9 Month Update: If Not Now, When?

It’s been an interesting two months, and I’m sure you’re all dying for updates. So even though I have some pressing rants and raves regarding my ongoing existential crisis, I will start with the practical updates so as not to lose the interests of those of you who’ve been following my car living journey.

It’s been an interesting two months, and I’m sure you’re all dying for updates.  So even though I have some pressing rants and raves regarding my ongoing existential crisis, I will start with the practical updates so as not to lose the interests of those of you who’ve been following my car living journey.

So here is what you missed since my last post….

  1. I finally got my car back. It doesn’t drive nearly as well as it did before and now the A/C isn’t working too well and there are still some random whizzing noises I cannot even begin to describe. The stress of the previous repairs is still heavy on my heart so I have given myself a week to not think about it before I take it in for more repairs.|
  2. I completed filming for my upcoming clip in the documentary on Americans struggling to pay off debt, entitled “Just Getting By”. Not only did I make $500 bucks from the opportunity, proving my daily craigslist job search was not pointless, I get to share my story and blog with everyone who will visit their website. I believe filming should be wrapped up by the end of October and I will definitely share the details with you all.
  3. Me after the #bigchop

    I cut off my dreads. I have wanted to do this for several years but loathed the idea of yet another big chop (I have done two in the past 15 years). But after cutting off the back row of dreads two months ago and battling with frequent hair loss and intense scalp pain, I decided to take the plunge. Immediately after, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders- almost as if I was releasing years of depression, anxiety, expectations, limitations and fears I had been carrying with me. A physical and spiritual weight lifted from my shoulders after realizing I wasn’t the same slightly obese 17 year old that chopped off my hair after a failed perm in High School. As a result, I felt stronger and freer- being that my physical appearance seemed a more authentic expression of myself and my lifestyle. Amazingly, I did all of this in what can only be explained as a perplexing, quiet rage that took place at 2 am, over 3 hours in a random hotel outside of Philadelphia. Up to the last second I was doubting myself, and then I became so angry at the back and forth and the fears that I just grabbed the scissors, asked myself “if not now, when?” and then started cutting. It was a quiet act of desperation, which left one part of my hair (the first cut) shorter than all the rest. Nonetheless, it was one of the best decisions I have made in the past year for sure.  I have told myself my hair doesn’t grow and that it will never be long- what a terrible limiting belief shared by many African-American women today! I absolutely love my short hair, and the beautiful, growing soul it adorns. I can’t wait for it to grow past my shoulders.

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    The Liberty  Bell

    I crossed some more items off my bucket list- two more World Heritage Sites- the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was written, debated and adopted. I also finally visited NYC again where I wandered the streets aimlessly with my niece looking for good eats, urban treats and cheap karaoke. Mission accomplished.

  5. I found a job. After applying to more than 10 jobs, I happily accepted a position today with an outdoor gear company I LOVE. I will only make $11.50 an hour, but I will be eligible for a raise in January and will get metro benefits and 50% of any gear I buy. Most importantly, I will be able to use the estimated 850 dollars a month working 20 hours per week to drop a whopping $3,000 a month on my student loan debt. Amazingly, this combined with my go fund me, could be JUST enough to end my journey on time. And for those of you who don’t know, or can’t recall, that means I will have paid off $33,000 dollars in 12 months.
  6. My go fund me page has received $794 in donations! My goal is to raise 5,000, $1,000 of which will go to whoever donates the most if I raise the full amount. I’ve also pledged $200 to whoever gives the most, regardless of whether or not I reach my goal. So far the number to beat is $219 dollars and like a Lannister, I always repay my debts.
  7. I am 2 months into to intermittent fasting and estimate I have lost almost 8 pounds of fat since the end of July. I began by cutting out breakfast and slowing removing dairy, starches, most grains and carbohydrates, with the exception of bread and the occasional rice dish. Just 3 weeks ago, I decreased my eating window from 1pm-9pm, to eating just one large meal a day around 4 pm. As a result, I have become fat adapted, meaning my body has learned to use stored fat for energy instead of carbohydrates or sugar. I don’t get hangry and I no longer suffer from incontinence. My toenails have also begun to grow in clear and my skin is clearer than it’s ever been. I have also discovered that dairy and alcohol give me free floating anxiety in even tiny amounts and intensifies both the premenstrual dysphoric disorder and the incontinence.  Most significantly I know exactly when to eat, when to drink and what foods my body needs. It’s actually ridiculous how more in tune I am with my needs. I also feel sharper and more focused right before I breakfast joining the ranks of Michelangelo, Einstein, Isaac Newton and other greats who ate minimally or once a day. Did I also mention I have significantly chopped my food budget by about 15% and no longer rely on “healthier” fast food options? Who knew living off less and eating less could feel SO good?
  8. I am officially 3 months off my Zoloft and still experiencing sub-clinical levels of OCD!! That’s right, after a scary year where I almost lost everything, I am happy to say I am (mostly) walking  like everyone else. I barely think about it now, but it’s a HUGE victory that I plan on writing about more! Exposure Response Prevention therapy, along with my parents, saved my life!
  9. I’ve re-framed my minimalism lifestyle to include a physical, financial, spiritual and emotional transformation. The eating, self-care maintenance, reduction in things and commitment to reducing my emotional energy output have been just as life changing as my car living experience. I now know that I require far less than I could have ever imagined, and the more I give up, the freer I feel. I’ve also realized that many of the activities I put my energy towards- relationships that don’t uplift me or are unstable, emotions that drain and drag, foods that poison and paralyze, words that fall on deaf ears, aren’t just first world problems I’m privileged to experience, but symptoms of an oppressive society and culture I cannot support.

So yeah, this is me right now- sweaty and slightly overheated, typing from a random 7-11 parking lot in the middle of nowhere, with a bottle of water, 20 more minutes of battery on my laptop, a big grin on my face, and thoughts of all the many things I hope to accomplish in the last 3 months of my car living journey.

Xenote Magic

iphone pics 2807It felt SO good to sleep in. I didn’t have to be downstairs at the hotel lobby for the Xenote Maya tour bus until 9:00- perfect opportunity for me to grab an extra hour of sleep and enjoy a calm breakfast, beach side. The remnants of my hangover where completely gone and I felt back to my old self- restored and ready for action.

It was good to be back on a tour with a small group.  Our guide was a tall thin, athletic looking man who ran a lean operation. Not only was he serving as our guide, but the van driver as well. He even explained that we would be visiting four xenotes, each for the four elements (wind, fire, water, air) in less than 5 minutes, and provided safety information in both Spanish and English, while driving.  The tour began rather uninspiring with our guide being a tad bit detached. Nonetheless, I felt so grounded and comfortable that day having realized it was my last day in Mexico.

I don’t know why, but I was comforted by the drive into the jungle. The car was moving so fast that I could barely take anything in. It reminded me of the last 6 months of my life- and somehow I was okay with that. After a short 20 minute ride, we arrive at our destination.

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Xenote Tierra or Land Sinkhole

The first xenote we arrived at was what our guide referred to as a young xenote. Much of the top layer of limestone was intact.  So the xenote appears as a cave with a lush jungle covering the tiny bit of light that hits the blue waters. Underneath was 150 feet of crystal clear blue water, tiny catphish and a colony of bats. The only way to the bottom was repelling 55 feet straight down.

Our group was a mix of Americans and surprisingly a large number of visitors from Mexico City.  We all walked slowly together to grab our life jacket and wait in line at the repel point. There two men with ropes informing us of descent options. We could go fast, slow, or upside down like spider man. There was another tour group ahead of us with two girls who were terrified of repelling. They screamed and hollered between shouts of “slow, slow’’ while the crowed cheered on… “you can do it, puedes hacerlo.”. It was a beautiful moment. I felt like I was at a team building trip, only we were just random people united by the Cancun Kumbaya effect, which was still in full swing.

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Upon entering the first xenote I realized one of our travelers was bleeding. I felt the urge to want to point it out to her, but I figured if I did she would wipe it away with her hands and then I would be resisting the urge to track everywhere her fingers touched. I opted not to say anything, and hoped I wouldn’t have to sit in the same harness as her and that eventually her wound would be cleaned by the xenote waters.

Like usual, I was the last one in. I opted for the fast spider man descent, realizing how stupid I must have looked reaching my lands towards the xenote floor like I was some super hero. I wish I actually could have pushed myself away from the rocks and repelled like real people do.  This was obviously a contrived experience- the repel landing zone, xenote entrance and exit had been excavated, reinforced and replaced with plastic structures- giving you the allure of an adventure with all the safety and convenience of Water World theme parks. I didn’t mind though. I knew what I was signing up for- as my first solo trip after nearly losing everything- easy breezy was the main idea.

