Sabbath, 15 April
We made a split decision last night to visit the Coba ruins today, despite it being Sabbath. I don’t like doing activities or shopping on Sabbaths but these ruins sounded like they would be somewhat uncrowded and undeveloped, as only 2%!o(MISSING)f the site has been excavated. We remembered how much we enjoyed the primitive nature of Termessos in Turkey, and how spiritual an experience that was, so we decided to pay the $5 to go in. Unfortunately, it had several hundred people there at 10.30am, but we hired some bikes and rode around for 2 hours across the expansive 70sq km site. It was about 1km between all the different building groups so I was thankful we’d chosen to ride rather than walk in the +30C heat, and they were unlike any ruins we’ve been to so far. The ruins were round like beehives, rather than square, with the tallest temple being 41m high and 120 steps of climb to get the views. However, the site will be memorable not for the ruins but for the wonderful white pathways that meandered through the jungle, with trees bending over the pathway and filtered light dappling through. It was very quaint.
Mum and Dad decided not to go into the ruins, so we dropped them off at the Choo-Ha cenote, and came back two hours later to join them at the Tamcach-Ha cenote. The first cenote is a little shallow but the second is very deep, so much so that you can jump from either a 5m or 10m platform into the water. The interesting thing about both these cenotes is that they are both fully underground. There is a narrow spiral staircase leading down through a 2m opening in the ground, and it descends 15m to the landing below. Inside is a large cavern with pristine, aqua coloured fresh water. It’s a temperate 25C but compared to the 35C above ground, it feels quite cool and we bask in its refreshing qualities after a dusty morning at Coba.
Cenote count – 5 – and each one has been different to the last. It’s hard to pick a favourite.
What a great way to spend Sabbath.
Sunday, 16 April
It was a lazy day with a spot of grocery shopping in the morning and then a tasty lunch at TripAdvisor’s #1 restaurant in Valladolid, Yerbabuena. It’s a mostly vegetarian restaurant although there are 3-5 dishes with meat for the diehard carnivores. We sat out in the their jardin (“garden” in both Spanish and French!), relaxing in front of the fan and shaded by the big table umbrella. There was a lasagna, veggie burger, mixed plate of sopes/quesadilla/tlacoyo and a cazuela. The sopes and tlacoyo are like small flat tacos and the cazuela is a stew in a clay pot. It was all quite delicious and I could quite easily eat there again. I also tried a cacao flower drink, which was interesting but I wouldn’t get it again.
After lunch we drove 3km out of town and joined the locals at Oxman Cenote. It’s about 20m deep, 20m down from the top and 20m in diameter. It’s completely open to the sky but there are tree roots hanging from the ground down to the water. It’s very romantic in a “Groot” way. There’s also a swing about 5m above the water and you can jump in that way. That’s the thing about these cenotes – they are all special in their own unique way. It’s hard to pick a favourite because they are all different.
We’ve only got 5 more days left before we come home.
Cenote count - 6
Monday, 17 April
Nothing much to report. We spent the day discovering the colonial side of Valladolid. It reminds me a little of Oaxaca. Spent a couple of hours wandering the streets and then came home for a nap. We wouldn’t want to run out of cenotes to try!
Tuesday, 18 April
Chichen Itza beckoned, so we were in the car by 7.30am and off to the main attraction on the Yucatan. It gets about 10,000 visitors a day. We arrived just after opening, paid our $18 entry fee and anticipatingly meandered along the path to the open area. What greeted us was thrilling. It was the fully restored El Castillo – the main temple – in the middle of the open plaza. It’s the tower that all the photos are of. It is mesmerizing and imposing. There are stairs on all four sides with a temple at the top. You can’t walk up it but I don’t have a problem with that, given the hoards would do such damage to it. The interesting thing about the temple is that it reflects the Mayan calandar. 365 steps for the days and 16 sections for the Mayan years.
On the perimeter of the plaza there are 4 other sites with several ruins that you can visit. The south ruins are pretty cool with an Observatory that is square at the base but round at the top with windows for star gazing by the ancient astrologers. That design still stands today at modern observatories.
The worst thing about Chichen Itza is the hundreds of merchants they allow in. They cram every section of pathway or perimeter, constantly asking you to look at their wares. If you wanted a sacred experience to contemplate the life of the ancients, you wouldn’t find it here. It’s more like “would you like some ruins with your markets?” One guy tried to sell me a tablecloth for 800 pesos and when I was walking away he dropped to 600, then 300 and finally, 200 pesos. The going rate for a tablecloth is 200-300 pesos but he certainly didn’t think I knew that when he gave his first price. At Palenque they allow market stalls outside the ruins but not inside, and I think CI could learn from them. It makes for a much nicer experience as a visitor.
Chichen Itza is the clear winner for best temple, but for an overall site experience, Palenque wins.
After a picnic lunch we swam in Cenotes X’Keken and Samula. The first was beautiful with a single 1m hole in the roof and a shaft of light piercing the underground sinkhole, creating a dazzling contrast between water colours of jade and dark blue. The water wasn’t as clear as it’s been in other cenotes but rather it was milky in its translucency. However, it made for stunning photos and it was refreshing compared to the 33C above ground, so we enjoyed it.
