Canada Day 9/10 – Toronto to London

For my last day in Toronto we went downtown and had a look at their indoor market. I wasn’t particularly interested in it, but did have a very nice cheesecake whilst I was there. Whilst indoors it started to rain incredibly heavy, but we didn’t have to wait long before it eased off enough to carry on walking around the city.

After one last meal we took the subway to the airport and parted ways once more. Security took quite some time to go through, though I’m not entirely sure why – it seemed a little disorganised, and in part from the passengers not following instructions. For the next couple of hours I sat around the airport and watched some TV on my laptop until it was time to board the plane.

Not long after boarding the plane we heard that there was some delay as the toilets were not working and would need to be looked at before we could leave. By 11:30 they announced that we would be “de-planing” and would need to board another plane at 01:30. Once everyone had disembarked we all stood around the new gate waiting to hear what was happening – they began boarding at 01:15 and this time it didn’t take long for everyone to board.

I was getting quite tired, but then there was another announcement – we wouldn’t be leaving yet as due to the delay it meant one of the pilots would need to come off shift during the flight and so we were now waiting for another pilot to arrive. At around 02:00 we finally moved away from the gate and began the long journey home to England.

Although the plane landed at around 13:00 it was some time before my luggage appeared on the carousel. This time I needed to make my own way home so took the tube to Kings Cross, but delayed by helping a Polish girl to use the ticket machines as this was her first time in England. It cost £6 for the tube ticket and then a further £58 an hour later at St. Pancreas for a train ticket to Leicester.

By the time I left London it was 16:15, but at last it was the last leg of the journey – getting me home just over an hour later. It had been another long trip, but also very varied with plenty of opportunities for photographs. I know it’s unlikely I’d go back to Mexico – I’ve done that now, but may return to Canada at some point in the future to see more of the country.

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Canada Days 4-8

In the UK it was a bank holiday Monday, meaning if I was back home I wouldn’t be working – but here in Canada my friend wasn’t so lucky and had to work this day so I had the day free to explore Toronto by myself. My stomach was still a little unsettled from the effects of dehydration from towards the tail-end of the Mexico trip.

By the afternoon I decided to take the subway to downtown and got off at Union Station so I could take the skywalk to the CN Tower. The reason for me visiting there first was so I could see if they did a “Sun and Stars” ticket similar to what the Rockefeller Center did in New York. Sadly it turned out they didn’t so I carried on, passed the Roger’s Stadium on my way to Fort York.

The walk from the Roger’s Stadium to Fort York wasn’t too bad, and it turned out my sense of direction wasn’t as bad as it often is. The historic site of Fort York was first created in 1797 as a way of defending some land that was deemed suitable for settlement due to it’s natural harbour and relative distance from the United States. This was garrisoned by both British Army and later by Canadian militia forces. The original buildings here were destroyed in the Battle of York in 1812 when the British destroyed the garrison as they abandoned it. In much later years, after ownership transferred to the City of Toronto, it was used by the military during the First and Second World Wars.

The entrance to Fort York is a modern building where the windows are designed to resemble a fort – at the time I visited it there was also an exhibition there about recent warfare. The entire site consists of several buildings which each served a different purpose – barracks, mess hall, armoury, and magazine. At the time I was there the majority of the buildings were open and could walk around the majority of them. What was also surprising was that I seemed to be the only one looking around!

Once I’d finished looking around I bought some crisps and a drink from the gift shop and then started my walk back to downtown Toronto. From there I then started to walk along Yonge Street and looked around some of their shops before eventually meeting up with my friend when he finished work (he works on Yonge Street). We then continued walking north before taking a bizarre path across a residential area before eventually reaching Casa Loma.

My only reason for wanting to see Casa Loma was that I thought from pictures I’d seen that the exterior looked good and would be worth a photograph. The exterior Gothic style makes it look like it’s trying to appear older than it is, but with it being just over 100 years old it probably is one of the oldest residences in Toronto.

Over the next few days I split my day between working remotely and getting in a little bit of tourism. On the Tuesday we went to the Roger’s Stadium to watch a baseball game – the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago White Sox. When we got to the stadium there was an issue with my camera to start with. As I’d got my 150-500mm lens attached it meant that without a press pass I wasn’t going to be allowed to use it. My only option was to let them lock it up and to collect it after the game.

