Current Date: Wednesday, February 27, 2008 9:00 p.m. (Isla Mujeres, Mexico)
Current Itinerary: We’re leaving here tomorrow and heading down to Tulum again...this time we will stay in the town and skip the ruins that we already saw. We’ll go to some cenotes (natural pools) and maybe see Coba (more ruins). We’ll probably head from there to Chetumal, the town on the border with Belize...we’ll probably be in Belize somewhere by Sunday or Monday. We’re looking forward to doing some diving there!
Quick Addendum to last journal: a few concerned females asked what Paula wore to the wedding since she lost her bag...I forgot to mention that she had carried the dress she was wearing to the wedding with her so there was no problem in that department.
Note #1: I LOVE the replies everybody so keep them coming! I try to answer them all...just give me time! It seems I always get a couple people who write and say something like, “you might not remember me, but...” Trust me...there are 450 people on this e-mail list and I remember each and everyone of you...don’t hesitate to write with comments!! I love it! On the same lines...if there is anybody who wants to be removed from this list, don’t feel bad about asking...it won’t hurt my feelings. Lastly, if anybody is getting these to their business e-mail and prefers to get them to a different address...just write me and I’ll change it.
Note #2: This journal and all that come from now on will have a couple pictures embedded...if you can’t see them you can always just read the post on the website.
Note #3: Jodi is also blogging and posting some pictures...she is and probably always will be a little ahead of me so if you want a sneak peak at what’s coming and a different perspective on all that we see, you can find her blog here. I’ve also added the link to my website.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Got up and checked out of the hostel and headed for the bus station to catch our bus to Valladolid. We figured that once we got there, we'd be able organize cheap transportation to Chichen Itza.
We got to Valladolid around 11:30 or so...we immediately noticed that it was about 15 degrees hotter than playa del Carmen was...I guess that's the difference between being on the beach and being in the interior. We had the name of one hostel from the lonely planet book we have. We hopped in a cab and it was a pretty short ride, which was good news, but when we got there we discovered a note on the door that said the hostel was closed for maintenance, which was bad news. We decided to just walk around the area til we found a hotel. We ended up only a few blocks away, almost back at the bus station where we found decent accomadation that was pretty cheap. We checked in and took a short nap (hey, we actually had to set our alarm that day!) and set out to find our way to Chichen Itza.
Before we did that, we went in search of food and were delighted to find a small shop that was selling 1/4 roasted chickens (the small ones) with rice for a mere 13 pesos! That’s only US$1.30. Now that’s a lot better than the $6-$10 meals we were finding in Playa!
Near the bus station we were able to find a collectivo pretty easily. I’ve mentioned those a couple times now so I should explain that you have a couple options to get most places around here that are shorter distances. You can take the bus, which runs on a specific schedule for the most part, or you can take a collectivo...which is basically a van that is about 1/2 the price that makes stops to pick up and drop off people while it works it's way towards it's destination. It's slightly more adventurous at times b/c in certain areas these are rarely used by tourists. Some of you who've been on this list for awhile might remember the kombi's that I took a bunch of times in Brazil...these are quite similar but slightly more official.
Anyway, we got on a collectivo and about an hour later we were at the entrance of Chichen Itza. Just from the entrance I could tell it would be bigger than Tulum...there were so many people. Based on our Tulum experience, we decided to forgo the private tour guide and headed into the Ruins on our own.
When you first enter and see the main pyramid, it is overwhelming. The sheer size of it can take your breath away.
Jodi actually had been there with her family about 15 years ago...back then you could actually climb on all the ruins. Now everything is roped off, which is pretty disappointing. It would have been nice to explore everything a bit more. Still, though the size and detail of all these structures leaves one wondering how the Mayans were able to construct all this...it really leaves you in awe of how advanced they were. By the way, it also makes you wonder if 1000 years from now, will be there be people studying our marvels of construction and thinking the same thing about us??? Will people line up to see tours of the Sears Tower (or what might be left of it) and walk around looking at offices and cubicles and be in awe of our current situation and how “advanced” we are. Maybe a stapler will be viewed as an ancient artifact. Maybe they’ll have people at the entrances dressed up in suits and ties and selling replicas of profit reports and holding pseudo board meetings so people can see how we lived! It’s funny to think about but perhaps the Mayans would have said the same thing 1000 years ago.
Anyway, we spent the next couple hours covering all the ruins. There was quite a bit to see and I was VERY impressed. It was much more what I was expecting and was much better than what we had seen at Tulum. I'm glad we went to Tulum first, otherwise I might have been disappointed...but I enjoyed that as well and would recommend anyone coming down here to see Tulum and then Chichen Itza.
