Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Thursday, December 27, 2012

Once eventually through the border, I shed my former “Sam” self and started clumsily negotiating and then conversing with a taxi driver in Spanish. Samwell was back.

The region of Mexico I am staying in is the Yucatan Peninsula. It is the far east of the country, and from the Belizean border heading north, my final destination is Cancun (of Spring Break fame). Keen to get to the action of the towns at the top of the peninsula, I powered through to Tulum, a town on the coast, about 2/3rds of the way up.

There are ruins there that were still occupied by Mayans until the time of the Spanish Conquest in the 1500s. “Tulum” can refer to: the ruins, the beach, or the ‘Pueblo’ (the main part of town) where my bus came in at just gone half six. (Side note: this reminds me of a conversation I had with a guy in Belize. Organising a time to meet up, I suggested “half six”. Not realising I meant 6.30, he replied: “What? Meet at 3?!”).

Back to the story…

After finding a hotel in the evening, spent the following morning on Skype to loved ones and then went out for a bit of an explore of the ‘Pueblo’. My main priority for the region was to see some cenotes (hold on for an explanation) and so enquired at a few places to gauge what was on offer. One shop offered a scuba diving session, and despite my clothes having still not dried out from last time, thought this would be the best way to experience them. “There’s a bus setting off in a couple of hours. I’ll give you a 10% discount if you go on it”. Sold.

So grabbed some food (I’ll discuss that later too) and returned to take the trip, via the Dive Shop to get kitted out, on to Dos Ojos (two eyes) cenotes.

Now then, a beginner’s introduction to geology in Mexico (written by a beginner…) From what I remember being told; the Yucatan Peninsula is essentially a limestone slab of land. Limestone is very porous, and so does not hold water and for this reason, the region has no rivers. At least overground.

Cenotes are basically caverns that have been formed by water building up over the land, and then collapsing inwards. Because of the stone’s porous nature, water then seeped through and, over millions of years, became an incredible formation of rock, but underground. They are all different, but the cenotes I visited hold crystal clear water which, when explored (especially via scuba diving) also reveal an almost other world.

Stalagmites and stalactites are all over, boulders that have tumbled and piled up create blockages, and on the second dive we “came up for air” to observe the ‘bat cave’, a ceiling of short stalictites, with about a metre gap of air until the water.

My guide, Jal, took me on a delicate tour through the cenotes. Very concious not to disturb the complex topography, it was the most testing dive of my very short career. The bat cave was only accessible by scuba diving through a weaving route underwater.

I’ve never actually been to the ancient city of Atlantis, but I imagine the cenote I toured was very similar in its architecture. Especially the thick stalagcolumns (I’ve just made that word up) where the stalagmites and stalactites have conjoined.

Out of the water and back at the van, Jal took the role of photographer and obliged in contributing to the Outtakes folder for my Decent Profile Pic pursuit (see photos). Then it started to rain. Any feelings of homesickness I might have had about the festive season back in England were quickly washed away.

The food. So, took the decision to make the most of the many food stands available on the streets of Tulum. There are authentic, fancy restaurants, and a few English Chineses (supermarkets here are run by Mexicans by the way) however my POA has been street food whenever possible. Though these are cheaper and where the locals eat (and so in my opinion, more interesting) they are often without menus. So I point and don’t know what I’m eating.

Day One was a type of hot baguette filled with shredded meat, salad and avocado. Day Two 1/2 was enchiladas: shredded chicken in rolled up tortillas, covered with tomato sauce and a few extras. Day Two 2/2 was tamales (‘smooth pasties’, remember) with fillings of chicken, and then black bean. Day Three was a ‘torta’: hot bap filled with shredded chicken and salad-y bits (I think this was Day One’s food), and tacos: tortilla disc laid flat with filling in middle to roll up and eat. The tacos were so good and inexpensive that I went for seconds.

What’s also nice about street food is you sit up at the counter with the owner cooking in front of you. This allows for some, albeit disjointed, conversation to be had while the dish is being made. Locals have also been intrigued as to why some random English guy is perched in their usual spot.

On the final day, checked out of the hotel and got in a taxi van (collectivo) to see the Ruins. What’s different about Tulum (other than being accessible..) is that it was a bustling trade city that looked out onto the beach (which served as a port).

This meant that it had less of an emphasis on temples, and more on practicality of a running a market town. The architecture and layout reflect this. With Tour Guides costing the same as accomodation for four nights, I opted to make my own way around. Gleaned a few bits of trivia. Only one is really noteworthy.

Fun Fact #18 – Mayan vessels couldn’t withstand sea turbulence, and so boats would hug the coastline, hopping from port to port

When that was complete, walked around the Pueblo, had ‘food Day Three’, and bought a couple of items. Including a rug that was haggled down from M $2000 (£100) to M $300 (£15). In retrospect, I might have gone lower.

Got the bus to Merida (State capital) in the afternoon. On the way out I realised I’ve never seen such a high concentration of white people with dreadlocks as I have in Tulum. Am beginning to wonder if there was a convention there or something. Maybe it’s just a hotspot for people “finding themselves”. Either way, I’ve missed my chance now. I guess the trip will have to continue…

Tulum Ruins

Dos Ojos cenote


Ruins from the beach

Food Day Three

Tacos and Tortas

Entrance to walled city