Last week we needed some paperwork notarized by a notary public who was recognized in the United States. From Chiapas Mexico an American citizen has two choices of where to go for notary services. One option is to head north to Mexico City and have your paperwork notarized at the US embassy. The second option, which I chose, is to go to the US Consulate in Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula. Both options involve 12 plus hour bus rides.
A great way to get around southern Mexico is on the first class buses run by OCC and ADO. They have an easy to navigate website called Ticketbus, it comes with both a Spanish and English language option. The $ sign in Mexico stands for Mexican Pesos, not U.S. Dollars, this confuses many people, the prices on the website are in Pesos. All of the buses I traveled on were modern, clean, comfortable and had movies. I don’t think you can purchase tickets online, but travel agencies in the cities with bus stations generally have the tickets for sale there. I suggest trying to get a front seat on the passenger side so you can see more of the view for day trips and a seat back a few rows for night trips. At night you can’t see much and you wont get headlights in your eyes while trying to sleep. When you buy your ticket from Ticketbus you get to choose from the available seats and your ticket will be numbered with it.
The road from San Cristobal to Palenque winds, turns and bumps through the mountains. If you are prone to motion sickness I recommend you get some dramamine for this part of the trip. It takes roughly five hours to get to Palenque from San Cristobal and the scenery is truly amazing. One trick for fighting motion sickness is to sit closer to the front. The further back you are on a bus, the more you feel the bus sway and the bumps can feel more intense.
This trip I took a direct night bus that left at 6:20 pm all the way from San Cristobal to Merida. It was mostly a business trip and I planned on stopping at Palenque on my way back. The bus stopped at Ocosingo, Palenque, Campeche and maybe one other place before getting into Merida. Direct doesn’t mean non-stop. At each stop there is time to stretch your legs, use the bus stations restroom and get a snack or soft drink. The buses have rest rooms, but they can get a bit icky on a long haul. The stations generally have relatively clean restrooms for about 3 pesos. Traveling with your own roll of toilet paper is always smart too.
Around 3 am the driver must have been getting drowsy, he turned the air conditioning up and started playing ranchero music at an above sleep-able level. No matter how hot it is outside, remember to bring something warmer to wear in the bus, and perhaps some earplugs as well. I arrived in Merida at about 8:30 in the morning. I have a hard time sleeping on buses, but I managed to get about 4 hours sleep in total, despite the ranchero music.
From the modern, clean and safe bus station in Merida a taxi to the center where your hotel most likely will be is about 50 Pesos. I had arranged for a room at Luz en Yucatan Hotel, when I arrived before 9am I was welcomed and shown to a room, no stress at all over my early check in. After taking a quick shower and having a meal it was off to my 12 O’clock appointment at the US Consulate.
The US Consulate has an on line system for making appointments. I had scheduled my appointment several days before hand and did not have much waiting when the appointed hour arrived. My big mistake was arriving 50 minutes early. I didn’t know what to expect of the consulate, but echos of Humphrey Bogart movies and Casablanca rambled around my imagination when I thought of it. Silly me.
Arriving 50 minutes early apparently caused some suspicion and alarm. I expected to be let into the air conditioned building and allowed to wait in some waiting room or something, but no, loco gringo. I was told through a narrow hole that was almost impossible to hear through, in the bulletproof window of the guard station, to wait in the 100 plus degrees heat on the sidewalk until 15 minutes before my appointed time. Once inside it didn’t get much better. All I can say is that having an appointment at the US Consulate in Merida is very much like having an appointment at the California Department of Motor Vehicles if it was located inside a maximum security prison run by bureaucrats.
The signature of the notary public cost $50 USD each and they take cash, travelers checks or credit cards. The American guy who did the work was minimally polite, business like and no fuss. I was expecting to be able to chat a bit and find out more about Merida. Even though I was the only one there for his services, it was quite obvious he had no intention of chatting and had much better things to do than anything involving me.
The rest of the trip got significantly better from there. I will give more pleasant details of my very enjoyable time in Merida and Palenque in upcoming posts.