Chichen Itza – Mexico

January 29, 2009

My first real day in Mexico and it was impressive.  It was also the hottest day we were there, the day it didn’t rain, and of course, the day we didn’t bring swim suits.

I don’t know that I would go on a tour to get out there again.  It’s not a complicated drive.  It was remote enough that besides Chichen Itza, the other activities felt more like filler, like they couldn’t find anything better but they had to schedule a bathroom break.

We stopped at a fairly large store and our tour guide said it was the best place to buy authentic Mayan creations, the rest we’d see are probably from China.  But for being authentic, they looked exactly like everything else we saw.  I don’t think I’d spend any money on something “authentic” there unless I saw it being made with my own eyes.  (Though I did get tempted by the Temple of Kukulkan pendants.)

We went into a town that was under construction.  You couldn’t move anywhere without children running up trying to sell you things.  This method does not work on me–it makes me want to run the opposite direction.  There was an old church here but again, it was like they couldn’t find anything more interesting to put on the route.  The tour guide was incredibly well-versed in the significance of Chichen Itza but for the church he was just like ‘this is a church.  It was built in this year.  Go walk around for 20 minutes.’

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Mystery church

There was a park nearby that was nice but you just could not get away from the vendors.  I told Chris I wanted to sit in chairs like this with him cause it was romaaaaannnntiiiic and he said ‘no it’s not, they’re facing opposite directions. Those are chairs for if you don’t like  each other.”

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First sight of the city is the Observatory.  This gave me chills.  When I was in middle school, we did a great unit on Mayan history that involved building step pyramids out of toothpicks and stuff.  There’s something about the history of ancient cultures that captures my imagination more than modern history.  So yeah, I spent a lot of time brainstorming for books while I was in American History class unfortunately!  I have a better appreciate now, but then?  The thing that kept me awake was Mayan history.  The architecture, the astronomy, the human sacrifice and deadly ball game.  You know, in history class you don’t hear a lot about the games ancient people played but the concept of playing a game is very humanizing.

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The feeling of being in the middle of history is kind of strange in a Back to the Future sort of way.

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A closer look at the Observatory.

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All I need is a mirror and this would be a prime myspace portrait ;p

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Dual miracles – the ability of ancient peoples to erect these majestic buildings….and the ability for something as innocuous as moss to tear them down…

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Chac, the long-nosed God of Rain.  The entire time I thought the tour guides were saying “Chalk.”

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Look closely, there are skulls all along the wall…

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THE BALL COURT!  The scale of this defies my puny camera and video recording is not allowed.  This is where they played that mysterious ball game where the winner may have been sacrificed.  Interestingly, our tour guide compared it to modern day when the tourists were horrified that it was the winner who died.  He said those we respect, those we honor, where do we send them?  To war.  Like the ancient Mayans, we send our very best to die.  You don’t send the loser to fight for your country, you send the winner.

I remembered the ball game itself, but I didn’t know that the court was designed so that a whisper on one end could be heart on the other.  You can’t even see the whole length in the photo, it’s huge.  Hearing that whisper was awesome.  It’s like Echo Square in Savannah, you know it’s supposed to work but it’s so unusual, so defying of the laws  of sound that you understand, that you don’t expect it to work.  Echo Square is a square of four trees and if you stand right in the middle, your voice will echo back to you.  A German woman told me about it, she said the trees talked to her 😉  It vibrates through your body.

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The details in the structures were very interesting.  I love to look and wonder, what was that used for?  Is this where they dropped the ball to start the game?  Or where the King observed?

The side of the ball court.

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One end of the ball court.

