Archive for the ‘Yucatan’ Category

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Mérida sits opposite from Cancun, defending the western side of the Yucatan with its beautifully preserved Spanish Colonial architecture surrounded by increasingly more modern suburbs. I had envisioned a new years celebration full of fireworks and people dancing in the streets but alas, poor planning again. The real highlight of Mérida was the archaeological museum, amongst Mexico’s best and supposedly second only to Mexico City. Natalie snapped a ton of photos at the museum and they are posted on Flickr. By the time we were scheduled to move on, we had all tired of the inland sites of the Yucatan and longed for a little beach time. We killed our plans to visit Uxmal and the Puuc Route, in lieu of yet more ruins, we opted for even more splurging on the shores of Playa del Carmen.

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Chichén Itzá is considered one of the “new seven wonders of the world.” I’m wondering if the experiences of Tonina and Palenque clouded my appreciation of the place?

It is smaller both in size and in stature than the Mayan ruins we visited in Chiapas but not in the numberof visitors. It is crawling with tourists, so many in fact that the structures are now closed off to closer inspection and scaling, no doubt a wise decision considering the throngs. The scene suggests the attraction is more music festival or amusement park and less one of the world’s preeminent archaeological sites. The carnival like atmosphere is further advanced by the utter quantity of trinket vendors. The number of them diminishes both the atmosphere and the enjoyment of the ancient site. Imagine the entire length of the 17-mile trail up Half Dome in Yosemite, its vistas lined with vendors hawking miniature models of the valley, plastic waterfalls, and carvings of John Muir or George Washington and shouting “one dollar” or “almost free” at every step and you’ll get the picture.

Still the ball court, the pyramid and the astronomical sophistication are truly magnificent. I can only imagine it twenty years ago, unvarnished by the notoriety that beckons tourists from all over the world. Despite my cynicism it is pretty amazing and astonishingly beautiful – you can check out the rest of our pictures on Flickr.

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Cenotes are cool… there are no lakes or rivers on the Yucatan, the seasonal rainfall seeps into underground aquifers and rivers, filling cenotes, grutas, cavernas and creating fascinatingly diverse and nearly circular formations throughout the Peninsula. The caverna cenote made for some refreshing swimming after our camping spot near Valladoid while the other pit looking cenote is one of the ceremonial cenotes from Chichén Itzá.

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Salida Nueva

Marilyn said that they were looking forward to a little adventure…

Looks like there is an exit now!

We finally made it to the Cancun airport to scoop Natalie’s parents after our late start on Christmas day. Glenn and Marilyn weren’t too upset and we pushed La Bestia to her limits and cut our tardiness to just about an hour. We spent the night near Puerto Morelos, about half-way between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, nestled between two mega resorts at Acamaya Reef, a small little trailer park and cabañas that is holding strong against the all-inclusives that shadow it from the sun for most of the day. We rolled out the next morning in search of the port town of Chiquila were we would catch the ferry to Isla Holbox (Ol-Bosch). We turned from Mex 307 onto the Cuota towards Merida and Valladoid, a remarkably expensive toll road but one of the better paved highways in some time. Only in Mexico would they think that a toll road without any exits whatsoever would be a good idea. The complete and utter lack of exits all the way to Valladoid was a surprise to us. Only when we rolled up to the toll both at the Yucatan/Quintana Roo border did we realize that we had gone too far and that our road north was some 15 km behind us. Opting not to go through the $MX220 toll booth we asked everyone on the Quintana Roo side where the exit was. The answers didn’t vary, there are no exits, you have to drive all the way back to Cancun (80km) and come back on the Libre. Seriously? WTF?

2:30 in the afternoon and we think the last ferry to Holbox leaves at 5:00 (actually at 7 but we had no way of knowing). An hour back to Cancun, and hour and a half back on the free road, and an hour north to Chiquila puts us at the terminal at exactly five. I didn’t think we had any chance of making it. I decided that there had to be some people living along the Cuota who had cut their own exits to dirt roads along ranchos providing access to the local ejidos. I was right, but I wasn’t the only one who had surmised this, as the government had gone through extensive efforts to find all these jungle turn-offs and concrete barriers in front of them. We found at least 10 in the first 20 km back towards Cancun, all of them closed off.

Glenn surveying the damage

I had remembered a few locals sitting under an overpass hiding from the midday sun, they had bicycles and something larger which turned out to be a bike with a cart on the front for collecting firewood. They had to have got there some how. Maybe it was a foot trail, maybe they had climbed down from the overpass, but if anyone knew where an illegal exit was, they were my best bet. I flicked on the hazard lights and ran across the 4 lanes of traffic to find out. Of course they knew where one was; but no one had used it in some time so it would be pretty hard to find. The young Mayan man and his abuelo (grandfather) followed me back across the freeway and hopped in the front seat. With Natalie, Glenn and Marilyn in the back of the van, and our two new friends in the front seat, we made a couple laps complete with some extensive reversing on the freeway and some equally illegal retornos until we finally found what they were looking for: a small barbed wire fence with a well hidden dirt track behind it. Apparently the highway authority had found this little turn-off before and had constructed a concrete and steel barrier, but that didn’t stop the locals from opening it back up with a some partial barrier destruction.

Smoke = Fire

I’m guessing the van was the largest vehicle that had ever attempted this particular turn. Eventually I got the van wedged between two concrete posts and one wheel past the remnant steel barrier post with the other wheel unable to turn past it. I managed to get the loop step high-sided on the steel post and had no choice but to break it off with a little bit of acceleration. Two down, one step to go. Think I can break the third step by the time we get back? Worse, the exhaust was buried three or four feet into the jungle brush, I left the engine running while we figured out how to twenty-point turn her out of the predicament and on to the dirt track. Have I mentioned before that the van is one giant power plant? Power plants give off a lot of heat in exchange for horsepower or torque or whatever else they are generating. Enough heat to ignite flammable materials and start a little brush fire under the van. We shut off the van before it got too big and the brush was mostly green so it really just smoldered and smoked for a bit.

By this point we have concluded that the turn is impossible so one of the locals retreated to the rancho and returned with a sledge hammer to finish the job of concrete barrier removal. After about twenty strikes to the steel pillar and it was obviously not going to give way, at least with the tools at hand. So instead they decided to just take out the concrete post of the fence. A few quick shots to the base of the post and the concrete crumbled leaving a minor obstacle for the van to power over.

Overall our efforts saved us twenty minutes at most, but it was twenty minutes that we thought we needed to make the ferry. Of course we were wrong on that front too, but how would we have known? I decided that we’d give the locals some cash for their efforts and for the concrete post, they were incredibly appreciative and at least Marilyn got a little taste of the adventure she talked about!

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