Merry Christmas! With glee, the kids open the small, unimaginative gifts we brought for them deep in the suitcases. We opened the larger gifts at home, and it has already been explained (a thousand times) that Santa will leave presents at our house, but kids have to open something on Christmas Day. Outside the girls join the three boys they made friends with the night before. They share all their newly opened Pez candy, spoiling breakfast.
I was up earlier than everyone else and sat in the open air dining room for some breakfast working on a post. They serve Nescafe so I broke out the Starbucks Via instant coffee. It doesn’t disappoint. I will be putting it on the packing list for future trips.
Of course, packing lists don’t help if you don’t use them. After breakfast we discover that I failed to pack the camera battery charger, leaving us with out a working camera. We love that camera and we need it to do the blog and our scrap books. Trish and I are very dissapointed and frustrated.
Our only hope of getting a replacement battery charger, or more likely a new camera, is in Merida, the capital of the Yucatan and it’s largest city. We aren’t supposed to be there for a few more days, but we decided to skip our next stop – the flamingo reserve in Rio Logartos – and instead go straight to Merida after today’s activities. There is another flamingo reserve called Celestun closer to Merida, which we can squeeze in on Monday.
Searching for the camera battery charger and trying to finish some blog posts puts us behind schedule a little, and when we finally get to Chichen itza, it’s already packed. Not Miley Cyrus concert packed, but still very crowded. It feels odd to stand in line because almost every other place has been nearly empty. Tickets are about $5 per person.
Chichen Itza is the most visited Mayan site, owing to it’s proximity to Cancun. It is well excavated and enormous. It’s not that old and was not ‘discovered’ abandoned, as one would assume about ancient ruins. It was, in fact, fully active when discovered and conquered by Francisco Montejo and his son in the 16th century. Chichen Itza was a great city of the post-classical period, developed long after the great classic Mayan cities of Tikal, Calakmul, Palenque and Copan. The post-classic period, dominated by Chichen Itza, Coba and Uxmal was responsible for advances in metallurgy, architecture and warfare.
The older, classic period of Mayan culture was farther south and developed the written language, art, mathematical and astronomical systems between 200 AD and 900 AD. The two major periods are separated by a mysterious 200 year decline that appears to have nearly wiped out the Maya. Most likely, a severe two century drought contributed significantly.
It takes us a little under two hours to cover the major parts of Chichen Itza, although an enthusiast would want a whole day. The great temple is an architectural beauty and stands alone in the middle of a great expanse of bermuda grass. The Ball court is huge, has high sides and the intact ring where they presumably put the ball. We really enjoyed the colonnade called the thousand columns, echoing ancient Greece. We definitely liked Ek Balam better, partly because we could climb on more stuff but also because it was serene. (We found some things to climb on anyway.)
Mayans chose the city’s location for water, midway between two cenotes. We walk down the Mayan paved road to the larger of the two open cenotes and have a ‘lunch’ of crumbled potato chips, weird peanuts in lemon juice, gross chili-flavored cheetos and bottled water. Yum. The whole area of Chichen Itza is blanketed with craft and souvenir vendors, but in fairness, they are polite and subdued compared to their brethren in Egypt.
Like yesterday, we follow the visit to the ruin with a swim in a cenote. This one, Ik-Kil, is much more developed. There is a hotel on the premises. The walkways are paved and painted. It appears built for large scale tourism with airport sized bathrooms that are very clean. Ik-Kil is an open Cenote, not the enclosed kind like Dzitnup. But it’s still magnificent. The cenote is about 200 feet across and the walls tower equally high overhead in a nearly perfect cylinder. The sides of the walls are covered in stalactites, tree roots, moss and tiny waterfalls that splash loudly into the clear blue water below. Like Dzitnup, there is a man-made platform on which, people stand and view the water. There are only about 20 people there when we arrive, but it triples before we leave. Obviously a tourist bus has arrived.
From the main platform ascends a set of 15 stairs to a higher platform for diving. We estimate that it’s about 25 feet from the water. Trisha and I start things off by jumping off the high platform – an exhilarating free-fall followed by a cold, deep plunge in the freshwater. Like Dzitnup, there are fish in the cenote, although these fish are larger and more easily seen in the daylight that streams from the open ceiling. Lily is again, very scared of the fish and works up courage to even dip her toes in the water. Meanwhile Emma methodically, but not calmly, works her way up the stairs to ever-higher jumping-off points into the water below.
If it were only for the beauty, we would have thoroughly enjoyed Ik-Kil. But to watch Emma and Lily work so hard to overcome their fear and enjoy the adventure is the highlight of our trip so far. Emma, breathless and adrenaline-filled, works up the courage to jump off the highest point into the water below. (You can see her jumping in the picture.) Lily, with Trish nearby, swims a short route among the ‘frightening’ fish. The kids were deservedly triumphant of conquering their fears, and we decided to buy ice cream for all.
Except that we had no money. In our focus on adventure, we got careless and left my wallet unattended in my bag. My credit cards and about $200 had been stolen. Facepalm. Frustrated, we drive the short distance to our previous nights hotel. In their parking lot, we hijack the wireless and place a skype call to the credit card companies for cancellation. The two hour ride to Merida is quiet, but it’s not such a huge loss because we prepared for this sort of thing. We kept all our ID in the suitcases, and some back-up cash and credit card in other places. We will have to carry more cash than usual, but we should be fine.
We skip the Merida Hyatt for the lower-tier Dolores Alba hotel, operated by he same people as the hotel from the night before in Chichen Itza. The beds are not very comfortable and the towels are ragged, but it’s clean, fun and cheap at $45 per night. We travel through the central square with dozens of crepe carts and musicians, including a musical saw player named Rafael, who teaches us how to play the musical saw (and gives us his business card with YouTube address).
We haven’t eaten since we had potato chips at Chichen Itza and a decent dinner at XXXXX tastes great. The girls get revived on beans and rice. After the epic day, we are all fast asleep before 10pm.
I know this musical saw player! I saw him in New York City! There is a musical saw festival there every July and saw players from all over the world go there to perform. Last July there were 53 saw players who played together and got into the Guinness Book of Records for the largest musical saw ensemble. You can see a video of it at http://www.musicalsawfestival.org
Anyway – I was surprised to read about Rafael, the saw player you met, here. Small world!
This is perfect place for swimming in the clear blue water. This natural swimming pool is 196 feet wide and about 130 feet deep, it is an open cenote about 85 feet from the surface. The Mayan Pool is popular tourist destination. The pool was used by Red bull to host their Cliff Diving World Series in 2012. Participants from around the world came there and experienced the thrilling adventure. Here are some more photos: http://www.worldfortravel.com/2013/06/27/ik-kil-cenote-narural-pool-of-mexico/