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Published: April 21st 2014
JOHNNY'S JOURNEYS: CANCUN, MEXICO 1984
I read in the Auburn student newspaper, the Plainsman, in January about an upcoming Spring
Break trip to Mexico. After reading the details, I decided that I wanted to spend a week in March
among Auburn college students. I called my good friend, Jimmy Crump to present him the
details of our trip. My fellow Phi Delta Chi pharmacy fraternity brother decided it would be a
blast. And we were both able to secure a "vacation week" from Eckerd Drugs.
A history professor, Dr. Allen Jones would be leading our group of about 30 Auburn
students on a trip to Chichen Itza. He was not the chaperone on this spring break trip for college
students, but an adult we could turn to if needed.
March 17, 1984 (Saturday)
Jimmy and I drove from Mobile, AL to the New Orleans, LA airport. We paid $5 a day to
park his car there. We were each taking our first visit to Mexico. Plenty of sunshine as we
landed. Had to take a few pictures at the airport with the CANCUN sign in the background.
Several taxi cab drivers are eager to take us tourists to our hotel. In about 15 minutes we
checked into the Hotel Maria De Lourdes. And it did not take long to change into our swimsuits
and find the beach. Beautiful white sand, azure blue waters and lots of palm trees. So pretty!
Jimmy and I met several Auburn students that afternoon and also a few girls from the
University of South Alabama in Mobile. Just a few days until the first day of Spring, but the
water temperature was quite pleasant. We spent the rest of the day at the beach and a nearby
Sheraton hotel swimming pool. Imagine, 14 miles of tropical beaches to explore.
For dinner that evening, our entire group went to a typical Mexican restaurant. Such a party
atmosphere, especially when a Mariachi band came to our tables. Being a little adventurous, I
ate octopus for the first time, along with regular Mexican food. It was a fun first night in Mexico!
March 18, 1984 (Sunday)
A few guys joined me and Jimmy as we planned a trip to Isla Mujeres or Island of Women.
We boarded a ferry boat for the eight mile trip. It is a fishing village that has slowly opened up
to tourists. The island is only 5 miles long by one-half mile wide. This island is part of the
northern border of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere. We strolled through the
small downtown area, which was 4 blocks by 6 blocks. Our big adventure for the day is going
In less than 20 minutes, we have our flippers, mask and snorkeling gear. We spend a couple
of leisurely hours at the Garafon Park site. This calm, crystal clear, turquoise water was breath-
taking. We could see an abundant variety of colorful, tropical fishes. And the coral was amazing
to view. I can see why people come back each year to this beautiful location.
Jimmy and I walk to the southern tip of the island, Punta Sur. This is where the rising sun first
touches Mexican soil. At 20 meters above sea level, this is the highest elevation in the Yucatan.
It is also home to an ancient temple honoring the Mayan Indian moon goddess, Ixchel. Jimmy
wanted to climb upon the old stone Mayan ruin. So, I took a few pictures of him on his camera.
Even saw an iguana there on the rocks.
We walked north to the downtown section. Passed through several small neighborhoods. I
kept thinking of a phrase, "poverty in paradise". It looked like most of these families were finan-
cially struggling. And just a few blocks away were stunning views of the Caribbean Sea.
Street vendors tried to sell us a hammock. Watched wind-surfers, then found a little restaurant
in the downtown area. Cool breezes and shade from the sidewalk cafe umbrella. Very pleasant. A
short while later, we had boarded a ferry boat and headed back to Cancun. Beautiful sunset!!
That evening, we just stayed at the hotel for supper, then enjoyed the swimming pool.
March 19, 1984 (Monday)
Sure felt like we were on vacation today, getting to sleep late. After a little breakfast, Jimmy
and I had plans to go to the beach. Just soaking up the rays and reapplying sunscreen. Stayed at
the beach most of the day, just hanging out with the college students.
March 20, 1984 (Tuesday)
Dr. Jones had arranged a 2 and 1/2 hour bus-ride for us on our trip to Chichen Itza. I was
kind of surprised that more of our group of Auburn students did not go. Jimmy and I joined Dr.
Jones, his sons Woody and Allen, Anita, Sidney and Terri . Through thick areas of what I would
call jungle, we could see small houses with thatch roofs, no doors, dirt floors and no signs of
electricity. Stopped about halfway at a nice rest area. A tall arched gate was adorned with
beautiful pink flowers! Plenty of souvenirs for the tourists.
Chichen Itza is the most famous of all the great Mayan cities. The name means "at the mouth
of the well of the Itza". It emerged as an important city around 600 AD. It was a hybrid commun-
ity, influenced by a mix of people from different parts of Mesoamerica. Around 1000 AD, the
Toltecs were integrated into the community. And with them they brought human sacrifice.
Sources vary but the civilization seems to have declined as a regional power by 1250 AD.
There are two large natural sinkholes, called cenotes. These provided plenty of pure water
throughout the year. The most famous was the Sacred Cenote, known as the Well of Sacrifice.
A young female was thrown in, yearly, as a sacrifice to the Mayan rain god, thought to live in its
depths. Archeologists have since found their bones as well as jewelry they wore in their final
hours, jade carvings, pottery, plus gold and silver artifacts.
The ball court here at Chichen Itza is the largest one in the Americas. It measures 554 feet
long and 231 feet wide. During ritual games here, a 12 pound rubber ball was tossed through a
stone scoring hoop, set up high on the court walls. Competition was fierce, for the losers were
put to death. I took a few pictures of the stone walls. And there are depictions of decapitations.
