Mayan Ruins, Beach, and Tequila!

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Feb 20, 2014

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What I did
Chichen Itza, Tulum, Beach

Flag of Mexico  , Yucatan Peninsula,
Saturday, February 23, 2013

I woke up Monday morning (18th) thinking that nothing would stand in my way of winding down work and starting the perfect break. No alcohol, gym, early dinner, pack the bag, bed by 10. No problemo right. Wrong. Safety had booked a 7am monthly meeting at the Explo Camp. Surviving this, I was told that my team wanted to have a function tonight for 2 junior staff who were leaving. This did not suit my plans at all, but being the team trooper that I am, I played the game and eventually got back to my room about 8pm. Annoying, but hey...the thought of two weeks in the Caribbean has a strange way of taking annoyance away. There were just 2 of us in the bus the next day to Accra. Me and a guy I get along with really well. We were even on the same flight to NYC. I tagged along with him to the new company office in Accra where he had to collect his passport and then a bit of souvenir shopping. Good to get out, only my 2nd time. At 7pm we were picked up for the airport and I was able to get into the business class lounge as a guest of my work mate who has a gazillion frequent flyer points. Fast track to 2am and we were "deplaning" from the Delta aircraft after having sat idle on the tarmac for 3 hrs waiting to take off. It started with a fuel pump/electrical fault that was fixed but the crew had then timed out their max flying hours and we couldn't depart. Annoying to say the least, but when something is beyond my control I do not stress about it. And I’m told this is a frequent occurrence with Delta to have mechanical issues and delayed/cancelled flights. Many frustrated passengers surrounded me as we stood out front of the airport as 1 small bus ferried people to a nearby hotel that Delta was putting passengers in overnight until the rescheduled departure at same time (1010pm) tomorrow night. In the end, we headed back to the company guesthouse and woke up reception to get a room – something we should’ve done first rather than bother with the hotel! So with my 'bonus’ day in Accra, I took a walk around the block and rescheduled my NYC-Cancun flight and the tour I had booked on the Thursday. The rescheduled flight cost an extra $650!! Still not checked with Delta if I can claim this back somehow. They gave us a $100 gift voucher thing, but no where near enough considering I also lost a non-refundable $130 nights accommodation. The tour was refundable luckily, but I couldn’t get the exact same tour which is a shame cause I think it would’ve been better. But, I am surprised that with all my travelling, this is the first time such a flight delay has occurred to me.

So, with a stark sense of déjà vu we went through the entire airport experience again on Wednesday, except our luggage had remained on the plane all night. But this time we departed without issue and I slept semi-comfortably next to the obese Ghanaian woman in my premium economy seat on the 11 hr flight to the Big Apple. Delta is a crap airline. Especially compared to Emirates or others. The hostesses are unenthusiastic, lazy and unprofessional. I could’ve upgraded to Business Class for $2700, but instead paid $110 for the premium economy and figured I’d save the other couple grand for living it up on the islands.

I had a 5 hr layover in NYC. Enough time to freeze my butt off walking between terminals at 5am and get breakfast at the same place I ate in August 2011 on my first time to the USA (onward to Houston). Good to be familiar with the airport and their security requirements. 4 hr flight later and I hit the surprisingly advanced/clean Cancun airport in Mexico where my pre-arranged driver was waiting to whisk me away to my hotel right in the middle of the Cancun hotel district which is like a long sand bar off the coast and the streets reminded me of a cross between Hollywood and Bali. My wrist was slapped with a bright blue tag on arrival and as I walked with the porter to my room I learned that it was Canadian Spring Break and the hotel was overrun with students on leave. Hmmm. Canadians apparently have their break before the US kids.

Given I had lost a day because of the flight postponement, I fast tracked my day 1 experience by dumping bags and being at the pool bar within 20 mins. No chance here for time-zone adjustment. Unfortunately the very inviting water was colder than I had dreamed about. And very very windy! Not to worry, this Cancun component of my break was not all about beach and partying. The only reason I came here was to tour the Mayan ruins, which is on my World Wonders list.

