Travel Journal #3 — La Gran Aventura

food marketVamos!” rang out as a pack of six Americans scurried from one sidewalk to the other, challenging the car billowing towards them to a game of “can the chicken get to the other side?” Late morning meant the sun was beginning to release its wrath on the busy sidewalks of the centro. We were looking for the bus terminal, the one Sarah Bugg had seen a few days prior that she swore was just around every “next corner.” Good thing our Spanish is improving! “Donde esta la terminal de camiones?” (Where is the bus terminal?) “Three blocks south and two blocks east.” Southeast we bustled. “Donde esta la terminal de camiones?” “Two blocks north and three blocks west” About-turn. From an aerial view we must have looked like rats searching for the cheese at the end of the maze. This is exactly what we expected and at the first sign of any frustration we reminded our comrades, “Es una aventura!students taking a tricicleta
We had decided the day before to head out in the morning for the bus terminal, pick a city no more than about two hours from Merida and go explore. Well, that is precisely what we did. No maps, no set destination, a few pesos in our pockets and off we went. The first bus terminal we found provided transportation to only Ticul, a small city about a one hour and 20 minutes drive south of Merida known for its many zapaterias (shoe stores) and ceramicas de barro (earthenware pottery). Tickets in hand and about 20 minutes to spare, Lilly Brooks reminded us all of a tempting panaderia (bakery) we passed not far from the terminal. With our mouth-watering pan dulces (sweet breads), or a very recognizable chocolate-frosted donut with sprinkles that Nolan Weddle enthusiastically selected, packed in our bags we were ready to ship out!
Before I lose myself completely in the telling of this aventura, I must express the hypnotic effect the panaderias have on my poor, weak soul. At any point in the day they emit the most tantalizing aroma. Knowing pan dulces tend to lack beneficial contribution to one’s health goals, this antagonizing tickle that immediately travels from your nose straight to the deepest depths of your being is hard enough to resist. Throw in their seemingly omnipresence on every streetcorner of every neighborhood, and I’m as good as dead. At least one would think. The only thing preventing me from complete gluttony of these sweet, yeasty perfections is an equally captivating treat called the paleta de coco (coconut popsicles). Which brings me back to la aventura.ceramics by Ticul artisans
As we drove into the city, the heavy presence of pottery shops was clearly seen. As the anticipation to discover a new city grew, so did that beast inside, growling for more Mexican cuisine. When our feet hit the pavement, our eyes were peeled for one of the many restaurants that are ready to serve us a delectable meal to soothe our hunger pangs. After a good 45 minutes and a few circles around the city center, no luck. Not one restaurant. Surely the people of Ticul like to eat? When we randomly wandered upon the city’s “food court,” a row of about 15 small kitchen booths, we were not aware of how perfect our food selection would feed into our “adventure” mindset for the day.
Panuchos (stuffed tortillas) were the order of the day for half of our clan. Fried pork chops — heavy, crunchy, and everything a fried meat should be — was another selection. Me, always blessed or cursed with the “I want to try as many new things as I can” mindset, ordered a dish, relleno negro, lacking any sure knowledge of what would come my way. Interesting, yet appetizing, it was a steaming bowl of black broth with chicken and two additional floating masses. One was a corn product, similar to masa, stuffed with an egg. The other, clearly identified after a generous bite, was fat — pure grasa at its best. Lily’s order, however simple, took the cake for most memorable. She, being a vegetarian, ordered what she thought was a Mexican style sandwich sin carne (without meat). When three ham and cheese tacos were placed in front of her, she politely reminded the young lady that she requested her food come sin carne. As if straight out of the film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the young lady looked Lily straight in the eyes and reasoned, “No es carne; es Jamon (It is not meat; it is ham).” Es una aventura for sure!vases by Ticul artisans
With full stomachs and our energy renewed by good laughs, we set out to see some pottery. Deciding to embrace Ticul’s use of tricicletas (tricycles with a cart for sitting) for public transportation, we split the group. Sarah Bugg and I rode in one, and everyone else (we later discovered as an over-packed cart went flying by us) in the other. The pottery was beautiful! We even were taken to the back of one shop to see the production process. I was thrilled, being an art major with a focus in ceramics, to be able to see their process. They brought in the clay which was dug up right there in Ticul, broke it down, and immersed it in water. After they created the various forms they desired, often using molds, they fired the pieces in their very own kiln.
As the day dwindled down, we peeled ourselves away from the pottery shops and headed back to the centro by means of another tricicleta. Guided by an amigo who explained he enjoyed helping tourists on his days off, we ended our time in Ticul the best way I know how — helado (ice cream). Cue the paleta de coco! A few of us have discovered the phenomenon of these Mexican fruit pops that are made from a dense concentration of strictly the fruits that flavor them. I’m a lover of all things coconut and therefore have fallen head over heals for the paleta de coco. Like coconut ice cream, the paleta de coco is refreshing, cool, and the perfect salvation from a toasty afternoon, but that is not even the best part. It is chock-full of real coconut shavings! Ho-la! Melting from extensive exploring in the heat all day long, we snapped a picture with our amigo tour guide and headed back to the terminal to begin our journey back to Merida.church fountain
With each passing day Merida is quickly becoming home, but she never seems to stop surprising us! The night we returned from our aventura, hungry again, Sarah Bugg and I eyed an al pastor tacos cart we couldn’t resist. After reminding us of our undeniable identification as “gringas,” he prepared two tacos, our eyes growing as the cheese piled high over the tortilla. Deliciosos! We then were pleasantly surprised as we witnessed the weekly festival that graces Merida every Saturday evening. Traditional dancing and music, more traditional Yucatan food than you could imagine, and yes, more helado.
Homestay life is captivating. Every conversation with my mama brings new jokes, new laughs, and so much more Spanish! Every meal she prepares is mouthwatering. Merida is a city I’m quickly falling in love with. Ticul was a wonderful day of adventure, but only a sliver of la gran aventura with which I’m consumed.
by Demi Landstedt ’14, currently participating in the Centre-in-Merida study abroad program. Learn more about study abroad in Merida.
PHOTOS (top to bottom): A Mayan statue guards the centro of Ticul, using a tricicleta as transportation around town, barro (clay) pieces for sale in the marketplaces, vases created by local artisans, and a fountain near a Catholic church in Ticul.

By |2012-03-05T10:51:58+00:00March 5th, 2012|News, Study Abroad, Leadership Programs|