Chichen Itza, 12/14 Monday
Karen was up at the crack of dawn for a solo bird walk. Within minutes she excitedly returned describing the colorful plumage's she had seen. She convinced me to get up, and we walked about the beautiful grounds watching the birds begin their day in the cool morning air. We all assembled again for breakfast at 7:00 AM. From the verandah we continued our bird watch as a group. We saw red-striped woodpeckers, turquoise winged blackbirds and bright red, yellow and orange birds as we enjoyed our breakfasts.
After breakfast, we made our way to the "entrada" for our big day of touring Chichen Itza. We paid our entrance fee of 50 pesos each, and hired a guide for $30 US, so that we could hear the rich details associated with the groups of ruins. We then toured in depth the same structures we had seen the day before. In addition, we explored the "Observatory" and the "Nunnery". The guided part of the tour took about two hours, after which we informally explored some of the structures in more depth. We climbed the "Observatory" and examined the "Pyramid of the High Priests". At that point, it was noon, and we split up to pursue separate adventures. Karen and I went to the main entrance where we ate lunch, drank a delicious pineapple-fruit drink and briefly shopped the "tiendas" before returning to the ruins for more extensive touring. We spent two more hours examining the "Platforn of Skulls", "Platform of Eagles and Jaguars", "Temple of Warriors", "Mercado" and "Group of 1000 Columns". By that time we had been walking for 5 hours, and we decided that Chichen Itza had been "toured".
We returned to find the Orr family relaxing by the hotel swimming pool. We drank a cervaza with them and then returned to our hotel room for some rest. Soon, the Fousts dropped by our room, and we shared stories of the day's adventures. That afternoon, we all shared one last wonderful meal at the Hotel Hacienda Chichen, and then met briefly in the hotel lobby to discuss airport pick-up procedures in Portland, with the realization that our tropical fantasy was quickly coming to and end. We went to bed early in preparation for the marathon travel day coming the next day.
Long Journey Home, 12/15 Tuesday
I awoke at 5:00 AM, unable to sleep any longer in anticipation of the drive to Cancun. By the time I had shaved, showered and dressed, Karen and the Fousts were stirring in preparation also. Since the Orrs were taking a later flight, they were still in bed. Karen had spent a restless night with a strong touch of the "tourista", but she had recovered enough by morning to be able to travel. Part of her uneasiness was no doubt caused by the fact that we had killed a black spider as big around as a 50-cent piece in our shower!
We packed our many "maletas" into our red rental car and said goodbye to our waiter who was seeing us off at 6:45 AM. We found that the waiters at the Hotel Hacienda Chichen were always ready to serve at any time, day or night. Outstanding service was a trademark of the hotel. As a matter of fact, we received excellent service wherever we traveled in Mexico. After leaving the hotel, we drove through the tourist town of Piste, located adjacent to the ruins, and reached the entrance of the "Autopista", a world-class freeway with exorbitant tolls. The entrance was located 2 kilometers west of Piste, and it offered a chance to drive to Cancun "muy rapido". We paid our first toll of 31 pesos, Mexican money only, and proceeded north towards Cancun, traveling about 120 kilometers ,or 75 miles per hour. At that speed, the distance evaporated quickly, and soon we were at the border between the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo. There we paid a final toll of 105 pesos. Our total toll was 136 pesos, or about $13.60 US. We avoided a higher toll by getting off the freeway before Cancun, and taking a spur road to the airport. This spur road took us to Highway 307, the Cancun-Tulum corridor. There we turned north, driving about 2 kilometers past the airport turnoff so that we could fill our gas tank at a Pemex station. It was 8:45 AM, when we finished filling our tank and drove back to the airport. We got our suitcases out of the car and put them on the curb and then I drove the car back to the Budget lot. The young "inspector" found nothing wrong with the car, and made no attempt to assess fees for damages as is often done in Mexico. In the office, the clerk filled out the paperwork and tried to convince Tom and I that the Chiapas was a good area to visit. We told him that we loved Mexico, but would probably avoid the Chiapas. All in all, our rental car performed remarkably well on the inconsistent Mexican roads. Budget has provided good service at an excellent cost both times we have been in Mexico. The final bill for our rental car this trip was $370 US, not bad for two weeks!
We returned to the airport and found that we had to pack our bags around some airport construction. We still managed to find our way to the Mexicana check in desk where we checked our bags all the way to Portland. After checking our bags, we had breakfast in the airport, then made our way through security. I found once again that my boots with their metal eyes set off the alarms. We had about an hour to wait for our 11:40 AM flight, and we spotted the Orrs arriving for their flight while we were waiting for ours. The time passed quickly and soon we were boarding Flight #342 to fly the 800 miles to Mexico City, the first leg of our long journey.
