Hello Valladolid

Before leaving Holbox, We made time for one  more bike ride down too the end of the beach, we did get lucky and spotted  a few flamingoes.  

Good bye for now Holbox, we will miss you.

Back at the hotel we waited for two golf cart taxis that never came, so the staff had to pile all four of us and our backpacks into their cart and run us down to the ferry.  We paid the $7.50 per person fare and made the 12:30 just in time.  The ride is a short 30 minutes, sitting on the top open air deck with Latin dance music playing, it felt like a party.  You can find busses at the end of the pier and we had heard there was a bus bound for Tizimin at 1:00, 1:15, 1:30.....or is it 1:45?  No one knows for sure, but you can count on the taxi drivers to tell you that there isn't a bus until 4:00 and that for $50 they will take you directly to Valladolid.  It's pretty tempting but taking the bus is one of the things I absolutely love about traveling in Latin America...the sights, sounds, smells, constantly changing scenery inside and outside....it's one of the only times and places in my world where I am exactly in the moment.  I throughly enjoy the misery of the bus.

Sure enough room around 1:20 a 2nd class Oriente arrived and we piled in and paid the $5.00 each for the two hour ride.  Per usual the bus was a cold as a meat locker and as an added bonus my window leaked cold rain water down my side the whole time....and since I had neglected to bring a long sleeve shirt, the only thing I had to cover up with was a damp sarong.  But I didn't much mind, really, because I love that Sarong.  I bought it on my first trip to Thailand back in the early 1990's (1993?) and it's been my trusty companion through 18 countries over 25 years.  I'm pretty attached to that square of dark blue cotton fabric, it's like an old friend that's been through a lot with me, always been there when I needed it in any capacity, and has never left my side no matter what I put it through.  What other travel accessory can do so much? It's has protected me from the elements, carried supplies, provided an outfit, covered ugliness and dirt...it takes all this abuse yet dries in a few hours (takes minutes in the hot sun), fold up smaller than a novel, and is ready for more.  

The rain has only stopped intermittently since we arrived in Mexico.  It is the rainy season, and I should have expected it, but it's still surprising.  In Tizimin, you have to walk around the corner to another bus station to find a bus for Valladolid.  There's no way to really know in advance how long we'd have to wait, so we felt lucky that there was a bus departing in just a few minutes.  We paid the $1.50 per person for the easy one hour ride.   We are staying at a special little boutique hotel, Casa Marlene.  My grungy backpacks feel out of place here.

The walk from the bus stop is only a few blocks, but they are chaotic and loud Latin American blocks.....this place is like a little oasis from all that.  We have two adorable rooms in this restored colonial home.  Breakfast is very nice and the folks that work here are exceptional.   We settled in, got cleaned up, and went out for a really nice meal at El Meson deal Marques finished off by a rainy walk around the Zocalo eating a marquesita.  That's a dessert specialty in the Yucatan, and it's like a giant waffle cone rolled up around sweet or savory fillings.  I prefer the banana and Nutella, but the traditional way is made with cheese.  

For our first day in Valladolid we planned to rent bikes and ride out to Hacienda Oxman to swim in the Cenote and eat nachos by the pool.....but it was too dang rainy so we went to the Mexican folk art museum, Casa de los Venados for their one and only daily tour at 10:00.  We went there last year, but I still managed to find interesting peices I had not seen before.  We had lunch in the food stalls area for a few bucks, and spent the afternoon dogging rain drops while souvenir shopping, on the hunt for Lucha Libre ("Mexican wrestling") masks we had promised for friends at home.  I can hardly wait to see  what seven teenaged boys plan to do with these things.  

My special birthday gift for Sophia was a trip to Zazil Tunich.  The family that owns this Cenote has created a very nice Maya experience where the visitor learns about the nine levels of the Maya underworld, receives a blessing and permission from a Shaman to enter the cenote, a lovely swim in the cavern, followed by an authentic Maya meal.  You might think a shaman blessing at a tourist attraction would be cheesy but it really wasn't.  He prayed out loud in Maya which is a language you don't hear very often and we were blessed with smoke and water from a flowered altar.

Maya and I really like Valladolid so much.  She wondered what kind of job she could do here during a gap year...secret cenote and small charming Maya village  tour guide for a hostel.  Sounds fun doesn't it?


