Day 6 of our trip began with an early 6:30 AM rise in our Hotel ¡§El Mason del Marques¡¨ located on the square in Vallodolid. We enjoyed an included made to order breakfast in the beautiful hotel courtyard. My 13 year old son Aaron decided that since coffee was included now might be the time to check that out. After he discovered how much sugar he could add he enjoyed it very much. I did have flashbacks of our past trip to Disney World in March when he consumed three cokes with dinner (we generally do not have much soda or caffeine around the house for the kids) and even after walking around the parks all day needed to go out to the parking lot and run sprints until he was tired enough to lay in bed and get some sleep. He did seem to handle the coffee OK and it did pep him up for our trip today to Chichen Itza.
We were on the road a little before eight. We were hoping to get to the Ruins before the large tour groups arrived. We were enjoying the drive along the ¡§free way¡¨ when we came across a military road block by the airport. We thought ¡§ay carumba¡¨ not again. As we remembered our shake down by the Policia on yesterday¡¦s drive outside of Coba.. The military men were armed as usual in Mexico and were very polite as they asked us to all step out of the car while they looked it over for drugs etc. They seemed to enjoy speaking Spanish with my beautiful teenage daughter Jillian and after a quick look over (of the car I think) they put us on our way
We arrived at Chichen Itza a little after nine. We hired a guide and spent the next three hours looking over the most impressive ruins we had seen on our trip so far. Our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out many impressive features about the ruins including different locations and how the sound carries and echos. (In some places a hand clap echo¡¦s back in the sound of the Kukulcan bird.). He also explained how the Mayan calendar worked and that many people believe that the calendar ends in 2012 but actually that is just the end of a cycle. A cycle of turmoil, war etc. will end and a new cycle begins with the world moving towards peace. In the new cycle we will move towards getting along with nature, with each other within ourselves etc. It was very comforting.
We headed back to the Hotel for a little siesta and then got out to explore the town. We checked out the City Market where the dogs lay patiently along the meat cutters. The city Cenotes and that was kind of like the neighborhood pool. We struck up a conversation with a family of cobblers that showed us a calendar with a picture of the Ditzup Cenotes and expressed we needed to go by there. We tried to visit the convent of San Bernadine that was built in 1552 but had no luck getting in. We also visited a little free Museum off the square that was worth our time.
We had tried to have an early dinner but a lot of restaurants were not open yet. We ended up eating again at the hotel and then started our return trip to Chichen Itza for the evening light and sound show. No military road block this evening but we were slowed by a gruesome wreck. I am surprised there are not more collisions in Mexico due to the aggressive driving of most the locals. The wreck did serve as a reminder to me to drive safely and protect my family.
At the ruins they did not charge me for parking or entrance into the park as we showed them our ticket and wristbands from earlier in the day. We rented head phones so we could hear the program in English. At night the buildings take on a different feeling. All the venders are mostly gone. The air is cool and the sounds peaceful. They set had set up about 200 chairs for about fifty of us that had shown up. It was an interesting show with colored lighting to illuminate the pyramid and different buildings. We decided to take the ¡§payway¡¨ home and avoid driving the ¡§freeway¡¨ through the small towns in the dark.
To get to the payway we drove through the interesting small town of Piste which was hosting a festival in their town square. We welcomed an uneventful drive home to our hotel in Vallodolid.
Day 7 included our least touristy day trip of our vacation as we headed to the northern shore of the Yucatan Peninsula to a small fishing village Rio Lagartos. This was a true adventure for us as we did not know what to expect. We were hoping to explore the Rio Lagartos National Park by renting a guide and a boat. The park boasts nesting grounds for over 20,000 pink flamingos as well as alligators and other wildlife. It was an easy straight drive on decent highway. We passed through many small towns one bigger than expected, the town of Tizmin. We saw cows secured to a post in front yard right along the roadway and many Brauma Bull ranches.
When we arrived in the quant fishing village of Rio Lagartos the streets were very quiet except for a little roadwork blocking the main drag. A man motioned to us to pull over and after hearing we were looking for a boat and a guide informed us to follow a boy on a bike that lead us through the back streets. We reluctantly obliged and followed him to little ocean front restaurant that had rooms to rent on the second floor. We negotiated a 2 hour boat rental of $60 total for the five of us (originally $80) and we would tip the English speaking captain/ guide named Jesus.
We headed out into the ocean towards two tiny pink dots in the horizon. As we got closer the dots become two different flocks of flamingos, several hundred in numbers but not the thousands that I thought we might see. The water was very shallow only a foot deep in this area. We hopped out, picked up some stone crabs scurrying along the bottom and got within 30 yards of the flamingos but we did not want to disturb them. I had read somewhere that they needed their rest so they can migrate. We hopped back in the boat and Jesus asked if we wanted to see them fly. He then proceeded to drive the boat directly into the flock as they all took flight together. It was a beautiful sight. So much for leaving nature undisturbed but it was cool. Meanwhile the boat is now slowly chugging through the shallow muddy water leaving a path in the bottom where it plows through but eventually we reach the deeper water and head further back into the wildlife reserve.
