Big Question Marks

Friday, February 12, 2010

Getting Cultured...

Hola! It's been a while since the last update. How time flies in Cancun....

Today we escaped the hustle and bustle of the hotel strip to get a little Mayan culture: a tour of the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza. My dad and I both being into ancient history, we really enjoyed it. Chichen Itza is located in Yucatan state, about 2 1/2 hours inland from Cancun (including a rest stop at a tourist trap). The Mayan civilization flourished there from around 600 or 700 AD after choosing the site because of its excellent location for studying astronomy and such, and they came up with an amazingly accurate calendar, among other things-- it also held great religious significance. Over the centuries, the site was nearly abandoned and later repopulated by the Toltecs, who were thought to have influenced the architecture a fair bit (ie. the main pyramid standing today, the Pyramid of Kukulkan, is much wider than other Mayan pyramids like Tikal in Guatemala-- which was amazingly positioned at the magnetic north and captures the shadows exactly during the equinoxes and solstices). There's the tales of gory human sacrifices (though it was only every 52 years apparently), and then the eventual conquering of the site by the Spanish in the 1500s, where they dismantled many of Chichen Itza's structures and used the limestone to build churches. But the site was rediscovered in the 1800s by archaelogists and has been under looting and/or excavation since-- and luckily much more protected now.

That's one cool thing about revisiting places in the world-- how much even an ancient site can change over the years. When I first toured Chichen Itza in 1998, for one thing, climbing the Pyramid of Kukulkan was a must. 91 steep, hot steps to the top under the blazing sun... and a dizzying view down to the ground. For a few years now, that climb has been closed off-- too many idiots graffitiing the walls at the top, we're told. But with the number of tourists climbing that structure daily, surely it wouldn't be lasting for too long anyway.

There have been new discoveries and a bunch of new buildings excavated out of the ground since then too; the site has expanded quite a bit in 12 years. I can only imagine how much will have changed by the next time I'm back. There is one very bad development though-- the arrival of the high-profile music concert among the ruins. Sarah Brightman just did a show; before that, Pavarotti was there, and some other singers I think too; on April 3, Elton John will perform; and word is Paul McCartney's next. All great in concept, but even our guide Eduardo (who did his archaelogy Ph.D) was against the concerts-- because he shares the view that the intense noise of concert speakers is damaging the ancient structures more with every event (not to mention, has anyone SEEN what the ground looks like after an outdoor music festival?). So sad news there. Maybe someone will eventually shut that down....

So yes-- a good day of culture and history, with a few dashes of tourist-trap thrown in (think costumed Mayan dancers at our buffet lunch, dancing with a Corona bottle balanced so delicately on their heads). This time the tour had an additional stop at a cenote (a water-filled limestone sinkhole which the area is known for all throughout the jungle) for a swim-- sounded like a beautiful natural pool to take a dip in, but being surrounded by souvenir shops and landscaped with concrete steps and viewing platforms, not so natural wonder. Ah well! It's as natural as we can expect, I suppose. Gorgeous vines hanging all around though. And I'm sure if it wasn't a cool and cloudy day we would've been in that 150-ft deep pool in a flash!

(Fingers crossed the weather gets a bit better for our last two days-- boo hoo, you're probably thinking!-- as it's been getting cloudier and cooler with each passing day. At this rate we'll be coming back paler than we left. Anyhoo-- more updates soon!)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Cancun: it begins

On our first morning in Cancun, a big blue sky and hot sun greeted us for our first voyage into town-- most of Cancun's hotels are located along a skinny strip of land that's separated from the mainland by a lagoon; the small downtown is just inland from that. It was time to try out the local buses, a few of which go straight to "Super Wal-Mart", where visiting gringoes and locals alike load up on groceries. At 7.5 pesos a trip (that's about 60 cents), it's a bargain and a fun ride. After an excellent Mexican breakfast of huevos rancheros at a local cafe, we wandered the extremely quiet town — realizing everything's closed because it's Sunday, duh! — and found our way to the Wal-Mart, which was a bit unlike Wal-Marts at home in that it had a big bakery of local pastries, a giant section of cheese, and tequila and beer on the shelves. Our suite's kitchen was soon well-stocked. Awesome!

The afternoon was lovely and the biggest debate was whether to spend our time by the pool or the beach. We opted for beach (as many people did) and relaxed by the stunning turquoise ocean to the tune of vendors honking on giant conch shells and small planes putting by, dragging Superbowl Party banners. Eventually it game time drew close, and since it appeared our TV channels were mostly in Spanish, we figured Planet Hollywood would be showing the game. We weren't wrong — and amazingly enough, the restaurant seemed well-divided between New Orleans and Indianapolis fans. Divided... yet very united in the crowd's universal love of football (even I learned a teeny bit about what was happening).

On Day 2 (Monday), we thought we'd break up what would likely be a whole week of loafing by the pool/beach with a Spanish lesson put on by the hotel. It was fun and we learned a few handy phrases (like "Es picante?"), but our small group of five adults soon found our Spanish skills shown up by the one nine-year-old kid in the group! Little did we know, the sun would mostly disappear after the Spanish lesson and only come out for short stints for each day afterward... ah well... at least we could practice our Spanish numbers in the many malls around! (And maybe make a few friends along the way...)

making friends ....

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Art of the Last-Minute Trip

In a very strange turn of events this week (proving once again that life is full of 'big question marks'), our blog will return to being a travel blog for one random week — because, today, Dayle has found herself in Mexico.

Yup, you're reading correctly. I'm in Mexico!!!

In a nutshell, my parents had a week booked in Cancun starting today; however, earlier this week my grandfather ran into some serious health issues, landing him in the hospital and keeping my mother in Canada to look after him. So I'm subbing in... sort of a pinch hitter for vacations.

So yes — for this week, I'll be updating in between eating huevos rancheros and beach bumming. It'll be interesting: the first time I was in Cancun was my first time ever in Mexico, and even then it felt a bit like an extension of the U.S., and not so much like a foreign place. Hopefully it still carries a bit of the exotic, not too much Spring-Break vibe, but definitely some nice weather. It's also a bit weird travelling with such mixed emotions: sad my Mom couldn't come and that I've left behind my ill grandfather, feeling a bit irresponsible for leaving work at the drop of a hat, a giddiness that comes in waves that I'm going on an unexpected vacation, and a wee bit of doubt at how the more-cynical me will fare in such an easygoing, party-hard tourist town like Cancun after fighting my way through places like Burma and Jakarta.

So after a terribly crazy day and a half (I learned I was going on Thursday), I ended up in Waterloo with way too many clothes for the trip and spent all night repacking my old trusty NBought some hair dye just before the drugstore closed at midnight and packed that along with my nail polish and everything else to primp with when I arrived in Mexico — while some people get manicures and such before a trip, I didn't even have time to return my library books! After a super early morning and a smooth four-hour Air Canada flight (along with my Dad's adorably giddy assistant, who took the same flight as us to Cancun), we hopped off the plane today to clear skies and about 26 degrees... muy bien! A few hitches with our room not being ready on time, so we sleepily hit the poolside restaurant for some much-needed lunch and cervezas. Even if everything else is not the cheapest in touristy Cancun, beer is still a steal: two happy hour beers for 65 pesos ($5USD), even at the poshy hotel bar.

Eventually we got to our "villa", a really nice apartment-sized place in the monstrous and new Westin Lagunamar with views of the turquoise ocean and the gigantic hotel pool (biggest in Cancun, says my Dad). No luck on swimming today though; sun sets at 5:30pm and there's a cool breeze. But there will be plenty of time for that... Adios for now! I'll be back for more updates soon.