This article is from the February 1997 The Mexico File newsletter.
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The Rising Chorus  (In Defense of Cancun)

By Bob Klempa

Bob Klempa lives outside of Annapolis, Maryland, and has been traveling to Mexico since 1979. Bob works for the Federal Government and is preparing for retirement in the near future. He has been a subscriber to The Mexico File since 1995. The second part of his article will appear in the April 1999 issue of MF.

I was motivated to write an article for The Mexico File a couple of years ago, but because of a personal problem that article was never written by me. I was therefore captivated by the two-part article (In Defense of Cancún) written by Lynne Doyle in the August/September and October 1998 editions of The Mexico File. I read with great delight Lynne's article, because it followed the same theme that I had wanted to write about a couple of years earlier. Lynne's article rekindled my interest in submitting an article about my travel experiences and thoughts about Cancún and the Yucatán Peninsula.

I have had the pleasure of traveling to Cancún since 1984 and to witness the growth of Cancún into a city of, depending on whom you speak to, and which guidebooks you read, 300 to 500 thousand people. The sheer number of permanent inhabitants all but guarantees a pleasant vacation experience, since the vast majority of the inhabitants in Cancún are there with one goal in mind (for the most part) – to serve the (mostly American) tourist. My first five trips to Cancún were via “packaged” (airfare, hotel, and airport transfers) tour operators (e.g., Apple Tours). However, there was the inevitable switching of hotels (due to overbooking) in Cancún (even with paid for and confirmed reservations) – five years in a row. In most cases they provided me with an upgraded hotel, but at a minimum you are assured of a parallel move in the quality of accommodations. I then decided to purchase a timeshare on the beach ten years ago. I now have the convenience of a two-bedroom apartment on a beautiful beach for two weeks, which includes a fully equipped kitchen – I enjoy preparing the majority of my meals in the apartment. This affords me guaranteed accommodations of my choice and the ability to shop in the downtown markets, and as of two years ago, to use the Wal-Mart Super Store and Sam’s. This might offend some “purists,” but with the introduction of Wal-Mart and Sam's into Cancún, it has caused the Mexican grocery chain stores to meet the competition. I take a daily five-mile walk into downtown Cancún in the morning, and now I can visit whichever local market or upscale grocery store (e.g., Wal-Mart, Chedraui, Comercial Mexicana) I chose, depending on where my walk takes me. Of course it is still very attractive to go to the local markets (e.g., Mercado 23) to walk among local vendors – and to take in the fragrances of bins filled with fresh herbs and spices and the opportunity to pick up a 20 pound bag of juice oranges for $2.00 a bag. Last year I invested in four nylon net bags for shopping in the markets. If you go to a local market downtown, you can come away with excellent fresh fruits, vegetables, and tortillas for a week, for two people, for under $10.

A Travel Bargain

From the Mid-Atlantic, it turns out that Cancún is a bargain destination. In the Baltimore and Washington area you can find bargain packages, most from Apple Tours, in the city newspapers or the various warehouse clubs (e.g., B.J.'s, Sam’s, CostCo). I took an 8-day, 7-night, airfare/hotel/transfers in August (1998) for $389.00 (all taxes included), to the Continental Plaza, to check out what Cancún is like in the summertime. What I discovered is that if you stay out of the direct sun in midday (i.e., just get into the shade), it is surprisingly comfortable, with a cool prevailing wind most of the day. In fact, I had a co-worker travel to Cancún this past January (1999) and they booked the same package ($389.00 total). They too experienced the overbooking situation and were rewarded by being switched from the Suites Brisas to the Oasis complex (a jump from a one-star to a five-star complex). We can’t travel to Ocean City, Maryland, for a week for that cost, and the time to the final destination is almost the same (2½ hours to Ocean City and 3½ hours to Cancún ). Over the past few years, I have been traveling to Cancún during the low-airfare days (Monday through Thursday), usually Thursday, then I stay in a downtown hotel for a couple of days before moving into the timeshare unit. The fare is substantially reduced, and I use that cost savings to subsidize the cost of a room in a businessman's class hotel (Hotel Bonampak, 011-52-98-84-02-80, across from the bull ring, $36/double and meals).

Some people refer to Cancún as “Miami Beach South”; nevertheless, I believe it provides for a most favorable vacation experience. Many people have had multiple vacations to Cancún, which attests to its  desirability as a vacation destination. For the younger set, disco still reins as king in Cancún. You can spot this crowd easily – vacationers in their teens through thirties, sleeping the day away around the hotel pool area and getting their batteries recharged for the next night of entertainment.

