Going solo


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North America » Mexico
November 26th 2018
Published: November 27th 2018
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Homun


Ian is feeling unwell today. He is tired and he has man flu. On the one hand he would rather stay in bed but on the other, he does not want me to go out alone. I wonder how he thinks I managed before I met him? If we go to the cenotes, he will be miserable all day. If I stay here, I will be equally miserable. It really makes more sense to do our own thing today!

I have spoken to Dad and he thinks he will be discharged today. He is feeling better and almost sounds like he has had a nice little holiday. Apparently they deliver excellent service at the Queen Elizabeth in Brum!

I set off for the bus. It’s still relatively cool so I foolishly decide to walk. I arrive at the bus station to find the 7.45am bus is full. Yes, they are not even selling tickets for standing room. I don’t want to wait two hours for the next one so I enquire about a colectivo. Yes, there is a station somewhere vaguely to the right. The internet review said the station was right opposite? I set off in the vague direction of the right. Nothing. I ask a few locals who brush me aside - they have no time for stupid foreigners who can’t be bothered to learn their language at this time in the morning! Finally a man who speaks a little English says he doesn’t know but suggests I should ask a policeman - he points at one leaning on his car with a phone in his hand a little further down the road. I approach...but he is too busy as well. Now I try a man in a shop. He turns down the loudspeaker that is blaring and clearly indicates I should go back where I have come from...two blocks, then turn left. I am not convinced...especially as another lady is telling me to walk the other way! Usual story - tell them anything just to get rid of them or maybe not to offend? Anyway, I have just seen a minibus with HOMUN in large letters on the front. I flag it down and they are pleased to let me on. It will cost 30 pesos. There are only three passengers so far, so plenty of seats but only one with an opening window so I go for it. I am in a sweat, the air con is either off or not working, and it’s sticky here already.

The van takes an age as usual. It does set off straight away but it stops and starts and diverts off many times during our journey. By car, this journey takes 55 minutes, but by colectivo...errr, well, however long it takes. Perhaps it’s good that I couldn’t get on the bus...as that is said to take even longer.

We have arrived in Homun and the driver is telling me that this is my stop. Odd as I can see the village square up ahead...surely that’s the place to hire a mototaxi? No, he is sure that if I want the cenotes, this is the place to be. I get off and sure enough there is a mototaxi waiting - just the one. The problem is that the driver doesn’t speak a word of English and I know that there are English speaking drivers here who will also act as as your guide. I really want to walk the few yards up the road to the square to find one but this guy is persistent, so I give in and hope that google translate won’t die on me. He is a pleasant chap and clearly eager for my business.

My driver, whose name is Alfonso, has promised that he will take me to the best three cenotes in the area and since I’m the only passenger, the price is 200 pesos rather than 300. Frankly it’s a good price as I was expecting to have to pay the full fee or wait around to share, but as it turns out there is no one else around in any case. It’s only 9am so I am probably a little early for most folk. The Mexicans will still be enjoying their breakfasts.

The motortaxi consists of a motorbike (driven by Alfonso), with a metal structure fitted on the front. It has a bench seat with two small side seats and a huge headlight for when it gets dark (a motorised Minion?). It’s the typical form of transport used in these Mayan villages. They also have a cycle version which appears to be used mainly for transporting goods rather than humans.

Our first cenote is Al Cenote Canunchen. Alfonso leaves the tarmac road and sets off down an uneven dirt track that Ian would refuse to drive along in our 4x4. I hope I won’t be catapulted out the front! I’ll give him his due...he does drive as carefully as he can - but it’s a big ask on this track. We pass signs for many cenotes on the way, but Alfonso tells me that this one is the most beautiful.