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The Temple of the Warriors / Thousand Pillars

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I didn’t count them, but it looks like about a thousand to me 😉

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The Temple of Kukulkan.  This gives me shivers just looking back at it.  I’m so glad we went when it was slow and we could just about get shots without people.  I love how the clouds are coming into the picture.  The perfection of the structure is just, wow.  Amazing that they could do that.  This was where our tour guide really shined.  He gave us more detail about the position of the equinoxes than I will ever be able to remember or  comprehend.  I wish he’d been equally thorough with some of the other structures (or the church haha).  It was also built so that the snakes that line the stairs can cast a shadow that looks like they’re slithering.  =O  Can someone construct my house like that?!  Stick a post out in the yard, ‘Beware of giant snakes’

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There’s an aesthetic quality in ancient architecture that we’ve really lost over the years.  While I’m all for being efficient, the cookie cutter houses make me kind of sad.  The office where my dad worked was just a big black square.  They called it Darth Vader’s Summer Home.

The scale here and feeling alone with this majestic piece of history….  ❤

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And yes, there were even vendors out here.  They were in a ring around the main part of Chichen Itza so I think they had to stay in certain boundaries.  I wish they had to stay outside the city itself rather than cheapen it by merchandizing it.  Not that I didn’t want that Kukulkan necklace.  I just didn’t want it shoved in my face ‘buy buy buy’ when I’m trying to enjoy Kukulkan itself.

We got time to wander around and I listened in on other tour guides.  Ours was great, extremely well-informed but it was obvious he did not want to be doing this and he rather looked down his nose at the other tour guides who sensationalized things.  He was a college professor that did it for extra money.

Then we went to our first cenote.  Again, this would have been great had we brought swim suits!  My dad booked this tour though so going on it all we knew was that we’d be seeing Chichen Itza ;p

Water-filled cave = love.

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Mexico, Acid

January 26, 2009

I had a dream that I was in Mexico at a restaurant on the beach. Literally, the water and sand came into it o.o We were staying at both a hotel with secret pyramid tunnels underneath it and a beach condo like at LBI except the beach condo was in the mountains.

There were fish tanks at the restaurant and itty bitty goldfish were escaping from them so I started running around, falling on the floor, trying to catch these fishies and put them back in the water.

I then escaped on my own and ran into some kind of magical care bear-ish creature. We climbed up a hill on the side of the road and were in the bushes. It told me we had to get somewhere and stop something. So then a big pink bedsheet flew across the road and on it were a bunch of other magical creatures (girlie stuff like pixies wtf). So I hopped on but then we crashed into this building where the Something was.

Huge ogres marched us into a gymnasium and on the way there I grabbed a purple shirt from the wall. I didn’t really know what was going on, didn’t know how bad it was so I begged to go to the bathroom. Finally, they let me but inside the bathroom over the toilet was a woven basket type thing that you had to pee through. It was very difficult T_T It was also really warm in there so I took off my fleecy jacket and sweatshirt and I already had a purple shirt on.

There was an ogre in the bathroom too and he leveled a gun at me. I was like o.o oh crap, I’ll get back to the gym! but he shot me anyway. For a moment, I was really relieved because I was still alive. The shot he fired was no more than a little spot of cold that hit my face. He shot me 3 more times so I was like hmm I better act like this hurts so I rolled around and wimpered but then he shot me SOME MORE 😛 Finally he let me go back to the gym where everyone was sitting around or playing hand-held games and waiting for whatever was going to happen.

Then the cold spots on my face began to burn and sting. It got worse and worse, I thought ‘shit, he shot me with acid or something’ I tried to dab at it with my hand to rub it off but then where my hand touched it, it started to crack and peel and split open and bleed @_@

A model of the Riviera Maya emerged from the middle of the gym and you could see cars and people moving as if you were looking down on it from an airplane. The Evil People began to set off natural disasters, earthquakes and tsunamis and such. I guess our purpose was to watch and be horrified. I looked all over the area trying to find Chris cause I knew he was in the beach condo T____T


Toilets – Mexico

January 26, 2009

It amazes me how creative architects get with something as utilitarian as a bathroom.  It’s like, you’ve got to pretty up the process somehow.  And of course there are the euphemisms… water closet, WC, powder room, bathroom, etc

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Castle bathroom!

