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.

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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.

Mexico Day 8 – Journey to Mérida

We knew this one would feel like a long day. We needed to be at the bus station for 08:00 and had to make our way there ourselves as despite “all transfers included”, it did not include this one. We walked from the hotel with our luggage for about 5 minutes to get to the bus station where we needed to locate the bus we would be on for 8 hours to get to Mérida.

This turned out to be really simple and by 08:00 we were on the bus and settled in for the long journey. Although it said it would be an air-conditioned bus, it wasn’t – the air vents weren’t working. For the journey they played several films, all in Spanish as you’d expect, but I chose to read Catching Fire instead.

There were a few stops along the way to drop off passengers and take new ones on, each one lasting around 20 minutes. We also had to stop at two military checkpoints where they boarded the bus and checked our passports. The first time took quite some time as they couldn’t find the entry stamp in my passport, but it was hidden amongst the stamps from China.

By lunchtime I’d already made a start on my supplies and the time was passing relatively quick up until then. Unfortunately the dozen or so insect bites I’d gotten whilst sitting outside the hotel restuarant in Palenque were starting to drive me crazy.

We arrived in Mérida 30 minutes late and it didn’t come as a massive surprise that the transport from the bus station to the hotel that we’d been promised wasn’t there. Instead we paid 60 pesos for a taxi to get us to the hotel. The Hotel Ambassador looked like it may have been built in the early 1970s and probably not re-furnished since then either. What was also odd was that the room’s window was full height and looked into the hotel corridor only.

As we were getting ready to head out into town we got a call from reception – the tour operator had apparently sent someone to pick us up and he’d been waiting at the bus station from 16:00 – 18:00 for us. However we can say beyond a doubt that he was not at the exit when we got in at 16:30. If there was more than one exit then we never got to see it as we were directed out of the one we took. It was lucky he met us at the hotel though as he had pick-up details for Monday and a map of Mérida for us to use. We did however still need to hear confirmation of the pick-up time for the Uxmal tour; however the hotel’s Wi-Fi didn’t work so we couldn’t check emails to see.

We headed out into the city to explore a little and soon found plenty of restaurants to chose from, and also some souvenir shops, a church, and a cathedral. In the first souvenir shop we came across I bought an ornament of a Mayan temple, a fridge magnet, and also a stone dolphin for my sister. We eventually got to the Hidalgo Plaza where there is a large church. Inside it looked like there may have been some sort of wedding or other ceremony taking place as there was singing and a lady kneeling at the altar.

We soon moved on and found the Cathedral – this was quite impressive, but difficult to photograph. We couldn’t take pictures inside either as mass was currently in progress. Around the same square I got some antihistamine cream to help with the insect bites and then we went looking for food.

After the meal at Los Trompos it was still incredibly humid outside, even though it was dark and passed 20:00. Fortunately though it was only a short walk back to the hotel.

Mexico Day 7 – Palenque Ruins

With an 08:00 start it was nice to have a lay in compared with the previous day. The breakfast though seemed a little odd – they wouldn’t let us sit inside the restaurant, perhaps because we were wearing shorts. At least that’s what it seemed to be because of. They then gave us a menu despite the “Americano” breakfast being included with the booking. It wasn’t a great breakfast though – two rounds of toast each and some eggs scrambled with bits of bacon again. It did at least come with a glass of watered down orange juice though. We also had to sign for breakfast, something we hadn’t had to do before.

Our trip today would be to the UNESCO World Heritage listed ruins of Palenque – one of the largest cities of the Mayan kingdom. It was approximately 10km away from where we were staying so it didn’t take long to get there. This was via a taxi driver, which was unexpected, and he didn’t speak English either. After the past few days we’d been going in mini buses so that’s what we’d been keeping an eye out for.

When we arrived at the Palenque ruins an official English speaking guide greeted us and told us that the tour would be one hour, but for an extra 500 pesos each we could do an optional extension to the tour to go through the jungle. It was a little surprising to find the tour would be so short when we had nothing else booked for the day. It seems that they like to keep the tours short, even though it’s possible to spend more time in these places – and there would be enough time left in the day! I think it would be better if Llama Tours (operated by Kamino Tours locally) had given us an idea of the length of each tour. We agreed to do the extra tour and then shortly after began walking through the trees to where we could see our first Mayan temples.

The largest of the ruined temples is the Inscription Temple where they found the remains of K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (King Pacal the Great). The name of this funerary monument comes from the tablets that were found inside the temple which have helped to translate Mayan words and give a greater insight into their culture. Unfortunately this is not a temple we were allowed up due to some damage. The one at the side however, which was where his wife was buried we were allowed inside. In one part of it you can see where the bricked up door has been partially pulled down and where the sarcophagus was found.

