From town to jungle: A Mayan discovery

After my up and down experience in Isla Murejes (Mexico) which you can read about here, it was finally time to start our adventure around Mexico, Guatemala and Belize with G Adventures.

To overlap slightly, on the start day of the tour which happened to be a Sunday, we travelled from Isla Murejes to Cancún for our orientation meeting with G Adventures. In this meeting we had the opportunity to meet our fellow travellers and learn a little bit more about them, as well as meet our CEO for the trip who would be looking after us over the next 15 days. Everyone seemed really friendly, and there were a good range of different nationalities, ages and a mix of genders. After filling in some paper work, going through our trip schedule and greeting everyone, the orientation was done and our CEO had arranged for us to go out to dinner together. Unfortunately for me who was literally recovering from food poisoning that day I decided to sit this one out and start afresh in the morning.

Day 2 (Monday): The first proper day of our tour and it started off with a bang. We had a wake up call of 5 am, having to leave our hotel in Cancún at 6am in order to travel to Chichén Itzá. The drive was roughly 2 and 1/2 hours and for the first time in my life I crossed a “daylight saving zone” by land. We arrived at Chichén Itzá very early, which turned out to be an excellent idea as it happened to be the Spring Equinox in which thousands of locals and tourists visit this sight to see the phenomenon of the sun playing with light and shadows to make a serpent appear to be slithering along the steps of the pyramid. We had a 2 hour guided walking tour around Chichén Itzá in which we learnt about the history behind the Mayans and these ruins. I highly recommend taking a guided walk around the ruins as the knowledge from the tour guides really help make you appreciate and learn about the ruins; why they are there, how they were discovered and how the Mayans actually lived. One of the things that amazed me most about the Mayans were how astronomical and intelligent they were, for example the most famous ruin in Chichén Itzá is built in a special way to mimic the Mayan calendar (for example 18 ledges for 18 months and 365 steps for every day of the year), not to mention the way it was built so every year on the Spring and Fall Equinox there would be a massive light show as mentioned before.

After our time at Chichén Itzá, we got back on our private bus and drove to Mérida where we would be staying for the next 2 nights. Once we arrived in Mérida we had a quick orientation walk from our CEO. Mérida fascinated me, it was far bigger than I expected and is actually known as the cultural city in Central America. During this point I learnt more about the Mayans and how they were actually slaves to the Españols who came over to Central America. The Españols even built walls around Mérida (some still standing) to keep the Mayans out as it became the “White City”. We had some free time after this before we would meet again in the evening, so I had to opportunity to walk around and finally rest a bit. For dinner, we went to this really lovely restaurant, where I thought it would be a great idea to order an avocado pizza (hoping for lack of flavours so I could stomach it – still recovering from food poisoning and couldn’t take much). The picture on the menu showed a margarita pizza with 4 slices of avocado on which I hoped to pick off, but unfortunately when it came it was just pizza dough with mashed avocado on and melted cheese on top. Definitely one of the most vile things I have ever eaten, so a message to you all: Don’t trust the pictures on the menu!

Day 2 (Tuesday): Today was a fantastic day, and one of my highlights from the entire holiday. We went on an excursion (these cost extra and are not included in the G Adventure tour price but are still organised by your CEO) to 3 cenotes. If you don’t know what cenotes are, they are basically a natural water hole in the ground caused by the collapse of limestone, they are found exclusively in Mexico and Argentina. In Mexico they were originally used as their only water source in the dry season but now they are swimming holes for locals and tourists. In The Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico alone there are over 6,000 and each one looks just as stunning and magical as the other. Today I visited 3, 1 closed (meaning it is completely underground), 1 half-closed (meaning half of it is underground, and the other half has no cover) and 1 open (in which you guessed, means it has no cover at all). Each one was so beautiful and such an amazing experience. My favourite one to swim in definitely was the closed one as at the time only our group were there, making it such an intimate experience and the water was much shallower then the others, but the open one was the one that remains in my memory the most, just looking so naturally beautiful from above. As part of the excursion, we then went on to walk around the town one of the cenotes were in, then went to lunch in a Hacienda where they used to make Sisal.

For the rest of the day we were very unproductive and just relaxed as we had free time. It’s surprising how swimming so relaxedly can make you feel so tired!

Day 3 (Wednesday): Up bright and early at 5am, in order to leave our hotel at 6am to embark on our 7 hour bus ride to Palenque. On our way to Palenque, our group decided to take advantage of doing another excursion to Uxmal ruins, which was very beautiful and quite different from Chichén Itzá. In my personal opinion, I actually preferred Uxmal. Although there are commonalities between the two, the design of the ruins is quite different which is probably a result on the influences when building (Apparently Uxmal ruins is based 95% on Mayan design, whereas Chichén Itzá is only 50% or so). One thing that stood out to me the most here were the statures of the Mayan rain God “Chaac” incorporated in the design. Coming from such a rainy country I guess I’ve always under-appreciated rain, so it really interested me to learn why they put his statue everywhere and how they were constantly trying to make him happy with them so the rain would come (for example human sacrifices were performed as an offering to Chaac). I guess rain really is an essential part of life, it sort of made me appreciate it more. Anyway, going back to the design, for me it was just much more pleasing to the eye, and I found it far grander. It’s also stunning to think how vast these ruins are. When you visit them you feel sort of overwhelmed at how big the sights are, but then you find out you’re only in a fraction of the place. Or that’s how I felt at Uxmal anyway, especially when I found out only 5% is discovered and open to the public. It was here that I also climbed up to the top of my first ruin! A big achievement I felt, although the steps are uneven and are quite high it wasn’t too hard getting up but getting down was scary! From the top of the ruin, looking it down, it looks like the stairs are literally going down vertically almost like a ladder. You can’t see each step, only the next two down or so. My legs shook so much! But the view from the top was definitely worth enduring that! After our exiting day we continued our bus ride to Palenque where we would be staying in a hotel inside the National Park. From town to jungle, it certainly felt different here!