Returning to Mexico

For the price of one night in a NYC hotel we can have a BIG time in Mexico! That's how all this got started, my sister, Jen, invited me and Maya to celebrate her daughters 13th birthday in New York City and offered to pay for the hotel and airfare. Sounded great! She sent me link to three fabulous hotels in the city that cost a pretty penny.  I was like, for the price of one night in NYC we could have a hotel, food, transport, and activities for all four of us in Mexico! Really to my surprise she agreed we should go to Mexico and revisit some of the places Maya and I went last summer.  She didn't have to ask me twice, we loved loved loved Mexico!

So here we are, having a redo on two of the places we went to last year.  First, Isla Holbox....that amazing paradise that is really like a dream.  It remains difficult to get to so that does help stem the flow of tourists, and there aren't any high rises....yet.  Jen said she wanted to travel the way me and Maya like to, using local transport and eating street food...but that we didn't need to stay in cheaper hotels.  So we are beating treated to some incredible nights!  On Holbox we  are staying in a truly remarkable beachfront property, Palapas deal Sol.  

There was a bit of construction near the room they had for us, so they upgraded us to a two floor suite.  Lots of rain clouds but a beach front room is fabulous no matter what the weather.

The weather didn't cooperate so we weren't able to do the whale shark trip.  Instead we had a day with beach bikes that we rode to the market, the animal shelter, and the beach.  We visited the animal shelter last year and made a donation of leashes and collars.  This year we brought supplies and spent a while playing with puppies and kittens.  Lunch at the market, typical tacos and a fresh pineapple mango juice to wash them down.  We biked on  the beach all the way down to where the hotels end and the national park begins.  That's what will save this island from being overrun, the majority of it is protected land.  If it can be allowed to stay that way then this place could remain charming for years. Already since last year it has changed...more hotels, deeper potholes, but really still a great place and I'm glad we returned.

Riding bikes on the beach, walking on the pier, stopping for a coconut.....oh if we could all look as cool as this girl!

A ton of rain didn't keep us from enjoying the night in town, eating and walking around. The streets get seriously flooded and the water stands for days.  Nowhere for the water to go! as always the main activity is just eating....ice cream, churros, tacos, tacos, tacos.

I don't have a picture to prove it...but I took a long solo bike ride all the way to the northern tip of the beach and was treated to a flock of pink flamingoes  fishing and mating in the shallow clear blue water.  Really such a sight with that coral pink and sky blue.  In the after noon Jen splurged on Mayan massages in our room! I had mine on the deck to the sound of soft waves, birds chirping, a gentle ocean breeze blowing....she had pan flute music playing on a speaker and used 3 different essential oils throughout her perfectly pressured massage.  It was seriously heaven on earth for $35.

Tomorrow afternoon it's off to Valladolid.  In the morning I plan to wake up early and ride my bike along the beach one last time, who knows if I will ever be able to return here.  Let me know if I can take you he someday!


Coba Ruins and Cenote Tankach-Ha

We don't much care for Tulum, so good thing we have another day trip planned.  It's off to more ruins and cenotes!

Figuring out how to visit these places independently using public transport was a challenge.  We could easily book an all inclusive tour for $90  a person or hire a private taxi for $100 plus admission to the ruins and cenote ($15).  Tulum seems to be set up for tours only, but I knew it could be done! The bus station and our hotel both said there are no colectivos, just one inconvenient 10:00 am bus which would get us to Coba way too late.  The key to handling the crowds at these ruin sights is to get there when the gates open, otherwise you'd literally be swept up in a flood of people.  Even extensive googling and travel forum stalking didnt give me a straight forward answer, so I  peiced together bits and peices of information and hoped for the best.

On the way back from Muyil yesterday we asked the colectivo driver if there was a colectivo to Coba.  He told us where to find the stop in town and that it left around 8:00 in the morning.  The LP book confirmed that the Coba colectivo stop was on Osiris Norte at Tulum Ave, next to the Kahlua Restarunt. Sure enough there was a sign so that was a good start.

The van left when finally six people showed up, around 8:30.  It surprised me that this travel option was so unpopular.  There's usually no many people waiting for colectivos and this time is was like pulling teeth to get people there.  It just confirms that most tourists here are visiting Coba on tours.  Anyway, we paid our $4 each and 45 minutes later we arrived outside the gates of Coba shortly after they opened.

