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Meet the turtles

in Tulum

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After Merida, now was the time to head off to the beach but this time to the east coast of Mexico, in the Carribean gulf. After having heard bad reviews about Cancun and Playa del Carmen which are really touristy (mostly people from the States eager to party night and day), I then decided to go to Tulum, a more quiet and cheaper option (and not that touristy compared to the two others town I have just mentioned).

Tulum is little town that have been growing since the last decade and attracts more visitors, especially backpackers avoiding Cancun and who still want to be immersed in the Mexican culture. The other thing that Tulum is famous for is its Mayan ruins, a kind of fort which had been built centuries ago, right on the beach front. So for me all these elements made the choice of Tulum a no-brainer and I took the bus (hanging firmly my camera against me) to arrive a few hours later in Tulum, in one of the several hostel the town hosts.

And then that's when you realise that the world is small and that all the people follow more or less the same route and same hostel recommendations, because when I checked in I could recognise some french people I had met a week before in Merida.

Overall, I stayed in Tulum for about a week, relaxing on the beach, snorkelling with the turtles, visiting mayan ruins and enjoying the night life.
Indeed there are so many activities that it is hard to be bored in Tulum, the only limiting factor being your wallet as some diving tours can be quite expensive, even if they look amazing (like diving in caves or cenotes for example).

Here are a few pictures of Tulum, its beaches and its ruins:

That one is not my picture (unfortunately) but this was really how I saw it

During that time, I also took the opportunity to visit the nearby ruins of Coba:

Coba is estimated to have had some 50,000 inhabitants (and possibly significantly more) at its peak of civilization, and the built up area extends over some 80 km². The site was occupied by a sizable agricultural population by the 1st century. The bulk of Coba's major construction seems to have been made in the middle and late Classic period, about 500 to 900, with most of the dated hieroglyphic inscriptions from the 7th century. However Coba remained an important site in the Post-Classic era and new temples were built and old ones kept in repair until at least the 14th century, possibly as late as the arrival of the Spanish.
source: wikipedia

The problem when you don't arrive early at the ruins: a lot of tourists are also there...
On top of the biggest pyramid

Posted by manolo84 19:08 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches snorkelling ruins mayas Comments (0)

Chichén Itzá

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Although not my favourite maya site I have visited so far, I couldn't not talk about Chichén Itzá and show you some pictures. Compared to other sites I have already talked about before, this one looks a bit like Disneyland... a LOT of tourists, especially waves of people from the U.S coming from nearby Cancún and exclaiming every 30 seconds "wooaa that's so nice" (even in front of the toilet sign). I'm exagerating a little but not too much...
Anyway the site is huge and the buildings have been remarquably well restaured, although you cannot climb anymore on the pyramids and various stairs in order to preserve the buildings intacts. That's why I am comparing this to Disneyland, it's nice, huge but lots of people everywhere and you cannot go anywhere off the beaten track nor climb the structures. Besides what I liked about Palenque was the fact that their ruins were in the middle of the jungle. Here all the trees have been cut to facilitate the access to the public.

I didn't have much time to visit as I made just a short stop on my way from Merida to Tulum, but I was lucky as it suddenly started to rain, making the hordes of tourists to disappear under some shelters and trees, leaving the whole place for me and my camera... :)

For a bit of history, Chichén Itzá was a major economic power in the northern Maya lowlands during its apogee (roughly 600 AD). Participating in the water-borne circum-peninsular trade route through its port site of Isla Cerritos on the north coast, Chichén Itzá was able to obtain locally unavailable resources from distant areas such as obsidian from central Mexico and gold from southern Central America.