When we got to the place they lock up valuables the manager there decided that as we were sitting up in section 535 that it’d be okay for me to keep my camera with me as long as I kept it out of people’s way. As it turned out we were pretty much the only people sitting up in that section as the majority were further down – closer to the action.

The game started with the Canadian and American national anthems being sung live, and then the game began. I didn’t really know much about baseball, and to be honest I still don’t. I watched as two teams I’d not seen before took it in turns to try and score points – something that they didn’t do for a number of innings. After a few of these passed I decided as I’d not eaten I’d get a hotdog, crisps and a drink – it seemed like the right thing to do at a ball game. As the scores finally started to increase both teams managed to keep it fairly even.

From what I understand at the end of 9 innings they’d then continue on with extra innings until a winner could be determined – something which can last for hours. My hope was that there’d be a victory after 9 innings, but it wasn’t looking good for the Blue Jays – the White Sox at the end of their last innings were ahead and it seemed it was all over.

Eventually it got to the last ball for the last batter. There were runners on each of the bases ready to go if he could hit it – they just needed to score 1 to get level, or 2 to win. Amazingly he hit a home run propelling the team to victory and ending the game in the 9 innings. It was an ending you don’t often see in baseball and I was quite fortunate to see a home team win like that the first time I’ve been to see a game.

The following evening was a walk around High Park and to the waterfront – this was to give me a good idea of routes for running. Sure enough, the following day once I’d finished some remote working I went for a run and took a very similar path to get in a 5K. It was hard work in the sun, but after only having run once in the two weeks whilst in Mexico I felt I needed to run at least once in Canada as well – normally I’d run 4 times a week.

In the evening after the run we went to see the CN Tower. We arrived at the tower around dusk, having stopped by Subway for a sandwich along the way. As my friend had been up the tower before the intention was to go up at night, but by going up around dusk it meant we could get photos whilst there was still some light in the sky also.

One thing we didn’t know about the CN Tower was that it is one of the few attractions where the advertised price doesn’t include tax – something which is common when shopping, but something I’d not seen before for entry fees. Fortunately they weren’t too bothered about me having a sub and some cookies with me as we went through security which meant that after our first round of photographs at the top I was able to sit and eat my dinner.

As the sun got lower and lower we took more photographs so we’d have landscape shots of the skyline with different levels of light. I also took the opportunity to experiment with different types of shot, but found some were tricky due to the light reflections off the glass of the window. Once the sun had fully set and the last light had left the sky we took our final shots and then headed back.

For the final evening I cooked a meal for myself, and then went to see a Disney movie called “Tomorrowland” at the IMAX cinema. I’d never been to an IMAX before so it was a nice experience to see a film in such high quality.

 

 

Canada Day 3 – Niagara Falls

The one thing I wanted to see when visiting Canada was Niagara Falls. I didn’t care too much what else I saw as long as I saw them. For today we hired a car using a local car sharing scheme which meant it was a very short walk to collect the car, but it did take us a while to figure out how to get it going due to the fob system.

As my friend was driving, once we had set off the only thing I needed to do was to ensure he was aware when he was drifting over the line for the lane unintentionally. This happened every frequently over the couple of hours the drive lasted for, but it was due to him not being used to driving a left-hand side driven car.

The drive through the middle of Niagara-on-the-lake shown us how commercialised the area is, but we carried on straight through and to the waterfront as I got my first glimpse of the famous falls. We parked up at the far end of the falls and walked back along the “calmer” waters until we got to the falls themselves.

On the Canadian side of the falls you can easily see the three waterfalls that are collectively known as Niagara Falls – Bridal Veil Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and the American Falls.From both the American and Canadian sides of the falls there are boat rides out to the Horseshoe Falls on the boats known as the “Maidens of the Mist”. The Canadian side also has the ability to see behind the falls due to a tunnel that leads down almost to the level of the water but at a point where you can see between the water and the rock.

