Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Once more on the Riviera Maya

Goodness, almost a week has gone by since our arrival here in the Ocean Coral & Turquesa, in heavy rain and across a road that now looks more like a bumpy canal. I'm glad I didn't bring a bike the way I usually do, because there wouldn't have been any way to ride it from the hotel to the main road. But as it was, after two days of unseasonably heavy rain the sun came back out, and since then Sabine and I have been eating and drinking too much and doing too little. Thus is life in an all-inclusive paradise that has little to do with Mexican reality.
The road from the main highway to the resort
Thankfully, after two days of more rain than not the skies cleared and we've been enjoying the various pools and of course the Caribbean, even though the rains and heavy swells have brought a lot of sea grass and general murkiness to the usually white beach and crystal-clear water. Still, you can't complain when lying in a soft chaise lounge, while the waves create that beautiful background noise of the oceans and the waiter brings yet another piña colada, spiked with a bit of amaretto. Or a mojito. Or a margarita....
The H10 Ocean Coral & Turquesa—still an amazing place to live la dolce vita
There were two highlights to our trip, and both came on the final two full days. On Monday, we took a day-long excursion to Chichen Itza, the mystical Mayan town that is considered one of the Wonders of the World. Years ago, Judy and I had traveled to Cancun with our then-neighbors, Tom and Trish, and we had rented a car to visit the ruins, but this time around we opted for a guided tour in a comfortable tourist bus. With an $85 price tag for a rental car alone (plus gas, toll fees, entry to Chichen Itza, lunch, etc.) it was a no-brainer to shell out $196 for the two of us and not to have to do at least six hours of driving ourselves. We were picked up in the hotel shortly before 8 a.m., and when we finally made it home it was a little after 9 p.m. (The catastrophic state of the roads to some of the hotels where passengers had to be offloaded was partly responsible for this long day.) Our on-board guide and host was extremely funny, telling us about the history and culture of the area in both Spanish and beautifully colored Spenglish. Sabine said that she now finally understands where some of my own sayings and intonations at times come from—she thinks I have listened to too many good folks like Alejandro (or, if you are his friend—which of course we all were—Alex).
This is not a tourist brochure—this is the pee stop halfway to Chichen Itza on the toll road

Before we got to Chichen Itza, however, ladies and yentlemen, we were going to stop at the cenote Ik Kil, a very big sinkhole where we were going to have a chance to swim as well as eat lunch. For some unfathomable reason, our tour bus was the first to arrive on this particular day, and Sabine and I immediately beelined for the cenote—and no kidding, we were the first and had this entire cathedral  of nature to ourselves for the next ten minutes before the hordes arrived and transformed serenity into frivolity. But by that time we had already soaked in the immensity of this underground cavern that has a 90-foot-deep pool and just a small opening at the top where the sunlight enters. (Visitors enter through a TNT-facilitated tunnel.) Wow, at least for me that was worth the entire trip.
Cenote Ik Kil: Entrance ...
... hole in the ceiling ...
... and 90-foot-deep water, as pristine as it comes before we entered

