Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mayans & Margaritas - Chichén Itzá

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

After a lovely day in Tulum and Akumal snorkeling and visiting ruins, we spent Tuesday on a day-long guided tour of Chichén Itzá. After having a really, really wonderful experience with a day-long tour of the Golden Circle in Iceland, I figured that maybe all tours aren't total crap, and decided we should try one out for Chichén Itzá, since we really don't love driving, especially without a GPS. So on Monday night, after getting back from Akumal, we decided to book a tour with Easy Tours, who were right outside the collectivo station, and offered us a good price. (About $60 USD per person.)

The next morning, we woke up at what we thought was 6:30, and headed to the lobby of our hotel at what we thought was 7am to meet up with our tour. And we waited. And waited. And we asked the hotel receptionist to call and ask them there they were on our behalf, and he looked at our reservation and was like, "They'll be here when they're here" which felt dismissive and annoying. But we waited some more. And finally an Easy Tours bus pulled up, at around 7:30, and we were like, "Oh, great! Are you the tour bus to Chichén Itzá?" And he was like, "No, crazies. It's only 6:30. Your bus comes in a half hour." And we realized that our cellphones never adjusted to the time difference. Ooops.

A van finally did come to pick us up, and then brought us to a parking lot to get onto our giant tour bus. We were off! And then we stopped a few miles down the highway for about 20 minutes, and finally someone got on. And we were off again! And then a few more miles down the highway, we stopped for about 45 minutes, before people started getting angry and asking why we were waiting. And then we just left, without any explanation, except "Everyday, tours are different. Today is different from yesterday. Tomorrow is different, too." And then a really long, presumably actually explanatory explanation came in Spanish, which unfortunately we don't speak very well.

And so it continued, one or two sentences of tour in English, and then ten minutes in Spanish. I'd say it's our fault for booking a bilingual tour instead of actually researching and finding one that offers tours in English. At least it seemed that other people who were actually from Mexico also chose our tour, and so maybe it was a better one to pick?

Anyway, we were running so late that we skipped Valladolid, a medieval town on the way, and headed straight to Cenote Ik-Kil, a beautiful sinkhole filled with water very close to Chichén Itzá. It was very beautiful, but definitely one of those spots that you wish wasn't filled with a busload of tourists. (Ahem.) The ring around the outside (protected by a concrete fence, so don't worry, I wasn't going to fall in) was covered in lush overgrowth, and vines hung down into the water, many feet below.

Roger's really not a huge fan of swimming to begin with, and the idea of swimming with a ton of other people in one big stagnant pool of water, shockingly, was not quite his cup of tea:

So, he very kindly held my stuff as I jumped in!

It was really lovely and deep and cool on the warm day, but again, it would have been much nicer if it was more secluded. Such cenotes exist, I am sure, and if you go to Mexico, you should be more adventurous than us and rent a car and find them for yourselves. And when you do, be sure to wear biodegradable sunscreen, because too much normal sunscreen is not good for the fish that live in their waters. A lot of the people at Cenote Ik Kil were climbing on the vines, which is so gross and disrespectful and awful because there were about a million signs saying not to do that, not to do exactly that, guys. Sometimes I hate people.

Roger is like, "I cannot believe you did that don't touch me."

Another lizard friend!

The pavilion at the front of Cenote Ik Kil.

It was a very short trip into the cenote, because we were running so late, so unfortunately, there wasn't much time for more than a quick dip. Then, we headed what seemed to be backwards, to Restaurante Plaza Fiesta for lunch. This is basically a giant cafeteria with reasonably good Mexican food filled with tourists from Easy Tours. They have dancers come in and dance and then at the end your waiters and the dancers point out that they only get paid in tips, and then you feel terrible. Also the whole thing is hella rushed because, again, you're running really late. Eat up, kiddos!

Guys, just don't take a tour, okay?

This sums up our experience at Restaurante Plaza Fiesta pretty well.

Then, finally, FINALLY, hours after waking up and boarding what turned out to be a crazy-times bus, you finally arrive at Chichén Itzá, the whole reason you forced your boyfriend to come to Mexico in the first place and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Okay, actually, it was stunning. I had absolutely no idea how massive the site is until we started touring it, and it is absolutely in every way the ruins of a city. The pyramid was incredible, but so were all the little sites around it.

Like this wall of skulls, where the heads of sacrificial victims were placed:

Or the observatory, which is where we realized just how large the site really was:

Our guide for the afternoon, fortunately, spoke much better English than our Easy Tours guide, though I'm afraid he did to the Germans in our group what our guide did to us English speakers. 2 sentences in German, 10 minutes in English.

But seriously, he was Mayan and incredibly knowledgeable about the site, in addition to speaking 5 languages. His stories were fascinating and I learned so much more about the site than I ever would have if we wandered on our own as we did in Tulum. Also, he was just incredibly friendly.

We stayed on the site for a few hours, which was a really nice chance to get the full tour and then spend some time wandering around. It was such a beautiful day, and we had a chance to take some really lovely photos.

It's also a good place to stop for souvenirs if you're in the market for that sort of thing. We bought a magnet for my mother, and got a much better price there than we could have back in Playa del Carmen. People were much more willing to negotiate there.

Then, back on the bus for the ride home. We thought.

However, we ended up stopping at Valladolid after all, just on the way back. The stopover was extremely quick (maybe 20 minutes), and just gave enough time to hop into their (presumably famous - I don't know because I have no idea what our guide said) colonial-era church and stop into a few shops or use the bathroom. The church was nice, but simple, and the Spanish-style architecture throughout the town square was interesting, but by this point in the tour, I was just ready to head home. We looked around at a few shops, and then headed back to the bus. I'm sure the city is lovely and worth spending some time it, but without any context, it felt just like any other smallish city with a town square.

We headed back to Playa del Carmen for one last dinner, and decided to head back to Carboncitos, because we'd had such a good experience there the night before. Dinner did not disappoint, and we had more margaritas and chips with cinco salsas, in addition to fajitas and enchiladas. It certainly wasn't the most traditional Mayan cuisine we could have tried and normally I would have felt bad that we weren't trying something new, but that night, sitting out on the street and people watching with our drinks and delicious, filling meal, I couldn't have been happier. Sure, the tour hadn't been as great as we were hoping, but we'd still seen some incredible sights, and were spending some wonderful relaxing time together, and that's all that mattered.

Next up: We say goodbye to Playa Del Carmen, and head to Cancun for our last day in Paradise.

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