Saturday, March 31, 2012

Studies in Contrast - Tulum and Coba

Four narrow short passages lead into the Tulum
complex through the thick stone wall, 16 ft. high and
26 feet thick, which stretches on all sides.
Excavations are still in progress - here under one temple
The trip from Isla Mujeres to Puerto Morales was lovely; a nice breeze from the right direction and sunny. It was only 30 miles too. Our destination was the Marina El Cid just outside the town and part of a huge hotel complex. One of the benefits of staying there was the use of the extensive facilities, although we couldn't get the all inclusive benefits of unlimited food and drink. Our "bracelet" was white vs their blue. So we brought our own drinks to the hot tub - no problemo!
Our real reason for this stop was to do some interior sightseeing. We rented a car for three days from Eurocar in town and had our first "shakedown". The cost was $40 for the company and $10 cash for the employee per day. Next time, he assured us, we could make a better deal directly with him.
Our next shakedown happened quickly. We were driving back to the resort when the police stopped us. They showed us a radar gun with 54 kilometers on it (it was a 40 kilometer speed limit). I swear we were going 40 but Scott said that the gun probably always shows the same number. Anyway it cost us 500 pesos ($40) in cash to the policeman (he couldn't provide a ticket or a receipt). We got advice quickly from residents. Always have a 50 peso note in your pocket and take it out and say that's all you have (and pretend you don't speak Spanish). Well next time we'll be prepared, we thought. It did happen again (same man) and Scott just refused to give him anything. He finally accepted that - so live and learn. We don't get upset about any of this. From their point of view we're all filthy rich and that policeman's salary is peanuts (and the car rental employee's). Doesn't make it right, but it's understandable.
We left early the next morning and drove south along the coast to Tulum. This is a walled city built as the port for Coba and one of the last cities built by the Mayans. It was at it's height between the 13th and 15th centuries. The site is beautiful, strung along the ocean built on 39 foot cliffs with white beach below. It's an open sunny place and the buildings have been worn down by the sea. Very few of the carvings remain. Due to it's easy location from Cancun, Playa Carmen and Cozmel, it's packed with tourists.
Tulum was a fortress and a ceremonial center and is
built along the ocean. Extensive trading occurred among
the Maya and other cultures by boat along the Central
American coast.
Looking inland across the extensive grounds inside the
The thatch roof is protecting one of the few remaining
carvings still clearly visible. Most have weathered over
the years or been removed.
Tulum is of the late Classic Period in Mayan architecture
The complex is right on the water and visitors can take
a break during their visit for a refreshing swim.
This small cove on the north end of the complex was
off limits to the hoards and so peaceful. On the peninsula
is the God of the Winds temple
The scenery was the star here and a group of fun actors portraying someone's ideas of what ancient Mayans looked like. They posed for pictures with the tourists and were obviously having fun too.
After our visit here we drove inland for 40 kilometers to Coba. Along the way we passed through tiny Mayan villages where many of the homes looked pretty much like they did 1,000 years ago. Coba is in the jungle and much of the site is still covered with it. This was an early major center for the Mayans with over 50,000 people resident here. Paved elevated roads radiated from here out to many other locations, one alone was 100 kilometers long. They were called sacaboeb. The city was mainly built between 500 and 900 AD, well before Tulum. It was settled even earlier, probably between 100 BC and 100 AD. The restored temples are spread out over a large area, some kilometers apart.
Scott made a surprising but excellent decision to rent a bicycle "taxi". It had been a long day so far and this made the tour of the property so much nicer. We had some energy left to make the steep climb up the Nohoch Mul pyramid, some 120 steps. Going up was work and coming down was rather scary. The views from the top were over the endless jungle, once fertile agricultural land, and the nearby lakes. From here we took a different route north and then west on the generally well kept roads with an occasional pot hole keeping you focused. It was a long but really interesting fun day.
The bas relief under the roof is of the Descending God
figure and gives this temple it's name
El Castillo, the largest temple on site
These Mayan warriors were having a good time posing with the tourists and so were we
A typical Mayan home in one of the small villages
The road from Tulum to Coba passed through quiet Mayan
villages. I loved this tiny woman in traditional dress using
a few concrete blocks to talk to the butcher.
Lonely Planet happily steered us to the Villas Arqueologicas
Hotel in Coba for a very nice lunch and a cooling swim.
Coba is by a lake fringed with reeds and
busy with wildlife  - here a snowy egret
Picnics are not recommended though as not all the
wildlife are cute.
Our bicycle driver also acted as an unofficial guide.
The first building as you enter is known as La Iglesia. A
number of stela remain on the complex but the carvings
are very faint. They are now protected by thatched roofs
Many of the buildings are still partially or totally covered
 by trees and vegetation.
One of two ball courts that have been restored - MUCH
smaller than Chichen Itza's
The buildings are all set in the woods now but would have
once been in the city with paved streets. Over 50,000
people lived here once.
The building on the top under the protecting roof still
shows the colors of the once all painted exterior
A close up of the color traces
This is one of the few pyramids remaining that you can climb and one of the highest (and steepest). 
Hopefully you can get an idea of how steep!
Looking down from the top
A new age ceremony in an old age place. 
Made it!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Day Trip to Isla Contoy