And on the opposite end, there were toilets that didn’t flush in hole-y shacks with no running water let alone soap or paper towels.

There was the Mayan village with a wooden log bathroom with a thatched roof.  There was toilet paper but to ‘flush’ you were to throw bark down the hole.

And all the bathrooms had people waiting to give you paper towels for a tip.  Seriously, seriously?!  There isn’t anything more useful they could be doing?  It takes me .1 second to grab a paper towel!

At the hotel there was a bidet.  At least, I think it was a bidet.  I’m not really sure what you’re supposed to do with it D:  I was tempted to Google it haha.

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Xcaret

January 26, 2009

Like Xel Ha, this is an eco park.  Yes, it draws tourists but I wouldn’t call it “touristy” the way theme parks in the US are.  There are plenty of animals to see in habitats designed to look natural.  If I had a choice between Xel Ha and Xcaret, I think I would choose Xcaret.  A lot of the same activities are available but Xcaret’s evening show is what really makes it worthwhile.

The gift shop was weirdcool.  It even had a mine shaft and an area where birds were hatching.

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I got sucked in to wandering around looking at the animals but there really weren’t any that were more exotic than what you can see in the US.  I feel like I wasted my time there doing that.  I would have liked to do the snuba, or sea trek, or ride out to the snorkling spot.  Of course, those all cost additional money.  I also missed the House of Whispers, Cemetary, and Village.

This guy is just cool.

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There were castle bathrooms =O

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I did love seeing the sea turtles ❤

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These guys were huge!  I wish I had something to show the scale. 4 feet at least.

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I’m not sure if it’s good or bad…

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…that when they released the sharks, the sharps came right back =O

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Chillin'

Though it was pretty cold (again) for water activities.  We ended up doing all the walking just so we’d warm up enough for the underground river to be more tempting than terrifying.  I wish I had had a wet suit!  The underground river was cool but it was built up to be way more than what it was.  I didn’t see ANY fish.  I also was under the impression that it was totally underground and you had a headlamp and all but no, most of the passages open up to the outside so it’s not real dark.

Once you get to the area where the cave opens up to a river, you see a few fish.  The lagoon was much more interesting.  There were some silver fish with a rainbow line across them and real skinny fish that hung by the surface.

The sun began to set and lights were lit to lead the way to the night show.  We passed by a horse show ): (I’m afraid of horses!!).  A lady wanted to get her picture taken beneath the lanterns, she was very excited but she got right in front of us and then apologized, all flustered.  I don’t know what language she spoke but it’s always interesting to communicate with people only through gestures and emotions.

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Walk past the pre-show…

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We got a candle when we walked in and once most people were seated, fire was passed around.  It was weird.  I can’t imagine that happening in the US with all the lawsuit and fire safety issues.  It was kind of worrying but also beautiful.

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The show itself was quite long and very elaborate especially with the costumes and dances.  It was kind of a pageant of Mexican history, starting with the Mayans and moving up to Cancun the party town.  I wish they had done something Day of the Dead related.

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While everything they did was impressive, I loved the Mayan stuff best.  The headdresses were spectacular, the drum beat gets into your heart’s rhythm, and the ball game!

I love the ball game not only that, but then they played hockey with fireballs O_O


Tulum + Xel Ha

January 26, 2009

Tulum is not as expansive as Chichen Itza, but it’s very unique.  For one thing, it’s built by the ocean…for another, there are iguanas everywhere.  Again, we are unlucky with the weather so it was scalding at Tulum then when we got to Xel Ha to swim…it was cold.

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Chichen Itza is mostly interesting for the scale and astrological significance.  The history we learned at Tulum was more quirky and it helped that our guide had laminated pictures to show us.