We paid the $4 entry fee and went straight to the bike rental area.  Coba is a massive site so it was well worth the $3 each to rent bikes.  We originally had decided to spring for a guide so we would know what we were looking at but had a change of heart.  It costs $35, and while worth it for the quality of information we decided that we didn't have the patience to be a captive audience and follow a guide around.  We mooched a minute or two here and there if we happened to be near a tour group's English speaking guide and would get a snippet which is all we want we anyway.

We hopped on the bikes and made a beeline for Nohoch Mul, the Great Pyramid, about 2 km from the enterance and usually the last structure on the tour.  We made it our first stop so we could beat out the crowds already forming at the enterance.  The path was peaceful and almost deserted.

   It's the 2nd tallest in the Yucatan Peninsula and still allows climbing to the top.  We were smart to skip the smaller structures along the way, knowing we would backtrack to see them on our way out.  Arrivng at the pyramid we had it almost to ourselves sharing it with just a few others.  

By the time we made our way down, there were hoards of people scrambling their way up.  We had a lovely time cruising  around the paths at Coba and left quite happy.Outside the enterance there are many restaurants to choose from.  Even though they are twice the price as in town, we didn't want to walk much further.  Luckily we chose one that also gave us great information on getting to the cenotes by bike and the return time of the ADO bus (3:30 pm, 2 shops down from the bike place).  Two shops over from where we ate we rented bikes for $3 and with a map they provided pedaled the 6.4 km to Tankach-Ha on a well signed road.  The cenotes are big business for Mayan communities and they want to make sure people can find them.

Like the last bike trip we took this one was just as hot.  Really really hot. But at the end we knew we had a cool cenote to jump into!

At the destination there are three cenotes to chose from, but we chose to spend all of our time at Tankach-Ha because they have 5 and 10 meter jumping platforms.  You can bet Maya was super happy about that! This cenote is a really nice cave, and not too crowed at all. 

I didn't do the jumping part because I felt I had used up all my daredevil luck with the Tarzan swing, zip lining, and repelling at the other cenotes. But you can bet Maya jumped the 10 meters, twice!

Just a recap for anyone wanting to do this day trip from Tulum.  I have no clue if there are additional colectivos or busses, but this is what we did:

8:00 am colectivo from Osiris Norte, leaves when full, 70 pesos
70 pesos Coba enterance fee
50 pesos bike at Coba, no time limit
50 pesos bike rental to get to Cenote Tankach-Ha
55 cenote enterance fee
3:00 pm ADO bus, departs outside Coba gate, 80 pesos
80 pesos for lunch

385 pesos or about $23 per person, sure beats a tour or taxi!


Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve

Easy as pie, we caught our bus to Tulum from Bacalar.  It wasn't so easy on the bus though because it seemed the AC wasn't working and the windows would not open.  Imagine riding in your car in the middle of summer but with 50 other sweating and oxygen deprived people....lets just say that when the bus pulled into the Tulum  station three hours later I grabbed my day pack and was the first one off the bus.  

Tulum Pueblo  (not to be confused with Tulum Playa) is considerably less than charming.  The only reason we are here is for the day trips we have planned.  It's cheaper, generally, to stay  in Tulum Pueblo but the beach is a 20 minute bike or 10 minute colectivo ride away.  We didn't come here for the beach crazy as it seems, plus we have had lots of days of clear blue water to enjoy already.  There are a million tourists, travelers, backpackers, etc here and we are just one more drop in the bucket.  The place is completely over run, over priced, and over rated, but like I said we are here for the day trips.  The food in the small local places is dang good though, what's not to like about delicious 45¢ tacos? And the people who live here are nice too.

Day trip number one is to the ruins at Muyil and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve to float down Mayan carved canals.  It's not easy to find clear instructions on how do take day trips from Tulum independently, the hotels seem to only know how to direct you to an expensive private taxi or a tour.  We found 
this link from roamingaroundtheworld.com to be a huge help.  We followed their advice about the bus and the trip worked out perfectly. We walked around some low key ruins for about an hour and were just about the only people there.  

Follow this path behind the main temple and it leads you into the jungle of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

Another  small enterance fee is paid and the trail becomes a raised boardwalk through the forest.  

