Chichen Itza: Chicken Hell
Our random patches of sunburn were looking worse this morning. Think uncomfortable-looking white and red dappled pandas and you get the idea. Copious amounts of aftersun were applied to try and belatedly make up for our sun transgressions yesterday. The weather outside had changed yet again, and there were blue skies overhead. Damn. An overcast day would have been nice this once. Before our tour started we ran out to the nearest ATM to stock up on pesos. When we left ITour, all was quiet and peaceful. During the few minutes we were gone a plague of vans descended upon the place and random tourists were swarming like ants around the small coffee and pastry counter. We had to fight our way through for our free breakfast. The hotel is conveniently located at the junction at the start of town, where all vans heading south from Playa del Carmen must turn west towards the inland tourist attractions. For this reason it’s a convenient breakfast stop for some company fleets. Including our tour van for the day. Our driver called Lee’s surname on his way out the door, and then promptly disappeared somewhere outside amongst all the virtually identical vans. Awesome – we hadn’t even left our accommodation yet and we had already been left behind.
With some assistance we eventually located the driver across the road. Last in, we got the uncomfortable front seats with our uncommunicative driver. Thus started a hair-raising 3 hour journey. Our driver drove like he was in a grand prix race. God forbid that any other vehicle might be ahead of him. He drove right up their asses until there was maybe enough space to squeeze past against oncoming traffic. My vantage point was far too good for witnessing his maneuvers as we diced with death every few minutes. Mexico has three types of obstacles that you need to avoid on the road. First is every other car, obviously. Second is the abundance of speed ramps in all shapes and sizes. From those you can see a mile away, to others you’d never notice if you weren’t expecting them. Even then you’d need to drive cautiously, squinting to watch for a faint sliver of a black line across the road ahead. The third is somewhat related… constant checkpoints that feature yet more make-shift ramps made of heavy rope across the road. Stern guys dressed in navy leaned against their cars and eyed us up as we crawled past. Generally they didn’t seem interested in stopping any tourist traffic. Just the poor locals hauling along goods in their man-powered modes of transport. Speeding and dangerous overtaking seems to be fair game. It’s just up to you not to get totalled by oncoming traffic or upended by a surprise ramp. Thankfully our driver did at least seem to know his ramp locations.
Finally we arrived at the infamous Chichen Itza and joined the mass of people waiting outside for the next batch of tours to start. We were separated according to language and tickets were distributed. Then we were left to chase after an English-speaking guide as he went through his paces around the site. He was an experienced guide and had a lot of information about the site and the Mayan people who once lived in the area. The only criticism was that he liked to elaborate on interesting points while standing out in the baking heat, far away from any shade. We started wrapping any extra material we had in our bags around our necks, arms… focusing on any area where we’d already been burnt the day before. It wasn’t long before the sun seemed to be searing us through our clothes. By the time we’d circled the main sites we were completely overheated. It’s a fascinating historical site, but terribly uncomfortable in the intense heat and with all the crowds following the same routes. The first thing we did when it was over was knock back a couple of litres of water. At this point it had been six hours since our very small breakfast.
But wait, there’s more. A lot more. We were only starting the tour at this point. Next up on the intinerary was a cenote. A cenote is a natural sink hole in the ground. This one (of many in these parts) was a pool of water with no roof. You could climb down into the cave below and then up onto a platform to dive bomb into the water from a height. After an hours stop there for anyone who wanted to partake in the fun, we were loaded back into the van and taken to a large establishment where a loud band started up music as we were escorted into a big dining hall set out for a buffet. We were only the first ones in. Hundreds more arrived in tour buses, greeted every time by another burst of music. The buffet was included in the tour ticket price, drinks were not – so obviously the tourists were being plied with drinks as much as possible. Entertainment was provided by the band who paraded amongst the tables following a guy with a fake pigs head held aloft. Then there was dancing with beer bottles (filled with water) on the dancers’ heads. This was definitely the most touristy thing we’d done since arriving in Mexico, and we were not feeling proud of ourselves. But we still had another stop to make in Valladolid – a colonial town. We spent our time there, not admiring the history and culture. Instead Brodie was in a desperate search for a non-existent toilet, before we had to climb back into the front of the van for another bumpy and life-threatening high speed chase back to our accommodation.
By now our heat exhaustion levels were high. We made the executive decision to dial back down our activities for the next couple of days and give ourselves a change to hopefully rehydrate before we got too much more sun. We took ourselves off to El Asadero for a huge plate of steak and headed for bed. We plan to undertake a trip to the Mayan ruins in Tulum in the morning – hopefully before the sun comes out in force.