We then continued on to the “palace”, a series of rooms that were indoors and were the sleeping quarters for the aristocracy. Each room had a window in the shape of an upside down “T” symbolising that this was thought of as the underworld. They also acted as air conditioning of sorts as some of these windows would remain cool despite the outdoor temperature (which already was around 26C).

At a fast pace the tour continued around the palace, at a pace that barely left time for photographing what was there. We quickly moved through the courtyard and passed the observation tower and eventually we had seen all of the palace. We moved on, over a bridge over the aqueduct, and through some trees until we reached more temples – the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Cross. We climbed to the top of the Temple of the Cross and took photos of the other temples we could see, including the palace and the Temple of Inscriptions in the distance.

By now the hour was almost up and our guide led us back to in front of the Temple of Inscriptions to allow us to finish taking photographs there. Although there were locals selling souvenirs there, we didn’t have the time to look around and buy any as before we knew it the guide led us through a roped off area to begin our hike through the jungle. Before entering though he shown us a plant with orange coloured fruits which he explained were used by the Mayans to give the temples their colour (although very few walls of the temple still show this colour).

Again our guide set off at a pace which was pretty fast, possibly faster than we would have gone if the guide had not been there – and we often tour places faster than most would. At the start of this tour we could see how the trees and other vegetation had taken over the buildings there and had destroyed them. It is believed that only 10% of the buildings at Palenque have been found and that there are in fact thousands.

We passed a large termite nest protruding from the side of a log with hundreds of them scurrying around. For a long time our guide was looking for howler monkeys, but eventually he gave up and took us to what he called “the forgotten temple”. It was a fairly intact temple in the middle of the jungle, but some of the lower parts were damaged by tree roots growing through it. We climbed the stairs and had a look around this temple before carrying on through the jungle, crossing streams until eventually we got to a stone cave we could barely see into when crouching – but could just make out where bats were roosting on the ceiling. Sadly, although I had a flash for my camera with me, I’d left the batteries for it back at the hotel. This meant I couldn’t really attempt to photograph them.

After moving on we finally caught a glimpse of a monkey, however it was that high up in the tree canopy that it was pretty well concealed. We could see it move every now and then, and it’s tail hanging from the tree. From the way other surrounding trees were moving there was likely to be at least one other howler monkey up there also. For our final stop in the jungle we’d crossed another stream and got to see a small waterfall, but due to how warm and dry it had been it wasn’t flowing that well. We then left the jungle and continued onto the road and up the mountain to where we’d been dropped off earlier. This was a chance to take some photographs from high up, above the trees, but it also meant that the two hour tour had only taken 1hr30.

Getting back to the hotel by 11:30 meant that a good portion of the day was still left, so it seemed like a good idea to explore the town. After dropping off camera bags we made our way into a town that very much reminded me of the poorer towns in Peru – you could tell this is still area was not as wealthy as Mexico City. After a while looking around we eventually headed back to the supermarket to get some fresh supplies for the 8 hour journey to Mérida.

After dropping our supplies off at the hotel we headed out to get some lunch – I did want to try a burrito, but unfortunately the choices were a little slim this close to the hotel so I resorted to having a hamburger and fries. As the temperature had continued to increase I relaxed back at the hotel for a while, reading, until heading down to the hotel’s pool to swim, and to read besides it.

Two hours at the poolside was enough for me, so I went back to the room until heading out at 19:20 to get an evening meal from the hotel’s restaurant. It was then necessary to pack ready for the long journey ahead.

Mexico Day 6 – Agua Azul and the Drive to Palenque

Waking up at 04:30 is never a nice thing to have to do, but in Mexico this is 3 hours before the sunrise at this time of year. It had been an interrupted sleep though as many people passed talking loudly at around 00:20. Not helpful really.

Upon checking out of the hotel they handed us the pre-packed breakfast we’d requested the night before and went outside to wait for the tour bus. This arrived 10 minutes late and then for the next 30 minutes continued around the city collecting the other members of our group – all Spanish, and not one person on the bus capable of speaking English. We’d been warned it would be cold in the morning, but still we carried on wearing shorts and t-shirts and it wasn’t that bad really.

The drive through the countryside and into the mountains was dark, windy, and bumpy. Every so often (a couple within a mile) there would be a severe speed bump in the road which made progress slow as the driver dropped to below 10mph for each one. Eventually the sun started to rise and illuminated the mist that was rising from the trees in the valley below us. This area really reminded me of my time in Peru and Ecuador – it had a very South American feel to it.

