Friday, February 27, 2009

A LONG Day in Mexico

Did you know that 38 years ago, there was no Cancun? It was just a tiny fishing village on the coast of the Yucatan peninsula, which is actually a very large, very flat coastal lowland. This land was the land of the Mayans. There's quite a bit of history there, so we decided to try and spend part of our trip visiting the ancient Mayan ruins and learning a thing or two about these mysterious people.

The resort we stayed at had a tour agency which booked all kinds of tours, so after talking with them, we decided to pass on the more crowded Chichen Itza ruin which was closer to the hotel district and be a little more adventursome. They had a tour called "Coba and Caves" which visited the Coba ruins - once a thriving Mayan village 18 square kilometers in size. Not only was it huge, but it also had one of the largest excavated temple ruins that you could climb. It also stopped at some caves, one where you could go swimming, so we thought this was a better match for us. It promised to be a long day, but we figured Jonathan could handle it, after all, it was at least 4 hours on the bus back and forth, and he loved the busses. He got to look at the roads and the road signs written in Spanish, and all sorts of neat things like "sideways traffic lights"...ahem. (see future blog post about 4 year olds who are obsessed with all kinds of civil engineering structures...)

ANYWAY. At 7:20 am, a lovely air-conditioned coach bus pulls up in front of our hotel and loaded us up. Along with snacks, towels, camera, binoculars, swimsuits, sunscreen, other words, two backpacks jammed to capacity. There were only about 5 other people on the bus and only the three of us got on at our hotel. We thought it would be a really nice trip with only 8 people. Wrong! We proceeded to stop at hotel after hotel and pick up one or two people here and three or four more there, until 2 hours had passed by and the bus was almost full to capacity! And we still weren't at our first destination! Okay, so the Mexicans stick to their own schedule, fine. But we didn't get to Coba until about 11:00 or later. Whew. Long morning on the bus. One nice thing was that our two tour guides were both Mayan, or of direct Mayan descent. They still lived in little Mayan villages, they knew all the history, they even spoke some of the Mayan dialect. We got quite the education along the way, which, happily, was part of why we wanted to go.

Anyway, fast forward - we're finally at Coba, it's a 2km hike through the jungle to get to the temple ruin and it's hot. Jonathan's doing well, so off we go. We stopped at a few lesser ruins along the way to listen to our tour guide, and then we finally made it to the base of the temple. Wow. It was big. And high. But this is what we came for, so up we went. We had no problem getting up there - 121 "steps" to the top - but some of them were more like a "step and a half". Jonathan and I scampered up, or rather, Jonathan scampered and I wondered how we were going to get back down. We finally reached the top - see the photo above, and notice the death grip I had on Jonathan's was scary! Trust me, you did not want to go tumbling down those steps. We spent a few minutes catching our breath and getting some pictures, then it was time to go back down. I'll spare the details - but thank God they had a rope you could hold onto. You can see it behind me in the second photo - it went all the way down to the ground. THAT'S how I got down, one hand on that, the other hand on Jonathan, taking the steps one at a time on our backsides. Jonathan was fine with it - "let go of my arm, Mommy!" and "Mommy, you're squeezing my arm too tight!" We'll just leave it at that.

Off the temple, then 2km back to the bus in the hottest part of the day - mostly shaded though through the jungle. We dashed back to the bus and arrived with only minutes to spare, hot and sweaty....only to have to wait 20 minutes for the last stragglers - c'mon, if the family with the 4 year old can make it back on time, where were you? Sigh.

Next stop? A Mayan cenote, or sinkhole. Except this sinkhole was in a cave, 60 steps (more steps!) down and about 70 degrees. But wow, was that refreshing. The Mayans say swimming in the cenotes makes you younger. 40 minutes in the water, and I definitely felt younger than I did an hour before! It was very neat - I had my mask and snorkel with me so I got to explore a bit. The waters were crystal clear and along the edges you could see where the cave walls went down and with side chambers - a scuba divers paradise. The guides said that many crystals and precious gems had been found in the formations. I looked, but didn't see anything.

Lunchtime! Finally! It was after 3 by the time we got to the Mayan "restaurant". It was an open-air place, with outdoor furniture for tables and chairs and serapes for tablecloths. They had a buffet-style lunch with authentic Mayan food - don't even know what half of it was, but it was good - a chicken dish, a beef dish and a pork dish, along with tortillas and rice and beans. Fabulous. I think we were all starving.

Back on the road - and our last stop - this time to Aktun Chen cave - a huge cave system with all the fun extras - fruit bats, low-hanging stalactites to crack your head on, more steps, and it's very own wise-cracking guide. They even had a jungle to walk through to get to the mouth of the cave, and the jungle was filled with things like mosquitoes, monkeys and jaguars - luckily we only saw the first two. They also had some "kept" animals - peccaries and deer and some beautiful peacocks.

We finally made it back to the hotel at about 9pm. Jonathan was asleep in my arms when I got off the bus and the in-laws were a little concerned - they expected us around 7. So did the tour agency! But all was well. It was a great day, packed with natural wonders and history, and Jonathan loved every minute, which, in the grand scheme of things, made it worth every penny!

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