Friday, May 12, 2017

An Indiana-Jones-trip to the cenotes and pyramids of the Yucatan

Las Tres Chicas swimming in cenote
Swimming in a cenote is a bit like being in an Indiana Jones movie. Slippery stone stairs lead to a dark cavern filled with crystal clear water.

The Tarzan-style vines, the roots of above ground plants, hang from the ceiling of the cavern. The slow drip of minerals forms stalactites, their whimsical shapes reaching for the water below. An occasional bat flitters past in the dim light. Dozens of swallows nest in the underground crevices, zipping underground via a hole in earth above. Exquisite and eerie.

Part of  Ek Balam pyramid and surrounding structures
Last week I posted a question on my Facebook page, asking for recommendations for a tour company for a day-trip to the Ek Balam pyramid and a swim in the cenotes. The response was immediate and varied. Many recommended either William Gonzalez, or Patricio Astudillo. 

We dithered, but in the end we went with William because a number of our close friends had taken his tours and really enjoyed the experience. In years past, when we owned a car, we frequently drove our visitors to the pyramids, but currently our only form of transport is a golf cart, and that just isn’t fast enough, nor legal, for a two-hour drive on a four-lane highway. Two great-nieces Lauren, Ellen, plus their good friend Amber, who has become a great-niece via friendship, and I decided to go. We left Lawrie and Sparky at home to enjoy some peaceful guy time.

Heading out on our adventure
We caught the seven-thirty UltraMar passenger boat from Isla Mujeres to Puerto Juarez on the mainland, and met up with Manuel who was our tour guide for the day. Settled into a comfortable seven-passenger van we headed towards Valladolid, and the less busy pyramid of Ek Balam. Lawrie and I have enjoyed several visits to the large pyramid of Chichen Itza, but it has become so crowded it is difficult to get good photographs without including several hundred strangers grinning inanely at their selfie-sticks.

Ek Balam, the Black Jaguar, is located thirty-five kilometers north-east of Chichen Itza, in the municipality of Temozón. The road turns off the toll highway #180, a few kilometers from the City of Valladolid in the direction of Tizimin. Tizimin is well-known for furniture handmade from tropical wood.  
Royal Palace at Ek Balam - 106 steps up, 106 steps down

The road between Cancun and Valladolid is straight, boring, and the flat vista is blocked by thick undergrowth. The secondary road is more interesting but populated by hundreds of topes, speed bumps, in the numerous villages increasing the drive to three hours instead of two. It’s a good time to let someone else do the driving, so you can doze in the warm sunlight or chat with your travel companions.


By ten in the morning we were at the pyramid. The entrance fee is $193.00 pesos for foreigners, but lucky me, I have an INAPAM card telling the world that I am old and a local. My entrance fee was $0 pesos. You do have to produce proof of residency, such as an electrical bill or water bill in your own name and proof of age, to obtain this Mexico senior’s card from your municipality. For Lawrie and me, the savings are helpful. 

Inside Ek Balam we hired a local guide to show us around. José was born in a nearby village, and his first language is Mayan, but he also speaks Spanish and English. 

  
Jose taking pics of my travel partners 
Our guide was well informed and interesting, telling us the history of each structure and the meaning of the various glyphs. I envied the ease with which José climbed the one-hundred and six stairs to the top of the Royal Palace, and then nonchalantly strolled back to ground level while everyone else baby-stepped their way down the steep pyramid. 

It’s a combination of vertigo and the insecurity of flip-flops on narrow slanted steps that make the descent more challenging.   
  
The tourist photo!
Next stop was the Samula and the nearby X’kekén cenotes in the town of Dzitnup. The cenotes are part of an underground river system that flows under the limestone base of the Yucatan Peninsula. Over time bits of the ground above has been worn away by rainstorms, animals, or humans creating entrance holes to the subterranean fantasy world.

In the aquamarine water small black fish laze; a type of catfish perhaps? Others nibble at our feet. They remind me of the fish imported from Turkey, used for pedicures in some of the upscale Cancun hotels. Hopefully no one would be foolish enough to populate the pristine Caribbean waters with another imported species of fish, creating a local ecological problem like the venomous Indo-Pacific Lion Fish. 

Wikipedia pic of doctorfish doing pedi
The little fish didn’t bite, but it was an odd feeling to have so many small mouths scouring my skin.

As for the cenotes, the entrance fee for each one is $59.00 pesos for visitors, and half of that for people with an INAPAM card. 

Some locations sell a two-day pass that cover all of the locations, but for us two in one afternoon was sufficient. We spent about an hour and a half lazing around in the water, before meeting up with our driver Manuel.
Restaurante el Atrio del Mayab
By now it was one in the afternoon, and we were starving hungry. Manuel suggested that we have lunch in Valladolid at the Restaurante el Atrio del Mayab. Wow!  

Beautiful setting right off the square in centro, near the cathedral, and diagonally across from one of our favourite hotels in Valladolid, the El Mesón del Marqués. The food was delicious, the cerveza cold, and the service excellent.

On the drive home our group was strangely quiet as our heads lolled against the vehicle windows. Full of good food and feeling sleepy we hardly talked until we were at the UltraMar terminal headed back to Isla Mujeres.

It was a fun adventure, and we highly recommend William Gonzalez. You can find him on Facebook. He’s not the Columbian fencer, not the private equity professional, not the sales associate at Victoria’s Secret, and not the movie director. This William Gonzalez   https://www.facebook.com/william.gonzalez.7545

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie





Treasure Isla by Lynda Lock
Amazon e-books $2.99 USD





Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt by the name of Sparky.

Trouble Isla, the sequel will be launched August 2017. 

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