Current Date: February 23, 2008 2:00 p.m. (Isla Holbox, Mexico)
Current Itinerary: same...see previous journal
Note: This is the second journal sent out today. See notes on previous journals.
Friday, February 15, 2008
We got up around 9 and I had to take advantage of the free internet to finalize a few things. We packed everything up and headed to the bus station to grab a bus to Playa Del Carmen. My friend Paula (yes, the very same Paula who visited me in the North of Brazil last time) was going to be in Playa for a wedding so we went down there to meet up with her and her boyfriend Takis. It's funny because I didn't know they were gonna be there until about 10 days before that when I was in NYC. We went to brunch and I was telling them about leaving and flying into Cancun on the 12th and she told me that they were going to a wedding in playa del Carmen (one hour away) on the 15th. How about that! Paula always seems to find herself mixed up in my adventures:)
We got to playa around 1:00...we immediately liked the feel of it. We grabbed a slice of pizza and then searched out the hostel. Imagine our surprise when we were walking down the street and there appeared in front of us one of the great American Meccas...a Wal Mart! Seriously, a Wal-mart, smack dab in the middle of this little Mexican beach town. I think it's safe to say that it might be becoming a little over commercialized down here.
After we checked in, we changed and went to find Paula and Takis at their hotel. It took awhile but we found the place. I think it’s safe to say they were paying more than the US$35 it cost us for the hostel. Their hotel was ridiculous...even calling it a hotel is an understatement...it was more like a small town. We called their room but they weren’t there...I thought I ‘d go look for them around the hotel but the security guys would not let anybody walk around the place. It was pretty ridiculous. Anyway, we ended up waiting about 20 minutes or so and then didn’t know what to do so we decided we’d go grab a beer and try them later. We left the hotel and just as we go about 100 meters away, Takis came running up to us. It was lucky b/c if we would have left 30 seconds sooner he would not have seen us in the distance walking away. That turned out to be VERY fortunate because it was a GREAT afternoon.
As we walked to join Paula at the beach, Takis told is about their horrible travel day they had trying to get down here the night before. It was not entirely unlike mine. A delay caused them to miss their connection and they arrived here but Paula’s bag did not. Takis, being a man and coming for only 4 days, only had a carry on so he was good, but I know Paula and this must have been a nightmare for her. We’re talking about a girl who knows fashion, worked in fashion, and who brought more clothes to Brazil with her for 4 days than I brought for a whole year! As of that point (about 3:00p.m.), her bags still had yet to arrive. To add insult to injury, her bag was overweight so she had actually paid the extra $50 penalty when she checked it. Ouch.
Being the sunny person she is though, when we found her on the beach, she was in great spirits (admittedly, this might have had something to do with the open bar). We were excited to see each other of course and it was probably one of the first "hey, I'm traveling again" moments that I've had so far.
We were quickly introduced to several other friends of hers that were also going to the same wedding, and even more key was that Takis did not hesitate to grab some drinks for us from their hotel bar, which was all inclusive. Right on. That's a backpacker's dream even if you're only a couple days into your trip.
Our first views of the ocean in Playa were pretty spectacular. This is the first time I've ever seen the Carribean sea, and I have to admit it's impressive. I don't think it compares to some of my favorite places in Brazil though. I've always felt like the beauty of a beach is a combination of what the water looks like and what your immediate surroundings are(okay, and maybe a couple other things)...While some might opt for the huge hotels and bustling activity you find in places like Playa and Cancun, I prefer the cliffs of Praia Madiero in Pipa (northern Brazil) or the serenity of Praia de Sonho outside Parati (in southern Brazil) which offer a much more personal touch (see "quest" section of website for pics). I just broke my own record for number of parenthesis in a sentence.
Anyway, we hung out for an hour or so on the beach by their hotel and then decided to go a few hundred meters down to Mammitas, a more happening bar. We walked down there and it definitely was nice...they had beds out on the sand you can lay on and they were pumping club music. Besides the beds, it reminded me of the time Tony and I stumbled upon the gay section of the beach in Copacabana in Rio...most of the surrounding areas were good, but it wasn’t really a party on the beach, but then you get into one zone with music pumping and suddenly the drinks start flowing freely. We ended up getting a “swing bed” up by the bar which was pretty cool. One of the guys there, Kerry, was pretty awesome. He had actually moved last summer from Newport beach to Austin, TX. It’s funny b/c Austin is one of the only places where you could move from Newport beach and it not really be viewed as a step down. He agreed and considered it more of a lateral move. He had actually lived in NYC for a year or so a few years back...moved there from Southern California in the winter. Let’s just say we had similar views on the upsides and downsides of the east coast.