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There is a theory that the people at Tulum were not just Mayans but perhaps Mongols who had come over.  There was evidence that they had the “mongol mark” which is a spot on the lower back that disappears around puberty.  The architecture is more eastern in design and there is some evidence of fish bones perhaps being used for acupuncture.  The Mayans would put jade stones in their teeth and sharpen them as well as mold the heads of their children because the ideal form to them was that of a jaguar.

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Lizards are cool… but I overheard another guide saying that they were responsible for a lot of the destruction of the ruins ):

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I wanted to swim but it was pretty crowded (high tide didn’t help!) and we still had a van ride to Xel Ha.  Yes, the water really is that shade of blue.

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I wish I had done Tulum and Xel Ha separately because I felt rushed at both.  There’s a lot to do at Xel Ha, especially if you want to sign up for any of the extra activities like snuba and sea trek.  In my preparation I found some people saying that Xel Ha was ‘too touristy’ like ‘the disneyland of Mexico’ and I am here to say that’s elitist BS.  You want to go sleep out in the jungle and get dysentery, fine but don’t knock the half-way stuff.

Xel Ha is a natural water park.  It is not remotely like disneyland except that it might be packed in summers.  It is left mostly natural.  The highlight of the park is a slow-flowing river that you tube/snorkle down.  First you go beneath the mangroves then finally out into a lake where there are big rocks to snorkle around.  Lots of fish by the docks too.

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Defines!

We really didn’t do much besides the river ):  We watched the dolphins play a bit.  There are caves and cenotes to explore.  I wish I’d tried the rope crossings.  I did go across the floating bridge and around it were some pretty big fish.  My dad was afraid to snorkle around there…once they get that size he said the line between predator and prey isn’t clear enough!

There are lizards here too.  This is the greeter!

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Playacar

January 25, 2009

Playacar is Playa del Carmen.  People often refer to Avenida Cinco/Avenue 5 as the city of Playacar.  It’s basically a walking downtown area, decently sized.

I’m not a “shopper” per se but I have a List.  I want a nice, long Stevie Nicks-ish black skirt.  A mystical-ish purple necklace.  Something rainbow-dyed silk maybe.  A purple flowy dress.  Maybe a couple more things.  My eyes are also attracted to colors and shiney things (mm, technology…).

Besides, it rained so what else was there to do but shop?

The walk there from the hotel zone is bizarre.  There are ruins just all over the place, some with labels some without…no protection on them whatsoever.

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Did I mention we went the first two weeks of December?   That’s right, Christmas in Mexico!

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We were also around for the Festival of the Virgin Guadalupe, apparently Guadalupe and Mary are one and the same.  It was weird though, it was supposed to be on the 13th but we ran into the parade on the 12th.

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I’m even less of a drinker than a shopper but who can say no to a swing bar?  With swings~!  So I had an orange fanta heh.

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There’s a little port for the ferry to Cozumel and right there is a juke box with some of the most random stuff on it.  It also had way more music than any juke box has a right to have.  I wanted to put something on and start dancin the night away 😉

You quickly find that almost every store carries almost the exact same stuff.  Some of which you can find in the US.  And yes, you can bargain.  It’s to their benefit because if they say ‘$10’  and you say ‘$8’, at least they’re buying it from you and not the guy next to you.

La Fiesta is a big store where you don’t bargain but the guy from Orbitz who did some travel agenting for us said you can mention someone told you 10% off your total purchase and you should get it.  I didn’t buy enough there to make it worth asking.  He also suggested to start bargaining at 50%.  So if they say 10, you say 5 and eventually you meet around 60%.

I feel like I’m taking advantage of people that way, I like a solid price point.  I like the respect that someone isn’t taking advantage of me, that they set their price point at the actual worth not inflated (heh heh yet I live in America…).  But my friend went to China and she said that there the shopkeepers respect you when you bargain, it shows that you know what you’re buying and how much it’s worth.

Lots of cheap souvenirs.  One thing I don’t get is if  there are so many people living in these hovels, why aren’t they handcrafting stuff?  Or maybe they are, they just don’t put any creativity into it so it looks just like everything else?  I did get a nice woven belt that was hand-made but I dunno about much else.

