Pyramids and Swimming Holes: Cuzama and Chichen Itza

Pyramids and Swimming Holes: Cuzama and Chichen Itza

Phil handed the gas pump attendant a 500 peso note (about $40) and waited for the change. The ATMs in Mexico give a lot of these pesky big notes, which most small shops are reluctant to accept (or refuse completely). We’ve taken to always using them at gas stations, because they always have big wads of cash in their pockets to make change with.

I was fiddling with something on my bike, barely paying attention to what Phil was saying to the guy (I can hear what he’s saying through our helmet intercom system) when there appeared to be some confusion. Instead of giving the guy a 500 peso note, he’d only given him a 50 peso note. But then, when trying to sort out the mistake, Phil realized that the 500 peso note he had in his wallet was not there. He HAD given the guy the 500 pesos, and now 300 more…

A while back Phil had been reading about Mexican scams we might face. One of them was when the Pemex gas station attendant switches the 500 peso note you’ve just handed him, for a 50 peso note, and makes you think you owe him more money.

At this moment in time Phil is extremely angry. I’m surprised he didn’t hit the guy.

Luckily Phil figured out that was what was happening, and managed to get our money back and pay the right amount. It was all very sneaky though and Phil was seeing red. I hung out, calming Phil through the intercom and taking pictures.

We had left Merida much later than we should have, and so when we arrived at the Cenotes near Cuzama, we were unable to find people to share the horse drawn cart that runs down a rickety old track and takes tourists to three cenotes. Cenotes are naturally formed sink holes, filled with fresh water, and perfect for swimming in. I had been told about these three cenotes and the horse drawn carts by other travellers while in San Cristobal and had set my heart on going on them. It was not to be.

Other people on the excursion that was not meant to be

We were approaching Semana Santa (the Easter break) which is the busiest time of year for tourism in Mexico (followed closely by Christmas and New Year). Prices go up at this time of year, and they were asking for 250 pesos for us to go on the cart. It wasn’t value for money, and it was too late to wait for other tourists to show up, so we decided in the end to just get on the bikes and ride to a cenote. Iron horses to the rescue.

We first tried to find the way to get to the same cenotes that the horses go to, but after a ride down a rocky track, which did not have the landmarks the locals had told us about, we ended up turning around and stumbling across a cenote by the side of the main road, run by a local family.

They let us camp for free, and the fee for swimming in the cenote was only 30 pesos. All you could see of the cenote was a hole in the ground, with a ladder poking out of it.

I imagine it would be pretty easy to fall into cenotes when wandering around if they aren’t marked!

A bearded creature emerges from the depths. That ladder would never meet western safety standards…

After descending a few rungs of the ladder, one finds themselves in an impressively large cavern, complete with stalactites and stalagmites.

The camera was on the wrong setting, hence the blurry water pictures

Phil takes a dip in the sinkhole

There was a Mexican family already swimming in the clear, deep pool, and they lent us their snorkel masks so we could see the rocks under the water. The water was so clear we didn’t really need the masks.

View up out of the cenote

The next morning we were up fairly early and packed with the extreme efficiency that more than eight months on the road gives. We’ve made putting away our sleeping bags, mats and tent into an art form.

Our cenote campground. We first pitched our tent on the lady’s garden. She wasn’t impressed.

Our next stop? One of the seven wonders of the world: Chichen Itza.

Phil and I have made a habit of sneaking in to Mexican ruins, Having success at both Monte Alban and Palenque. Chichen Itza was no exception. Well at least we tried. We climbed a fence and started through the jungle, unfortunately we didn’t pack our machetes. Soon the jungle closed in and started biting us. Thorns skewered our skin, vines wrapped themselves around my legs trying to trip me and to top it off, I was wearing flip flops.

Imagine this for about 45 minutes…

We realised that we weren’t going to make it anywhere along this route and turned around. Except there was no path to follow to get back to the fence. It took much longer getting out than it had to get in. Scratched and sweating, we eventually made it back to where we started, no closer to having seen any ruins.

Micro-Kelly contemplating the way out of the jungle. The thorns get stuck in her hair.

We headed for the main entrance, which was thronged with hundreds of tourists. Just the sight of the line to buy tickets snaking far into the distance was enough to make my heart drop.

Phil almost jumped over the wall at this second. I was worried we’d be caught. I-tza was-a Chicken at Chichen.

Phil was all set to jump over the wall here, but I lost my nerve as there was no one in the garden behind, and the ticket gates were just to the left. I felt it was too obvious, and after all that messing around, I decided to just pay. In the end we both bought our tickets (although I did sneak to the front of the line), by far the most expensive of the ruins we have visited, but still inexpensive compared to what we would have to pay to access a UNESCO site in Canada or the UK.

Phil chills out mid air. I’m just happy to not be stuck in the jungle!

Where Mayans played ball. The losers were sacrificed to the gods. We like Ultimate Frisbee better. Less death.

Helpful sign showing the Mayans hitting the ball through the hoop with their hip. Do or die, literally.

The ruins at Chichen Itza are sprawling and impressive, but we had been ruined (tee hee) by Palenque and Monte Alban. Chichen Itza is much more touristy and restricted. No climbing on pyramids for jumping photos there! While I still enjoyed it, the people selling trinkets everywhere (hilariously two of them called Phil “Mister Whisker”), and the more restricted access made me think longingly of the freedom and jungle setting of Palenque.

Naughty micro-Kelly got us into trouble by sneaking behind the rope and posing on the ruins. Guard man was not pleased he had to stand up from his shady tree and make Phil delete this picture. Which Phil did of course.

The whole complex was covered in stalls selling the same assortment of tat. I can’t count the number of times we were told it was “almost free”. No room for tat on the motorbikes.

On the way out, Phil was still determined to find out how we could have snuck in, and confused a guard by trying to sneak out, rather than in…

The way to sneak into the ruins. Or out if you’re Phil.

Confused guard tells Phil the way back in… to get out.

Should you ever need to sneak out of Chichen Itza, this is where you climb over the fence to get out.

After our afternoon of wandering around the ruins, we headed onwards to the beautiful, small city of Valladolid.

After we left Chichen Itza we met this guy who sells model pyramids to tourists. 10 pesos for Mexicans, 30 pesos for foreigners. When Phil gave him a sticker and told him to read our blog he admitted that he couldn’t read. Never mind read English. Daily reminders of the way people overcome challenges in their lives. We are very fortunate.