Monday, April 20, 2009

Tips for driving in Bangalore

After two years of disciplined driving in Monterry - following lanes, waiting at signal, not honking and other boring traffic rules, I feel very much at home to be driving again on Bangalore roads infamous for it's traffic. Surprisingly with all that obeying of traffic rules, Monterrey roads were more prone to accidents and deaths than Bangalore ones...We Rock! I thought of giving tips to new drivers, both domestic and international, who're brave enough to attempt driving on Bangalore roads.

  • I hypothesize that the summation of stray dogs + potholes + speed breakers > number of vehicles on road. In case you find stray dogs, slow down your motorcycle if you don't want to be chased and attacked by the ugly pack of stray dogs. In case you're in car and you're not an animal lover I would suggest you to run over them.
  • Potholes have been very lucrative to orthopedists in Bangalore, for most bikers end up at an orthopedist after suffering acute back aches or disastrous fall. Try to visualize the road a priori and slowdown at potholes.
  • Speed breakers come in various flavours. At some places, there won't be any difference between speed breakers and the road dividers, they're as high and as keep your breaks in good condition. Some others are aimed at helping you digest your food quickly, they're almost like a high-frequency high-amplitude sinusoidal wave making every car part and body part vibrate rhythmically. Others are some kinda uneven patch of protruding asphalt, formed by an attempt to fill-in a pothole which would give you one quick random jerk enough to chuck you from your profoundest reverie. There are natural speed breakers too, holy cow!
  • If you're planning to drive in unusual hours (early morning or late night), signals don't mean a shit. If you see a green light, don't read it as a may prove fatal. Watch out before you cross. For your own safety, follow this all the time.
  • Paint companies in India have been making excessive profits and they've been donating paints to traffic police. That's why you see white and yellow lines on the road at some places, which the cops call "Lanes". As a driver, they don't mean a thing to you, just ignore them to drive safely.
  • You may happen to see great deep chasms in the earth, as though the city has been hit by a terrific earthquake or something. Don't exclaim, it's the BCC's (Bangalore City Corporation) infrastructural underground work which was completed 5 years ago. Just that they forgot to cover up. Exercise extra precaution at such places during rains.
  • Some basic rules just don't work in Bangalore. Say you're on a crowded highway and want to make left turn, a guy on the right most side of the road makes the turn as easily and carelessly as a guy a guy on the left most side. He is always ready to take the curse of everybody along the width of the road, awaiting to go straight or turn right. Have patience, and curse if you like.
  • Honking is a part of our culture, you don't honk you're outlawed. Sometimes you feel that the green light at the traffic automatically presses the honking buttons on all vehicles. The moment there is a green signal, the whole area becomes a cacophonous chaos. If you don't want to be annoyed, you do the noise cancellation audio phones work.
  • There are certain privileged vehicles on road which are exempt from all the road rules and regulations. They may crash on you, they may curse you, they can drive both ways on a one way, they can drive on footpath, they can drive on prohibited roads, they can overload their vehicles - they're always righteous. We call them auto-rickshaws or autos with love. It's easy to recognize them, they're three wheeled taxis painted yellow and black. Just stay away from them.
  • Indicators are misleading, you happen to see people turning right with left indicators on. Beware! And it's not too uncommon to see a car with it's right indicator ON having another car to it's right with the latter having it's left indicator ON and a motorcyclist in between them!
  • Maintain distance from the vehicle behind you, even though it sounds impractical. Throughout the world, when you're banged from behind it's the mistake of the person who banged you. But in Bangalore it's your mistake to break hard and stop suddenly. In fact, it happened to me that this auto guy smashed into my car's trunk and he shouted at me for stopping suddenly. I told him I had stop to avoid bumping into the car ahead of me. He then went to him and questioned the same...he infact continued all the way till the first car in the chain to demand justice!!!
  • May sound contradictory to the previous statement, but don't maintain distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. If you do so, the gap will be tactfully occupied either by a biker or a auto driver...most likely the latter. Or maybe you'll be honked to occupy that gap. So stay as close to the vehicle the front as possible.
  • Maintain distance while overtaking a bus, you may be disgustingly expectorated upon by the passengers. You're lucky if it's normal spit, sometimes you may be colourfully showered by dashing red of the betel leaf juice or yucky yellow sputum or worse still you may be puked upon.
  • Don't speed blindly upon high speed flyovers or highways...we're too populated and we keep crossing roads almost everywhere. Killing a pedestrian on road, even if it's his mistake, may end you up in a prison. Worse still, you maybe beaten to death by others.
  • In case of accidents, don't expect your insurance guy to drive down and inspect on the spot. The best thing to happen, in case, you're physically and verbally stronger is to get some bucks from the person if it's his mistake. Worst thing to happen is to get beaten up and verbally abused despite others' mistake.
  • Stay away from huge lorries (trucks), coz the drivers are given license only when the make sure that they can't see the small motorcyclists on the road. If you're on a motorcycle, you may appear like a fly or a rat or something...maintain healthy distance.
  • A jacket is highly recommended if you don't want to be surprised by seeing a brown shirt in the office, while it was dashing white at home. Dust levels and pollution have raised to great extents, zip up your jackets and wear your helmets. They may save you from being hurt too.
  • Keep an eye on the calender, on some festivals the Gods land on the road and the cops protect them with barricades and hence either the routes gets changed or the roads get narrower, which would lead to the famed "Traffic Jams". It's the same case before elections, just that in place of Gods, unworthy politicians block the traffic. Watch out and start early.
  • Cops are friendly, just have smaller bills to deal with them. Don't expect them to treat you with respect like they do in other countries. You'll be treated like shit but they're nice by heart. But don't drink and drive, that may cost you more and your vehicle maybe confiscated, unless you have a sober friend with you who can drive.
  • Night driving is a nightmare in Bangalore. Somehow I feel most of us have congential night vision eyes, the headlights are switched on not at dusk but when it's pitch dark. Normally twilight in Bangalore is around 6:15, but the lights will not be switched on not until 7. Not just that, the beginning of the road dividers does not have any reflectors, out of the blue a the dividers start which is a killer on the road.
  • Pedestrians are the mortals who have absolutely no priority whatsoever on the road. Even a bicyclist does not stop for you to cross the road, forget about the motor vehicles. Crossing a busy road gives you as much adrenaline rush as bungee jumping or sky-diving. I'm an atheist, but everytime I cross the road in front of my office, I end up having God's name on my lips.
  • It's indeed an art to drive on Bangalore roads. It requires a perfect amalgamation of alertness, precision, responsiveness and deftness in your own driving and empathy, anger, kindness and brotherhood for others. Ain't no big deal driving on roads where rules are followed, for sure it's one helluva thrill to drive on roads of Namma Bengaluru
Related post: 10 Tips for Foreigners Driving in Mexico

