Published: November 24th 2007November 24th 2007
After flying down from Aberdeen I had an overnight stay at one of the many hotels dotted around Heathrow Airport, I flew out early next morning on the Virgin Atlantic flight bound for Miami for my connecting American Airlines flight to Mexico. The trans atlantic journey was good, with the usual high standards I have come to expect from Virgin. I can never get any shut eye when I travel in "cattleclass", so decided to make the difficult decision of which two movies to watch in the limited few hours I had onboard, but that's not so easy when you have about fifty to choose from. Fortunately the easier choice was, "yes please flight attendent I will have a couple more beers thank you!" Not too bad a way to while away the time as the miles, the clouds and the Atlantic Ocean slip steadily away behind me. The only interuption to my viewing pleasure was my travelling companion Kevin, who laughs quite loudly when watching Shrek.
Arrival in Miami airport was on time, but it took over an hour just to clear the queues at the US Immigration check point. As I expected I was met with the usual
stoney faced officious attitude that I have sadly grown accustomed to these days. I don't know what it is about that occupation, but any where you go in the world they are always so miserable and frankly very rude. Why they can't be more like the customs department with a little more politeness and civilitly I don't know? I am digressing now and starting to sound like a typical Brit abroad. It was so nice to get to the otherside of the official government line,we headed off to await our next flight to be called in a pub near our depature gate. We met our hospitable beer selling American bar hosts, who lined up two pints of "Sam Adams" they were obviously contemplating our arrival with I imagine some what a bit of trepidation. Did the airline email everyone that we were finally on US soil?
The flight from the USA to Cancun was just over an hour long and very enjoyable. The American Airlines crew were brilliant with superb customer focus and attended to our numerous beer requests with great humour. All too soon,we sadly had to make our farewells to our temporary airborne friends and head
out to explore what Mexico had to offer. Thankfully transiting through Mexican Immigration was hastle free and only took about ten minutes and we headed outside to meet up with our transport to take us to our hotel in Cancun. The Gran Caribe Real was just twenty minutes driving time away from the airport so we quickly unloaded our bags from the taxi and booked into our room. It didn't take long to get changed into a pair of shorts and find out what this "All Inclusive" business really mean't.
There is only so much excessive consumption of food and drink a body can can take, before you feel the need to put on the comfy walking shoes and get out and explore this fascinating place. So one afternoon Kevin and I decided to hire a speedboat and went out for the afternoon to play in the water on a guided tour with other people. I decided to drive first, Kevin could take what pieces were left of the boat back to shore on the way home. Our guide slowly lead us out of the small harbour with a convoy of three other boats. On the way out, I
Sitting on the sandy beach at Cancun.
drove for an hour through the lagoon and the mangrove swamps and out into the open Gulf of Mexico and once our guide signalled by raising his arm, it was time for this little happy band of adventurerers to grit those teeth and open up the throttles for an exhilirating wave bouncing charge out into open waters. The sea here was a lot more choppy than the sheltered water we had left behind and it proved quite tricky to keep a straight and true course over the lumpy waves. On one occasion, we hit a rather large bit of swell and I thought, "yup we are going into the drink matey!" thankfully our vessel remained upright and we arrived at our dive site where we would be snorkling. All the small boats gathered around a single buoy and tied up. We put on our flippers and masks and jumped into the warm sea. The guide motioned to a shadowy darker area ahead and said that is where the coral reef is. I had been snorkling before, but my friend Kevin hadn't and after a tentative first start, he soon got into his stride and there was no stopping him and
we all headed off to the reef as a group gliding slowly over the sandy bottom. It was very relaxing just looking down through the thin piece of glass over my face at the colourful fish swimming around seemingly unafraid of us and within touching distance. They were aparently as curious about me as I was about them. I heard my regular rhythmic breathing through the plastic snorkle, but I have to admit I held my breath in awe as we reached the undersea garden of coral, it was stunning! I didn't know there were so many different types and colours. I remember being taught at high school,that our species originally came from the oceans millions of years ago and that is why we hold an ancient memory deep within our DNA and can't be too far, for too long from the substance. I was thinking,"I understand that, wow...it can't get much better than this!" I didn't know I was to be proved so wrong, so soon afterwards.
