Mexico - September 2010

 

Slideshow   (4min 44sec)

Mexico - September 2010 from Alan Wagoner on Vimeo.
Mexico 2010 Trip 
(by Alan)

Day 1 - Flights were a breeze.  We made it through immigration and customs without issue, and had to wait a bit for the bus to take us to the car rental place, but it was close, so no biggee.  

We were originally going to get a Jeep, but it was raining, and we were worried about our luggage being safe while at the ruins (soft top).  At the recommendation of the Rental Dude, we opted for a slightly bigger, less “soft topier” car:  the Nissan Xtrail.  Nice little car.

 

Side note about guy getting rained on getting the Jeep ready.  When we arrived at the car rental, it was raining pretty hard.  While one guy was getting the paperwork ready, another guy went outside to prep the Jeep.  One of the side vinyl windows was not completely on, and it took some time for the guy to get it fixed, and to back the car up to the front door.  Needless to say, while he’s working on the window, he’s not getting any drier, and Heidi and I are talking with Rental Dude, and he’s saying that the Jeep is more of a Drive-It-Around-The-City kind of car.  So we opted for the Nissan as I mentioned above.  Anyway, when Wet Dude comes in, Rental Dude tells him something in quick Spanish, and Wet Dude goes outside.  At this point, Rental Dude chuckles in Spanish (chuckles sound very similar to their American counterparts), and Heidi and I laugh too.


Once we were on our way, we got on the main road, and drove a couple of hours southwest.  It was very uneventful, but very green.  We picked up some lunch and gas on the way, and we're at the hotel shortly after.

One of the things that Heidi was excited about with the hotel was that it has this awesome natural rock-bottomed pool.  We were ready to check it out since we wanted to stretch a bit after the drive.  You know that scene in National Lampoon's Vacation where the family arrives to this rustic camping place, and the kids were really excited to go swimming?  Remember their disappointment and disgust when when they see the ducks swimming in the green algae infested pool?  Well, that's what we sorta went through,except that there were no ducks, and no algae infested water.  In fact, there was NO WATER at all!

I will admit that my "This Vacation Is Starting To Suck" light came on briefly.  No big deal, a cenote (pronounced say-NO-tay) was literally across the road, so we donned our swimsuits and walked over.  By the way, a cenote is essentially a fresh-water pool that occupies a sinkhole.

There is a nice resort situated around the cenote, and when we got a look at the Ik Kil Cenote, my "Holy Shit!  This is awesome!" Buzzer came on full blast.  Imagine looking 100 feet down into a blue swimming hole that is about 100 feet across, with vines at the top running down to the water.  Breathtaking!

When we got down to the bottom, it was very cool.  I mean the water was very cool.  It was a bit "refreshing" at first, but after awhile, we were so mesmerized, that the temp didn't bother us.
There are steps that go up about 15 feet, and I jumped off.  I'm not exactly fond of heights, but I had to do it.  While we were there, there was a guy who went to a viewing area near the top, and jumped off.  It was probably close to 90 feet.  That was one Crazy Dude.

After a couple of hours, we walked back to the hotel and then went into Piste for a non-descript dinner.  We picked up some snacks at OXXO (think 7-11), and drove back to the hotel.

On our way back, we saw a really interesting cemetery.  Heidi snapped a couple of pics, and we were back on our way to the hotel.  Once again we were sidetracked, and went to the back entrance to Chichen Itza.  There is a swanky hotel there, and we inquired about seeing the nightly light show.

We didn't wind up going as the internet reviews were a bit weak.  That, and it has been a long day, so we came back to the room to look at the local maps, and plan our day for tomorrow.

Tomorrow:  Chichen Itza!  

Technically it’s tomorrow, but it’s early (around 3:30AM).  So it’s dark, and I have to go pee.  So I stagger to the bathroom, do my business, when I’m done, I gingerly walk back to bed.  As  I’m walking, I don’t exactly know where all the steps are, so I steady myself on the door frame, and bump the door handle.  Heidi goes into Alarm Mode, and starts yelling, “Heeeeeey!  Heeeeeey!”