After walking so far along (trying to avoid the spray of the water which is carried quite far from the walls even in light wind) we decided it would be a good idea to get some lunch – fortunately there is a Tim Hortons in the main complex there so we were able to get some reasonable food. Afterwards we had a look around the gift shop – it’s quite big and has a massive variety of souvenirs to choose from. I decided to get a t-shirt and a fridge magnet from here.

We continued along the falls until we reached the point where the ramp is for going down to the boats, and then stayed there for some time trying to get different photos of the falls. On the way back we walked via a rose garden that didn’t actually have any roses in it.

For the drive back to Toronto we first had a drive around the area surrounding Niagara-on-the-lake, being every careful not to cross the border, before an easy drive back.

Canada Day 2 – Toronto Islands

Not only being in Canada now, but staying at my friend’s apartment meant that I no longer had to eat scrambled egg with mixed in bits of ham for breakfast. No more refried beans. Mexico was behind me. Instead my friend made us blueberry pancakes. Lots of them. So many in fact that there were more than we could eat. They tasted great and were topped with maple syrup – a every Canadian thing to do.

After breakfast we headed out and to start with my friend stopped by his workplace to get a map printed and to pick up his spare key whilst I spent the next 20 minutes waiting in the subway station. Once done we then headed on to Museum Station, one which is styled to look like it could be part of a museum with fancy historical-looking pillars.

This was a every brief stop and we got on the very next train to carry on to Union Station. Although only opened in 1927 it is a National Historic Site of Canada – though in fairness it probably is one of their oldest buildings there as the majority are very modern. It’s “Great Hall” though reminded me a lot of the main concourse in New York’s Grand Central Station – just smaller.

We then continued on through a series of indoor walkways (referred to as Skywalk), until we exited at the CN Tower. We didn’t bother going inside this or the Roger’s Stadium as we’d come back to these later – instead we continued on passed the Steam Museum (which was open as part of a special open day across Toronto) and onwards to the ferry port.

It wasn’t that long a walk, and the queue wasn’t that long to get in either. The wait lasted about 10 minutes but eventually we boarded the boat to Ward Island. On the boat it seemed very cold as the wind blew across the water – quite a contrast to what we’d been experiencing in Mexico just the day before. Once we arrived on the island though we looked back towards Toronto and got a brilliant view of the skyline.

There is then a board walk from there that goes across the far side off the island along the water. This was pretty cold along this walk though and we were both seriously considering looking to see if there was a shop on one of the islands that would sell jumpers. As we got closer to the centre island we started to go inland a little where it was out of the breeze more, and a little warmer.

Whilst on Center Island we stopped at a restaurant there for food, where I had a burger and fries that weren’t too bad. After this we explored Center Island a little more, but there wasn’t really much there so we continued on to towards Hanlan’s Point.

On the way to the ferry back we came across a lighthouse at Gibraltar Point which was open as part of the Toronto Open Doors day. It was a bit of a wait to go up as they’d only allow 4 in at a time for safety reasons, but it was fairly interesting to see. From the top you could see all over the islands and also got a good view back of the Toronto skyline. It’s apparently one of the oldest structures in Toronto, though based on the age of most buildings in Toronto it’s not really that surprising.

At Hanlan’s Point we waited around for the ferry for about 15 minutes and took it back to the mainland, though it did at first seem like it was going to go back to Ward Island. Back on the mainland we started to walk around, aimlessly at first, until we decided to see the old town hall as it was reportedly open as part of the Open Doors day.

On the way to our destination we saw a number of police cars parked up, and a crashed helicopter. At first we wondered what had happened, but as we got closer we realised that it was being set up as part of a film shoot. As we stood and took photographs of the helicopter crashed into a bus one of the others around us commented that it was one of the sets for the new DC Comics movie, Suicide Squad. This film would be featuring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and a number of other big names in what would be a spinoff (of sorts) of the new Batman vs. Superman movie.

As I finished photographing the helicopter I then realised that the police cars weren’t like other Toronto police cars we’d seen, they were in fact part of the production also as they had “Midway City” logos on them (a fictional Michigan city which is based on Chicago). It was really great to see this movie in production, but we moved on so we could get some pictures of the old town hall as planned.

