Visiting the Maya.

Most of our vacation in Cancun was spent hanging out at the resort.  It was a beautiful setting and we had an awesome room (probably the best I’ve ever had), but the highlight of the week for me was a side-trip to the ancient Mayan city of Cobo.  I can enjoy resort life for a couple of days, but after that I start feeling the need to get out and find someplace remote, or a hill to climb, or to just get away from people…

I hoped the trip to Cobo would be a nice adventure to break up the life of luxury we were living at the resort.


Our shuttle bus picked us up at the front lobby, then proceeded to several other hotels to pick up other travelers.  Once we were finally on the road for Cobo, the van was filled with a dozen people.  The 90-minute ride started out well.  We got out of town quickly, then spent half an hour on what would be considered ‘freeway’.  This soon transitioned to a rural two-lane road, but all was still fine.  Then, things changed.

I realize the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions traveling on a bus to a remote area of a foreign country, but I’ll let you off the hook early.  This isn’t the tale of a dangerously curvy road with harrowing cliffs and scary encounters with oncoming traffic in narrow lanes.  That would have been fun.  This is a tale of speed bumps.

I’m sure you are familiar with the concept of the speed bump, and you probably have some near your home.  At some point we’ve all experienced their overall annoyingness.   What followed on the route to Cobo, however, was different.  After passing though an unpopulated section of the country at pleasant speeds on nicely paved roads, we entered a region containing small towns where people actually lived.  Sure, there were speed limit signs, but the people of the Yucatan Peninsula don’t think signage is enough encouragement for a driver to slow down.

I can understand the need for speed bumps near a school, or a medical facility, or near some hidden roadside feature where accidents can occur, but these bumps were seemingly dropped along the road with abandon, making sure that whatever you had for breakfast was going to be pushed to your stomach’s limit for bouncing and shaking.

I’ll walk you through this in more detail.  First, as the driver applied the brakes, there was a rapid slowing of the van (loaded with 12 people and gear).  This was followed by a bounce from the front axle, then a bounce from the rear axle.  Immediately after the bouncing came a quick forward jerk from first gear as the van started forward again, followed by the very ungraceful transition the manual transmission of an overloaded Ford Transit goes through on the jump to second gear… then third… then forth.  Then, 30 seconds later, lather, rinse, repeat… for about 45 minutes.  I’m fine with roller coasters, boats, and 3D movies, but I apparently have a physiological limit for speed bumps and gear shifting.

The journey on the paved road eventually transitioned to a narrow gravel road through the forest.  This road was probably never smooth to begin with, and has apparently degraded over the past 100 years.  It is moments like this, on any trip, when my mind often jumps to thoughts such as “I’m far from home, riding in a van, deep in the Mexican forest, and I have no idea what’s going to happen.  Cool”.

We eventually pulled up to a small ‘village’ area which was built by the tour company to drop off the tourists for the various tours.  After a short ride in another van, we were soon walking though a wooded Mayan village, listening to Marco as he told us about the ways of the Mayan culture.  Local people depicted how they prepared food and built their structures, and at one point we were blessed by a Shaman during a short ceremony involving burning seeds of some sort.  Marco was a young man who was very enthusiastic about sharing his culture, and he was an excellent guide.

Marco explains the underground waterways.


Seeds used for red coloring.


Making tortillas in a really nice dress?


The shaman gave us a thumbs up.


After the Shaman ceremony, we were invited to change our clothes and jump into a cave full of water.  I wasn’t too keen on the idea initially.  The water didn’t look very clean, and there were bats flying around, and, possibly most important, I’m 50 years old now and I don’t really need to be doing things like jumping into jungle caves, no matter how refreshing (especially since the last pond we saw had a crocodile in it).  However, after seeing the middle-aged father of two from Michigan jump in, and then being able to see how clear the water actually was, something happened.

There seems to be a switch in my brain that turns “is this a good idea?” into “yes… this is great… you’ll be fine… you’ll regret it later if you don’t do it… this is just like those Mt. Dew commercials you saw as a kid”.  This switch had been thrown.  I removed my shoes and was soon taking the requisite ceremonial Mayan shower above the mouth of the cave, then held my breath as I jumped off the ledge and into the crystal clear water.

The glowing abyss.


The pre-jump shower.






After brief disorientation upon resurfacing, I quickly swam over to the small wooden platform built at one side of the cave and dragged myself out of the water.  Ten fingers, ten toes, pants on, nothing broken.  As long as a waterborne parasite didn’t just lay eggs in my eyeball, I had survived unscathed.  So… let’s do it three more times.

Jumping into the water with my clothes on turned out to be a great idea.  Wearing damp clothes the rest of the day comforted me from the intense mid-day heat.  Upon returning to the village, we were provided an outdoor lunch of local food by local people.  It turned out to be the best food we had all week.  Cancun has a beautiful beach, but the food we had in the resort areas was consistantly bland and not worth the money.  The Mayans, however, provided a tasty meal.







After another brief van ride, we arrived at Coba.  Our guide for this portion of the trip was our van driver.  He gave us a brief tour and provided very interesting information about the history of ancient Mayan cities, then we had a couple hours to wander around on our own.

The history lesson begins.


Approaching the ruins.


I think this was part of an ancient drive-thru window of some sort.


Ball Court.  You lose, you die.


The Watch Tower



The highlight of a trip to Coba is a visit to the Nohoch Mul Pyramid.  We took a bike taxi through the woods to the base of the pyramid.



The Nohoch Mul Pyramid is 137 feet tall, and the top of it towers over the surrounding area to a surprising degree.  The view from the base of the pyramid (looking up), doesn’t provide a realistic expectation of the grand view from the top.











After the ride back to the entrance, and a cold beer, we were back in the van… rejoicing at the speed bump experience once again.  The evening was spent wandering the beach looking for treasures.  It was our last day in Cancun, and it was a great one.



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