Mexico, before the Wall

Detailed Trip Report, Part 1: Maya stuff

Day 1

Cancun

We landed on Saturday November 19th in Cancun airport at roughly 3pm, after a ~12 hours trip from Dusseldorf. We did our best to avoid Cancun. We just used its airport 3 times and it’s ok. The “Taxi” area outside the airport is super super messy. You have to find your way within 30 degrees, 100% humidity and a herd of 150cm tall men trying to sell you a convenient taxi ride to wherever you need to go for “just 100 USD“… “no wait, 60 is ok“… “50, let’s do 50, cmon amigo!“.

Note on Transportation: negotiate brutally. Always negotiate in Pesos. We got that ride for 600 Pesos (30 USD) and that’s just because we didn’t have any internet connection (no free internet in Mexican Airports) else with Uber we’d have paid much less than that! We used Uber in few occasions in Merida and San Cristobal for 15-25 Pesos (a Dollar) each 3-4 km ride.

We had our transfer arranged by our tour operator, so we had to “just wait for the driver”, which meant an hour and few scary moments. Btw, the driver showed up, the guide too. We discovered we have 2 people at our service (and expenses). We thought the driver/guide was a single person. Let’s call them D&G. Ok, time to go for an hour ride to our first hotel.

Playa del Carmen

PDC is roughly an hour south of Cancun and it’s like Cancun: to be avoided. Well, let’s say that it strongly depends on what you’re trying to get from your vacation. If you care about discos on the beach and noise and people everywhere, then PDC is your place. Not ours. It’s a good place for getting Pesos though. Both currency exchange and withdraws are reasonable (in the right places).

Food is mainly touristic and to be avoided. We had an acceptable dinner at Don Sirloin, which is a fast food chain. Ultra cheap and good.

Our hotel, supposed to be high quality, didn’t have hot water working at peak time. Both evenings we had to call them and witness their embarrass.

Btw, ok, PDC is to be avoided, I agree.

But what about its sunset?

Day 2

Left PDC early in the morning for a 1 hour ride south to reach our first Maya site:

Tulum

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The ruined city is a rectangle 400 x 800 meters, with a wall on 3 sides and the ocean on the fouth. The site is small compared to other ruins we visited and, comparing them in retrospect, I’ve found there nothing “spectacular”. But I loved them at first sight. Maybe because Tulum has been the first archaeological site we visited, maybe because of the amazing ocean view…

I wish I’d known that you could swim there! I would have brought my swimsuit with me for an unforgettable “swim with the Mayas”.

Cenote Dos Ojos

After having tempered our souls with ancient Mayan spirits, time to refresh! Since I was the only one pushing to have more cenotes in our menu we ended up with only one.

What’s a cenote? According to Wikipedia:

A cenote (pronunciation: American Spanish: [ˈsenote], /sᵻˈnoʊti/ or /sɛˈnoʊteɪ/) is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.

Anyway, the one included in our tour was this “two eyes cenote”. 30 minutes from Tulum, this complex is composed by 2 sinkholes connected underwater. A lot of scuba divers were there for the underwater passage. We didn’t.

Anyway, the view was magnificent and bathing in a cenote is something I’ve never experienced. It’s like a cave. It’s dark, there are bats, it’s cold and your voice echoes everywhere. Awesome!

Sadly I don’t have pictures for this cenote. Look it up on the internet if you’re interested 🙂

Back to PDC

We went back to PDC early afternoon for a half day of freedom. I had ambitious plans of swimming in the actual ocean, but my plans had to be shut down: the water was so uninviting and the beach so noisy. Just avoid PDC, seriously. The experience culminated with a sheetty fish dinner. Let’s run away!

Day 3

Waking up early again to leave the Riviera Maya and the Quintana Roo state. Experienced Mexican highways quality (and their incredibly high prices) and reached at 10am the second and probably the most famous Maya site:

Chichen Itza

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The ruins are impressive and Chichen is the biggest Maya site in the Yucatan peninsula. Probably the most famous too. I didn’t enjoy it too much because the government allowed locals to sell everything inside. With no rules. You can’t just walk and “breathe” Mayan history. You have to be bothered by everyone, every time, because you absolutely have to buy their sheetty souvenirs. Plus, once upon a time visitors were allowed to climb temples but now they’re no more. Sorry Chichen, you didn’t impress me much (but I still love you).

After a fulfilling lunch in a nice Maya Restaurant G told us “guys, we should now go to Merida. But it’s early and I saw you liked yesterday’s cenote. What about visiting another cenote? It’s way better than yesterday’s one!

It was a no-brainer, just shut up and take our money! Well, I didn’t mean literally though… more on this later.

We then headed to…

Yokdzonot Cenote

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This cenote was one of the highlights of our Mexico trip. It’s a hole 25 meters dip, with water that goes 40 meters below. There’s room for diving, but we didn’t had guts for it.

When we arrived there were none bathing. We were alone in this astonishing “lake”, full of strange noises and hanging lianas. A very unique experience. Then came a group of a dozen noisy Californians and the spell broke. I strongly recommend you to go there if you happen to visit Yucatan.

Only a single picture of this gallery is ours, the other two are from the internet to give you a better idea.

After the refreshing stop we headed to our next destination.

Merida

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We stayed in Merida just for a night. Merida is a very cute mid-size city and it deserves maybe a slightly longer visit. We spent time walking around and eating in an “expensive but awesome” restaurant. Expensive I mean 20 USD per person, tips included.