That scares the crap out of me, and I hiss, “It’s just me!”.  She starts rambling that she thought someone was trying to rob us.  I’m back in bed, and she says, “My hair is SO soft from the cenote!”

At that point, we both start laughing hysterically, and we tried to go back to sleep.  (side note from Heidi:  Okay, so Alan didn't know I awoke just before him because something splashed me in the face. It wasn't a drip, but a splash and it was very dark in the room. My first thought was a lizard must be on the ceiling and did a tinkle on me. Then I realized it was raining outside and my bed was just below the open window, so I chalked it up to the rain.  About 10 min later is the story Alan mentions above.)

Day 2 - OK.  NOW it’s tomorrow.  We have a very light breakfast at the hotel, and check out.  We are on our way to Chichen Itza, and we’re going through a little-known South entrance.  No lines.  No crowds, and no tourists (yet).  We walk in, and there’s a small cenote that we can’t see very well, but there’s some ruins at the beginning, and it’s such an awesome feeling.

We walk down the path a bit further, and I saw a corner of the pyramid.  CHICHEN ITZA!  Throughout our tour, I was amazed at the beauty and engineering of the architecture.  It’s amazing that the Mayans were able to construct such monuments.  We took a bunch of pictures, and the scale of site was incredible.  We saw the same group of people we saw at Ik Kil (the guy that jumped the 90ft).

At first, Heidi and I practically had the run of the place, but eventually, the tourists who came on buses started showing up.  During a bit of a break, we were walking down a long path, and that’s were a lot of the “vendors” were setting up shop.  I ran into a German guy, and we started talking about another very large cenote at the North end of Chichen Itza.  He had a good sense of humor, and chuckled a bit when I told him, “Auf wiedersehen!”.

We went back through the gauntlet of vendors, and were looking for some stuff for the kids.  I wound up getting a small pyramid for Lars that had the words “Chichen Itza”, Mexico, and Pirámide on the side.

We went to the West side of the site, and there was another highlight of Chichen Itza. The Juego de Pelota (Ball Court).  This was was like going to a professional football field that was built 1300 years ago.  The court itself is about 80 yards long, with two long parallel walls that run that distance, and are about 50 yards apart.  In the middle of the walls, near the top are two stone rings that stick out a 90 degrees from the walls.  The interior diameter of the hole is about the size of a basketball. The ancient Mesoamericans played a game similar to soccer.  <Use reference - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesoamerican_ballgame>

The winners of a match would be sacrificed.  Yes, the WINNERS!  So imagine watching the Super Bowl, and the winners get beheaded (pretty cool if it were the Raiders).  It was supposed to be a great honor to die in this manner as it meant a dying of the sun, and it’s subsequent rebirth.

I took a great panoramic picture that I would like to have blown up:

The last part of the site was the South end where we started.  There’s actually a lot more there than I thought.  We looked at the Tumba del Gran Sacerdote (Tomb of the High Priest), and the Caracol' (Observatory).  It’s amazing to think that the Mayans were calculating solar and lunar events with such great accuracy.

We probably spent about 3 hours just walking around Chichen Itza, and it was very awe-inspiring.

Once we got back to the car, we cranked up the air conditioning and made our way to Coba.  It’s another Mayan site.  By the time we got there, it was blazing hot, and we stopped to get a bite to eat at a tourist buffet place just outside Coba.  It was so hot, it was later in the day, and there were a lot of tourist buses, so we opted not to see it.  It was probably a mistake, but I get bothered being around so many people.  It kinda kills the vibe if you know what I mean.

At this point, we decided to head to the coast, and see Tulum.  Heidi had been to Tulum the day before she ventured to Cozumel where we met.  Tulum has a different environment, but it’s another Mayan site that has a beautiful ocean view.