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Weekend in woods

I guess this is my first ever blog entry with photographs from my own country. I'm gonna keep it less verbose. It's the most dynamic trip I ever went, with absolutely no plan and destination undecided. When we left my place in the evening, I remember telling my parents that we shall be staying in Mysore and heading to Coorg the next morning. Even after reaching Mysore, we were still arguing whether to stay in Mysore or continue to Coorg or head to Ooty. We agreed upon the latter option and took the road towards Nanjangud, Gundlupet. At Gundlupet, we missed the road and did a 100km+ detour by unwittingly entering Kerala. Instead of entering Bandipur reserve (NH67), we took the Mulehole, Sultan Bathery route (NH212). We reached Gudalur at 7 in the morning and we rented a lodge for a couple of hours for freshening up.

We passed through Mudumalai reserved forest area, like a snail, hoping to find some wildlife, we could spot few deers and black faced monkeys. We saw elephants and tigers only on the warning boards that read "Elephants crossing zone" or "Help protect tigers" but not the living ones. The forest was kinda dry due to heat. We reached Masinagudi and decided to stay there in some jungle resort. In the noon, we spent time walking in the woods with a guide, trying to find something. All we found were a dozen of black faced monkeys and truck load of elephant excrement but not a single elephant. Later in the evening, we took safari but that again was disheartening. We found a carcass of a cattle mangled by some carnivore, bison beyond my camera range and as usual, deers were ubiquitous. We dined and wined well in the resort.

We were still chasing dreams of seeing wildlife the next morning, we went for a trek with a guide from our resort. All we found were deers and dumps of elephants. The guide told us at some point that he could smell elephants, trying to make us happy by the miasma of the forest, but we were disappointed. We had rubbery chapatis for breakfast and took leave from the resort and head towards Ooty. We had to climb the nilgiris ghat section (winding roads among the mountains) and the car had it's toughest time doing that. Maruthi Alto suck when it comes to passing a ghat section, it didn't allow us to shift the gear to second from first.

