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?”

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.