Day 4 (Thursday): This morning we were up early yet again, but this time it was our own choice in order to partake in a 6am jungle hike. I actually feel a moment of insanity was involved in deciding to do this. The hike was tough and took roughly 2 and a half hours. It definitely was nothing like we were expecting. Originally we were told it was less of a hike more of a walk along jungle paths, etc so you had the opportunity to see some undiscovered ruins and wildlife however there we were going along non-existent paths in the middle of the jungle. For your information, I personally do not consider a small waterfall and rivers a walking pathway, but our guide obviously did. But then again, he did seem like a very strange man. So it actually did live up to its name int he end and became a jungle hike. At the time, it was awful and exhausting. But looking back, what an adventure and a half!

Our hike ran over time as I don’t think our guide had a plan in mind at all and would have kept us in there for hours, so we had to go straight on to our guided tour at Palenque Ruins. These ruins were definitely the most beautiful out of the 3 I had now been too (watch me say that about every ruin), there was just something so special about seeing these beautiful ruins with their lush jungle backdrop. And with this one, only 2% of it is discovered! Mind-blowing. I feel our tour of Palenque was slightly rushed due to running over time, but that was ok with me as I just needed to rest and had the perfect opportunity to do so when we were done. However it didn’t last for long, as I then decided to take part in another excursion to go to Roberto Barrios Waterfalls. This place was so pretty! It was packed with locals, due to it being their Easter holidays but I didn’t mind. There’s something so authentic about going to a place filled with locals and not tourists, and it’s just so lovely to see them enjoying their own country. I didn’t do too much at the waterfalls, you could do some sort of activity in which you climb down the different cascades and go into the caves but I was far too exhausted, so a couple of us from our group decided to just stay so we could swim around a bit and sit on the edge of the waterfall cascade. That’s definitely one of my highlights: sitting on a waterfall cascade, it was so idyllic, I wish I could do that every day. Going to Roberto Barrios Waterfall was amazing, as I also got to see the Zapatista community it’s in. This is basically a community who live outside the state rules, and make up their own. They’re all about respect, dignity, freedom, equality and autonomy, therefore they all cover up their faces and only refer to each other as hombré or mujeres (man or woman) instead of their names. One thing I found most fascinating is that they don’t believe in photography as they believe it takes away their soul.

This day was a day that just kept on giving, as after all of this I decided to finish off the day with a Temazcal experience the hotel offered. Temazcal is basically a steam room created by pouring water and medicinal herbs on volcanic stones that have been exposed to fire. It was so strange, after having my body cleansed with smoke by the “priest” I was then lead into a tiny room, which could only be described as a igloo made out of stones, with no windows and only the door you go in from, where I had to take a seat. It was pitch black, you literally could not see a thing. One by one we were led into this room, there was about 8 of of us in total. The ceremony was divided into 4 sections, each one representing the 4 doors of nature (Air, Water, Earth, Fire). Each section consisting of the “priest” putting volcanic rocks in the fire pit (13 to be exact), then shutting the door so the embers of the hot rocks were our only light sources. The “priest” and his assistant would then pour water on the rocks to create the steam, chant songs in Mayan, encourage us to chant with them and clapping after each verse then saying “A-hom!”. Each ceremony got hotter and hotter and more steamier. To be completely honest with you I’m not 100% sure what I experienced here or what on earth I was doing but it was fantastic. The whole process is meant to “re-born” you, you see. The igloo of a room is viewed as Earth’s uterus, and you sit there during the ceremony to connect with nature, then once you come out you are re-born. Literally, this is one of the weirdest, yet best experiences I have ever had.

Day 5 (Friday): Same old story, another wake up call at 5am to leave Palenque to travel to Lacanjá at 6am. I certainly am getting good at these early starts now! On our way to Lacanjá we stopped off and went on another excursion to Yaxchilan and Bonampak Ruins. Unfortunately by this time, the trip was taking it’s toll on me and I was starting to get tired and disinterested in ruins. But going on this excursion did involve a nice little boat trip for 40 minutes on the Usumacinta River (the river which runs between Mexico and Guatemala) in order to get to Yaxchillan. Once we arrived we begun our walk which felt like hours where in reality is was probably only an hour and half max. It was so hot and humid, and my legs hurt so much from the day before I just could not be bothered one bit, but I pushed myself through and tried to enjoy as much as I could. They are very beautiful sights. Bonompak is known for its “frescas” in the temples which still contain colour unlike most other temples where the colours are non-visible now as they’ve faded or been ruined over time.

I’m ashamed to say, I most looked forward to getting to our hotel and resting for the night. Our hotel was pretty much a wooden cabin in the jungle. It was nice, but I’m sure I spent the night with a few creepy crawlies. Today was also the day I discovered I really don’t like hammocks, especially as I nearly fell out of one.

My time in Mexico had quickly come to an end, catch my next post to hear about my ventures in Guatemala!



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