By the time we got to the town hall they weren’t letting any more visitors in – they were closing at 16:00 and it was already 16:40 by this point. Unsure what to do next my friend then decided it would be a good idea to look at the Toronto University, but to go there via some of the other sights in the city.

On our trek to the University we went down Yonge Street, one of the major shopping areas downtown, and also one of the longest streets you will ever see. According to Wikipedia this street officially stretches for 34.8 miles. Part of the way along this road we paused at a plaza to watch a street performer.

When we got there the performer was juggling, and then after juggling with fire. To maintain interest from the crowds he then demonstrated the use of a whip and also a whip on fire – including with audience involvement. For the finale he then dislocated both of his shoulders and then put his entire body through a tennis racket that was on fire.

Once the performer had finished we gave a small donation and then moved on to the University. The grounds are fairly big, but there wasn’t really much there to photograph so we headed back to the subway station and headed for the shops to get some food in for the week.

To finish the day we cooked an evening meal and then sat and watched the season finale of Arrow, a DC Comics TV series that had recorded to his PVR whilst in Mexico.

Mexico Day 14 / Canada Day 1 – Cancun to Toronto

The Mexican adventure had finally come to an end. As a native had commented – we hadn’t just seen the tourist side of Mexico, we’d seen the real Mexico. We’d been through cities, villages, jungles and ruins and now it was time to be collected and taken to the airport. For my friend it was his journey home, but for me it was for the second part of the trip – travelling around Toronto.

The taxi collected us at 07:45 from the hotel and got us to the airport by 08:30 – plenty of time before our 12:00 flight. Too much time in fact as they’d collected us 15 minutes earlier than the agreed time – which was still later than they originally wanted (06:45), and they got stroppy when they found we weren’t ready when they turned up early.

I wondered how the flight would be for my ear as it still hadn’t recovered from the scuba diving and hearing was almost non-existent with it. As it turned out though my ears equalised normally as they would on any flight and when we finally landed in Toronto my hearing had fully returned. The flight did arrive 10 minutes early, but we eventually landed at the originally scheduled time due to having to ascend again whilst they cleared debris from the runway.

Once at immigration I went through one area to spend the next hour going through to a second immigration desk where I was asked many questions, a large number of which I’d been asked at the first desk – but they didn’t seem to be doing this for everyone. By the time I made it to the baggage carousel all other bags had gone. It then took about an hour to get to my friends apartment via bus and subway, though the subway took slightly longer than it normally would as they’d lost power at the station before our destination.

Having dropped off bags at his apartment we then headed out to get some food. Unfortunately the first place we tried we were too late getting to so we instead headed to another part of town and ate at a bar called Gabby’s. I went for the Guinness Pot Pie which was a refreshing change after the past couple of weeks in Mexico.

Mexico Day 13 – Puerto Morelos

Today we could finally see what the hotel’s breakfast was like as we weren’t being picked up until 10:20. However the breakfast turned out to be no better than the rest of the hotels – scrambled egg mixed in with ham pieces and refried beans. It’s hard to believe the best breakfast of the trip was the one in Mexico City.

At 10:30, just ten minutes late, we were picked up and driven to Puerto Morelos for the “Original Snorkelling Adventure” tour. When we arrived there we were told we would be briefed once everyone had arrived and for now to pay the US$4 conservation tax and to check valuables into a locker (which was in fact a bag that they dropped into a large locked chest). After this it didn’t really seem clear what we were supposed to be doing in the meantime but we were soon briefed in full on what the day would entail. They said there was no rush for anything and things would just happen.

To start with we had to collect a life vest and fins, and everyone else also had to collect a snorkel (mask would be provided for others on the boat) – we’d brought our own masks and snorkels as we had prescription lenses. We then joined a boat and went out on the first snorkelling session. Surprisingly it went by pretty fast, but that could be because the guide was hurrying everyone along and was going at quite a pace – it made opportunities for photographs difficult. This first spot was quite shallow so we could get quite close to the reef and the fishes, though we did of course have to be very careful not to hit the reef.

We then headed across to another point further out and again started to snorkel – this time we saw a barracuda. It seemed obvious by this point that a lot of the group were inexperienced at snorkelling – they were spending a lot of time with their head out of the water and kicking up the sediment, as well as charging straight into other people as they either didn’t look where they were going or didn’t care.