Eating Out in Cancún

Cancún is also blessed with over 400 excellent restaurants, many of which fall into the category of “fine dining” experiences. Because of the competition for customers, most of these restaurants are very competitively priced – they have to be to survive in this type of competitive business environment. Of course, if you are not into “real restaurants,” and you want to dine at a local fast food place, you have your choice of the entire gamut of the chain places, with one exception – Taco Bell. As I mentioned earlier, I prepare the majority of my own meals (so that I can maintain my reduced fat diet). However, I do have my personal restaurant favorites, both on the island and in the city. On the island, this includes La Dolce Vita and Italianni’s (both Italian cuisine), as well as Captain’s Cove (mixed cuisine, which includes excellent seafood) (this is not to be confused with the “Cove” near the Casa Maya). Meals in these locations start at $10.00. In the city my choices include Los Almendros (Avenue Bonampak, across from the bull ring) (authentic Yucatán food consisting primarily of turkey, chicken, and pork dishes – complete with full color pictures of the menu items) and El Café (Avenue Nader). However, for truly fine dining, you should consider La Habichuela (fine Mexican cuisine). La Habichuela has been designated the number one restaurant in Cancún in recent years. For all three restaurants, take the bus into the city and get off at the first bus stop (Avenue Nader). You can walk the short distance to both Los Almendros and El Café. For La Habichuela, hail a cab at the bus stop, and confirm with the cab driver that the fare is only $1USD for all passengers. (FYI – the fare anywhere in the city, once you are in the city boundaries, is only $1USD.) Los Almendros is frequented primarily by middle and upper class Mexican nationals and a sprinkling of tourists. This is a classic case of not trying to judge a book by its cover. The inside is very tastefully decorated, and has all the charm of a nice Mexican restaurant. El Café is an excellent choice for all three meals, but in particular breakfast and dinner. The restaurant has black and white marble floor tiles, and approximately half of the restaurant is outside under a canopy in a mixed residential and business section of the city. El Café provides you with the European flavor of a sidewalk café. The difficulty with the dinner offerings is that the menu is somewhat understated. For instance, the second item on the dinner portion of the menu is referred to as "Steak and Fries," for something just over $7.00. My first impression was that it couldn't possibly be what I was looking for, but it was. A friend advised me that it was an excellent cut of steak. I tried it, and I believe it was a Delmonico. I substituted the fries for a baked potato (no extra charge), and it came complete with a chef’s salad. The morning fare includes excellent choices of fresh cut fruits (ask for the plate, not the bowl, and consider ordering with yogurt and granola), good choices of breakfast breads and rolls (ask for the sampler basket), and excellent omelettes. Another breakfast option I also highly recommend is the “100% Natural” locations, both in the city and on the island. For me, El Café and 100% Natural are excellent stops following my daily five mile morning walk into the city or down onto the island. Please be assured of one thing, although the restaurant suggestions that I have provided you here are relatively modest in cost, that is not the motivating factor for me to frequent these establishments. All of these places have several things in common – excellent food preparation, courteous waitstaff, ambience, and a clean appearance.

For those who enjoy good piano music, I would recommend going to the Ritz-Carlton. During the evenings, a pianist by the name of Ricardo plays excellent music in the lobby lounge from 6-8, then he moves to the restaurant and plays there for the rest of the evening. We have spent many enjoyable evenings listening to a myriad of musical selections from classical to showtunes to pop. Ricardo's repertoire of music seems limitless and I have never seen him refer to any sheet music – and he must be only around 30 years old. It's quite amazing and enjoyable.

Cancún  provides for all manner of shopping, sporting activities, night life, fine dining, quiet time on the beach, beach combing, small beach bars (the Happy Hours usually run in the 3-8 p.m. timeframe), easy access to surrounding islands (e.g., Isla Mujures, Contoy Island, and Cozumel), casual conversations with your partner, friends, and fellow travelers, the extraordinary Caribbean water, the smiling Mexican support people to ensure a memorable experience in Cancún. Cancún is also an outstanding jumping off place for travel around the entire Yucatán Peninsula--and beyond. Cancún and the Yucatán have something for everyone.