Between AD 900 and 1050 Chichen Itza expanded to become a powerful regional capital controlling north and central Yucatán but started to decline around 1250. While Chichén Itzá "collapsed" or fell (meaning elite activities ceased) it may not have been abandoned. When the Spanish arrived, they found a thriving local population, although it is not clear from Spanish sources if Maya were living in Chichen Itza or nearby. The relatively high density of population in the region was one of the factors behind the conquistadors' decision to locate a capital there. According to post-Conquest sources, both Spanish and Maya, the Cenote Sagrado, next to which Chitzén Itzá was built, remained a place of pilgrimage.

The sacred cenote
This is where mayas were playing the "ball game" which included sacrificing/beheading the losers. You can see on the right and at the bottom the structures where the kings and other nobles were standing, overlooking the field.

Posted by manolo84 11:02 Archived in Mexico Tagged ruins pyramids mayas Comments (0)

Mérida and the Yucatán

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I feel more and more than it is now getting harder to find time to post articles and pictures in this blog as I am either busy or really tired in the evenings (or sometimes a bit lazy) but here are a few lines which describe my stay in Merida, located in the Yucatán state, still in Mexico.

As I have mentioned in my previous post, the first hours in Merida didn't go that great as my stuff had just been stolen and to be honest it took me a few days to really get over it. So the first days actually were quite chilled out, spending most of my time in the hostel talking with people or wandering through the streets of Merida, trying to look for a replacement camera and laptop.

Mérida, like much of the state, has heavy Mayan, French, British and to a lesser extent Dutch influences. Mérida has the highest percentage of indigenous persons of any large city in Mexico with approximately 60% of all inhabitants being of the Maya ethnicity, according to wikipedia. The city itself is vibrating with life and there are several markets and buildings which are worth a look. I think I still prefer Oaxaca and San Cristobal though, but you can easily spend a few days in this city without being bored.

Somehow a baby-bat which got itself surprised by the rain or must have fell down from its nest.

The hostel I was staying at, called Nomadas, was a really nice and charming hostel and I have to give praise to the staff and the owner who were really nice and helpful during the week I spent there. I definitely recommend this place if you are planning a trip in Mérida, to enjoy the swimming pool and the hammocks, the free yoga, salsa and cooking classes and all in a very relaxed atmostphere.

Not far from Mérida are several Maya ruins and one of them which I visited is called Uxmal. Probably not the most impressive but the restauration work is quite impressive and a lot of building have now been restaured in their original states.


The other thing which I discovered in Yucatán are the hundreds of cenotes, scattered all along the coast and in the state. For those who like me, don't know what a cenote is, it is, I quote:

" a deep natural pit, or sinkhole, characteristic of Mexico, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula and some nearby Caribbean islands, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. The term derives from a word used by the low-land Yucatec Maya, "Ts'onot" to refer to any location with accessible groundwater. "
source: wikipedia

Some are really small and look like more to a water well than anything, but some are really spacious with a water so transparent you can hardly distinguish the limit between the water and the walls. It was quite dark when we visited them so I don't have very good pictures but I have added some more from the internet just to give you a rough idea. In most of the cenotes you can actually do snorkelling and for some you can even dive through the endless underwater tunnels.


Posted by manolo84 14:03 Archived in Mexico Tagged ruins hostels mayas cenotes Comments (2)

Bad beat

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As with any travelling adventure, there are unfortunately some days where everything goes wrong, despite taking all the precautions in the world. I wished for me that it would have happened a lot later (or not at all) and not after just one month of travel but you never choose...


Basically the story is simple, in order to reach Merida from Palenque (about 8 hours drive), I decided to take a night bus which had the advantage for me of saving the cost of a hostel night. That day I had been visiting the ruins of Yaxchilan, starting at 6am and by the time I got back to Palenque and got on the night bus at 11pm, I was litteraly exhausted. With the main bus company called ADO, you put your big backpack inside the bus and they give you a ticket to ensure that no one takes your bag except you. Besides they are responsible for anything which would happen to it so you generally feel quite safe. However for my small backpack, containing all my valuable things like camera, computer, passport, etc... I always take it with me in the bus. My mistake that day was to be too confident and to believe that I was safe like I would be on a plane and I decided to put my small backpack in the overhead compartment just on top of me. ADO claims that all valuables that you take with you in the bus are YOUR responsibility...