Once we got to Tulum, it was HOT.  And humid!  The first priority was to get to a bathroom.  The first one we found charged money, so we found another.  The area around Tulum was the typical tourist spot.  Tons of vendors trying to sell you stuff.  Once we were walking towards the site, it was nice, and you could start to smell the ocean.

We paid the entrance fee, and walked in through this very narrow jungle pathway.  On the other side, it opened up into this magnificent area of stone buildings.  The architecture wasn’t as precise as that in Chichen Itza, but it was still pretty awesome.  There were a lot of tourists, so it was a bit packed, but the ocean views were breathtaking.  There’s access to a beautiful beach, but we didn’t have our swimsuits on, so we didn’t go down. As we were exiting the ruins and heading back to the main entrance, there there they were again, the same group from Ik Kil was arriving (the 90 ft jumper).

After we were done walking around Tulum, we went back to the vendor area to collect our “free prize” that was given when we paid for parking.  The ticket said free drinks, and we needed to hit the bathroom again, we we walk in.  As we’re walking in, I see my best friend Mike.  I’m about to yell, “Dude!”, and give him a big hug when I realize that MY Mike is in Europe.  Last time I checked, Mexico wasn’t part of Europe, so I didn’t say anything, but I did give the guy a hug.  Just kidding.  I told Heidi, and she agreed that he did look like Mike.  Crazy!

Anyway, this “fancy” jewelry store we were in was selling some of the tackiest crap at some of the craziest prices.  I got my free drink, and the lady is showing me around while Heidi is gone.  I’m thinking, “Who would buy this junk!?”, when I spy an American couple ooh-ing and ahh-ing over some god-awful hunk of jewelry.  Once Heidi returns, she lets the saleslady asks here if she’s interested in any of the jewelry.  Heidi gives her a big, “No.”, and the girl just walks off.  Oh, and that free prize?  Turns out you have to BUY something to get the free prize.  Of course you do...

So now we’re off to Playa del Carmen which is about an hour north.  Heidi has chosen a bungalow style hotel for the rest of our stay.  On the way, I’ve got the cruise control on, and people are blowing by me.  In fact, I’m moving over so that people can pass me, when I hear and see a siren.  Uh oh!

The policeman comes up and starts talking very fast in Spanish about how I’m going way too fast in this area, and it’s 80 km/h, and not 100 km/h.  If you’ve ever done any driving in Mexico, you know what’s going to happen.  I give the policeman a blank stare, and he’s, “Oh, you don’t speak Spanish?”.  Gee, he looked at the car rental sticker on our car and took a wild guess that we were tourists.

I’m playing dumb (it’s amazing how well I can do that), and he asks for my license.  I give it to him, and he goes back to his car.  Meanwhile, Heidi and I are clearing out as much of the American dollars out of our wallets, so he doesn’t just take everything he sees.  He comes back to the car, and tells us that we’ll have to pick up my driver’s license in Playa, and it will be an $80 US fine.

Wait for it...

“Gee, can we pay the fine now?”  You knew it was coming right?  Of course you did.  We pull out a mix of pesos and dollars, and all he’s really interested in is the US money.  Heidi pulls out some fives, and I open my wallet, and show him “all the money” I have.  So he takes the $35, pretends to write down my name in his book, and sends us on our way.  It could have been worse, but hey, no big deal.

As we’re getting into Playa, we’re not exactly sure where we’re going, so we sort of zig-zag towards the beach.  We don’t know it at the time, but we are on the right road, but I thought it looked like it was going into a hotel, so I had us turn.  We went a bit further, and got some assistance from a couple of guys, and they told us to turn around.  We went back, and viola, there’s the hotel!  We (almost) always luck out when it comes to traveling.

We check in to the MAHÉKAL, and the place is very nice.  Our bungalow is right next to the pool, and a very short walk to the ocean.  Since we have a big day tomorrow, we decide to take it easy, with some swimming in the pool/ocean, and later a meal at the hotel.

Where we’re staying in Playa, we can see across to Cozumel.  We briefly discussed the prospect of taking a ferry over, but that would probably take the better part of a day, and we are going to just take it easy the rest of the trip.  We go to bed relatively early as tomorrow we go DIVING!

