After some much needed R and R, my three brother-in-laws, nephew, and I decided that we were a bit tired of just sitting on the beach (rough life isn't it?). We looked into the various excursions that were offered by the resort and decided it would be a shame to come all the way to Mexico and not visit the ancient Mayan ruins. The trip we chose would take us to the Mayan cities of Coba and Tulum.
Our all day trek started out with a 7am taxi drive from our resort (Reef Club, Cozumel) to the pier at San Miguel. We boarded the ferry and started our 45-minute trip that spans the 18-mile waterway from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen. The passengers were an interesting mix of Mexican workers and foreign tourists. It was a relatively smooth ride and we arrived in Playa del Carmen about 20 minutes before we were supposed to meet our tour guide. We took the opportunity to stock up on some water and snacks at the local snack shop and then sat on the steps and waited.
Our tour guide, Raul, showed up right on time. We knew that a bus ride was next but we all were kind of expecting a beat up yellow school bus with chickens tied to the top. When we got to the bus we were all pleasantly surprised. The bus was a very modern and air-conditioned tour bus. We all loaded up and headed to our first stop, Coba.
With stops at various resorts to pick up additional tourists, it took almost 2 hours to reach Coba. We pulled into a dirt lot with a couple of cars and other tour buses. I was then thinking "Is this it? A dirt lot?" It was then that our tour guide stepped all over my photography plans. He explained that tripods were not allowed at any of the Mayan ruins. I was disappointed but decided not to make an issue of it. I would just have to find ways of stabilizing for a shot. When we stepped off the bus we could instantly tell that we were not near the coast anymore. The temperature was 10-15 deg F higher and the nice ocean breeze was gone. Our group (about 20 people) followed our guide up a dirt trail to the first main temple in Coba, La Iglesia (a pyramid over 65 ft (20 m) high and the second largest at Coba). Coba is one of the oldest of the Mayan ruins, dating back to around 900 BC. Raul, our guide, explained a lot about the Mayan civilization. He talked about how they lived, grew crops, religion, created trade routes between cities, and the architecture. I found myself feeling very humbled by thoughts of a people that had mathematics, government, engineering, and architecture 2600 years before America was even a country.
After giving us a brief history lesson, Raul sent us to explore a bit around one of the main temples. I found myself drawn to the stonework. Just to know the age of these tablets was impressive enough but to also see the detail of the carvings was truly impressive.
After about 20 minutes of exploring (and picture taking) we were rounded up for our 1.2 mile trek through the Mexican jungle to Coba's largest temple, Nohoch Mul. Nohoch Mul is over 136 feet high and is one of the few temples that you are still allowed to climb. I took it as a challenge and trekked all the way to the top. Once there however, my heart was beating so hard that not one of my shots turned out very sharp. The view was just stunning. The sight of the jungle top stretched out as far as I could see. Definitely worth the climb if you can stand to do so in the scorching heat. The trip back down is actually more adventurous because of the steep slope of the steps. Sure footing and balance are a must unless you want to get a real macro shot ;-)
After the 1.2 mile hike back to the bus, we departed for Tulum. We stopped along the way to enjoy an authentic Mayan lunch at a local restaurant (we opted for a couple of cerveza's instead of water). The food was very good and Raul explained that this was real "Mexican" food ("not Taco Bell" Raul said). I had steamed chicken that was cooked in a banana leaf and some very hot but delicious habanero salsa (this is where the cervezas came in handy). We ate pretty quickly so we could get on to Tulum and have some time there also.
Tulum is a much more tourist-orientated place. The bus pulled into a big asphalt parking lot and dropped us off in a plaza full of shops. It was beautifully landscaped and clean. We hopped on a trolley that took us a couple of hundred yards to the entrance of Tulum (where was that trolley at in Coba?). After stepping through the entrance it was easy to see the age difference between Coba and Tulum (Tulum is about 2000 years newer). The architecture was quite a bit different and the carvings were more preserved. Tulum is located right on the coast and offers beautiful views of the blue Caribbean Ocean waters. We had about 45-minutes to explore and take pictures. I was really amazed at the beauty of the place. The flowers, ocean, and structures really are impressive. After snapping of a couple of rolls of film it was time to get back to the bus. We had a 6 PM ferry to catch and we were all pretty beat after our long day of Mexican adventuring.
Our trip back to Playa del Carmen was a bit nerve racking due to our bus drivers attempts to get us on that 6PM boat ride. I don't know if that kind of driving is par for the course but I know at least 2 drivers who were forced to the shoulder to keep from getting munched. We arrived at the Playa del Carmen pier with 5 minutes to spare and it was pretty funny to see all of us running down the pier yelling "Wait, Wait,.." We did make the 6PM boat and got back to our Resort around 7:20PM making our tour a rather long 12 hours. A cold shower and a couple of Tequila Sunrises later, I was back on my feet and ready for some R and R again.