We stayed at Mammitas for an hour and half or so and it was a blast. Takis told is this crazy story about spear fishing...I gotta tell you, the guy is a traveler at heart if I ever saw one. I guess it’s in his blood...his Dad worked on a boat most of his life and sailed all around the world for 40 years. Now THAT is a man I’ve got to meet someday. Talk about somebody who lived life right:)
When we finally left, we wanted to try to meet up for dinner but they were having one at the resort where we could not join them. It was unfortunate I think b/c it would have been nice to just hit a little Mexican spot...but alas, we are just backpacking and they were on vacation. There’s plenty of room for both types of travelers in Playa I suppose...but for us it was back the hostel. We made plans to meet up after at a club called the Blue Parrot.
On our way back, we decided to stop for a quick beer at a place called the Tequila Barrel...it turned into 3 beers as we met this cool couple at the bar. He was a Marine from North Carolina that had just returned from service...he had met the girl he was with at a blackjack table in Vegas about a year before and they had kept in touch and she wrote him for months while he was gone. He had gotten back to the US just a few days before so they were on a vacation together. Man, I wish I had a nickel for everytime I’ve heard that story:) Seriously, though, they were cool and I only really bring them up to tell this story...they asked us where the bus station was b/c they were staying in a hotel in cancun. We gave them directions and told them it was a US$4 ride to Cancun. Then they told us they had paid US$60 to get down there by taxi! Needless to say, they were not happy...but let it be lesson to anybody who comes down here...TAKE THE BUS!!!
We grabbed a little food on the way back to the hostel and then went to the Wal-mart to grab a few drinks. I guess having it nearby ain’t so bad afterall. After showering up and getting dressed to go out, we ended up hanging out in the hostel common space for quite awhile. Everybody was down there pre-gaming before going out. The hostel has an awesome common area and a very cool open design. The whole thing is really one big open room, with the bedrooms all opening into the common space. We met so many cool people from all over the place, and even a few people from the US. There were these 3 girls doing a study abroad program in Merida (5 hours from here) that were from a school called "The College of the Atlantic" up in Maine. When I met them, they gave me this corny tagline about it being the "Greenest school" in the country. Wow...the applications must be really rolling in to that place. If that's what your school is known for, you might have made a bad choice. Anyway, I guess you can't get further away from Maine than Playa del Carmen. I mean, these girls must have thought they were in some sort of bizzaro world. Anyway, we also met these guys from England had a crazy story about being out on the beach the night before with some girls. Long story short, the police came and yada yada yada, they were US$100 lighter than when the night started. Better than going to jail I guess, but I hate hearing stories about crooked cops shaking down tourists (I was victim of this once when driving down to Monterrey). I guess this is still Mexico after all...a sad and frustrating reminder.
We headed over to the Blue Parrot around 10:15. We didn’t see Paula and Takis, but we did end up running into all the other people from the beach earlier.
The place was a pretty awesome club. A lot of it had a sand floor and it was right on the beach. Around midnight, they had this crazy show with people dancing with fire...sort of reminded me of good ol’ “show bar” in Sao Paulo. I got some decent video of it. The night went on from there with us dancing like maniacs. The DJ was great and even the folks from the hostel showed up later.
We had an awesome time...I guess I was right when I said the pace would quicken. We left around 3:00 b/c we were starving. We had eaten dinner at like 8:00. That always happens when you go out late...you're out drinking for hours and you never realize that it's been 6 or 7 hours since the last time you ate. Usually it hits you as you're leaving the bar...which is why I always loved Brazil b/c outside every single club there was always a food truck. Anyway, it was a great day and night in the opposite of Maine:)
Got up around 10 and decided we would go to Tulum. For those that don't know, it's one of the many small Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan. We'll probably visit several over the next two weeks or so. Before we left, we ran into the girls from Maine downstairs...they were all pretty hung over. It's funny because when I met them the previous day and they gave me that "Greenest school in the world" line I thought, alright, here are a few serious prudes. I couldn't have been more wrong on that one...they didn't get in til after 5. I wonder what the folks back in Maine would think of that? If those people saw what was going on down here, there would be an awfully long line at the "study abroad" center. Another cool guy I met that morning was Felix. He's headed to NYC next week so I told him to pop in to Bar Coastal to see Mike. Hope he does it.