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I repelled down without the least bit of anxiousness, excited to be crossing yet another item off my bucket list. Right behind me the photographer shouted my name to get my attention.  For 60 dollars I could get custom photos of my xenote tour-something I struggled with considering I was over budget with my trip and had purchased some water proof hollister in hopes of taking my own pictures during this and other watery excursions.

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As soon as I hit the xenote water, I remember thinking three things. One how can I avoid brushing past the swimmer with the cut on her leg. two, why do I still get terrified a shark or prehistoric creature is going to come up from the depths and eat one of my legs and three: how ever would I manage to avoid the bat feces which was probably in the water and being dropped on me in the dark? But these were load grade fears and I embraced them fully. It helps when I realized that this could totally be a movie. and I would probably be the main character who is crazy and knows how to survive, despite being the only black person.

I wandered to the dark edges of the cave, listening quietly to the high pitched hum of the bats. I left the safety of the few rays of light that reached the xenote and swam towards the dark shadows of the cave’s edge. Up above and below, stalactites encroached us like the jaws of a jaguar. They looked as if they were frozen in time, and that any moment it could drop like a  frozen icicle thawing  from the morning Sun.

 

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I considered pushing myself to try and touch the cave wall, but it was time to exit this xenote and head to grab some Mexican cookies bread and coffee while our guide pulled up the car. The whole thing was low key and slightly anticlimactic but the rush of repelling and thrill of bats buzzing around you made the 20 minute memory feel like forever.  To seal the deal I made sure I jumped off the diving platform into the water- popping my signature thumbs up in case I chose to splurge on the pics.

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Crystal blue waters from minerals

After bread and tea we all scurried back to the bus. I threw my shorts over my wet bathing suit and tried snag a few selfies. Surrounding each of the xenotes were tiny gargoyles which offered protection to those who entered. These were nothing like the original guarding built by the Maya, but I was totally digging the tourist experience and quite surprised at how I didn’t mind the Universal Studios feel to everything.  The next stop was yet another xenote where we would have the chance to zipline into an open xenote before grabbing some lunch.

We travelled a short ways away and arrived at a beautifully landscaped preserve. One of the cool things about this tour was that the xenotes we visited were private nature preserves. I assume that our proceeds went to grounds maintenance and upkeep of the science, which were better than many preserves and museums I have visited in the States.

I finally got the nerve to try out my water proof iPhone case after encouragement from several other tourists. I was super annoyed though because we were supposed to be snorkeling and I didn’t have the chance to make sure my case was water tight before trying it out. Thankfully, one of the photographers opened the case and placed my phone in with dry hands after I ran the plastic cover under the cenote to check for any leaks. Thankfully my phone was safe and I was able to snag some pretty cool snorkeling pics.

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Okay well some of them are kinda awkward cause I didn’t have my phone oriented the right way, but it was still super amazing to be able to capture the stalactites and underground root system on camera. I was pleased with my last minute splurge and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the xenote. It was good to not have to worry about sharks, plus it was comforting to be able to see what was below you in the xenote. Not as many fish as snorkeling near the sea, but the tiny little catphish, tiny little dead skin eating fish used in spas and tree roots were enough to keep anyone interested. It was about this time that I realized that although I enjoyed water sports, I wasn’t too keen on being underneath the water, but instead loved to feel the power and motion of the water beneath me. I cannot stress enough how awkward and exposed I feel in water.

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Due to the technology problems, I didn’t get to spend as much time exploring this xenote while snorkeling, but I was super happy I captured some up close pictures of the stalactites with birds and butterflies buzzing around me. It was such a treat!

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After less than 10 minutes snorkeling around, I emerged from the water in a whirlwind and headed through a hidden entrance to go kayakling. A long line of Mayan men in matching t shirts greeted tourist who paired two by two on bright yellow kayaks.

My kayak partner was a young recent graduate from law School in Los Angeles who studied drug law. She had just finished taking the bar and was celebrating with her family. She had never kayaked before but had no problem manning the boat so I could take pics. We laughed back and forth as we navigated our way through the open xenote- strange black ducks followed us as they quacked loudly and ducked away from our sloppy paddling.

It had been a while since I kayaked. I was glad to be steering and felt comfortable taking the lead with the less experienced traveler. She was easy going and didn’t mind speeding things up to pass some confused and paddling challenged tourists. It was all fun and games though and before every bend you could hear a slurry of “wow”, “look at that”, “que hermosa” from the paddlers ahead of you.

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Kayakaing on the Air Xenote

After 30 minutes of kayaking, we turned our boats around and headed back to the xenote entrance. There we were greeted with the same line of eager young Mayan guides. One spoke a prayer over us, while another squirted all natural water proof sunblock over us as we left the water. My arms were still peeling pretty bad from the day before and I was grateful to have a natural sunblock to protect my ailing skin- normally I would have been grossed out with us all sharing pumps, but instead I was relieved that they thought of everything  and grateful that the product was coconut based.

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After kayaking, we swam a short ways through a small man made system of xenotes and arrived at the ziplining xenote.  I was happy to report that I successfully managed to avoid the bleeding tourist both entering the bus opening and exiting the first xenote, and upon finishing kayaking.  Even though I was super annoyed that we would again have to all share harnesses, It gave me relive to think about the odds of all of us contracting Hep C or some other disease from the bleeding tourist.  Inviting the obsessive thoughts with me- I literally stepped up to the plate and decided to zipline in the same harness as everyone else.

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I remembered how proud and jazzed I was at my silent victory. To those looking at me I popped the thumbs up out of excitement to be ziplining. Really though, I was happy to be in a good enough place to challenge obsessions big and small. And oh boy, was it worth it. Zip lining. Was . Amazing. Looking back, I equate ziplinging with the closes physical experience of freedom. The speed of your own body flying straight in one direction, the weight of your collective experience being held by wrists and fingers clinging to autonomy, scraping up every inch of strength to take it all in. Zip lining was that and more. I enjoyed watching the tourist cheer on nervous travelers. The lily pads surrounded us and the sun beamed down on us. Everyone was happy and all was well.

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We spent 20 minutes ziplining at the open xenote. We took turns trying out the superman, the Spider Man and the Tarzan runs- laughing when people hit the water hard and cheering when anyone nailed the perfect landing. It was magick. I remember telling the guide that I had to have a xenote one day, and that I would open it up to everyone because we all could use a little more magic in our lives.

Lunch was phenomenal. We had sandwiches- the first time we were treated to picnic style American eats and I welcomed the departure from shitty Mexican inspired food. It was good to have fresh meats and vegetables. Plus we were treated to a delicious Mayan vegetable soup which I wish I knew the name of. I sat with a friendly group of young couples- all under the age of 31 and celebrating their recent nuptials. It was hard for me to imagine finding someone you could spend your whole life with. I had trouble living with roommates, let alone traveling with another.

After lunch we headed to our 4th and final xenote where we had the chance to ride a water slide and intertube down a mature xenote that had become and exposed river. Of all our stops that day, this xenote was the most open and expansive. In addition to a fabulous water slide and huge bathrooms, the entire grounds consisted of tiny little paths with open areas, hammocks and several displays. All around you was jungle, branches nipped at your feet and you frequently had to duck to miss a branch or dodge a bright colored butterfly. This was definitely a place I could call home, a place where my heart did not worry and my body felt strong. A place that I was safe-a place that I could call home.

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I’m mad at myself for trying to capture the perfect shot or video instead of merely enjoying my surroundings. As you can see, I tried (rather unsuccessfully) to take several videos of my ziplining and sliding. Instead I messed up my photo opp with the professional photographer and looked like those tourist who stopped every 5 seconds to take a selfie.

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Ugh I wish I wouldn’t have been video taping- I missed a great shot!

We had another chance to zipline and I admired all the hidden gnomes, gargoyles and animals around us. I can’t explain how safe and comforted I felt at this last xenote. Even the bathrooms had a homie charm to them. By the time it was time to inter tube down the river, I was barely fazed by the signs urging us to watch out for poisonous water snakes.

We floated aimlessly down the river in life jackets, stopping beneath a trickling water fall and then kicking frantically to keep up with our guide who ran back and for the ferrying  flip flops and corralling us to the final dive spot. It was such a captivating experience. I really enjoyed the group dynamics. Even though we were all strangers, we helped to guide one another in the water and offered to take pictures wherever possible. My favorite part though was the constant team cheering that happened when people were afraid to jump off the ledge.

