Sunday, May 3, 2009

Final day in the land of the Maya

… but not the last. I’ll definitely be back here. Even though the trip didn’t go as planned, it was still quite fun and it exceeded my expectations.

I watched the sun rise on the beach in Tulum before packing up and heading over to Playa de Carmen. That’s where I spent most of my day. It’s a nice place, but it’s not my kind of place. Everything is fairly modern. There’s a ton of hotels, tourists, shops, beaches and clubs. It’s for the type of person that wants an easy and relaxing trip and can fork up a little extra cash. Compared to most places, the locals here are a lot more fluent in English and other languages.

After walking around for a bit, I gave my friend Courtney a call. She moved down here some three years ago and started up some businesses. We got together for a drink and brunch and she hooked me up with some good Aloe lotion for my badly sunburned back. She told me about places to visit when I come back here.

After saying goodbye to Courtney, I did a bit more walking around town then hoped in my car and drove to Cancun. I got a hotel near the airport, as my flight is pretty early tomorrow. I decided to just stick around here for the day as Cancun doesn’t seem like my kind of place. Now I’ll just get some rested and nurse my sunburn.

Sunrise in Tulum:

Walking around Playa de Carmen:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Day 5: So sunburned!

There were a couple of firsts for me today. I went snorkeling and I got the most sunburned I've ever been. I think this is where I need a woman with some common sense. Something I seem to be lacking in, as I went snorkeling without putting any sunscreen on, at least not until it was too late. My back and legs are so sunburned that I think I'll be sleeping on my stomach tonight. It didn't take very long, the sun is strong here!

Still, it was a day well spent. I dove near the beach and saw lots of fish. I think I saw a baraccuda, which kind of frightened me. I've heard they sometimes attack people. I also found a huge konk shell, but decided it was too big to take with me. Then I read a book on the beach.

Later in the afternoon I got on a boat that was taking people to the nearby reef. It anchored and everyone went snorkeling. Everybody was Mexican and didn't speak a word of English. My Spanish was equally bad. Though we shared in excitement every time we saw large schools of fish. I was wishing I had a waterproof camera case! I did bring the camera with me and I'm so glad I did because the boat got fairly close to the Maya ruins which are perched right on the ocean. It felt pretty cool to be swimming in the same place where this intriguing civilization once thrived. It was back to the hotel after, where I nursed my sunburns.

The downside about where I'm staying right now is that the restaurant closes when the sun goes down. I haven't had a good meal in a couple of days. Maybe I'll find a good restaurant tomorrow at Playa de Carmen. I'll be stopping there to say hi to a friend that I haven't seen since I was a teenager and also to scope out the area. I'm not sure if I'll stay the night there or in Cancun.

The beach I spent my day on:

Tulum ruins:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Day 4: Back on the beach

I had planned to get up early and drive to Calakmul, a natural reserve with a Maya pyramid or two. It's about six hours from Campeche and I really didn't want to drive all that way only to find it's closed because of the flu, like the rest of tha Maya ruins, museums and other tourist attractions. I spent most of the morning in my room, reading about the flu, trying to figure out what to do and looking at rebooking my flight to come home earlier and save a vacation day or two. I was able to reschedule my flight at no charge for Monday, a day earlier than intended.

Finally I decided to head back to Tulum, taking a different road and stopping by some towns along the way. My first stop was Piste. The only reason I stopped there was to see if I could get a glimpse of Chichen Itza, the most popular Maya pyramid and one of the new seven wonders of the world. I didn't even make it to the gate. There were heavily armed guards turning people away. I drove on and noticed a sign for a hotel that was located near the site. I figured maybe I could bribe the hotel owner to let me on the roof and I could get some photos from the top. I didn't have to bribe them at all, they happily let me climb up to the highest point, and I was able to get some photos. They're not postcard material, but it's as close as I'll get. They were so close -- yet so far.

My second stop was Valladolid. It's a pretty little town with a little over fifty thousand inhabitants. I had trouble finding a place to park my rental car, until I saw a restaurant with secured parking for guests. This is where I had my late lunch before walking around the town to take some photos. Like all the other towns, a giant church loomed over the town square. I've seen so many churches on this trip, but I couldn't resist taking photos of one more, it was just too pretty.

I got to Tulum at about 5:00pm and I checked into a hotel right on the beach. It's a little pricey, but it's so nice! I did something I don't do often and probably wouldn't have done if the ruins weren't closed -- I left my camera at the hotel, put on my swimming shorts and swam until the sun went down. Wow, it was so much fun. I felt so refreshed, I went for a run along the beach. This is the one positive thing about the flu, the beach is fairly empty!

I enjoyed my evening so much that I checked in for another night. I'll relax on the beach tomorrow, maybe take some sunrise and sunset photos and then on Sunday make my way to Cancun.

Chichen Itza Pyramid:

Chichen Itza Observatory:

Chichen Itza Nunnery:


My hotel room:

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Day 3: Driving across the Yucatan

I drove through most of the Yucutan Peninsula today. Most of it was good, some of it was pretty crazy! I left Rio Lagartos at sunrise, but not before taking a few photos. I thought that maybe if I leave super early, I could get to the nearby Ka' Balam ruins. I figured maybe nobody would be around, I could sneak, get a few photos and leave. The plan went smooth enough, I got to the site, the gate was closed and the ruins lay two kilometers ahead. I parked my car nearby and started walking quickly. I was near the entrance and I was thinking I was in the clear, when all of a sudden dogs started barking! Guard dogs! Well who would have though there would be guard dogs? They approached me quickly and they looked mean. I didn't make any sudden movements and backed away slowly which calmed them down. Then their owner came out and that seemed to relax them even more. He was super friendly, but he didn't speak a word of English. In very bad Spanish, I tried to bribe him to let me in, offered him fifty dollars, then a hundred, but he kept saying "no se puede." I think that meant no. It was kind of funny. I then played around with the dogs, which were very friendly by this time and walked back to my car.

