Saturday, February 28, 2009

More about Playa

If you haven't already, check out the post before this one for the beginning three days of the trip.

Day 4 (Wednesday):

Day four really starts at night on day 3. After 10 hours of crazy outdoor jungle adventuring, we then had to walk out to the highway (not a short walk) to catch a colectivo (shuttle bus generally jam packed with Mexicans - the cheap public transportation on the Yucatan.) Instead, a taxi driver stopped and offered us a ride for the same price as a colectivo - his taxi was half-full so it worked out well for both of us. We made it into Playa del Carmen in plenty of time... since we had to figure out where on earth the Budget car rental office was.

We found Budget without much trouble... and found that they closed at 5 pm, instead of 10 like the chick on the phone had told me. We had a reservation to be picked up at 9 pm. Sweet. Thankfully there was another rental place that referred us to another rental place, and we managed to rent a car without too much more trouble. I've heard horror stories about renting a car in Mexico, so really, I thought it went pretty smooth.

Playa is a busy place. La Quinta Avenida is the busiest street, where everything is located, and it's closed off to traffic.

It was sort of chaotic, especially for a girl like me who is quite unaccustomed to city life. Vendors are standing outside their little stores heckling you to buy their wares, music is blaring from the bars on every corner, and people - Mexicans and tourists alike, fill the streets. La Quinta Avenida runs right along the beach, which was kind of neat to see. We didn't spend much time in Playa that night though- we were already exhausted and knew we'd be back, so we decided to attempt to get our car back to our hotel.

Let's talk a little bit about driving in Mexico. It's fascinating, really.... that more people don't die. All of the things we take for granted here - laws like obeying stop signs, using headlights, using turn signals, following street signs like "one way" and "no passing".... those things are all optional in Mexico. At least, the drivers think they are. You may as well assume no one is going to obey any standard traffic law while driving down the street, and that people will act in ways that appear to be completely random. In addition, while driving down the highway, you should always expect random Mexicans to appear out of the undergrowth at any moment. And topes - speed bumps that make no sense, placed on highways and roads with absolutely no standardization, wait to destroy the undercarriage of your car if you don't see them ahead of time.

Yep, driving in Mexico is splendid fun. Especially when you drive in a car that makes you feel especially safe, like this one:

That's our handy dandy, reliable little rental car. Ain't it cute? :o) And yes, it had air conditioning.

We made it out of downtown Playa and out onto the highway without too much trouble, filled the little car with gas in preparation for the next morning, and made it 'home' without a hitch.

I'd done some research online before leaving and knew I desperately wanted to visit Chichen Itza, the largest of the Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula. Chichen is now considered one of the new seven wonders of the world. There are a number of tours that can be taken to Chichen - fancy air conditioned tour buses with meals and tour guides... and two hundred people or so. And I knew I didn't want to do it that way - I may be a tourist, but I don't like being around too many of them at once. So I had printed some directions from our hotel to Chichen and then a couple of stops and a roundabout way home so we could see some of 'real' Mexico.

We got up and left by 6:30 am, drove for awhile on the main highway, then got on the cuota (toll highway). People in Mexico apparently don't want to pay to drive on a road - it was nearly empty of all traffic and was very well maintained. There were several signs that all seemed to say the same things. I got out my fancy little Spanish dictionary and started looking them up. The signs all said "Obey the signs." There was also one that said "Do not mistreat the signs." We enjoyed that - kind of funny. In an easy three hours of driving, we arrived at Chichen Itza hours before all of the tourists. It was gorgeous, and nearly empty.

El Castillo:

Just five years ago, they closed El Castillo to tourists climbing on the structure. Before that, you could climb to the top. I'm sad - I would have loved to have done that.

