So after a short visit back to the UK for Christmas, where we had a great catch up and plenty of laughs with family, we jumped on a plane on New Years Eve, destination Mexico. Our plan was to spend a month or so exploring the country, maybe a side trip into a couple of other Central American countries, before ending up in Costa Rica for about a month. At that point we would see how things are turning out and possibly head back to Mexico before returning to the UK in early April. We are pretty sure though that, like most of our plans in the last couple of years, something will come along and alter it. But for now it looks good, so lets go!
First stop, Cancun. Only because that was the easiest airport to access Mexico by direct flight, not because we wanted to party all night. Those days are well and truly behind us now. We used Cancun to stay for a couple of nights in order to get over the flight and pick up some essentials like the all important Mexican SIM card and we spent most of our one full day lying by the hotel pool enjoying being back in the hot weather.
We also bought ourselves bus tickets to Playa del Carmen, a resort town further down the Yucatan Coast, where we planned to stay for a week and relax on the beach or by the pool.
We absolutely never feel hard done by, in fact just the opposite, and we truly appreciate how lucky we are to be living the life we do. But all this running around can sometimes get a bit tiring. Different time zones, long days of travelling, lots and lots of planning and organizing, and then more organising and planning. We use a tracking App called Polarsteps which is a great tool allowing you to load photographs and comments onto every stop you make on your travels. So far it shows in three years we have travelled over 120,000 miles and made over 300 stops. Did I mention there was a lot of organising and planning?
We settled into Playa del Carmen very quickly. We rented a small apartment in a block with a rooftop pool three blocks away from the main tourist hub.
We are not normally too bothered about busy tourist areas but Playa had a nice feel to it. It had plenty of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, touristy outlets selling everything Mexican, many of which were linked to Mexico’s fascination with skeletons, skulls and The Day of the Dead. There was also apparently a ‘buzzing’ nightlife but our only involvement with this was when Steve went for an early morning run and had to dodge the last few ‘clubbers’ on their way home! We have enjoyed a beer or two in the past. In fact, Steve once got so drunk at a Christmas party that he pulled a huge 200 year old bookcase over, which landed on Sarah, deposited the contents of his stomach which included a bottle of Jagermeister and other similar drinks onto his and someone else’s dinner jacket, before being taken home practically unconscious in someone else’s clothes. But those days are over … well at least Sarah hopes they are!
Playa did a great job of allowing us to relax. It felt more like a holiday than travelling. In fact we decided to avoid as much planning as we could by joining a tour. This is something we haven’t done for three years and although it was only going to be for a couple of weeks, rather than a couple of months like the last one, it would be something different and allow us to sit back and have someone organise us rather than organise each other. Plus, last time we met some really great and interesting people, so hopefully it would be the same again.
The trip was going to be based around visiting Mayan ruins in The Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. There were 13 of us travelling together, most of the time in a Mercedes Sprinter minibus, with a local Mexican leading the way. We would be staying in basic hotels and eating out, not camping and cooking for ourselves like the last time. Sounds quite luxurious we thought.
We all met up at a hotel in Playa and went out for a meal together. The make up of the group was varied to say the least. One born in Moldova but living in the USA, one born in Latvia but living in Germany, one born in Greece living in Germany, one born in Switzerland and has been living in Canada. Three more from Switzerland (The Swiss do seem to travel a lot). Three others from The US and two from The UK who don’t really live anywhere (that’s us by the way!). We also had a Mexican tour leader, Salvador.
Our first stop on the Mayan trail was Chichen Itza. This is probably the one most people have heard about. It is only a couple of hours drive from Cancun so is easily done on a day trip for anyone having a holiday there.
Chichen Itza was our introduction to Mayan culture and construction. Salvador used to work as a guide there and so we benefited from his expertise. It was built over 1500 years ago and astronomy was very influential in its construction with the buildings and their design being strategically linked to the sun and the equinox. At specific times of the year the sun would shine through various parts of the pyramids and cast shadows which produced images including a snake running the height of the main building. All very impressive considering when they were constructed.
The pyramids were also used as tombs for the Mayan rulers in much the same way as the Egyptian pyramids were used for the pharaohs. Some of them contained moveable stones to reveal hidden chambers and passages.
After Chichen Itza we made our way to the city of Merida, the largest city in Yucatan. We had a brief stop in the city of Izmal where the buildings are all painted yellow. It made for a nice photo opportunity, plus we got to climb one of the old pyramids for a great view of the area.
We both really liked Merida. It had a relaxed feel to it, with a central main square which was busy in the evening with families, music and a few locals selling colourful items of clothing.
From Merida we made the trip to Uxmal, another Mayan City. This was amazing. Although we had enjoyed Chichen Itza, Uxmal was even better (in our opinion that is). We had a great guide, who was informative and funny, and there were much less people there.
In fact, at some points our group was the only one around. The site seemed to contain more buildings with more detailed decoration and in some ways more authentic. Plus, there were loads of good sized iguanas floating around which on occasion were in danger of stealing the show.
After Uxmal we visited a couple of Cenotes. These are effectively water filled sink holes caused by a huge meteorite which hit the area 66 million years ago, the same one which some think wiped out the dinosaurs.
There are hundreds of cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula and fall into three main types. Ones which are completely underground, i.e in a cave, ones which are completely open and ones which have a small open air access leading to a large cave. We visited an open air one and one where we had to walk down into a cave. Both were fantastic but the cave was really special. Swimming around in crystal clear water among stalactites with the sun illuminating the area from a hole above was a first for us.
We now had a long nine hour drive South to our next stop to the jungle city of Palenque. By now the group was starting to bond and everyone was well travelled so it was great to swap stories with other people and get some ideas for the future. Although our life is pretty much based around travel, we never get tired of talking to people about it and listening to others who are very like minded.
Palenque was another stop for us to visit another Mayan site. This was different again to the previous two, primarily because of its location deep in the jungle. The weather was damp and wet (still nice and warm though) and the site had a real atmospheric feel to it. It wasn’t hard to imagine a scene from an Indiana Jones movie going on.
Whilst in Palenque a few of us took the opportunity to visit Roberto Barrios waterfalls. Steve had seen this during his research for Mexico and had really fancied going. What he didn’t realise was when we got there we would have the opportunity to jump, swim and walk down a series of four waterfalls. Steve and four others jumped, literally, at the opportunity while the rest if the group followed a path alongside the river.
Steve had a great time. The guide spoke no English so we had to use body language to follow the instructions and it was a bit if a leap of faith into the unknown when he indicated for us to jump! We swam and walked through the water between the drops. We crawled into caves behind the falls and on one occasion we had to swim under the water into a small cave. It was quite exhilarating and when Steve and two Swiss girls, Aurora and Amanda, emerged into the cave they just burst out in uncontrollable laughter at what they were doing!
We made our way to the last jump and found some yellow tape blocking our way? The guide lifted it up, we went under, made the last jump into quite a reasonably strong current and swam to shore to join the others from the group. It was at this point that Sarah pointed out the Police on the other bank. “Our guide just told us someone died here two days ago and they are still investigating!”, she said. “Good job we had a guide who was able to give us thorough, clear instructions”, he replied!
Unfortunately the only photos we have are on Amanda’s ‘Go Pro’ so I will post them when she has sorted them out and passed them on.
It had been a fantastic day and we were really starting to enjoy this trip….. a lot. We were seeing some pretty impressive sights, meeting some interesting people and having a great laugh along the way.
We are now due to leave Mexico and head into Guatemala, a new country for us, and hopefully a great time lies ahead.
“I’m so glad you had a good guide for the waterfall jumping Steve, I was a bit worried”.