I heard the excited Mexican guide shouting over to us, "aqui,aqui...amigos,aqui!" He was gesturing down into the water saying, "tiburón!" I hadn't a clue what that mean't, but once I submerged
Aquatic Speed Demon
Heading for shore Kev at the controls of the speedboat.
beneath the surface, I knew that destinctive shape of a shark. It was just hovering below in a gap in the coral, it was not threatening or aggressive, but it knew we were there and if we made a move towards it, would have fled. There was a unique moment that I think we all shared for that instant of being at one with a wild creature in it's own ocean environment, where it rightly belongs and looking into it's dark emotionless inkpool eyes. Sadly that momentary connection was broken and it gracefully glided off with the current, followed to my immense surprise by Aquamarine boy Kevin, who followed it in hot pursuit, flippers flapping not so gracefully, trailing a stream of bubbles behind... I hope from his mouth! That poor creature had such a narrow escape from the man from Atlantis! This time it was his turn to call us over, I thought he had found the shark again, but if she had any sense would be long gone by now. He had found a stingray settling onto the sandy bottom, with a long whip like tail trailing out behind, then we remembered the crocodile hunter guy and decided,
lets leave this one in peace.
Ghosts Of The Past
The tour bus came to the hotel really early next morning about 07:30am and the guide told us we were in for an unforgettable day at Chichen Itza, or as one hard of hearing tourist thought "Chicken Pizza". Ahead of us lay a long road journey, deep into the Mexican jungle to the mysterious temples and pyramids of the Mayan Empire. A short distance of less than 2 miles before entering the huge area where the temples were located, we stopped off at a freshwater sinkhole, the Cenote Ik Kil. This is collapsed cavern and is a perfectly round well type sinkhole with waterfalls and lush tropical vegetation, with vines and roots reaching down 26 metres (85 feet) into the water from high above.We had to climb down an underground stone staircase to reach water level before diving in.This was an ideal place to go for a refreshing swim in the deep cool clear fresh water before grabbing lunch and continuing on to the main event itself, at Chichen Itza.
These ancient people were an amazingly advanced race who had mapped the stars and plotted the movement and positions
of the sun, moon and planets with incredible accuaracy, they evolved the only true writing system native to the Americas and were masters of mathematics. They invented the calendars we use today. Without metal tools, or horses for doing all the hard work, or even the wheel, they were able to construct vast cities across the huge flat jungle landscape, with an amazing degree of architectural perfection. Their legacy in stone, which has survived in a spectacular fashion at places such as Chichen Itza, lives on today, as do the seven million descendants of the Maya civilization in the numerous settlements in the jungles around.
My first sighting of the main pyramid Kukulcan gave me goose bumps, I could almost feel the crackling of ancient energy and hear the ghosts of the past surrounding me.The builders of the Kukulcan Pyramid at Chichen Itza planned the location so meticulously, that even to this day at only one time of the year during the Spring Equinox, the setting sun casts a shadow of a serpent writhing down the steps of the pyramid. At the same time every year (20th March) over 40,000 people make the pilgrimage to the great pyramid to watch this spectacle in awe, as the snakes diamond backed body slowly appears, just as the ancient designers had planned it. If you stand facing the foot of the temple and clap your hands the echo comes back as a piercing bird like shriek, very eerie and to think that our architects can't even build a multi storey car park properly!
Our guide took us around the massive site to the Temple of the Warriors and close by the Temple of the Jaguar, which are incredible ruined structures, surrounded by hundreds of stone columns with carved reliefs depicting past moments of glory. The Mayans were great sportsmen and built huge ballcourts to play their games. The Great Ballcourt of Chichen Itza is 166 metres (545 feet) long and 68 metres (225 feet) wide overall. Each end has a raised "temple" area. A whisper from end to end can be heard clearly at the other end through the length and breath of the court. So no secrets conversations there then! In such a mystical place, It's not too hard to fantasize about the Mayan King sitting on his throne in judgement over the games below and hear the roar of thousands of Mayan spectators cheering their sides to victory. Not so different from today you might think,well, legends say that the the winning captain would willingly present his head to the losing captain, who then decapitates him with his sword. While this may seem a strange reward to us now, the Mayans believed this to be the ultimate honour.The winning captain being the best of the best, so a fitting and worthy tribute to offer up to the gods. I think if I was in that team I would be deliberately playing very badly, I wouldn't want to win. We were also told that the first born male child was also "offered" up to the gods, by being tossed into a nearby waterfilled sinkhole and allowed to drown. No wonder their civilization faded away! Sadly a brief week long break to Mexico had finished and we had to start thinking about the long trek back home to the United Kingdom, I leave this place with fond memories and a determination to return one day. Now I will just have to work and save hard for the next adventure.