Day 3 - We are diving in Dos Ojos!  Dos Ojos (dose OH-hose) means Two Eyes.  It’s another cenote, and it’s essentially a freshwater cave dive.  The person at the hotel told us to be there at 9 sharp, so I wanted to make sure we got there on time.  After a 30 minute drive, we were there, and we started getting ready.  Our Dive Master (Cesar) told us that we were expecting two other divers.  So we waited, and waited.  By the time they finally showed up, and got ready, I think it was about 10:30 before we were actually in the truck.  The couple who was with us was younger, and from Florida.  Both seemed nice, and the woman mentioned that she was a new diver.  That raised a bit of a red flag, but she’s not my responsibility, so if she freaks out, it’s on her husband.

We had full wetsuits on, and a lot of weight.  They want to make sure you sink to the bottom, because unlike a typical open water dive, they don’t want you going to the top, as you could damage the rock formations.  We have all of our gear on as we’re walking about 30 yards down some steep steps.  When you jump in, it’s COLD at first, even with the wetsuit.  After a bit you don’t really notice it.  Heidi and I checked out our gear, made sure we had enough weight, and then waited for the DM.  We had so much weight on that even with our BCs (flotation vest) inflated, we had to kick a bit to keep our heads above water.

http://www.akumaldiveshop.com/images/cenotes/dos_ojos1_big.jpg

Once we got started, we are told to stay in a single file, and our order is the DM, the girl, the guy, Heidi, and then me bringing up the rear.  Once again, the 90 ft jumper and friends were here to snorkel. We entered the water that was covered by the cave with little bats flying around. The water was once again crispy cool. Down we went and into the cavern with incredible formations all around. We had flashlights with us, but it was very eerie.  One thing I noticed right off the bat, was the guy in front of Heidi was all over the place.  He would be way above us, then below us, and it was very disconcerting.  I try to ignore him, and focus on the scenery.  It’s spooky at times because of the shadows, and your imagination starts to think of all the monsters ready to come out of the crevices to grab you.  The other times, you can see outside light coming in through the water, and it creates a beautiful rainbow effect.

During the dive, there were some areas that would get somewhat tight where you had to watch not only your side-to-side position, but also your up-and-down position.  During these times, the guy would kick up a lot of silt, and it would get very cloudy.  We made a big loop, and when we came back, the DM showed us an underwater plaque.  And not just an ordinary plaque.  It’s not a “Welcome to Mexico!” type of plaque.

It’s got the Grim Reaper standing on a pile of human bones. And in big letters in Spanish it states:

STOP

Prevent your death!

Do not continue. 

That’s pretty clear to me!  There’s also a guideline, and there’s a piece of plastic that lists 6 names of guys who died while diving that section of the cave system.  Once we saw that sign, the dive was over.  It was absolutely something awesome to cross of the Bucket List.  We were thinking of doing a second dive, but the thought of being behind the couple was a bit too much, so we opted for just the single dive.

A “typical” open water dive lasts anywhere from 30-60 minutes depending on the depth, and how hard the diver is working.  Heidi and I have had some 90 minute dives where we were very shallow, and just hanging out.  While we were undoing our gear on the surface, the DM told us that he had once dove with one of the guys who had died.  He said that the group was 3.5 hours into a 4+ hour dive, and he was like, “I’m ready to go back!”.  He laughed about it.  The guys who really explore cave systems are some of the most technical (and crazy) divers around.  They carry multiple tanks (I’ve seen pictures with a guy carrying 5 tanks), and they use different oxygen mixtures.  Anyway, I thought it was an incredible experience.

Once we were back to the dive shop, we got into some dry clothes, thanked Cesar, and drove back to the hotel.  Once back, I think we both just crashed for a couple of hours.  After we went to the local Burger King and got some chow.  After a refreshing nap and swim, we had some dinner, and then walked through downtown Playa.  5th Avenue is for pedestrians only, so it makes for a great walk. As we were walking towards the center, we noticed some very nice looking outdoor restaurants.  It reminded me of the Leidseplein area in Amsterdam.  Many different varieties of food, and artwork.  