As the drive continued we passed people walking to work carrying machetes and eventually we descended down into the mist and to a cafe which I think was in a small town called Ocosingo. By this time it was 07:50 so we were given 40 minutes to have breakfast. There was food available to buy, but since we’d taken breakfast with us we did attempt to have it. The pack-up consisted of a ham sandwich with lettuce and onion, and a cheese sandwich with lettuce and onion. Sadly I’m not that keen on onion and even after removing it I could taste it. There was also an overripe banana, and an under-ripe orange along with a bottle of water. I attempted to eat the banana but it was that ripe it wasn’t really edible. Fortunately I’d got a croissant with me also that I’d bought the other day so had one of those also.

The cafe staff all had facemasks on, presumably to help prevent them from catching colds and the such, but they weren’t actually wearing the masks right (they weren’t covering their noses) so wasn’t really sure. After a late return from one of the tour group, we then carried on towards Agua Azul (a Spanish name meaning “blue water”), and along the way we went through a military checkpoint where one busload of locals had been emptied out of their coach for it to be inspected.

We arrived at Agua Azul at 10:10 and was given 1hr30 to look around, and if we wanted to, swim. The water here is a clean blue colour and flows over many different waterfalls at different levels creating a large number of different sized pools that you can swim in. The falls range from 3 metres to 30 metres and there are over 500 there in total. Around some of them they also have a coast guard keeping an eye over the people swimming. As far as I could tell whilst I was in the water before leaving there didn’t seem to be any fish. I assume it’s the flow of the water that keeps the water clean, and mostly free of algae.

By the time we’d finished doing some photography though there wasn’t a great deal of time left. I had a brief paddle in the water about halfway down the falls but couldn’t really spend any proper time in it. On the way back we looked around some of the market stalls, though the quality of a lot of the items wasn’t brilliant. I was tempted by an ornament until I found it was actually badly chipped. The weather had heated up and was looking to be a very warm day if it continued to warm up until lunch time.

We could have had some lunch at the falls if we’d been given enough time, but there wasn’t time to do it all. Ideally we needed at least another hour to an hour and a half there to get a proper swim and food in as well. We knew we’d be getting into Palenque in the early afternoon after the early pickup so it made no sense why we weren’t there longer.

Again, the same person was late back to the tour bus, but we then continued on to Cascadas de Misol Há (in the Ch’ol language this means “waterfalls”) and arrived around 12:50. At this one we only had 35 minutes to look around. To start with we looked at the waterfall from the front, watching tons of water pour down from 35 metres above. Afterwards we followed another path that went behind the waterfall, across some algae covered rocks until we got to a 20 metre cave where you could look at the waterfall from the other side. Anyone wanting to enter the cave needed to pay 10 pesos. As we were short on time I didn’t get to go in unfortunately.

Back at the bus I realised how much warmer it had gotten since we had arrived. I ate a belgian bun for lunch and then we drove on for another 30 minutes until we were dropped off in Palenque at the Hotel Maya Tulipanes. By now the indoor temperature had risen to 32C, but outside it was 37C and 89% humidity, with the weather still getting warmer. To try and cool off a little I went for a swim in the hotel’s pool.

Some time later we went out to look around the town but didn’t really get far. We looked at a few nearby restaurants to see what meals were available and then headed back in the opposite direction and along the main road to where we found a supermarket. I bought a bottle of mango juice to take with me to the ruins the next day and headed back to the hotel to drop it off before going out for dinner.

For the first time this trip we opted to have a starter – this was Chicken Tacos which came with a lot of lettuce covered in sour cream. For the main course I then went with grilled chicken with fries and vegetables. Unusually, at this restaurant they specified a suggested tip, and when giving change they had already taken the suggested tip out of the change which seemed a bit presumptuous.

By 19:00 we were back in the hotel and the room hadn’t really called down massively, but it was now bearable and potentially cool enough to sleep in later if we kept the air conditioning going on full.

Whilst back at the hotel I made use of their Wi-Fi to book a tour of the Uxmal ruins for the Sunday – a day we had nothing planned for. A few hours later it was finally chance to get some more sleep.

Mexico Day 5 – Zinacantán and Chamula

It was a quieter start to the day than in Mexico City – the sound of traffic started later and there was far less of it. We got up at 07:30 and headed over for what was titled as being an “American” breakfast. It didn’t seem like it to me though – it started with slices of watermelon (which I don’t like), followed by slices of toast, and then as a “main” there was scrambled eggs with little pieces of bacon mixed in with refried beans. I didn’t really eat that much so had a couple of cereal bars and some water when I got back to my room.