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Although I wasn’t afraid to jump, I was burnt out and really enjoying just lounging around in the water. At the last minute, fear of missing out took over me and I deiced to jump of the cliff. After all,  it was our last xenote, and my last day in Cancun. I don’t generally enjoy the feeling of zero gravity, but I peeped some of the photos our photographer took during lunch and I already deiced I would be purchasing them, on account of me being so photogenic and all (which NEVER happens BTW) which gave me the last bit of umph I needed to jump off the cliff. So again, I took the plunge, even agreeing to let our guide take an awesome video, which I am happy to share with you all.

Despite me explaining to my guide that I couldn’t return to the hotel on account of my having lost my heart at the last xenote, we headed back to Cancun exhausted with huge smiles of accomplishment on our faces. We were treated to more tea, coffee and sweat breads which was the finishing touch of our trip. I snagged a few more selfies of the preserve, realizing that yet again, there was so much I missed.

It was only a 20 minute ride and I was happy to have been able to arrive back with the Sun still up and the beach still calling my name. I ate a leisurely dinner and enjoyed the last of my free beers on the beach. Hard to imagine that I did so much and soon would be returning to my other life, which now seemed even less relevant than before. Nonetheless, I was inspired and amazed by the Xenote tour and a was already spinning up dreams of moving to Mexico to start and ecological tourism hostel with my own xenote when I drifted pleasantly off to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Majestic & Serene without Effort

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I woke up a little after 6:00 am, slightly irritated that yesterday’s hangover and anxiety lingered. The alcohol was out of my system, but I could feel the effects of dehydration on my system. I thoroughly enjoy drinking but it had been a long time since I enjoyed shots back to back, let alone shots of tequila. I drank some water and did some deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. After a few moments I remembered how much fun the prior night was and agreed that the lingering obsession and slight off feeling was well worth it. After all, sacrifices must be made for the cause and I have passed the days when I feared that an obsession would take hold and haunt me for the rest of my life.

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No more chaffing!

I learned my lesson at Tulum, shorts are an absolute must when going on adventures because the chaff factor is real. I settled on some shorts and a tank top, with my bathing suit underneath. I grabbed my water bottle from the fridge and left the hotel room with 20 minutes to spare. Despite some more profound ritualizing (I figured it would be worse after having given in yesterday) I left without any irritation. I scoffed down my usual at breakfast and headed out to meet my tour bus. It was a 7:00am.

Unlike previous tours, I had to take a local bus to a terminal station and load onto a larger bus. Like always, I tried to stay out of the way and under the radar.  I strategically place myself in line so that I was the last one to enter the large tour bus- I get a front row seat to myself right next to our two guides. They are a lot younger than our previous guides and I am sure they are around my same age. I looked around and realized that this tour was much more commercial than the others. These guides were younger, probably a couple of years out of college. They had matching shirts and hats. At least the bus boasted comfy seats and personal air conditioning- a nice upgrade from the rickety vans and busses I rode on previously.

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All the comforts of Western travel, minus wifi

Before travelling to Chicen-Itza our guide informed us that would be making a few stops. Our first visit was to a Mayan cooperative where we could receive blessings from a Mayan healer and wander through a gift shop of hand crafted jewelry, purses, bags and clothing. Afterwards we would head for lunch near Ik’Kil, one of the most famous xenotes in Mexico before entering Chichen-Itza, the holiest and best preserved of all the Mayan ruins.

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One of our guides telling us about the marketplace

On the way to the Mayan cooperative, our guide treated us to a quick tour of a nearby Spanish village. Even though it would have been nice to have gotten out of the bus and walked the streets, it was wonderful to be able to take in so much of the tiny village from the comfort of our tour bus.

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Spanish style Church, one of the oldest in Mexico

We passed one of the oldest and best preserved of the Spanish temples built following the arrival of the conquistadors. We passed through a large market with woman wearing traditional Mayan clothing, which consisted of a white three piece dress with bright embroidered flowers. One of the woman wore a black scarf, signifying her status as a widow. Our guides tells us that you will see Mayan women mix  western and traditional clothes. When they are wearing the traditional clothing of the Maya, it is an expression of respect and pride for their culture.

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Picture of the small town just 50 miles west of Playa del Carmen.

The bus was moving fast and I barely had time to drink in all the sights and sounds- the honks of tourist busses, the sounds of the car engine and the beautiful Mayan women with their white dresses bursting with colors weaving in and out of the Spanish style and stuccoed buildings.

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Entrance to the Mayan Cooperative features a colorful snake mouth

Soon we arrived at the Mexican cooperative where we learned more about the Mayan calendar system and their fascination with documenting the movement of the stars as well as significant celestial and personal events. Our guide showed us a calendar documenting all the important dates of his life.  He went on to tell us about the significance of the Mayan alphabet and how each sound and letter had a significance. Apparently even the pronunciation of our names provided insight into our passions, potential careers and even our personality. When special words were combined with symbols for protection, wealth or joy, daily prayers could be given to the Gods to secure safe travel, happiness and abundance. These symbols could be worn as necklaces, or placed throughout the home to bless the inhabitants.

One of the things I enjoyed most, was learning about how the Mayan alphabet was combined with stones and prayers to help heal and restore people. Our guide informed us that when the Conquistadors first came to the Mayan cities, they were obsessed with obsidian stone, which adorned the entrances of temples, and shown like gold when the sun hit it.

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Obsidian stone carved in the shape of a snake

 

The Mayan believe that obsidian, which is the dry remains of lava, was the blood of Earth and that protection and purity would be offered if obsidian rocks were placed by the entrance of a house, or worn around an individual’s neck. To maintain the stones purity, or to remove any negative energy which accumulated, the stone just had to be placed in water, underneath the reflection of the moon.

Today we would have the chance to meet a healer who wears a protection pendant and meet the village healer who will happily bless us in a smudging ceremony and pray over any Mayan pendants we purchased.When our guide told me this, I once again felt affirmed by my choice to bring all of my crystals from DC, which coincidentally had already been charged at the top of Nohuch Mul two days prior.  I couldn’t wait to meet the village healer and receive their blessings in a smudge ceremony.

The Mayan cooperative was larger than I expected. Upon entering, we had the opportunity to smudge ourselves and ask for blessings and purification, which I did without hesitation- making sure I intentionally walked slowly so every who was simply going through the motions could finish before me.After uttering some prayers of gratitude I immediately walked to the jewelry making station to pick out my own protection necklace- I was determined to find one thing in Mexico I could use as a memory-something I could do everywhere I travelled. I wanted to find something more meaningful than spoons, or shot glasses or magnets and instead decided I would pick up a piece of jewelry everywhere I traveled. As a first gift to myself, and in honor of the significance of this journey, I splurged on a silver and gold handmade, Mayan protection necklace with my name spelled out.

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The Village healer praying over tourists.

I had several other offerings of gratitude to get for some healers back in DC. I decided early on I wouldn’t be bringing back ‘gifts’ from any of my travelers for friends or family unless they were offerings for a past for future energy exchange. More on this later. For now just know I paid for my protection necklace and then walked through  hundreds of square feet of obsidian and crystal tools and totems while my custom jewelry was completed. I found the perfect offerings and hurried away to find my necklace. Time was running out and I wanted to have the healer bless my things before I returned back to the states.

As you can imagine, the smudge ceremony in the healing tent with my crystals, obsidian totems and necklace was super emotional. I literally just balled silently while this man with gentle eyes smudged burnt amber over my body, the smoke filling the tent and blocking my vision. He reached into a small wooden bowl and brushed cool water on several leaves. Uttering in Spanish and Maya, he asked for my name if I understood Spanish, and proceeded to wipe my face with the watery leaves. All the while I stood with my hands full, tears falling down my cheeks. Did he know the significance of this journey? Would I help to heal people like him one day?

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The Village Healers Tent, our guide is to the right.

So many questions and so little time. I came out of the tent crying and our guides smiled when I told them (in Spanish) how I had been waiting for this and how emotional I was because of the work I hoped to do oneday in the United States. They too waited patiently for the smudge ceremony and ushered me patiently into the van without a glimmer of judgment or confusion about my red eyes.