Back on the shore it was then time for the buffet lunch – a piece of chicken and a pork fajita with some rice, salad and bread. I did hope that they’d have ice cream too, but it seems they didn’t really have any interest in desserts.

There was then an announcement about beach volleyball, but from what I gather it was a case of either that or going for a third snorkelling session – so of course I went out again, though was a little rushed as no one knew they were ready to do this.

On the third snorkelling session there wasn’t that many different fish to before, but we did get to see a swordfish. Sadly due to the group passing alongside me I couldn’t get across to it to photograph it before it swam off. On land we were then told we had 10 minutes before they’d start taking people back to their hotels. So much for not rushing us, and there being plenty of time to dry off afterwards.

We were the last to be dropped back off at our hotel so it took some time to get back. Upon arrival it was necessary to do our best to clean our camera and snorkel equipment and to get it dry before the next day’s flight – the same also being true for swimming trunks and towel. In the heat of Playa del Carmen though it seemed likely this would be possible, even if they had to be left out overnight.

This done, we then went to the nearby steakhouse for one last meal in Mexico. This was probably the most expensive of the trip with it coming to over 500 pesos per person (before tipping). On the way back we then had to stop off by the store once again as we’d be missing the 08:00 start of breakfast yet again. It seems a ridiculous time to start breakfast, especially when they don’t offer any alternative for those that need to leave earlier.

This then left plenty of time to pack ready for the flight to Toronto, Canada.

Mexico Day 12 – Scuba Diving Day 2

The pick-up was once again at 08:00 meaning we’d miss the breakfast for the second day running. Unfortunately my ear still hadn’t improved meaning that I thought I would have to miss this day’s worth of diving. I had this horrible feeling that if I dived I would cause irreparable damage to it. However, when we were picked up by the guide (a different one this time) he insisted that if I take it slowly and stayed as high as I could then it may be okay. His reasoning was that he’d had similar before and that time it was just inflammation in the ear from frequent equalising when doing multi-level dives.

For today’s cenote diving we headed to Dos Ojos where we’d use the same entry point for both dives. Each dive would be different though as there were two different lines for us to take. The name, Dos Ojos, is spanish for “Two Eyes” and refers to the two cenotes that are connected by this cavern system.

The Dos Ojos system is one which has featured in various TV programs and is still being explored to a degree despite what is known so far as being 82km of caves with 28 cenote entrances. It is known to exit through to the ocean (this was determined via the use of tracking dyes), though no human has yet followed it all the way through.

This cenote was about 40 minutes away from the dive shop and once there we were briefed on the entry and the plan and then assembled the equipment. Before entering we also brought down the second air tanks so that we could make a quick changeover after the first dive. After entering the water I found my BCD was leaking air and wouldn’t keep me afloat on it’s own – it was taking quite a bit of my own effort to stay afloat on the surface. When I spoke to the guide he looked at the BCD and the tank and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it and suggested I should dive anyway.

To me, diving when your equipment has a known fault is just crazy. Yes, I could probably have gotten away with it but it’s not worth the risk in case the fault gets worse. Instead I exited the water and the guide from the previous day was on hand to help and was able to fix the BCD. I don’t know what was wrong with it other than being told it was “faulty” but after taking a tool to it he was able to fix it. Sure enough when I entered the cenote I was able to inflate the BCD correctly.

The first line we took allowed me to try and stay higher than on the previous day’s dives and although I had some issues with my ears they weren’t as severe as the previous day. Half way through this dive we reached what is known as “The Bat Cave”, and the other cenote entrance before looping back and exiting where we’d entered. Again my face was covered in blood, and again it was determined to be a nosebleed. On the surface though I noticed that I more or less had working hearing in both ears.

After swapping over the air tank we again entered the cenote and took the second line out. This time there were some tighter gaps between rocks and stalactites where I had to be careful not to snag any of the hoses on them. This line is called the “barbie line” as at the far end of it there is a toy barbie doll and alligator tied down to a rock. I enjoyed this dive far more than the previous dives. I was more in control, and was able to work on technique whilst trying to keep my air usage to a minimum. Amazingly I didn’t even have an issue with my ears on this dive either but that didn’t stop me from finding I had a nosebleed yet again upon surfacing.