Jesus spotted a black hawk perched along the tree tops. He slowed the boat and pulled one of two dead fish he brought along for the trip. He whistled to the bird and threw the fish into the water. As if this had been rehearsed many times before the hawk swooped down and picked up the fish only a few feet from the boat and then returned to his tree top to munch on his lunch. We cruised a little further into the reserve in search of an alligator or crocodile (I am not sure which). Jesus spotted one along the bank. He asked us we wanted to see its teeth up close? He took his other dead fish tied it to a rope and threw it close to the alligator trying to lure it towards the boat. He finally got its attention and has it swimming towards us when from the other direction comes another small fishing boat with just one person in it. This boat has made a makeshift sail to save gas and was moving pretty well but was going to cut across directly between us and the alligator. Jesus tried quietly to get the guy to change coarse but there was not really much he could do. This interference scared the reptile away and after several more attempts we could not get the alligators interest again. Jesus was quite disappointed and we assured him it was Ok but I still wonder how cool that would have been to see the alligator snatch the fish.
We wandered a little deeper into the reserve where Jesus made a detour into some brush where we spotted a nest of baby vultures in a tree branch. We had to stand on our tip toes in the boat and hang on some branches to get a glimpse. We were only inches away as I prayed the mother was not going to swoop down and protect its young. But again this was very cool.
We have been out almost a couple hours and we were enjoying our trip very much when we spotted only the second boat we had seen all day. This boat had a couple of people in it covered head to toe in dried white mud. Jesus said they were trying a Mayan mud bath and it would make our skin very soft. How could we miss this opportunity? We could not. We went a little further into the lagoon passed under a small one lane bridge and the shore line that was mostly mango trees and bushes was now a white dry mud flat We beached the boat and headed 50 yards inland and as we walked we noticed several holes in the ground about the size of a softball that at the time we did not know what they were. Away from the shore there were some small manmade salt water ponds of various colors that smelled very much sulfur. It reminded me of swimming in the Great Salt Lake in Utah on a previous vacation. Jesus told us we needed to soak in the pond to open up our pores. We then went back to the softball size holes in the ground we had passed, he stuck his arm in and pulled out handfuls of white clay. We proceeded to rub this over our bodies. Jesus was especially helpful in applying mud to my beautiful wife and older daughter. I guess at this point we were feeling very comfortable with our guide and he was with usº. After we got all mudded up, an afternoon rain started and turned what was once dry dirt into a slicker than snot surface which just added to the fun. Now our footing is terrible, we are slipping and falling and we have mud dripping into our eyes. You have to love Mexico. Where else could we experience this? We rinse off in the pool again, the rain stops and so we reapply the mud. This time the sun comes out and it begins to bake on us. Jesus informs us for the full treatment we need to rinse off at a spring down the way. We did meet another American couple there that was now living in Cancun and in Rio Lagartos for the weekend. They too were doing the Mayan mud bath. We headed off in our separate boats to the spring poking fun at how each of our groups looked along the way. We stopped at a little fresh water swimming hole that was just before it fed into the ocean. We rinsed off the mud played around in the water. In the meantime Jesus cleaned up the boat and was in no hurry to return as he was enjoying the day as much as we were. But get back we must. We enjoyed lunch in the place we rented the boat from. (I wish I could remember the name). We tipped Jesus $40.00 and offered to buy his lunch before we headed back towards Vallodolid. We did run into the other couple back in town and they were heading out as well. It did seemed we were the only visitors in town that day. They needed a little more cash and the closest ATM was in the town of Tizman some 25 Kilometers back (bummer for them). However it was a very fun day in Rio Lagartos.
On our return to our Hotel there was one more ruin we wanted to check out called Ek Balam. We arrived with only about 45 minutes before they closed. Ek Balam was small in area but very interesting. There were also more ruins available to climb on and the carvings were the better preserved than any of the other areas we had visited. Unfortunately no guides were available but it was still worth the stop.
We got back to Vallodolid and they were set up for a festival in the square that night. We had dinner at ¡§La Campanas¡¨ on the corner of the square. The food was very good and was my favorite of our two week trip. They had some soft live music playing and a drunk elderly local cowboy that was having a ball with the two senoritas he was with. It has been a very interesting first week in Mexico with no days better than today. Tomorrow we are all looking forward to getting to Isla Mujeras where we can relax and enjoy our second week of the trip.