Sunday, June 22, 2008

Voyage To Turquoise Waters of Half Moon Bay, Akumal (Day 8-9)

Coba, 12/8 Tuesday

Karen, Tom, Mary and I were up bright and early to experience the adventure of Coba, the magnificent Mayan ruins set in the jungle. We left about 7:15 AM, and drove South on Highway 307, battling the heavy construction most of the way to Tulum. Just before Tulum, we encountered a large, hilarious road sign that read as follows:




Obviously the translator was not too adept in English. In Spanish it read better:



We stopped at the Pemex in Tulum for gas, and watched carefully to make sure that the attendant put the pump at zero before he filled the tank. Then we made our way one more kilometer to the unmarked road that led inland to Coba. Actually, there was a sign about 100 meters after the turn, but a large bush covered it. We traveled the 47 kilometers to Coba carefully, dodging the countless potholes that threatened the undercarriage of our car. Along the way we passed through sporadically placed Mayan villages protected by well-hidden topes. We spotted buzzards in the dead snags of jungle trees waiting patiently for something to die. Inviting signs scattered about the landscape pointed to cenotes that welcomed the weary traveler.

In a little more than an hour, we arrived in Coba early enough to be among the first ones there. We paid our peso to the serious young Mayan guarding the banyo , and all took a refreshing pause. We decided not to hire the services of a guide for $32 US dollars at the entrance, as some of us had been here before, and knew our way around. However, when we reached the first group of ruins, "The Church", we were approached by a Mayan free-lance guide who spoke only Spanish. He showed us some interesting features of the ruins, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could mostly understand him! So after viewing the first group of ruins, we negotiated a fair price for his services, and continued on through the rest of the ruins. We enjoyed communicating with him in Spanish, as he regaled us with stories of the ball court contests with the lucky winning captains losing their heads and hearts. What a honor! He pointed out different Mayan "medicine" plants, and led us to the tombs of the "Jugadores", who were the ball players especially selected from birth. The climax of any tour of Coba is the great pyramid, No Huch Mul. Some of us made the steep ascent to the top, and were rewarded with a panoramic sight of the jungle below. Climbing down will bring a pang of fear to anyone, especially when they make that first step, but we all made it safe and sound to the bottom. We next visited the newly unearthed observatory, a stunning site that is perfectly round with a domed top. Archeologists believe that it was used for astrological observations and calculations of the growing seasons. The hike around the Coba complex took us about two hours, in which we walked 4 kilometers. It was an experience that brought about a reflective mood in all of us as we pondered the grandeur of these very old Mayan ruins.

After our tour, we shopped in the "tiendas" near the entrance, buying gifts for friends and relatives back home. Then we ate lunch at one of the outdoor restaurants while pigs and monkeys played nearby. We made quick stops to pick up tortillas at the best tortilleria in the Yucatan, and fruits and vegetables at the "fruteria". We noticed that black clouds were building, so we left, as we had experienced Coba monsoons in the past. About 10 kilometers down the road, the rain came, but fortunately it was just an intense shower that blew over quickly as we once again ran our zigzag course through the pot-hole lined road. After battling back through the construction zone north of Tulum, we arrived back in Akumal at 3:30 PM.

That afternoon, Shelley met some of her friends at our condo. They had just flown in from Portland the night before, and Shelley had a nice visit and Happy Hour at the Buena Vida with them. Her friends were staying in Playa Del Carmen, and left somewhat early as they were suffering from jet lag. Later, after a nice meal of our standard fare of rice and beans, with margaritas and cervezas, we relaxed on the beach for a while and then retired for the evening.

The Grand Cenote, 12/9 Wednesday

The birds woke us up at 6:10 AM, as they did everyday we were there. They projected an amazing variety of musical trills and chirps, and it was very pleasant to wake up to "natures alarm clock"! Karen and I took our laundry to the "lavenderia" across the street from the Super Chomak. We were able to have everything cleaned for 60 pesos ($6 US), and we had it back by 6:00 PM the same day. After that, we dropped by the Turtle Bay Bakery for a leisurely breakfast with mochacinos. There we met Tom and Mary and they joined us for breakfast. After we returned to our condo, we decided to make an excursion to the Grand Cenote, which is 2 or 3 kilometers past the turnoff to Coba. We got our snorkeling and swimming gear together, and all of us left in our two-car caravan about noon. Just past Tulum, we turned right on the Coba road following our land mark, the red-painted dive shop, and were at the entrance to the cenote in about five minutes. The day had dawned clear and bright, allowing the rays of the sun to quickly warm the earth. The temperature was beyond the 90-degree mark by the time we reached the cenote. We negotiated a "group rate" of $20 US for the eight of us, and entered the nicely landscaped cenote grounds. A white-stoned path led through elegant shrubs and palm trees. Beautiful red flowers were growing along the path, and tall green ferns graced the area. After a short walk, we came to a precipitous set of wooden stars that descended steeply down to the cenote. At the bottom, wooden walkways constructed of small tree limbs led to three different entry points to the cenote. At these entry points there were square shaped wooden platforms also constructed of tree limbs. Two of the entry points were at large pools, and the third, smaller entry point was at a channel between the pools. We went to the deeper pool, and put our clothing and snorkeling gear on the platform, taking care not to drop anything between the tree limbs. Then we took turns snorkeling with those not snorkeling watching the clothing and gear on the platform. The water was crystal clear, and the color of the water ranged from light blue to dark green and beautiful turquoise shades. The water temperature was about 5 degrees cooler than the ocean, but still very comfortable. There were hundreds of little platy-type fish swimming about, and small turtles inhabited the lily pads near the shore. Karen and I chose to wear life jackets when we snorkeled because cenotes are fresh water holes that lack the buoyancy of the ocean.

Randy led Karen and I on a tour of the cenote. We swam back into a cavern about 50 meters, where we observed beautiful rock formations in the clear water and breathtaking stalactites hanging from the ceiling. Next we swam through the narrow channel to the other large, shallower cenote pool and engaged in more swimming adventures around and through channels created by the uniquely formed stalactites. It was an incredible snorkeling, swimming and observing experience. Later Karen and I watched the others, as they became a bit more adventurous. They had discovered from other divers that they could reach another separate pool by diving a short distance under a rock ledge. So they explored this fascinating part of the cenote while we nervously waited for them to reappear in the main pool.

All of us were overwhelmed by the incredible natural beauty of the Grand Cenote, and were very glad to have made the decision to go there. After our swim, we returned to the main road and before turning back to Akumal, had a discussion about dinner. It was decided to go straight across the road and travel the 5 kilometers to the "tourist" Tulum settlement. There we found "The Piedra Escondida", a restaurant in a beautiful setting by the sea. Sitting outdoors, we were served a slowly paced meal of different fish entrees while we watched the crashing of the surf nearby. After supper, we journeyed back to Akumal as night fell. The roads were alive with local folks just getting off work, walking the roads or just waiting to catch the bus. When we got back to the condo, I went up to the roof to observe the magnificence of the star-lit night. There I noticed that from that vantage point, one can see the lights of Cozumel all along the length of the island. It is a sight that tugs at the strings that bind your soul. At an unusually late 8:30 PM, we retired, having completed another fun and interesting day in tropical Nirvana.

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