Fri Feb 15 2013: Underwater Caves and Fake Bird Calls
Neda is not feeling well. She's got a bad case of Montezuma's Revenge and she can't stomach any food. Which is a shame because there is some great Yucatan cuisine in Merida. We end up patronizing a German beerhouse (of all places) across the street from our hotel and I gorge myself on bratwurst and Guiness. There are a lot of foreign tourists wandering around the city and accordingly the prices for food and accommodations have risen. We don't really like that too much.
Opting for a liquid diet
Merida is a very cultured city, lots of art displayed everywhere
Our next destination is directly east across the Yucatan peninsula. The Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza are one of the most famous in Mexico, and this has been on our to-do list from the start. Chichen Itza is only a couple of hours away so we leave early in the afternoon to try the catch the best light at the ruins. We encountered a very gruesome motorcycle accident on our way, which put me in a very sober mood for the rest of the ride, reflecting on all the things that could happen to us while on two wheels.
The Castillo Temple at Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza was a very big disappointment. Right from the start, we were charged a hefty admission fee, part of a two-tiered system which made it cheaper for locals than foreign tourists. I can understand a tourist surcharge, we encountered the same thing in India, however what we got in return for that large expense was very underwhelming.
The ruins looked like they were entirely reconstructed on a well-manicured golf course. There was none of the stepped-out-of-a-jungle feel that we had in Palenque, and there were far fewer buildings here than on other ruins we had visited. Bus-loads of tourists from Cancun and Merida were unceremoniously dumped on-site and it felt more like a Disney attraction than an archeological site.
This pretty much summed up our Chichen Itza experience
We opted not to hire a tour guide (more $$$), but we were curious when all the guides had their tour groups clap in front of the Castillo Temple. When we eavesdropped on a tour, we found out that due to the construction of the stairs on the face of the temple, the echo of a clap would make a two-toned sound that would mimic the call of a Quetzal. This is a bird that is commonly found in the jungles around the area, and was also worshiped by the Mayans as the God of the Air.
Might have to turn up the volume a bit
Never having heard what a Quetzal sounds like, we thought at the very least the two-toned echo was neat. Later on, I searched online for a Quetzal call - it sounds NOTHING like the echo. So all those dumb tourists (us included) who clapped in front of the temple were probably being laughed at by every single tour guide... :(
I think we're done with visiting ruins.
Tourists walking around the ruins
Valladolid is less than an hour away from Chichen Itza, and we stopped there for the night. It recently gained status as a Pueblo Magico, and the government has invested a lot in cleaning up the city and painting all the buildings in the historic downtown. Very pretty town, but since we arrived late in the evening, we only had time for dinner and a quick stroll through the streets.
Impromptu mass in the middle of the street from the back of a truck!
The next day, we rode from Vallodolid to the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. If it seems like we are speeding our way through the area, it's because we are. The Yucatan is packed with foreign tourists and everything is expensive. We were going to stop in Cancun but after doing a search for accommodations, we decided to head towards Tulum instead. It's a much cheaper town to stay at for a couple of nights.
Tulum is packed with sun-seekers and beach-goers who have come here to seek refuge from the over-priced hotels of Cancun. It's a very young crowd and our hostel was full of university students and recent grads from all over the world on their "Gap Year" trip. Our next-door neighbours were two girls from Australia and they told us about a cenote they visited closeby called Dos Ojos. We thanked them for the tip and headed out the very next day!
View from inside one of the "eyes" of Dos Ojos
A cenote is a natural sinkhole or pit that exposes the groundwater underneath. They're found all over the Yucatan Peninsula, and Dos Ojos (Two Eyes) is set a couple of kms into the jungle and boasts one of the longest underwater cave systems in the world. We only rented snorkeling equipment so we stayed on the surface of one of the "eyes", but the light flowing from the mouth of the cave through the crystal clear waters was astoundingly beautiful!
Stalactites hang from the ceiling of the cave and dip down into the crystal blue waters
Stalactites break the surface of the waters and everything is surrounded by an unearthly glow