Unfortunately, Samula was not worth the effort or money by comparison. It was a plain cavern with no interesting features and no interesting water either.
Just before dinner we experienced a flash electrical storm with lightening, thunder and torrential rain. It lasted about 30 minutes and then was gone. There was enough rain to flood our street though, so driving to dinner through unknown depths of puddles was a tad anxious.
We finished our stay in Valladolid with dinner out at café which served tasty fare for quite cheap. Not as cheap as street food, but cheaper than a lot of formal restaurants. It had a delightful courtyard with windows overlooking a pretty garden bed and the waiters spoke English and allowed us to drop meat from the dishes to make them vegetarian.
Cenote count - 8
Wednesday, 19 April
Sadly today was our last cenote, but we’d saved one of the best for last. Called Ik Kil, this cenote has greenery growing all the way from top to bottom in an open sinkhole 20m down, and there are hanging tree roots and waterfalls to make it that much more romantic. The water isn’t as pretty as prior cenotes but it’s easily the most visually stunning of all the ones we’ve seen. When we arrived at 10.30am there were only 5 people swimming, which is not surprising given the thunder, lightening and torrential rain that were headed our way. However, it never eventuated so we jumped in and swam as the skies opened up to blue horizon. By the time we got out an hour later, the clouds had rolled in, together with the buses, and our intimate swimming hole was a soup of humans 5 minutes later.
We hit that big storm half way to Merida and it stayed with us for the rest of the day. There was a break in the weather long enough for us to drop off our trusty steed and walk 2km to the centre for a quick look and dinner. The rain started again before we finished and we took an Uber home. Cost $2 to go 1.8km.
Dinner was at a Mayan restaurant and it was all very weird but tasty. Mum and I ordered a Chaya and Lime drink and I had Chaya soup, which is made out of a leafy green called Chaya. It has the shape of a maple leaf but the consistency of lettuce. Tasted like broccoli! Dwayne and Dad had a tamale roulade with a hardboiled egg rolled in the middle and smothered in delicious red sauce. I ordered a salad to go with the tamale and it was the biggest veggie salad I’ve ever received. At 5.45pm it was packed to the rafters like a Yum Cha palace on a Sunday morning. By 6.30pm the place had halved in customers so I’m not sure why there were lines out the door that early.
Final cenote count – 9 (10 for Mum and Dad)
Thursday, 20 April
Well, here we are – the last day in Mexico. We walked 11km down their famous Reforma Ave, around the Grande Plaza and Merida Cathedral. Merida itself is nothing special and I wouldn’t bother coming back here. However, the locals are super friendly and keep thanking us for visiting their town. One guy gave us directions to a restaurant and even following us 3 blocks to make sure we got there.
We ate in a woman’s home for lunch where we had chips and dips, rice, veggie stew, coleslaw salad and a drink for 90 pesos each (A$6.25). We had dinner at a fancy outdoor food market where I relished in my final Esquites and we tried Marquisites. These yummy street food delicacies consist of waffle mixture flattened out on a hot plate, then slathered with Nutella and rolled into a cigar shape and eaten straight away. 25 pesos per roll (A$1.80). A great dessert to finish our trip on. To end the night on a song, we watched a free live show in St Lucia Plaza. There were singers, traditional dancers and a band.
Tomorrow we start the long journey home.
Friday, 21 April
As I reflect on our time in Mexico, I remember some of my favourite places and experiences. We have seen it all – jungle, beach, mountains, cities, countryside.
· Best food destination – San Cristobal
· Best beach experience – Belize
· Best culture experience – Oaxaca
· Best cenotes – Casa and Ik Kil
· Best Temple – Chichen Itza
· Best ruins site overall – Palenque
· Favourite dish – Esquites
· Favourite drink – Jamaica flower
· Best hotel – San Cristobal
· Best holiday rental – Tulum
· Most friendly town – Merida
What will I remember from this trip:
· Driving was a breeze (most of the time), roads are great and drivers are courteous
· Everyone is genuinely friendly, hardworking and honest
· We always felt safe, both day and night
· A lack of Spanish knowledge shouldn’t scare you away
· The accommodation is of a good standard
· Mosquitos were more of a problem inside than out
· Frijoles (beans) are never in anything. They are only ever served as a side dish
· They don’t do chimichangas or burritos
· Chocolate always has cinnamon
· It is easier and cheaper to get a lavenderia to do your washing than to find a rental that has a washing machine
· Hardly anyone smokes
· There are LOTS of young people
· It’s not as scenic as I was expecting
· Those speed humps are the worst!!
Our time in Mexico has been lots of fun and we’ve explored more than most, giving us a really good overview of the south. I would like to come back and see a couple more ruins and some different beaches, but who knows if that will ever happen. I’m glad we’ve devoted a month to doing it justice, creating memories that we’ll draw on for years to come.
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