For the next 20 minutes my hearing seemed pretty good, but by the time we’d packed all the equipment away and had lunch I’d noticed that the sounds had started to become muffled in my right ear again. By the time we were back at the dive shop it wasn’t far off being equally as bad as the previous day, just without the sensation of them being filled with water.

Once we’d paid we were then taken back to our hotel where we then stayed for the next few hours – again relaxing in and by the pool until we thought we should plan what to do the following day. Unfortunately when browsing on the internet we didn’t really find anything so we headed out into the city to have an evening meal.

After the meal we noticed an portable tour kiosk over the road so went over and checked what they had to offer. We then booked a snorkelling session in Puerto Morelos for US$89 which would last the majority of the day, but did include lunch. At least it wouldn’t be any more torture for my ears, so maybe they’d then get chance to heal and return to hearing normally.

Mexico Day 11 – Scuba Diving Day 1

With a pick-up at 08:00, we had no chance of going for breakfast so ate the supplies we’d bought the day before. We were then picked up and taken to the dive shop where we filled in the usual waiver forms for diving and confirming that we were medically safe to be diving. Once this was all done we drove for 20 minutes and arrived at a cenote called Chac Mool.

To start with we were shown the two entrances to the cavern system we’d be using and then went through a short briefing detailing where we’d be going, the safety precautions, and what we would be doing. Back at the car we prepared the diving equipment and then headed to the entrance for the Kukulkan cavern system. Once we’d done our buoyancy checks we then descended into the cavern and followed the guide rope around. Some of the route was pretty dark but it was impressive to see the beams of light shining down from the cavern entrance. Around the entrance there were also some rock formations that were impressive, but I found difficult to photograph as the camera struggled to focus in the dark.

As the dive approached half way we descended to around 13 metres and found that my right ear was struggling to equalise and experienced some pain. I tried repeatedly but it wouldn’t equalise, but eventually it seemed to as we started to ascend again. We then toured a little around the area near the opening before surfacing. On the surface I found my right ear wouldn’t clear but thought nothing of it – it’s not that uncommon for ears to take a while to clear.

Back at the car we drank some water and prepared for the next dive. Due to these being shallow dives and in freshwater we were told that the surface interval didn’t need to be so long. We then headed back and this time entered into the “Little Brother” system. This time the entry felt colder, presumably because this entrance is underground already so is out of the sun. Though we’d have also lost some body heat from the first dive anyway.

Again my right ear just wouldn’t equalise and at one point was getting painful, I wanted to ascend a little but the stalactites underwater made that difficult. Eventually we reached an air pocket in the middle of this route where we could take off our face masks and regulators and talk with tree roots protruding from the roof above our heads.

When we next reached the surface it was at our exit point, and I was told that I’d got blood all over my face. At first they thought it could be from when my friend kicked me in the face with his fins (by accident), though after washing my face in the water we determined the blood was from my nose and a result of the issues with equalising. My friend then commented “He’s covered in blood again. Why is it he’s always covered in blood?” – a quote from the character Ginny Weasley in “Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince”. At this point my ears still wouldn’t clear so I wondered if I’d done damage to them.

After putting away the equipment we had the lunch which was provided and stood around in the sun, getting bit by insects – we were back in a jungle environment after all. The food wasn’t too bad and they’d even provided a pack of cookies for us to eat as well.

It was only a short drive back to the hotel from the cenote and for the rest of the afternoon we relaxed in and by the hotel pool. I got a little burnt, but my main thoughts were on how my ear still wouldn’t clear and how the noise from that ear was making it difficult to hear clearly with the other. I couldn’t help but think I wouldn’t be able to do another day’s worth of diving if they didn’t clear as the blood kept making me think I’d done some damage to them and didn’t want to make it worse.

In the evening we wandered around to see if it was an option to photograph the sunset, but it wasn’t a very good one so decided not to bother. Around this area there were performers in Mayan costumes dancing and playing instruments underneath an arch. Eventually we went looking for somewhere to eat as the day came to a close.

