Monday, July 25, 2011

Encanto colonial. Campeche.


By the time our trip calendar said we were going to be in Campeche, we had already visited three very beautiful Spanish colonial cities - Puebla, Oaxaca, and San Cristóbal de las Casas. I didn't have high expectations for Campeche. No doubt a UNESCO World Heritage but it's a fort city and so I expected a so-so place contained inside stone walls.  The old city is actually quite small; you can walk from one end to the other in about a half hour or so.


When we arrived into Campeche, it was early evening and it was raining gently.  We drove past sections of the city wall and the night lights were just coming on, casting a warm orange glow on the drab gray stone.  

It had been a long travel day and with the rain, I guess Francisco was not sure if were keen to do any sightseeing but after having sat in the van all day, I was glad to be able to stretch my legs.  So, we all agreed to take a walk and see some sights before heading off to the hotel.




Rain can't drown out the charm. Juan Jose drove into the old city which is located inside the walls.  We were greeted by narrow cobblestone streets flanked by colorful Spanish colonial buildings.  I expected so-so.  I got fabulous!  Campeche oozes colonial charm. You can tell that a lot of effort has gone into preserving the colonial buildings.  The streets were clean and there was no graffiti anywhere.   Everything was just so picture perfect Spanish colonial cute.  Unlike Puebla and Oaxaca, the streets of Campeche were not at all crowded either with people or with cars.  I was wonderful to be able to soak in the views without having to worry about cars getting in the way!

Come walk with us courtesy of the videos shot by Ayşe with narration in Turkish :-) This first one is just a walk down the street. See what we saw!


This second video was one that I asked Ayşe to shoot for me.  I wanted to capture the sounds of the Sunday evening church service.


Juan Jose dropped us off at the entrance to what is referred to as the Puerta de Tierra or the Land Gate.  It's the old fort gate that faces the country side.  The Land Gate lies directly opposite the Puerta del Mar or Sea Gate which faces the water.









Such a tourist! Back in the day, Campeche was constantly under attack by pirates and bucaneers.  I guess in homage to that time in the city's history, there was a bit of cheesy display at the Land Gate.   Of course, I had to make the most of the opportunity to be a little cheesy myself :-)







We followed Francisco and exited the gate on the land side.  There, we saw a cannon as well as the moat that used to circumvent the walled city.


It was a quick tour of the Land Gate; not much to see really.   We turned around and went back inside the old city.

I saw the twin bell towers of Catedral de la Concepción Inmaculada (Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) before we even entered the zócalo.


Bingo night! All the landmarks had been lit up.  It was such a pretty sight; there was a warm glow to everything.  We walked under the arched walkway and then crossed the street to the zócalo. In the middle of the large square, surrounded by a well manicured garden, was a raised platform for live band performances.  At the base of the platform, there was a small group of women, seated at tables, holding up umbrellas because it was still raining.  We were curious what they were up to so we walked close by. As we neared, Francisco explained that women often come to the zócalo to play bingo and sure enough, even though it was a Sunday night and it was raining, bingo night was on.  Watching the women, I couldn't help but chuckle....you have to be desperate to want to play bingo in the rain!  If this was the US, the event would have been cancelled due to "weather conditions". 


We walked around the zócalo, taking in all the sights after which we followed Franciso out to the streets of *modern day* Campeche, walking past street vendors who were shutting down business for the night.  A short half block walk later and we were at the hotel.  Juan Jose was already with the van.  We unloaded, checked in and had a few minutes to settle down before heading out to dinner.

A room with a view.  I have to post up this picture for Ayşe.  After she got to her room, she came to ours.....wanted to see what it looked like.  She then wanted me to see hers.  My initial reaction was that she had been put into a really crappy and that she wanted my opinion before lodging a complaint.  Instead, she got put into a phenomenal room - more than spacious for one person and with a killer view of the water.  We had to take a picture to remember the moment by so here it is.  Ayşe's great view from her hotel room in Campeche!

We're hungry and we want coconut shrimp!  As usual, we wanted to eat the regional specialties which in the case of Campeche is camarones al coco or coconut shrimp. Our resident foodie, Juan Jose knew exactly where to take us.  We piled into the car for the short ride to the restaurant which was owned by a friend of Juan Jose's.  The fact that the place it was dark was not a good sign. Sure enough the restaurant was closed for the night....for fumigation.  So,  poor Juan Jose had to find another place to take us.  Round the streets we went.  When we finally arrived, we realized he had taken a very long route to get us back to about a block's distance away from our hotel. We chalked it up to poor Juan Jose being tired.  It is hard driving long hours every day.

When we entered the restaurant, the noise level was deafening.  It wasn't because it was a large restaurant.  Actually, it was a small place.  The noise was generated by three tables of twenty something girls.  They were so loud.  The waitress seated us a table between two groups of girls.  I could barely hear myself think.  Luckily, there was a table a little bit further from the girls and the waitress moved us over.  When the menu came, I looked for my shrimp and I didn't find it.  A bit disappointed.  Instead, I shared the seafood cocktail and seafood tacos with my brother.  They were okay tasting....nothing really memorable.  BUT, no matter how good or bad our food ever was, the company we had always more than made up for it.  Sharing meals with Francisco and Juan Jose was something I looked forward to each day.  We ate, we talked, we laughed and we enjoyed each others company!

By the time dinner was over, it was late and we were all very tired.  Before we called it a night,  I had asked Francisco if the weather was nice tomorrow, whether or not we could walk through the historic city before hitting the road.  I wanted one last opportunity to see the beautiful pastel colored colonial buildings in the light of a sunny day.

Sun and blue skies! We woke to a perfect day today!  After breakfast, we brought out bags down and Juan Jose packed them into the van.  As promised, Francisco would take us on a walk through the historic city.   We followed him down the street, across the road and passed through the Land Gate. It's amazing how much more vibrant everything looks on a bright sunny day!




The square.  We walked back to the zócalo.  The bingo playing ladies were gone which was good because this morning, my eyes were focused on the colorful buildings around the square.  My favorite was the salmon colored government building.  Imagine a US government building painted salmon color.  Would never happen and that's why they're so boring to look at!











Last night I didn't even notice the statues scattered around the square.  Franciso said that this one is a honey seller and he was originally carrying jars of honey in his basket but that vandals destroyed the jars.  Still a beautiful statue.












The Cathedral.  Amidst all the color and art in the square stands the unadorned, white facade of the elegant Cathedral with its twin bell towers.  The Cathedral looks so plain; it looks better lit up at night.


























As far as cathedrals go, the interior was pretty small and very simple looking; no fancy gold altars or big paintings.  The only thing unusual was the black and white checkerboard floor.

The Cemetery. We walked in only long enough to glance down the aisle.  Francisco led the way out the side door.  There, we found ourselves in a small courtyard that also serves as the church's cemetery.  Now, we're talking about something different.

Two small exterior walls had been dedicated to use as the cemetery.  According to Francisco, in the olden days, bodies were actually buried behind the wall.


I don't know if this is true or not.  If it is, it's a bit morbid. Plaques identify the people who were buried in the wall.  The newer of the two walls was comprised of regular sized rectangular compartments.  Each compartment had a number to identify its location and plaque to identify the person whose remains presumably were contained inside the compartment.  Some plaques had multiple names and some had only the death date for one of several persons. 

By now, we had to make our way to the van.  Of course, we strolled alongside the beautiful colored buildings for one last view before continuing on our journey. 


I arrived into Campeche with little expectation of seeing anything memorable. I left wishing I didn't have to.  One day, I will come back and stay longer.

Next destination.  Uxmal.