To Tulum

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The morning of departure was upon me. Yet another cloudy day with a very high probability of rain. I grabbed some of the free breakfast, which is to say bread and jam, from the hostel and noted with considerable concern that my foot was very itchy. And the bites, which looked like mosquito bites, were in a triangle. I noticed my arm also had two trios of bites and sincerely hoped that these were not bedbugs. Bedbugs, or so I’ve heard in my travels, tend to bite at extremities, to bite in threes, and in lines or triangles, clustered close together. Myth or fiction I don’t know, but I suppose I’ll find out as the days pass. It was now time to pay for the hostel and that meant – for the first time in a long time – cashing travellers’ cheques. The first bank wouldn’t touch them and I can’t remember the name. The second, BanMex, told me I had to bring a photocopy of my passport. I guess they either don’t have a copier or can’t be bothered. Finally, Scotiabank cashed it with no hassle whatsoever. Phil was just getting up (he’s still tired from the adjustment to travelling life) and we walked to the bus station. I grabbed an expensive chai latte (a person has to give in to such comforts from time to time) and then we discovered a food cart doing cuchina, which was basically a roast pork taco. I had three of them, we made our way to the minibuses and, 35 pesos later, were en route to Tulum.

The rain started as soon as we were underway and didn’t abate. So we arrived in the centre of town, at the Weary Traveller Hostel, in a steady, droning rain. We didn’t stay at the Weary Traveller, however. First of all, Phil had heard it was bedbug ridden, and I had enough to worry about on that front. Secondly, when we did go in to have a look, we were roundly ignored not only by the staff (who were nowhere to be found, it appears) but also by the nine or so backpackers sitting at the table. Not a greeting, hello, hola, bienvenidos. We had walked in on their private get together and how dare we? Phil and I exchanged a glance and went back out under the canopy where we used their wireless to find a hostel another friend had recommended. It was more than 3 km away so we bit the bullet and grabbed a taxi. I should’ve known then it was going to be an expensive day. The hostel was full, we were told, until I mentioned that we were looking forward to it as a friend had highly recommended it to us. Then the gate to Pesados Machapas (I think) opened and there was room, but not for two in the same dorm. That wasn’t a problem, and the rooms were clean, the beds comfortable-looking, and were it not for the price – 180 pesos – we would have stayed. But it was a bit too much and we wandered down the highway (for we were now out of town and close to the ruins) to the nearby Lobo Hostel where we settled for 120 pesos. The vibe was not great, the staff not friendly (and downright offended when we checked the mattresses for bedbugs), but darn it, it was affordable and clean enough.

However, this location, out of town 3 km, away from the beach 2 km, and maybe 1 km from the ruins left us feeling very isolated. Not only was the hostel empty, save for a lone Mexican in our room named Paco and a girl who appeared to be a mute. So we left our bags in the lockers and wandered off, hoping to find something better near the beach. But we were at the very outskirts of the beach and there was nothing but expensive huts. A long walk later, we settled for Los Lobos and rested a bit. One thing I will say is that, besides free internet, they lend out bikes for free. We took two into town where we ambled around the side streets into areas where the kids looked at us (well, Phil) really funny and I regretted not having my camera for fear of the rain. We found some great street food, got a couple of police officers to take a photo of us pretending to be playing in a baseball stadium, and then sat at a proper restaurant. Just then, the rain suddenly poured, as though it had been waiting for us to find shelter and now had to release all that built-up rain. It was wicked. An expensive dinner and no cheap looking bars in sight we biked back, now in the dark, along the highway to our hostel – Phil’s flashlight saved the day here.

The next morning we’d planned to go to Coba in the morning (about a 40 minute drive) and then do the ruins at Tulum on our return. However, the sound of howling wind and pouring rain made it look like we were going to experience our first hurricane instead. That was at 8 AM or so. By 9:30, however, there were patches of sun and the wind had died completely, catching us a little by surprise. The altogether unpleasant fellow who runs our hostel told us the bus left at 10:15 so we jumped on our bikes and sped fast as we could to the bus station in town, skipping the included breakfast and everything. It was there we found out that the bus left at 10:57 and we’d be fine until then. We went next store and got some cheap cochinita from Tony (8 pesos for a roast pork taco) then went back to the bus station. It started pouring again while we were eating and Tony gave me a couple small plastic bags to keep my stuff dry, then we got on the bus and headed for the mildly better weather in Coba. It wasn’t raining at least, but I doubt any of my photos are worth looking at from that day. It was overcast and spit from time to time. Still, to see it in person was pretty cool and both Phil and I felt it was worth the trip.

We got back to Tulum at 4:30, too late to see the ruins in town which was just as well. We were both starving. We wandered the side streets looking for a place to eat and came across a woman roasting chicken on the barbecue. Though they spoke no English we managed to order Pollo Asado, which was that same chicken with rice, beans, spaghetti, onions, and an excellent salsa plus side tortillas. We didn’t know what to do with the tortillas so we picked the chicken apart and made our own. It was a feast and for 50 pesos each we also got a large sliced chilli pepper stuffed with cheese and ham. We were hungry enough to have liked anything, so this was simply delicious. After that, there was nothing left but to bike back to our hostel. Darkness had fallen and it was a treacherous drive along the side of the highway, headlamp or no. We made a stop at a grocery store for some granola bars, yogurt drinks, and a six pack of beer before finally getting back home and calling it a day.