Today’s excursion was only 30 minutes away in the nearby village of Zinacantán. In the Nahuatl language this translates to “land of bats”, though whether they actually have bats there I couldn’t say. This village has it’s own laws, separate to the rest of Mexico and everyone, foreigners and Mexicans alike, have to pay 20 pesos to enter. One of the most notable laws here is that you cannot take photographs inside churches there and can be imprisoned if you’re seen to.

Our first stop was at their main church, San Lorenzo, where we went inside and wandered around for a while whilst our guide spoke to the Spanish speaking portion of the group. Once he’d finished with them we returned to him and he gave us a shorter version in English. Outside we then took a few photos before moving on to the chapel where the guide followed the same pattern as before.

Even though it was only about 200 metres down the road, which we didn’t know at the time, we were all led back to the bus and then drove this distance down the road to a house. At this house the guide took it in turns to talk Spanish and English again and told us briefly about the clothes and other cotton products they make there. We were then given some time to look around the stalls they had in the back before going through to another room where they were cooking tacos.

I’m not entirely sure what it was they had in the bowls for us to put in tacos – they didn’t speak English and I couldn’t remember any of the Spanish words to describe them when they were asked. It was nice of them to make us tacos for lunch, though I wasn’t overly fond of the filling as it was extremely dry and powdery. After we’d all finished we carried on around the back to where they had greenhouses for growing flowers and beans which they would sell to companies. Once our guide had finished eating his lunch we then went back to the bus and drove on, leaving Zinacantán behind us.

Our second and final destination was Chamula, another similar area that is dominated predominantly by the Tzotzil culture. This culture has stood up for itself for a long time – first it didn’t accept fealty to the Aztec Culture, and then it refused to be taken over by the Spanish during the conquest of the neighbouring areas. This area reportedly takes the law into it’s own hands and will beat and burn it’s criminals.

Again we were not allowed to take photographs inside the church, this time though we had to put our cameras away as well. Around the entrance to the church they had erected some scaffolding and were repainting the front. Inside the ground is covered in grass-like moss with some areas cleared where the locals were praying with lit candles. There were a lot of candles here – so many that it’s almost amazing that the grass inside that litters the stone floors has not been burnt.

Once our guide had finished speaking in Spanish we rejoined him and he told us a little about the place in English. One comment he had was about how the locals consider the church to be a hospital and that everyone in this church would be here to pray for someone to be healed. It was quite a sight between those and the banners draped from the roof, it was quite a shame we couldn’t take photographs.

They don’t always pray themselves either, sometimes they will go to a person who will pray on their behalf – what was described to us as an expert, but one who does not like to be called a shamen. Apparently they find this very insulting, though I guess it would be the same as incorrectly calling a vicar a guru – a similar job, but a different belief.

After a bit of time to take photographs outside we were then driven back to San Cristobal de las Casas and dropped off at the Zocalo at: 13:30, about 1 mile from the hotel. There was no choice in this, they were simply not dropping people off at their hotels. Whilst we were there we decided to look in the Santo Domingo Cathedral. Compared to the ones we’d seen in Mexico City, as with the ones we’d seen earlier this day, it seemed quite plain in comparison.

As we’d not really had lunch we stopped by a restaurant called Viavai where I had a ravioli dish that was quite nice. This was also served with some nice bread – more than we’d had toast at breakfast. Whilst around the Zocalo I also bought some extra supplies for the days ahead in case we would need to miss lunch again like we had the day before. As I knew we’d got a long drive the next day it seemed likely that having lunch with us would be a good idea.

On the way back to the hotel it was spitting with rain, but we looked in a few souvenir shops and I bought a wooden mask for 220 pesos. By this time the rain had stopped so we carried on up the hill to the church we’d passed the day before. This time though we climbed the steep stairs up to it and had a quick look around.

Back at the hotel I changed into my running kit and went for a short and slow 2 mile run around the area. As we were at an average height of 2,200 metres above sea level I knew that it would be harder work than normal and as I’d not run for several days either I didn’t want to push too hard. The route I took was straight down to the Zocalo, across, and then back up the hill to where the church was, across, and back down to the hotel. A nice easy route which I couldn’t possibly get lost on, though with the church as a high up landmark it would have been difficult to!

After repacking my suitcase ready for the long journey we went out looking for somewhere to eat. For sometime we looked for the Grill restaurant we’d passed the night before, but couldn’t find it. Instead we ate at Bugambilias where I had a rib-eye steak with home-made chips. It was actually one of the most filling meals we’d had on this trip even though it wasn’t really a local dish.

Our time exploring San Cristobal de las Casas was now over and in 10 hours we’d be on our way to Palenque, though first, sleep would be needed.