Day 4

The morning of day 4 was filled with visits to local gems like an old Hacienda that used to be an Agave workshop, a honey farm with cactus view and a local Maya market that sells almost only chili peppers (for half a Peso each) where we purchased every kind of Habanero available. We also spotted few monkeys trying to cross the highway 🙂

At lunchtime we reached the unexpected masterpiece of the Maya world:

Uxmal

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The best of the best of the best. We all agreed this was our favorite Maya site, with no doubts. Why? Well, you can climb ruins. The ruins are not so frequented, so there’s no crowd. No one is bothering you to sell you their stuff. The ruins are so well integrated with nature that you breathe history, breathe ancient earth. There are few structures, but they are gigantic and dominates the view. I felt like an explorer visiting this place for the first time!

After a very long and totally worth visit to Uxmal we headed (slightly late) to the last city of the “safe side” of our tour.

Campeche

Sadly, we arrived in Campeche at dinner time. We didn’t visit enough of this apparently gorgeous and rich town. It’s a walled city on the seaside, but we hadn’t time to walk along the sea like I would have done. The city center is very romantic and restaurants’ reviews are awesome. The one where we had dinner was close to perfection.

It was in Campeche where we discovered the theft.

I was sitting on my hotel’s bed, before dinner, fully focused on one of the activities I like the most: counting money. We were spending roughly 1,000 Pesos per couple per day (50 EUR/USD). 3 full days have been passed so I expected to be 3 – 3.5K below the amount withdrawn & exchanged, i.e. between 9.5 and 10K out of the 13K in my possession (10K withdrawn and the 3K exchanged for 150 Euro).

I counted 6.7K Pesos.

I did the math another time and actually wrote down expenses. I totaled 3.7K expenses give or take few hundreds. I was missing no less than 2.5K pesos (125 Euro).

Strange.

I went to the VCFs and told them the story. We’ve spent the same amount of money, give or take few hundred Pesos. They checked and… they were missing the same exact amount, plus 200 Euro.

I sometimes separated from my wallet but Mr VCF was sure: he never did. Almost never. The only 2 situations were at the Maya restaurant (day 3) and yesterday’s cenote. We almost immediately discarded the maya restaurant: we had money in our backpacks, they couldn’t have known exactly where and they would have had too little time to perform the synchronized theft.

We had been stolen 2.5K Pesos each (+ 200 Euro, just the VCFs). It’s a strategical theft, one meant to not be discovered. A well thought one. Stealing 20% of someone’s money would probably be unnoticed. Good if you still need to interact with your victim.

First lesson learned: always track your spending. Luckily we, FIRE seekers, are well trained.

Second lesson learned: never trust the good luck. You can’t just “hope for the best”. You should work hard, avoid traps and build your good luck. The second cenote was a trap. We were bathing, 25 meters below the entrance, with a nice view from above and all our belongings easily accessible.

Third lesson learned: try to transform a bad situation into a strategic game. We had no doubt it has been our driver that stole our money. With a likelihood of 90% the guide was teaming up with him, but we also considered the hypothesis that G was clean. We’re talking about 125 Euro for us and 325 for VCFs. Enough to make us angry but too little to risk to ruin our trip. We explored together our options, goals and designed a strategy that maximized the chances of getting back the money (but it didn’t fully work). We were able to firmly communicate with D&G and with the tour operator. We didn’t accuse but we showed our disappointment. We didn’t give them a final tip (we initially planned that D&G’s tip would have been in the order of 100 Euro each, so damage amortized).

Most important of all, we put everything in perspective: our disappointment lasted just few hours and the tension dissolved quickly. 125 EUR out of 7K total costs means if sadness would have lasted half a day, then the self inflicted consequences of this episode would have been worse than the actual episode.

As a plus, we’ve strengthened our double couple relationship thanks to a tough situation we had to face together and a memory that will last for years. In the end one could actually say that the overall experience we had was worth the theft.

Btw, we have few ugly pictures of Campeche, sorry. Too focused on solving the theft problem 🙂

Anyway, tomorrow is another day!

3 comments

  1. Hi RIP,
    did a similar trip 12 years ago (the first part, no island).
    At the time tourist were allowed to climb the temple at Chichen Itza (little bit scary – and dangerous – to climb down, though…).
    Drove a rented car without problems (in Chiapas too, where you’ll be a little scared the first time you see these chains strained in front of you, then you get used to…). Only problem we had driving up to San Cristobal, the car overheated and wasn’t able to climb anymore…luckily we were pulled along by a truck full loaded with water carboys… 🙂

    1. You brave for driving in Chiapas!
      And lucky too, I know til few years ago (in the order of… 2-3) you could climb the ruins 🙁

      Personal curiosity: how was the interaction with the Truck driver who escorted you to San Cristobal? Did he try to sell all his water reserve to you? 😀

      1. No problem at all with the truck driver ! At the beginning we were a little bit scared cause the car was connected to the truck with an old rope and we were concerned about safety…
        Generally we have had a really good experience with the people and didn’t get bothered at all (perhaps only some tenacious sellers in the 2 pueblos S. Juan Chamula and Zinacantan). From this point of view I think we had a better experience than you (I also don’t like being bothered too much while hanging around), maybe less tourists around ? We were there in February 2005.

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