We left the rental agency in a shiny new, BRIGHT RED Volkswagon and within literally about 2 blocks I ended up getting pulled over by a tourist police. I had made a U-turn on a green light after the green arrow had gone out but the main light was still green. Apparently that's illegal? Or perhaps he just thought he could get a bribe out of us. Whatever the case it was at least a 45 minute delay, while Natalia argued with him and I sat there understanding about one word in 10 and feeling as though the situation was getting worse by the minute. However, at the end of it all we were let go with a warning and Natalia got into the driver's seat and we were off. Pfew!
We went to Ek Balam first, as it was the smallest of the three ruins sites we'd decided to check out and the only one that was reported to be ok to visit in the afternoon (the other two being over-run by multitudes of tourists at that time). We stopped to eat in a little town just a couple miles from the road to Ek Balam and ate in one of the most rustic places I've eaten at yet; a small booth with two tables behind the counter where the proprietor and her daughter had set out neat little bags of chicken, rice and picked red onions with cabbage. Although one's first impression upon seeing the establishment would lead them to believe it was dirty, I was quite impressed with the level of sanitation! The bags kept the flies from landing on the food and the ladies wore hair nets, something I don't remember seeing yet at a single place I've eaten! While we were there I think practically every person who lived there came to get food so it was clearly a popular place!
The ticket price at Ek Balam was more than I had thought it would be- about $8 at the time of this writing. However, the ruins themselves were magnificent. Although the city of Ek Balam apparently covers over 4 square miles there are only a handful of buildings that have been restored and are open to the public. You are still allowed to climb on the ruins and the views of the jungle spread out below you are spectacular.
We stayed in Valladolid that night, which is a colonial town in the state of Yucatán (up until now I have been entirely in the state of Qunitana Roo). It was founded by rich Spaniards in 1543, although, as is true of most colonial towns in the Yucatán Peninsula, a Mayan city previously occupied the site and was destroyed to provide building materials. It was important in the War of the Castes as in 1847 the Maya launched a violent but futile revolt against Spanish domination by slaughtering the town's non-indian population.
The hostel we stayed in was called La Candelaria and was only a small step down from Tribu. The rooms were very basic but the outdoor areas were superb!
In the morning we woke up early so as to beat the crowds to Chichén Itzá. We were glad to have the company of a Finnish girl named Hannele, who had been the only other occupant of our dorm room. She was very cheerful and it was fun to have another person with us. Of course Chichén Itzá itself was magnificent; it's been meticulously restored and the ruins themselves are quite impressive. The hawkers lining the path are less than desirable, however! Luckily they were just getting set up when we arrived (dragging their wares out of the jungle!) so we didn't really get hassled until later on, when they had gotten their booths all set up. I saw wooden masks very similar in shape and design to the one I had purchased on Cozumel (for $50, which I thought was a great deal since the starting price was $150!) and was annoyed to discover that the starting price was much lower than what I had paid, around $35. Oh well! I would have had to pack it with me or mail it back so it was worth it to pay the extra, I guess!
We finished up in Chichén Itzá just as it was starting to get miserable with the combination of the tourists and the heat. Back in Valladolid we decided to check out Cenote Zaci, which is in the middle of the town only a few blocks from the main plaza. As the entrance fee was only 15 pesos we expected it to be awful but it was amazing! Definitely the best 15 pesos I've spent on this trip. You enter the cenote by a stairway down into a cave, which gives you access to the cliff on the side of the cenote. There is a walkway that goes all around the interior of the cenote and the deep blue water is irresistible in the heat of the day. I had brought my snorkeling gear so I spent some time checking out the different fish. One species was quite interesting looking; it looked a lot like a black catfish and I wonder if they were the famous “black eyeless” fish I've heard inhabit many cenotes in the area, though I wasn't able to get close enough to tell if they really were eyeless. The littlest fish will nibble dead skin off of your feet if you keep very still, giving you a nice pedicure! People pay money to do this on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen!
|Holding very still so as not to scare the fishies!|
That night Natalia and I drove back to Playa del Carmen, where she was renting a room. She wanted to hook up with some friends of hers and I'd been keeping in touch with the girls I had met on Holbox, Suzanne and Verena, and knew they were also in town; Suzanne had booked me a bed in their hostel earlier in the day so I was hoping to hook up with them. Sadly, I arrived much later than I had hoped and, although they had left me a note where they were going for dinner I didn't arrive in time to meet up with them. :o( I walked around for a while trying to find them but finally called it a night after a couple of hours of fruitless searching! I felt like I should have stayed in Valladolid, as the town is rich with history and I was sad to spend so little time there.
We visited Coba on Sunday. Although we had heard that you needed to go early to avoid the crowds we couldn't be bothered with getting up that early (Coba opens at 7 and it's about an hour drive so we would have had to be up around 5 to give ourselves enough time to get there at opening!) so we arrived there around 10:30 am. It was pretty busy but we rented bikes because the individual structures are much more spread out; though only a handful of the 20,000 structures have been excavated the city of Coba is believed to have been the largest Mayan civilization in the eastern Yucatan, housing 40,000 and covering an area of more than 27 square miles (just the city- including “suburbs” Coba covered over 80 square miles!). The longest sacbé (raised causeways the Mayans built from limestone that connect the city center to satellite communities) is over 100 km in length and can still be traced all the way to a town called Yaxuná, near Chichén Itzá! It was a lot of fun zipping around on our bikes and a little reminiscent of Burning Man, having to avoid pedestrians, bike taxis (bikes that have a cart with a seat in front of them, the drivers of which are just as crazy as the automobile taxi drivers here!) and other cyclists.
On our way back to Playa del Carmen we stopped at Xcacel beach and cenote, which Natalia had heard about from one of her friends. The beach is a turtle nesting grounds and it's often closed to the public during nesting season, which is ~ May-October. There were very few people there and we had the gorgeous beach practically all to ourselves. There is also a cenote which you reach by a short trek through the jungle; the waters there looked very inviting but I had coated on the mosquito repellent in Coba and didn't want to poison the fish there, who were also eager to do some pedicuring!
We returned to Playa del Carmen and said our goodbyes, our Mayan adventure over. It was nice to have someone to explore the ruins with and it had been reassuring to have someone who spoke fluent Spanish to travel with so I'm grateful that Natalia was available! :o)