Yucatan State

February 23, 2016, Trip: ¡Viva México!
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We are now in the Yucatan State; until we started this journey through Mexico, I always mistakenly thought that the Yucatan included Cancun; the peninsula does but the state does not.  The peninsula has three states in it:  Campeche on the west (which we’d just explored), Yucatan on the northern part of the peninsula and Quintana Roo – the state that sits on the Caribbean side and includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.  Now I know (and maybe you do too); okay enough of the geography lesson.

On our way to the ruins at Uxmal, we stopped in a small town called Muno and found a place to get Tigger washed including a vacuum in the cab area for 150P – less than $8USD.  We parked at the entrance to the ruins in a special lot on the side where you can park over night (you have to pay in the other lots for day time hours as well so they get you “coming or going” but it was slightly more for overnighting).  Fortunately, there is free Wi-Fi in the lodge across the road from this lot (we learned this from iOverlander) and we parked on that side of the lot and the signal was great and downloads went very fast – a nice bonus for a $7 camping spot!

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Entry to Uxmal is over $225p so compared to the other three ruins we’d been too (Palenque was only 65p), so rather pricey but this now the biggest touristy section of Mexico.  We had heard from an email from friends we’d met in Puerto Vallarta that the evening light & sound here show was much better than the one at Chichen Itza (which is closer to Cancun) we decided that doing that would be different and perhaps we’d get to see enough to get a feel for the place without paying the steep entry fee here (as we do plan to go to Chichen Itza and we expect the price is high there too).  So we forked over 89p instead.

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Well we made the right decision; the show takes place in the main part of the site and you get to walk past the big pyramid to get to the viewing area.  Granted it was dark but you get a sense of it.  Sadly the show was all in Spanish (despite us reading that headsets were available, none were on sale nor did we see anyone with any) so we lost something in the limited translation we were able to manage.  But we saw the grandeur of these ruins; there is much more sculpture and decoration at this Mayan site and most of it has been restored (hence the high entry fee?).  The show lasted about 45 minutes, we took some pictures with Doug’s camera and took our time walking back.

The humidity here was very high and temps hit the triple digits Fahrenheit for the first time in a while.  Since we could not plug in, we decided to run the generator for a couple of hours between seeing the show and going to bed to cool off Tigger.  When we went to bed, we had all the windows open, two fans running and with some difficultly, went to sleep; on the plus side it was a super quiet night: no dogs, roosters or traffic!  bonus!

After using exercising and taking advantage of the Wi-Fi for a bit longer, we carried on and in a couple of hours, made it to Celestun and found the place where Christine & Mark were camped.  It had become quite overcast and windy by this time.  This is an old hotel/rv park that was recently bought by a Mexican who has lived in Texas for many years.  He believes this town is on the up swing and he is restoring this property and allows people to camp here although it’s really no longer set up for that.  You pay 100p for the night (less than $5) and if you want power and water you pay extra (we opted out) and basically you get a flat, secure, quiet place to spend the night.  The lot has sand (right off the beach but currently has no beach access), palm trees, a couple of palapas and chairs and a level concrete parking area.  The hotel part is being nicely redone and one day maybe……

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We went for a walk after parking and found the town anything but on the upswing but who knows, right?   We checked out the beach which looked quite nice but the wind made it feel like we were being sandblasted.  Upon returning to Tigger, Christine and Mark had also just returned so it was again, happy hour!  The fellow in charge of the campground (not the owner), Umberto, arranged for us to get a boat tour in the morning at 6:30 and he has a small motorbike taxi (a motorcycle with a little covered cart that holds about four people) that he said he’d drive us to the launch site in for 5p each.

So Thursday morning, we were up before the sun and hopped into Umberto’s “taxi” to get to the docks.  David, the captain, welcomed us onto his small motor boat that can seat eight and away we went.  Within minutes, we came upon two small flocks of flamingoes – maybe 80 in total and we were quite thrilled.  David also pointed out other water birds and talked some in his limited English and some Spanish about the flamingos.  We saw many of them flying into this area from their sleeping grounds and herd them ‘clucking’ away at us when we got too close.