Temple of Warriors:

The Marketplace:

Temple of Venus:

Cenote Sagrado (The sacred cenote): This is the main cenote in Chichen Itza, the main water source for the Itzaes who inhabited the area fifteen hundred years ago. They worshipped many gods, including a god of water. Upon discovery of Chichen Itza, some SCUBA divers explored the bottom of Cenote Sagrado and found jewelry, stones, other valuable trinkets, and many human bones. It's believed that the Itzaes sacrified warriors, women and children by throwing them into the cenote, to appease the water god.

So I stood there contemplating all of humanity, what life must have been like in a militaristic Itza village, what a mother must have felt as her child was thrown off the side and into the water, how they viewed life then as opposed to how we view it now... It doesn't look like much in the picture, but standing on the edge of this cenote, with it's dark past, was an enlightening experience for me.

The ball court: The "ball game" was important in many early Mexican Indian cultures. The basic gist of it was that players had to get a small rubber ball into the rings on either side of the court using only their hips and elbows - no feet, no hands. I'd read this, and thought it sounded interesting... but when we saw it, I realized it was more like impossible. Those rings are so high up there, and the court is so huge. And if you stand directly in front of the rings and clap, an echo will be heard seven times - accoustics that no architect has yet to figure out.

And no one knows for sure whether it was the winning team or the losing team, but one or the other, at the end of the game, was decapitated and sacrificed to the gods. Their heads were staked and then placed on display here, on the altar at the end of the ball court.

As we walked around, we saw so many carvings. Warriors holding stakes with heads on the end to use as weapons, skulls and so many other pictures depicting death and violence. The way our world is now, it's hard to imagine what that world must have been like.

We spent a good three hours at Chichen. We left just as the tourists were arriving which was perfect. Into the rental car we went and headed not far this time to a little colonial town called Valladolid (bah-yah-doe-leed.) After a quick look in the guide book we chose a restaurant on the main square (el mercado) that was beautiful and delicious. It was in this restaurant, in this picture perfect setting, that I drank the best margarita I have EVER had and tasted guacamole for the first time. It sounds silly, but I'm a picky eater and I don't often try new things, and just looking at avacado disgusts me. I was surprised at how good it really was, and had it a few more times during the week.

A shot of the restaurant:

Andrew ordered something with the words "el diablo" (the devil) in the title. A girl came to our table and cooked the meal right there on a tray for us to watch. There was quite a bit of fire and flame involved. Very cool.

After the delicious meal (which was fascinatingly cheap for how fancy the restaurant seemed) we wandered Valladolid a bit, stopping in some of the tourist shops and checking out the Municipal Building where there are gorgeous murals painted on the second floor depicting the gruesome and bloody history of the town. From the second floor balconies we could look out over el mercado and the pretty little park, as well as see the church that was build in the mid-1500's by the Spanish conquistadores that overthrew the original Mayan inhabitants of the town.

A shot from the second floor of the Municipal building. Carnaval was the week before, so there were still some decorations up.

The oldest building in Valladolid, and one of the oldest on the Yucatan:

We then figured out the way the street numbers worked and made our way to Cenote Zaci', a cenote right in the middle of the town. I'd read that it wasn't much to see, but we thought it was quite fascinating and beautiful. The locals use it as their public swimming pool.

We walked a bit more, then headed out of town toward two more cenotes, Samula and X'Keken, just a couple of kilometers away. We donned our swim suits and went for a dip in each of them. It was just eerie enough for it to be kind of exciting - they are pretty dark down there, and you can't really see what might be in the water. Definitely lots of little fish - you could see them as you first got in, and I accidentally grabbed one as we were swimming. They are popular tourist places and were pretty busy, so we didn't stay a real long time. I bought a couple of photos from a cute little Mexican girl about Chloe's age, and then we got in the car for the drive home.

We took the libre (free) highway on the way back, which took us through some small villages on the way to Tulum and then back up the main highway into Playa del Carmen. Again, I found the villages - 'real' Mexico - to be absolutely fascinating. What a different life that what we live here. They must think we are so rich, and yet there is such a different kind of beauty in the simplicity of what they have and how they live. Two completely different worlds. It's not an easy life that most Mexicans live.