It took about two hours and fifteen minutes to get to Mexico City with Mexicana once again providing an excellent service of lunch and drinks. Just before Mexico city, we spotted the awesome smoking volcano, Pococatepetl, seemingly poised for a major eruption at any moment. As we descended into Mexico City, the intense smog that characterizes this world metropolis was strongly evident. When we landed, we all had some difficulty breathing the polluted air. We spent three and a half hours in the Mexico City airport cruising the duty-free shops, spending our last pesos and relaxing while we waited for our connecting Flight #908 scheduled to leave at 5:30 PM. While we were waiting, we camped out at Gate 19, the Mexicana center. At about 4:30, an announcement in Spanish advised passengers to move to Gate 18 if they were on Flight #908. Fortunately some of us understood Spanish! At 5:00, we all decided to make one last bathroom stop before the flight. Mysteriously at 5:10, without any warning or announcement, the boarding began for Flight #908! Mary had to run to the bathroom to get Karen, and we all hurriedly boarded the plane. We took off at 5:20, ten minutes before the scheduled departure time! Who can figure the way time works in Mexico?
This flight was long; almost four hours and 1553 miles to Los Angeles. Dinner and plenty of drinks were served, and the flight was smooth, offering ample time for reading and sleeping. We arrived at Los Angeles naturally a bit before schedule, and proceeded down a long hallway towards customs. Signs reminded us to "Declare It, Dump It or Pay a Fine!", so we got rid of all extra fruits and vegetables in our luggage. First we had our passports checked and then our bags passed through the inspection point. We then had to load all our suitcases and carry them down another long hallway to a conveyor belt where we could send our checked bags on to our next flight. After this experience, I promised Karen that we would invest in some rollaway luggage for our next trip! We then left the International Airport with our carry-ons and made our way to Terminal #3 which houses Alaska Airlines, the site of our departure to Portland. There we ran into an Asian girl, lost and unable to speak English. She was trying to get to Omaha and St. Louis. Tom and Mary helped her find her way to her next flight. We had about an hour and forty minutes to wait for our next flight so we had drinks at the Burger King and Starbucks nearby. We noticed a definite drop-off in the quality and level of service now that we were back in the United States. Why were the workers so unhappy and angry?
Eventually the time passed, and we boarded Flight #251 for our final two-hour flight back to Portland. There were less than 20 people on this flight, and we had plenty of seats to choose from. We managed to sleep a bit, but I enjoyed the beautiful Holiday night scenes of the brilliantly lit California cities as we flew high above them. We arrived in Portland at 11:45 PM and called Shelley immediately. We then successfully collected our entire luggage, marveling at how it had arrived safe and sound through so many checkpoints.
Home Again Safe and Sound, 12/16 Wednesday
Shelley arrived at the airport shortly after midnight to pick us up, and we crammed our suitcases into her van. We were acutely aware of the temperature difference between Portland and Mexico! We drove back to her house and transferred the bags to the Altima, and after saying some poignant good-byes, were on familiar and friendly I-5 heading home to Creswell. The fog was thick, making the drive back particularly challenging. Tom and Mary took turns keeping me awake as I drove home. We arrived at the Foust home around 3:00 AM, and found an anxious Ryan Foust eagerly awaiting his parents. By 3:15, we were home ourselves where we encountered one of the greatest treats of the entire vacation: our own bed.
It always takes time to process the impact of wonderful and exhilarating adventures. Where else can you get numerous snorkeling and swimming experiences in the middle of December? The trip to Chemuyil, and the Cozumel adventure both stand out as special experiences. We formed the "Tortuga Club" and it had 100% membership. We struck a nice balance between elaborate dinners at exotic locations, and meals cooked at home. We consumed copious amounts of Superior and Modelo as well as delicious Jumex juices and large bottles of "Auga Purificada". The morning walks were filled with colorful flowers and pelican fly-bys over sandy beaches. Remembrances of afternoons spent on the beach reading or just watching the turquoise-blue waters with the white surf breaking over the reef are locked in our hearts. The full moon stirred our souls as it rose over the island of Cozumel, sending its silver streak straight towards our night-lit condo. The silent mystery of Coba with its new observatory and the refreshing beauty of the Grand Cenote will always inspire us. We enjoyed the intensity of the sudden rainstorms rolling in from the Caribbean with the endless variety of cloud formations that accompanied the ever-changing weather. The elegant grounds and antique charm of the Hotel Hacienda Chichen contrasted nicely with the dark power of the immense ruins of Chichen Itza with its mysteries of the jaguar, serpent and Chok-Mul. Above all, we will remember forging new bonds of friendship and fellowship as we spent fourteen days in tropical Paradise discovering and integrating the Mexican soul within our selves.