Medical Care in Cancún

I'll conclude my thoughts on Cancún by informing you that an American doctor (Michael McCall, M.D.) now has a medical practice established in Cancún (on the island near Plaza Caracol) across from the Hotel Presidente Intercontinental in Plaza Quetzal. His telephone numbers in Cancún are 83-10-01 or 83-01-13, and he has a webpage at: www.Cancun mx.com/Cancun-medical/index.html. He is joined in his practice by his wife who is a registered nurse. His webpage describes his extensive experience and he provides for a medical protection policy while in Cancún for less than $3USD per day – and it is guaranteed you will not have to deal with any language problems in the midst of a medical emergency.

Your choices for travel range from hitchhiking, local bus, tour operator buses, and car. I personally do not endorse the hitchhiking option (as the father of an only child, a daughter, I find my mind still wanders to the possible complications arising from seeing young girls hitchhiking), but I must confess that I have never heard about any difficulties with anyone exercising this option. Your costs for travel are dictated by your options. I normally spend the month of January in Mexico and rent a car for a week. However, on several occasions, I have traveled around the Yucatán by bus. Cars are expensive. A VW bug in Cancún costs upwards of $300USD a week (unlimited mileage). However, I have an option through my timeshare company to pick up that same vehicle for half that cost, although I have to book in advance from the U.S. The primary reason for my renting a car in Mexico, and not taking local ground transportation more than I do, is the fact that I can rent a car this cheap, and it supports my chronic sense of wanderlust. On the other end of the cost spectrum, local buses are an excellent option – and very cheap. A bus down the coast, to all of the tourist attractions, even if you go all the way to Tulum, will not exceed $3--and that is some 80 miles south of Cancún. A tour operator package to Xel-Ha will cost you around $39 from your hotel. If you use the bus station in the city, it will cost you $6 round trip and $15 to get to Xel-Ha and back--approximately half the cost of a tour operator, and you can use this experience as an incentive to try other travel destinations by bus (e.g., Merida, Progresso, Campeche). The bottom line is that there are excellent transportation options to just about anywhere on the Yucatán – and they fit any pocketbook.

 

 

This article is from the April 1999 The Mexico File newsletter.
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The Rising Chorus  (In Defense of Cancun) Part 2

by Bob Klempa 

Bob Klempa lives outside of Annapolis, Maryland, and has been traveling to Mexico since 1979. Bob works for the Federal Government and is preparing for retirement in the near future. He has been a subscriber to The Mexico File since 1995. The first part of this article appeared in the March 1999 issue of MF.

Our destination plans for this year included Merida, Celestun, Campeche, and Palenque. My traveling companion (Kathleen) and I departed Cancún early Saturday morning, after having picked up our rented VW bug. We left Cancún on Route 180 heading toward Merida. We always choose the non-toll road (Route 180) (libre = free road) instead of the toll road (Route 180D) (cuota = toll road). The time difference in choosing these roads is less than one hour. I highly recommend the non-toll road, for reasons other than averting the $20 toll in each direction. If you take the non-toll road, you will capture some of the charm of the "real" Mexico. You will have an opportunity to view about a dozen and a half hamlets and towns before you get to Merida. However, you cannot lose sight of the fact that Mexico, as beautiful and charming as it is, is still a Third World country, and for some, the standard of living is different than the standards we have become accustomed to in this country – at least in most areas. For the inexperienced traveler, this reality may be somewhat disturbing – but again, this “disturbing view” is limited to those folks with limited traveling experience anywhere in the world, not just Mexico.

Several years ago, I was traveling with two other couples, and one of the females in the group was so disturbed by what she had seen (or thought she was looking at), that she refused to get out of the rented VW bus when we arrived in the old colonial city of Vallodolid (midway between Cancún and Merida). The rest of the group, however, toured the city and we all enjoyed ourselves, although we had to truncate the amount of time that we would have otherwise spent touring the city and its shops, churches, etc., because of the holdout (holed up in the VW bus) in the group. Our gain (i.e., the rest of the group) was her loss.