We had been told by a guide (one that tried to corral us before we started) that we would never see the whole thing in the 2 hours we had before the park closed (at 4:30 for anyone who is wondering or is near here) but he was wrong. It was just enough time and we didn't hurry at all...that may not have been true if we'd been able to climb on all the ruins though. I later found out that they stopped letting people climb everything only 1 year ago. I guess I was just a little too late. We still got a ton of great pictures though and it was a fantastic place to visit.
There was something a little interesting that happened when we left...we were sitting out front waiting for a collectivo to pass by (they don’t have a schedule or anything) and there was a tour group just next to us that had just finished seeing the ruins. There were probably 10 people in the group and they were all actually pretty young (unlike most of the foreigners in tour groups we see down here...I’d guess the average age is usually closer to 60). Their guide was telling them about every little planned out detail for the next 24 hours...right down to exactly when and where they would eat. They were traveling, just as we were, but their experience was far different. We were physically in the same place, but the chasm between our different paths became underscored when the collectivo finally came and we piled into it with a bunch of Mexicans, I looked back and noticed their whole group staring at us...some with envy and probably others felt we were the fools, but for me it made me appreciate how lucky we are to be traveling like this.
We got back to Valladolid without incident...took a little nap and then decided to venture out to find some dinner. We ended up finding a nice little plaza with some restaurants around it. I had a delicious fish and rice meal. After dinner we walked around for a bit...Valladolid was really a nice little town...it was described in the lonely planet as “colonial”...we did not seem to get a feel for that during the day when we arrived...the narrow streets were packed with people and there were tons of little stores (by the way, there is an inordinate number of shoe stores in these Mexican towns...selling mostly different kinds of sandals...maybe it’s because they are easy to make?). Nothing about it seemed very quaint at all, but when we walked around a little at night, our feelings changed dramatically. I’d say it’s a good place to stop in and use as a home base for seeing Chichen Itza.
We were able to find an internet place and stayed there for about an hour before heading back to our room. We had decided we would leave the next day but did not have any clue exactly what would do. That’s right, the hardest part of our lives is deciding what direction to go next...pretty tough, eh? We considered heading back down to Coba but really wanted to do a little more before moving south. We considered going west but decided that it would add another week or two to our time in Mexico...we really want to try and get through Mexico and Belize a little faster b/c they are so much more expensive than some of the other countries we’ll visit. In the end we decided to go to the north coast to this place called Rio Lagartos...we didn’t know anything about it but saw on the map that there was a bioreserve nearby so that seemed a little interesting. It ended up being a VERY good choice.
We got up around 8, figuring we would probably not be able to get a direct bus to Rio Lagartos...I ran up to the bus station and confirmed our suspicions...we would have to hit Tizimin first. It was pretty close anyway. That’s pretty common when you travel in more remote areas...buses only go to the next “major” town and then you have to change.
We got a couple smoothies on the street and then caught our Tizimin bus which was actually fairly empty. The Rio Lagartos bus had a few more people it though and it had pretty small seats...because of that, I had to stuff our day packs into the space above our seats...strangely enough, this seemingly meaningless action changed the course of the next few days.
When we got to Rio Lagartos a guy got on the bus trying to get us to do a tour and stay at their posada. This is one of the annoying things about traveling in Latin America...they are many people that really try to force you into buying stuff or staying at their hotels. You especially get bombarded as a foreigner getting off a bus with a backpack. Many times, I don’t pay much attention to these guys, but now and again you can get some good information from them and sometimes it can turn into a great situation (like the amazing time I had in Morretes Brazil...still one of my favorite places I’ve ever stayed!)
Anyway, since we didn’t know anything about Rio Lagartos and had nothing in our lonely planet book, I had to take advantage of the situation and listen to what the guy had to offer. We walked down to the pousada and it was pretty decent...we looked at a couple different rooms and ended up with a pretty nice one with AC and a TV that had cable (which is only critical b/c you can watch movies in English on HBO). We were upset to find out that boat tours from this pousada cost $US60 though. That was WAY more than we expected. I was only able to talk the guy down to US$50 but that was still way too much. It turned out that the price was set for use of the boat, so if we could get a couple more people to join us, it would cut our cost in half. That was a little more reasonable and it was still pretty early so we figured we’d get some lunch and see if another group showed up.
