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Tulum, Valladolid and Chichen Itza

Following on from my previous blog, such was my bond with two amazing girls I met in Oaxaca and ran into in Palenque, I changed my original route...even though it made it more complicated. You're welcome Claire and JJ. I jumped on a bus with them and a very intelligent German guy, Tim, en route to Tulum. I had been looking forward to Tulum for ages and it sure didn't disappoint, except the ruins.

The Yucatan Peninsula, where Tulum is located, is filled with about 2500 cenotes. Cenotes are natural sinkholes that form by rocks falling or some shit. Something to do with erosion (shut up, I have an Arts Degree). This was only recently discovered by yours truly, during a wikipedia search 30 seconds ago. Although I am more likely to believe the scientific explanation of how cenotes formed, the Mayan/Mexican explanation is much more interesting and easier for a Political Science major to undertand...or at least what a guy in my hostel in Valladolid told me. Apparently the Mayans believe, or maybe it's a story the Mexicans just plain made up, that a massive asteroid broke up in the atmosphere and smashed into the earth, creating the cenotes of Yucatan. Another cool fact is that most of the cenotes are linked by a network of underground caves. I've never wanted to dive, or want gills more in my life. The clarity of the water in the cenotes are simply mind blowing. Such is the water's transparency that the bottom of a cenote with a depth of 20 metres can be seen from above ground. The deepest cenote is about 70 metres, which is pretty amazing.

Having given you the most accurate of descriptions of the formation of a Yucatan cenote, I can now talk about Tulum and the state of Quintana Roo, in which there are more than 2500 cenotes. The Hostel we stayed in Tulum was a bit of a dump, probably the dirtiest ever, but it had redeeming qualities. One of which was one of the staff, a guy originally from Merida with Mayan heritage. The three of us had a long conversation with him of which I only caught a small part of. Claire was listening intently, as she was working on an audio documentary on the Maya. The one piece of information that really stuck with me was his explanation of why some cenotes contain sacred Mayan artifacts and statues. As with all probably all conquerers in History, the Spanish were intent on destroying the traditional indigenous way of life, including the destruction of sacred sites and statues. Some Mayan groups, aware of this, hid the statues in the bottom of the cenotes to prevent this happening.

All in all we visited three cenotes in Tulum, two that were connected about a twenty minute bike ride along a highway...cycling here was like tap dancing on a mind field (Bear Grylls voice). The cenotes here were pretty cool, although one felt slightly artificial, a platform having been built from where you can jump off. My judgement of this cenote is probably pretty harsh though, I loved it when I got there as it was my very first, but there certainly are better ones around with more authentic a feeling.

The following day we hired scooters to and drove to Playa Akumal, a beach full with snorkelers intent on marvelling at the protected turtle area. Following the turtles was pretty cool, although the place was incredibly touristy, fat American tourist like. Sort of a diet Cancun. I enjoyed having a sand fight with a little Mexican kid more though, after I while we finally got him to stop attacking us and he approached, wanting us to see something he wrote in the sand. It read, "you guys are my best friends." I could've adopted him right then and there. From there we went to this incredible river-like cenote that was connected underground to the beach. Casa cenote, it was called, is the clearest I have been to. Surrounded by a lush, mangrove like forest, it was filled with amazingly beautiful birds and cute possum like things.

The one disappointing thing about Tulum were the highly over-rated ruins. They were small and the most interesting parts were blocked off to the public. Probably one of the most annoying things about visiting ruins in Mexico is that there is next to no practical or interesting information about them at all. All the free information you recieve is from this stone signs at the foot of the pyramids and some statues. All information is as follows...this building is so and so years old, it's so and so metres wide and so and so metres high, and sometimes, it probably served as some sort of religious thing. It must be a deliberate tactic to get you to hire an overpriced guide, whose explanations you can not be sure are entirely correct. Mexicans, as I have aluded to in previous blogs, like their stories...and don't let the truth get in the way of a good yarn. The three of us, being over all unimpressed with the ruins, decided to enter a building that was blocked off to the public. We could tell that it had previously been open, as there was the usual information about the pyramid's size et cetera, and it being early in the morning, doubted we would get caught. The scenes that proceeded after we left the closed off section made me feel like we had committed some kind of crime against humanity. The guards ran after us, highly unimpressed, almost yelled, and led us to the office. We speculated that this must be the most exciting thing that had happened at their work for a while, and they would no doubt be telling their mates at the pub about taking town three white tourist intent on desecrating Mayan culture. The guy in the office was nice enough, but made us delete all our photos of the ruins, and told us we couldn't return for the rest of the day, it was no big loss.

One more very important piece of information I acquired in Tulum was a popular Mexican pick up line. These two girls from Merida told me and a few others that "a que hora vas por el pan," or "what time are you going out to buy bread," is the oldest and most popular way to chase tail here. Wierd.

Sadly, it was time to leave my friends and make my way to Valladolid, a city I had chosen to stay at mostly due to its proximity to the Chichen Itza ruins. I was pleasantly surprised at this relatively undiscovered city, especially at the amazing hostel I stayed at; La Candelaria. This hostel was impecably clean, thanks to quite an anal owner, with an incredible garden outside, relatively fast wifi and two kitchens, with one of them in the garden, as well as awesome, smart and knowledgable staff. Another great redeeming feature of Valladolid is Cenote Zaci. Located in the centre of town, it's probably the most impressive I've seen, with crystal clear waters and a jump off from the rocks above at about six metres...incrediballs. It was on this day that I met one of my favourite Mexicans so far. A craftsman of Mayan descent, I met him outside Cenote Zaci, where he was flogging his Mayan artifacts he had carved by hand. Although I can't be 100% sure of the authentification of his stories and descriptions of Mayan gods etc, I believed him. Even if they aren't true, I'll give him credit for going to such an effort. The symbols on his products were as follows, countless Jaguars who provide strength, snakes that provide good luck, depictions of the Mayan calendar, the Mayan god of the rain (which is EVERYWHERE), a Mayan priest and an eclipse, which symbolises the unity of family. I ended up buying three statues from him, and he gave me a cool necklace for free.

The next noteworthy thing has to be Chichen Itza. Empowered with the knowledge that millions of fat Americans visit the site every day, and thoroughly wanting to avoid them, I took off at 7ish to get to the ruins just as they opened. Worth it. The site is probably visited by so many tourists given it's proximity to an unofficial American colony, Cancun, where white people go to 'get away from it all.' The site is extremely impressive, and besides Teotihuacan, is my favourite so far...with the possible exception of Palenque. The site's incredibly diverse architectural styles was originally believed to be a product of a migration of the peoples from Central Mexico, but the currently the site's diverseness is said to be a product of cultural diffusion. It is known that it was one of the largest of Mayan cities and it is believed that its population may have been the most diverse in Mayan civilisation. The significance of Cenote Sagrado (the sacred cenote) begun to be investigated after an American who bought the site in 1904 dregged the cenote and discovered human remains, gold, and other items. It is now believed that the humans and children were sacrificed and tossed into the cenote and valuable objects found were forms of offerings to Chaac, the Mayan rain god.

Final thoughts? Tulum is majestic, Valladolid is underrated and Chichen Itza is simply awesome

Posted by jeremyampt 13:37 Archived in Mexico

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