Whistle-stop Mexico

“Excuse me. Do you have a pen…and…do you speak Spanish?”

We were half way through our flight from Los Angeles to Cancun, when the immigration forms were all passed around the plane. Unfortunately for us, they were all in Spanish.

“We did German at school instead of Spanish,” I joked as the passenger sitting next to me helped us fill in the sheets. I just prayed she’d told us correctly what the tick boxes meant as it was scrutinised by a customs officer.

Soon, we were on the bus heading to Playa Del Carmen, and our AirBnB for the next four nights. We only had two days to see and experience as much of the country as we could, on the third day we were at Jamie’s cousins wedding.

Chichen Itza

As we had such a short time in Mexico, I had prebooked an organised tour to Chichen Itzta, Ek Balam and Cenote Hubiku. I mean, we couldn’t go all the way to Mexico and not tick off a wonder of the world!

The main problem with booking an organised tour and staying in an AirBnB is that tours will only pick up from hotels. We were cursing the alarm as it went off at 4.30am so we could get up and walk to the RUI palace Mexico about 25 minutes walk away. The air was already sticky with heat before the sun had even started to rise.

We made our way to the hotel lobby, after blagging our way in because we didn’t have the correct band or whatever. I connected to the hotel’s wifi only to be met by an alarming message. They had sent us the wrong hotel details and we should meet them at another hotel! Luckily, at that moment, a very apologetic tour guide ran into the hotel. Anyway, the walk did us good as it was the place the wedding was to be held. And we’d learnt that we definitely didn’t want to walk it next time! We boarded the minibus and after a few more pick ups we were on our to Chichen Itza.

It was surprisingly quiet walking around the wonder, considering it’s the 2nd most visited tourist spot in Mexcio. The souvenir sellers were still setting up their stalls when we arrived. “It will be very busy when we are leaving,” the tour guide remarked, leading us round towards the Great Ball Court. This is one of 13 ballcourts in Chichen Itza, but the biggest and most impressive. Historians are unsure about the rules of the game, possibly similar to racquetball, but they know formal games were held as ritual events – there’s even evidence of Mayans combining competitions with human sacrifice.

We wandered over to the sites most famous landmark, El Castillo – the pyramid. “Chichen Itza was one of the largest Mayan cities…and translated, Chichen Itza means ‘At the mouth of the well of the enchanter of the water’…” he explained as we stood in awe. We felt tiny looking up at the 30 metres tall structure.

One of things that you have to do when visiting the site is clap. Not because it is so amazing, but for the noise it makes. Clapping in front of the pyramid’s staircase returns an echo that is meant to resemble Quetzalcoatl’s chirp. It basically makes a ‘boiiing’ kind of acoustic.

Further round, we came across a load of columns lined up like soldiers. Back when this was a thriving city, these would have supported an extensive roof system. Leaving our guide, we had a short time to explore the other parts of the site.

By now, the day was getting hotter, the echoes of clapping filled the air with the shouts of the sellers fighting to be heard. We were glad we got here early, and we were glad to be leaving.     

Cenote Hubiku

Back aboard the bus, we set off to the next destination, Cenote Hubiku. Changing into my swimming gear, I was excited to jump into the refreshing water to cool down. As we took the steps down for dip, the air became colder and colder. Our small group of 10 had the place all to ourselves.

“It’s too cold to go in,” one of our fellow travellers said. But we couldn’t come all this way and not get in. Echoes of shouts filled the cavern as people jumped in and confirmed how cold the water was. I slowly lowered myself in. Surprisingly, the cenote was full of catfish. They didn’t seem to bothered to be sharing their habitat with us for a short while.

“Many of the cenotes are believed to the site of human sacrifices, and human remains can be found at the bottom” – I’m glad we were told us this afterwards!

Ek Balam

Ek Balam, meaning Black Jaguar in Mayan, was the highlight of the trip for me. Similarly to the cenote, we pretty much had the place to ourselves and could explore where we wanted. This once prosperous city has now been mostly reclaimed by the surrounding forest. Only the centre of settlement has been excavated.

It’s a surprisingly difficult climb to the top of the acropolis. The 106 steps are deceptively small and steep. But the puffing and panting was worth it for the views at the top. Half way up is the ornately decorated tomb of King Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’, who ruled during the height of the city.

Explor Park 

On the last day in Mexico, we were feeling slightly delicate after the wedding the day before. But nothing river swimming, amphibious vehicles and ziplining couldn’t solve.

Explor Park is a short ride out of Playa Del Carmen. We didn’t have a car so ordered a taxi there, and jumped in one at the taxi rank at the end. You can upgrade to a photo package for around £54. Although expensive, we decided to add it on – it’s not everyday you go ziplining. Plus, I’m scared of height so needed some evidence I’d done it!

There’s a traffic light system that shows you average waiting times – red being a long wait, and green meaning available immediately. Ziplining was red, so we headed for the amphibious vehicles first. After a terrifying drive around a 3 mile jungle track with the worst brakes you’ve ever experienced, we headed for the river rafting.

After our included buffet lunch, we headed for the ziplines! There’s two circuits you can do, each with around 7 lines, and a few watery surprises along the way. This was the highlight of the park, as it probably is for most people. This means that, while every other activity you can do again and again, you can only zipline each circuit once.

Two days in Mexico 

It was a jammed packed two days we had in Playa del Carmen, but I happy we made the most of it. We even squeezed in some (rather expensive) shots of tequila, they must have saw us coming – “go on, you’re in Mexico!”  It wasn’t quite the relaxing break we had first envisioned when we added it onto the end of our two week road trip around California – but hey, that’s what the flight home is for, eh?

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