My new destination became Campeche, which was pretty far and I decided to take the scenic route, passing through many little towns on the way. I learned that most of these were set up in a similar manner. Lots of one way streets, even if there's a thousand people total, and a giant church overlooking the town square. I snapped a few photos at Espita and Dzitas and made a long stop at Izamal. The latter is known for a REALLY big church and a couple of unrestored Maya pyramids. It's the closest I've gotten to Maya ruins yet.

One of my worries about this drive was driving through Merida. The largest city on the peninsula. I was looking on the GPS and it looked like there might be away to go around it and it seemed like a good idea. Well, not so much! I ended up in some really busy neighborhoods, tiny streets and INSANE traffic! Cars, buses and motorcycles were making three lanes out of a one lane road. I don't know how I got through it without a scratch. I just kept driving and it seemed to take forever but I got through. I reconnected with the highway and it was smooth sailing once again.

I'm now at Campeche. This place was worth the drive! It's such a beautiful city and it's quite easy to navigate. The best part of it is enclosed in old fortifications that were built to keep the pirates out. Inside are a hundred or so colonial buildings, all very colorful. I spent most of the day walking about trying to chat with the locals and taking many photos. It was an interesting day! Haven't figured out what I'm going to do tomorrow.

Church at Dzitas:



Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Day 2: Rio Lagartos

I left Tulum shortly after my last update. I set out to Rio Lagartos, a town popular for its proximity to the nature reserve with the same name. Still feeling quite disappointed about all the Maya ruins being closed, I decided to make a short detour to Ek' Balam, a less known ruin site. I hoped that its lack in popularity might mean it's still open, but before I even got to the gate my hopes were dashed. A local man on a bicycle rode up to my car and yelled out "cerrado" -- it's closed.

Continuing on, I passed through many little towns that looked authentically Mexican. Everything was going smooth until I reached Tizimin, a town of some 50,000 people. I don't think it's even on the map, yet getting through this place was extremely difficult. Minutes into the town I realized that I was driving on a one way street. I didn't see a one-way sign, but the oncoming taffic and the gesturing locals were a quick hint. I turned around and tried get back on the right path, but it was really confusing! Every street was a one-way street! It seemed like for half an hour I was just driving around in circles. Finally I pulled over just to relax. I ended up in the town square and was right in front of a colonial church, Parroquia Los Santos Reyes de Tizimin. I know the name only because it's listed in my guidebook as the only thing worth seeing in this town. I took some photos, got back in the car and turned on the GPS which finally helped me get out of there.

The rest of the drive was easy. I reached Rio Lagartos (which in Spanish means "Alligator River") and right away some locals approached my car to sell me on some wildlife tours. I told them I needed a hotel first and read out a name of a hotel from the guidebook. One of the men jumped on his bicycle and guided me to it, then waited for me to check in so that he could take me to his touring company. I went with him and the prices were decent so I booked a trip. As the town name would suggest, there are alligators and crocodiles in the water, but what the place is really known for is flamingos. There were hundreds of them! I was the only one on the boat and the captain entertained me and himself by trying to catch the alligators/crocodiles by the tail. I kept wondering what would happen if he fell in -- I'd get some interesting photos.

I'm now at a restaurant sunburned and somewhat happy that I got to see something interesting. I'm drinking two dollar coronas and waiting for my dinner. Not sure what the plan is for tomorrow, perhaps Campeche, a city of 200,000+ and known colonial buildings and pirate history.

The balcony and view from my hotel:

Setting out to the wildlife reserve:

Sunset from the restaurant balcony:


It appears that the Mexican government has closed access to all archeological sites because of the flu epidemic. I'm not sure what to do now, the main goal of my trip was to visit Maya ruins. I'm looking at the map of sites to visit and trying to figure out where to go. There are some animal reserves that might be cool to visit. Maybe I'll just grab a room at a resort and chill out on the beach for the rest of my trip.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

White sands after a long flight

I was starting to feel pretty cramped up on the plane. There was a bit of a delay in Houston, but I transfered just in time.

Landing in Cancun was pretty wild, seeing the beaches and mangroves from the air. Most of the airport employees were wearing masks and I did get a little sketched out every time I heard someone cough or sneeze. I got through customs fairly quickly, got my rental car and I was on my way to Tulum.

The highway is in really good condition, though it'll take a bit of getting used to people's driving and a slight difference in signage. I ended up taking a couple of wrong exists, but it wasn't long before I turned around and continued on the right way.

I got to Tulum around 5:30pm, just after the Maya ruins site closed. I will have to explore it tomorrow. With the time I had left in the day, I walked over to the nearby beach and dipped my feet into the warm water. It's quite beautiful and I may have to go for a swim tomorrow.

Now I'm sitting at a restaurant near the beach. I just finished eating a delicious meal and I'm drinking a grande margarita by candle light while typing on my laptop. The swine flu is pretty far from my mind.

Tulum beach: