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Irene's Adventures

Mexico - Playa del Carmen

MEXICO | Wednesday, 7 April 2010 | Views [224]

My first experience with Mexico was an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen. After traveling backpacker style, I was not very impressed with an all-inclusive. To me, it was very restrictive. I felt I were confined to this albeit nice hotel with a bunch of American tourists with Mexican waiters and waitresses. We had come for the beach, ocean and sun. The beach was nice but the wind was always too strong to really enjoy sitting out there and the waves were too rough to enjoy the water. We were relegated to the pool, with its constant vying for lounge chairs. The buffets had a very wide selection of food, but it there was always a different country's cuisine every night. There was only one Mexican night. I tried walking to the shopping district, but it was one very long avenue of vendors selling cheap Mexican trinkets and souvenirs. I was not getting the feel of the culture at all! I quickly booked myself 3 days of scuba diving – at least I could see experience the local sea life.

 pool life

We hired a taxi and went to Coba one day. Now that was history and culture! As usual, we got there early in the morning, had our pick of guides, had a wonderful intimate tour and were leaving just as the packed tour buses pulled up.


Coba is older (100 BC – 100 AD) than Chichen Itza, but was only first heard of by archaeologists in the 1840's. Because of its remoteness in the jungle, it was not explored by archaeologists until the 1920's. The first road was built in the 1970's and the first real tourist road was built in the 1980's. The entire site spreads over more than 30 square miles or 80 square kilometers. It boasts the highest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula. Ixmoja, in the Nohoch Mul group of structures, stands at 42 meters (138 feet) and has 120 steps. At the time of our visit, we were allowed to climb to the top of this ancient structure, where we could see for miles and miles over the surrounding jungle.   

Nohoch Mul pyramid   view from pyramid top

There are 50 elevated stone and plaster roads, sacbe (white road), that radiate laser straight from the central site to various smaller sites near and far. The white limestone would illuminate from the moonlight and essentially provide “lights” for travelers to see. They ranged in width from 10 to 30 feet wide. The longest runs over 100 kilometers (62 mi) westwards to the site of Yaxuna. The effort required to build these wide and long paths exceeded that of stone buildings and temples. These roads were used to transport goods on foot, no wheeled vehicles were used on them, even thought the Mayans were aware of the wheel. 16 of these original roads are open to the public to use as you tour the site.   

 Sacbe - white road

It is estimated that Coba began losing its central political power to Chichen Itza around 900 AD.

There were a large number of stelae, large stone slabs, throughout the Coba site displayed under thatched shelters. The stelae contain drawings and glyphs that document major events and historical facts that happened in the city of Coba. This is what archaeologists use to decipher the history and movements of the Mayan culture throughout the area. Today the glyphs are nearly illegible but the history radiates from these important artifacts.  


 Stelae tablet

The ever popular and significant ball court was there. This was not just game for entertainment, but for political and religious reasons as well. A cross between soccer and basketball, a solid rubber ball weighing from 6 – 10 pounds was used. The idea was to keep the ball in motion, not let it touch the ground, not use your hands and by some miracle get it to go through a vertical stone hoop. But here's the best part: in the end, someone got sacrificed! Historians dispute over whether it was the losing captain or whole team OR the winning captain or team – since it was considered an honor to be sacrificed. This game and the players are depicted on many of the stelae mentioned above. Obviously an important event in these people's lives, or a prelude to our modern day sports hero worship?

 ball court

There is a very unique structure called the Watch Tower. It is pyramid shaped, but roundish with tiered balconies. It is a very interesting architectural structure, but was not really explained other than to say it was possibly used for astronomical viewing.

 Watch Tower

We also spent a day at Xcaret. The highlight for me was swimming with dolphins. It was fun and learning experience as well. For instance, dolphins are a member of the wolf family and when born actually have hair, which falls off in a few days. The whisker hair holes remain visible their entire life. They are so smooth and soft and very intelligent. The trainer had us do hand signals which prompted the dolphins to do tricks such as sing, splash us and give us kisses. We were individually propelled like a jet ski on the nose of a dolphin. (I have since learned just how terribly exploited these poor mammals are and although happy I had the experience, I also now feel guilty for supporting such an industry.)

 Dolphins  Dolphins

We saw the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers). This is an ancient ceremony / ritual that has 5 costumed men climbing a 30 meter pole from which four of them launch themselves to the ground, spinning and turning while tied with ropes to the top, imitating the flight of birds. The fifth remains on top of the pole, dancing and playing a flute and drum. According to one myth, the ritual was created to ask the gods to end a severe drought.

 Flying Men  Flying Men

The warm up to this had four men mount a 4 pronged wheel, hanging on as onto a pogo stick and spin around and around while the fifth man played a flute.

 Flying Men

Xcaret had beautiful paths and trails leading from the Coral Reef Aquarium to the Sea Turtles area, Manatee Lagoon, Bats cave, Butterfly Pavilion, Deer refuge, Jaguar Island, Spider Monkeys Island, Mushroom Farm and Living museum of Orchids, an orchid greenhouse that boasted some 200 kinds of orchid. It was a wonderful place to spend the day and I would highly recommend it.

Butterfly pavilion   

At the end of the 7 days, I had learned that if I could get away from the resort I actually enjoyed myself. Different people enjoy different holidays. Maybe when I am older and can no longer hike, dive or explore I may enjoy the resort holiday more; but until then, the resort holiday is not on my top 10 list.


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