The buffet-style lunch in this out-of-the-way place featured cochinita pibil, a pork stew that involves slow cooking in banana leaves and that brought back memories of last Thanksgiving when Martha, Alan, and I feasted on this Mayan delicacy at their now-sold residence in Lubbock. Good, very good stuff! Thanks to the on-board free beer, expertly dispensed by a happy-to-serve helper, we were able to off-gas a few cochinita  burps before arriving at Chichen Itza. Alejandro, aka Alex, made clear how much time we would have, that we were to have English and Spanish-speaking groups with their respective guides, and that the bus would leave at 4:30 p.m., so pleece, ladies and yentlemen, be rrready! As a true Yerman, I kept taking mental notes never to pronounce a G again and rrroll every “r” in sight.
One of the so-called Wonders of the World—don't Wonder why
Chichen Itza has changed since my last visit, about a decade ago. Back then, one could still clamber atop the big pyramid, and I remember having somebody take a pic of a twenty-somethingish Jürgen as a sacrifice to Chac Mool, on my first visit to the Yucatan. Alas, as Dylan crooned, the times they are a-changin’. Apparently, not so long after our visit with T&T some visitor stumbled on those steep, uncannily precise and mathematical steps up (or more likely, down) the pyramid, started to roll, and ended up screwing things up for everyone to arrive after her: One death (and possibly a lawsuit) is enough, said the government, and now we can actually see all the ruins because they are people free. Fine and good—but what about the hundreds and hundreds of hawkers inside (yes, in-, not outside) this Wonder of the World? Only one dollarrr, sirrr. Verrry good quality! Last chance! At least in the past they’d have proudly proclaimed that everything es hecho a mano, handmade by their blind mother-in-law and their crippled children. But I guess they can no longer do so since all that kitsch must have been produced in China. Yikes. So, please, continue to keep us tourists off the rocks but ask the vendors to vacate the premises.
OK, so maybe I looked like this in my days as a gainfully employed lecturer....
Our guide, an older gentleman with the aristocratic name of Luis Ortiz Rendon, was obviously amazingly knowledgeable about the Maya in general and this site in particular, but unfortunately he suffered from a severe case of PD (Professor’s Disease). After we had remained in the same spot for 20 minutes (far away from the ball court) with him pontificating about the hip armor of the ball players, and gentle nudges did not have any effect on his geographical location whatsoever, Sabine and I continued our 2-hour tour of this magnificent site on our own. Occasional heavy showers hit us, and immediately the entire place started to steam; there was a rainbow; and there were poncho-hawkers, damn them. We managed to look at most of the exposed and reconstructed ruins (my goodness, how much stuff must still be hidden under that subtropical vegetation!) and came away with a sense of how small and short-lived our current “civilization” is—these dudes stuck around for more than 3,700 years, and that without air conditioning or iPhones.
Caracol—one of the few circular structures at Chichen Itza
We weren't sacrificed to the gods, but our legs were chopped off, nevertheless
Late in the afternoon, even rubble looks dramatic
Chac Mool is waiting for your still-pounding heart to be placed on his midrift
On the way home, we had a 10-minute stopover in Valladolid’s zocalo, or main square, just enough to smell Mexico and see what one misses when one stays in resorts and takes to organized bus tours. I’m starting to have more and more of an itch for another “real” trip, like the one to Machu Picchu last year.
Sabine, about to board the vessel of choice for her first open-water dive
The second highlight came yesterday, when Sabine dived for the first time in open water. Upon my encouragement and, OK, urging, she had started and almost completed a certified divers course in Yermany last year, but she never quite completed the whole thing since open-water check-out dives in Yermany’s notoriously cold lakes in the middle of the winter are quite sucky. But here we were able to do a two-tank “Discover Scuba” dive that took us about 30 feet below the surface for about 50 minutes each, and now I think she is HOOKED! To take a skiff to the outer reef in the Caribbean and descend to the world of lobsters, rays, and turtles (all of which she got to see on her first two dives!) is quite different from going to the local swimming pool and pretending that you are out of air. Better yet: We were the only passengers on the boat, with a very kind and emphatic French dive master by the name of Ivan, and thus the entire experience was simply superb. Half-way through the first dive we looked at each other, and the sparkle of her smiling eyes through the mask was simply blinding. And no BS here: I don’t think I have ever dived with anybody with fewer than ten open-water dives who was as adept at buoyancy control and general etiquette as Sabine was. Very, very impressive, and superbly promising for the future as there are lots of oceans beckoning to be dived.
Taking the plunge for the first time—dude, this is virgin territory!
SCUBA: Some Come Up Barely Alive! Sabine far left, moi far right
So, four hours ago (after encountering a flat in our taxi thanks to the huge potholes in our road and an ensuing transfer into a private taxi that happened to stop) we arrived at the Cancun airport. About 90 minutes later we bid each other our farewells. I’m typing these last few words on the approach to DFW and will go "live," I hope, in the Admiral’s Club once I clear customs, and Sabine is on the way to Yermany. This was a great trip to our neighbor to the south. Viva Mexico!
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La ponchada
Next trip: Waco and a cyclocross race. And then it's turkey time. As if I could eat anything after all that float and bloat....


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