Luxurious living for some in Cancun

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Where I stayed

Flag of Mexico  , Yucatan Peninsula,
Tuesday, November 9, 2010

 

Cancun, in Mexico (or Egypt, Florida, Australia?)

The town of Cancun is divided in two, downtown, where we stayed, and the hotel zone. Our hostel was simple but functional with a good cheap restaurant. Downtown is where the local people, who are predominantly Mayan, live. We enjoyed it as it felt quite homely with a supermarket next door, and very good public transport which was easy to get to grips with and is very cheap.

The hotel zone runs along a narrow stretch of land about 20 kilometres long, joined to the mainland at both ends. The hotels are one deep so nearly everyone has a sea view. All hotel chains are represented here and some are beautiful designs, but others are very ugly. Amongst the hotels are restaurants offering every cuisine imaginable but with an emphasis on seafood. For me, the sadness is that it could be in many different parts of the world as the area is so cosmopolitan and so well styled to the needs of the visitors (US citizens form the largest group) that it is designed and packaged to provide luxury, entertainment and relaxation insulated from the real world, and from Mexico in particular. I know that is exactly what many people want, and the industry provides employment, but most of the hotels seem to belong to non-Mexican companies. (Or maybe it is just sour grapes as we were in a hostel!)

The real surprise for me is that from where the hotel zone meets the mainland, the development carries on to the south for another sixty kilometres. The hotels here are widely spaced because they have extensive gardens and grounds with lovely planting schemes and water features so they are not usually visible from the road. The beaches are lovely soft sand and go on for ever. Once you go in from the coast there is only jungle.

The Yucatan is a flat, limestone peninsular covered in jungle which doesn't grow much higher than 20 to 30 feet because there is very little soil.  An unusual feature here is the cenote or "sink hole" as they call them in English. They are more attractive than they sound. They are formed by the action of water in the limestone and make perfect places to swim as the temperature is about 76 degrees. In the picture you can see how the plants grow down. Some are below ground as in the pictur, others are on the surface. We went to the Mayan ruins at Tulum and Chichen Itza. Tulum is the smaller site with fascinating buildings but made special by the position. Originally built with walls on three sides for protection, the fourth side is protected by high cliffs and an off-shore reef. Only the elite lived in the settlement itself and some 10,000 lived outside the walls.

Chichen Itza is much larger with a pyramid and ball park, together with numerous other buildings. The Mayan people (Classic period 200 – 600 ad) were advanced in their astronomical calculations which enabled them to predict celestial events such as eclipses and understand the movements of the sun and moon. They understood the importance of zero in mathematics 800 years before other civilisations, according to the guide (I still don't!). The ball park was used as part of religious ceremonies. It is a huge court with two stone hoops, set high up in the walls, one on each side. The players wore protection on their shoulders, knees and elbows because they were only allowed to hit the ball with these parts. The game ended when someone managed to score by getting the ball through the hoop. As this was so difficult it could be a long game! The person who scored would then be sacrificed by having his heart cut out. (A possible solution to excessive salaries for footballers) Our guide explained that we had to understand the way of thinking of the Mayans. They believed we are just energy and when we die the energy returns to the sun so the person sacrificed saw it as a great honour. The ball was made of rubber from the chicle tree which also provided the original chewing gum. (Chiclets?)

Unfortunately much of the culture remains a mystery because despite having a system of writing similar to hieroglyphics, during the Spanish conquest in the mid 1500s, a Franciscan monk who was determined to convert the indigenous people, gathered all written documents together and burned them. The ruins are much bigger and complex than we expected and we plan to go and see other sites later on.

The last full day in Cancun we went to Isla Mujeres an island formed from a long narrow strip of land. There are not many cars on the island and most people travel around in golf carts. We took one out and did a complete circuit of the island. The weather was warm but squally, wind and occasional light showers (so I had my poncho on). As we drove along the west side all was fine, then we turned along the east and the wind blew with such force my poncho blew back like a sail and I was nearly throttled! It was so wild we could not drive much further which was a pity as we did not see the island at its best.

Already we are beginning to feel the good work we did in Menorca (healthy diet and exercise) is just a fading memory as the Mexican food is so delicious we both feel our waistlines expanding rapidly! We have now moved to Merida, the capital of Yucatan, and staying at an even more basic backpackers hostel – I hope we get some sleep.





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