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He said there was a flock a little further down river that was “mas grande” (much larger) so off we went.  Enroute we encountered many fishermen using nets and other water birds like herons, white pelicans and cormorants.

This next flock was huge: had to be three plus thousand.  David steered us into the first big group of them and stopped the engines for us to enjoy listening and observing them.  They are a beautiful coral colour when they are adults; they start as white as babies.  The krill they eat is what gives them their colour.  David drew some up from the water to show us; they are quite tiny; maybe a half to three quarts of an inch and quite skinny.  The flamingos must have to eat millions of them to get full!

He said there was a flock a little further down river that was much, much larger so off we went.  Enroute we encountered many fishermen using nets and other water birds like herons, white pelicans and cormorants.

This next flock was huge: had to be thousands.  David drove us into the first big group of them and stopped the engines for us to enjoy listening and observing them.  They are a beautiful coral colour when they are adults; they start as white as babies.  The krill they eat is what gives them their colour.  David drew some up from the water to show us; they are quite tiny; maybe a half to three quarts of an inch and quite skinny.  The flamingos must have to eat millions of them to get full!

 

(Please pardon our video capabilities!)

This little 90 minute excursion has definitely been a highlight of our time in Mexico.  We were prepared to be somewhat let down either by the area (based on what we’d seen in town) and the possibility of Mother Nature not being on our side and the numbers of flamingos would be minimal.  We were happy seeing that first small flock, and then more flying in and past us, but this second ginormous flock had us practically speechless with wonder.  How fortunate we were.

The next part of our tour, was a detour into the tunnels in the mangrove swamps.  Here we were able to get out of the boat for a bit of a walk on a boardwalk and we saw a few new birds, including a type of kingfisher, some termite nests that were up in the trees not on the ground.  This little stop also had a fresh water spring with crystal clear water (although not that enticing when you remember that there are crocs in this area!).   We saw many small fish swimming in the ponds as well.

Upon returning to the docks, Umberto picked us up and we went back to the campground for brekkie and we then part ways again with our new friends.  They were heading more north and we began our trek east to get to Cancun by Sunday.

We drove less than two hours to the capital city of Merida, stopped at the Costco where Fran stocked up on some of our staples and Doug did some work in the rig in preparation for his trip to the US on Monday.  He will be gone for 11 days in total going to both New Jersey and Austin, TX on two different projects.  We have placed an amazon order for some things (including a new camera and laptop for Fran) and look forward to getting mail and a few other “necessities” from the “first world”.

In the late afternoon, we got a little further east and went to another “pueblo magico” called Izamal where we stayed for two nights.  The campground here is in back of a little hotel called Santo Domingo which is owned by a former overlander, Harald, from Austria.  There was one other couple there, Matt (Canadian) and Bea (French) from Vancouver and it was pretty quiet.  Harald has a house there, a restaurant, a nice pool and a sort of hobby farm with horses and goats.  We had power and good Wi-Fi.

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Friday morning we walked into the main part of town about 1.5 kms away to check it out.  All the buildings are painted a gold colour and there is a huge convent off the square and a few ruins.  It is rather quaint.  We ran a couple of errands and Doug got a haircut by the most meticulous barber ever!  That day, the other couple left and a German couple, Heike & Bernd arrived in the afternoon.  They have traveled quite a bit and already done South & Central America.  They go home to Germany for the summer before continuing north and are leaving their rig here in Izamal to fly out of Cancun.  They gave us a few pointers for our journey.  They advised the only country they skipped due to safety was Venezuela and as far as Honduras was concerned, they avoided the Caribbean side.

We met a nice young man from Switzerland at the pool that afternoon as well; he, Nick, and his fiancé, were travelling for a couple of weeks on the Yucatan Peninsula.  We did not get to meet her as she was suffering from Montezuma’s revenge; poor thing.

