It was a quiet day in Tulum today because several of our group members had become sick with a stomach bug or some form of "Montezuma's Revenge". Those of us who felt well enough went around the town, investigating shops and restaurants. Some of us returned to the beach, not wanting a single minute of beach time to be wasted. It was supposed to be the day for an adventure park and zip lining, however it just couldn't happen with several people unable to go outside. We made the most of the day, wanting to make sure everyone felt well enough to participate in our last adventure....a trip to Sian Ka'an, a Unesco Biopreserve.
Mitch and his driver picked us up at the hotel this morning at 8:00. Mitch is from Canada and came to Mexico about 20 years ago. He has a company now, taking people to show them around Tulum and the areas of Playa del Carmen and Cancun; introducing them to the unique sights of the area. Our first stop today was to visit the Mayan ruins in Tulum. We met Alex, who was our tour guide at the site. Alex knew a lot of interesting facts about how the Mayans lived. We learned that the ruins in Tulum are post-classical, whereas the ruins in Uxmal were classical. These ruins were right on the edge of the ocean and so were especially beautiful and very different from the desert-like setting of Uxmal.
These ruins were very different from Uxmal. The faces of the rocks were not carved as extravagantly as were those in Uxmal, and because of all the moisture from the ocean, the ruins were not as well preserved, however, you could definitely see how the structure of the civilization was designed. There were a lot of palm trees and lush vegetation around the ruins. We walked along the edge of the ruins and looked down at the ocean, trying to imagine what it would have been like to live here.
After visiting the ruins in Tulum, Mitch took us to swim and snorkel in a cenote. It was refreshing and fun, but this cent was not as beautiful as were the ones we swam in near Sotuto, near Merida. We went off to have lunch at the beach and the most wonderful surprise awaited us! We parked the van and walked a bit towards the ocean. The sand beneath our feet was white and so soft...almost like flour. As we walked through palm trees, the sea appeared in front of us. The color was indescribable. The blues and greens of the ocean water were clear and you could tell by the color of the water that it was shallow for quite a distance. Mitch pointed out the Barrier Reef, explaining to us that they protected the Mayans from intruders. He explained about how the Spanish came to the Yucatan Peninsula and explored the coasts. We had time to swim in the warm waters and jump through the waves. It was a heavenly experience and the water was like something we had never seen before. We spent time swimming, laying in the hammocks around the property and then had lunch. Mitch had made us a chicken lunch with guacamole, chips and salsa and lots of fresh fruit. It was the best lunch ever, mostly because it was near the beautiful ocean. We stayed there for a couple of hours and then went to visit another cent.
Our second cenote of the day was a bit different as there were several men scuba diving there. Apparently there was a cave deep below the surface and divers went far back into the cave exploring. Many of us went swimming around snorkeling and some of us jumped and dove off of the cliffs there. This day will long be remembered because of the sheer beauty of the ocean. We all got sunburned that day, and I for one think it was well worth it!
We left Merida this morning, headed for Tulum. The halfway point of our trip was Valladolid, and so we stopped here again to eat lunch and visit a museum which has the largest private collection of Mexican folk art in the world. The owners of this museum, which is actually their home, is a married couple who came to Mexico many years ago and decided to spend their lives collecting Mexican folk art and displaying it so that everyone could see it.
They bought a large building, remade it into their home and continued to collect folk art. . Their home is approximately 17,000 square feet, and so they had a lot of art to collect. Their home is opened to the public each day at 10.00am and people are asked to make a donation which all goes to help poor folk in the community. The couple have provided many wheelchairs for the disabled, and pay for hospital care and health care for the elderly. The couple is often seen in their kitchen or pool while guests are wandering around looking at all of the wonderful art. It must be strange when your home is open to visitors all day long while you are just carrying on and living your life. While we were visiting the museum, the owner spoke to us and explained his mission. He said that it is his calling to help people out who cannot help themselves.
We saw some great art, from paintings and drawings to papermache and furniture covered in Mexican paper labels and fringe. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were celebrated with rooms of their own and displayed art created by others in their honor. We saw many Day of the Dead art pieces in the museum. The museum was a lovely example of the workmanship and talent so often displayed by the Mexican people in their art work. Because the proceeds of the museum go towards helping members of the local population make the museum even more meaningful and wonderful.
