06.08.2011 34 °C
After our two catastrophic dives at sea we finally headed to our first Cenote (big sink hole or underwater cave) on the next day. Although it was a very shallow dive we really enjoyed it. This Cenote is linked to the sea by a network of underwater tunnels and hence is populated by a few species of fishes. The sun lights entering the cave and illuminating big schools of tarpons (big fishes that look a bit like tunas) while swimming out of a small tunnel filled with stalactites was totally worth it.
In the afternoon, we bumped by chance into Lucinda, who we travelled with in Honduras and arranged to meet for dinner. Food in Mexico is very good although not so varied. Mexican people reading this might get offended as there are actually a lot of variations of tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, tortillas, etc… and some very tasty sauces but after a few weeks of this regime we are kind of looking forward to just a plate of plain pasta!
On our last day of diving in Tulum we started with a deep dive in the Angelita Cenote. I rented a camera from the dive shop and put my memory card in it so that I could finally share with you some of our underwater experiences. This was a very atmospheric dive. We went down to about 35m and the visibility was quite limited because of two factors: the quasi absence of sun light at this depth and also because of a phenomenon called halocline which is when fresh water mixes with salt water and creates a blur in the water. There was also a tree upside down mid-way down the cave that gave an eerie feeling.
In the afternoon we managed to get a good deal from the dive shop to do 2 dives in the Dos Ojos (two eyes) Cenote. This Cenote can also be done snorkelling but the experience you get diving is a lot more impressive as you swim through closed tunnels where you see a lot of stalactites and stalagmites.
We left Tulum for the mid-size town of Valladolid. Upon arrival we were more struck by the phenomenal heat of the place than by its beauty. It’s a nice colonial town with a few colourful houses and a big church but there is not much more to it to hold the traveller except its proximity to the famous Maya site of Chichen Itza.
At about 2.30pm we decided to get a public bus to Chichen Itza but we only got there at about 3.40pm. The signs at the entrance of the site where not really clear as it looked like it was open until 10pm, and people selling tickets were not really helpful. So we bought our first ticket before heading suspiciously toward the second ticket booth where we had been told to buy the second part of our ticket... The guy there told us that it was free after 4pm but that the site closed at 5pm! So we went back to the first guy to get a refund and waited until 4.01 to rush our visit. Meanwhile, a local guide offered his service to us and another couple for much less than what we would have paid for the entrance so we took him and he managed to show us the whole site within the hour we had.
We really enjoyed doing the visit that way as we paid less, escaped the crowds and the millions of street vendors, had a guide and the temperature was a bit more bearable at this time of the day. I think this site had everything to be hated for, except for the amazing central temple, but we will have a nice memory of it because of the circumstances in which we visited it.
We took a bus to Merida in the morning and enjoyed the AC. I would not have minded spending the entire day. We arrived in Merida by mid-day and headed to the only hostel we found with a swimming pool. The heat was unbearable. We hence spent the afternoon by the pool. We eventually went out as the air cool down a bit. We wandered around and sat on the main plaza, Plaza Grande. We admired the Cathedral de San Ildefonso, which was built on a former Maya temple.
We were surprised by the kindness of the people. We were first on our guards, but we quickly realised it was genuine offers. They were curious and very happy to give us some tips about the places to visits. We found our local restaurant, Trapiche, which was however advertised as dirty by one of the local who suggested one of the touristic places. At night, a folkloric festival took place on one of the plaza. We spoke with one of the local who was impressed by my height. We had a good laugh as Franck took a picture of us.
The next morning, we went to Izamal, a small village 1h00 from Merida. Although it was a nice village with all the houses painted yellow, with a big convent and a few ruins, it only took us 90 minutes to walk around town before heading back to Merida for an afternoon of relaxing by the swimming pool.
Late afternoon we ventured out of the hotel to walk along the Champs Elysees of Merida and admired some nice early 20th century houses.
We decided to break the journey to the Maya ruins of Palenque with an overnight stop in Campeche. Despite its proximity to the sea the heat was still unbearable. The centre inside the old city walls has been restored and walking around town felt a bit like walking into a museum.
We spent a bit of the afternoon watching the champion’s league final and we then headed to a nice bar where we tried our first Mexican tequilas.
We spent most of the next day in the bus and upon arrival in Palenque, we found a nice English couple from London to share a few beers in the middle of the jungle in the evening. Between two beers we decided not to spend another night in the jungle but instead to take a tour that would take us to San Cristobal de Las Casas after the visit of the Palenque ruins and two other sites on the way.
The site of Palenque is a bit like the one of Tikal in Guatemala to the exceptions that it is a bit smaller and the ruins are hence closer to each other’s. Also the ruins in Palenque seem to be more restored, which may appeal more to the mass of tourists who come here. We arrived early enough to avoid the big tourist buses and we managed to have most of the sites out of the central square just for the two of us.
