Published: June 10th 2008May 24th 2008
Hey valued readers, im back with some more long over due spam for your inbox and its looking like a long one so hopefully your boss is out today (or even better you are the boss).
Well i have quite alot to fill you in on, hopefully the photos can do majority of the talking as each destination i explored deserves its own dedicated blog but i will try and keep it as brief as possible!
This little adventure began with my last minute decision to buy a cheap return ticket to a town called Merida, on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. It would have to be the least researched holiday ive ever been on, i knew it was hot and well....thats about it. Once again im sorry but a slight, relatively painless history lesson must be a precursor to whats to come and to emphasize the uniqueness of this area of the world!
One thing i found interesting (and funny) is the origin of the naming of the peninsula. The word Yucatan is apparently a Mayan (natives that inhabit this area) phrase meaning 'they speak funny' and that was there response to the spanish when they inquired to
the name of the area. And so it has been known as the Yucatan ever since.
It is claimed that in this location 65 million years ago the impact of an asteroid caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, and directly lead to the unique environmental sites in the area, most notably the 'ring of cenotes' which form a circle around the shock waves created by the impact. The amazing underground pools were the source of Mayan drinking water as the peninsula completely lacks rivers and today make for a surreal underground swimming experience. And that ends the lesson and begins the story!
Sleep deprived (the cheap flights are at ungodly hours) and resembling a baby hermit crab trying on his dads shell i exited the air conditioned airport and was immediately struck by the thick hot air. Trying to save a few bucks meant me and my bag were walking to the local bus which gave me a new fad dieting scam. Strap on a bag and walk around merida in May, half an hour and your weight will rapidly decline but warning, this decline will be directly proportional to a decline in patience!
The thing that continues
to bewilder me is the mexicans obsession in jeans. If im pulling on a pair of jeans its either raining, cold or both, but thats certainly not the case here. 42 freaking degrees and with air almost thick enough to swim in and 90% of locals are wearing jeans and looking quite comfortable! And then me the unacclimatized aussie in a wifie, boardys and thongs and still somehow dripping sweat while sitting in the shade watching a bricky constructing a wall in jeans and long sleaves who is somehow immune to perspiration.
Anyway i finally arrived to the hostel dumped my bags and began my search for some swimmable water. Options were sneak into nearby hotel pool, catch an indefinatly long second class bus to the beach or a cenote tour. Although enticing the beach lost out to the crystal clear waters of the local cenotes. Expecting a basic tour (as in jump in the back of a truck style and the free lunch being beans and rice) i was pleasantly surprised when the nice aircond mini van rolled up. After quite the drive and informative discussion from the guide we turned off the main road down a little
dirt track in what seemed the middle of nowhere, and even as nice as the guide was i couldnt help thinking about the future of my organs and maybe i should of chosen the beach. Well i still have 2 kidneys and the path did lead to a ladder descending underground although accompanied with a nerve raking cross from some past unfortunate. Once underground and my eyes had adjusted there appeared to be a photoshop altered image infront of me. Bright blue water, sandstone cave walls and a thick ray of sunlight beaming through a hole in the roof from the world above. The pictures dont do it justice and obviously cant relay the surreal feeling of swimming and exploring underwater for the next hour. We then left the bats in peace and headed off to a larger and somewhat more open cenote. Climbing down the long creaking ladder of the second cenote, perhaps made for the smaller mayan body size, revealed a large blue pool surrounded with stalactites and roots from the trees above attempting to get a much needed drink. To make it even more peaceful tropical birds (the one in my photos of this trip) with quite
the voice had made it there underground home and gave us some occasional words, perhaps telling us to bugger off! And so only due to our stomachs eating themselves we headed of for a traditional mayan meal of incredibly flavorsome chicken which had been cooked underground for 2 hours making the need of a knife obsolete.
Soon after i ended day one snoring loudly in a hammock before the last rays of the sun had even disappeared.
Im pretty sure in my last few months in mexico i have clocked up more hours on buses than the preceding 20 odd years of my life, and day 2 helped to accumulate quite a few more. I was onto the bus and off to tulum, not sure if ive mentioned the buses here before, but they are separated into class. First class is obviously the best, the most comfy and takes the toll roads ie the most direct route. Second class is substantially cheaper, still quite comfy but it goes the backroads, and therefore you get a tour of every town, house and shack in the area. The bus spends the majority of its time stopped, picking or dropping people off
Chased the bugger for ages to get this photo hehe
and can be infuriatingly slow especially with mexicos obsession with topes (speedbumps), but as i mentioned the price factor makes it worth it. My paranoid brains makes the process more painful, i have the wonderful ability to sleep anywhere and anytime but due to my distrust of humans in general i keep a close eye on the baggage compartment every 2 minutes that we stop in case someone takes a liking to my bag. Anyway it was in this fashion that i counted down the km remaining to tulum and it was well worth the wait. Tulum is on the coast of the Caribbean sea....i dont think i need to say anymore, but i will!