We stopped in Playa to drop off our rental car, again without any problems. They didn't speak a whole lot of English, but the rental car place worked out very well for us - none of the bad things that I'd read about in the horror stories. I'm so glad we decided to do it that way. A couple of people told us we were very adventurous for having done that. There wasn't a time we didn't feel safe - the Mexicans everywhere on the Yucatan are used to tourists. It's a different world, I think, that what is found in other parts of Mexico. The entire Yucatan depends on tourists for the majority of it's income, so they don't have much reason to hate us, and everyone we came across was quite friendly. There's something exhilarating, too, about being on your own in a strange place where people don't speak the same language you do. Having to just figure it out on your own without having a tour guide to depend on adds to the excitement, I think. In some ways, that day was my favorite.... ah, but each day was so different, I don't think I could say which one was the best.

Once we dropped off the car, we walked a ways and found the colectivo station, boarded one and got a ride back to the resort. It was packed, indeed, but I was smooshed against a window and next to an American from Portland, so the conversation was good and I wasn't uncomfortable. Andrew, on the other hand, was up front between the driver and some other local. I don't think he enjoyed the ride so much. ;o)

Dinner that night was room service, as we got back too late for the buffet. We were exhausted and went to bed fairly early - between a day full of sunshine and lots of walking and being sore from the hours of swimming the day before, we were looking forward to Thursday, a day spent relaxing at the resort and not putting forth any physical effort.


Day 5 (Thursday):

We slept in a little bit, lolled around and had breakfast a little later on Thurday, just because we could. (Not really that late though - the sun comes up so early in Mexico! It felt later than it was.) We walked down to the beach for a bit, then walked back to the pool and reserved some lounge chairs. We basked in the sunshine, swam a bit in a pool that was entirely too cold, and waited for the swim up bar to open. Nothing like starting to drink at eleven o'clock in the morning. LOL

We sat at the bar for awhile and enjoyed a conversation with some folks from somewhere cold - Michigan, maybe? It was nice, and it was relaxing. Then we had some lunch and walked down to the beach and took a nap in a hammock again. I think I need to own a hammock. I'm surprised the hammocks weren't more popular than they were. So comfy.

We did a bit of swimming in the ocean. There was, of course, a red flag up, which technically means "no swimming" but no one else was bothering to adhere to that, so we didn't either. We were making our way out, ducking under the big waves and letting the smaller ones push us around a little, when somehow my bikini bottom came undone. Not only untied, but unthreaded. there was no way to put it back on, especially not while waves were throwing me this way and that. Thankfully, at least, I was able to hold them on and not lose them altogether, but then I was stuck swimming with only one arm. At some point, a wave tossed me into a rock and I banged up my knee a little.

My minor injury:

It wasn't so bad, but salt water in an open wound doesn't feel all that great. We made our way back to our room, me holding my bathing suit together and a bit of blood running down my knee, so I could change. It was really quite funny - my knee didn't really hurt much till the next day, when I realized it was pretty well bruised. Ah well, it was worth it. :o)

Dinner that night was fun. We got all dressed up in pretty clothes...

... and ate at the gourmet restaurant. Again, this was adventurous for me, as they didn't give you a choice of what you ate, they just served you the five set courses of the meal. Lobster and cream of asparagus soup were included on the menu, things I would never normally try. Both were delicious. That meal may have been the best meal of the trip - I really enjoyed it.

Afterward we changed back into more comfortable clothes. We had every intention of going back into Playa to check out the bar scene, but we were so tired. We ended up just staying there at the resort, and in the end, I'm so glad we did.

We sat down in the theater, figuring we'd watch the evening show, when Luis (I'll tell you more about Luis later) came up to us and asked if Andrew would like to go on stage for the evening's show. Andrew agreed (maybe not whole-heartedly) and was whisked away to sit with some other guys that were eventually taken back stage.

The theme that night was "Noches Pirates" - pirate night.