Saturday morning we arose early and headed to Chichen Itza hoping to get there before the throngs from the tour buses.  The site opens at 8 and we got there just shortly thereafter and after parking, made breakfast in the parking lot.  There were less than a dozen cars and only about six tour buses at this point.

We walked into the grounds and spent about 90 minutes checking out the pyramids (which you are no longer allowed to climb) and other structures as well as two cenotes (a collapsed cave in a river).  The main “castle” pyramid is quite impressive as is the ball court which is the largest in Mayan country.  We were not impressed by the lack of signage (no brochures are handed out – guess they would rather you pay for a guide) and we only saw one map of the place when we were on our way out!  There were vendors setting up and down most of the pathways and you have to wonder how any of them make any money as there is so much duplication of wares.  They have to set up and take down every day; that’s hard way to make a living.  Christine and Mark told us when they went later that same day, you could hardly find a pathway that was not clogged with vendors. One of the cenotes was a sacred one where sacrifices were said to have been made and the water was a bright green (?) and the other you could hardly see for the vegetation.

It was getting warm and the crowds were thickening so we left and drove the short distance to the Ik Kil Cenote – that’s the one you see in all the photos with the vines hanging down.

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This was quite cool; you pay to enter the grounds (parking was actually free here unlike Chichen Itza).   There are change rooms, cafes, shops and showers as well as lockers.  You can view the cenote from three spots:  the top/up above and as you walk down the stairs, about a third of the way down through a hole in the wall and about halfway down again. There is a platform at the bottom of the stairs with ladders to the left and a diving area to the right.  We both jumped in twice from the latter (Fran not very gracefully at all!) and then did a little swim in the “pool”.  We expected the water to be quite cold as it’s a freshwater underground river but it was just about the right refreshing temperature.  There are a couple of holes in the ceiling where water drips in and the vines are supposed to dribble water in as well, but they were dry while we were there.

As we’d gotten up early, by 1:30 we were ready to stop for the day so we found a spot on iOverlander where there was camping behind a hotel at Suytun with access to two cenotes (there are supposed to be around 3000 in this area alone) and we set up our spot.  Christine and Mark had reached out to see where we were and although they too were at Chichen Itza today (a few hours after us), they decided to head straight for the coast tonight as they have friends coming into Cancun for a week.  Hopefully, we’ll see them again.

When we arrived here, there were several cars parked at the main cenote and a tour bus so we decided to wait till there will less people before checking it out.  We got on the Wi-Fi for a bit then it crapped out so we did our daily Spanish lesson (we try and do 15-20 minutes a day from our workbooks) and while we were doing that, a young German couple arrived.

We walked down to the cenote with our towels and bathing suits and explored the first cenote.  This one was inside the cave (no collapsed ceiling) so you accessed via a short tunnel of stairs.  The cave has many stalactites and stalagmites and the water was a little cooler than Ik Kil.   There was a walking path around part of the watering hole that was under about 3 inches so you could walk right in the water.  There was also a circular platform that extended out into the pool so we walked that and decided we didn’t need to swim in this one and diving was not possible as it was much more shallow.

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After getting back to Tigger, the young man “next door” began chatting with us.  His name was Rico and his wife is Marina.  They began their journey shipping their vehicle from Hamburg, Germany to Halifax, Canada and have been across Canada, up to Alaska and down the western states before getting here.  They, too, are headed to Argentina.

Sunday morning we checked out the other cenote here near the campsite before breakfast; it is more like a hole like Ik Kil as it has no roof but the water here seemed very stagnant and not inviting.  It had some little black catfish in it like the other one.  There was also a platform to walk on but it was no longer under water.  This cenote does not appear so well maintained and the water had a “skum” on it that was probably from bat guano.  There were many stalactites and stalagmites here as well and tiny swallows flying around above us.

Next stop: outside Cancun.

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