Ooty is a hillstation in the state of Tamilnadu, known for it's pleasant weather and tea estates, it's a popular mid-range honeymoon destination. The weekend crowd in Ooty was at it's peak, the weather was balmy but the traffic was bad. We wanted to go to Botanical gardens, but it was overcrowded and the price for taking the camera in was very discouraging. We did some chocolate shopping in Modern market (near Botanical gardens), had lunch at Hyderabad biryani house and left to Coonoor.

Coonoor is yet another hill station, less crowded than Ooty. It's located just 20km from Ooty and it's got an army regiment which explains the presence of army men in the city. It's an old and calm city with many monuments from British era. One of this tour guide, made us change the decision of entering Sims park. Paying 50 rupees to him, we took a tour to one of the tea gardens and a tea factory. He told us that it's the place where a song from Raja Hindustani was shot, though I haven't seen that song. The landscape was nice, we got up-close-and-personal with tea plantations and the tea factory was interesting too. From there, we came back to Ooty and had dinner.

We started our return journey after dinner, we passed through Masinagudi and Bandipur forests slowly, spotting few deers and a bison. We planned to goto NagarhoLe reserve from Mysore, but once we reached Mysore, we were all so exhausted that we called the idea off. We stopped at the grand Mysore Palace for a short while for photographing and came back to Bangalore.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nevado de Toluca

I have this unquenchable desire for exploring volcanoes, you give me a choice between blue Caribbean beaches, golden yellow deserts, frozen tundras and volcanoes...I would go for the last one allowing my heart to make the decision and not brain. Having less than a week at my disposal in Mexico and despite ticket screw-up we could still make it to the volcano Nevado de Toluca!

Located at an altitude of 4700m, Nevado de Toluca is the fourth highest extinct volcano in Mexico (after the volcanoes Pico de Orizaba in Veracruz, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl in Puebla) that belongs to Transvolcanic belt of Mexico. It also has got a tongue-twisting Nahuatl name Xinantécatl, which would take atleast 10 attempts to get it right. The volcano is about 22km from city of Toluca in the state of Mexico. The caldera of the volcano is about 1.5Km long and has two precious lakes, lago del sol and lago de la luna divided by a small mountain. It's last eruption happened in 1330 and it's extinct since then. The speciality of this volcano is, it's the only volcano whose crater could be accessed by a normal car, not even a 4x4 is needed.

We reached Toluca airport by 9 in the morning and Ricardo picked us from airport at 9:20. Ricardo got off at his house and gave use directions to get out of Toluca city to head towards the volcano. We thanked him and countinued in Lupita's Renault Clio to the volcano, after a small stop-over for road side tamales (chicken or poblano chillis in green or red salsa) and atole de coco (coconut flavoured corn malt drink). We hit the highway 134 and we could see the giant volcano at the horizon, like a white cloud. We turned left at highway 10, that leads to entrance of the park, parque de los Venados (entrance 20 pesos per car). From there it's a 17km metal road that leads all the way to crater. The journey is a very picturesque one, winding dusty roads amidst dense pine forests with the view of the snow capped volcano approaching nearer every turn.

As we got closer, the volcano unveiled it's stony texture with a kiss of snow, surrounded by golden yellow grasslands. Six kilometers from the crater, is a gate with a small store selling water and juice, also there is a toilet and parking space. From here you can either continue in your car until caldera or hike up for 2km along the scenic pass, Paso de Quetzal. We chose the latter method and started the not-so-steep-looking hike. Trust me that short and easy looking hike made us pant like exhausted hounds, due to the altitude. We lived in Monterrey which was around 500m above the sea level, while Nevado was around 4700m high. The oxygen was highly depleted and every step of the hike had to be done like a tortoise. Behind us, the big valley of Toluca city was covered by an ugly layer of polluted clouds that met the clear blue skies at the horizon. As we reached the peak, the breathtaking view of the lakes and the caldera made us forget our exhaustion.

