Saturday the 13th of January started off okay from Lake Bacalar. Loaded the bike, had breakfast and left for a small town called Xpujil where we had rented a little cabin via Airbnb.
Unfortunately, the 13th popped it’s unlucky head up. I lost my little black rucksack from the back of the bike. Somehow, I had not secured it too well. We did backtrack to look for it but to no avail, it was gone. It was an Ortleib waterproof one, impossible to replace out here.
Lucky there was not too much important stuff in it. Some presents that we had bought, Susie’s fast phone charger plus America’s adaptor, my coffee and tea making equipment and some other odds and ends. I was sad to see it go. As a rucksack it was not very good but on the back of the bike it was perfect.
Anyway, it was gone but we were able to replace everything slowly but surely. This time though it is a cheap rucksack from Walmark.
Xpujil is a small little village surrounded by jungle. It is a good base to explore the area which is rich in ruins. The first one on our list was Calakmul.
But first there were two sites close to the village. These are Becan and Chicanna. We took the bike and paid a quick visit.
Chicanna dates from 600 AD to 830 AD. Chicanna means “House of the Serpent Mouth” in Mayan. The site was named after its most famous building, this is a temple with a doorway in the form of a serpent’s mouth. It is a small site and it is thought that the rulers of Becan lived there. It was used mostly for special ceremonies.
Becan is a magical place surrounded by an enormous moat. The focal point is a massive two-tower structure that can be seen after passing through a small tunnel leading to the ruins. Another interesting thing about Becan is the covered roadway.
Built into the walls are little niches where people could place offerings. The pyramid is large and there is a rope to help people to climb up. The pyramids tower up over the surrounding jungle.
You can climb all the buildings here and walk in the surrounding jungle. Plus point is, there is nobody around.
The next day it was off to Calakmul. We had arranged a shared taxi together with another couple. The car belonged to the brother of our Airbnb host. He worked out to be much cheaper than the tour companies who were quoting crazy prices. That evening we did a shopping and the next morning bright and early we made breakfast and sandwiches to take with us for lunch.
The site of Calakmul is set deep in the tropical rainforest of the Tierras Bajas. The ancient city and the surrounding forests are listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO. This is a well-preserved city that once played an important role for 12 centuries in the history of this area. It has some of the best-preserved buildings. In it’s heyday it was one of the most powerful cities. Rivaled only by Tikal in Guatemala. Over 6.750 ancient structures have been located to date.
The largest being the Great Pyramid. Four tombs have been located within this pyramid. Just like many Mayan temples or pyramids this pyramid was also increased in size by building upon the existing temple. It’s over 45 meters (148 feet) which makes it one of the tallest of the Maya pyramids. The central plaza measures about 2 square kilometers (0,77 square miles)
The whole of the site including all residential structures is about 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles) Given this city’s history and the fact that the buildings are all in really good shape you would expect it to be overrun with tourists.
But it’s not, it’s amazingly quiet. This is due to it’s location, it is not easily accessible so just about everyone gives it a miss. It’s a shame because it is an amazing place and well worth the effort to visit. Also, there are no merchandise vendors in or around the ruins.
It is a nice site to wander around as it is shaded by the tree’s in the jungle. You can also see monkeys and hear the howler monkeys on occasion. It was really brilliant to relax and eat our sandwiches in the middle of the jungle surrounded by this ancient city. There are two films and a series that I really like, the films and series are “Stargate, Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis” I think they have used the Mayan culture for ideas. There is also a race of people who worship the sun god Ra and one of them called Teal’c, looks exactly like the Mayan warriors. They also wear masks….. okay I am digressing. Stargate, the original film, is free to watch on YouTube.
The next day it was off to Palenque about 366 km away. We were not gonna make it in one day. So, we stopped in a small town called Escárcega. This just a simple little town but like most little Mexican towns it had a certain charm. We ate some veggie tortillas with salad and ended up watching Robocop 3 on the TV.
On the road to Palenque we passed through a kind of border checkpoint. At first, I thought that I had taken a wrong turn and was entering Guatemala. But it was just a checkpoint.
They wanted to see my full papers for the bike including the TIP…. (temporary vehicle import). They told me that it was a checkpoint where they were looking for people that crossed the border illegally through the jungle.
