Mexico: Entry 3

20 September 2002: San Jose, Costa Rica

Subject: Mexico

I've now arrived in Costa Rica, and it's time to write up my final comments about Mexico.

Update: it looks as if I left just in time, as a hurricane has hit the very area that I was staying in. Here's the BBC News coverage:


I spent a couple of nights in Valladolid, a smallish town in the middle of the Yucatan peninsular close to the famous Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. It has a pleasant hostel with a nice garden and hammocks to laze in (with raido of course - but not too loud). And it has caves!

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza was an important Mayan site, complete with pyramid-shaped temples. It's a bit better preserved than Teotihuacan with the temples on top of the pyramids intact - perhaps because the rock is more substantial than the light volcanic stuff there. It also has a well-preserved ball court where they played their ritual ball game, with stone hoops to get the ball through in the walls, a steam bath, and lots of stone columns.

For me the most striking difference from Teotihuacan was the refreshing absence here of hawkers trying to sell things - excellent.

The whole Yucatan peninsular is limestone and there are caves everywhere. In most cases, because the land is flat and the water table is relatively high, the caves are just holes with water in the bottom - "cenotes". These things obviously interested the Mayans a lot, probably related to their rain god, and Chichen Itza has a sacred cenote. It's a big vertical-sided hole in the ground whose sides are scoured almost as if it had once had a giant whirlpool in it. At the bottom is a pea-soup-green lake. Aparently messages to the gods could be sent via this portal by dispatching a messenger with rocks tied to his feet. The bottom has been dredged and lots of bones and other artifacts found.

Independence Day

September 15th is Mexico's independence day, which is celebrated with a public holiday and public fiestas. Valladolid's central square rocked to the sounds of a pretty decent local band, and the other Europeans from the hostel and I got a fair bit of attention from the crows as we boogied away. Then they elected Señorita Valladolid 2002, someone read the Act of Independence of 1830, and we got a speach which I didn't really follow apart from "¡Viva Mexico!". Then they poured bits of crepe paper from the top of the town hall in the colours of the mexican flag, and launched fireworks, which looked excellent from our very close vantage point. Quite a party!

More Cenotes

The following morning a couple of us hired bikes to cycle out to a couple of cenotes about 7km away. These were mostly-enclosed caverns, with rays of sunlight and tree roots coming in through holes in the roofs. In the first we swam and floated around on car tyres. In the second, which was cheaper yet more impressive, we were just looking around and taking some photos when a flock of local kids swarmed down the slippery steps behind us and plunged from a great height into the water, splashing down like bombs. Then we watched with horror as they found higher and higher ledges to scrabble up to and dive from. I wondered if we were about to observe Natural Selection in action. (I think they were speaking Mayan, making this the only time I actually heard anything other than Spanish. At the archaeological sites, the information panels were all in Spanish, the native language (Nauatl around Mexico City and Mayan in Yucatan), and English.)


From Valladolid I took a bus to the East coast of the peninsular at Tulum, on Mexico's Caribean coast or the Riviera Maya as they like to call it. Further north, resorts like Cancun are highly developed with big luxury hotels, but Tulum has more rustic places to stay - mostly thatched cabins amongst the palms. I arrived with another English traveller from Valladolid and we had both bought hammocks that we wanted to try out (Yucatan is considered the world's best hammock-producing area), and we spent a couple of nights with our hammocks suspended between cocnut palms. It was perfectly comfortable, apart from the insects.

The beach is excellent, and not at all busy, though unlike Celestun on the other coast it didn't have many shells and I think the water was possibly a bit cooler too. But the thing that distinguishes Tulum from any other bit of beach is the Mayan ruins overlooking the beaches. The Mayans built a port-town here, with a defensive wall on three inland sides and cliff-top temples and defensive structures. Very picturesque, and a great place to end my stay.