April 18, 2016

MEXICO DIARIES PART 3: Chichen Itza

Emboldened by the success of my first drive overseas on a Mexican freeway, we wanted to take on the 243 kilometer route to Chichen Itza next, the most important archaeological zone in Yucatan and declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The concierge, all 4 of them, weren’t as confident and did their charming best to encourage us to take the tour bus instead for the 3 hour ride.

We conceded as the route isn’t as straightforward as Tulum. Joining the bus tour is also cheaper and more convenient as we could do away with the navigation which we aren’t particularly good at anyway and just enjoy the pretty sights speeding past as soon as my bonamine has taken effect.

The bus, already half filled with tourists, picked us up at our hotel in the morning of our 4th day and whisked us along scenic well paved back roads with heavy greenery on either side. At some point, we passed some agave plantations, the plant from which the tequila is made.

Our guide, alternating between Spanish and excellent English with a charming accent is passionate about the Mayan history and culture. I planned to sleep on the way but he was entertaining and shared just the right amount of interesting facts and information delivered with a great sense of humor that kept me awake all through the drive.



The only downside of the tour for me is the blatant commercialism. We stopped at a center that sells, I must admit, good quality Mexican trinkets. The sellers weren’t persistent actually and doesn’t really bother you with hard sell but I guess my disappointment stemmed from the fact that the place was hyped to be a community of descendant of the Mayan tribe and we even took the longer 4 hour course to see them. I might have expected a still slightly ancient village, an unrealistic expectation, maybe, but the area was already too modern and too commercial. Note that sellers were also present within the grounds of Chichen Itza itself and are a bit determined. This might be the only time where I didn’t enjoy shopping.



A buffet lunch was included in the tour and we were further entertained by a folk dance and local music. Drinks are not included though and kind of compulsory. This is where we had the most expensive soda, $7 for 2 bottles of Pepsi. Kind of highway robbery ha ha.


When we finally got to Chichen Itza, we separated from the group and toured it on our own. The place is huge and be prepared for throngs of tourists! It is the largest of the archaeological cities of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula and one of Mexico's most visited destinations. It was also hailed as one of the new seven wonders of the world, and rightly so.





And because it was already past 2 PM when we got there, it was HOT and shade was an issue. We bought $5 sombreros and slathered up on high SPF sunscreen and mosquito repellent. We are from the tropics and used to warm weather but we learned quickly not to underestimate the Mexican sun. Kimbee had weird tan lines on her face from her shades to show for weeks after.





You can no longer climb the pyramid but it is breathtaking! A physics marvel and an engineering genius. We probably spent a couple of hours exploring and admiring the ruins but you can easily spend a full day here particularly with the help of a guide.
I don’t have the words to even begin to describe its magnificence and it really is far more imposing than what the photos can capture although we couldn’t stop snapping them. You have to see Chichen Itza at least once in your life! The Mayans are credited to have made significant advances in mathematics and astronomy, including the use of the zero and developed a complex calendar system based on 365 days and were able to predict eclipses.




After Chitchen, we drove to the nearby Ik-kil cenote and the cool shady temps in the area is glorious after the intense midday heat. Cenotes are natural sinkholes resulting from the collapse of the limestone bedrock exposing the groundwater underneath that has formed over time. It has a wide cavern that is open to the sky letting in a beautiful spotlight on the water and vines that drops down from the opening.

I wanted to jump in but it was said to be 130 feet and my 5 foot couldn’t swim frame kind of chickened out so we contentedly watched on the sidelines. Big fat drops of rain soon begun to drop in sheets and we took that as a sign to end the long full day and sprinted back on the bus.



On our last day, we earned ourselves a few more hours at the beach until before lunch time and before going to the airport. Our flight back to the US was at 4 PM. The ride was eventful as the driver kept circling the zona and letting passengers on before dropping them to the bus station. I worried that we will miss our flight. The American couple with us were far more vocal about their annoyance because the trip was cutting it too close for them to miss their flight. I felt bad for the driver at the receiving end of some quite harsh dialogues because he was just following orders and his clip board but I also understand the stress that the couple are going through. We breathed a sigh of relief when we see the aeroporto sign looming in front of us but still blocked by a slow moving thick traffic. So near yet so far!


March 24, 2016

MEXICO DIARIES PART 2: Tulum

After 2 days of alternating between lounging on the beach, feasting on buffets, walking the zona and siestas in room once it gets too hot out, we decided to venture out of Cancun.


Armed with limited Spanish, a map, a GPS, my Philippine driver’s license and a whole lot of sense of adventure, we took our lives in our hands and hopped on a teeny car rental and bravely drove onto Highway 307 to Tulum. The rental process was slow-going but smooth. No reason to hurry, we’re on a holiday after all. Car rental was cheap at about $30 thereabouts but including insurance it came to about a $100 USD with some change enough for some chips, a candy bar, sandwiches and bottled waters for the drive.


The GPS kept resetting to Spanish challenging our severely addled vocabulary and adds to the confusion that we decided to chuck it a few minutes into the drive. I guess our sense of direction have drastically improved as we only got lost once on the way to Tulum ruinas. Because we hesitated on the turn, we drove right on and discovered the Centro for a little bargain shopping to add to the clutter at home. The best Mexican food we’ve had on this trip turned out from a roadside open air kitchen in this area.







The archaeological zone of Tulum is the only major Mayan site built right on a cliff overlooking the Mexican Riviera. Although small, it is considered to be the best preserved Mayan site on the coast of the Yucatan and known to be the most beautiful. Apparently, Tulum was a port in the 12th century and was abandoned 75 years after the Spanish Conquest of 1521.






