Day 1: Mexico
We really should’ve slept more before starting this whirlwind tour.
Arriving in Mexico I already felt like I’ve been up all night. The airport was familiar with its touristy bars advertising Sol and Corona right outside the terminal. This time around we intended to avoid that scene.
We headed to the desk where Bill reserved our car and found that we wouldn’t be able to drop it off in Tulum which was essential for us to catch our bus to Belize that night. We found out Hertz had this option so we took our business there. The drop off fee wasn’t bad either. Bill picked up the car as I went to check for a currency exchange or an ATM. My pesos retrieval mission was a failure when they wouldn’t let me back into the international terminal without a ticket and when the ATM didn’t accept my cards. So we relied on our USDs.
The drive to Chichen Itza was over 2 hours which would put us well on time to get in by 5:30 (according to Frommers). Mostly highway driving which had some unexpected and expensive tolls. We did see an odd bicycle pulled carriage on the side of the highway, but fortunately there was no tourist being dragged hours away in the passenger seat. We eventually went through a small town where I found it strange to see 3 new ford mustangs just driving or parked. Not the local cars I would’ve expected. The town was small and seemed very poor.
Finally at the gate of the Chichen Itza parking, we were told that the park was closed at 4:30 pm… It was 4:25. You did it again Mr. Frommer. The guard let us in (after we paid for parking of course) and we rushed to the entrance. The ticket office refused to sell us tickets pointing to the clock on his wall. After trying to plead for a bit, he told us to go to where they collect the tickets and speak to the man there. So we found a ticket collector and demanded to be let in. The guy said that we could join a later tour which would start when everyone left the park. Uh. That’s not sketchy at all. We didn’t have much of a choice so we waited for this “special tour”. In the meantime, we got some Pesos. We were glad to finally have local currency so we wouldn’t keep getting overcharged in Dollars. After waiting for about half an hour they let us buy tickets and enter the park. The tickets were much more expensive than the normal tickets. We were also the only customers for the special dusk entrance. As far as we could figure, this was a ticket for the sunset view of the temple which photographers or lovebirds would probably pay extra to have the view and privacy. We were just happy to get in.
We had the whole park to ourselves, besides the merchants selling Mayan masks and the one security guy who was following us around. So we got to take some great pictures and run around as we liked. The temple was the first to greet us as we made our way from the entrance to the interior of the park. It was a tall structure and well maintained. Hard to imagine this was constructed over a thousands years ago. We checked out the grounds where they ‘play a sport’ according to Bill. I think he was confusing it with one of the Harry Potter movies.
At the side of the main temple and just out of the view of our nosy guard, we took turns getting pictures on the stairs of the temple. When Bill was up, the guard came back and yelled something. We started looking at our pictures, oblivious of any wrongdoing. Then the guard told us in broken English that there is a US$300 fine for going passed the rope. I think he actually wanted us to pay him then and there in cash. He mentioned that it “was the law”. We nodded and continued to look at our pictures we just took, slowly walking away from him. He angrily spouted some Spanish and walked the other way, so I guess we were fine. We explored as much as we can before the sun set and then made our way back to the car.
New World Wonder – check.
I drove on the way back and somehow took a different way. We didn’t have a map, so our route was based on a general direction and by asking locals. Then we went through the same town but ended up right in the center. It looked quite nice, with cobblestone roads and fancy restaurants. We stopped for a picture of the church in the main square. Then continued to Tulum (but not by the highway). The whole road was a double lane which slowed us down a bit. We passed several checkpoints along the way with speed bumps, bright spotlights, and machine gun armed police who were inspecting the vehicles. We passed Coba which we were hoping to get a glimpse of but it was way too dark. Then we finally made it into town after another roadblock, this time with lit fires in barrels. The thought came across my mind that this might be a drug cartel’s road block where we’d lose our valuables and possibly our lives, but nope it was just the Mexican police. This time they actually asked where we were from and questioned “American?” I said “No, Australian” and he seemed disappointed and waved us off. Maybe Americans get to pay a special fee? 😉
Tulum looked like a cool town with a backpacker feel and a ton of restaurants, cafes, bars, and hostel/hotels. We parked and found the nearest hostel to ask about the bus to Belize. The hostel we stopped at stated that there was definitely no bus to Belize City. Uh oh. We decided to check the bus station and found that they did in fact have a bus to Belize that night at 12! Great, we made it! We decided to buy our tickets, but alas the tickets were already sold out for tonight’s ride… We now had to weigh our options of either staying in Tulum for the night or getting a bus to the border so we could get an early start on Belize and stick to the schedule. We eventually decided on the latter so we got 10:15 pm departing tickets to Chetumal.
We were starving as we haven’t eaten since arriving so we stopped at this cute restaurant with delicious and cheap Mexican food. You could top off your meal with the sauces provided. I thought this yellow sauce was made out of chickpeas so I doused my tacos in it. Unfortunately it was some kind of extremely hot pepper. I was so hungry though, I ate the whole thing. It was only during that I realized I was losing feeling in my tongue and face. Bill went for seconds, but my stomach couldn’t handle anything more.
Before our train we tried to make a quick stop to see the Mayan ruins of Tulum which we heard were overlooking the ocean. With 20 mins to spare, we drove full speed there. After going through another checkpoint we found the park was fenced off and that we couldn’t get to it unless we walked a distance, so we turned back and headed to the Hertz to return the car. We found the office was closed and it didn’t even have a key drop! So we made our own key drop by parking in front of the Hertz and forcing the key between the sliding doors of the office. We documented the whole process on video just in case, then jumped in a taxi to the bus station which was just a few blocks away. Even though the cabbie picked up someone else on the way, we were still on time. We felt a wave of relief as we settled into our bus seats for the ride.
Three hours or so later we arrived at the Chetumal bus station. The station seemed safe with guards posted and a bunch of passengers and homeless sleeping on the indoor benches. We were envious of their slumber, as it was around 2 am and wanted to find a safe place to sleep and recoup. We asked a few people for the closest hotel and they just pointed in a general direction up an empty dark street. So off we went in search of a hotel! We found one right next to the station and woke the man sleeping on a lawn chair in front of the hotel door. He summed up the rooms and rates, but it was pretty steep, so we asked if he knew of a more reasonably priced place. He pointed across this main street, so that’s where we went! We found what we thought was a hotel and knocked on the door… Silence. Then I noticed there was a person sleeping in a hammock visible from the gate, so we awkwardly made noises until the lady up and showed us a room. At $15, it was pretty nice. We set the alarm for 7 am and passed out in no time.