Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mayan Riviera Day 4: Chichen Itza

January 4, 2016

The iconic pyramid, El Castillo, at Chichen Itza

For Monday, I had purchased an all-inclusive tour to Chichen Itza for Todd’s Christmas present, so we were up early to be picked up in our hotel lobby by the shuttle. The tour is put on by Xcaret, which is a company that owns multiple adventure parks and has various excursions and tours in the area, so they are a well-oiled tourism machine. The shuttle dropped us off at a Marriott or something of that nature, where dozens of tour buses were lined up to head off to their respective destinations. A huge air conditioned bus with a bathroom on board and an image of a pink snake emblazoned on the side transported us for the 2 hour and 25 minute drive into the jungle. Our knowledgeable, albeit overly rehearsed, tour guide named Eduardo gave us some history of the Mayan civilization as we rode, followed by an additional informational video that I mostly slept through.

The first stop on our tour was the city of Valladolid, which is apparently a traditional Mayan town with a mostly Mayan population. We viewed the town square, which reminded me heavily of Ponce in Puerto Rico, including a Catholic church with an impressive façade. Despite the various tour buses cruising through the town, it remains otherwise untouched by tourism, and you can see how the Mexican people actually live day to day. Many of these people live in conditions we would consider extremely poor, but Eduardo told us to not feel sorry for these people as it is their culture, and this is just the way of life, and they do not know anything different.

After viewing the town square, we went to a traditional Mayan Ceremony, which was very brief and to the point. We dropped some hardened tree sap into a fire and made a wish for the new year, and some sacred water was sprinkled on us with some plant that we had to put on our head, our heart, and our knees…some kind of purification ritual. Then we went and saw some Mayans making traditional crafts like carving wooden masks and weaving hammocks, and went to a shop that sold all Mayan souvenirs. It was a huge emporium and I wasn’t particularly interested in buying anything, despite the sales pitches of our guides, but I did see an EXTREMELY cute, though malnourished, puppy who looked like a baby Merry, and we spent the remaining time trying to pet her and watching another tourist feed her chips on the front steps.

Statue at the Mayan ceremony

Dropping my sap into the fire...make a wish!

Weaving a traditional hammock

Carving masks

Baby Merry!!!

Next stop on the tour was Ik Kil cenote, which is a huge and famous sinkhole. We had a buffet lunch in the restaurant (not particularly good), and then changed for a swim. This was a bit out of my comfort zone, as I’m not a strong swimmer (ok, I can’t really swim at all), and I hate the hassle of getting wet, changing, etc. especially when we had a full day of tourism to follow. But I’m so glad I did it. I got a life jacket and a locker for my stuff, and we headed down the 90 or so steps to the bottom of the sinkhole.

View of the cenote from above

Todd cannonballed into the water, and I climbed in more delicately from the wooden ladder. Bats flew in circles above our heads while vines dripped water on us, and little black fish swam around our ankles (God help me, if that wasn’t facing my fears head on). The experience reminded me a lot of the Camuy Caves in Puerto Rico (clearly, a lot of this vacation reminds me of Puerto Rico). We also got to test out our underwater camera, which was a joy in itself. Our guide had told us to go swim first and eat afterwards, but we did it in reverse order and were lucky because the huge crowd of people in the cenote was gone by the time we went. You can see the difference in the photo as shown from above (when we first arrived) and below (when we actually went swimming) in terms of how many people were there. The stop was short, so we certainly didn't have time to dilly dally and you have to commit to your schedule of eating vs. swimming right away.

That splash is Todd jumping in! My camera wasn't fast enough to catch him mid-air

Todd underwater!

View from in the water

We are having a grand old time swimming in the cenote

View of the cenote from the lookout point half way up

Next stop…Chichen Itza!! What an adventure. The ruins are magnificent, huge, and spread out on an area that is much larger than expected. Our tour guide was knowledgeable, though sometimes hard to understand. I am ashamed to admit that despite having studied Mayans in middle and high school, as well as the art and architecture in college, and having seen numerous documentaries and read passages in my guidebook, the majority of my knowledge came from watching the animated movie “The Road to El Dorado” as a kid, which I’m sure is not the most accurate source. But I certainly knew plenty about the human (and material) sacrifices and the ball game from that movie! So I felt somewhat prepared. I need to work on my Mayan knowledge retention…

Ball Court

Snake detail on the ball court

Close up of the hoop. Try and get a ball through that!

Can you see the Mayan dude holding a decapitated head?

Check out the ball motifs on the side
I absolutely loved the ruins, and we were able to get some great photos despite there being a gazillion other tourists there, and the god-awful vendors trying to sell you something at every turn. “One US dollar, my friend! Come take a look!” they all shout at you as you walk by. 

In front of El Castillo

Wall of skulls

Temple of Warriors

Cool shot of the columns I took on my phone

This reminded me of some of the abandoned things Todd photographs

La Iglesia was my very favorite

After a long and very hot day viewing the ruins, we enjoyed ice cream bars from the restaurant (I highly recommend the Magnum dulce de leche flavor) and headed back to the bus for a horribly long and uncomfortable drive back to Cancun, followed by a long shuttle ride back to our hotel. We arrived late and sticky, but headed out immediately to dinner for fear the establishments would close. We stumbled upon Dona Triny’s, a tiny local restaurant that had advertised in the map of the town we received at hotel reception claiming “authentic Mexican flavor that is truly representative of our customs and traditions,” and decided to eat dinner there. I lucked out by ordering the chicken chimichangas, which were absolutely to die for, especially with homemade salsa drizzled on top. I could eat those every day. Todd got a marinated pork burrito, which was good, but not nearly as tasty as my chimichangas. And for dessert, ice cream cones from the heladeria next door, where the owner had no problem making a little fun of my Spanish skills.

Ultimately, even though it was a long day, I do recommend going with a tour group. It's nice to have someone else drive you if you are coming from Cancun since it is such a distance, and it's also convenient for them to take care of everything like parking and ticketing since it is so crowded. The cenote was a fun highlight of the day, and I'm glad they included it as well. Anything longer though, and this day would have been too much.

Definitely a must-see if you are going to the Yucatan!

1 comment:

  1. The dude with the decapitated head looks like a space man in a space suit holding a helmet...wait...maybe that's wishful thinking but his outfit DOES look like a space suit!