We had booked an apartment in Palenque through Airbnb. When I stop for a few days I generally try to rent an apartment. Means I can cook and wash clothes. Particularly the bike gear. My riding suit is not something that you bring to the local laundry. It needs special treatment. I was also trying to organize a Spanish school for myself and needed to some serious mailing. Palenque is a nice laid back little town.
First, we took the bike to the Cascades and the surrounding jungle. We wanted to hike a bit. We spent a lazy couple of hours just wandering around the jungle
Enjoying the sights and sounds. Also pretending to be Indiana Jones. This close to civilization there are not a lot of dangerous animals lurking in the bushes. Mostly monkeys and snakes.
Then the next day we took a local colectivo out to the ancient Mayan ruins. The ruins are located in the jungle about 9 km outside of town. These ruins date from ca 226 BC to 799 AD. It is a medium sized site located near to the Usumacinta River.
They contain some of the finest architecture, sculpture and carvings. It is an UNESCO heritage site. Only about 10% of the buildings have been recovered and there are an estimated one thousand buildings still covered by the jungle. This is one of the best sites.
The ruins are fantastic. The ancient city was situated along the river, which placed it on a major trade route.
They had also dug canals leading from the river into the city thus supplying the city with water. The Otulum, a tributary of the Usumacinta, was channeled into an ingenious 50m long canal that crosses through the city. In 2010, archeologists discovered that this canal was pressurized, the first of its kind in the world. The Mayans were truly an advanced culture.
We had taken sandwiches with us so once again it was picnic time. It is really something to sit under the shade of the trees and have lunch in the middle of what was once a super city. Trying to imagine what life was like back in the heyday of this civilization.
Then it was back to town, also with the colectivo. We had done a big shopping and still had a load of fresh food left so we cooked up a feast and spent the evening wandering around town. Terrace hopping to browsing souvenir stands.
Then on to Campeche, a town we both love. But first we stopped in Villahermosa. This town is dubbed the green hell by the local people. It is extremely hot here and has a high humidity but somehow it is a little town that I really like and I wanted to show it to Susy. It’s just a nice local little Mexican town.
Then on to Campeche. We only stopped here for two nights as we were on our way to Uxmal. I also had to make a deposit via the bank to confirm my reservation at a Spanish school in San Cristobal de Cassas.
Then on to Uxmal the last site on our Yucatan tour. We had splashed out on this one. We had booked an upmarket B&B across the road from a famous and exclusive Hacienda called “Hotel Hacienda Uxmal Plantation & Museum”. The B&B was owned by them.
We arrived and rode straight up the Hacienda to check in. Our rooms were not ready, so they gave us a drink and told us to sit down. This we did on the comfy chairs on their veranda. Then they told us that we were being upgraded at no extra charge to us. We got a nice room with authentic furniture in the main Hacienda.
But it was the ruins of Uxmal that we wanted to see. We visited them on a hot and humid day. There are different theories as to the meaning of Uxmal and its creation. One theory is that the name is derived from Oxmal which means three time built. But then this is disputed and another group say that it comes from Uchmal which means “what is to come the future”.
The truth is no one knows for sure. In fact, when it comes down to it, we know very little about this great civilization. But people are hard at work trying to decipher the written texts that have been found. One thing is clear, it is a large site of major significance.
It was founded in 500 AD and was still inhabited or being used as a pilgrimage center during the Spanish conquest of the Yucatan in 1550. Unlike most other pre-Hispanic towns, Uxmal is not laid out geometrically, but it follows certain astronomical phenomena such as the rising and setting of Venus.
Thanks to the building style most of the buildings are in good shape. One of the buildings that immediately spring to the eye is the Piramide del Adivino (Pyramid of the Magician), often referred to as the Pyramid of the Dwarf. There is a legend that Uxmal was an invisible city built in one night by the magic of the dwarf king.
It is designated a world heritage site by UNESCO. Regardless of how it was built, I don’t think that the Dwarf King used any magic to influence UNESCO. The Pyramid is really amazing. It deviates from the normal Mayan architecture style in that it has rounded edges. The god worshiped in the temple on this pyramid was the God of Rain Chaac. Uxmal does not have any underground water, so they were depending on rain to supply the drinking water needs of the city.