The bus then left and soon after I felt asleep like a baby but still waking up frequently as I never sleep very well in any kind of transportation anyway. Going from Palenque to Merida, you actually leave the Chiapas state in Mexico to enter the Yucatan and the bus stopped a few times to let the police controlling the passports and visa of a few passengers, including myself as it is frequent that illegal immigrants from Guatemala and the other coutries of Central America try to reach the Yucatan on their way to the USA. At that point, by 2 times I took the passport out of my bag on top of me to show it to the officers, without noticing anything wrong. Actually the second time, thinking about it, it seemed that my bag was in a different position than the one I had left it previously, but when you wake up your mind doesn't really process all the details very well. The bus stopped at Campeche on the way to let a few passengers off and started again to Merida.

Arriving at Merida at approximatively 7am, I noticed without paying too much attention that the young couple next to me stood up very quickly and left the bus in a heartbeat. Maybe this should have alerted me at that point but I had just waken up and was still busy putting my shoes back and sorting out my sleeping bag which I had taken with me. I then took my backpack and got off the bus to retrieve my big bag inside the bus. And that's only at that point, when I tried to open my small bag to fetch something that I realised its weight... a much more lighter bag I should say. Opening it I had the "pleasant" surprise of not finding my camera inside its case, nor my laptop inside its case as well. They (or he) had taken all my equipment whislt I was sleeping less than a meter away... Camera, laptop, smartphone and sunglasses were all gone but all the rest was there. They had even left some documents like my ID card, driving license and other documents which were inside my laptop case! Only a cheap mexican phone I had bought a few weeks ago had not been taken but basically everything of a value which could be sold quickly was now missing. I don't know if the incident happened before or after I had taken my passport out of my bag to show it to the police (after when I had kept it with me) but this could have been far worse I suppose if they had taken it. The more I think about it, the more I suspect the couple who was next to me as they could see very well who the bag belonged to and when I was sleeping exactly. But who knows, it could have been a guy leaving at the stop before.

Still under the shock, I decided to go immediately to the police to report the incident in order to try to get something out of my insurance. I won't enter the details but you can imagine the scene: almost still asleep at 7am but really angry, having to go to the police office which was way out of town, waiting hours for an officer to take my complaint (with the help of a translator thanksfully), coming back to the hostel I had booked in the day before, trying to contact my insurance, only to be told that unfortunately because I was sleeping then they won't lift a finger and won't reimburse me. I am a peaceful guy but in those times murder ideas towards my thief and my insurer definitely crossed my mind.

Yes I was the one at fault because I had left my bag "unsupervised" as per the policy wording states but still, it's not like I had forgotten it anywhere or left it in a place only to come back hours after... Sometimes honesty doesn't pay unfortunately and I think I have learnt my lesson here. The worst thing for me is not really about the money lost (because I now have to buy a new camera and laptop) but more about the memory card inside the camera which contained all the really cool pictures and videos of the last week (including the ones of the Yaxchilan ruins) and the camera itselft which was perfect for me in term of size and features (a Sony NEX-6). Having to replace everything without the insurance helping a little means probably that I will last less longer in Asia at the end of the my round-the-world trip for example or that I won't have the money to carry on to Africa but we will see, I will probably try to pay more attention of the money I am spending in the next months or even find a place to work a little bit to compensate the loss. Fortunately for most of my pictures, I had considered this scenario before travelling and had backed up everything online regularly (except the pictures from the last week as I was in the jungle with poor internet access and all the videos as they were too big) with Bitcasa, a Dropbox-like which I definitely recommend (I pay 99$/year for unlimited storage which is quite cheap).

Anyway so goodbye to my little Sony camera....

