Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Tale of Two Ruins: Tulum & Chichen Itza

Strip club rules at the ruins - no touching. #FromWhatIUnderstand
My quick thoughts on exploring ruins. I'm enchanted by them. Ruins are like hot tub time machines; gateways to another world. One marvels at how people were able to be so technologically savvy in a time when technology equaled a big rock. Yet while the first impression is always impressive, I've noticed because of my lack of sophistication, the final impression is not as strong. Once you start climbing around a few ruins, you're like "all right, cool. Now what?" That's what happens when you have a communication degree from UC-Santa Barbara and the memory of Guy Pierce in "Memento." Ruin fatigue. You've seen a few, you've seen them all. While that's obviously not the truth, it's a consistent state of mind for me. That said, I still love to explore them, with the onus that I get to climb them. There is no climbing in Chichen Itza and in Tulum, well, we'll get into that.


So I almost didn't make it here. I was going to take the ADO bus from Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza. It's around a 4-hour drive, $26US each way. I decided to go on my own, but there are myriad tours you can get from PDC that are just a few dollars more. The bus departs at 8a sharp, so I set my alarm at 7. It didn't go off, but my buddy just happened to be getting home from the evening's festivities that same time and woke me up. I got to the station around 7:40a to purchase tickets, but they don't accept credit cards and if I bought the ticket then I wouldn't have any cash left. That would be a bad idea, so I hopped in a taxi to take me back to the condo. Cab driver said that would be easy, but then when we already started driving, he mentioned there was a marathon so there would be several streets blocked. Cabbie ended up driving me further from my condo! 50 pesos down the drain, someone ain't getting postcards! I sprint to my pad, grab my ATM card and any money I have left, and "run" (apparently all that cardio at the gym has been worthless) back to the station to beat the bus. I get back at 7:58, buy my ticket with a real cushy 4-minutes to spare (the bus was 2 minutes late). That said, the run has left me sweating like I just played a double overtime game in the NBA playoffs. I apologize to the kind French man and his two pre-pubescent daughters for whatever stench may have been emanating. On the bright side, this bus ride was amazeballs! For the first time all trip, I could sleep! Four hour bus ride? Hell, make it 5! I fell asleep immediately, didn't wake up until basically looking at this bad boy, El Castillo, aka the Temple of Kukulcan. It was built around 800 AD by the Mayans. Unfortunately, you can no longer climb this, as there were too many tourist accidents (read: deaths).  
El Caracol, the observatory. I don't know anything about this other than it was probably used for observing stuff.  Honestly, I motored thru the ruins pretty quickly because I wanted to save time to hit up a cenote - sinkholes where you can go diving and swimming. Plus, not being able to climb anything was a letdown.

Plaza de las mil columnas. There was once a roof here. But the weather destroyed it a long time ago.
This is either cenote Sagrado or cenote Xtaloc. These are not the cenotes to go swimming in. Unless you want tapeworms.

What is this? Your guess is as good as mine.

There's a ton of merchants trying to sell you stuff while walking around. Maybe more than tourists.

Snake. You ever play Snake on a calculator? TI-82? I'm dating myself here, but that was a great time waster during physics class. On an unrelated note, I suck at science.

The Mayans used to throw some sort of ball thru this loop. Don't know what the game was, but did Naismith draw inspiration here??!

Cenote Ik-Kil. I asked a cabbie to take me to the closest cenote to Chichen Itza, because I couldn't risk missing my return bus. This place is about 5 minutes away. Fun little jump off point. Not very high, maybe 15-feet at the highest to jump off. The water was a comfortable temperature. There's a bunch of tiny shark looking fish. Or maybe they looked like tiny catfish. Whatever, there's a bunch of those swimming around.
Another look. Unfortunately they won't let you jump from this height. That would be more core.


From above.  

Ceviche back at Chichen Itza before taking off. And once again, that bus ride was heavenly! #NothingButSleep

So we got up around noon the day we went to Tulum, which is around 45-60 minutes south of Playa del Carmen. After a couple pit stops, we set up base at Playa Paraiso around 2p. I ordered some ceviche (good everywhere in this area), then decided to walk to the ruins along the beach, which looked like it was about a 1-hr walk away.
This spot is nice if you like enticingly warm water, soft sand, models getting photographed, and topless sunbathing. If you don't like that stuff, it's still nice. 
As I walked towards the ruins, I discovered the beach ended. I met a woman who said even though there wasn't a real path, I could still walk over the rocks and reach the ruins. She said it was totally worth it, about half-a-mile away, and she did it yesterday. So I listened. Climbed through some rocks, saw a decent view - and then encountered a fence.
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She a lie! This was the end of the road. Gorgeous and all, but that's a cliff right there with a large drop-off. I'd have to turn around. Needless to say, I was not pleased with this woman.
All along the beach, there are several dudes running boat rides over to the ruins to give people a better look at them from the water. Problem is, they won't drop you off at the beach there. In fact, the ruins actually close at 430p. Seeing as how this was as close to the ruins as I'd get, I hopped on a boat for about $13 US. 
The beautiful beach right below the ruins. I can only imagine how nice the view is from there! But I bet they wish they got a boat ride!

Not gonna complain too much. This is still pretty sweet. Back lit photo but whatever.

So many dudes.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Playa del Carmen & the Legend of Whale Sharks

Sunset at Playa del Carmen.