We finally arrive - it looks like it’s the end of the track. Alfonso takes my backpack saying that he will look after everything for me. He shows me the cenote. It looks a bit daunting...I knew they were underground, but I was expecting a much larger opening with lots of daylight. I can only see a very narrow opening with lots of tree roots and a steep staircase...I look down into blackness. Suddenly I am wondering if this was quite such a good idea. Before I commit, I want to take a reccy. I am only half way down the stairs when I see the beautiful clear aqua coloured water below. There are a few little lights but also a small blow hole in the top of the cavern with sunlight streaming in. Wow! I am back up the steps in a jiffy to change into my swim gear.

I am shown to a shower block where I can change and shower in freezing cold water...brrr. I return to the opening and descend the steep metal staircase. This leads on to amother vertical spiral staircase half way down, passing huge earthy tree roots on the way. I was assuming it would be freezing in the water so I am wearing my swim top, but as I enter the water I am pleasantly surprised...it’s really not cold at all. I am the only one here and the water slops around as I make my way through the turquoise waters. The cave ceiling is covered with stalactites and I get great views underwater as I have my snorkel and mask.

The natural sunlight streaming in from the blow hole above provides a shaft of strong silvery light, it’s a bit like a spotlight. There are small shoals of tiny silver fish darting around and the odd larger black variety too. It is a lovely experience, marred only by piped music - although, to be fair, they have kept the volume quite low. Personally I would have preferred to swim around in silence, listening only to the lapping water which is gently slapping against the cavern sides.

Alfonso has accompanied me down below to keep an eye out and to look after my belongings. He has also taken control of the phone and turns out to be a bit of a David Bailey, taking numerous photos and videos for me. This is great as it gives me much more time for swimming! And, as soon as I am ready to come out, he is there with a steadying hand to assist me out of the water onto the wooden pier. It’s all very well set up.

A quick towel down and we mount the steep metal stairway...me returning via the spiral steps and Alfonso, by a second very steep vertical staircase running adjacent. He obviously has a better head for heights than me. Up in the sunshine I dry out reasonably quickly and don’t bother to change between swims. A folded towel on the seat works perfectly...I’m glad I bought a spare towel.

Now for our second cenote. I am expecting to stop at one of the cenotes that we passed on the way here, but no...Alfonso is back at the tarmac road and taking me down another rough dirt track. Once more, he passes every cenote on the way and does not stop until we reach the very end of the track. We have reached Cenote Yaxbacaltun.

This cenote has a much more open feel as it has a large roof opening as well as a couple of blow holes letting in the sunlight. There is a sturdy concrete platform in the middle at the bottom of a rusty metal stairway. It’s possible to swim around the entire circuit of the cenote here.

There are two Mexican ladies already in the water but they are bobbing around in life vests so I’m not sure if they can even swim. Either way, they are not straying far from their entry point, so this leaves me with the whole cenote to swim and duck dive around. The water is more of a dark blue colour here, but still crystal clear. It’s deeper and there are much larger fish swimming around...oh and lots of birds who are chirping loudly - I just hope they don’t crap on me! More stalactites adorn the ceilings, some dipping below the surface and there’s a long knotted rope to swing on...if only I had the upper body strength required! It’s particularly nice swimming through the ‘spotlights’.

On our way out, Alfonso points to some creatures: an alligator, a boa constrictor and two rabbits - all in separate cages I should add! I am a little taken aback - what are they doing here...there aren’t any in the cenotes are there? Alfonso giggles...no, they are pets, put here to amuse the customers. Actually I’m not terribly amused - the cages are horribly small.

Off we rattle down the track, back on to tarmac, then off down yet another dirt track, this time to Cenote San Antonio. It’s hard to imagine that this cenote could pull any further surprises but once more, it is very different. This one is entirely underground with no blow holes. Here I am, again, alone. We descend a steep wooden stairway to a cavern with bright red and green lighting. It’s very pretty.

