10 APRIL (Thursday)
In the morning we looked out of our 12th-floor window to see the beautiful turquoise blue of the ocean right in front of us. We had a great breakfast at the hotel buffet, and feeling somewhat better, we checked out and drove down the coast highway to the next Mayan site on our list.
One of the nice views from our luxury hotel in Cancun.
(The photo doesn't do the color of the ocean water justice.)
The drive down to Tulum only took about an hour, if I recall. Once there you will find more than your share of tourists there, due to its proximity to Cancun. There are quite a few gift shops/stalls and a small eatery next to the parking lot, from which you proceed to any area where you board a tram for a short ride to the site itself. The admission booth at Tulum was our first exposure to a procedure that we had not encountered yet, but would encounter for all of the large Mexican archeological sites: an extra fee for the privilege of using your personal video camera or camcorder. While this fee was only $5-10 per day (it varied at different sites), it still was a strange expense for Americans like me that are used to taping for free.
Looking towards the Castillo of Tulum from a distance.
Once into the site itself, it doesn't take very long to see it all. We were there for a total of two hours (including the gift shops and lunch). Most of the buildings are off limits for entering or climbing on, and with few trees around you can almost see all of this small site without much hiking. We were struck by what appeared to be a lack of quality (either in restoration or in the original construction) in the buildings, whose limestone did not seem to have held up to the elements as well as the stones of Copan or Tikal. It might have been the exposure to the ocean, or the hordes of tourists, or the fumes from the buses (which we never noticed, but it is claimed that the best art frescoes at Tulum are being ruined by the vehicular pollution), but this site seemed very "run down" and in poor shape.
Panoramic shot of El Castillo at Tulum
Like most of the rest of the buildings, El Castillo is off limits, and that was the building I most wanted to check out (it has two odd windows facing out to the sea, and when a fire is lit inside the Castillo it creates a beacon to guide boats in through the reefs offshore).
The highlight of Tulum has to be the view, and the same amazing turquoise water off Cancun seems even more splendid here. There is a small beach from which you can swim, and a number of people were. I contented myself with squatting on a rock and putting my hand into the water, which was refreshingly cool.
Back at the Tulum visitor's center we paused long enough to watch a recreation of the ancient ritual of suspending Mayans in colorful costumes from ropes attached to their feet, that had the other end attached to a very tall (a hundred feet or more) pole. As the top of the pole spun around four "sky-dancers" slowly spiraled down towards the ground. It is kind of hard to describe, but interesting to watch.
The "sky-dancers" twirl downward from their pole at Tulum
Back on the road again, we headed for the site of Coba. The road had quite a few large potholes, to the point where it resembled an obstacle course. I hit one big hole dead-on, and was glad to see the car continued without complaint. We arrived at Coba in the late afternoon, where we checked into the Hotel Villa Arqueologica. This was one of a series of hotels run by Club Med, and you usually have to reserve your room (if you can) well in advance. Like most of the Villa Archeologicas, it is a restored hacienda where the archeologists used to stay while investigating the ruins back in the 19th century. It is right on a big lake, and that along with its well-tended grounds makes it very scenic. After unpacking we went out to the hotel's small dock on the lake, where we sat and watched lightning in a storm on the other side of the lake. You could see fish below us coming up to feed, and aside from a few raindrops and the part-time presence of an annoying little boy, it was very peaceful and beautiful. Afterwards we had a nice dinner in a (relatively) elegant hotel dining room, where we were the only Americans, while a bus-load of German tourists on a package tour partied on in the dining room next door.
The postcard of the Club Med hotel. Clockwise from upper left: Nohoch Mul pyramid, dining room, hotel's dock on the lake, the courtyard rooms and pool.
Coba introduced us to the concept of wildlife in our hotel. There was a giant tree-frog seemingly stuck to the exterior of our room's door jam, and I found another on the outside wall of the dining room. In our room we found a spider that was a little over two inches across (including legs), which Sue made me dispatch with a rolled-up brochure from Cancun.