Episode 392 – Beach Day

I took a day trip today with a new friend, Pat, and her friend Melanie, while Ted stayed “home” enjoying some peace and quiet from my incessant chatter.

We’d originally planned to visit the beach in Progreso, but once we realized that there was a Carnival cruise ship docking there today, plans changed. Instead, we went to Sisal, utilizing a wonderful private driver named Hector, and taking advantage of the opportunity to set our own schedule for the day.

On a whim, en route we made a spur-of-the-moment stop in Hunucma, where the huge church dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi belies the small size of the town. Naturally, we needed a picture at the town’s designated photo spot before wandering around the incredibly clean town square and through the market building (shops mostly closed on Mondays).

Hector was clearly more focused on the three of us than getting the entire word “Hunucma” in the frame!

Hunucma town centre.

Exterior of the Iglesia San Francisco de Asisi (photo credit SIG Real Estate)
A few of my pictures from the interior of the church, including (bottom right) one of the gilded stations of the cross.

Hunucma’s 1906 market hall.

Then it was back onto the highway headed for Sisal. After 2-1/2 months in the centre of Mérida, I’d almost forgotten that roads could be so wide, so well-maintained, and so devoid of traffic.

Sisal was once a busy henequen shipping port. “Sisal” is rope made from henequen fibres, and the port town became synonymous with that cargo, to the point of adopting it as its name. Once Progreso emerged as a major port, Sisal reverted to being a sleepy little fishing town with a long sandy waterfront and mostly local tourism.

L to R: Melanie, me, and Pat at the main entrance to the beach.
You can see how white the sand is!

Among the most important historical facts associated with the town is the arrival of Empress Charlotte in Sisal on November 22, 1865 in the Tabasco steamer. For me, this was just one more detail in the Hapsburg-themed journey we seem to be taking for the past year or so, since Charlotte was the wife of Emperor Maximilian von Hapsburg, brother of Emperor Franz Josef I. Maximilan’s reign as the only Emperor of the Second Mexican Empire was an extremely short one: from 10 April 1864 until his execution on 19 June 1867.

Buildings such as the Fort of Santiago, built to protect the former inhabitants from pirate raids, the former Maritime Customs building, the Lighthouse and the pier (now rebuilt) remain, and Mexico Tourism is trying to encourage people to visit them, but on a hot sunny Monday no-one was doing that.

Sisal’s plaza park, and lighthouse.

It is usually one of the cleanest and most unspoiled white sand beaches in the Yucatan. What we encountered was a wide swath of sargassum blocking access to the water, and lots more floating in. We did walk across (it felt like walking on sponge – and was around 15cm/6” deep) to wade briefly in the Gulf of Mexico, but swimming was out of the question.

Sargassum seaweed (AKA sargasso) shows up every year, but the “season” is usually April to October. Unfortunately, as the climate changes and waters get warmer, the seaweed appears earlier and earlier. This is affecting all the Yucatan beaches, including those on the Caribbean.

“According to a recent analysis by the University of Southern Florida, 2023 might see some of the highest sargassum levels on record. Up to 6 million tons of sargassum seaweed is currently afloat in the Atlantic ocean based on data gathered by NASA and several universities.” (thecancunsun.com)

Seaweed aside, we had a lovely day: hot sun, cool breezes, shady palapa, good company, and tasty food and beer.

Top: coconut palms line most of Sisal’s streets. Left: Pat and Melanie walking back to our palapa (thatch umbrella). You can “see” the breeze! Right: I asked Pat to snap me walking on the beach, just to prove I’d been beside (if not in) the Gulf of Mexico.

In one more example of the incredible friendliness we’ve encountered here, I had a lovely chat with the couple at the restaurant in which we ate. I’d asked – in my halting Spanish – if they’d mind if I took a photo of the restaurant’s sign behind them. What resulted was a short conversation about where I was visiting from, our mutual professions and happiness at being retired, and of course an exchange of names. Guadalupe immediately revised mine to Rosita, and explained that to dear friends hers would be Lupita – and that was what I was to call her. Before we left, her husband asked if he could photograph us together, to show their grandkids their new “Canadian friend”.

Top: the huge(that’s a dinner plate they’re overflowing) flaky seafood empanadas at La Brisa del Mar: one shrimp, one shark, and one octopus. The octopus (pulpo) was my favourite!
Bottom: the sign that sparked the conversation, plus “Rosita y Lupita”.

While we drank margaritas and beer, Hector responsibly stuck to CocaCola, explaining that random roadside sobriety tests are frequent, especially on roads leading back into the city from beaches. En route home, we passed through one. A team of 4 police officers stop cars; one asks the driver whether they’ve been drinking, and informs them that they’ll know if they’re lying as soon as the second officer breathalyzes them. Naturally, Hector blew 0.0. Had he not, he would automatically have had to serve 3 days in jail, and his car been “stored” in the interim. The cost of retrieving the car after the jail days starts at around $12000MXN, which is almost 2 weeks salary for an average Mexican.

By 6 p.m. we were back in the city, all very happy to have had a day at the beach, despite the sargassum. For me, the big bonus of the day – and in fact the big bonus of our extended stay here in Mérida – was the chance to make new friends. It’s not something our pace of travel often allows, and is a real plus.

In that vein, our next few adventures will be with new friends from our world cruise, with whom we’re looking forward to sharing all that we love about Mérida, as well as venturing a bit outside the city to discover more of Yucatecan and Mayan history.


  1. Hey Rose – glad you enjoyed your beach day. When we were cruising up the Central American coast we saw loads of sargassum floating in the ocean.

    Never having been in the ocean there we had no idea what it was but googling “orange floating mat Caribbean” was sufficient to figure it out.

    I have read that it can be so bad that it closes beaches primarily because it smells bad lying in the sun.

    Glad it didn’t stop you from enjoying your day.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a fun blog to read! We are just starting out on our travel adventures and I’m hoping there will be opportunities to make new friends along the way

    Liked by 1 person

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