Friday, February 10, 2012

The Yucatan - There and Back Again. "Bacalar, Chetumal, Calakmul and Campache"

Bacalar. Lake of seven colors. Pueblo Mágico. We were starting the last leg of our Yucatan journey. It got hotter and hotter on the bus as the sun rose and we went further south. We arrived to our camp site on the shore of Bacalar only two hours after we left the bus station in Tulum. The lake stretched out in front of us, calm, waveless, and blue. We decided to go for a swim as soon as we could, walking along the wooden dock then jumping in. A pair of snail kites few in low over the water, eating from the tall grasses along the shore.

Bacala lagoon from our camp site.

After a refreshing dip we started walking towards the Cenote Azul. The tourist maps in town showed the cenote to be only about a kilometer outside of town, an easy twenty minute walk. The tourist map wasn’t to scale. At the beginning of the walk several cars pulled up and asked if we would like a ride. After the mornings bus ride we thought it would be good to walk it. Regretfully, several hours later, we finally arrived to cenote azul. Again, needing a refreshing dip, we dove in. Afterwards, we took a ten minute taxi ride back to the camp site. We spent a romantic evening on the dock, watching the sun go down, the birds come in, and French guy practice his Spanish, and German and English. He was definitely hitting on one of us, maybe both.

Cenote Azul

The next morning we headed to Chetumal, the furthest south we would get on our trip. Chetumal is a town with a lot of potential, located on a protected bay on the Caribbean, part of a manatee reserve, bordering Belize; what could be better? Well, the town center was busy, but mostly with discount shoe, liquor and jewelry stores. Being a border town, it was a tax free zone. The coastal walkway was long, but empty, save for a few small mangrove patches full of warblers. On one end of the walkway we found a new condominium development. It looked more like a Super 8 Motel; three stories, pitched roof, grey vinyl siding, and a massive parking lot in front. It was adjacent to a Walmart. From purely an aesthetic point of view, I wouldn’t put a Walmart on the Caribbean with an ocean front view. But from a Walmart point of view, they sure scored some prime real estate.  Probably got some tax breaks too. The northern end of the ocean walkway wasn’t much better. There was a large incomplete statue of jesus, or, well, a skeletal metal frame on a man-made island that resembled something religious. We walked for several hours looking for a restaurant but they were all closed. There were several drive through beer stores open and busy though.

Jesus of Chetumal... I think.

At 4:30am the next morning we left our hotel and went to the nearby bus station, ready to leave Chetumal. The bus was supposed to be there. The bus station wasn’t open. We waited. Then we waited a little longer. Finally we asked a taxi driver what was going on. He said that we were at the wrong bus station. So, after going to the right bus station, verifying that we had in fact missed our bus, we got in a cab and headed into the jungle, leaving the Caribbean behind us.

The sun was coming up as we entered the nearest town to Calakmul, one of the Yucatan’s most expansive and least visited Mayan ruins, located in the heart of a biosphere reserve on the border with Guatemala. We quickly checked into our hotel, ate breakfast, and asked about how to get to Calakmul. At 8am we got in a new taxi and headed further down the highway:  60 kilometers to the turnoff, then more 60 kilometers south to the ruins. 

We walked through the ruins by ourselves. Unlike the other laces we had been on the trip, Calakmul really felt untouched. The forest had long ago consumed this former city. Trees grew out of the different structures. Many ruins were still just that: piles of rocks that slightly resembled pyramids. Our only companions were the howler monkeys in the trees overhead. 

One of the pyramids surrounded by forest.

After several hours we had reached the first of two tall pyramids. At the top we had a 360 degree view of the vast Mayan jungle. Except for other nearby pyramids, the greenery stretched uninterrupted over a vast flat plain in all directions. The only sound came from the howler monkeys fighting in the distance.
Our only campanion at th top of the tallest pyramid.

The next day we took a bus to Campeche, a walled city on the southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico with a long history of sea trade, conquest, and pirates.  The small stone homes in the historic center were all beautifully painted in different pastel colors. It was the last stop on a circle around the Yucatan that had started almost two weeks earlier. We spent one night in Campeche then took an overnight bus back to Puebla the next afternoon. 

Campeche homes

A church in Campeche

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