Mexico Day 10 – Chichen Itza

It was time for our last long journey – today we would be on our way to Playa del Carmen, but via the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chichen Itza, one of the modern “Seven Wonders of the World” (on the New7 millennium project list). We were picked up from the hotel at 08:40 and for the next 2 hours we were on the road.

As it happened our guide for the day was the same person as the day before, just through a different company which is quite remarkable chance. Along the way to Chichen Itza we were given the chance to go to a cenotes called Ik Kil for 70 pesos extra. A cenotes is a sinkhole that when the ground has collapsed it has revealed groundwater underneath. This particular one is 60 metres in diameter and sinks to 26 metres before you reach the water which is then around 40 metres deep. It also has a number of long vines hanging down into the hole. For those who want to take photographs, swim, or just get closer to the water, there are steps which go underground, down to the level of the water.

I didn’t find this out until much later, but an amazing coincidence was that a few hours later during the UK broadcast of “Game of Thrones” this cenote featured in an advert for Hostelworld.

After about 40 minutes of looking around we got back on the bus but it only took a few more minutes until we reached Chichen Itza. The plan was to spend the next two hours looking around the runs so that we’d be having lunch at 14:00.

The first ruins we saw was a temple called “The Temple of the Thousand Warriors” where there was supposed to be a column for each. I’m not sure if there actually are a thousand, I doubt it, but I agree there are a lot of them. From here we then crossed through some pillars to where we could see “El Castillo”, the famous temple pyramid. It took ages to get a photograph of the pyramid without people in it, and you could get very different shots from different sides – two of the sides are in excellent condition, whereas the other two are undergoing some restoration work as they’re in bad repair. There are 91 steps on each of the four sides adding up to a total of 364 steps, with one final step at the top to make it equal to the number of days in the year.

We then wandered through another temple around to where there was a large ball game court and then from there the path led back passed El Castillo and on, through the searing heat of the midday sun to the Observatory. This building is rounded like modern observatories and has a single entrance with multiple windows in the roof above it. Once we’d done there we continued on, passed the cenotes and on to the nearby hotel for lunch.

The lunch was a buffet lunch which included foods from all over the world, including local Mexican dishes, but the drinks were not included. This was with some entertainment where waiters and waitresses were doing some sort of traditional dance. Once lunch was over we transferred to a different bus and then continued on to Playa del Carmen. This bus ride took over 3 hours so that by the time we got to the Hacienda Real hotel it was already passed 18:00.

Unfortunately we found breakfast would be served from 08:00 – too late for us to get breakfast on either diving day, or on the day we’d be transferring to the airport. At best it seemed we’d only get to eat on one of the four mornings we’d be there. So we headed out and bought breakfasts for the next few days, and once having dropped them off at the hotel went back out to get an evening meal.

We opted for a mixed grill at La Barbacoa where they were having a “Guns n Roses” music night – streaming their hits from a playlist on YouTube. Once done we walked over to the beach to see what was there and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for a couple of days of scuba diving.

Mexico Day 9 – Uxmal

We had no idea what time we were going to be picked up; although I’d asked the tour company to email confirmation and to let the hotel we were staying at know, they hadn’t. We went for breakfast a little after 07:00 and once again it was the usual toast with egg and bacon mashed together. Considering I don’t really eat eggs it was starting to get a little tiresome.

We were downstairs in the lobby of the hotel by 08:45 and waited for about 30 minutes. Around this time I was finally able to get a (sort of) working internet connection on my phone and was able to pick-up emails. At this time I saw the response from Viatour that they’d received my email (which I’d sent a couple of days ago) and late the night before they replied to say that we’d need to phone Mayatours to confirm pick-up times, despite that being what my email was for.

A little confused and exasperated we called the tour company asking them what was happening and they claimed that the pick-up was at 08:45 despite there being no one there to collect us at that time. They then confirmed they’d be at the hotel in another 20 minutes, so around 09:30.

At 09:30 two people from the tour company turned up, they apologised and said we’d missed the tour as they’d not received confirmation of the tour (despite me having an email from them to say the tour was confirmed). They then agreed that they would take us on the afternoon tour to Uxmal that would leave at 12:40; the tour would last about 2 hours, and then we’d go for the included meal. As a way of apologising they were then throwing in drinks and a return to Uxmal after dinner in order to see the night-time sound & light show there. This did mean we’d get back for 22:00, but it sounded like a great alternative to missing it altogether.