On to the left is the smaller but deeper la laguna de la luna (the moon lake) and on the right is the larger and greener la laguna del sol (the sun lake) both separated by a small hill. The sun lake is surrounded by gigantic dusty walls of the volcano, while the moon lake has an approach for the vehicles. When started descending to the moon lake, on the high mountains a huge apparition of cloud started forming, but the sky was mostly clear except for this cloud and the sun shone bright. The descent to the lake is along the dusty volcanic screes but a quick one. I unbuckled my shoes and wet my feet in the moon lake, water is clean but freezing and there were stone small stone boulders everywhere on the banks and inside the lake. By this time, the ghostly cloud had spread all over; we could feel the fall in mercury levels.

We spent not more than 10 minutes at the moon lake and started walking towards the sun lake, temperature fell further and it was very noticeable. As we reached the big green sun lake, we saw the clouds entering the valley at a very low altitude and a very light snow-fall started. We wanted to go around the lake, but a guide suggested us not to do so for the weather was getting worse. We spent another 10 minutes at the lake and started ascending, the snow-fall gradually increased too. By the time we reached the point, from where we had started the descent, the snow-fall had accelerated and the same landscape with dusty brown screes were now covered with thin bright carpet of snow. I guess there was atleast 15 degrees drop in mercury levels in a matter of 20 minutes. I had never seen snow in Mexico and thanks to Nacho, I happened to see it just 2 days before my departure.

We enjoyed every moment in snow before we started our descent to the car. As we started our journey back, the clouds started clearing. We drove slowly enjoying the scenary and when we reached highway 134, we again saw the volcano was consumed by vast dense cloud expanse. We head to Toluca centro and had lunch of tacos de cecina (thin salted beef cuts) and spent rest of the evening with the company of Lupita, Sandra and Ricardo. Before I end the article, I would like to thank wholeheartedly to Nacho for arranging the whole thing, Lupita for lending her car, Ricardo for picking us in the airport and Sandra for accompanying us and accommodating at their place.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Of Pyramids and Pelicans

As my days in Mexico was getting over, I realized that I had never been to Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world. It's like you go to Egypt and don't see pyramids!!! So without too much planning and contemplation, I booked the flight tickets to Merida, the capital of the state and wandered around the city, unfortunately for just 4 days. Nevertheless these four days were filled with vivid activities ranging from Mayan ruins to beaches, from colonial city to nature tours. Read on for more!

Yucatán is one of the Mexican states on the northern part of Yucatán peninsula, which is composed of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo. To it's south-east is Quintana Roo, famed for the famous gringo destination - Cancun and to it's south-west is the state of Campeche. On it's northern side is the Gulf of Mexico, from which one can easily sail to Tabasco or Veracruz states towards west, Brownsville or Miami cities to the north, Cuba to the east.

Day 1: Tulum

It was about an hour and half long journey by air, from Monterrey to Merida. As we landed at the Merida airport at 9AM, we walked for 10 minutes till the highway and awaited for a local transportation. One can also take taxi to city, but we were one of those poor travellers wanting to save money. We boarded the bus which cost us as less as 5 pesos and dropped us at the ADO bus-station. We bought the earliest available (at 10:40AM) bus-ticket to Tulum which cost us 194 pesos per person. We wanted to travel in second class bus, but we couldn't find the tickets anything earlier than afternoon.

We walked across the street to grab something for breakfast, we had some delicious huevos rancheros (sunnyside-up eggs in salsa served with tortillas) and tamales (chicken and salsa stuffed inside corn-dough), bought water and waited for boarding at the ADO busstation. It takes 4 hours to reach Merida, with a 10 minutes break in the city of Valladolid. By 3, we alighted at the Tulum busstation and found rooms at Weary Traveller hostel on the main street of Tulum and checked in. It was not the same Tulum, which I had seen an year and half ago. It was much developed, with ugly commercial buildings and exponentially grown crowd.

The weather was perfect, the sunlight was warm and mild and skies were artistically clouded. We grabbed some beer and snacks at Cervefria, the alcohol vending shop and took taxi to the beach (costs 45 pesos). We hit the ruins before entering the beach, there were great colourful birds chirping and welcoming us to the ruins. We arrived at the entrance by 5:00 and had just 30 minutes to explore the ruins before it's closure. We quickly passed through the ruins to the historical viewpoint, where one can see the magnificent "Temple of God of Winds" overlooking the deep blue Caribbean. It looked extremely picturesque in the golden evening sunlight and artistic skies and the deep blue waters and white sands of Tulum.