By the time we had lunch, nobody had showed up, so I talked the guys into taking us by boat to the beach. They said they’d take us free of charge if we committed to doing the tour...fine I said, even though I had zero intentions of doing the tour if we didn’t get another group to do it with us. They were starting to get a little too pushy and trying to get us to commit so I was getting turned off...but I certainly didn’t want to close any doors...plus, for now we had a free ride to the beach. There was one small hitch though...we realized as we got ready to leave that Jodi had lost her sunscreen at some point. It turns out, she had it in the side pouch of her day pack and it must have fallen out when I stuffed the bags up into the compartment above the seats on our bus ride to Rio Lagartos. For those not in the know...Jodi has a pretty fair complexion so not having sunscreen for her could have disasterous results. We looked in a nearby store quickly but they didn’t have any...it makes sense b/c everybody down here is pretty dark. We were sitting there getting ready to leave and we noticed a couple other “fair skinned” individuals sitting in the little restaurant attached to the posada, so I told Jodi to ask them if they might have any sunscreen...plus we were still looking for a couple other people to do the boat tour with us the next day. She went over and talked to them...it turned out to be a mother and daughter from Holland that were doing a short trip together. Fortunately they did have some sunscreen for Jodi to borrow, but unfortunately they had already done the boat tour that afternoon and therefore would not join us the next day. No matter, we figured somebody would turn up.
Anyway, the folks from the posada took us to a nice little remote section of a beach...there was hardly anyone around at all.
They left us there and promised to return a couple hours later for us. It was pretty windy out that day, but that didn’t stop me from going for a nice little swim. We spent a couple hours out there, enjoying our surroundings. I spent quite awhile watching the pelicans diving for fish...I love that kind of stuff. Later when the boat came to pick us up, there was another couple on the boat as well...we didn’t really talk to them at the time though...and for some reason didn’t get a chance to ask them if they were going to do the boat tour the next day.
We got back to our room and you guessed it...took a nap. Let me just pause for a second here...I’d say back in Boston, at least 95% of the days I wished I could take a little nap in the afternoon...I always thought Spain was so smart for structuring a siesta into their work day. How is it possible that this idea has not caught on world wide? Anyway, I’ve been savoring these afternoon naps that I have the luxury of taking these days and that’s why I always seem to be mentioning it even though to most reading this, it’s meaningless.
After we got cleaned up we went out in search of food and sunscreen. Rio Lagartos is a very quiet, small little town. Most of the roads aren’t really paved and there really aren’t even a lot of shops or restaurants. It’s just a quiet, poor little town that was pretty cool in its own way...but I can tell you how their economy thrives...by selling sunscreen at ridiculous prices to tourists!! Jodi found a tiny 5 oz. (yes Ma, FULL OUNCES) bottle of suntan lotion that set her back US$13!! I’m not sure what the mark up was on that, but I know this...not 10 minutes later we sat down and had a full dinner for the two of us for less than 1/3 of that! I guess that’s supply and demand and its best...outside of the resort towns, I can’t imagine sunscreen sells very much down here. We probably had to go to 5 or six little stores before we even found that bottle!
Anyway, after a great (and cheap!) dinner we decided to try out the internet place. It was slower than slow (literally took me 10 minutes to read 2 e-mails) so we scrapped that idea and went back to the posada bar for a couple beers. We saw the mother and daughter from Holland there so we decided to join them and talk for awhile. We had two beers while the told us a bit about their trip and we talked about ours. I hadn’t really noticed it, but the same couple that was on the boat when we came back from the beach earlier that day was also in the restaurant. As they were walking out...the girl from Holland mentioned that she thought they were doing the boat tour the next day! There were literally out the door already but I just caught them and asked if they were doing it and what time...turned out they were leaving at 8:00 a.m. the next morning...rock on. They were a couple...Mark and Jo from England. We worked it out to meet them in the morning so we were all set! I love it when a plan comes together.
Since everything was closed, we grabbed a few more beers and took them back to our room...drank until about twelve and then I stayed up working on journals. I happened to catch the movie “Three Kings” (with George Clooney) HBO by the way. That’s a great flick (it takes place during the Gulf War...but really isn’t about the war) that actually probably got made about 8 years too soon. Lots of good social commentary in there that is eerily relevant today. It got me thinking a bit about our upcoming elections...the girl from Holland had brought it up that night...why did I travel in an election year again!? Anyway, does anybody out there realize that if Hillary Clinton gets elected and somehow serves two terms that we will have gone 28 years with only 2 families in the White House! That is crazy to think about I think...even if she only serves one term that is damn near a quarter century! Anyway, I’m not much of political person as many of you know, but I think I can safely say the US and the world is excited about the upcoming change in regime...no matter who it is that gets elected.
Finally dozed off around 4...
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
We got up in the morning and went to meet up with Mark and Jo at the posada restaurant (it was next to the boat launch). We had a small breakfast and then we were on our way!!
I can’t say enough about how amazing this boat tour was!! It starts off slow as you cruise down river...there are a TON of amazing bird species to see out there...not that I am a bird enthusiast or anything but I do love wildlife and this area has plenty of it. One great thing was that there are black eagles there...the have become used to the river tours over the years so they wait for the boats to come in the morning...the guide threw a fish in the water and we were able to watch the eagle swoop down and grab it out of the water just a few feet from us! I got some great pictures of it!