We were the last to arrive to the tour bus and I quickly grabbed my things and plopped down in my seat. Along the way, a young Mayan man called to me, joking playfully about my how beautiful I was. I thanked him in Spanish and he asked to greet me. He reached his hands out, and OCD seized me. His hands were covered in soot and it triggered an intense disgust reaction-really all that’s left of the contamination OCD. I wasn’t afraid I would catch something, it just felt dirty. Not wanting to be triggered, I pretended I didn’t understand and waved a hand in the air, grateful to have escaped without adding another obsession to the list and ashamed that I didn’t want to shake hands with him. Normally I would have pushed myself but I was still a little more anxious than usual and I figured it was worth it to try and enjoy the rest of my trip. I also realized that I don’t have to do anything out of convenience for another. I feel half bad about it now, but I know there will be a time for pushing boundaries when I returned. (It’s important to note that I was in the middle of my medicine taper during this trip and forgot my Zoloft. Towards the end of the trip my goal was simply not to freak out without my medicine or loose an entire vacation to obsessing and ritualizing, in case withdrawal hit me.

We journeyed another 45 minutes away to one of the most beautiful xenotes I have ever seen. Even after experiencing several different xenotes the day before I left, this was my all time favorite, and a hands down must see for anyone visiting Chichen-Itza.

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Everywhere you looked was breathtaking. And I mean everywhere.

The entire area was like an oasis in the desert. Trees and beautiful flowers lined a tile pathway that meandered around a large xenote opening and throughout a shower and sitting area. I opted to grab a locker and skipped out on the life jacket rental, figuring I could save a couple of bucks. I only checked the locker twice before I realized I wasn’t doing a god job ignoring the urge to check, before I literally just told myself who cares and left the tiny blue locker to go cliff jumping in Ik’Kil.

And so I did…and it was amazing. Apparently this xenote is where the red bull cliff diving competition happens. I can understand the allure of this area- so beautiful it didn’t even bother me that the place was swamped with tourists.

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Top view of the xenote, Ik’Kil

The cool part about this xenote is that you descend maybe 65 or 70 feet into a cave before the water greets you. Immediately to your right are three large diving steps with eager tourists. To your left is cool, silvery limestone cave descending straight up. Right above you is the piercing sunlight sparkling on the blue xenote water- tree roots and vines fell from the ceiling and water trickled from the walls. Tiny black catfish swam in circles around you and everywhere you looked was breathtaking.

It was pretty freaky swimming in the 150+ feet of water without a life jacket- but I felt comfortable pushing myself. When I became tired, I floated on my back into the center of the xenote so that the sun could hit my face and I could rest. When I grew tired of that, I practiced the breathe stroke to the side of the xenote where a yellow rope had been conveniently placed for tired swimmers to sit on, grab or rest near.

I spent around 30 minutes in the xenote, even jumping of the medium cliff twice before heading up for food. It was absolutely breathtaking and I wondered if there was some way to stay overnight in this area- I was getting the feeling I was only skimming the surface of these cites with my pre-packaged tours.

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Lunch was wonderful. I enjoyed all of the food- although I wasn’t sure if the fruits and vegetables were safe to eat (google warned me about eating raw fruits and vegetables that weren’t washed in filtered water) so unfortunately, I stayed away from the pico de gallo and fruit when out on daily excursions. But it didn’t matter, because I was in Mexico having the trip of a lifetime and each view filled me up in a way no fruit, or vegetable or margarita ever could.

Lunch was peaceful. I invited myself to a table with a group from Mexico City that thought it was so interesting that I spoke the language and was traveling solo. Not in the mood for back and forth discussion, I thanked them and hurried my meal- eager to walk around and snap a few pictures before it was time to head back to the bus.

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View of the grounds leading out from Ik’Kil

I soaked it all in. Writing to you now, I remember everything about that xenote. I remember the sun hitting my peeling shoulders and the frigid water of the cold showers.

Everything was exactly as it should be- majestic and serene without effort.

I was happy to hear that we were less than 15 minutes from Chichen-Itza. Knowing that most of the national archaeological sites closed at 5:00, I figured we had a little over two hours to explore Chichen Itza before the 2 and a half hour ride back to Cancun.

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Chichen Itza was added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites in 2015

We arrived at Chicen Itza and immediately felt the sun beat on our face and shoulders. Everywhere you went vendors shouted “get your hat-only 3 dollars, get your umbrella-only 3 dollars, very cheap, very cheap.” Our guides warned us about the heat and advised us to wear hats and I could have kicked myself for not having bought that REI hat last minute. To make matters worse, I realized I purchased sun tan oil instead of sun block from the hotel. I had done that before, forgetting that some people need help tanning. I bit the bullet though- my shoulders were already recovering from a sun burn and as long as I stayed under the shade of trees, I figured I would be okay.

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The Sun was not playing any games…

The first hour of Chichen-Itza was with our guide. Because our group contained more than 35 people, we split everyone up into two groups-Spanish and English. I opted for the Spanish group, hoping I would understand enough to follow.

Upon entering Chichen-Itza, I immediately realized why it was one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.  The scale and grandeur of the buildings was hard to imagine. The size of everything was made even more pronounced by the ever approaching jungle, whose shadows encroached on the outskirts of the sites and over buildings that had yet to be excavated.

Even though some of the information, and even jokes told by the tour guides  were the same as the facts Miguel shared two days prior when I visited Coba and Tulum it was good to hear everything again in Spanish. Our guide spoke very fast but always began every sentence with a question, which was very helpful for me. “Why did the Mayan build temples” she would begin, before re stating ‘The Mayan built temples to track the stars and perform religious ceremonies. Even though we call these buildings and ruins, they are really giant calendars and observatories.

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View of Kukulkan Pyramid, also known as El Castillo

We stopped briefly for photos near the famous Kukulkan Pyramid known as “El Castillo” where thousands of tourists gather during the Spring Equinox to witness a light in the shape of a serpent zig zag its way down from the top of the pyramid. And as legend says, drink from the waters of the nearby Sacred Xenote, where sacrifices were made during times of drought.

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Serpent head depicting the Mayan God Kukulkan

Our guide shared more amazing details about the significance of numbers to each of the structures, whose dimensions were embedded with the Mayan’s love for 20 and other significant numbers such as the number of days in a year, the human gestation period and the lunar phase. The sun beat down on us and our guide quickly led us to the Ball Court, where the ball game Pok a Tok was played and we were treated to a demonstration of the court’s awesome acoustics.

 

We also visited the Temples of the Serpent and Eagle and the Temple of Venus. Our guide elaborated on the significance of Chichen-Itza as a religious site where the Mayan would travel hundreds of miles for prayers, healing and special celebrations.

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The Temple of Venus

She told us about the road system constructed by the Maya and my mind drifted- I could imagine walking through the jungle under the light of the moon- the face of Kukulkan standing out above the jungle canopy.

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Our guide pointing out hieroglyphs on the Temple of the Eagle

Even though I enjoyed the comfort of the group, most of the information was repeat and I often found myself lagging behind- to busy snapping for the perfect selfie or pictures of the detailed buildings. After an hour long tour, consisting of carefully crafted stops to minimize our exposure to the sun by distracting us with math questions and other group activities until we could huddle under the shade of a nearby tree for Q&A, we were given an hour to roam the remainder of the site.

With only an hour to spare I half walked, jogged to the far corners of the site. I first visited the Temple of a Thousand Warriors, whose tall pillars looked out over the vast courtyard, just behind Kukulkan Pyramid. To the right of it lay the Temple of Big Pillars, whose presence was quiet, but deafening. The faded shouts of vendors selling cheap Mayan calendar for only 5 dollars was lost to the intensity of the two adjacent structures. The tourists even whispered when taking shots in this area- surely we could feel the sacredness of the site.

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View of the Temple of a Thousand Warriors

Afterwards I walked another 400 meters to the site of el Carcacol, commonly known as the Observatory. It was my favorite of all the ruins and in my opinion, the most interesting of all the structures I visited while in Mexico. I was amazed at the beauty of the dome shaped monument whose back wall abutted the dense jungle. The terraced steps where beautifully engineered and the entire building was a marvel. I wish I could have seen this place at night- I’m sure the stars would only have added to the unique sense of place.

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El Carocal, or simply the “Observatory”

With 40 minutes left to spare, I wandered even further to snap some intimate shots of the Monja complex, which housed several church like buildings and Akab Dzib, the intricate home of the City’s administrator which was named after all the tiny building chambers. Tourists thinned out and I was so happy to be able to grab some clear shots of the ruins without anyone obstructing my view.