We walked back to the beach and started swilling the beer and entered the beach. The place was dirtied with sea weeds but it was a great pleasure to wet ourselves in the deep blue sea and walk on the soft white sands of Tulum. We spent time in the beach till the dusk and head back to the city of Tulum and had delicious roadside tamales of rajas con queso (poblano chilies with cheese) and pollo en salsa verde (chicken in green salsa). We then explored the Tulum town, there was some kinda fair going on. Before retiring to the hostel, we bought the tickets to Chichen Itza (118 pesos per person in first class ADO bus) for the next day.

Day 2: Chichen Itza

At 15 minutes past 9 on a bright morning, we were boarding the bus to Chichen Itza from Tulum's ADO busstation. It was about two and hours journey via Valladolid to Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world. It was blazing hot when we alighted the bus at Chichen Itza, it stopped right in front of the entrance to the ruins. We first bought at our bus-tickets to Merida from Piste (neighbouring village), bought the tickets to the ruins (111 pesos per person), left our bags at the cloakroom, slung our cameras, smeared sunscreem and set out to explore the great ruins of Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza, translates to "at the mouth of Itza's well", where Itza were the dominant tribes. As we passed through the entrance gates and started our promenade, the first structure that we encountered was a gigantic and brilliantly constructed pyramid, El Castillo. It's one of the most magnificent, tidiest and best maintained pyramid I have ever seen in Mexico. On all 4 sides, there are stairways leading to the four sides of the temple on the top of the pyramid. During the solstices, the edges of the pyramid casts a shadow of the plumed serpent (Quetzalcuatl) on the northern stairway, which ends with the feathered serpent head. It seems after Chichen Itza was declared as one of the seven wonders, climbing the pyramid or any other structures is prohibited.

We head to Templo de los Guerreros, the temple of the warriors is a stepped pyramidal structure with columns depicting the warriors and a Chac-mool on the top with brick walls surrounding. The top of the stairway has beautiful sculpted eagle heads. Next to it is Plaza de mil columnas, the thousand columns group. It's got stone columns on the south and west of the temple of the warriors, the entry among the columns is banned. The south face of the wall on temple of the warriors depict two warriors. We then head to El Mercado, the market where the stone pillars surround the central square where the Mayas used to sell their artworks.

We then head to Cenote Sagrado, the sacred cenote or the sacred well. It's a big natural well, very tempting to strip off and dive to beat the tropical heat. It was mainly used for human sacrifice and religious offerings. When Thompson dredged the well, along with offerings of gold, jade, cloth he found skeletons of humans. I overheard one of the guides telling that the bed of the cenote still has countless skeletons raising the level of the waters.

From cenote, we passed through the Platform of the Venus, to Juego de Pelota, the great ball court. It was indeed one of the biggest ball courts I've ever seen in Mexico. It was surprising to see the stone ring 9m above the ground, I kept wondering how the players could have thrown the heavy ball inside the ring.

El Ossario or the high priests' temple is a smaller version of El Castillo. We proceeded to El Caracol, which was used as an observatory tower by the smart Mayas. La Iglesia, the church has a brilliantly ornate tower, the sculptings are very similar to what I found in Uxmal. It was nearing 5:30 in the evening and the ruins were closing down. We rushed back to the entrance, relaxed for a while and took taxi to the village of Piste.

We had our lunch-cum-dinner at Restaurante Fabiola near the central plaza in Piste and took second class bus (costs 60 pesos per person) Merida at 6:30 in the evening. We reached Merida in two and half hours, we alighted very close to our hostel and navigated without any problems. Merida's streets have a very intuitive numbering mechanism, the streets running from east to west are even numbered and ones running from north to south are odd numbered. This makes navigation extremely easy, the addresses are always specified in terms of actual street between the two cross streets. The address of our hostel, for example, was street 61 between 50 and 52.

Edwin, the owner of the hostel La Casa del Tio Dach, is very warm and welcoming host. He introduced the whole city of Merida through a map as soon as we entered and ushered us to our room. The hostel is also an art gallery, he has displayed artworks and findings from Yucatan state. Both the room as well as toilet were very clean and tidy, though the bed was a little hard for me. The weather was sultry, we hit the shower and walked up to the centro to grab a bite. It was Sunday night and everything was shuttered down. I could find few roadside places selling out their last few tamales. We retired to bed early due to the exhaustion and also to start early the next day.