Yep, there's my hubby. He was a pirate. But it gets better, oh, so much better. They were having a contest between the four men on stage - the Mr. Iberostar contest. My husband, along with the other contestants, had to do some "games". Mind you, most of the other people staying at the resort were in the audience - a couple hundred? maybe more. It was a busy place. And they were all watching. Andrew had to do a strip tease, do pushups and then pose to show of his muscles, chug a beer, eat a cookie, eat a spoonful of cocoa powder and then try to whistle (hilarious, because when they blow out after eating cocoa powder, they spit little poofs of powder), collect as many shoes from audience members as possible (I helped - we won by a landslide) and then.... then, they changed clothes and had to lip sync for the audience.

Don't you think my hubby makes a sexy Britney Spears? I do. :o)

He lip synced to "Hit Me Baby One More Time" while dancing around in a spandex jumpsuit and a blonde wig. It was AWESOME. The other guys did Beyonce, Rhianna, and Madonna. I thought I had the video going on my camera while he was up there, but apparently I didn't, and I'm sad, because it was awesome.

Anyway, at the very end, they had the audience cheer and clap to determine the winner of the contest. I'm proud to say, my husband was voted Mr. Iberostar. :o) He was sort of a celebrity after that. The next day people were coming up to him telling him he did a good job. One lady said she recognized him because of his tush. LOLOL Awesome. (It's all the more awesome if you know my husband. He's so not the type to make a spectacle of himself like that, but I think he had fun doing it.)

We did a bit of dancing after the show, then headed over to the disco, did some more dancing, did the limbo, and had some shots. Good times.


Day 6 (Friday):

I was ready to come home, but not. I missed my girls terribly by Friday and couldn't wait to see them. We walked back to the beach for a bit, sat by the pool for awhile, and packed our things. We walked to the shopping center and did some last-minute shopping and had antojitos and ice cream for lunch. We had a couple of last drinks, and then boarded the van to go back to the airport.

The flight home was uneventful save for the fact that we were seated in the back of the plane in front of rambunctious little girls. I didn't have much patience at that point, and I found them irritating. Ah well. We got into Denver a little after 8 pm, got through customs and found our luggage, and began the five hour drive home over a snowy Vail Pass. I slept pretty much the whole way. I've never been so tired! Poor Andrew had to stay awake to drive, but did eventually pull over and nap for a little bit. We made it home around 2:30 in the morning.

Gosh, what a lot of typing. I'm glad I've written it all out though, so I can scrapbook it and remember the details later.

Absolutely an awesome vacation. It makes me all the more excited to travel to other countries some more. :o)

The girls were glad to see us. Cora is all better, but Chloe was in bed most of yesterday with a fever and cough. She seemed better by the afternoon though, so hopefully she's about over it. I'm glad we went, because a week away from my kids makes me love them and appreciate them so much more. I was pretty burnt out, and getting away helped with that. Now every little thing they do is cute again, and I don't feel as irritable as I was getting there for awhile.

Now to try to get back into the normal swing of things....


Dani said...

It looks like you had an awesome trip!!! I LOVE the dress you wore Thursday night, you looked amazing!!! :o)

Feel freel to send me more pictures!

Deb said...

Oh Julie.... thank you for sharing! I love reading about your vacation & living vicariously through you... Those places you visited were fabulous... and I'm like you... I hate doing the "touristy" things... Don & I go out on our own alot too... Much better, eh?

Andrew as Britney was cracking me up! How hilarous... I'm pretty sure that Don would have NEVER been caught dead in spandex & a blonde wig! LOL You are lucky that Andrew has such a good sense of humor.

It sounds like your vacation was everything you wanted it to be... a romantic getaway...

Okay... post more pictures!!! I gotta see 'em... on Facebook perhaps??

Tricia said...

Oh Julie you tell such an AMAZING story!!!! I am so glad you had a good time and enjoyed yourself!! what fun!!!!!!

Kim said...

That sounds so awesome!!

I hope Chloe feels better soon!