Monday, March 21, 2011

Escaping the crowd of Mexican Tourists - good bye Itchy Chicken

After a couple of hours of snapping pictures, and dodging the crowds of tourists, we decided to see the refuge of a quieter place for lunch.   The five of us crammed into a cab and headed to a nearby resort, restaurant that was built near another Cenote.  This cenote was huge, and the infrastructure was really well developed to cater for a large number of tourists. 

The cenote was very impressive, but I think the experience we had the previous day in the smaller, less touristy and more isolated cenotes was far more genuine. Still, I had to admit this cenote was still very impressive.                                                               

Aaron and Wayne braved the large number of tourists to enjoy the water before we all and a very nice lunch at the nearby restaurant.

Mid afternoon, we climbed into another cab and headed back to the utter chaos of the main carpark.  After rescuing our backpacks from a very frustrated and tired locker room attendant, we headed out to the front of the site, to try and find our bus.  The buses were backed up and thousands of tourists were milling trying to find their ride out of there.    There had to be at least 40 large coaches trying to pick up their load and get out of there.    Finally we located our bus, and clambered on.

We arrived at our final destination, Cancun, late that afternoon.We were back where we started. Due to a booking error, we somehow ended up with an enormous king size room. After a wonderful soak in the bath to wash off all the "Itchy Chicken" dust, we all headed out for dinner at a local restaurant.  Tomorrow was New Years Eve, and important discussions must be held to decide how we would celebrate the outgoing and incoming year.

Chichen Itza - our last day on the road after three weeks of travelling.

Chichen Itza or as Steve christened it "Itchy Chicken".This morning is the last day on the road. After a quick cab ride we were back at the bus stop, where we board a bus that will take us to one of the most famous Mayan Ruins, Chichen Itza.  After an hour we arrived to a massive carpark that was packed with cars and tourist buses.  Yes!! at this time of the year all of Mexico is on holidays and I think half of them had decided to visit Chichen Itza for the day. (Slight exageration, however the crowd was huge!!!).
Lucky for us Johanna has arranged for a local guide, who rounds us up, after we have stored out backpackes in the locker room, and marches us past the lines of tourists waiting to buy their tickets and through the turnstiles.  Yes!! he was on a mission to get us out to look at the amazing ruins which included pyrimads, sacrificial blocks, and the famous mayan ball court.

He was a funny little man, with a mine of information. However, he tour was was a little like pushing a button and listening to a monotone recording.  If you asked a question out of turn or interupted, he would quickly give you a black look, and continue on with his speal.  
Mayan Ball Court
Colourful Mayan Ceramics

Despite this, Chichen Itza was a truely astonishing place to visit.  Again I think, it is easier if I post some pictures to give you a visual experience

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cenotes and Pueblas in the Yucatan

Today was a day for some exploring, Aaron and Wayne had decided to hire a taxi and visit some more Mayan ruins while Steve and I joined a tour that would take us to visit a couple of small rural villages and then ride on small horse drawn train carriages to visit and swim in three different Cenotes.  Cenotes (or sinkholes) are large underground caverns with the most amazing clear water, despite some very sore and stiff muscles from yesterday's fall I was looking forward to this adventure.

Our first stop was a small village, where the main form of transport were little home made trolley's attached to motorbikes.  Everything around the town was transported by these little trolleys.  They filled the roll of buses, taxis, furniture removalists, water delivery etc.   In the main square next to the church all the drivers gathered waiting for their next job.  We had time to wander around the town, check out the church and Mayan temple which was beside the church.

Interesting point!  Churches were build by the spanish conquerors and catholic church next to the temples in order to have the most impact of drawing the Mayans away from their "heathen ways".  Luckily for the Mayans they managed to continue to keep their traditional beliefs, adapting them to fit in with the introduced rules of the Catholic church.          From the village we continued through the rural country side passing an old hacienda that dated back to the days when the area was famous for the production of henequen or sisal.  This is the fibre from agave plant which is used to make rope, from string that is used to make hammocks to the thick ropes that are used to moor the worlds largest ships.  The production and plantations play an important part in the history of the Yucatan and its people.                
We finally arrived at the small village where we were going to catch our ride to the cenotes.  The transport was arranged by the ingenious idea of one of the village elders.  For over ten years a small colectivo of the local men of the village worked together to provide transport to the cenotes, grandfathers passing on the tradition to their sons and grandsons.  We boarded small open 4 seater carriages and horsed where harnessed to the front. They pulled us along a narrow train track through the bush, to the three different cenotes that were open to the public.
  At each cenote, we climbed down narrow ladders into the gloomy caverns lit by rays of sunlight pouring through the small holes in the ceiling.  At the bottom of the ladders were a couple of platforms that we could jump into the water from.  The heights depending on your level of daring.  Steve was able to practise a couple of dive bombs into the crystal clear water from a platform that was about 15 metres above the water.

