Category Archives: Central America 2017

Xpujil, Becán and Chicanná

Chicana1

The next day Diane from the lodge drove us into the little town of Xpujil.  There are ruins of some mostly domestic Maya buildings opposite the school and we started out there.  We then walked up to the main site at Xpujil which we had almost to ourselves.  We spent some time exploring the ruins and watching the wildlife.  The area is a bit low on wildlife as, according to Diane, most of it ended up on the dinner table.  However, we did see the very impressive bat falcon at the main site at Xpujil and had frequent sightings of small green parrots flitting in and out of the bushes beside the road.

BatFalcon1

We then walked back to the town and caught a taxi to Becan.  That saved us about 10 km walk.  Becan is a wonderful site with many structures and a moat.  It was certainly Hilary’s favourite site to date (and one of the best overall).  Again, we had it almost to ourselves – there were two other people there and they were not obtrusive.

We walked along to Chicanná which is on the way back to the lodge.  Another wonderful site including some monstrous doorways where you step into the maw of the house of the serpent mouth.  Regrettably we didn’t get a really good picture showing the teeth!

That was a very full day with lots of walking between and within the sites.  We got back to Rio Bec Dreams very ready for a shower, a sit by the bamboo to watch the jays and a few cold beers.

Next day we made our way to Palenque – a big favourite of ours…

On to Calakmul

Calakmul3

We spent the next day (we are now up to 17th January) traveling.  Early morning bus (we watched the sun come up through the bus window) to Chetumal.  Grabbed a quick lunch in Subway (which is a big thing in Mexico) at the ADO bus station then onto the second class bus headed for Escarcega.   This bus had no movies but it did have Village People.  Quite loudly.  All the way.  We asked to be dropped off at Rio Bec Dreams.  Apparently there is usually no problem with that but…  We got some very helpful passengers and a driver who dropped us off at Becan.  Which is about six km from Rio Bec Dreams.  We walked it.

Rio Bec Dreams is a jungle lodge just off the main road in the Calakmul bio reserve.  It’s run by a very knowledgeable and interesting couple – he’s from Canada, she’s originally from the UK but has lived all over the world.  They have about five bungalows, a bar and a restaurant serving international cuisine.  At that point in our stay, I was not in the mood for international cuisine (with vegetables) because I was not yet sick of Central American food.  The goats cheese salad was, however, amazing.

The main point of our staying at the lodge (apart from enjoying the garden and the wonderful wildlife inhabiting the garden) was to visit Calakmul – a somewhat remote site which is supposed to be totally wonderful.  Calakmul is not the easiest site to access.  We’d been led to believe that the owners of Rio Bec Dreams would be able to organise us a tour.  They couldn’t due to other duties and timings, but they did help  us to hire a car.  So we drove ourselves.

The drive was epic.  First an easy half hour down a modern highway.  Then you turn off to the right and drive about 60 Km.  The first bit is on an almost intact road.  Not a modern highway, but easily negotiable.  Then you drive 30 Km down a rough track full of very deep potholes.  We mostly managed to dodge them.  We hit one on the way in and one on the way out.  And the car was returned to the hire place undamaged.

Calakmul itself is a very large site and, I thought, presented in a highly confusing manner.  First of all we saw a very large and easy to understand residential complex.  That was lovely though all the frescoes had been removed to somewhere we didn’t go.  There are some very high (for Mexico) temples and, of course, a lot of the visitors think that the whole point of the site is to get exercise by climbing them.  I found it a bit disappointing, to be honest.  I think I might have expected too much.  I’m not sure why but the lack of Stellae and relief work on the walls might be a partial explanation.  So, the ruins were somewhat disappointing but the wildlife was sensational.  We saw spider monkeys, ocellated turkeys (some of whom like to walk in front of your car for considerable distances), red throat ant tanager, black cowled orioles,  I’m pretty sure I saw a peccary and I definitely got my first sight of Montezoma’s oropendolas.  These birds were to feature frequently in our future.

Flying into Mexico

ChichenItza6

I think it’s about time I began to write this as we have now been home well over a month….

On 12th January this year we flew from Izmir to Stansted.  There was snow on the ground on the way to Adnan Menderes.  Our flight was direct and trouble-free and we had booked our National Express bus from Stansted to Luton where we planned to stay with family.  We arrived in Luton in a blizzard that, although short-lived, coincided with our getting off the coach and into a taxi for the short ride to Ashley’s mother’s house.  Next day we went to London to spend time with my family and, Saturday 14th we flew from Gatwick to Cancun.

A ten hour flight is never the best way to spend a day but we had excellent service on our flight with Virgin Atlantic.  The flight was not full and we had a row of 4 seats to ourselves.  The seat back entertainment system was excellent and varied (we watched the first episode of Westworld, amongst other things), the food was fine, there was free alcohol in moderation and the staff were helpful and friendly.  We landed in Cancun and got through immigration feeling reasonably relaxed, then a taxi to our hotel near the bus station.

The hotel was OK and the staff were sweet.  We had a problem with the aircon which was fixed almost instantly.  It felt very late at night though, in Cancun, it was early, so we didn’t do a lot.  We took a stroll to the local square.  This was not the touristy part of Cancun, so it was full of locals enjoying Saturday night.  There were folk dancers and stalls selling street food, balloons and that kind of thing.  I particularly remember the bats.  There were lots of them, large ones (probably fruit bats of some sort) hanging from one of the trees in the zocolo like black handkerchiefs.

We had a few beers in the bar attached to the hotel.  I got bitten.  Lots.  One of the worst mosquito attacks I experienced in the whole 5 weeks we were in the tropics.

Valladolid1Next morning we wandered around, back to a square where we listened to birds and watched those brave enough to show themselves in a crowded area.  Basically we were waiting for a bus to take us to Valladolid.  An easy ride (first class bus, it had movies, including one about Turkey).

I really like Valladolid.  It’s not too touristy, though it does have some pleasant pensions and a couple of decent restaurants.  It has a cenote where we watched loud tourists and a family of black vultures.  It has a lovely, green square full of ground doves and… grackles.  I really do like grackles.  And, of course, it’s convenient for Cichen Itza.

There had been some debate around whether to go to Chichen Itza.  Ashley has been several times, I had only been once.  It was the first Mayan site I visited and I wanted to refresh my memory.  We went on a collective (the Mexican equivalent of a Dolumuş).  We saw a mot mot sitting on a wire on the way, though the vehicle was pretty full and it was hard to see much from the window.  The first thing we saw upon arrival was the queue.  Although we had arrived quite early, the crowds are such that there is a 20 minute queue just to pay to get into the site.

Sadly, from my point of view, they allow people to set up souvenier stalls inside the site itself.  I suppose that is better than having them wander around accosting tourists, but it does little for the atmosphere.  Also they sell these vile noisemakers which are supposed to imitate jaguars (I think they sound more like howler monkeys) and, unsurprisingly, these are very popular with children.

Nothing can really spoil Chichen Itza.  The site is large and most tourists go to a very limited part of it (I think that a lot of the tour buses don’t allow you time to get around the whole site, particularly not if you like to take your sites slowly).  There are two cenotes, both of them very beautiful (though I do have my favourite).  There are some wonderful reliefs.  And we spent quite a long time standing on one of the slightly out of the way paths watching a mot mot hunt butterflies.  Well, mostly it was sitting pretty still so Ashely got some good shots.

 

Back to Valladolid for dinner (yes we did get the cochinita pibil) and a bit of sleep before catching the 5 a.m. bus to Chetumal……