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View of Akab Dzib with its many small chambers

I completely lost myself for a good 20 minutes while wondering the edges of the site. Every building had a story to tell. I wondered what colors splashed the walls thousands of years ago, what it would have been like when other indigenous tribes such as the Zapotecs overtook the city and forced Mayans to construct pyramids. I wondered what other mysteries lay hidden beneath the forest ruins. I thought about the ugly mix of modern buildings that dot the concrete streets of Washington, D.C. So uninspiring-surely we could learn a thing or two from the Maya.

 

I took so many pictures without even bothering to see if they were blog worthy-I just snapped and snapped and snapped every few moments between the loud rummaging of iguanas which sounded like jaguars stalking in the forest to the novice traveler. It was amazing and by far one of the highlights of my entire trip. It was different than Tulum and Coba. The energy around the city was so captivating. I couldn’t wait to return. I couldn’t help but feel like there was more for me to see and experience there- 2 and a half hours was not nearly enough to take it all in.

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Panaramaic view of buildings near the Monja Complex

With less than 5% battery and 10 minutes until the buss packed up, I sped walk back to the bus- weaving my way through hundreds of Mayan vendors who were wrapping up their goods in newspaper.  I snapped a picture of the Osorio or High Priestess temple where many human remains have been found.

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The Osario Temple

I didn’t even bother to stop at the bathroom when I left. Clearly I was incredibly dehydrated, having been too exhausted to have finished all the water I brought with me. On the way back I lightly sipped some warm water I had packed with me. I was just buzzing from the experience and sent as sent as many pictures of my experience to loved ones back home as soon as I got a signal. Chichen Itza was such a powerful experience.

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The entire trip home I quietly stared out my window at the jungle and reflected on what I had seen and felt. I thought about the Mayan cooperative we visited and clutched my protection necklace. For the first time all day, I realized the one obsession that had lingered from the day before seemed meaningless.

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Check out my sun burn!

2 and a half hours later and I arrived back the GR Solaris- sun burnt, exhausted and buzzing with energy. I was supposed to catch dinner with Nelly that night but I was to tired from the travels. I politely sent her a text while scarfing down food at the hotel.  I considered drinking some beer, but realized I just wanted some cool water and a good night’s sleep.

I had been up since 6 am and returned from the day’s travels around 7:30 pm. I was so exhausted I could barely function in the shower- mustering the last bits of strength I had to wash my dreads, clean my bathing suit and set some things aside for tomorrow. I was out by 9 p.m, exhausted, but excited for tomorrow. I would be visiting four different xenotes, where I would have the chance to snorkel, kayak, zip line and repel.

Before I drifted off to sleep, I remembered thinking, “I had the adventure of a lifetime and I still have one day left. How lucky am I?”

Turtle Medicine

I awoke early the next day like I always do. I wasn’t surprised to feel the dull pains of a hangover pulsing through my body. It could have been much worse. I popped a couple of aspirin and took a huge swig of water. I considered going to get some breakfast and trying to walk by the beach, but my hangover got the best of me. Plus I was on vacation. And after spending three days in a row waking up at the crack of dawn, I figured I had earned the right to sleep in.

By the time I crawled up out of bed, it was after 10:30. I felt worse than when I woke up earlier. I cursed under my breathe because I always go back to sleep to nurse a hangover, only to discover that my rest is anything but restorative. Instead, I usually feel worse than before. It’s best to keep it moving when you are hung over- let your body work out the toxic remnants of good memories…

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Waffles & french toast  with the heaviest cream I’ve ever had.

I quickly changed into some shorts and a tank top and headed down to grab some breakfast. Coincidentally I ran into my gal pals from LA. We laughed for a bit about the sand cleanup and reminisced over the crazy night before. It was their last night in Cancun and they decided to hang around the beach and soak up the Sun. It was wonderful how I always ran into them at the perfect time- their phones didn’t work in Mexico and attempts to chat via Whats App were pretty useless. I was SO glad I had a free Mexico travel plan that allowed me to make calls, texts and surf the web in Mexico.

It was 1:00 when I finished breakfast. In an amazing feat, I took the bartender up on his offer to take a tequila shot in hopes of chasing away the remnants of my hangover.  It wasn’t a cure all, but it definitely got the spirits moving. Determined not to lose an entire day to a low level hang over (I’m a baby when it comes to any type of discomfort), I decided to take the ship to Isla de Mujeres to tour the island and visit the Turtle Farm.

I could already tell this morning I was a little bit more anxious than usual. Despite an intrusive obsession coming into my head that put my into a silent, 10 minute tantrum, I was able to leave my room with barely any trouble. I felt a million times better when I felt the Sun hit my face and felt the beach breeze brush my cheeks. I think the Cancun Effect is a natural hangover cure, because the sights and sounds of vacationers and the beautiful beach made me feel so much better.  Even my anxiety seemed pale in comparison to the sights and sounds around me.

I hopped on the first bus I could and headed 4 miles North to the Ferry stop. While I waited for my boat, I treated myself to a beachside Corona and lounged on a chair while admiring the beach. The waves near us where gentler, and out in the distance people randomly hollered every 10 minutes when someone bunjee jumped into the Ocean. I spoke casually back and forth with several of the wait staff who like most, were excited I spoke Spanish. By this point, I had found a nice rhythm with the language that felt natural and relaxed.

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Me relaxing beach side. Corona missing from the picture…

And then it was on to the ferry, where I slugged slowly in a line with tourists from all over the world who were heading a few miles off the coast of Cancun to visit the island. En route, I chatted briefly with a young girl from Mexico City, who despite being quite nice, asked to touch my hair before randomly stating that she liked my hair, but didn’t like “pelo como Rasta” (hair like Rastafarians). I had to explain that my hair was in fact dreadlocks and that it was a very important part of my spiritual practices and culture. She gave me that dull, flat emotionless look people give you when they don’t know or really believe what you are talking about. Without really thinking, I gave her the nod to touch my hair, immediately triggered by the idea of her dirty hands touching my dreads. I was so dumbfounded by the insensitivity of our interaction and off put by a persistent low grade anxiety that was only made worse by my hangover, that I didn’t even say no when she asked to take a picture of me.

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Ferry ride with Cancun behind me.

I pulled up to Isla de Mujeres and immediately found my second wind. Even though it was late in the day, I was able to cross something off my list. Originally Steph and I had planned to come here together on Friday, but I decided I wanted to go zip lining in Xenotes instead and opted to take advantage of my hangover and stay closer to Cancun. I was able to leave a message at her hotel while en route to the Island and I tried not to feel too bad about changing plans on her. Plus I had to get out of the hotel room before my mind and body got the best of me.

iphone pics 2460.JPGThe hotel staff I spoke with recommended I rent a golf cart and drive around the island. At first I was super nervous about this idea, but  I opted to be super adventurous and risk getting lost in a foreign country. I just imagined myself running out of gas and dropping my phone in the Ocean on accident or something.  I had a little under 3 hours to explore the island. I was cutting it tight, but for $40 dollars it was definitely worth it.

Driving around the island made me think about my car back home. There is something so freeing about being behind the wheel. It’s like the closest thing I will ever get to holding destiny in my own two hands. The power and the freedom of it all made for an exhilarating, but low key spin around the Island. It was refreshing to see the tourist life jutting up against brightly colored private homes endless streets of vendors and the few locals who inhabited the island. Even areas more run down parts of the town were filled with little children running around and dogs laying in the shade.

Turtles are majestic creatures. The way they move is stoic and dignified. I hope that one day I can move with such deliberate patience. I can remember standing in the humid room, the sounds of water splashes licking the air around you. I imagined I was a turtle- wrapped in the safety of my own shell, floating above the depths of the salty ocean, coming to shore to nest and lay eggs like my ancestors have done for thousands of years.

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Sea Turtles of Quintana Roo

I admired the different expression of colors shapes and sizes of each turtle. They were separated by age and species . When you approached their closure, they swam to you – each climbing on top one another, bobbing their head slowly up and down in the water. I tried hard to imagine the turtles being released into the ocean. Even though their temporary habitation at the farm was a carefully orchestrated human attempt at repopulation, the farm had some zooish quality to it.

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Zoo like enclosure. Pretty depressing I know.

You could feed the turtles, which I didn’t really want to on account of me thinking they were probably eating dead fish pellets, and the fact that it seemed like a pretty unsanitary activity. Most importantly, it made me think of when I used to feed giraffes at the Zoo in Colorado. Was this feeding the highlight of their day-of their existence? Would they ever know freedom? Would they ever experience the wild again?