So, our plans having changed, we headed out into the city for a little over an hour, wandering around to see what we could find. After another failed attempt at getting photographs inside the cathedral (Sunday mass!) we wandered around the whole square until we came across the Government Palace. We asked the police guarding it if we could go in, and entered. It was a little similar to the one in Mexico City except the paintings on the walls were about the slave trade and more recent history. We also got to look in a large hall with larger paintings and polished floors. Having finished looking around we got a few bits for lunch and headed back to the hotel to relax until it was time for the tour.

The tour guide turned up on time and on the way we picked up four Argentinians who were also doing this tour. It took about an hour for us to get there meaning we were arriving at 14:00, the hottest part of the day. Not long after entering we spotted an iguana and thinking that we wouldn’t see many I messed around getting my camera ready so I could photograph it – little did I realise just how many of them there were at Uxmal!

For the next couple of hours we wandered around the ruins – passing the large temple into the courtyard and out into the trees alongside a ball game court. This was the same sort of court that we saw in the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City, though this one was in it’s original location (albeit with replacement hoops).

After this we continued through the trees to a temple which we were allowed to climb up – the rest of the group didn’t bother to climb it but I figured that it was worth climbing just to get a good view of the Uxmal area. The others were impressed with the speed which I climbed it in, on the way down though I was more cautious as tripping over and falling all the way down wouldn’t have been.

Back at the bottom I then realised that at some point, maybe in the last couple of days I’d lost one of the straps off my bag. I looked around the area where I’d taken my bag off before climbing, but couldn’t see it. Instead we carried on to the palace ruins. Once we’d finished there I then left the rest of the group and backtracked all the way back to the beginning of the tour and as far as the entrance. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it anywhere.

We had some time to spare, but not enough time to really do anything so we sat by the pool in the Hacienda Uxmal hotel for 40 minutes until it was time for the included meal. This was a vegetable soup for starter, followed by pork in a local Yucatan sauce with rice. The dessert was very sweet – it was a locally made ice cream sorbet made with mamay fruit. I didn’t eat that much though, in part due to it’s sweetness, but also in part as I couldn’t be sure if it had been made using the local water.

As there was still time to spare before we needed to be back at the ruins we were given a lift over to the Chocolate Story museum. This cost 120 pesos per person, and we were led as far as the first hut by our guide and then left to look around by ourselves.

After the first few huts told us about how the cocoa beans are gathered and processed we eventually got to a cage of monkeys, and then shortly after to another set of cages – one with a male Jaguar and another with a female Jaguar. Just as I was getting ready to take a picture the female Jaguar leapt up and ran straight towards the glass and then stopped before turning away and laying back down. This all happened so fast that I couldn’t get my camera ready in time to photograph, but did at least get a few photos after she’d sat back down.

The last part of this tour then took us to a final hut where they demonstrated the process that the Mayans used to use when making chocolate and then got to try some. It tasted completely different to chocolate, and a little bitter. They had an array of different additions that the Mayans would use – annatto, cinnamon, allspice, hot pepper and sugar – after adding all of these it started to taste a lot better, but still tasted quite different.

Back at the Uxmal ruins we started queuing at 19:30 for the light show – not long after this we were then let in and led to an array of chairs that overlooked the courtyard. As the last of the sunlight left the sky the show began.

The light show a story told in Spanish (with no actors) and different coloured lights being shone on the different parts of the ruins to indicate where the story was taking place. As my Spanish is not particularly great, almost non-existent in fact, I couldn’t really understand the majority of what was happening. I got the impression that it was about some sort of drought and then something happened involving the temple (maybe a sacrifice) which resulted in them getting rain. Overall the light show was pretty boring, but it was over in 45 minutes.

The journey back to the hotel took about 1hr15, but this was due to a delay on one of the roads where the police were breathalysing every driver. Along this journey we also encountered a fire that had started due to the warm and dry conditions during the day. It was burning through the shrubs and trees on the side and sending smoke billowing across the road. Apparently this is fairly common at that time of year.