And welcome to my new babies, a Sony Alpha 57 camera and Acer netbook! :-)

That camera is a bit better in term of photo quality and videos than my previous one but is also more bulky. Unfortunately I couldn't find the same one in Merida and didn't want to go back to a compact camera, which is generally really handy but doesn't deliver the same quality of pictures, nor videos. As for the laptop, I went again for a 10 inches screen laptop as that size is perfect for travelling but couldn't find the same specs so this one has less memory and also less battery. I thought about not replacing the laptop and taking this "opportunity" to travel lighter but thought that without a laptop it would be hard to maintain a blog and manage pictures during a whole year. Besides not all the hostels have computers with internet you can use. As for the prices, I could manage to find some good discounts so just paid a little bit more than I would have had in the UK and probably paid less for the camera.

Anyway to conclude, don't leave your bag even 50 cm from you when travelling (or don't sleep) and in the worst case, make up story for your insurance (be aware that honesty doesn't pay...). It took me a few days to get over all this but fortunately I met some really nice people in the hostel I was staying in who all tried to help me, both the staff and the guests. Being with good companions always make the pain easier to bear. So thanks to everyone and thanks as well to all the support messages I received from all my friends and family, it really helped. As for me, the best is to carry on and to take this as a lesson from which to learn, at all levels.

PS: I swear to god that for the next person who tries to steal some of my stuff, especially my camera, I will do something very very nasty to his ass. I mean it.

Posted by manolo84 19:09 Archived in Mexico Comments (1)

Palenque or the Maya ruins paradise

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Next stop after San Cristobal, still in Chiapas, was Palenque, a maya city from the 7th century. Nowadays a modern city has been built next to the ruins so very little interesting things to see there, the main "attraction" being the ruins themselves.

Taking the bus from San Cristobal, you need approximatively 6 hours to reach Palenque and so I arrived there at about 10pm, gave my directions to the taxi driver and 50 pesos and 5 minutes later I was in a hotel right near the ruins, in the middle of the Jungle... The hotel was called El Panchán and had a few cabañas where you could stay for about 150 pesos a night (almost 10 euros). It featured also a nice restaurant which had every night live music and fire shows which were quite nice, especially because as I said before, it was right inside the jungle, with all its sounds. Temperature wise, it was about 30 degres and 86% humidity so basically every small effort you do, you end up sweating a LOT... but you get used to it after a while.

As I mentioned before, I don't have anymore the pictures from that period... so here are a few taken from the internet, jsut to give you a rough idea. Basically I had exactly the same pictures taken but in better of course! :-)


The next day, I decided to pay a visit to some popular waterfalls around Palenque, especially one wich was supposed to have a really nice blue colour, called Agua Azul. Unfortunately it had rained the day before and it was more "Agua marrón"... but still nice to see:


Misol-Ha, another waterfall I visited that day:


Finally, the following day, before taking the night bus to my next destination, Merida, I took a tour to visit the most amazing and most impressive Maya ruins I have seen so far: Yaxchilan. In order to go there, you need to take a bus from Palenque for about 2-3 hours (it means to leave at 6am.. ouch!) then a boat for about an hour and you then reach the ruins of Yaxchilan, completely isolated in the Jungle, at the border between Guatemala and Mexico. To be honest I am so guted I have lost all the pictures and videos I took that day because they were so good... but anyway, we were in the middle of the Jungle, surrounded by monkeys everywhere (especially the howl-monkey, which is a tiny one but has a huge scream, surely to impress the other animals), and I even saw some tarentulas and other weird insects (without forgetting the f****** mosquitos which even managed to bite me through my trousers!). You could climb and go inside the buildings without problems and to be honest I could have definitely spent more than a few hours, just trying to get the mayan feeling...


Finally we stopped on the way back to Bonampak, some more ruins which had some very well preserved murals.


Posted by manolo84 22:48 Archived in Mexico Tagged waterfalls ruins mayas Comments (1)

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