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Welcome to the Turtle Farm

Compassion is a beautiful thing, and the turtles brought it out of me. It just poured out of me thick and heavy like honey that’s been sitting by a warm stove. So there I was, standing in front of the turtles, still slightly hungover, speaking aloud to them as if they were dear children I would not see again. I told them how beautiful they were and thanked them for their medicine (real hippy stuff I know, right). An important side note here- it was around this time that I owned the spiritual and emotional significance of my trip to Mexico. After having felt slightly self-conscious about lugging my crystals to be charged on the top of the pyramid in Coba, I had no problem tearing up out of joy and speaking prayers and affirmations aloud, despite being surrounded by tourists in corona t- shirts. It was one of the best things about traveling, and one of my favorite things about being alone in general- the opportunity to dream and imagine and be exactly who I am at that moment and safe doing it. That is turtle medicine. Thank you turtle.

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Panoramic shot of the outdoor turtle enclosures.

And that my friends was when I decided to add scuba diving with sea turtles to my bucket list. I wanted to witness them in their element and truly experience their medicine and majesty.

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Two thumbs way, way up.

A short two hour stay on the island later and I found myself racing to get the golf cart back to the rent-a-cart station before they closed at 5. They had my ID and I HAD to get back there before they closed.  In my eagerness to return, I quickly took several guess turns and ended up lost. Fortunately I ran into a bit of travelers luck when I found out I was only 5 minutes away from my destination. And here I was, thinking I was a good 15 minutes away on the other side of the island. On the one hand, I did get a chance to see several of the Spanish inspired, stuccoed Churches and open style, air condition less classrooms which I appreciated. It also left me a good 30 minutes to walk around the beach in Isla de Mujeres, before I had to catch the ferry back to Cancun.

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Interesting Church with a false facade.

Apart from the young gentlemen who decided we all wanted to hear his playlist, the ride back to Cancun was uneventful. I even had the opportunity to meet an older married couple (the wife was a human geography professor who taught sustainability) who had rented a car and traveled all along the Yucatan for the past week. It was a refreshing conversation and I was happy to have relaxing company.  Note to self, make blog cards to pass out to people when I travel.

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Promenade at Isla de Mujeres

The bus ride home was short and sweet. 30 minutes after leaving the Island, I was walking up the steep hill to my hotel. I was exhausted but mostly over my hangover which was nice. Despite wanting to cancel on dinner plans, I rallied and met with my friends who were headed back to Los Angeles the next day. We headed to the hotel strip for dinner at Senor Frog’s.

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Fish tacos and beer. Deliciousness.

Per my usual I order tacos, secretly wishing I was in Mexico City so I could order some tamales with rice and beans.  We were seated in an awkward spot which didn’t help my mood,  but I really enjoyed the band singing covers of pop hits from the last few years.  Plus the tacos were surprisingly good and we just hung out and recapped our days, wondered how we would ever go back to the states after all we had experienced.

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Beautiful brown skin in Mexico.

We took a few last minute selfies and walked a half mile to catch the return bus to our hotel. By this time, I was feeling a little cranky and growing increasingly annoyed at the people constantly trying to sell me something. Many had no problem reaching out and grabbing your shoulder to get your attention- something I disliked for obvious reasons and found highly inappropriate. Boundaries people.

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Nonetheless, I made it to my room safely and showered- carefully removing the last bits of sand from the night before. I chuckled at the audacity of it all and quickly hopped out of the shower amazed at all I had done so far. Tomorrow was a long day of traveling. I had to meet the tour bus at 7:05 am sharp and make the 2.5 hours bus ride to Chichen Itza. I quickly gathered the items I would need, including a small pack able back pack I splurged on, my outfit for tomorrow and hurried into bed. As usual, I was slightly nervous about waking up on time and making sure I had everything. But then I thought about turtle and my heart melted. I drifted off to sleep.

 

 

The Stuff Bucket Lists are Made of

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Making it happen at 6 am.

It was early when I woke- maybe just a little after 6:00 in the morning. I was more excited than nervous to see how I would handle leaving my hotel room. Would OCD get the best of me? Only time would tell. As usual,  I gave myself too much time. Being the Type A person I am, I was already pretty much packed the night before. All I had to do was change into my bathing suit, find my dress and grab some cold bottled water from the fridge. With about 20 minutes to spare, I left the door with what could only be called sympathy checking (I felt bad about this being my first BIG trip alone in Mexico so I gave myself permission to perform some minor rituals) which only took about 60 seconds. It was a relief to be walking away, the no turning back rule has been strictly enforced for months now.

Breakfast is the only meal at the all inclusive hotel that I don’t have to force myself to eat. After a couple days of trying different things, I settle on my usual- French toast, eggs, sausage, fruit and an orange juice. Some days when there are strawberries and whipped cream, I treat myself. I stuffed down my food, too nervous to enjoy eating, but smart enough to know that if I don’t eat I will regret it later.

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Our guide, Miguel Moo

At 7:05 I arrive at the lobby. I’m greeted by a small white van and a man who introduces himself as our guide, Miguel Moo. I am the first person to arrive at the plan and I immediately I pick a window seat in the front, hoping we won’t have a full tour and I can have some space. Eventually we make our last stop and pick up a young, cheery Brit named Steph who asked to sit next to me. Without hesitation I invite her to sit next to me, excited for some company.

Our guide begins talking about the Mayan people. He has a confident, but humble and playful heir to him. He switches between Spanish and English with ease. Everyone stops when he speaks because his presence commands respect and attention. He begins by addressing all of the common stereotypes of people. He begins with pointing fun of Americans, Mexicans and the many travels from all over the world with their hats, ball caps, strong accents and speedo swimsuits. Afterwards, he asks us to share some stereotypes about Mexicans and then challenges us to re-think what we think we know, about the Maya- the idea that that they suddenly disappeared after the invasion of the Spanish, that Ancient Aliens came and showed them how to build the pyramids or that human sacrifices were unwilling captives.

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Map of Mayan Ruins, see top right for Coba

He talked about how the Mayan culture and people are alive and well and that many of the hotel staff and guides are the direct descendants of the Maya. He went on to explain that the Maya are a shorter, dark skinned people with little to no body hair, black almond shaped eyes and round faces. The further North you go, the more Spanish looking Mexicans with lighter skin, and more oval faces you will find. Often time their names being traditional Spanish names Martinez, Rodriguez than the traditional one syllable last names of the Maya.  He told us that there are over 3 million Maya that live across Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, 80% of which speak Maya as their first language. He also told us that later today, we would have the chance to meet some of the Maya and visit on of their cooperatives where their way of life, religions and language are still practiced.

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The Mayan class system.

But first, we are given the standard history of the pre-Spanish Mexico, which includes an explanation of its unique topography, which consists of entirely flat terrain with porous limestone rock which allows groundwater to flow through underground rivers and pool into Xenotes (pronounced senotes), or sink holes. As a result, there are no above ground rivers in Mexico and any topographical changes are likely ruins which have become overgrown with trees and vegetation. After a 2 hour ride, we arrived in Tulum, one of the oldest and best preserved of the Mayan ruins, which lays just 130 kilometers south of Cancun on the Caribbean shore.

 

Upon exiting the tour bus, I was greeted by a dusty street and a slew of vendors.  Before entering the ruins, Steph and I stopped for a quick bathroom break where I discovered the strangest  and most unsanitary faucet system I have yet to see. To activate the flow of water when washing your hands, you nudged a small stainless steel pin, the size and shape of a short pencil you’d use to jot down your lottery ticket number or the number of sushi rolls you want to order, with your fingers, while washing them. I wish I had a picture because the design made no sense to my OCD mind. I made sure to squeeze a normal size amount of sanitizer on my hands upon exiting, ignoring the urge to sanitize again, and quickly met up with Steph and the rest of the group to enter Tulum.

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I love all the iguanas sun bathing on the ruins

We walked a little less than 100 meters into where stone walls mixed with dense jungle greeted us to our right. After navigating along a limestone pathway we made a sharp right and scuffled through a small stone arch way with a pack of 10 other tourists. On the other side was what can only be described as a beautiful beach side estate with views of the nearby beach and a stone wall encircling you on three sides.  Ruins, green grass and sun basking iguanas greeted you wherever you looked.  Dots of tourists floated around the cleared land like busy ants weaving in and out of the ruins with cameras, sunglasses and hats in tow.

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One of my favorite pictures. A shot of the ruler’s home.

