Husband Donald required a little more excitement for his first trip to Isla, so we planned a weekend trip to Chichen Itza during our two week stay in early March. My previous visit in 1987 had been with my kids aboard a package bus tour - "whirlwind" would describe it. There was nowhere near enough time to see Chichen, but it was impressive nevertheless. Although I would have been perfectly happy under a palm on Isla, we set out on a Friday.
Ever thrifty (he'd say "cheap"), I suggested that we take a collectivo from Puerto Juarez to the bus terminal in Cancun. What a ride; but we arrived safely, with time to eat before boarding the bus. Naturally taco grease dribbled on D's clean white T-shirt. After much rolling of eyes and cursing, he headed for the bano to try and clean the spots. He returned with a wet shirt and a big smile. The female attendant had seen his dilemma, told him to give her the shirt, and returned it almost as good as new.
Thrifty J, the "tour director", thought a second class bus to Chichen would give us more Mexican flavor. The busses were big and comfortable and air conditioned just like the first class ones, they just didn't use the toll road. This saved us a whopping $6 per ticket ($12 rather than $18) and cost us at least two hours because the bus stops for every school kid and mamacita with bundles for the entire 200+ mile trip. We stopped in the middle of the thorny jungle at dusty paths and we stopped in every little village along the way. But it was fun, and anyway what was the hurry? Sparking brown eyes peeked at us over seatbacks and eventually we met Julietza, Carla and their big sister Myrnah. We took their pictures and showed them photos of our grandchildren. At one village, a line of vendors got on to sell tortas, refrescos, elotes and other unidentified edibles. We didn't indulge.
Eventually, we arrived at hotel Dolores Alba in Chichen Itza. It is reminiscent of 1940-50's motor courts. Forty to fifty attached rooms with baths strung out along the highway, backs to the jungle, painted salmon pink. There are two pools, one with a natural limestone bottom with nooks and crannies that look like an invitation to a fractured ankle. We didn't try that one, but the more conventional pool was very refreshing after a long bus ride. The hotel's main building houses the office with a charming parrot and a dining area overlooking one of the pools. The menu is limited, but delicious; we made good friends with our waiter and always sat at the same table for the four meals we ate there. The waiter's friendliness was contrasted to the reserve of the manager - maybe he was distracted...
Early Saturday morning, the hotel van took us down the road (about 2 miles) to the back entrance to Chichen Itza. We had arranged with six other hotel guests to pay (@ $5 each)a private guide named Javier. He was amazing! His grandfather had worked on the original excavation and he taught us a lot about the site and pointed out many things we might have otherwise missed. I learned so much more than on my earlier trip. D was totally amazed by the the Mayan culture and kept trying to relate their history to what was happening in European history at the same time (basically, the Dark Ages). After Javier's two-hour tour, we wandered on our own until we were hot and tired. We had a late lunch at the main entrance as the bus tour hoardes from Cancun/Playa were just arriving, made a stop at the ATM, looked in the sparse museum, and took a cab back to the hotel around 3PM. After discussing the evening light show with guests who had seen it, we decided to skip the performance.
The next morning, we crossed the highway to the "Sacred Blue Cenote", Ik Kil. (admission about $5) This is another impressive site - an 80 foot deep cenote (actually blue) with vines and waterfalls cascading into it which has been developed for public swimming. There is a stairway carved into the limestone circling down to water level. At ground level the services include showers and a lunch room. Along the beautifully landscaped entrance road, there are bungalows for rent. It looks like a wonderful spot for a relaxing overnight and cool down.
But Isla called, we were due back on the island Sunday night. So we hailed the second class bus and trundled toward Valladolid where we hoped to board the fast bus to Cancun. Alas, the bus was full so we continued economy class back to the big, dusty city and on to Isla.
This was a great side trip and it made us want to see more of the Mayan sites. It also confirmed my preference for traveling closer to the local people - why leave the States to surround yourself with franchises and only other traveling Americans?
Photos have been added (12/19/2005) on my smugmug site @http://islandnana.smugmug.com/gallery/1033364/1/47929400.
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