Approaching Isla Contoy with the reef in the background
Isla Contoy is a small island 30 kilometers north of Isla Mujeres. It's been protected by the government since 1961 and became a national park in 1998. Only 200 visitors a day are allowed on the island, brought by only a few certified guides. We took the tour offered by the Fisherman's Cooperative in Isla. The cost was $65 per person and their booth is just north of the ferry terminal on the same side - sign says Isla Contoy. They picked us up at the Marina dock and then stopped over in Cancun for the rest of the group, all Mexicans. Only four of us went; Joe and Joan Donnaway from "Jamu" and ourselves.
It was a really great day. The trip over was exciting as the water was rough. Despite the big powerful boat, we did a lot of bouncing over the waves and were sprayed frequently. It was fun! The crew were very solicitous and the captain gave us a personal tour of the island in English. We saw thousands of birds; frigate birds, cormorants, osprey, brown pelicans and many more. Most nest in the protected lagoons inside the island. It is 8.5 kilometers long and is the start of the second longest reef in the world, after the great Barrier Reef in Australia. We stopped on the way to the island and snorkeled along the reef. Despite the somewhat limited viability due to the rough water, we saw lots of coral and fish.
The lunch was top notch with excellent BBQ fish and chicken, salad, rice, guacamole, tortillas and chips - all you could eat. And we had worked up quite an appetite. The small museum had a lot of exhibits and explanations in several languages, including English. There are marked walks all over the island. A great day!
Scott, Heather, Joe and Joan just back from snorkeling
Pelicans and osprey nesting along the shore
The boat landing and park headquarters
The fish was marinated with spices and stuffed with
onions and tomatoes, then BBQed
Our excellent buffet, served by our the chefs
Scott, Heather, Joe and Joan enjoying the feast
Juvenile Osprey
Large numbers of Iguanas make this their home - fed by
scraps from the lunches
Thousands of Frigate birds nest here
The red pouch is a mating signal
Large numbers of solar panels provide electricity to the
Park headquarters and museum
Many of the visitors to the park prefer just lounging on the
View from the tower looking south over the island.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Walking and Running around Isla Mujeres

In the distance you can see some of the boats in the anchorage
Well...mostly walking. We did participate in one fun road race of 5 kilometers. It started at 8am right on the dot, much to our surprise. It was a hot morning with not much wind so we really didn't do much running. Also unexpected was a complete lack of water, until the end (boy was it welcome then), so we were parched. We expected to turn around and start back after doing about 2.5 kilometers but the course continued south on the island. Scott and I figured we'd got the distance wrong. There was no sign at the start. But the race ended 5 K up the island with no provision to return. So we walked back...a long morning without breakfast! It was fun though with great participation by local families. Children of all ages ran with their parents and everyone had a good time.
It's delightful walking here on the island. There are wide sidewalks along the ocean and bay side with beautiful views. We walk for about an hour every morning and often walk into town at night. There is usually a brisk wind so it's very pleasant.
The palms shadows and water create some wonderful
On the bay side the beach is lined with boats and restaurants
Small boats are tied up the shore
The road is lined with a large sidewalk so it's lovely
Many of the boats have temporary passengers when
the local fishermen are gone, here pelicans.
Along the ocean side as you come into the town the
road disappears inland and the wide walkway is between
the buildings and the sea. 
There's a few beaches on the ocean  but most are on
the protected western side
There are many sculptures
and murals on the walls
Outside of town the walk on the ocean side is along the
rocky beach

The start of the 5K race honoring the founder of Isla
Mujeres's Recreation Commission
The final festivities. Everyone received a metal!
Every age participated