Vallodolid

Vallodolid is somewhat typical of most Spanish colonial cities on the Yucatán in that the church (usually more than 400 years old) is at the center of the city. It is from Vallodolid that you can take a short side trip to the cenote at Dzitnup, just a few miles outside of town. Cenotes seem to have come into vogue in the past couple of years. I noticed on a map that I purchased this year that the area is dotted with heretofore unadvertised cenotes. In years past, in this area, only two were ever identified. The cenote at Dzitnup is particularly attractive and is worth your time to go visit. There is a nominal entrance fee. However, if you do go, be extremely careful descending into the cenote as the stone steps are well worn and slippery from the cool humidity below ground – and bring a bathing suit. It's great for a swim, and you might encounter some small “blind” cave fish. If you get the munchies while traveling to Merida on Route 180, you can stop at one of the many panaderias or pastelerias on the way for a light lunch. For me, that takes the form of a ham and cheese (jamon and queso) pastry, dessert pastry, and a Coke. It’s clean, safe, and cheap. Bear in mind that Cancún is in the state of Quintana Roo and Merida is in the state of Yucatán. You will encounter a police checkpoint when you cross the state line, and you may be just waved through. Otherwise, you may be questioned about where you are going and where you came from. Rarely are your car and luggage searched for contraband.

Merida

We arrived in Merida in late morning, and went to our favorite hotel (Hotel Caribe)

(http://www.wotw.com/Mexico/Yucatán/hotels/HotelCaribe) (1-888-822-6431– which rings from the

U.S. and Canada directly to the Front Desk at the Hotel Caribe in Merida), just one block from the zócalo. However, when we arrived, they were booked full. I rarely make reservations because of the availability of nice and interesting accommodations in Merida. We tried our second favorite hotel (Hotel Posada Toledo) (011-52-99-23-16-90) (E-mail: hptoledo@pibil.finred.com.mx), and they too were booked. We then walked over to the Hotel Colonial (a new hotel for us), and found good accommodations right across the street from the gated parking lot where we parked our car. Merida is the capitol of the state of the Yucatán, and like any capitol city , parking can be an issue. Some hotels absorb the cost of parking (usually for 8-12 hours a day), but then parking is only about 30 cents an hour. In earlier lives, the Hotel Caribe has been a convent, a hospital, and part of the University of the Yucatán (one block away). Today it is a hotel that oozes charm – a hotel built around an open courtyard (that houses a restaurant and gardens), right in the middle of the city. It has a small pool on the top floor. The cost for a double is around $36.00, a little more than the Hotel Posada Toledo, and a little less than the Hotel Colonial. All of the hotels we stay in are in the 50 or 60 square block area which comprises the historic downtown area.

Every Sunday in Merida is special. The center of the town, and the adjoining one block around the center of the town, are cordoned off to vehicular traffic. Well, almost. While enjoying dinner at one of the sidewalk cafe's in the center of town, we noticed a policeman letting an ice cream truck back into the square for a quick delivery. When the truck departed the area, we noticed the same policeman holding not one, but two, ice creams in his hands. I guess if there is not a local Dunkin' Donut shop for a policeman to accept a small gratuity (coffee and donuts) for “protecting and serving the public,” then I guess you have to bite the bullet and settle for ice creams. The street vendors start setting up Sunday morning, and from them you can get all manner of foods, desserts, articles of clothing, etc. My favorite is the flan vendor. A good size wedge of flan costs around 50 cents. To that you add the street hawkers who represent the businesses surrounding the center plaza, bands, dancers, bright lights, cool evenings, and cerveza – it's a mini-festival every Sunday of the year. People abound, some walking, some sitting, some people watching, but everyone enjoying themselves. Mornings, if you are not already awake, you are awakened to the sound of a military band in the middle of the square preparing to raise the Mexican flag at 8 A.M., amidst a crowd of several dozen people. Mexicans take great pride in their flag, and please make no mistake about it, they won't permit you to “sit” through the ceremony. We were witness to a tourist (not us) who was "requested" by military personnel (sans smile) to stand during the raising of the flag. Merida is not only a capitol and university city, but it is a banking center and the center of a good amount of wealth, as evidenced by the majestic mansions (a few, unfortunately, are starting to fall into disrepair) lining the Paseo Montejo. A good way to see Merida is by walking or by taking an open-air bus (made to look like San Francisco style streetcars) and horse drawn carts to view the city.