The first stop is the observation tower.  I'm not good at estimating heights, but the tower goes well above the tree canopy for a beautiful view of the jungle and lagoon.  The tower was strudy and well constructed but  I'll say it was a bit unnerving climbing up basically slightly inclined ladders to a thatch roof hut.  

Continue along the path and it opens up to a dock where small boats wait to ferry passengers across the lagoon to the canals for about $35 per person.  It's a steep price but it is sustainable tourism run by Mayan people who live here. More of that crystal water!

Arrivng at a small dock,  the driver instructed us to leave our things in the boat and step into the canal which is crystal clear and has a gentle current.  Water feature #4, canals dug by Mayans 1000 years ago.  The 30 minute float cuts through whispering grasses and shady mangroves.  Just a few small  fish here and there and a very mellow flow.  

Over too soon, another small dock appears where our shoes are waiting but no sign of anyone.  The dock leads to another elevated Boardwalk that leads a long long way through hot grassy marsh lands.  Our boat awaits, we jet across the lagoon and back to the Reserve.  We traced our path back through the jungle, the ruins, and finally to the highway where we have lunch and coo over another stray kitten.  We wait about 10 minutes on the side of the road for a Tulum bound colectivo.  Back to the room for siesta and later hop on bikes to find yet another great meal.  


Laguna Bacalar

Vacation water feature #3, Laguna Bacalar, a stunning freshwater lake in 5 shades of blue.  It features submerged cenotes created by meteorites, a canal used by pirates for raiding and Mayans for trading, and sulfuric mud for a "'Mayan Spa".

We used Veleando Ando at the Marina Bacalar and spent half the day on the water in a 14 foot hobi cat with an Argentian hippie captain.

Luis had a comprehensive knowledge of the biology, geology, and history of the lake which he explained to us in great detail.  Almost as good as having my Luis with us to explain the how and why of everything we were seeing.  There's lots of ways to experience the lake, most on crafts with engines.  We went with the mas  tranquilo way of a silent boat powered by wind.  The lake has a lot of sulphur in it (but does not smell of it at all, except for the "Mayan Mud" spa which was like rubbing rotten eggs into the skin) so there is very little fish or animal life.  In other words no predators, crocs, snakes, or other nefarious species.  Just lots and lots of blue clear water.

The submerged cenotes were unique in that they were created by meteorites hitting the lake, so we could stand in the hip deep clear water then step off into a 90 meter deep black abyss.  You can see the ledge going down and down, unnerving!

Evenings here are spent pretty much the same way in every town we visit.  Eat some good, cheap, traditional food then hang out in the town square with a sweet from a street cart and people watch.  We usually add souvenir shopping and a stop in a market for water and breakfast stuff.  I've been making avocado toast with tomato and a boiled egg on torta bread and a side of mango all for $2.

We've been staying in a cute Airbnb, Maria Maria Hotel.  It has four rooms with balconies and a shared common space with small kitchen.  

It's 1 block up from the lake and a public access point which I thought we would use but we ended up going to Cocalitos, enterance fee $1.75, a beach side camping area for families on holiday.  It's a cool place and we weren't the only ones that though so.  There were lots of multigenerational families having their vacation there so the atmosphere was really festive and friendly.  We were even able to just leave our bag on the shore and swim and kayak all day with no worries about it at all. The place also features stramatolites, freshwater coral that creates oxygen as a byproduct of consuming the sulphur and calcium in the water.  

Our guide from yesterday told us about a phenomenon on the lake that happens unpredictability a few times a year where the water becomes glass like and perfectly reflects the sky.  He said it was particularly stunning when it happens at night as the lake mirrors the starry sky and you feel as if you are sailing in a endless sphere of a galaxy.  We didn't witness this event but caught a glimpse of the glassiness.

In the afternoon we visited the Spanish Fort San Felipe built in 1729. We paid $4 to get in and spent about 30 minutes here.  Built with the stones from a destroyed Mayan Temple, it has a good vantage point and a very small museum.  

It is also a virtual stone oven inferno said as soon as we left we got a snow cone like treat where the vendor has to scrape the ice by hand from a block on his cart.

We are leaving Bacalar today on the 11:50 bus for Tulum, our final stop on the small Yucatan loop we are traveling. Just a few more days left where the homestretch is bitter sweet.