We started off the day with another early wake up at 6:30 am., then we headed off for the Cenotes!!! A Cenote is a natural pit or sink hole resulting from the collapse of the lime stone bed rock that exposes ground water underneath
The first Cenote we went to was called Blue butterfly, and even though it didn’t look like a Butterfly it sure was blue. The water was the pure definition of the color blue, and when the light hit it just right you could see through the water, but you couldn’t see to the bottom considering it was 120 feet deep. To follow the beautiful water there was also a 9m jump we have the option of taking, which of course we all did. The second Cenote we went to was more underground and we walked down a large spiral stair case to get to. The third was the biggest, there wasn't a ladder nor stairs so we had to climb down some rock. At one point while I was swimming I saw an available small cliff that I wanted to jump off of so I climbed the ledge which took about 15 minutes. But once I got there I was attacked by bees. I luckily jumped in time before any of them stung me. The last Cenote was my personal favorite. It was entirely underground and I mean it was pitch black. Our guide gave us a tour of the Cenote in the water while it was pitch black which was terrifying but also magical. We learned that it takes 100 years for a stalagtite to grow one centimeter! After about 30 minutes of complete darkness they turned on some lights. And once those lights turned on it was like we were in a whole other world. The water was the cleanest water I have ever seen and the lime stone drooping down looked like missiles that froze in mid air. It was magical. We then went home and all of us passed out from this exhausting yet incredible day.
Today we took a bus to our first Mayan ruin called Kabah. The second ruin was called Uxmal and was a huge ruin. It was really cool to learn how they built them and the history behind them. I loved seeing the ruins. At Uxmal,, we also saw where the Mayans played the game Pok Ta Pok, a Mayan game which I did a presentation on before we came to Mexico. After the ruins we went to the chocolate factory where we tasted lots of different hot chocolates which the Mayans made. That evening we went to see a reenactment of Pok Ta Pok in the center of town. It was a little different because they didn't have a playing field, but they showed us the movement of the game goes. The players can only use their hips to hit the rubber ball and often were down on the ground so that they could hit the ball without using their hands, head or legs. (See pictures in our blog gallery)
Today in Merida, Mexico we spent the day learning about how to make empanadas and learning the Mayan language! I helped by cutting up tomatoes with JT, while everyone else had their own jobs as well. We made our own tortillas for the empanadas which was the hardest part for me. After we ate our outstandingly delicious mean, we were taught a little bit of the Mayan language. After our wonderful lessons this morning we headed back to our beautiful hotel. Today is our last day here, so we all had plenty of time to see the town before our reservation at the nicest restaurant.
Kabal,, Ek Balam and the Chocolate Story
Day 5 was an early start. We began our trip to the ruins by riding with our excellent host, Hermillo, who told us all about the Mayans, their architecture. and culture. We learned the the ruins we were going to visit are the best example of the classical Mayan culture and how, because there is no water near them, the Rain God was their most important god. The Mayans had many gods. We first stopped by one of Hermillo's friends who has a bee farm and artist workshop on the top of a hill near the ruins. He showed us his bees, which are stingless bees that he has been keeping with his family for many generations. He is also an artist and he showed us how he took the fruit from the Jicara tree and carved Mayan symbols into the dried fruit.
We then went to see Kabal, which is a small ruin also from the Classical Mayan Period. We learned how they did the rain ceremony and saw many iguanas there as well.
On to Ek Balam which is a very large ruin in very good shape. Many archeologists are studying there and learning about hos the Mayans lived. We hiked up very steep steps to get to the top of the pyramid, walked all around the structures and found out how hot it must have been for the Mayans as they constructed their altars. It was a great day to learn a lot about the Mayan Civilization, and we recognized many of the symbols on the ruins from our Mayan epigraphy class the day before.
Day 4 This morning we all woke up at around 8 and had a spectacular breakfast. then we headed off to meet with a man who was going to teach us a little more about the mayan language. Once we learned all of the interesting symbols and language, we tried to draw the symbols represented. Next, we went off to the market. It was really interesting to see how things were done at the market; they had little stands set up row after row selling food, electronics and anything you could think of. We were trying all of the food, and that was quite an experience itself. Then we went off to buy gelato and after finishing we learned how to dance salsa with an nstructor who had been dancing for 12 years. Finally we went off to dinner in a beautiful outdoor plaza with music and just overall amazing food.
The women of Ek Balam who wove the hammocks often teach their children to weave when they are 7 or 8 years old. Many of the women who we met today had never left the village.......ever. Not even to travel to the town where we are staying which is 20 minutes away. Their husbands often work in the fields and the children go to a school in Ek Balam.. They learn both Spanish and Mayan languages in order to keep their culture alive.
We began our day today by driving from Valladolid to the small cooperative village of Ek Balam,. population 500. This is a Mayan community of approximately 500 people. Today we had a late start for the day because we were exhausted from traveling. We did two activities today. The first activity we did was hammock making. It was a different experience but it was fun. It was a different experience because one student in the group was going to a family that will teach the hammock. On our way to drop off each student to the families, we saw an iguana. My teacher was Guadalupe. She was very nice even though I couldn’t really understand of what she was good. She said that I learned really fast. But, it was a good way to learn another culture using hand gesture even if you don’t speak the language. Between activities, we had lunch. Honestly, the food was so good. My favorite dish that we had at lunch was the chicken inside of the tortilla was really good. For dessert, we had coconut cream and it was pretty good. The other activity was we swam in a cenote. It was amazing. It was like a cave but the ground had water. This cenote was mostly closed but it did have a little opening. The water so refreshing. The bottom was rocks so you had to be careful of where you step. There were some fishes in the cenote too.