Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Dave gets a bit balder, I mean older...

Today was Dave’s birthday, and unfortunately since today the flights were cheapest, we spent it transiting.  Breakfast was typically poor at the ‘Nuca Pacha’ hostel - so we treated ourselves to a decent morning coffee in a café nearby, using Dave’s birthday as our justifying excuse. We used the same excuse 2 hours later for another coffee and banana cake while we waiting for our flight at the airport.

It was a fairly short flight to Panama (it included a terrible chicken sandwich and in-flight entertainment of a re-run of an ancient Friends episode).  In the airport at Panama we only had time enough to queue for the toilet before reboarding and experiencing déjà vu, as our flight to Cancun was an exact repeat of the first (poor chicken sandwich and same ancient Friends episode and all).  Sarah tried telling the hostesses on both flights that it was Dave’s birthday, but it didn’t result in anything special on either of the flights.

We finally arrived in Cancun at 8pm, however it took a full hour for our luggage to round the belt as the drug dogs seemed to have found something and everything was delayed.  We were then almost scammed by a taxi guy, who posed as a bus agent (he had a badge, folder and the works) but about 10 minutes into his speel we cottoned on and managed to shake him, although he was very persistent.  We read about people being scammed with $60USD taxi rides into town and couldn’t believe people could be so gullible, but as it turns out we were almost one of them.

(To avoid this scam, for anyone flying into Cancun airport, walk out the departures and head right, directly past anyone saying they are from the bus companies and continue straight on to the end, all the way past the departure doors and check-in, to a secure carpark where there is a real ADO counter.  If you don’t speak to someone from behind an ADO counter at Cancun airport, it’s likely a scam and you shouldn’t listen to a word they say! The buses are cheap, hourly, it's a quick trip into town and they run late).

Anyway - thanks to Mr Taxi-man's distraction we missed the ADO bus into town by 30 seconds and had to wait a full hour for the next one.  This meant it was 11pm by the time we arrived at Hotel del Sur, tired after a long day of transit, and very grateful that it was a decent hotel with a supermarket conveniently located across the street.

The next day, after managing to pack everything we’d need for the next two weeks into one backpack (so jumping on and off buses over the next 2 weeks would be a bit easier) we left the hotel and headed to Valladolid (hoping that when we returned in 2 weeks our other backpack would still be at the hotel…).  It didn’t take us too long to find reasonable accommodation near the main square that was quiet, had a scungy looking pool and no aircon, but it did have a nice fan...
The view  over Ek Balam from the main pyramid

Valladolid is a typically Mexican town with pastel coloured buildings, a nice main plaza where it seems that the whole town congregates (either for socialising or making use of the free WiFi) with many locals dressed in their traditional clothes going about their business.  We found the food court just off the main square and enjoyed specialities like locally made sausages, delicious pureed beans and tortillas with a horchata drink (rice milk) to wash down the chilli.  

Staring down the steep steps of the main pyramid
We were up at 7am the next day to get to our first Mayan ruins before the crowds.  It was worth the early morning as Ek Balam was practically empty and we had fun exploring the site.  The main attraction is the impressive central pyramid from which there is a great view over the forest, and it demonstrates really well how the Mayan sites were hidden so well in the dense jungle. 

Ek Balam cenote
After exploring the ruins we walked to the nearby cenote which turned out to be more impressive than we thought it’d be, full of beautiful clear water with a few blind catfish swimming in circles while some locals paddled around with inflated rubber tyres.  It seemed their job was to float around and collect up the leaves that continuously fell into the water from the dense foliage above.  We didn’t have swimmers, so we just admired the water and headed back to the entrance to negotiate a taxi back to town after which we packed up and boarded a bus for Pisté, which is a town only 2km down the road from the infamous Chichén Itza.  This meant we could be at the entrance first thing the next morning and hopefully avoid the massive crowds.  It seems Mayan ruins and painfully early mornings were going to be a theme for our Mexico trip!

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