Dr. Jones was full of information as we strolled around the sites. This was the Spring equinox
and hundreds of the native Mexicans were dressed in colorful, traditional Indian costume /
clothing. I had my picture taken with two of the young Mayan girls. We went to temples,
columned arcades, stone structures, and a sculpture of Chac-Mool, on top of the Temple of the
Warriors. The most impressive site was a pyramid called the Temple of Kukulkan or El Castillo.
The temple has 365 steps, one for each day of the year. Each of the temple's four sides has 91
steps, while the top platform makes the 365th. And guess who had to climb all the way up to the
top? The steps are so steep that people walk up and down on all-fours or walk sideways.
Devising a 365 day calendar was just one feat of Maya science. Incredibly, twice a year on
the spring and autumn equinoxes, interplay between the sun's light and the edges of the stepped
terraces on the pyramid create a fascinating shadow display upon the sides of the northern stair-
way. A serrated line of seven interlocking triangles gives the impression of a long tail leading
downward to the stone head of the serpent Kukulkan. Our group was among the thousands of
people showing up to celebrate the day.
We visited all the other major sites including the El Caracol Observatory. Mayan astronomers
could observe the sun, moon and the planet Venus. Then we saw the Temple of the Warriors and
Group of a Thousand Columns. The roof of the temple is no longer there. The columns are
carved on all four sides with figures of warriors wearing feathers. As a U.N. World Heritage
site, it is the second most visited archeological site in Mexico. This archeological site has been
named one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. It is simply an amazing place to visit.
March 21, 1984 (Wednesday)
This is the day of the weekly bullfight. It seemed a little too barbaric to me, so my plans
included a bus-ride to Xel-ha. It seemed simple enough, getting on a southbound bus. Luckily
an American asked me if that was really my destination. Not sure where that bus was going, but
he directed me to the correct one. It is a pleasant 75 mile drive.
Xel-ha is a natural wonder of the Mayan Riviera. The name Xel-ha means place where the
water is born. It is an aquatic paradise where crystal clear freshwater , flowing from underground
rivers, meets and mixes with the turquoise Caribbean. It is known as the world's most beautiful
natural aquarium. There are over 90 species of marine life. The water is mostly 15-20 feet deep
all over the lagoon. The area is about 22 acres. Did I mention how pretty this is?
Sitting in the shade for a little rest, it is easy to spot parrots up in the trees. And the iguanas
don't seem scared of all the people. Sure could have stayed longer.
I met a family from Ohio who was taking a taxi ride down to Tulum. Felt fortunate to catch a
ride with them. Only about 6 miles away. It's time to tour more Mayan Indian ruins. This was a
walled city, sitting atop 40 foot tall cliffs. Tulum was one of the last cities to be built and
inhabited by the Mayans. It was an important trading hub, with its location on the Caibbean
coast. The town thrived from the 13th to the 15th century, with a population of 1000-1600.
Archeologists started restoration efforts around 1913.
One of the local men served as a guide to several of us. The wall encompasses three sides;
it is 16 feet high, 26 feet thick and 1300 feet long on the western side. Places we stopped to see
were the Castillo, House of the Cenote, Temple of the Diving God, Temple of the Frescoes, the
House of Chultun, the House of Columns and the Watchtowers. There are over 60 well preserved
structures here. Tulum should not be missed and I can see why it is the 3rd most visited archeo-
logical site in Mexico. Also learned that the movie "Against All Odds" was filmed here (as well
as Isla Mujeres and Chichen Itza and 10 other locations) So glad I was able to visit, even though
I was the only one from my spring break group to make it. Time to catch a bus heading north.
Well, it seems like I get off the bus too soon. Had to walk about 3 miles before I arrived in
Cancun. Well, the views of the water were outstanding. So, it was okay.
My roommate Jimmy had arranged a double date for dinner tonight. Two of the South
Alabama students had become friends with several of the Auburn students. Jimmy's date, Suzy,
represented Wyoming in 1981 in the America's Junior Miss Pageant. Shelly was my dinner
companion. What did you expect... more Mexican food for dinner. We had a fun time.
March 22, 1984 (Thursday)
This was our last full day in Mexico. I wanted to walk around Cancun today and see the city.
This spot has been chosen to be "THE" place to visit in the Yucatan, a tourism project begun in
1974. A decade ago, a Mexican tourism board wanted to develop a world-class destination on the
Caribbean to rival places like Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta.
I strolled around the central town area and noticed monuments and sculptures. One was in
commemoration of the October 1981 North-South Economic Conference. There had been a 22
country world conference in Cancun. A few world leaders here were President Ronald Reagan of
the U.S.A., British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand of France, Indira
Ghandi of India and Mexican President Jose Lope Portillo.
One of the more surprising sites as I walked down a sidewalk... a store owner had his small
pet jaguar on a leash. Interesting. Had to buy souvenirs and it was kind of fun "negotiating" the
prices. Seems like every price was subject to change. "A special deal for you, Senor". I took my
items back to he hotel, then changed into my swimsuit for an afternoon at the beach.
Don't know when I'll see such a pretty beach again, with the sugar white sands and turquoise
blue waters. Stayed there all afternoon. Hey, I'll have a healthy looking glow when returning to
The whole group gathered at a nearby restaurant for supper that evening. Another good meal
before returning to the hotel. Most of us just hung out in the courtyard or around the swimming
pool and enjoyed a few adult beverages. I have enjoyed getting to know several of these Auburn
March 23, 1984 (Friday)
After a filling breakfast, a service bus took us to the airport. A few more pictures with our
new friends, then we were on our way. With a window seat, I could see the southern tip of Isla
Mujeres as we flew over. A couple of hours later, we landed in New Orleans. Time for me and
Jimmy to return to Mobile. My first trip to Mexico was full of good memories.
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