Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Palm trees and Tulum ruins
On our third day of vacation, we had to wake up early - like 6:30am early. I had booked us a day trip that began with a ruins tour of the pre-Columbian Maya walled city of Tulum, and while it sounded like a great idea when I made the initial plans, having to set an alarm halfway through our do-nothing-but-be-lazy beach vacation made us a little more than slightly grumpy.
They assured us of a reason for the madness - by getting to the ruins that early, we'd miss the onslaught of tourist busses shlepping in people from the cruise ships that docked in any one of the three nearby ports. So, ok fine. The early bird gets the old stone temples. Or something like that.
With coffee in hand and some pastries shoved into our bag (thank you, room service) we headed down to the reception desk where, for the second time that week, we were quickly whisked away by a man in a white van (the first being our transportation from the airport). The email I'd received from the touring company had said someone "with limited English skills" would pick us up and drive us to the meeting point; I marveled at how trusting one must be when in foreign surroundings.
Along the way we picked up the other members of that day's group - a couple from Huston on a "last vacation before the baby" trip, and Canadian sisters on their second and fifth time in the area - but this time without their husbands. We shared a grumble about having to get up so early, but we were all really excited to leave our resorts and see some ruins.
After about 45 minutes of driving on an unremarkable stretch of road that seemed to house nothing more than massively walled resorts and even larger ads for the dubiously spelled Xcaret/Xel-Ha/Xplorr theme parks that seemed to dominate the area, we arrived at a dusty tourist center containing seven stands selling sombreros and serape blankets, a Subway, and a Starbucks. #'merica.
Out of the van and into the operator's office, we were given bottles of water, passes to Tulum, and instructions for the day. To the left of the Subway there will be a tram waiting to take us to the park's entrance. We'd have one hour total at Tulum before reconvening back at the office for the second half of the tour (snorkeling for me, J, and the Texans, zip lining for the sisters), and did we want to purchase a guided tour for an additional $50? No, thanks, we'll DIY this portion of the trip.
With guidebook in hand, I attempted to narrate our little journey - the Maya were at their height between 13th and 15th centuries! These walls protected the Maya from sea invaders! Look at these stones - can you imagine building this temple without any help from modern machinery?? - but people were more interested in the iguanas that darted across our paths.
We followed a trail that led us to the ocean - and more importantly, the ocean's breezes. It was barely 9am and it was already sweltering, and the scant lines of shade provided by the occasional palm tree provided little refuge. But the water was shimmering, the trees were swaying, and we could see all the way down the rocky coastline. With a quick jaunt around Pompeii, Italy being my only real prior exposure to ruins and ancient cultures (and I do mean quick; we were 20 years old, hadn't thought to check the park's closing time, and had to literally run from site to site in order to see it all in about 90 minutes) I wasn't expecting such "traditional" paradise. But this was gorgeous! No wonder the Mayans settled here. I was about to set up camp myself.
The path eventually led us away from the water and down Tulum's "Main Street." Sadly, we weren't allowed to go in to any of the buildings, but the signage and historical markers were ample and informative. We passed temples, seats of power, and watch towers, and soon ended up back at the entrance. Though we still had about 15 minutes left of our allotted "one hour of free time to tour the ruins as you wish," it was really, really hot, and we'd long ago finished our water bottles. Collectively, we decided to head back to the office. As we took one last look at the palm trees and said goodbye to the iguanas, we had to pause before going back through the small entrance arch - hoards of tourists were lining up behind their umbrella-carrying guides. Not ten minutes prior we had the place practically to ourselves, now there were at least 25 giant tour busses in the parking lot. Maybe I will become a morning person after all.
We spent the day touring the ruins of Tulum and snorkeling Mexico's cenotes with Edventure Tours - this post is not sponsored, nor did I receive any compensation for the tour - I just really enjoyed my time and highly recommend this outfitter if you ever find yourself in the Mayan Riviera!