I have a couple friends who go to Playa del Carmen multiple times a year. Like the Masters, it's a tradition unlike any other for them. PDC is their spot to unwind - less calm than the spring break menagerie in Cancun, but still plenty lively and scenic. The dudes are seemingly a fixture in the local bar/club scene. When someone leaves a spot, promoters will occasionally update us on their whereabouts. Hanging with these dudes is like the Copacabana scene in "Goodfellas." Life is good when you're Ray Liotta at the Copa.

The dudes have invited me to join before, but my interest waned because I've been to Mexico and there are so many other places I'd like to visit. As you probably know by now, when I travel - I have to DO something - the more unique or crazy - the better. I get antsy if I'm just laying out, sightseeing, or clubbing. I enjoy all those things, but it's not enough. Unless you give me Ritalin. 

But then I realized all the amazing sites to see along the Riveria Maya, the Caribbean coastline of Mexico's northeastern Yucatan Peninsula, and realized I had to go. I'd be out there for 6 days to visit Tulum (where I've been longing to go ever since missing out on a friend's wedding there), Chichen Itza, cenotes (sinkholes or caves to swim or dive in), and peep this - whale shark diving. Yes, I'd kick off the whole trip snorkeling and free diving with whale sharks off the coast of Cancun. I don't care if I just laid out on the beach the rest of the trip, if I was going to be able to swim with some mother f'n whale sharks - the trip would be worth it already.

Now let's go to Playa: 

Condo kitchen and living room right on the beach.
Hallway view of beach.
Sunrise view from our patio. 
After coming back early on my first night out (around 430am), our whale shark/deep sea fishing tour was set to pick us up at 6am. Ugh. Why so early? Let me explain how this went down. Whale shark viewing season doesn't actually begin until May 15, but I reached out to a tour operator who said hundreds of whale sharks were already in the area and he guaranteed we'd see some. The catch is, because it's technically not the season, we'd have to go on a deep sea fishing tour as an excuse to be out searching. The operator mentioned to me there's an unlikely - but still a chance - that the Coast Guard would stop us if we were out searching for whale sharks! This did add a bit of intrigue to the tour. We rode out around 20 miles off  the coast, which took forever and was rougher than watching Austin Rivers play basketball. I rarely get motion sickness, but around 4 hours at sea, I started feeling nauseous, maybe it had something to do with the hour of sleep? The entire tour with transportation lasted almost 12 hours. It included deep sea fishing - we caught several wahoo and tuna, snorkeled the reef near Isla Che, but you know what we didn't see on our whale shark tour? F'n whale sharks. Forget the verbal guarantee that we'd see them. The company sent a second boat out to help search, but to no avail. You know what a whale shark tour without whale sharks is? A boat ride. A long ass boat ride. 
Tuna. Not whale shark.
Blue wahoo. Also not whale shark.
Fresh ceviche on our boat with Isla Mujeres in the backdrop. This along with a Kloster, the cheapest beer I've heard of outside of the generic Beer that Albertson's used to have. Isla Mujeres is a quiet, gorgeous island, much in line with Caye Caulker in Belize. Slower-pace, an oasis from the ruckus of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Another shot of Isla Mujeres, which lives up to its name.
You a lie. This diploma said we swam with whale sharks. Don't mock me, faux-certificate.
Cutting up the tuna. Totally professional and clean.
Fresh guacamole and fresh tuna burgers. Get your tuna! We had so much damn fish our fridge smelled like a sushi restaurant with a C kitchen rating. 
We rented a cabana/mattress at Mamitas resort. Very popular area. Much needed R&R. 
Playa del Carmen statue off 5th Avenue, the tourist hub.
No filter. Sunset was crazy pink. Locals playing futbol.  
Playa scenics.
Tequila hombre. Waiting for his amigo.
Maybe it could be him? There were so many dudes trying to sell flowers at the club. Leave us alone!
Mexico's Wal-Mart, outside of Wal-Mart, which they obviously have, too. This place was enormous. Trippiest thing: Coronas are cheaper than Tecate there. Huh??


Solid breakfast spot on 5th Ave: 100% Natural. It's a healthier, organic spot to eat, which is very helpful after late evenings and adult beverage consumption. I ordered some tofu rice which was fine, but that juice was the money maker. Forgot what it was, but included banana, papaya, pineapple, and a bunch more.
Republica Taco is just another of a long-line of taco spots. Solid late eating. They were tasty but I preferred Don Sirloin, another late night taco spot. Just be wary that their salsa verde is extremely spicy and not the same as an avocado salsa. 
Shrimp burrito at Casa Adela. Nothing spectacular. It's on touristy 5th. They did have nice bathrooms though. Be careful not to have any ice with your beverage. I did and Montezuma's Revenge followed me back to the states. A solid food suggestion - although massively touristy - is Tequila Barrel, also on 5th. Their Mahi tacos are legit. 

We met some new local friends who took us to a pasta spot called Cheester. Homemade pastas, huge portions and menu. The place is away from the tourist zone and seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
We ordered some sort of seafood pasta, and a creamy chipotle pasta, as well.  All tasty.
More late night street food. Gonna be honest, don't recall feeling tip top the next morning!
Viva Margaritas right off 5th Ave has delicious and large margaritas. This is watermelon. Might I also recommend mango and strawberry. No losers on this menu. 


Mandala. We spent a lot of time here. Seems to be among the more popular spots.
La Santanera: late night spot. Rooftop bar. 
La Vaquita: Nothing like hanging with gigantic cartoon cows.

Blue Parrot: outdoor spot with beach access. More spacious. Not as smoky.

Next: Beaches, cenotes, and ruins in Tulum & Chichen Itza.