Behind the pyramid is the Nunnery which is adorned with richly carved facades. This name was given to these buildings by the Spanish because it resembled a Spanish convent. This structure was actually used as a school for the training of healers, astronomers, mathematicians, shamans and priests.
South of the Pyramid is the governor’s palace, a long two-story building also richly ordained, set upon a platform. This platform building was probably used for the observation of Venus. The façade is richly adorned with symbols for Venus and the building is aligned with the most southerly rising point of Venus. Uxmal is really truly a remarkable site and well worth a visit.
That evening we went for a walk in the Eco Parque of Eco Chocolate Museum and visited a Mayan Chocolate Making Ceremony there. This was a drinking chocolate. The Mayans are accredited with making some of the best chocolate in the world.
Then we went to a Mayan ritual that was being held in the garden. This was great. Nice to see that the indigenous people are trying to keep their traditions alive. These people speak their own language.
After Uxmal it was back to Campeche. This is really two cities in one. The walled inner city, consisting of beautiful restored houses and mansions aligned along narrow cobblestone streets. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. But the majority of the people staying in this part are tourists in the many hotels and guest houses.
The citizens live in the other part of town, a genuine urban sprawling provincial capital with a dynamic bustling market. Your nice typical Mexican kind of town complete with the sights, sounds and smells that go hand in hand with them. I managed to buy two small button batteries of the right size to fit into my little multi meter in this part of town.
The Gran Acrópolis, Uxmal
Next day we took a colectivo out to visit the Edzna ruins. Edzna was first settled in 600 BC, it became a major city in 200 AD reaching its height between 600 and 900 AD. It was abandoned in the early 15th century and the reason why remains a mystery. This area is one of the driest in Mexico and Edzna has one of the most sophisticated systems for channeling and retaining water than any of the other Mayan ruins.
Once again it was a hot and humid day, but also it was a Sunday and we just managed to catch the last bus back into Campeche. I have to admit we rushed around this site. It was also our last Mayan ruins in Mexico. Whilst in Campeche we were treated to some tremendous tropical rainstorms. The streets just become flooded and turn into rivers.
Did our last souvenir shopping and headed back to Ciudad del Carmen.
It was on the return journey to Ciudad de Carmen that we ran into the quick change “change” petrol attendant. The first one was in Tulum. This works like this. He fills your bike up, I pay him with a 500-peso note, suddenly he is holding a 50 peso note in his hand and looking at it… then at me… then at the pump going: “but senor it is 150 pesos” and he looks at the 50 note again. Now normally you would think, as a foreigner “ohh boy I gave him the wrong note”. But in my case I keep the 500 notes and only 500 notes in the leg pocket of my riding suit. There is no way that I can make that mistake. Then when he doesn’t seem to want to understand I raise my voice and become assertive attracting attention. Now this is the one thing that he does not want so he backs down really quickly and says that he was only trying to work out the change… yep I bet. You have to watch out on the petrol stations, but I have to admit it only happened twice. I met some foreign travelers in hired cars and they also mention being ripped off. With them it goes different, they pay for a full tank, but he only puts a couple of liters in. He uses the prepay keyboard to type in a couple of hundred pesos on the pump display and shows this to the driver. The driver doesn’t get out of the car so does not realize what happened. It is only later that they notice that the petrol gauge is not showing full. You have to be careful. Bikers are always standing watching so that does not work with us. But I think that those two petrol attendants will never try to rip off bikers again.
Then on to Ciudad del Carmen and heavy rain. The city was flooded out. I was riding down streets that had suddenly become rivers. The water was up to the footrests. Anytime I had to stop and put my feet down I was praying that the water didn’t come up over me boots. But my feet stayed dry. I hate riding through streets flooded with water.
You never know what the surface off the road is like or if any manhole covers are open, not to mention the Topes, the dreaded Mexican speed bumps. You can feel the drag of the water on the bike. Eventually we got to the hotel and got a nice room looking on to the sea.
The next day began the job of repacking and converting the bike back into travel mode. Susie to pack her stuff into her travel suitcase. Susie was flying back to Amsterdam to resume her normal life
and I was to carry on to San Cristobal de Las Casas to go to school to learn Spanish and then to carry on down south.
But that will be another blog. There are photo journal albums of this trip over on the other channel, the Facebook one. They are split up into different regions. Check it out. Thank you for reading the blogs and following on Facebook.
Hasta la vista…