Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Cancun Trip part 2 - A Visit to Chichén-Itzá (and lots of cervezas)

Day 3 of my Mexican vacay started off early. The previous night we made an impulse decision to purchase tickets for a tour of Chichén-Itzá in the Yucatan (a roughly 3 ½ hour drive from the hotel we were staying at.) Pictures of the famous El Castillo pyramid were scattered all over the resort, so we figured,  “when in Rome…" (or, rather, Mexico). How could we miss an opportunity to visit one of the new Seven Wonders of the World? Besides, it would make for an –awesome new Facebook profile pic. :P

I woke up before the sun (unheard of!) and scarfed down an excellent authentic Mexican breakfast (re-friend beans and all.) Have I mentioned lately how glad I am that I brought those Pepto Bismol pills? They definitely came in handy. 

Not the healthiest of meals, but those re-fried beans sure hit the spot. The farty spot.

After breakfast it was straight down to the bus, where we met up with our tour guide and found a seat amongst the other tourists. The bus was big and comfy, and our tour guide provided us with tons of historical background in both English and Spanish (I want to say his name was Jose, but it could have been Carlos. Or was it Moses?) He was a hoot to listen to, which helped keep me awake during the long trip.

Jose, Carlos, Moses (totally forgot his name) assured us that the world will NOT end in 2012. Hopefully.

I did the touristy thing and took tons of pics from inside the bus at the small towns we were driving by. Did you know Cancun has a Starbucks AND a Burger King? I even saw the famous McD Golden Arches amid the palm trees! True story! 

As we left the resort section of Cancun and crossed the border into the Yucatan, the towns began looking quite run down and intimidating. I was definitely glad to be in the safety of the bus with a group of people at the time.

Definitely wouldn't want to spend a night in here!

I hate to say that the stereotype of the “starving and forlorn Mexican dog laying on the side of the road” is true, but I did see quite a few hungry looking pups. It was hard to watch some of these impoverished towns fly past the window. The sights definitely made me more appreciative of all the material goods I take for granted back home. 

Someone throw that dog a bone!

One thing I did notice was the plethora of Coca Cola advertisements everywhere in these towns.  As a Communications major, I found the aggressively in-your-face advertising both thought provoking and sickening. Way to exploit your brand in areas of need, Coke. Anyway...

About ¾ of the way into the drive, the bus driver made a pit stop at a small arts and craft market on the side of the road. We all tumbled out of the bus, legs sore and butts asleep, and walked around the store examining all the hand-made goods. Explosions of colour leaped from the walls and ceilings. Hand-painted glasses, woven rugs and blankets, brilliantly vivid paintings, dolls, sombreros, and shining silver jewelry were only some of the products being sold. 

So many great crafts to choose from!
Me hanging out outside of the market.

The vendors were a bit pushy, and I wasn’t accustomed to bartering for a better price, but I did walk away with a brightly painted petite porcelain cat. We eventually said adios to the market, had a quick bite to eat from the convenience store nearby, filed back on the bus, and continued our drive to Chichén-Itzá.

After some more stand up comedy from our ever-entertaining tour guide Moses (that’s his name now and I’m sticking with it), we reached our destination. To say it was hot and humid in the jungle would be an understatement. A lady in our tour group actually fainted from heat stroke (keep in mind, this was Mexico’s cold season. Yikes.)

El Castillo (Spanish for "castle"), also known as the Temple of Kukulkan, is a Mesoamerican step-pyramid that dominates the center of the Chichen Itza archaeological site in the Mexicanstate of Yucatán

Archaeologists have identified thirteen ballcourts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame in Chichen Itza, but the Great Ball Court about 150 metres (490 ft) to the north-west of the Castillo is by far the most impressive. It is the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica.

Upon entering the area, we were immediately approached by numerous vendors who kept harassing us to buy their (illegal) products. While not nearly as terrifying as the chupacabra (still no sight of him), these vendors were just as hostile. Sure, some of the artwork and crafts were pretty, but they were also WAY overpriced, and did I mention, illegal? It was hard to ignore these pushy people (they literally got right up into your face and almost bullied you into buying their products.) This was a bit of a let down because Chichén-Itzá and the El Castillo pyramid were absolutely breathtaking and I wish I could have enjoyed it without being shouted at to buy their “only one dollar” (but not really) whatevertheywereselling.

Beautiful arts and crafts (the vendor wanted me to pay him $ for taking this pic.)

I stuck close to our tour guide and tried to listen to all the historical info he was telling us. Here's a tidbit of what I was learned in the video I took below:

Eventually, our group was allowed an hour to venture around the site and explore for ourselves. I took a –ton of pictures, and enjoyed sitting in the shade for a while, since the hotter temps were starting to get to me too. I even got to see a few lizards who were basking in the sun, and a natural cenote where ancient Maya people would conduct sacrifices during times of drought. C’mon, how morbidly nifty is that?!

Me in front of the El Castillo pyramid. 
The tzompantli or Skull Platform. Can you guess what they put on top of here? 
Me in front of the Temple of the Warriors
The Temple of the Warriors showing Chac Mool.
El Castillo from the back.
Cenote Sagrado - who's jumpin' in first? 

When everyone had enough of the overzealous vendors (even little Mexican girls were persuading me to purchase homemade handkerchiefs from them… which of course I did – I couldn’t say no to those sad eyes and pleading voices!) we packed back on the bus and travelled into another town for dinner at a nearby hotel/restaurant. Supper was served buffet style, and I enjoyed an amazingly authentic meal (this isn’t your standard Taco Bell food!) and a cerveza to wash it down. Live dancing accompanied the dinner, along with some balancing acts from local performers.

Local entertainment... I can do that... totally.

Back on the bus, we digested a bit before hitting the final stop of our tour – a local swimming cenote to take a dip in.  I was pooped at this point, so I opted to hang out at the bar while everyone else descended into the pitch dark, creepy ass looking hole in the ground. No thanks.

I choose to do this...
... instead of this. I'm not the 'dauntless' type.

It was super late when the bus dropped us back off at the resort, where I was promptly welcomed by a donkey wearing a sombrero. I wish I was making this up, but alas, I'm not. I wanted to take a pic of the man and his sombrero-wearing ass, but apparently I would have to pay $1 for such luxuries. Instead I headed up to bed and quickly fell asleep.

Goodnight Moon.

It was a LONG day, but quite an experience. Visiting Chichén-Itzá was an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity and my only complaint was that I wish the vendors were not as pushy as they were. Despite this, I’d definitely recommend everyone visit this UNESCO World heritage site at some point in his or her lives. All in all, it was a fantastic day that I will never forget.

My time in Mexico was coming to a close at this point, but I still had half a day left to lounge on the beach and drink cervezas. And that's coming up in Part 3 of my adventure in Mexico! :)

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