Our guide tried his best  to keep us in the shade while he pointed out several of the structures dedicated to the Spring and Fall Equinox celebrations. He explains that 20 is the basis of the Mayan calendar (10 hands and 10 toes) and that daily life was closely tied to numerology and cycles of the Sun, moon and planets. He also discusses the basics of the Mayan social system and how they were separated by building and religious activities. Miguel pointed out the largest of the structures with huge plazas and Ocean views, which were occupied by the rulers and their immediate family.

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This structure probably housed members of the ruling family

Immediately surrounding those large estates were more modest, but intricately designed buildings occupied by lesser nobles and skilled aristocrats (astronomers, priests, architects). The remaining city inhabitants lived in stone and straw homes outside the boundaries of Tulum.

 

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Renderings of Tulum. The vibrant, colorful buildings where said to have                       reminded conquerors of villages in Spain..

It’s hard to explain how open and vast, but cozy Tulum feels. The Ocean is comforting and every where you look there is something more to see- intricate buildings with pillars and windows and hints of where color use to be. Statues honoring various Gods with iguanas poking there head around and often hissing if you get too close. And the jungle, slowly creeping over the stone walls, surrounding the Ocean like a silent gate keeper to the ancient city.

Hands down the best part of Tulum are the views. One of my favorite views was the private beach front and cascading rocks. The waves near Tulum were smaller than Cancun but more tumultuous. And unlike the beach at Cancun with its shell crushed sand, the sand at Tulum was finer and whiter.  It’s easy to imagine what it would have been like to wake up near the beach and stroll around this city walls, passing through beautiful bright buildings and eventually ducking under the archways as you entered into the nearby jungle.

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View of the solstice temple and beach. Wish I were that iguana.

It’s crazy to imagine being one of the Maya, looking out onto the shore and seeing a strange ship with sails huge the coast. And how strange would it be to have sailed across the big Ocean from Spain to see beautiful buildings on the coast of a blue Sea. Okay I total stole that from our guide and one of the information signs, but check out the pictures and you will see what I mean.

Miguel gave us an hour to wonder Tulum on our own. Steph and I took turns taking pictures of one another. I found out that she too was a blogger and hoped to quit her job someday, travel and write until her money runs out. I admire her for that and was delighted to share Tulum with her. It made me even more excited about my own journey, and all the other places I would visit and all the other travelers I would meet.

mayan elder cleansing ceremonyAfter Tulum we stopped at a Mayan cooperative to swim at a Xenote and eat some lunch. Before entering the Xenote, we were treated to a Mayan smudging ceremony so that we could enter the village and the Xenote. Afterwards we met a young Mayan mother who was making tacos fresh on a kern. Our guide invited us all to try some with a pinch of salt. The taste of the fresh corn taco muted any doubts I had about the unsanitary handling of food by lots of sweaty tourists. It was definitely worth it.

Lunch wasn’t so bad either and swimming in the xenote was amazing. Steph had an underwater camera and we took tons of photos. I can’t wait to share them with you because the xenote was probably one of my favorites in retrospect. Some areas of the water spewed warm air trapped from beneath the ground while deep caves running 150 feet deep and one mile long ran were connected to the sides of the xenotes.

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Steph swimming in a xenote Pics of me jumping off the bridge coming soon.

Scuba diverse surrounded us and little kids floated in life vests while Steph and I swam in circles around the xenote. We even took turns taking pictures of one another jumping off the bridge.

corn tortillas.pngAfter a quick pit stop and swim, we were on the road an hour or so to head to Coba- our final destination and the 2nd to last of the Mayan ruins I would see that lay deep in the Mexican jungle. My cell phone was nearly dead and I accidentally left the charger chord plugged in the backup charger, which drained the battery. Luckily our guide let me plug my iPhone into the car console. 15 minutes lent me nearly 20% of a battery- just enough to capture the rest of my day if I played my cards right.

 

It was nearing 3:00 when we arrived at Coba. A zip line tower and a small gift shop greeted us at the entrance. Coba was a lot less crowded than Tulum and we didn’t have to walk long or maneuver through too many other groups before arriving at one of the ruins called “La Iglesia” or simply the Church. Our guide spends the next 30 minutes talking about Mayan religion and the confluence of Christianity. He explains that many of the ruins are actually stacks of pyramids from previous rulers, and sometimes previous Indigenous groups who conquered the city. Jesus Christ and many of the Christian Saints were worshiped by the Maya, who were told they were the same Gods as theirs, just known by another name.

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La Iglesia, Coba, Mexico

We moved onwards to a large passageway with two tilted stone walls with large hoops to our right and left sides. This was the site where the game called “Pok a Tok” by the Maya was played to help priests make predictions about future affairs involving upcoming battles, the fate of crops or weather patterns. Select members of society were chosen to bounce a nearly 8 pound rubber ball through a stone hope using only their hips, elbows and knees.

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Picture of the game “Pok a Tok” being played by the descendants of the Maya.

The game seems complicated and hard to imagine, with the passageway being so narrow, teams being able to win and lose points, and the dimensions of the passageway way and height of the hoop.

 

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Court where the Mayan game “Pok a Tok” was played

Most significantly,  was the fact that it was the captains of the winning teams who were sacrificed following this religious game. According to our guide, it was an honor to be sacrificed because it meant you would bypass the underworld and go straight to heaven. Apparently this game was practiced in various forms by the Toltecs, Olmecs and Aztecs. It is also still practiced today by the Maya people on special occasions at Chichen Itza, where it is commonly referred to as Ulama.

 

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Termite nest in a tree. Great source of protein if you get lost in the jungle our guide told us.

The last part of Coba was a treat. We had the option of taking what our guide called a Mexican limousine (really just a pedicab), or walking a little under a mile to the base of  Nohuch Mul, the tallest pyramid in Mexico. We opted to walk and hear a little bit more about the Mayan people from our guide Miguel who was constantly spewing useful information. If you look over there you can see the termite nests. Because it rains so much in the wet season, they build their nests up in the trees. If you ever get lost in the jungle you can poke a hole in their nest and eat them to survive he says-Miguel is definitely my kind of tour guide. He also points out another amazing feature I had never heard of. The Maya constructed perfectly straight roads that connected their cities. They used stucco and limestone to make paths that could be followed under the cool light of the Moon for religious travelers and traders. In fact, the very paths we were walking on were the original paths laid out by the Maya thousands of years before.

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The remains of a temple near Nohun Mul with a stone commemorating the site.

We had an hour or so to walk around Coba and climb the top of Nohuch Mul. Being the adventurers we are, both Steph and I blazed ahead, water bottles in hand and descended the steep steps to the stop without a single break.

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When we got to the top we were huffing and puffing and overwhelmed with a breathtaking view. The ruins stood over the landscape, it’s rocks and paths giving way to building foundations and walls covered in jungle growth. It was majesty in the truest sense.

 

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It’s a super steep climb to the top- nearly 130 feet.

After a few brief photo opps, many moments staring off in the distance questioning the meaning of life and checking our phones to make sure we gave ourselves enough time to make the mile long trek back to the bus, it was time to head back down. I told that I would meet up with her at the bottom in a few minutes. I brought my crystals with me to charge in the Sun and needed just a few minutes to steal away and say some prayers.

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Me at the top of Nohuch Mul

The tourists at the top of the pyramid thinned a little and I was able to find a quiet spot to utter prayers for gratitude and for loved ones back home. I breathed slowly in and out, being mindful of how my body felt before opening my eyes and taking in the vast scenery that surrounded me. My heart melted and I felt a heaviness leave my body when I looked to my left and saw that someone had left an offering of beans, cacao and corn.  I closed my eyes again and leaned my head back towards the sky. I felt so big and alive and aware of myself and my surroundings. I was exactly where I needed to be, content to share the Maya’s passion for the Earth, Sun and Moon and in awe of the precision, execution and expression their pyramids exuded.

Getting up the pyramid was the easy part. There was a slow line of travelers easing their way down with the safety ropes, and they were taking their time. I opted for the lean and step down approach for a quicker descent and quickly met up with Steph. We had run out of water and once again were running late to the bus. Steph treated me to some cold water (my hotel atm wasn’t working that morning and I had run out of pesos and cash) which was an absolute treat. I literally jogged to look at two ruins hidden just beyond the pathway to the bus and snapped a few quick shots- so much to take in and so little time.
Steph and I exchanged information, promised we would stay in touch and follow each other’s blogs. If you’re interested in reading about Steph’s adventures check back here later for a link to her site. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this, she has already quit her job to travel the world and blog for 6 months until her money runs out. Steph if you’re reading this- hello future you and safe travels my friend, I hope we meet again soon.