We ran into one area which had some local area artists.  There was some fantastic art on display.  There was even a Mayan dance/music performance going on.  The vendors weren’t only pushy, and were actually pretty funny some times.  Some of the more memorable calls:
 

“Hey!  Big guy with the white socks!”

"My friend, come here."

“Now it’s my turn.”  (we heard this one a lot)


There’s also the standard mass-market shops, like Senor Frogs, Harley Davidson, etc.  It was great just walking, and doing some people watching.  We were out for a couple of hours, and when we got back, we went for a late night swim in the ocean.  Oh the moon was shining on the water and you could see the skyline of Cozumel.

Day 4 - Nothing planned.  Today was just a low-key day.  We didn’t have anything planned, so we hung out and read, and did some swimming.

Later, we went out for another “downtown” walk, and got to see Playa during the day.  The vibe was definitely different.  Whereas it was actually charming the previous night, the afternoon walk showed the more desperate side of the vendors.  They were a bit more aggressive.  It was starting to rain buckets, and the crowds were starting to thin a bit.  At this point, Heidi and I were looking for something to eat.  We were thinking of getting off the beaten path, and finding a place were the locals eat, but we decided on a place that had two-for-one drinks.  Can you spell M-A-R-G-A-R-I-T-A ?  Actually, it was Pina Colada, but it was good.

The place we went to also had an Andes pan flute trio.  The music, combined with a couple of drinks (each), and a nice meal made for a great experience.  We did some more walking around, and it started to really rain.  We were fed, and already a bit wet, so we didn’t care if we got any wetter.  Well, we got SOAKED!  I felt bad for all of the vendors who were trying to bring in their goods.  Some of the storefronts were getting deluged with rain, and were trying to avert flooding.  Parts of 5th avenue were more like a little river, but we walked on through anyway. We made it back to our bungalow, and did we decide to get dry?  Hell no!  We went swimming.

We went swimming in the ocean, and it was still raining like crazy.  It was very weird, because at one point, the raindrops were coming down really hard, and when they’d hit the water, they would create these big splashes.  Later on, it was a light rain, and the raindrops would bounce around the surface of the water (like water on a hot plate). The waves and swells were big and choppy.  Very cool.  I swam out a ways, and Heidi was getting freaked out.  I just wanted to swim out where the water started getting deeper.

There was a very nice dinner that evening, and they had some nice mariachi music while we ate.  The restaurant staff were very nice, and asked us if we were having a nice vacation.  “Absolutely!”  It’s starting to really sink in that we’re going home tomorrow, and the invariable thought comes to mind, “Just a few more days...”

Day 5 - Going home.  We woke up fairly early and packed, and loaded the luggage into the car, then we went and had our last meal at the hotel.  Hasta luego!

The drive to Cancun was uneventful other than a bit of traffic, and some rain, but we made it back to the car rental place without issue, and they in turn got us to the airport.  We arrived fairly early at the airport, bought some snacks, and while Heidi got a coffee, I found a Johnny Rockets (burger place), and had burger.

Both flights (to Miami, and then back home to Raleigh) were very uneventful, which is probably something you want when flying.  Once we got home, we were greeted to a couple of happy faces, and a slightly ragged Bev.

Many thanks to Bev for helping out.  We would not have been able to take this trip without her, so when you see Bev, give her a big pat on the back!

Epilogue.  So we’ve been back a couple of days, and I’m putting Lars to bed, and as I’m turning out the light, we have this quick conversation.
            “Daddy?”

“Yeah?”

“When you and Mommy were gone, I only got sad at night, and I only cried in my room.”


I’ll admit that that kinda made me feel a bit bad that we didn’t take the kids.

So what’s the next big adventure?  We’re thinking...Machu Picchu!  Until then...

Happy adventures!

Heidi & Alan