Anyway, we got dressed and headed out to find a collectivo (basically a little van that's cheaper than the bus) to take us down to the ruins. It proved to be pretty easy so we were on are way. The drive down was uneventful except that we passed the entrances to some of the resorts that are down here...they looked pretty huge, although you can't see much with all the trees. I stilll think those poor folks are doing them selves a disservice by being completely isolated...but who knows, maybe it's a fun little community in there.
The van dropped us off just down the road from the entrance to the Tulum Ruins. We weren't quite sure what to expect or where to go. When we found the little center near the entrance, I was a little dissappointed to see a Subway restaurant there. Good God, first the Wal Mart yesterday and now this!? I wonder what the Mayans would think of that? It seems the long arms of American Fast food reaches to all corners. I'm not sure why, but it sort of takes something away from it in my opinion. I feel like there are some things that the corporate world should have the decency to just leave alone. I mean, we were a half mile from ruins built a thousand years ago by one of the great Civilizations in the history of man...somehow I feel like the Cold Cut Combo just doesn't have a place there.
Anyway, we saw a ton of signs that said a guide was recommended, but then we saw that it was US$40 for a guide. That made the decision pretty easy. Whenver I go to a place like that, I usually like to venture on my own. Normally, there are plenty of plaques and signs that explain pretty much everything you want to know anyway (although after the "earth line" thing I don't really trust plaques anymore)...plus, I'm definitely not above hovering around just within earshot of a guide to hear anything that might be interesting. In most of these countries, I'm at a serious advantage b/c nodody assumes I can speak and understand Spanish...that means I can stand right next to the guides with a dumb look on my face and pretend to stare at something, all the while absorbing all their wisdom for free:)
Well, off we went down the road towards the ticket booth. They actually had a little shuttle (by shuttle, I mean a tractor pulling a bunch of trolley style cars behind it) that took people from this info center area to the ticket booth for 2 pesos. We decided to walk it and weren't surprised to find that it was about a 5 minute walk on a very flat road. I guess it's a long way to walk after you've stuffed your face with a footlong Sub. Alright, no more digs on American fast food, or American laziness...well, atleast not until tomorrow.
We entered Tulum and it really was an impressive site. It's amazing to think of the people that built these structures centuries ago...you start thinking alot about what their lives must have been like. These Mayans had it pretty good, I can promise you that, because Tulum is walled in on 3 sides, but the 4th side is right up against the ocean and the view from there was absolutely spectacular. The ocean in this area is the deepest of blue and it's quite a sight to see with a Mayan city in the foreground.
We walked around Tulum for about an hour...just as I suspected, there was no need for a guide. The "city" is very flat and wide open..you can see pretty much the whole thing from anywhere within the walls. It layout actually reminded me of one of the forts we visited on the harbor islands in Boston...dang it, can't remember the name of it at the moment. There were signs explaining each of the buildings and giving a little history. In fact, when I did eavesdrop on what some of the guides were saying, it was merely a regurgitation of what we saw written on the plaques. Anybody that comes down here, save your money and just walk the place on your own.
After seeing most of the "city" we decided the water was just too inviting not to go for a swim. There is a small, beautiful little beach there that they allow visitors to swim at...pretty much everybody does it...we had read about that and brought our bathing suits along and boy were we glad we did. We swam in the beautiful surf for about an hour and enjoyed ourselves immensely. I can't believe I didn't see the ocean until I was 17 years old. That's is just an absolute travesty. It was pretty awesome to be back in it for a couple days with many more to come:) Again, we took a TON of great pictures so check them out.
We finally left Tulum around 3:30 and headed back to the info center to get some food. You can guess where we did NOT eat I'm sure. We grabbed a collectivo and a short hour later we were back at the hostel...feeling very good that we actually accomplished something significant for the first time on our trip. I'll probably say this 15000 times over the next year, but it feels phenomenal not to have any time constraints whatsoever.
