of business was to visit the community market, just outside the walls of the old town. On the way there we had an opportunity to admire the pastel-colored houses lining the narrow streets of the colonial center. Campeche seems to have adopted this bright coloration in the old town as a theme, much like Izamal was the yellow city. Unfortunately the day was very overcast so our photos couldn't do justice to the picturesque and vibrant streets.
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Outside the walls we crossed a frighteningly wide avenue and found ourselves in Mercado Pedro Sáinz de Baranda, Campeche's bustling community market. The market was at least the size of the main market in Mérida but here we found the colorful and unusual sights that the prior markets on this trip had lacked. Most interesting was the seafood area, which was full of unusual local fish including rows of small hammerhead sharks and some other species we hadn't seen before. Dried and salted filets were arranged in fan shapes next to huge sacs of golden roe. In the butcher's area we saw whole pig faces, slabs of viscera, and bisected hens with their developing eggs still inside. Pretty much everything that one can find in a Mexican community market such as produce, juices, spices, and preserves were on display as well.
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The dining area was very crowded and hectic but we were able to find some counter space. We had a very enjoyable meal including the local specialty pan de cazón, a stack of tortillas filled with shark meat and covered in a savory tomato sauce.
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We hung around the market until we'd explored every corner, but we still had much of the day left to fill. We returned to the formidable city walls which were built by the conquistadores in the 17th century to fend off pirates. We paid a small fee to ascend a staircase and walk the ramparts between the towers. There were still rusted cannons on the platforms.
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We walked seaward through the old town until we reached Plaza Principal, a pretty, pigeon-filled square surrounded by museums, hotels, and the city cathedral. We bought a few bags of rice and let the kids amuse themselves with the pigeons for a while.
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We weren't far from La Pigua, one of Campeche's upscale seafood restaurants, so we decided to drop in for a light lunch. We were almost the only people there on a late weekday afternoon except for a few businessmen. There was nothing special about the food that made us regret having mostly filled ourselves in the market, although the seafood soup was served with a fresh squash as a bowl.
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A block north of the old city wall we ran into Campeche's long seaside promenade, or Malecón. It's a popular spot for joggers and bicyclists and is home to interesting sculptures like the Novia del Mar. The black figure depicts a local girl who fell in love with a pirate and gazes out to sea awaiting his return. The kids took a liking to the jumble of boulders that serves as the statue's pedestal.
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After we'd had our fill of chasing the kids around and gazing out to sea we re-entered the old town through the ornate Puerta de Mar and found ourselves on the same restaurant street where we had eaten the previous night. It wasn't hard to find another appetizing place for dinner before returning to the hotel where the kids took a dip in the pool before bed.
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The Campeche market had been so good that we went back for a second round in the morning. This time we knew exactly where we wanted to eat. If anything it was more crowded and frenetic than it had been the previous day.
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We had one last stop on the way out of the city, a collection of small thatched-roof seafood restaurants at the shoreline on the northern end of the Malecón. Most of them were closed or in a state of advanced disrepair when we arrived. The one that was open didn't have any customers and had a rather unappetizing display of frozen seafood on a platter. We were pretty well fed already from the market so we decided to skip the seafood. Instead we had a final look over the Gulf of Mexico and tried out some hats at a clothes vendor.
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A pleasant drive on one of the small inland highways brought us to Uxmal. Despite my aversion to archaeological sites, our experiences at Coba and Ek Balam had showed me that these places could be beautiful and fun to explore if they weren't overrun with tourists and kitsch. We certainly had a big hole in our day to fill and Uxmal was only a short detour from our next destination. I was relieved to find only a small parking lot that was mostly unfilled when we arrived. A sign at the entrance informed us of a long list of forbidden activities accompanied by pictographs. My favorite was the drunk in the midst of collapsing backwards that represented a ban on alcoholic beverages.
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Uxmal proved to be the best of the five Mayan sites that we visited. The Pyramid of the Magician was the largest and most impressive structure we had seen and there were hardly any other people around to spoil its majesty. The pyramid was thankfully off-limits but there was plenty of other territory to be clambered around. The top of one structure gave us an amazing view of the pyramid jutting out of the surrounding canopy of trees. It's funny how most people are somewhat familiar with Chichén Itzá but practically no one has heard of Uxmal, but I'm not complaining. Discovering these little secrets about the world is what travel is all about.
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We didn't want to eat at one of the tourist restaurants at Uxmal but TripAdvisor found us a good restaurant on the road not far away. After a solid meal with draft beer we were sufficiently refreshed to proceed to the last city on our itinerary.
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The main reason I'd chosen Oxkutzcab for our itinerary was the large wholesale produce market which would be in prime form on a Saturday morning. If I'd known that we'd be getting our fill of one of the best markets in Mexico in Campeche I might not have bothered. In fact, Oxkutzcab was a little bit of a letdown as the market was smaller and less energetic than Campeche, although it did have a beautiful mural on the front wall. Once we'd had breakfast we walked briefly around the center of town but aside from the picturesque old church across from the market there wasn't much of interest. At least we had satisfied our curiosity about whether we were missing anything by not stopping in any of the smaller towns on the peninsula.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 05:21 Archived in Mexico

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