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Yucatan WanderingAuthor: Paul (More Trip Reviews by Paul)
Date of Trip: January 2009
Up at 0600 to a very brisk wind. We start packing early and then join the group for a good breakfast. After breakfast we settle the bill and say our goodbyes. Josh is coming with us to Tulum so he can pick up his scooter. The drive back to Tulum Pueblo is slow, we do not have a spare so cannot afford another flat tire. Twenty five KPH is the max. The tire guy is at the far south end of town, just where all the lanes merge together. A used tire is $300MP, two patches and mounted on the bent rim, along with a complete check and filling of all the other tires.
We leave Josh at the bank and drive back to the south beach road so we can park and check out some of the hotels. Walking the beach we discount some units as not private enough; too many cabanas close together or maybe potential noise with a bar and beach club near by. This is where we had our first vacation when we were still dating and the changes in just a few years are remarkable. Boutique hotels are now the norm where once we could bargain and get a stick shack cabana for $200MP a night. Lounge chairs abound where we had to lie on the sand. Waiters walk amongst the chairs serving cold drinks where we had to make our own with warm rum and warmer mix. Ice did not exist. Most people are wearing swim suits where we once frolicked naked in the wind and waves all day long. We end up back at Puerto del Cielo, where we spent three wonderful days last year, and book four nights for the end of our excursion. The going rate is $1500USD but we settle on $130 per night. We take the cabana on the extreme north edge of the property because it is so private. After booking our room we drive back to Tulum Pueblo, gas up at the Pemex and head down the Coiba road towards Valladolid. The trip is uneventful except for the potholes in the road just before we cross over to Yucatan state. The lack of a good spare is foremost in my mind as we swerve around the road to miss the biggest holes. Valladolid is under construction. At the best of times the maze of narrow one way streets can be confusing but now with some closed to traffic it makes getting around a nightmare. We decide to park near the central square and walk to find a hotel. We end up at Hotel Zaci, where we stayed in 2002 and even end up in the same room! Now the going rate is $390MP, a big jump from before. This place is deceiving from the street, very plain entrance that then opens up to a grand central courtyard with secure off street parking in their own compound. A caretaker is looking after the parking area and also tending the old wood fired boiler for the hotels hot water, this place must be older than it looks.
After checking in and stowing the luggage we wander to the centro, have a bite to eat and watch the people. We actually meet a couple that was in our zip lining group; how coincidental can that be! The narrow sidewalks are just as we remember them, full of people, vendors and poles. Bedtime is after 2200.
Day 06, February 05
We both sleep in until 0700 and have a leisurely breakfast after walking some of the narrow streets. Driving out of town seems to be quite easy compared to getting in. We circle a couple blocks and find the Tizmin road right away. The road is fair and we make good time, just one stop in Tizmin to get some cash from n ATM. This town, along with Valladolid, and most of the others we will visit in Yucatan pre date automobiles by hundreds of years. The streets were designed for horses so the only way to accommodate cars is to make them one way. The town layout usually has even streets running one direction i.e.: north / south, and the odd streets running perpendicular. When all the streets are one way, every other one changes direction. Look for the street names on the corner buildings.
North of Tizmin we turn east for the town of Ek Balam. Most people come to this area for the ruins and never even see the town. We hope to stay at Genesis Retreat. It has good reviews and is run by an expat Canadian. First glimpse of the town is not does not make a good impression until we remind ourselves that this is not a tourist town but rather a home for four hundred Mayan working people. I guess we would call it "gritty".
Genesis is full but Lee, the owner, tells us to try the cabanas run by the local park, just down the road. We will, but first go on a walking tour with Lee to see some of the local people in their houses.
First stop is a tortilla maker. Dallas joins right in, grinding corn on the traditional Mayan stone bench, mixing the flour, using the steel press and frying a couple over the open fire.
This is an actual dwelling, we can see the stored hammocks in the rafters and a couple of cats and small pigs wander about as the demonstration takes place and chickens in the back yard coop are squawking.
Up the street we visit a woman who makes traditional Mayan dresses with the colourful embroidery. How she can see in the dim light baffles me.
Last stop in the neighbourhood is at a hammock maker. We are told that it takes over forty hours to make a good quality hammock.
While at the hammock maker we find ourselves within sight of the cabanas so we walk down the road to have a look. These are government run, Cabanas U-Najil Ek Balam, and not quite complete but still very comfortable. It is quite nice, good size with a king size bed and private washroom. I think we paid $350MP.
The luggage is stowed and we have some lunch at a nice Italian restaurant on the far side of town. While there we run in to a couple from the states and go with tem to the Ek Balam ruins. We will share the cost of a guide.
I like ruins! Ek Balam was once the capital city of pre-classic Mayan civilization. Rather than have it destroyed by the conquering Spanish, the population buried most of it to hide it from view; or so the story goes anyway. How anyone could miss a one hundred foot mound in the flat Yucatan is beyond me. The state of preservation is remarkable after five hundred years or so in the ground.
Even though my thighs are singing a warning I climb to the top of the main structure for a look over the whole complex. Simply amazing. So is the precipitous climb back down. The narrow stair treads are not flat but slanted downwards somewhat and the risers are high, probably twelve to fourteen inches. The guide is a definite must, they have knowledge of many details that would be missing from a self guided tour.
The other couple, Sam and ??; (terrible I know!) drop us at the corner and we walk back to the cabana. While reading outside the caretaker comes and tells us to climb the tower at the edge of the property if we want to see the sunset. We do, but a few minutes too late, the sun is gone already. There is enough light that we can see Ek Balam just a K or so east, while Coba and Chiten Itza are just small mounds visible on the horizon. The Yucatan is very flat.
Supper tonight will be at Genesis Retreat. Even though their rooms are booked, Lee says she will have a meal for us. We share a table with Sam and ??. Genesis is quite nice, maybe eight or so rooms and cabanas spread over four buildings with a main kitchen / dining area and a common washroom for everybody, the whole complex surrounded by a wall and securely gated. Back at the cabana we try to read but find it difficult in the dim light. We discuss the day and what we think the next few will bring before retiring for the night. It is not a good sleep; I think the temperature went into the single digits and we were very cold. At some point I retrieved all the blankets from the shelf and they helped a bit.
Day 07, February 06
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