After asking the taxi driver to go to the cheapest cabins it became apparent that most of these 'friendly' guys who are overly willing to give you local knowledge of the cheapest accommodation/restaurants etc are getting a nice top up in salary from various commission paid to them for there inside info. The so called cheapest place in tulum was a pricey $600 pesos (still very good value in oz $), after a quick no gracias it was on with the packs in search of
something alot cheaper. After sweating down the long drive ways of several hotels the light at the end of the hot tunnel was an unnamed, no signed joint right on the beach who had some nice hammocks spare for an even nicer price. I couldn't have asked for more, Caribbean ocean couple meters away, fine white sands and rocking to sleep to the soothing noise of the ocean. The next morning continued the illusion of paradise with the spectacular sunrise rising me from my slumber, other than the local dog flogging my shoes during the night it would be hard to have a better night sleep. After the sun had finished its morning light show i went in search of my shoes to find the mother and son mutts that live there curled up looking quite content with their over night shoe stealing mission, lucky the damage was minimal and my one pair of shoes were still acceptable.
After a nice walk along the beach i arrived to the tulum ruins, and was the first in the 'door' having the place mostly to my self for a hour or so until the buses and tours unloaded. As you can
see from the photos they over look the ocean which makes for an impressive backdrop to this ancient mayan trading community. Although the ruins (compared to other sites in the area) are less architecturally spectacular the site has charm and the iguana filled walk down to the beach gave much needed relief from the heat and also a different viewpoint of the ruins from the ocean. After a relaxing swim and siesta, my new found fascination with cenotes prompted a trip to the apparent big muma, the biggest cenote you will ever see. Only reason im telling this story is to warn any travellers who may be heading to the area, find out what time they close before you get in a cab! It really doesn't help that i don't have a watch and haven't been caring to much for time in general lately but the bastard cabbie was happy to receive his fare and then acknowledge that he knew it was closed.....containing my urge to punch him in the face only because we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere and needed a ride....got rolled fair and square and nothing i could do about it other than grab
a few beers and unwind to the sunset and remember im in the Caribbean, a few bucks wasn't worth the stress.
With not much to do in tulum (other than do nothing but ive been doing a bit of that recently) it was into a collectivo (shared mini bus, cheaper than cab and drops u off anywhere on there route, great idea) and off to playa del carmen. It was only for an hour (which was more than enough) until the boat arrived which was heading to Cozumel, Mexicos only carribean island. Which by the way was the only thing i knew about the place, i didnt think i needed to read any more after that, but i learnt my lesson.
My expectations of an island paradise where shattered with hopeful sellers trying to flog diving/snorkeling/boat tours while still on the ferry!!!! I got an idea of what i was in for when a guy selling tours asked everyone who spoke spanish......1 person put there hand up! i kind of thought i was going to a mexican Caribbean island but im pretty sure America has added it to there conquest list.
Walking down the mainstreet i got alot of
practice on the pronunciation of no gracias with people trying to sell everything from motorbike, to cigars and even cocaine, till the point came where ignoring was the only way. The last straw was when i was trying to practice my spanish in a shop and the lady kept responding in english, even after i said i want to practice. Everyone is trying to suck the last cent out of anyone who looks foreign (much to the frustration of Caucasians i met who actually live there and have done so for years) and so i was on a quest to find something good on the island as id already paid to get there!
A scooter was the way and i have to say to beaches on the opposite side from the main city are more what i was hoping for, and it turned out to be quite relaxing. The destruction of hurricane wilma was still very apparent in some places with every third mansion/hotel abandoned and destroyed, which made for some fun exploring. But i was happy to leave the island, which is a shame because it had massive potential to be an amazing place. In its defense all its
beauty is apparently underwater, of which i got a slight glimpse, and i really should have read up and then i would of found its a diving heaven and thats about it. On the plus side the people i met at the hostel made for some interesting nights filled with underwater tales and of course numerous cervezas.
The following day it was off to playa del carmen for the night, although i knew it was a very much of the same except on the mainland it is claims to have some of the best night scenes in mexico. The night kicked off in search of purchasing some pre drinks to indulge in at the hostel before heading out, and this search sums up the town nicely! I almost had a heart attack at the 80 peso price tag for a 6 pack and so walked out of the shop pondering the fact that surely the locals dont pay that. One block back the price had dropped 10 pesos, getting better but still.......after walking 3 blocks i found what i was looking for, 6 pack for 35 pesos and i was now a lot happier and ready to start the
night. Well the town certainly lived up to its reputation, even though it felt like anywhere but mexico i had a great night with my new found friends (who i couldn't point out in a line up) and once again suffered the next day. Which was made worse with my pre drinking idea of buying an early bus ticket to coba. Im getting tired just reminiscing and so i will have to cut this short, ive been crapping on for record time anyway and im sure you have work to do! Hope all is well in oz.
Until next time.........
There are more photos below