  After climbing out of each cenote we jumped back into our little carriage and headed off to the next one.  Every now and again we would have to stop and our drivers (a young man and his little brother) would pull our trolley off the rails to let another group coming back the other way pass through.  They would then put the trolley back on the rails, we would jump on and be on our way.  

When we finally returned (a little drippy and dusty) we were able to change at the local restaurant and then were provided with a delicious lunch before we made our way back to Merida. 

Back to the tales about "tripping" around in Southern Mexico

My last blog described the highlights of our day at Palenque and our visit to the Mayan ruins.  The next part of our trip began with an early start. Backpacks strapped to our backs, the five of us left our hotel and made the short journey to the local bus station.  The short walk was without incident until we had to cross the main road in front of the bus station. Waiting for a gap in the morning traffic, we dodged the potholes and puddles of water and headed across the road.

Well!! as I made my way across, I noticed a uneven lump in the middle of the road, and when Aaron slipped on it a little, I remember thinking, careful!!! However, before I knew it I had fallen flat on my face backpack and bum in the air!!!   Fortunately, the local traffic managed to stop, and as my companions grabbed my arms and lifted me up, I could see the local taxi drivers shaking their heads and saying "gringa loca".  Nursing a bruised pride, (plus lots of other grazed and bruised bits) I limped the rest of the way across to the Bus stop.  Backpacks stowed underneath the Bus, we climbed on board the coach, making ourselves comfortable for the long trip from Chiapas through to the state of Yucatan to the east coast of Mexico and the town of Merida.

Merida is known as the "White City" (due to the large amount of limestone and white paint used on buildings in the city.  It is a charming, bustling colonial city which has been centre of Mayan culture for hundreds of years.  Once we had booked into our hotel, Steve and I set out to explore its narrow cobble stone streets.

We were immediately charmed by the city, and spent a couple of hours checking out the numerous artisan shops, delightful churches and the main plaza that was packed with Mexicans celebrating the Christmas-New Year holiday.

We met the others at the famous Pancho's Restaurant.  The atmosphere, service, drinks and food was excellent.  It was a great way to finish of a long day.  The evening was finished off when we were entertained by one of the waiters preparing the famous Mayan flaming coffee.  Check this link to see how it is made.
The faint aniseed taste of the rich coffee, tickled my taste buds and helped me to forget the collection of bruises, scratches and sore spots were starting to emerge on the right side of my body, after my recent tripping episode.

Where has time gone???

This morning as I squeezed the last of my tube of Colgate Crema Dental con fluor, Max Fresh con Cristales Refrescantes (tooth paste) on to my toothbrush, I realised that it is nearly two months since we left Mexico.  My empty tube of toothpaste is a reminder that "yes I did have seven months away and I did have some great experiences".

I reflect on how quickly you are absorbed back into your old life style, and how I now need to stop every now and then and look at all my photos to remind me of my time away. I have slipped into the everyday hum drum of catching train and going to work very quickly. Though I must admit there is an underlying restlessness that only time or a new project will calm.

Next week, everyone who went overseas on the in-country studies program will be gathering together to reflect, celebrate, swap stories and relive our adventures.  I can't wait to hear about everyone's experiences.  This in mind, I must put pen to paper, or fingers to the key board and finish the tale of my Mexican  Adventure.  Stay tuned for more stories and pictures.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Palenque - Again Let the Pictures do the Talking

Palenque - Another Indiana Jones Moment!!!

Unfortunately for Steve, old "Montezuma's revenge" snuck in overnight and he was not at all well.  Leaving him with lollies to suck and dry biscuits for lunch, we said good bye and headed off on our next Indiana Jones Adventure.  It was such a shame that Steve was going to miss this part of our adventure.
Inside the underground ruins
trekking through the jungle
 After a short taxi ride we arrived at a clearing in the jungle and our guide was waiting for us, we were joined by another small group of travellers and the journey started.  The trek was for about an hour and a half making our way through the jungle, over streams and along muddy paths.  Our guide informed us that we were actually walking over Mayan ruins that had been covered by the jungle.  We were able to climb through a small hole down inside one of the buildings to see how well preserved they were.

Hot, damp and muddy, we finally came out at the main ruins.  Wow!!! Of all the ruins that I have visited in Guatamala and Mexico I think these were one of my favorites.  It was such a shame that Steve was unable to be there with us.  Duty bound I set out to take as many photos as I could so he would be able to see it when I got back to the hotel.  (as if I needed an excuse to take more pictures!!!).

Actually, again there were large numbers of tourists, due to it being holiday break in Mexico. Our guide warned us to climb carefully as a tourist had fallen the previous day and broken their arm.  Noted!! I thought, given my previous record I was extra careful as I climed the three main temples.