There is a section that I may look at but it’s not for swimming, and then there is another part where I may enter the water. It all looks rather small until I realise that there is another cavern behind. There is a rope to guide swimmers through and beyond to a long, narrow enclosed section. It’s a little bit spooky as it’s completely silent apart from water sploshing as I swim...and something else which sounds suspiciously like bats. I look around and I think I do see some creatures hanging upside down - or is it just my imagination? I don’t get too close, just in case! I swim up and down the inner cavern twice - first looking at all the underwater stuff and then looking at the cave walls and ceiling above the water level.

Well that’s my third cenote done and it’s still only lunchtime. I negotiate a deal to add a further two cenotes. I will pay another 100 pesos for a couple more. Alfonso is delighted to shake on it, so off we go to cenote number four!

Al Cenote Tza-Ubuntu-Kat is much closer to Homun town and obviously much more popular. There are multiple mototaxis parked up as we arrive. It’s another tiny opening and there are more rustic wooden steps to descend and some are a little slippery. Alfonso goes first and points out all the parts where I must duck to avoid banging my head on stone.

At the bottom there is another concrete platform and a large opening for light. There is a group of kids and adults having fun but it’s a huge cenote with many entry points so we take a different section. It’s not possible to swim the entire circuit here but it’s still a large enough area so it doesn’t matter about the group. They are pretty much staying in the shallows in any case. There are lots of stalagmites here to swim in and out of, plus a deep section for duck diving. It doesn’t seem to have quite the same magic as the other three but probably because it is more populated.

Our final cenote is very close to town and a slight let down. It is based at a hotel and highly commercialised. That said, I’m the only one here! It is called Santa Rosa and was supposed to be lit up in pink lights. I might have been more impressed if it had been! There are a couple of pale blue lights and quite a small swimming area. I do have the place to myself though. I spot a couple of large underwater tree fossils which are quite interesting to dive down to. The other thing that might be special for others, but definitely not me, is a tall diving platform. One, I don’t have the nerve and two, it looks quite high for the depth of the water. My guide tells me it’s five metres but it doesn’t look it!

I emerge back into the sunlight and go to change back into my dry clothes. I have a completely sodden towel so it’s a good job I bought a spare. I wrap all my wet thinge inside the slightly drier towel. Now, back to town for a bite to eat and a colectivo back to Mérida.

Alfonso takes me to the village square but there is no sign of any eateries. The colectivo is waiting but at the moment it’s empty. I ask Alfonso if there is anywhere to eat...I fancy trying a Mayan speciality...lime soup. He insists on taking me back out of town to a hotel. It really wasn’t what I had in mind but decide to go for it, mainly because Afonso is refusing to take no for an answer! I would be happy to be dropped, it’s easy to flag down a colectivo from the road, but Alfonso doesn’t want to leave until he has deposited me safely back at the square...it would appear I have paid him for the day. Now I can hardly eat my soup and leave him watching me...I am far too British to do that, so I invite him to join me. He would also like soup. It’s a clear soup, mildly spiced with a slice of lime floating on the surface. It arrives with nachos, lettuce and avocado. Alfonso signals that I should chuck it all in together - that’s what he does. It’s very tasty and just right for a light lunch, although I think the Mexicans probably have it for a starter!

I pay the bill and we return to the square. The colectivo is now almost full...just one space free - that will be mine then! I pay Alfonso and say goodbye, then squeeze myself into the remaining seat. I have had a brilliant day! Our return trip is much faster since every seat is occupied and no-one gets out on the way - so there can be no out-of-the-way pick ups!

Back in town, I walk back to the hotel, desperate for a shower. It’s 4pm and, unfortunately, the maid has just arrived so I have to wait half an hour whilst the room is cleaned. Talk about bad timing!

This evening we are back at the same restaurant we have used every night. We have had good food here and they have a varied menu so we see no need to look elsewhere. George is there to greet us. It turns out this is his real name...spelt Jorge. He knows I am partial to strawberry milkshake topped with a maraschino cherry and tonight he turns up with three instead of one. It’s our last night here so it’s a special treat - a Jorges special!


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