The jelly fish lanterns made from gourds were cool but I swear I’ve seen them for sale in the US too.

My bargaining experience was pretty simple.  My coworker gave me some money to get her a box and a gift for her grandson.  I had my eye on one with the Mayan calendar on it and some other options so I asked the price.  He said 200 pesos (less than $20).  I put it down and looked at a smaller box next to it.  “180 pesos.”  …  I wasn’t really intending to bargain right at that minute so I just said I might come back later.  “150 pesos.”  Well, okay, I think around $15 was fair for the box so I figured I might as well haha.

btw, if you ever go to Playacar and see this store….

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…….bring me back the black lacy flamencoish skirt? ;___;  I really wanted to get it.  We went in the store multiple times.  My dad kept telling my mom to buy it for me–which is why I didn’t just suck it up and buy it myself–but she never did.

One thing that got really annoying was the salesman attitude.  Everyone is so desperate for business they nearly jump on you.  They’ll call your attention with anything they can find–if you’re wearing an ad shirt, they’ll comment on it, if you’re hand-holding, they’ll comment on it, if you’re a group, they’ll comment on it.  ‘Hey, hey, familia!  Come here!  Why are you still walking?  This is the best store, I have a good deal for you!  Hey Mister, I have something your Lady will love!’  As it is, I’m someone who hates just dealing with “Can I help you find something” from Target employees–and I worked for Target!  This is 10x worse.  I hate that people are pushing something in my face that I don’t want or need–if I want help, I’ll ask for it kthx.  You just have to keep your head up and move on, act completely deaf.

Every time I went into town I saw people trying to sell you on getting a picture with a monkey.  The monkey was SO CUTE!  My parents wouldn’t ask how much for it though and I didn’t have much to spend.  But on the last day, I had 50 pesos (less than $5) to spend.  Well, technically I had 65 pesos but I wanted to keep the 10 peso paper and 5 peso coin.

I asked how much the picture of the monkey was…  50 pesos!  BUT THEN he said I had to use my own camera.  Which was at the hotel, of course.  My mom got hers out but the battery was dying D:  I’m not sure that any of the pictures came out.

I thought it would be just one picture.  He put the monkey in my hand (I never did get the monkey’s name ;_; ).  Then on my shoulder.  Then on my head!


Mexico – Tips

January 25, 2009

Write down the names of your guides ):  I feel like a jerk that I can’t remember any of them

Don’t go horseback riding unless you are really confident with horses.  I swear I will never ride a horse again.

Don’t bother brushing up on your Spanish, you’ll hear much more English. (At least in the fancy hotel area…I wanted to test my Spanish but had a hard time getting people to talk to me in anything other than English)

Everyone will tell you to bring sun block and bug repellent.  Then when you get places they’ll say NO bug spray, ONLY specialized sun block because otherwise you damage the environment.  By the way, the specialized sun block never sinks in so you spend the day looking like a kabuki theatre star ^_~

Don’t go in summer.  While we went in winter and had more rainy days than I would have liked, even the first day was scalding and worse weather than that would be torture not vacation

Always bring your swim suit, you never know when you’ll end up in a cenote

Bring lots of pesos.  LOTS.  Everyone and their brother is hoping for a tip and you can afford it–they can’t afford to live without it.

Take a full day in both Xel-ha and Xcaret.  If you are doing something specialized in one (say, the dolphins) do it on a seperate day or you won’t have time to enjoy the rest of the parks.

Bargain!  Just about everyone has the exact same wares so it’s to their benefit that you buy from them rather than go one stop over to buy from someone else.

Get some jewelry, heh. I don’t usually care about jewelry but their purple stuff was sooo sparkly and I can’t find anything remotely similar in the US even at super expensive places

Hope you like to drink because everyone wants you to sample their tequila