Holbox Island – Merida: Flamingoes, Techno and Shamans

Holbox:

Nini, Nattie and I headed from one paradise island to another.

Holbox, like Isla Mujeres, has a reputation for parties and beaches and nothing much else. I swam and read during the daytime (‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ – would recommend).

We explored the glorious beaches a little during our first day (and by explored, I mean lay down on them), and turned to the nightlife for more substantial entertainment in the evening. A techno club called ‘Maji’ was rumoured to be the spot for the night. I slipped in for free and realised that I in fact…. love techno. This surprised me because in Manny I was always the first to veto a techno night. Apparently I just did that for attention.

Whilst grabbing a drink, I saw the silhouette of a tall, dark-haired man. He began trying to strike up conversation, but I could not hear him over the music. He handed me his phone so that we could write our chat out on his notes app.

Where are you from? read his first note.

England, you? I responded.

Amsterdam, he replied.

All of the boys that I’ve met from Amsterdam on this trip have been wankers, I wrote back.

He read the message, and him and his friends laughed.

What is a wanker? What do we do to be wankers?

Hmm, quite sexist/arrogant/vain.

Again, they laughed (twas all fun and games, no offence intended to my wanker Amsterdam readers).

3 hours of note writing ensued: both of us danced with separate friends, passing the phone over swathes of party-goers every few minutes. Conversation meandered to family, ambition and poetry. My friends and I opted to leave and go for an early morning ocean swim; I passed the phone back and forgot to say goodbye. Alas, I will never know whether my Amsterdam non-lover was in fact a wanker. Or whether his love for Maya Angelou was legit. Or, indeed, what he looked like.

Recommendations:

  • We stayed in ‘Tribu’, which is one of two hostels that backpackers on the island tend to opt for. Tribu is renowned for being the more mature of the two – by which I mean there is slightly less dried vomit there than the other hostel, Che. Tribu grew on me (at first I didn’t like it because I thought there were too many Spirituals staying there, but I got over it when the Spirituals took us to good sunset bars). There was a very wholesome Open Mic night and a happening bar. Alternatively, Che has a sticky bar and pool and is awash with tequila, twerking and semen. If you prefer a 24/7 party, stay there – although we visited for an hour one evening and it was quite sufficient.
  • If you, like me, get claustrophobic in settings when it is difficult to be busy, then 3 days in Holbox is enough. There are some cool tours (e.g. kayaking through the mangroves) but they are expensive. The primary activity to be done is to walk to the famed ‘Punto Mosquito’, which can be reached by wading for an hour through sand bars that jut into the sea. If you are lucky, you will be rewarded with flamingo glimpses. But, as inferred by the destination’s namesake, you’ll need bug spray.

Merida:

Many travellers skip Merida, which is a real shame because I absolutely loved it. Others in our temporary travelling group went on to Vallodalid, but the Mexies that I mentioned in my first blog from this trip insisted that Merida was fabulous. It is one of the safest cities in Mexico. Its architecture is quaint and colonial. At its core is a huge, sprawling market that snakes through buildings, streets and basements – a Latin American bazaar . There is ample food, artisan goods and quirky finds if you have the energy to scrounge.

The museums were all closed due to Covid (booo). However, in the evening, the town squares were illuminated with yellow lighting and music. The salsa bar ‘Mercado 60’ was our treasured find – complete with live salsa band and lots of very sexy dancing Mexicans.

I could have spent the entire weekend wandering. Instead, a friend and I headed to Izamal for a day trip, which is a town known for being Mexico’s ‘yellow city’. And it really is yellow. The paint is dusty and stark – my black rucksack is now permanently powdered mustard. There is also a beautiful, crumbling ruin at its centre, which can be climbed to reveal magnificent jungle views.

Anyway, back to Merida. As I first entered my hostel, I noticed an unsmiling woman barking demands at the receptionist. Her eyes were cold and her demeanour arrogant. A friend of hers hovered behind her.

The hostile lady asked to have a look around my dorm room. She peered inside, and looked amused.

‘So this is the type of place where boys and girls are allowed to sleep in the same room?’

‘Yep’, I replied.

‘I was in a hospital like that once,’ she said. ‘There was a man opposite me. A gay man.’

‘OK,’ I said.

‘He always invited his gay friends to come see him; the hospital was full of them. I don’t mind, so long as they aren’t molesting children,’

Stunned, I looked back at her.

‘Why would they possibly do that?’ I asked.

She ignored me and left the room.

The next morning, her shyer friend came and sat beside me. I stiffened.

‘Hi,’ she said. ‘I’m Natalia. Do you mind if I come sit here? I need to hide from the woman I’m travelling with,’

I relaxed, relieved.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘She made a disgusting homophobic comment yesterday.’

‘I’m so embarrassed that people think that we’re travelling together,’ she replied.

I learned that they were both Russian-born Canadians whose daughters attended the same school. Natalia explained that she had not known her travelling companion well prior to their departure.

‘She is disrespectful to the locals; she gets angry with them if they don’t speak English. And she doesn’t understand hostel life; she barks orders at the staff and expects expensive hotel treatment wherever we go. She was racist about you, too…’ (bit awkward)… ‘Something in her needs to change.’

This story is going somewhere, I promise.

That evening, myself and a couple of guys came back to the hostel from drinks in town. The two women returned at the same time, drunk and giddy.

‘Guess what!’ gasped Natalia. Her friend was close behind.

‘What?’ I laughed.

‘It happened! Something happened to change her!’

She turned to her No-Longer-Rude friend.

No-Longer-Rude friend took to the stage.

‘I was lost in the city, and I don’t have a SIM card,’ she explained. ‘A man approached me, and informed me that I needed to come with him. And he took me to a shaman.’

Natalia nodded enthusiastically from behind.

‘The shaman said that my aura was the wrong colour; it was blue. It shouldn’t be blue, he said. I told him I was just lost, and that I was looking for my friend. He replied that I wasn’t lost; I was meant to find him today.

‘Then, he began performing cleansing rituals on me, just silently. I was filled with emotion. Before I knew it, I was on the floor, sobbing. Something in me is shifted; I see the way I need to change . He told me that it will take time. But I can do it.’

We love a happy ending. Let’s hope Mr Shaman has shifted her (very fucking offensive) outlook.

Recommendations:

Absolutely, definitely, stay in ‘Hostal Boutique Casa Gaza’. It is aesthetically and sentimentally gorgeous. It has the feel of a stately home, and is a perfect equilibrium of socialising and solitude (which was needed after a couple of intense weeks). The very yummy breakfast is included, and changes every day.

  • The food is Merida is quite expensive. Aside from the market (which closes early), there is a saving grace: a restaurant selling Gordita’s (little Mexican pita sandwiches) for about 70p each near the town centre. I think the restaurant is called ‘Gorditas Doña Gorda’. There is a myriad of flavours to sample, dank complementary salsas and many veggie options.

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