Framed with perfectly blue skies and turqouise waters, the ruin’s indeed magnificent. Worth enduring the intense midday sun for and crossing paths with gigantic iguanas roaming freely around the area. Watch out for them, one was even too cheeky to run after kids. The whole thing is so stunningly beautiful even if we were mercillesly under attack by the fiercely hot Mexican sun with little shade to escape to and on the cusp of sunstroke. My belly flipped and Kimbee had goosies! Best to visit early in the morning to avoid the bus loads of tourists and the heat.




Cooling down from exploring the ruins and the hike back at a taqueria munching on the best nachos and sipping on fresh coconut juice on a husk,  we got to watch a Traditional Mexican performance called Voladores de Papantla. It was all so spontaneous and unexpected!

The show started with a dance around a metal pole with a background of live flute music and drum beating. The dancers then deftly climbs the top of the pole and ropes themselves and then jumps upside down and swings gracefully unwinding the rope around the pole until they safely touch the ground again.




It was pretty amazing to watch although my heart was in my throat the whole time and I was kind of holding my breath. Our necks were sore from looking up but we were happy to hand in our $5 when after the show one of the performing member went around passing a sombrero asking for donations.  They’re quite specific about the figure but we felt it was worth it.

We didn’t want to drive back in the dark so we decided to skip the Playa and knew we had probably missed some of the other must-see in the area but we were satisfied with what we’ve already seen. We’re also grateful that the traffic police let us off the hook with nothing but a shake of his head when we entered the wrong way. In our defense, the road wasn’t clearly sign posted.


We were actually kind of sad to end our drive but happy that we got back to our hotel in Cancun safe and sound.

January 27, 2016

MEXICO DIARIES PART 1: Cancun

Almost 2 weeks into the trip to the US and still struggling adjusting to the Pacific time zone, we took a United Airlines red eye flight to Mexico for 5-days. The flight from Las Vegas commenced at midnight and was broken with a 5-hour layover in Houston, Texas.

It was raining hard and there was a thunderstorm that evening in Vegas delaying our flight for 2 hours.  The flight and connection was a blur to me as I slept the whole way through but Kim always has a problem sleeping in moving tin cans especially if said tin can is a few thousand feet above ground.

Our proudly Pinoy made Laggu towel that we brought specifically for this purpose has served her well as she desperately tried to doze off in a fetal position behind the seats on the floor of our boarding gate during the 5 hour layover in Texas. She looked a bit kawawa (pitiful).


Views of Cancun were awesome from the sky as I have observed from the brief and few times I’ve braved to open my tightly squeezed shuteyes during the pretty turbulent descent. I think it was the tensest landing for me ever and I was praying very hard and squeezing Kimbee’s hand just as hard the whole time. It was so rough that Kimbee was a little bruised and I wanted to kiss the ground the moment our, well, my a little wobbly feet hit the ground!


Philippine passport holders with a valid US visa do not need to apply for a Mexican visa and we breezed through immigrations.

We were stationed at the all-inclusive Ocean Spa hotel in Zona Hotelera. A pre-arranged van picked us up at the airport and delivered us right to our hotel’s doorsteps about 40 minutes after. The airport transfers was included in the package as well as unlimited food and drinks but we heeded the sister’s advice and brought 1-dollar bills for tips and we were greatly appreciated and well taken cared of by the locals.




By then it was past 1 PM local time and some confused body time. Cancun time is 2 hours advance than in California.

Check in wasn’t until 3 PM so we left our stuff at the concierge, ate lunch at the hotel restaurant sat sumptuously by the Carribean on one side and flanked by the pool on the other, then back to the lobby for the orientation with a muscly concierge who looks straight out of a Mexican telenovela. And then our room was ready.

The cool sea breeze from the ocean and the sweet view of the garden, the pool and the beach from our balcony more than made up for the struggles and brutalities of transit and long and delayed flights were soon forgotten.



The spacious cool room, big beds and crisp fresh white linens were practically calling our name so we laid down for a long nap and just woke up in time for dinner and a little tour of the hotel grounds and the sorrounding area. This is what our holidays is mostly about, lots of lounging and eating and some sight seeing.

A money changer, a convenience store, a taqueria, a church and a bus stop are conveniently situated just across our hotel.





Well settled and rested from a good night sleep, we were bright and early on our second day. Fueled with a big and satifying breakfast by the lake at Sunset Yacht Club Marina and in our swim wear, we are better prepared to take on Cancun.

Cancun’s scenery consists mostly of white sugary sand beaches and crystal clear blue waters peppered with suntanned boozy tourists. It is better known as 21st Century Mexico and the domain of sun worshippers and party animals but we were too lolas to check out the party scene as we’re usually back in our rooms after dinner toasting our cups of decaffeinated coffee and tea. We’ve become those kind of tourists, retiree levels without the pension.



Cancun’s strip of sand facing the Caribbean is lined with huge and luxury resort one after the other boasting of great views. The extravagance of the Zona maybe somehow got into our heads and we checked out some million dollar beach front vacation places and pretended for a moment that we could afford them! I’m half a mind to blurt out, “Dudung, bring out the diamonds, I’m playing bowling!”



That’s all with zero alcohol in our system! Julio, Enrique and Emmanuel from the bar were commendable in their efforts in trying to spike our virgin smoothies and fruit juices with tequila but I was nursing a pharyngitis and on meds so I had to decline, sadly, their generous offer. I think they were more disappointed that they missed the chance to extol the virtues of their proud and famous local flavor.

Next up: Tulum

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