The evenings here are pretty uneventful. Perhaps there is some activity in the town (there are some touristy and pricey outdoor restaurant/bars, but they don’t qualify for the backpacker budget) or maybe on the beach (though with the incessant rain this is doubtful) but we generally stayed in the hostel after dinner and passed the time visiting, planning for tomorrow, occasionally studying Spanish (not enough!), and in my case, working on this blog (writing the posts for early-mid 2009) and my photos. It certainly made it easy to get to be earlier than usual, even if Paco (whose name we later discovered was Vincent but I’m not sure I believe that) tried to keep us up all hours with strange and exceedingly loud noises. What we thought would be our last day in Tulum was extended after a conversation about cenotes (cave pools) over breakfast with two Americans. They convinced us that this was something we should do and on top of that, by the time we finished breakfast and got to the ruins of Tulum, we probably wouldn’t make it to the Belize border before dark. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to insist on in my travels, it’s crossing the border by daylight only (with the possible though still not recommended exception of Europe). So the plan for the day? Visit the ruins of Tulum and then go see some cenotes.

The rain had stopped that morning and we very gratefully made our way to Tulum. In fact, I’d say the weather was almost perfect for photos – the clouds were ominously present and dark but the sun was shining too, giving the appearance of sanctuary to these ancient ruins. Or at least of an impending doom, which was as accurate for us today as it was several hundred years ago when the Mayans finally succumbed to European pressures. We wandered along, very happy in the brief glimpse of light bestowed upon us and I took some pictures of Tulum that I’m pretty excited about. And then, no sooner had the hole in the sky been filled with imperious blue cloud than it started pouring rain. We took shelter under a few trees along with several billion mosquitoes and passed the time swatting, slapping, and itching until our patience ran dry and our clothes were soaked. Several more photos in the rain, which did eventually slow to a sprinkle, the advantage now not light but that many of the big tourist groups had run for the buses. And then we left the ruins, returning to the hostel just in time to avoid the next downpour. Phil and I got ready for a cenote swim, grabbed a bit of cash (leaving our valuables in the locker rather than take them and leave them sitting unattended) and when the rain seemed to relent, hopped on our bikes and rode the 7 km to Grand Cenote. Supposedly an underground cavern with waterfalls, lots of pools and stalactites galore. Of course, we needed to stop for lunch first and maybe 100m from the highway crossing to Coba, we found a great little restaurant with excellent food. Spinach & egg tacos, mixed meat tacos, egg and sausage were my three choices and each was better than the last – complemented, of course, by an ice cold Coke in a glass bottle. Viva Mexico.

The total of this very filling taco trio with the Coke was 40 pesos. That left me with 80 in my pocket and Phil with 47. We set off and biked along the highway until finally reaching the Grand Cenote where we were shocked to discover a $10 entry fee. I thought maybe it would be 20 or 30 pesos, ($2-$3) but 100?! The ruins of Tulum cost HALF that. So, yes, we were unprepared, and no, we did not see this cenote after all. I’m not sure I would’ve paid even if I’d had the money. It’s on private land and the owner charges for admission, but you’d think when we showed him all the money we had collectively he’d be better to take it and get ~50 pesos each from us than to just wave us away. Still, all was not lost. We hopped on our bikes, muttering ‘banditos’ under our breaths, and rode back towards Tulum and a small cenote we’d passed on the way. The Calvera Cenote was 50 pesos and the owner did let Phil in with 47 pesos. We were the only ones in there, which is just as well as it wasn’t big enough for more than that. In fact, aside from being a diversion, it wasn’t really interesting. There were scant few cave formations and quite a few bats. Now, if you’re SCUBA diving, that’s a different story – there’s a hole that leads to other caverns and it looked like it would’ve been awesome to dive. In fact, if I’m this way again, I will insist on doing a cenote dive. Still, we swam around, did some jumping, some photography with Phil’s mostly-waterproof camera, and rode back to the hostel.

The lightning earlier had blown up the transformer next to the hostel (man, was that LOUD!) so we had no power. I used the remaining daylight to practice my Spanish, reviewing lesson 3 again (they’re BIG lessons) and going through lesson 4. How’s the Spanish coming? Pretty good, I’m actually surprised with how well I’m doing with my vocabulary. Of course, as soon as the conversation veers from those known topics into others, as soon as the context is not immediately obvious, and as soon as synonyms are called into action, I’m out of luck. But Barcelona wasn’t built in a day, and my comprehension is improving even if I need work on speaking and pronunciation. On other non-travel related notes, I’ve finished reading The Bourne Identity, which is a departure from the movie on a shocking scale. Aside from the base premise – an amnesiac with skills geared towards espionage or assassination – the plot is entirely different. This actually is great, as it means the book is full of surprises and is so different from the movie as to merit no comparison. A great pickup if you’re looking for a page-turner. I still have the book Barb gave me, my first Margaret Atwood novel. Oryx and Crake will come once I complete the Bourne trilogy, as my novel to savour and perhaps trade for other books as I make my way south. Which, in an elegant segue, is exactly what we will do tomorrow. South to Chetumal, where we have to pay our non-immigrant tax and get our card stamped at the bank before hopping another border-crossing bus into Belize. The plan is to reach Orange Walk mid-afternoon and take a river boat down to some obscure Mayan ruins at Lamanai the next day. Hopefully by then, Hurricane Ida will have diminished enough to make a trip back to the Caribbean coast more pleasant in Belize than it has been south of Cancun. Take it Belizey and we’ll see you, Caye (Caulker)? Also, I promise not to do that again so stay tuned.

Tulum and Coba Photos

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oooohh, I very much so am looovin' these picturees! :)