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CHICHEN ITZA

From Valladolid Mexico

Day 9 - Sunday, February 11, 2018. We had heard that the famous Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, about 25 miles away from Valladolid (vie-ya-do-lid), gets crowded around noon when the Cancun tour buses arrive. The trick is to get there right when it opens at 8 am giving you two or three hours of uncrowded viewing. Therefore, we were up and out of the Airbnb to find a colectivo to take us to Chichen Itza by 6:45 am. It took about 15 minutes to find a colectivo (actually, the colectivo more or less found us gringos walking around downtown with a camera and a map), but it took another 30 minutes before the colectivo filled up. The driver, a friendly guy that spoke understandable English, even bought us a wedge of cream cheesecake from a pastry truck. The trip cost $40 Pesos ($2 USD) each and took about 40 minutes to arrive at Chichen Itza’s front gate precisely 5 minutes before opening. The strategy worked out great as we enjoyed a pleasurable tour of the ruins without the tourist crowd. We did notice that as we were finishing up around noon, the tours picked up dramatically.

Chichen Itza is one of the Seven New Wonders of the World and rightly so. The first pyramid is a well-preserved iconic beauty. It is a substantial four-sided structure that takes your breath away. Nearby are long rows of Romanesque columns planted on tall stone platforms. At one time, the columns held up roofs, probably made of wood or thatch, as stated on a plaque. This long narrow building lined a large ancient plaza in the middle of the city, maybe a marketplace.

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The ball-game stadium was impressive. The ball-game courts at the Coba Ruins were small and intimate. The Chichen Itza ball court was a stadium the size of a football field. It was believed that the captain of the losing team was sacrificed after the games. However, this has been recently rethought. Like Trump, the gods didn’t want losers – the current thought is that only a winning captain would be worthy of sacrifice. If that is true, I bet those games lasted for a long time with each team captain desperately sabotaging its team’s efforts.

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By the time we were ready to leave there were 20,000 vendors set up along every sacbe, trail, and narrow passageway. It was like walking a gauntlet to get to various areas of the site with every vendor clambering for your attention and pesos. At noon we went out to the parking lot and soon caught a colectivo back to Valladolid – this time only $35 Pesos ($1.80 USD)  but without the cream cheese pastry. Our sights now set on snorkeling the two cenotes just on the outskirts of town. First, back to the roofed restaurant stands for a little nourishment. Wanda ordered the Poc Chuc, and I ordered Huevos de Muleneos, another Yucatan staple. Sadly, utterly spoiled by last night’s top-notch cuisine, this little stand didn't match the high bar set by Taberna de los Frailes. Oh well, time to snorkel.

Twin Cenotes Samula and Xkeken

We found a colectivo to the twin cenotes, Samula and Xkeken just a few kilometers from town for $35 Pesos each ($1.40 USD). The three cenotes that we have experienced so far were mostly open. These two cenotes were entirely underground involving creeping down a narrow cave shaft. Both were cool, but Cenote Xkeken was the best for snorkeling around large ancient stalactites reaching down into the clear water. It was a wilting 92-degrees outside, and the cenotes were seriously refreshing after touring Chichen Itza.

Taxis and Colectivos in Valladolid Mexico

We couldn’t find a colectivo back to town, so we settled on a taxi costing $60 Pesos ($3.13 USD) for each of us. The taxis in Valladolid are far cheaper than Tulum. They charge a flat rate of only $20 Pesos  ($1.04 USD) anywhere within Valladolid. Colectivos for short trips to nearby towns and villages are still the way to go. They are plentiful and dirt-cheap.

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OBSERVATIONS: We spent the entire month of November in Spain, and it was fascinating to see how completely different Mexico is from Spain. Spain is a modern 1st world country with top-notch infrastructure. The Yucatan area of Mexico is pretty much third-world in most respects. Even the food is different. Spanish food is more like French cuisine and not hot. But Spain and Mexico have one thing in common – way too many ridiculous speed bumps. Every 10 feet seems to sport a giant speed bump. The poor bus drivers, mostly driving stick-shift transmissions, get up a head of steam only to slam on the brakes to ease over the next speed bump. It’s endless; grind through the gears, slam on the brakes, grind through the gears, slam on the brakes, repeat. They even put speed bumps on the cloverleaf exits coming off one freeway leading to another freeway. The posted exit speed limits are something like 50 or 60 km/hr, but with 20-speed bumps to negotiate over, the speed limits are a joke. The other thing that this part of Mexico and Spain have in common is the curious practice of not flushing toilet paper down the toilet. They ask that after you wipe yourself, you put the used toilet tissue in a wastebasket next to the toilet. In a lot of public baños in Mexico, toilet paper is not supplied. If you don't carry tissues around, you have to buy toilet paper before going in, either from an attendant or from a vending machine much like buying condoms. (Update. We have since learned to take baby wipes since they can be used for hand wipes or bottom wipes and are always in our day packs.)

When we returned to Valladolid after snorkeling, we went to our Airbnb neighborhood plaza to check out the carnival festival to see more DJ'ing and dance troupes showing off their costumes and choreography. The couple from Rhode Island had told us about a tiny restaurant down the street where they ate a complete taco meal for $47 Pesos ($2.45 USD) total. We checked it out. I don’t know if we found the same place, but we stumbled on a house that had a couple of tables set out on a front porch and a list of dishes posted on the front siding. We stopped, and a teenage kid about 15 years greeted us. He didn’t know any English but he and Wanda referred to their respective Google Translators, and along with my piss-poor Spanglish, we were able to order a sample platter of nearly everything. We got an empanada, sope, chalupa, panucho, and another kind of tamale all washed down with a bottle of horchata, a rather tasty cinnamon-rice drink. The sope was my favorite. It all cost $90 Pesos ($4.70 USD). We took pictures of him with a big smile and the food. Tomorrow we are off to Merida, so we packed it in around 10 pm. The carnival party was going full swing in the nearby plaza. It pretty well continued full swing until 2 am, but the traditional Mexican music was pleasant, and we both drifted in and out of sleep until the party broke up. It's all part of the adventure.