There are many good restaurants in the area of the zócalo, but I would recommend the Los Almendros restaurant, about six blocks from the zócalo. This Los Almendros is owned by the same folks as the one in Cancún (and Ticul), but the one in Merida unquestionably falls into the category of “fine dining,” unlike the one in Cancún (but, please, it would be a mistake not to visit that location). In fact, they have two separate dining rooms, one of which is magnificently decorated in fine woods, lighting and furniture. The second dining room is not quite as elegant, but is nevertheless an extremely nice dining experience. The menu is the same as in Cancún , but the ambience unquestionably is different. A new upbeat restaurant opened up in January 1998 that I would also highly recommend. It is called Restaurant Eladios, Calle 59, No. 425, at the intersection of Calle 44. Unlike the other restaurant recommendations I've mentioned here, this one resembles a family outing, complete with live bands. The atmosphere is 100% non-tourist. In fact, we were the only non-Mexicans in the restaurant of a few hundred people – and it was obvious that everyone was having a good time. They had three live bands with lively Mexican music. Whole families were in attendance. It is located some eight blocks from the zócalo. While in Merida, it would be a mistake to use a cab for anything within 10 blocks of your hotel. The city has so much to see, and you can get to see some of it on foot.

Celestun

After breakfast in Merida, we departed for Celestun (about 60 miles west of Merida, and on the Gulf of Mexico). There were a lot of twists and turns on this trip, but the roads are clearly marked with signs to Celestun, and as you get closer to Celestun you will see signs depicting flamingos. Celestun is a nesting ground for the pink flamingo. Also, as you get close to the Gulf, you will probably encounter the presence of a checkpoint. Unlike the checkpoint at the state line, manned by the police, this checkpoint was manned by the military, as part of the drug interdiction program. In all probability your vehicle and luggage will be inspected. Unlike the police at the stateline checkpoints, these guys do not attempt to be overly friendly nor are they prone to smiling. Let them do there job, then leave. Just outside of Celestun, we encountered some wetlands, then a two-lane bridge over a channel of water. However, the bridge was under repair and one lane was void of any pavement on the decking and there were no guardrails of any sort between the surfaced and unsurfaced decking. The drop to the water was about 15 feet, and I, with my fear of heights, immediately tensed up for the drive across the bridge. I was thinking to myself, “Bob, you forget, you're in a Third World country – so get a firm grip on the steering wheel.”

Immediately past the bridge, we encountered a brand new visitor center. The center provides clean restrooms, vending machines, and ticket sales for boats to take you to see the flamingos. You have two choices here. Rent a “private” power boat (and operator) for $30.00, or wait until they can put together a group of six and pay $6.00 per person. We waited for approximately 45 minutes, and two couples from Holland arrived, and we grouped together (in the same 20-foot boats used for the private tours). The tours are approximately two hours in duration. It took less than 10 minutes to get out to the part of the river where the flamingos are feeding. The water is so shallow where the flamingos feed that the power boats actually “dredge” open the channel every trip they make to see the flamingos. And beautiful they are, in there own habitat of approximately 2,000 birds. At various times the water depth was only six to eight inches deep, and on a couple of occasions the operator had to lift the propeller out of the water, grab the pole he had on the roof of the boat, and turn himself into a Venice gondola operator until he got us off the flats. I found it remarkable that as beautiful and clear as the waters are in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, the water in the flamingo habitat is reddish-brown in color. For what reason, I am not sure. After viewing the flamingos for about an hour, we entered the mangroves through a narrow channel into the center of the mangrove island. Several hundred feet inside this mangrove, we came upon a dock and got off. The dock led to a large pool of crystal clear fresh water, a hundred feet in diameter, fed by an underground spring, and filled with fish. We spent about half an hour there before departing back to the visitor center dock, a return to our car, and a short trip into downtown Celestun, to check on accommodations for the night, before departing for Campeche City the next day.

What we discovered in the small town of Celestun was the dirtiest town I have visited in Mexico. It is basically a single road town, paralleling the Gulf of Mexico, with houses on both sides. Just outside of town there were a few nice looking homes on the water, but the town overall is a “diamond in the rough.” We both agreed that it would be best to drive back to Merida for the night, before departing for Campeche. The only other option was to strike out for Campeche City with no expectation of getting there before dark. The decision to go back to Merida was driven in large part because of the U. S. State Departments Travel Advisory on reported incidents of robbers boarding buses and stopping cars, after dark, to rob people – both tourists and nationals alike. I guess the robbers consider themselves “equal opportunity” bandits.