In the afternoon we were first stopped at the site of Misol-Ha, a 30m high waterfall throwing itself into a green lagoon. It could have been nice if all the tourist buses had not come here at the same time!
Then we went to the site of Agua Azul where we stopped for 3 hours. We started to have lunch with Tim and Inge from Holland and weren’t that bothered at first about exploring the sit following our slight disappointment during our first stop. We then put on our swimming suits and headed to the first swimming spot. The water looked murky and it was full of tourists again. I walked off this place and headed further up on the main path and was stunned by the beauty of the several waterfalls flowing into a pool of blue water. It was spectacular.
We finally found a nice spot to go swimming and rushed back to the bus that was going to take us to San Cristobal de Las Casas at an altitude of about 2000m in the mountain area of the Chiapas region. We were all longing for cooler weather and as we got off the bus near 11pm we got a chill as the temperature had probably dropped 20 degrees since the afternoon! We found a hotel with our new Dutch friends and had a good night sleep before exploring the town of San Cristobal the following day.
We really took it easy walking in town and bumping into Tim and Inge at each café throughout the day! San Cristobal is a pretty town surrounded by mountains, with a big expat community. There seems to be many foreign owned hostels, bars, restaurants and cafés around town. In the evening we were glad to put back our jeans for the first time in 2 months and we headed to a Lebanese restaurant as an alternative to our usual quesadillas.
On the next day we took a tour for the visit of the Sumerido canyon a little bit away from town. It rained heavily as we left San Cristobal but luckily it stopped raining as we boarded the boat that took us inside the canyon for 2h30. This was a very pleasant trip. The canyon reminded me a bit of the fjords from Norway except that there are no monkeys or crocodiles in Norway!
We indeed saw a few monkeys but what really impressed me were the massive crocodiles that we could observe on the bank of the river. We had never seen beasts like that previously in our trip.
For our last day in San Cristobal we went with Inge and Tim to two small Maya villages high up in the mountains a few km outside of town. There is not much to see in these villages except for the people with their traditional clothes and the churches where signs reminded people not to kill chicken inside the church!
We “killed” the rest of the day in San Cristobal’s numerous cafes before getting on the 8pm night bus to Oaxaca.
Upon arrival at 7am, we took a taxi to a cheap hotel as indicated by the Lonely Planet but once we got there we had been told of a totally different price so we started walking randomly in town of search of a good bargain. After several attempts we couldn’t find anything within our budget and started to despair a bit. After a night in the bus you don’t really want to struggle to find a place to stay. You just need a shower and a bed to recover. We eventually found the cheapest hotel in town and it turned out to be ok, except for the loud music at night from the bar next door!
We went for breakfast and while Charlotte was having 2 slices of bread I had melted cheese on big toasts spread with a paste made of beans and a lot of chili sauce and onions! I was full for the day. We then dragged ourselves through town to get the bus to Monte Alban, to visit some more ruins. We had been told that of all ruins these ones could be missed but we actually rather liked the place. There weren’t many people there, the site was quite spacious and well restored and we had a pleasant visit with good photos opportunities.
In the evening we explored a Little bit more the historical centre of Oaxaca.
We also tried the famous mole sauces that are the signature dishes of this area famous for its cuisine. Note that the food from the restaurants in London called “Wahaca” (Oaxaca) actually comes from this region of Mexico. We still do not know the difference in orthography. We spent another day walking around town and enjoying the various cafés, especially café Los Cuiles, where we really felt at home. The food is good, cheap and the staff is friendly.
With the help of a local ecotourism agency we arranged a three days walking tour through the mountain in what is called the “Pueblos Mancomunados”, a self-governed community of 9 indigenous villages near Oaxaca. The accommodation, guide service and food were all booked for us and we only had to make our way independently to various places. We had an early start of the day from Oaxaca to get to the small mountain village of Llano Grande. We got there by 9.30am and the air was thin and crisp at an altitude of about 3200m. Charlotte soon regretted to leave her jacket in Oaxaca! Our guide showed us our cabins in the middle of the forest and we soon started our first hike for a bit more than 4 hours amidst great mountain and forest scenery.
In the afternoon we relaxed a bit and walked around our cabin in search of some good photo opportunities!
After the coldest night we had since Patagonia, we took a local bus to get to the next village where we met a new guide for our next hike. In total we probably walked for about 6 hours that day.
Since we started our itinerary at the highest point we had to walk downhill for most of the way and this was a lot more challenging to us than to go up. We arrived exhausted, in the rain, in the small village of Latuvi where we checked in our new cabin and slept through the night from 9am to 7am.
For our final day, we had the worst guide ever who didn’t talk to us and we walked non-stop the 16km that separated us from our final destination, the small village of Amatlan.
We arrived there really tired and waited for 3 hours before a small van came to take us back to the nearest town when we could find onward transportation back to Oaxaca.
We spent another 2 nights and one full day in Oaxaca, spending most of our time at Café Los Cuiles, waiting for our bus to Puebla near Mexico City.