Day 3: Celestun, Merida Downtown

Edwin had told us how to get to Celestun on the previous night and we followed his instructions. We were up and out by 5:40 in the morning and walked to the intersection of 50 and 67, that's where we found Noreste bus terminal. The first bus (costs 46 pesos per person) to Celestun starts at 6 in the morning from Noreste bus terminal, though it usually starts at 6:10 or 6:15.

Celestun is a small rustic fishing village about 90Km from Merida, known for it's eco-tourism, especially the flamingo tour. It's got very few hotels and several small sea-food restaurants. The beach here is very tranquil with a greenish tinge. It's usually crowded with albatrosses, pelicans and seagulls. The coastline acts as a parking space for most of the fishing and touring boats. The bus stops at the centro and the beach is stones throw away from the central plaza. Celestun is a big estuary and the river ria Celestun, which joins the Gulf of Mexico is a breeding ground for flamingos. The guide told us that the river is fertile with some kind of shrimps which the flamingos binge on and that's the reason they populate the river.

We were ushered to the boat, by one of the guide who fished us as soon as we alighted from the bus. They usually charge 150-200 pesos per person depending on number of people filling the boat, for which you get a breezy 2.5 hours long cruise on the Gulf of Mexico and Ria Celestun. Enroute, we saw a pod of pelicans feeding and flying around, few black egrets and terns. We then entered the river and head straight to the pelican breeding grounds. I reckoned that the river wasn't too deep, for there were people fishing with their legs on sand underneath, though it left me pondering about their courage, for the river, I was told, was crowded with crocodiles.

I saw a red belt ahead but quite far, it was a huge stand of pelicans, few flying in, few flying out, few basking in the sun, few busy munching. They were extremely picturesque, blue of the sky, green of the mangroves, bluish-green water and a the pinkish-red of those lovely birds. There were two groups, one was of faint rose hue and the other were of dashing pink. The guide told us that the lighter coloured ones are the young ones and the darker ones were the adolescents. I was cursing that my lens was a bit too short (200mm) for shooting the flamingos, I think the Gods heard my concern and like a bolt in the blue, the whole stand of flamingos started a rhythmic noisy take-off and formed a beautiful pink carpet in the sky!!! I thanked those flamingos for not disappointing me and the guide turned the boat.

He took us deep inside some mangroves before stopping at a place called, Ojo de Agua. It's a sweet water stream with some rare fishes and other aquatic life, which cannot survive in the big river or ocean. The driver told us to be back in 20 minutes and told us we can swim there if we liked. I had not carried spare undies or towel, but couldn't resist the temptation of that crystal clear blue waters, I stripped down to my underwear and 1-2-3 I was in the air and inside the water. It was so damn refreshing and rejuvinating, it brought back memoirs of Cuatro Cienegas. I kinda got dried during the return trip on the boat. We had lunch at one of the small restaurants in the centro and head back to Merida by 12:30 bus.

In Merida, we had a siesta in the hostel before we started out to explore the city by 5. We walked down on 61 till we hit the Zocalo, the central square. The centro of Merida is encircled by the streets 60, 61, 62 and 63. The singularity of the central park is that it's wireless internet enabled. Take your laptop and start browsing for free. The centro also has the Cathedral of Merida, the Governer's palace, the muncipal palace, the house of the Montejo, the Contemporary art museum. All these edifices are of ancient grand colonial architecture.

We sipped a nice coffee at Italian Coffee Company and rambled around centro clicking photographs. We continued walking on street 62 passing the theatre José Peón Contreras all the way close to Paseo Montejo. Just around the square before Paseo Montejo, there was an Oaxacan fair, which sold art and food from Oaxaca. The very sight of it made me nostalgic about the great state of Oaxaca. We had typical Yucatan food at El Castillo, a small restaurant in the square. It consisted of delicious Panuchos, Salbutes (tortillas with shredded turkey, bean paste and onions) and Lime Soup (turkey soup with pieces of tortilla and lime juice).

Post dinner, it started drizzling. We took a taxi to hostel and terminated the day.