It was 7:15 when the bus dropped me off at my hotel.  I had 20 minutes or so to shower and meet my good friends from Los Angeles for a special dinner at the hotel restaurant that requires reservations (fancy shmancy I know).  Dinner was awesome. Tequila shots were awesome. The company was amazing and our service was on point. It was one of the worst tasting, best dinners of my entire life and I will never forget how sweet, kind and tolerant our waiters were of drunken banter. One positive thing to note is that my Spanish is excellent when I drink.

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Dinner with my pals from Los Angeles. They are SO laid back and fun. What a treat!

One shot turned to two and we braved our fear of ice cubes and tried the hotel’s margaritas. Afterwards we headed to the dance floor for the cupid shuffle, the Macarena, the electric slide, the wobble and pretty much ever other group synchronized party dance you can think of. In a rather rare moment, I also got caught up dancing bachata with one of the hotel staff for an entire song. By myself. Because everyone magically left the dance floor. And for a moment in time, I pretended I was on dancing with the stars only really it was dancing with OCD ‘cause it was sticky and sweaty and awesome and amazing and the best kind of ERP ever.

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Me sweaty on the dance floor.

More dancing, more drinking, lots of bottled water and a skinny dip in the Ocean commenced for some time afterwards (don’t worry mom, there were no boys involved). It was a day to remember and a night bucket lists are made of. One helpful word of wisdom I wish to impart for future beach vacationers- don’t sit on the beach and let the waves hit you on the sand to exfoliate your legs, unless you are committed to spending a good 10 minutes cleaning out sand from inside your lady parts.

 

But it was all fine and dandy. I enjoyed every second of it, knowing full well I would feel it in the morning regardless of how much water I drank.

I get Emotional when I Parasail

I woke up early and immediately felt at ease. Today was going to be easy-lavish breakfast on the beach while someone sells me on a time share opportunity followed by trip planning and some outdoor excursion.  I had an itch to get out and experience the water and that beautiful, brilliant beach sun.

iphone pics 2077Breakfast by the beach was AMAZING-minus the birds that ate your food when you returned to the buffet. To distract myself and avoid a run in with them, I ordered a coffee, a mimosa and an orange juice all at once, then treated myself to waffles, sausage, eggs and fresh fruit. It was absolutely divine. Every morsel of food expressed itself in a delicious array of colors, textures and flavors.  For instance, the sweetest, lightest, smoothest agave nectar you’ve ever had, drizzled over perfectly prepared waffles; rich and savory sausage from a culture that embraces pork; and only the freshest fruit, some you’ve never tasted, radiating sugary hues of red, yellow and orange.  The whole experience was extremely satisfying and a delight for the senses.  20 minutes later and I was done.  Done questioning whether I made the right decision to come to Mexico alone and sold on returning to Cancun again this year.

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Enrique, personable salesmen

Then came the tour. The well-traveled and personable salesmen. The perfectly executed sales pitch. The beautiful view. The selfies by the beach. The bait. The hook. The toggle back and forth. The excitement of possibility and the reality of resource constraints and timing. The polite “thank you, but no thank you”. The sales manager, then pretty sales girl number two. Then FINALLY, “the deal of a life time, take it or leave it”. And one last, firm “I just arrived yesterday. I need some time to think about it.” In just over 2 hours I was out of there, bathing suite in tow and planning my first excursion.

parasailing 026It’s hard to explain how extra fresh the beaches of Cancun feel. The crystal clear blue of the Caribbean, the perfect glow of the Sun, the sandy white beaches, are all so beautiful. In fact, everywhere you look is beautiful. And people are beautiful too, because they have deliberately given themselves permission to relax on vacation.  And for a moment in time, on an eight miles Island in the Yucatan peninsula, everything around you is beautiful and everyone around you is happy, and you realize how magical and wonderful and overwhelmingly vast and beautiful the world is. You ask yourself why anyone would subject themselves to the confinement of a cubicle and 9-5 and only get away once a year if they are lucky. I have never felt so inspired in my entire life. I have never felt more connected and present with Mother Earth and my own journey. I realized I had gravely underestimated the capacity to be truly moved by the sight, smell and touch of the Ocean and the sensation of being so present in my own life. For the first time in a long time, my body, mind and spirit where in perfect alignment. I was free.

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This is the experience I had while parasailing-truly breathtaking. I highly recommend it.

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After receiving my official parasailing Girl Scout badge (mind you I spoke Spanish the entire time), I realized I underestimated my enthusiasm for athleticism and pushing the envelope. I absolutely loved riding on the wave runners, hopping up and over huge waves, often experiencing zero gravity.  I decided I wanted to spend some more time connecting with the water and so after swimming in the ocean (for the first time in my life) and chatting with a couple of friendly gals from Los Angeles, I headed over to aqua world for a speed boat tour and snorkeling trip on the nearby Laguna.

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This is when I first discovered that being a single traveler meant I always coupled with the odd man in travel parties.  For the lagoon tour and snorkeling, I was paired with a young millennial from China who was living in Los Angeles. She didn’t have a license, so lucky me, I got to drive. It was very obvious we belonged to two different cultures. Imagine me trying to explain what a crocodile is? The theatrics only made it worse. But the Cancun Kumbaya effect was still in full effect, and there were many moments when we glanced at one another and gave each other that ‘this is awesome look’. I’m pretty sure we shouted exuberantly in unison at times as well.
The magic of the boat ride in to the Laguna was matched equally by the rush I felt after realizing I was about to knock snorkeling off my bucket list after arriving to Mexico a mere 24 hours ago. The snorkeling gear was awkward. I didn’t like that the goggles were reused but I pretended the salt water and sun would kill anything icky (or so my Mom tells me). It felt good to be able to see underwater and breathe.  I felt so supported by the waves. They were blunted by the surrounding coral reef which made each wave feel like a gentle lullaby.

One thing is for sure, humans are super awkward in the water. Plus it’s terrifying as shit when you realized you are so exposed in the open water. I had flash backs to watching that movie (I think it’s really called Open Waters) where the divers where left in the ocean for like 4 days and didn’t make it, because SHARKS ate them. Then I realized that more than likely, there were sharks nearby. Our guide didn’t say any
thing and no one else mentioned so I just assumed that they wouldn’t come inside the reef where fish were smaller and scarcer, and the water levels dropped low to the sand bars during low tide.

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Amazingly, this is near where I had breakfast earlier.

Amazingly, checking out my back side every 5 minutes or so was enough to tame the shark fear and I pushed myself to venture out to the edge of the reef. I wish I could describe how it felt-almost like being weightless and time stopping because you are underwater, but still breathing and moving so slowly and deliberately. I can’t wait to share the underwater pictures with you all when I get them developed. For now, just know that apart from sometimes swallowing sea water when a wave rushed over your snorkel, and water occasionally rushing into your mask, snorkeling was pretty sweet. I enjoyed touching the coral reef, watching the fish swim so close to me and dart off at the last second. I even peeped a couple of really large coral fish and some sea urchin.

I wondered if any of the sea weed or vegetation around me contained some unknown medicinal qualities. I thought about an article I read about the potential to transform the way we eat with ocean agriculture-there being so many undiscovered fruits and vegetables under the sea and all. I wondered if I would ever be brave enough to swim out in the open sea with sharks. I wondered if my underwater camera selfies would come out good. I wondered if anyone would ever see the pictures or hear about how I felt snorkeling in the Caribbean by myself. Clearly there’s a lot to think about when you are snorkeling.

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By 6 or so I had finished snorkeling and decided to walk 2 miles back to the hotel to dry off. In all the excitement of crossing off my bucket list item, I realized I jumped into the ocean with my shorts and tank top still on. You can see from the pictures though that it didn’t matter because I looked so cool! By the time I arrived at the hotel I was exhausted and sun kissed.

I took a quick shoiphone pics 2124.JPGwer and headed to the Mexican night celebration where I ran into the two gals from Los Angeles. We decided to dine together and watch a show celebrating Mexican history, music and culture. The lavish buffet was full of fruits and dishes I had never heard and was too tired to make note of. Mostly, it was a relief to be eating food with flavor again-the all you can eat lunch options at the hotel tastes like the Mexican version of Golden Corral. Plus watching the costumes, listening to the music and learning about the traditions and history of the Mexican people through song and dance, was the perfect finish to an intense day.

By 10 pm the show had ended and I was exhausted. I had to take my hiney to bed. The next day was a 12 hour visit to Tulum and Coba, two of the oldest and best preserved of the Mayan ruins. I wanted to be well rested.