Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Yucatan - There and Back Again. "Mayan Temples on The Carribean Sea"

After several days of roaming around from place to place, we decided to set up a home base. We would spend the next four nights in Tulum, on the eastern Caribbean coast of the Yucatan, the closest we would be to Cancun on our entire trip. The way we see it, if we want to go dancing to loud obnoxious music at a crowded nightclub with a bunch of drunken American college kids, we would just save our money and do that in Buffalo. Or better yet, we would save our money and not do that in Buffalo, or any other place for that sake. 

After a bus ride from Ria Lagartos to Tizimin, then from Tizimin to Valledolid, we were on a bus headed from Valledolid to Tulum. We arrived late in the evening. We decided to take a taxi to our hotel; only thirty seconds, two blocks, and 20 pesos later, we had arrived. 

The next morning we went to the Tulum ruins. Although not built at the scale of many of the other larger ruins, the location is one of the best. You’d probably recognize the postcard image of the ruins, of a stone building built on the cliffs overlooking the turquoise Caribbean Sea. It was crowded and getting more crowded as 9am became 10am. We had walked through the entire site after only two hours and decided to spend the rest of the day at a nearby beach. White sands, soft waves, and palapas with grilled fish and beers; the beach offered some much needed relaxation. I even worked on my tan a little. 
The Tulum ruins.
But to avoid over-relaxing, we decided to spend the late afternoon at the Gran Cenote. The Gran Cenote is not as large or as deep as the Il-Kil Cenote near Chichen Itza, but it has shallow blue water and caves with stalactites (and bats). With the right equipment you can swim in underground rivers that connect different cenotes together. We both realized that it was Christmas Eve when we got back to our hotel that night.
A natural tunnel at the Gran Cenote.
We organized a guided tour of the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve for Christmas day. I hoped to see a yellow-headed vulture, or a mangrove cuckoo, or one of the endangered oscillated turkeys, endemic to the Yucatan jungles. A van picked us up early in the morning and we were off. Our first stop in the reserve was the ruins of Muyil. Muyil was once an important trading center, located in the dense jungle on the coast of two large inland freshwater lagoons that were connected by canals to the sea.  The ruins were practically deserted, except for the occasional agouti, but no turkeys in the undergrowth. 
Atop the "lighthouse" in Muyil.
We walked several kilometers through the forests towards the lagoons. On the way we climbed a wooden lookout tower. From there we could see the jungle surrounding us, the lagoons in the distance, and petens (islands of vegetation) surrounded by a sea of coastal grasslands. With each passing vulture we became excited until it got closer and we saw its red head, a sure sign that it wasn’t our sought after yellow-headed version. 

We took a quick boat ride to the headwaters of a small natural river, got out of the boat, and floated with only a life jacket for the next hour. The river was narrow and lined by mangroves. As we floated I kept seeing birds fly away quickly, before I could identify them. Surely at least one was a mangrove cuckoo, but I’ll never know. After a late lunch of traditional Mayan food (minus the agouti), we headed back to Tulum. 
The Muyil river.

The tallest pyramid in Coba.
The next day, with Christmas behind us, we headed to Coba, a large ruin inland from Tulum. At this point, I had had my fill of ruins. Although the ruins themselves were interesting, and we were able to climb the tallest pyramid and look out over the jungle beyond, I was more impressed by the ease at which we were able to watch black-headed trogons - a small blue, black, green and yellow bird in the quetzal family - as they perched above us. After four hours in Coba we headed back to Tulum for the final time. 
A black-headed trogon in Coba.

An iguana in Tulum
Yucatan jays in Tulum.

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