Day 2 was my rescheduled full day tour of Chichen Itza – the most famous Mayan city. Originally I was to visit Ek Balaam as well where it is still possible to climb the ruins and touch them versus Chichen which is 100% roped off. After hotel pick up at 715am, I was in a full tour bus heading west for 3 hours or so. We stopped at a Cenote (below ground watering hole) where some swam in the freezing waters and then had a traditional lunch. Finally arriving at the ruins at 230pm for a guided tour and then an hr of free time. The main pyramid has been extensively restored on the south side and looks a bit fake up close, but nonetheless inspiring to think that a thousand years ago a civilisation existed here based on the seasonal cycle and invented a very accurate calendar. They worshipped many gods and had a very tribal existence of warriors, royalty and human sacrifice. The latter comprised a brutal ritual at the conclusion of each calendar 52 year cycle (of which 21 Dec 2012 is associated with!) where a prisoner of war was sacrificed on the high altar by bending his back to the point of cracking the spine and then the Priest removing his heart while still alive! All in full view of the community congregation from atop the main temple.

I enjoyed roaming around the ruins, but would’ve loved to get up close more and touch them. I find it odd that you can wonder throughout Pompeii and the Egyptian Pyramids freely, but here you can’t even touch a stone. I consider Pompeii much more important to global history than Mayan ruins and surprised the Mexicans are so protective given their reputation for not exactly being law abiding citizens. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to see it and glad I trekked out here. I still find it compelling to wonder what those people from 1000 years ago would think of people like us with our digital cameras, smartphones and designer clothes wondering their towns – and paying good money to do so. With these thoughts in my head, the bus headed back to Cancun as ‘The Mask’ played on the tv’s.

 Day 3 was another full day tour. This time to Tulum ruins by the coast and then Xel-Ha, an eco adventure park. I’d seen Google images of Tulum and prioritised this place because of its unique setting on cliffs overlooking the turquoise Caribbean waters. It lived up to expectations. Not a big place to explore, but a good guided tour and free time to wonder around. Again, no touching or walking inside the ruins which formed the Port town for the Mayans and again is fully aligned with the Sun and Moon seasonal cycles.

The entrance to Tulum is quite a distance from the bus drop off point, but I got back in time to get my wrist-band for Xel-Ha and then have a quick bathroom break. To my dismay, I couldn’t find my tour bus when I emerged from the toilet! They had left without me!!! No, it couldn’t be possible......surely. It was. Bastards. I tried to call the tour agency – no answer. Asked in fractured Spanish if the other bus guides were going to Xel-Ha – no. Instead they pointed me to a taxi rank in the distance. Fortunately  for me, Xel-Ha is only 10 mins from Tulum and I paid $15 (rip off!!) for a cab. Speeding down the highway at 150 km/hr with no seatbelts wasn’t the safest I ever felt, but I was glad to have a chance to catch my tour. Luckily the tour guide was still at the entrance and I quickly exchanged my disappointment at being stranded but didn’t want this to ruin my day or lose my time inside the park enjoying the All Inclusive food/drink/adventure. So, after a delicious Mexican lunch, a beer, margarita and 3 tequila sunrises, I was ready for a snorkel. The drinks are so watered down that I was hardly tipsy, but it did take away the cold water sensation :-) The park is huge and I probably only saw half of it, but that was ok. Very innovative and entertaining for adults and kids alike.

I made very sure to be on the bus when leaving back to Cancun – I was 10 mins early in fact and very well planted in my seat! This time just a 2 hr bus trip back to my hotel – good time to sort thru photos on my camera and read souvenirs. And to get amped about a Saturday night out in Cancun! Coco Bongo came highly recommended so I bought a ticket and visited a couple of bars/clubs waiting for the 1030pm show time at Coco’s. (The reason the Mask was played on the bus is because Coco Bongo is the name of the club featured in the movie where Cameron Diaz sings...the Cancun club is semi-styled on that). The club strip is what reminded me of the Bali club area. Would be much more fun in a group and not flying solo like me. But I still had my fun and Coco’s was a very different experience with re-enactments and lip synched performances of artists like Elvis, Beyonce, Guns & Roses, etc. all a bit wild and all-inclusive drinks. Oddly they re-enacted scenes from the latest Batman movie and a weird Cirque du Soleil stylised crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And with that, my final full day in Mexico concluded. 
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