I worked on journals for about an hour and then we decided to go out and buy some food. Good thing our old friend Wal Mart was across the street:) We picked up some beer and stuff to make sandwiches and brought it back to the hostel. By then, the common area was filling up with people and and again everybody was pre-gaming before going out. I met a pretty cool French guy who was a Bartender. It’s funny because he thought I was too b/c I was wearing this bar shirt that my buddy Crable gave me back in Houston (he’s part owner in a place called “Shot Bar” in midtown...go there and check the place out if you’re in Houston). That shirt led to this discussion about shots and a few pretty funny stories he had from the bars in Paris. I also met a really cool guy from Spain named Rodrigo. He was traveling for the first time in his life...He came over to the Yucatan for a job for a couple months but he quit after a week and is here for 2 months. It was interesting b/c he had the “I can’t believe I never got off my ass and traveled before” syndrome and was in love with the concept of meeting so many crazy interesting people. I met somebody like that pretty often and I always love to see the glimmer in their eyes. This guy was 33 years old and said he was loving life more than he had in years. I guess we’re never to old to learn a few things, eh?
A group of about 10 of us left the hostel around 12:30 to find a bar and have a couple drinks.
Ten people coordinating where to go out went about as smoothly as you would imagine...we walked around for about 30 minutes with nobody being able to agree on a place. It was pretty ridiculous so finally Rodrigo just picked a spot and we went in and the group followed. After that we ended up at this club called Bali b/c it was free drinks for girls. The place was just okay...we didn’t stay too long. Something I’ve noticed the last couple days by the way...the drinks here are horrible. They are so watered down and very weak. You almost have to get beer so you know you’re not being ripped off. Hopefully it’s not like that all over Mexico and it’s only b/c we’re in the such a touristy area.
Anyway, the group all wanted to head back to the hostel but Jodi and I went to another bar for a beer before heading back to the hostel around 3:00. Jodi crashed but I hung out with the others up on the roof of the hostel. It was a great night overall...we probably should have just stayed at the hostel in the first place, but it’s all good. Finally crashed around 4.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
We actually slept in...didn’t get up til about 11...and even then it was probably b/c of the sun coming in our room. I didn’t explain before, but we are in a corner room that has windows on both walls that are exposed to the exterior. There is no glass on the windows, just screens and there are no curtains or anything. Basically the sun comes right in in the morning, which isn’t THAT bad, but we are on a very busy street that gets pretty loud in the morning. It’s not the best conditions for sleeping in but we’ve managed okay.
We didn’t do that much this day...spent the entire afternoon at the internet place answering e-mails. We were thinking of leaving the next day for Chichenitza so we went to the bus station to find out info. We ended up buying tickets to some city called Valladolid, which of course we never heard of, but it’s pretty close to where we want to go.
We got back to the hostel around 6 and made an unwitting discovery. You can’t buy beer in playa del Carmen after 5:00 on Sundays! What!? This is basically a vacation town that is thriving on tourism! There are no Sundays when people are on vacation. Very disappointing.
We spent the night hanging out at the hostel for the most part. We worked on our pictures for a couple hours as well. I’m struggling to catch up with the last few weeks in Boston still and also we’ve already taken a ton of pictures here. I ended up going down to join the hostel party around 11:00. Everybody went out around 12 but I decided to stay in...ended up talking with Rodrigo/Spain until about 1:00.
He really was a very interesting guy...he said he used to be a bar owner back in Spain...but this trip had inspired him to do more than travel. He and a friend had discussed opening a small hotel, but now he changed his mind a little and wants to open a hostel instead. I think that’s pretty cool...it would be one great way to bring the traveling world to you. If anybody who ever reads this finds themselves in the northwest of Spain in a city called Camarinas, make sure you look for a hostel owned by Rodrigo Vertebra. Good luck my friend. See you out in the world somewhere.
I finally went to bet around 1:00...I have to admit there was a nice warm feeling inside for me...it had taken several days, but I was finally settling in to the traveling world once again. Hanging out in the hostel and meeting people like Rodrigo is big reason I love doing this...but there was even something else that made me smile. Sitting on my night stand next to me was a bus ticket to some city that I had never heard of in the middle of the Yucatan. Cancun and Playa del Carmen are everyday names, but Valladolid was a huge question mark...a sort of gateway to where this trip will take us...to everywhere and nowhere as I think I once put it. We boarded a bus 7 hours later, knowing nothing about what lied ahead for us...Juuuuuust the way I like it.