We searched for crocodiles on the way out but weren’t fortunate enough to see any (but we saw a few on the way back!). After a pretty long cruise they take you out to this large open area where you can see hundreds of pink flamingos! It’s hard to get close to get good pictures of them but very cool stuff.
The key about the flamingos is that they come to this area to feed on the larvae that survive in these man made salt pools. Incidentally, these larvae are what give the flamingos their pink color...they are actually born white and you can tell the age of the flamingos by how pink they are. Anyway, if you look in the background of some the pictures, you’ll notice that there is a salt refinery in the distance. The pools you see are man made and used to harvest salt from the ocean. There are thousands of these pools in this area of the yucatan. Since these pools are dried out to make salt, they are super concentrated...resulting in 2 very interesting phenomenon. First, nothing can live in them except these larvae (and it stops the larvae progressing to adults) and second, and more interesting for us, it increases your buoyancy so that you can sit in this water and float effortlessly...just like in the dead sea! I had heard of this phenomenon before but never experienced it! It felt like we were on a floating air mattress or something. Check out this picture...we are NOT touching the bottom here...just a nice little floating kiss!
It was absolutely amazing!! I could have floated around there forever! We thought we had seen the best part of this tour, but we were wrong...another by product of these pools is the effect they have on the clay that they leave behind. The guide called it “fango” or something like that, but it is the same stuff they use in high end skin care products...so before we knew it, we were having our own spa day, right on the bio reserve! We covered ourselves in clay and had a blast!
Anybody out there who travels in the yucatan...Rio Lagartos is a MUST DO! We had a fantastic morning and loved it out there. Mark and Jo will attest to it, this trip would have been worth paying the full $60 anyway. In the end though, we really made out, because I found out that they normally charge $10 to take people to the beach, and we had done that for free the day before! That’s $70 worth of stuff and we only paid $15 each...my dad would be proud!
We were all very happy with the ride and had a great time together...we decided to meet up for lunch a little later at our cheap little burger place where we had eaten the night before. It turned out to be closed but it was cool b/c Mark and Jo had found another place (well, it was actually more like the place found them) that was just as great, if not better. I had this crazy huge fish that delicious...it’s very nice to have freshly caught seafood each day. During lunch we were on the subject of going to Isla Holbox, which we had decided would be our next stop. We invited Mark and Jo to come along with us and just like that our twosome was officially a foursome. We decided we’d catch the bus the next morning at 7:00 and hopefully make it to Holbox about 12. Perfect...I love it. That’s the great thing about traveling...meeting other folks with a flexible schedule and then getting to experience the adventure together.
Mark and Jo were in Mexico for his daughter’s wedding...she was getting married in one of the huge resorts near Playa Del Carmen. Most of the people who flew in for the wedding were staying at the resort for a week or two...but they opted to get out and see some of Mexico for real. I think it’s great...and feel sorry for those folks who flew all the way from England and will likely never leave the resort. Mark and Jo were experiencing more that day than most the others would see their entire time in Mexico...I mean, would you rather see hundreds of pink flamingos out in the wild, or 2 of them in the pond at the resort that have their wings clipped? I guess there are plenty of folks would prefer the latter, but they are cheating themselves in my opinion.
Later that night we all met up for dinner...and as if we hadn’t had a great nature day already, that was the night of the lunar eclipse...which is a cool thing to see even if it isn’t that spectacular to view. We actually had a lot of questions about the eclipse and what was happening and just like many times on this trip so far, I wished Britt was around to ask. Anyway, we had a great dinner with our new friends and we were all excited about traveling to Holbox together the next day.
We headed back to the posada and grabbed a few beers...we packed all our stuff up and got ready for our early depature the next day. Jodi crashed but I stayed up working on journals...I didn’t want to forget all we had seen that day.
There are a couple important things I want to point out about Rio Lagartos. The first one is that we came here knowing absolutely NOTHING about the place. We had no clue what we were in for and it turned out to be an absolutely phenomenal piece of our adventure. It really captures why I love doing this so much...as I said before, you just never know what lies ahead. It’s so much fun to just pick a place on the map and see what it has to offer...it’s all about stretching that little comfort zone and having a nose for adventure. Also, it is amazing how life works and things just work out sometimes. This time I owed it all to the sunscreen! Had we not lost it, we may not have met the mother and daughter from Holland, and they were the ones who told us about Mark and Jo! Without Mark and Jo, we would not have done the river tour in the first place! It’s amazing...but that’s not even the best part...The next day when we got on the bus back to Tizimin, guess what was still sitting in the upper compartment of the bus...THE SUNSCREEN WE HAD LEFT THERE 2 days before!! Hahaha...you just gotta love it.