From Merida, we continued driving eastward. We had not yet left town and the heavens broke open! We really couldn’t remember the last time it rained. It was pouring down and the water flooded the streets. The good thing about these tropical showers is that although they erupt violently, they also stop quickly. We drove to cenote Mani Chan and upon arrival the sun was already shining again. Carlos showed us around the property that includes two cenotes, but since it was already late we would visit those the next morning.
The first cenote Mani Chan was located directly on the property. A colleague of Carlos enthusiastically began to explain the history of this cenote. We didn’t understand much of it and nodded politely. Then with the help of a powerful diesel generator he turned on the light in the cave and led us inside. The beauty of cenotes is that they are all different. We entered a cave and descended a few makeshift steps until, around a bend on the left, we saw the clearest water imaginable. The narrow, elongated shape of this cenote made it look like a piece of an underground river surrounded by jagged rocks.
For the second cenote we got on Carlos’ tuktuk with which he took us on a farm track. Unlike his colleague, Carlos did his best to talk calmly and we understood from his story that this cenote was called Cleotilde and that it was 18 meters deep. Via a rickety wooden staircase where not all the steps were securely fastened, we descended these 18 meters underground and found ourselves in a large hollow space with a small hole right above in the middle through which the sun’s rays shone and illuminated the water.
Unfortunately, yesterday’s rainwater had also entered through this so the water was no longer completely clear, but still good enough to swim in. We found it a very strange and special experience to be able to swim in a fairy-tale cave. Countless stalactites hanging menacingly meters above us and we couldn’t get enough of it so we decided to visit one more cenote today on our way to the city of Valladolid.
We left Mani Chan and had chosen Hool Kosom. The names of the cenotes all sound super exciting and have their origins in Mayan culture. For the Maya, the water in cenotes was vital and special ceremonies were held in them. Also, a cenote was the entrance to the underworld in which the Maya strongly believed in. The “underworld” it certainly was because also at Hool Kosom we went down a steep staircase into the depths until we reached the water level. We noticed that in this cenote swam a number of fish that looked like small catfish. With long feelers, they swam toward us the moment we entered the water and curious as they were looking for our feet and legs.
On our way to Valladolid, we visited the town of Izamal, which more than lived up to its nickname Ciudad de Amarilla, or “the yellow town”. It was not very difficult to find the center, because the closer we got to the center, the more houses were colored yellow. We parked in one of the streets leading to the main square and walked the last stretch on our way to the Franziskan Monastery of San Antonio de Padua, which with its 75 arches is the third largest building of its kind. The monastery was only painted yellow in 1993 during the arrival of Pope John Paul II who visited the town and gave extra attention to the indigenous Mayan population that is still the majority here.
In Valladolid, we had arranged to meet Joanne and Bart in Zocalo Square. Joanne is an old colleague of Romy’s and she just happened to be on vacation in Mexico with her boyfriend. It was very nice to run into some familiar faces again and together we ate, how could it be otherwise, tacos and empanadas and ended the evening on a roof terrace with a cocktail!
We were parked less than a 10-minute walk away from the Zocalo, the main plaza and had also spent the night here next to a small park. As always when we are sleeping in a larger town, the morning quiet is quickly done and city life begins early. Our “wake-up call” today was one to note, as literally one meter next to our car a street musician had set himself down, equipped with speaker and microphone. He happily began to sing to the crowd gathered three meters away at a taco booth for buying breakfast. We could laugh about it, but at the same time looked forward again to our next destination in nature at Cenote Xnuuk.
Cenote Xnuuk belongs to German couple Sebastian and Andrea who bought the property six years ago and have been living there permanently themselves for three years. How special it is to be able to say that one owns a cenote! And what a cenote! Upon arrival, they took us around the property until we arrived at the cenote. Via a steep spiral staircase we descended six meters into the depths before arriving at a suspension bridge through a narrow excavated passageway. The suspension bridge connected the passageway to the cenote that was another three meters below.
Holding on with two hands and carefully walking, we made it to the end of the bridge and had arrived in yet another very beautiful setting. This cenote was not much different from Hool Kosom, only the procedure entering it here was a lot more spectacular! The sunlight shone in through two holes in the ceiling and the little catfish also here were already anxiously waiting for our four bare legs to enter the water.
We stayed an extra night with Sebastian and Andrea and used this day to relax. We also had a reasonable internet connection here and could work on our blog in peace. In between we dived into the beautiful cenote once more and drove to Cancun the next day.
Cancun is big and very touristy; here is also the airport where almost all the tourists arrive. South of Cancun it all gets even crazier. We were amazed at the number of vacation parks that were lined up here in a long line hidden behind high fences and palm trees. We were told that the number of hotel beds between Cancun and Playa del Carmen is somewhere around 70,000. A large number of tourists that we wanted to have as little to do with as possible! Pleased with the luxury of our four wheels, we were on our way to Tulum where we reported early the next morning at the archeological site to get ahead of the large stream of tourists.
Tulum is an ancient Mayan city located directly on the Caribbean Sea which gives it a special atmosphere. The Maya used it as a storage and transshipment place for their trade along the coast as far as Honduras. When other Maya cities such as Chichen Itza already fell into disrepair, Tulum only flourished making it one of the last Maya cities inhabited when the Spaniards reached this coast. The temples are scattered here and there throughout the grounds, where iguanas do not at all are bothered by the passing tourists. We enjoyed the view of the blue sea punctuated by a rugged limestone rocky shore where the Mayan buildings were built directly on top.
By the time we were on our way back to our car around 10:00, the tourists were streaming in to meet us. It turned out to have been a good move to start our visit early. Where the parking lot was completely empty upon our arrival, it was now packed with cars and tour buses. Tulum is by far the most visited Maya city in Mexico.
After just over three months in Mexico, the Laguna Bacalar was our last stop shortly before the Belize border. For two days we stayed on the shores of the lagoon with the bluest water we had yet seen. Great swimming, a little hammocking and drinking coffee. We were done with Mexico, but how beautiful it had been.
After two nights of relaxation at the Balneario Buenavista with its friendly owner Javier, we prepared for the final leg to the border town of Chetumal. We first stopped in the tourist town of Bacalar where we were supposed to eat a Burrito Carne Aasada at Mr. Taco on the advice of Thomas and Sima. So we did and indeed it was very tasty. The Lime Chia was also deliciously refreshing. Quickly after that we made our way away from all the Easter crowds in Bacalar and drove on towards Chetumal.
In itself, the capital of Quintana Roo province does not have much to offer, but we had several little things on our to-do list before continuing on to Belize. Refueling, filling up with water, doing the last shopping (because Belize is much more expensive), doing the laundry one more time. But most important was the change of the diesel filter, which we had not been able to find in Merida. Through iOverlander we had found a mechanic in Chetumal who had received good reviews from other travelers. We contacted him via Whatsapp and Jorge wanted to go and help us the next morning.
We were already looking for our sleeping place at Parque Ecologico. Then suddenly we got a message from Jorge that he had an emergency tomorrow. He asked if it was possible that we would stop by today. That certainly wasn’t a problem. 6 pm we were with Jorge and within 20 minutes he had changed the diesel filter. And that for 10 euros. Well done, we were satisfied and drove back to Parque Ecologico for our last night in Mexico.
Before we left Mexico for good, we picked up our clean laundry again the next morning, filled up the water, refueled and then we went to the border.
Now it was finally “Viva la Mexico y hasta luego!”