Day 4: Uxmal, Paseo Montejo

Our plan for the last day in Yucatan was to explore Uxmal (read Ush-mal) ruins. Taxi was waiting for us outside the hostel, at 5:40 in the morning, which drove us to ADO bus terminal in Merida. We bought tickets to Uxmal (41 pesos per person) and hurried for the waiting room since it was almost 6. It seems the bus had some problem and we started from Merida only at 7, pissed-off and bored. The 80km journey lasted for an hour and a half, we entered the ruins (tickets cost 111 pesos per person) by 9:00AM.

Uxmal ruins belong to Puuc style of architecture of Mayas, those prevalent in the hilly region of Yucatán peninsula. The first structure that one encounters immediately after entering the ruins is Pirámide del Adivino. It's a gigantic reconstructed pyramid (35m high and 53m wide) with oval base, which is very unusual among Mayan pyramids. The legend says that, there was a certain dwarf born to a witch out of an egg. With the intention of being the governer of the city of Uxmal, the dwarf bet with the existing governer, that it can build a pyarmid overnight. It was successful in building the pyramid and proclaimed itself to be the governer of Uxmal city. A sidewalk is constructed around the pyramid and the sides of the stairway are delightfully decorated with huge Chaac Masks. The courtyard in the front of pyramid are some passages with corbel arch and halls with pillared entrances.

Cuadrángulo de las Monjas
, or the Quadrangle of the nuns is a huge patio, situated behind the aforesaid pyramid. The decoration on the walls are of pure Puuc style, the lower walls are plain while upper walls are highly decorated. The corners are made of Chaac masks and serpent heads. The upper walls have greatly preserved their details and are decorated with double headed serpents, quetzal birds and chaac masks.

The ball court is just outside the quadrangle of the nuns and is in a highly deteriorated state. Up on the mound, next to the ball court is located an oustanding building, Palacio de Gobernador, the Governer's palace constructed on a grand platform. It's got a brilliantly decorated upper wall and has got 14 rooms, 11 of them could be accessed from outside. Next to the palace is Casa de las Tortugas, the house of turtles which receives it's name due to the decoration of turtle figures on the walls of the edifice. Behind Governer's palace is La Gran Pirámide, the grand pyramid. It's almost as high as Pirámide del Adivino the steps of which have been reconstructed. Atop the pyramid is a temple with a big Chaac mask as it's deity and the walls have been carved with some geometrical patterns and birds.

Exploring all this easily drained us out of our energy and time. It took nearly 3 hours for us to see the entire ruins in detail, the entrance has a small museum with few findings in the site. We had to walk to the highway and wait till we got a bus to Merida. Once we reached Merida, we had lunch at El Trapiche on street 62 which was recommended by Edwin, the hostel owner. We had Pollo Pibil and chicken in pepper soup which was delicious but heavy, after which we had a siesta.

At 4:30, we went to Paseo Montejo, the widest and the most beautiful avenue in Merida. It's inspired by the grand boulevard of Paris, the avenue has big old trees and wide sidewalks which makes an evening promenade very pleasant. We entered Museo de Antropologia, the Anthropology musem at 5 in the evening, thinking that it closes at 8, but to our misfortune it closed at 5:30 and we just got a glimpse of it. Our evening stroll on this street, was indeed very gratifying. We stopped over at Olive Cafe Stop on the avenue, which served the most delicious cappuccino and had books to read. I highly recommend this place for coffee lovers on a pleasant evening. We continued our stroll upto the highly artistic monument,
Monumento a la Patria, with the Mexican nation flag designed by the Columbian artist Rómulo Rozo. It's a monument on a roundabout with flag on top of a stone human figurine and on the backside is the fountain with the artistic version of Mexican national emblem (eagle hunting down a snake on cactus).

We relaxed for a while on the monument and walked back the whole avenue and went to the theatre, teatro José Peón Contreras for a trova concert. We were the only young crowd with shots and T-shirts in the concert, while the rest of the crowd consisted old ladies and gentlmen dressed formally. The theatre was of old kinds with semi-circular multiple rows of streets with decoration of baby-angels and vines along the walls. The concert was pretty good, but they bored us to death for first 45 minutes with speech. We were out by 10:30 in the night and most cheaper restaurants were already shuttered, we grabbed a roadside burger and retired to hostel.

The next day, we took a bus to airport and flew back to Monterrey.