Campeche

We departed Merida the next day right after breakfast. The trip from Merida to Campeche took about three hours, via Routes 180 and 24. I’ve traveled extensively around the Yucatán Peninsula for years, and the topography has always been flat. The trip to Campeche City introduced me to the first mountainous terrain I have seen on the Yucatán. Our intentions were to visit Campeche City for one full day, then depart for a visit to the ruins at Palenque (Chiapas). Nothing we had read about Campeche City was very encouraging, so we resigned ourselves to not expecting too much –  look around a little bit, get a good night's sleep, then head out to Palenque. Tour books indicated there were not even car rentals in the city, and, at best, this was a one-day tourist stop. We checked out a hotel recommendation from a tour book, and it turned out to be too good to pass up. We stayed in the Hotel Baluartes ($36 a night for two double beds), right across the street from the walled city in a room with a view of the Gulf. The city features a 40-block, completely restored, walled city (which started construction in 1686). The city is very representative of European cities dating back to the 16th century. The east and west walls are virtually intact, and since the city has only one-way streets, a majority of the north and south walls have been removed to integrate the street patterns between the modern city and those of the old fortress city. The city buildings are in mint condition and brightly colored. The streets are made of cobblestone and clean as a pin. Without a doubt, the walled city of Campeche is the cleanest city that I have ever visited in Mexico – in stark contrast to the town of Celestun. The old city features numerous hotels, churches, artisan shops, and museums surrounding the central plaza. Of particular note is the Casa Delas Artesanias (Calle No. 10, between Calle 59 and 61), which is host to a cooperative of artisans. This is not “flea market” merchandise.

We had recommendations from a tour book for a few restaurants, and decided to start with the Restaurant Marganzo (Calle 8, No. 267, near the Sea Gate, in part because it had a certain charm and the pleasant manner of the head waiter, Pedro Berrunza Boeza. The Sea Gate was built in the 1950's in the style of the original walls and arches, using the same materials, to accommodate the continued expansion of modern day Campeche City outside the walls of the old walled fortress. It would turn out that we would have most of our breakfasts and dinners at the Restaurant Marganzo. Owing to the fact that Campeche City is the center for the Mexican shrimp industry in the Gulf, the restaurant features fresh fish and shrimp dishes. We were to enjoy different shrimp dishes every night, at an average price of $7 per person. The restaurant contains about a dozen pictures of circa 1920's photographs of the old walled city. It turns out that Pedro has a keen interest in the history of Campeche City, and he is willing to share this knowledge with interested parties. We were to learn from Pedro that the building housing this restaurant was host to the U.S. Consular Office in the 1920's, that as recent as 40 years ago the waters of the Gulf came right up to the old walled city (as evidenced by two of the photographs on the restaurant walls), that the first grandson of the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes was born in the convent affiliated with the San Francisco church in 1562, and that the hotel we were staying in was built on a man-made island (some 400 yards out into the Gulf waters) that was connected to the shore by a causeway. Forty years hence, the entire boundary of the more modern city has moved that same 400 yards out into the Gulf (all filled land) to accommodate expansion of the modern city. When you contrast the photographs on the restaurant walls to present day Campeche, you quickly realize the amount of work that has gone into the restoration of Campeche City. Pedro informed us that when he was a young boy, Campeche City was basically the original walled city surrounded by another four or five blocks surrounding the perimeter of the old walled city. Today, the city has a population of around 175,000 – in 1960, the population was around 25,000.

It is also worthwhile to visit the fortresses situated north (Fort San Jose) and south (Fort San Miguel) of the city, perched on the high ground. The Fort San Jose Museum contains a 4' x 8' scaled mockup of the walled city (depicted on the waters edge) before the expansion of the city in this century. On the way north to Fort San Miguel, it is worthwhile to stop at Fort San Luis, just outside of town and across the street from the Monumento Resurgimiento. The monument depicts a 20' high torso of a man, holding a torch high for democracy. Some refer to it as the Latin Statue of Liberty. Fort San Luis is a totally renovated example of a small fortress on the water, with 5' thick walls, surrounded by a dry moat. Built in the 17th century, it was an active military barracks until 1929, at which time it became an office for the Secretary of War. It now houses a museum. The current improvements in Campeche City include the completion earlier this year of a three kilometer long new seawall, waterfront boulevard, complete with two separate walking paths for walkers/joggers and bikers/rollerbladers, and landscaped with bright plants and flowers, palm trees, and beautifully romantic sunsets. We eventually spent four days in Campeche City, and passed on the opportunity to go to Palenque. This was based in part on two factors. Once we got to Campeche City, we discovered it would be another seven to eight hours of hard driving in the mountains to Palenque, and the fact that on the day we arrived in Campeche City, the evening news contained a story about the killing of two people attributed to the current political difficulties in that area. We'll look forward to visiting Palenque on a future trip.