It is our last night in Mexico before we fly off to Cuba tomorrow and it has been a rather hectic but fun couple of days. As the roads in Mexico are very straightforward we get around easily in our rental car. After traveling through much of Mexico on buses and being tied to bus timetables, we revel in the freedom that a car affords.
Our drive takes us to three of the most amazing ruins. First stop – Chichen Itza now named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The very precision with which the Mayans built this city applying mathematics, engineering and astrology are incredibly impressive. The most recognizable structure here is the Temple of Kukulkan which has 365 steps—one for each day of the year. Incredibly, twice a year on the spring and autumn equinoxes, a shadow falls on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent. As the sun sets, this shadowy snake descends the steps to eventually join a stone serpent head at the base of the great staircase up to the pyramid’s side. In the middle of the temple grounds, the surrounding structures create a natural amphitheater. To demonstrate its perfect acoustics, our guide takes us to the middle of the grounds, claps his hands and we listen as the sound boomerangs around the site. In fact a few years ago a concert by the late Pavarotti was held at this very site under the stars, we can only imagine what an incredible experience that would’ve been. We wander around for hours taking in the ruins and also come across artisans and wood-carvers displaying their wares for sale. We are particularly drawn to two particularly beautiful pieces – a large ceremonial mask, the other a figurehead of a Mayan king. We’re not sure how we’re going to carry these all the way across Cuba and South America but they are too beautiful to pass up. Tired after a long hot day, we stop for a refreshing drink at a cafe on site and notice busload after busload disgorging hundreds of tourists in a tsunami of Panama hats! The Panama hat is synonymous with the Yucatan and despite being so tempted in Merida to get one I am a little relieved I didn’t. In the late afternoon, we arrive at the pretty colonial town of Valladolid and check into a quirky hostel run by a Dutch backpacker. He tells us that he came to Mexico in his 20s and loved it so much he stayed on ever since. We wander around the bustling town square taking in the cool evening breeze and watch the locals go about their business. Valladolid has a relaxed feel to it and as we leave early the next morning we regret only being here for one night.
Our first stop for the day is Coba, we are here to climb the ruins of Nohoch Mul which is the tallest structure in the Yucatan and even pips Chichen Itza. With its 120 steps to the top, it is literally breathtaking. The view from the top of the pyramid itself is pretty spectacular with tree top jungles stretching out as far as the eye can see. The cool breeze is a welcome respite from the heat of the jungle and the exertion of the climb. However, going back down those slippery and steep stairs is a little dicey so I kick off my shoes and hop barefoot down much to the amusement of European tourists. Coba is a great site to wander around in, it is a decent walk through the jungle on the original roads built by the Maya over 1200 years ago and with the jungle canopy forming a green tunnel overhead it makes for a very enjoyable visit. Buoyed by the climb we look forward to the last ruin in our Mexican adventure – next stop Tulum.
The ruins of Tulum stand on a bluff facing east towards the Caribbean Sea which makes it a very attractive spot for sightseeing and swimming. The colours of the ocean are just as stunningly turquoise blue as you can imagine they would be and we relish the experience of swimming in this glorious ocean while looking up at ancient Mayan ruins perched on the cliff. The day is hot and the water is deliciously cool and is the perfect way to end our Mexican leg of the tour.
After 300kms in 2 days, we’re in Cancun for the night and I am craving Chinese or Asian food of any kind. We cannot believe there is not a single Chinese restaurant here…can this be? We see pseudo-Thai but there are no Asian cooks insight and a Japanese restaurant that charges double than what you would find in Brisbane so we have to do without. Cancun is purpose-built for American tourism and seems to consist of the city centre and the hotel zone which is made up of hundreds of kilometers of walled off resorts. It doesn’t even feel like Mexico anymore as prices are ludicrously expensive and meal sizes are American super-sized. If we weren’t flying out of Cancun I don’t think I would come this way again. However, after backpacking in hostels for the last week and a half we are pleasantly surprised with our hotel and are glad to be in really soft comfy beds, air-conditioning and even has a hairdryer!
Looking back, we’ve enjoyed Mexico so much more than we expected. Exploring the ruins and learning about the sophistry of the Mayan civilisation was really a highlight and we equally enjoyed the atmospheric and beautiful colonial towns along the way. We feel as if we have only scratched the surface and hope to come back again one day.