Friday, March 28, 2008

Wonder of the World

On my way back to Cancun to fly home, I stopped at Chichen Itza. On a coolness scale from 1 to 10, this place is a 9,95. It would be a 10, but no one is permitted to go up any of the pyramids (Mexico is not as free of a country as America, no offense to the good people of Mexico).
My camera was broken, so no pictures. But pictures couldn't do it justice. The archaeological zone is so big, probably twice that of Uxmal. Many of the structures serve as calendars, with windows aligned to important points in the patterns of movement of celestial bodies, i.e. polaris, venus, the sun. So, basically, you had to be there.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


This weekend I went "camping" with some buddies to Ek-Balam. It's about a 3 hour drive, but we got a late start Thursday evening, and ended up stopping in a neighboring town, and sleeping in a hotel. Get this: 2 nice, clean rooms with 2 double beds each, hot water, cable, and anything else you could want at midnight, for $45. 4 beds for 45! And it felt great to sleep in a bed!
Friday morning we went to Ek-Balam, which is in central Yucatan. Ek-Balam is Mayan for "black jaguar", and was the name of an important post-classical Mayan guy. There is an archaeological site, which features some impressive ruins. And there are some "ecotourism" places as well. We camped at one of those places Friday night. It was the first time I ever saw an "ecological" bathroom. That whole concept is a bad idea, and if you see one you will know what I mean.
Saturday, we took bikes down to some less-impressive caves. Although the tour was cheap ($10 for the guide, and $2 to rent a bike) there were drawbacks. My bike was missing the platform of the pedal for the left foot, and the chain broke about 3 km into the trip. So I jogged the last 2 km, and on the way back, the guide loaned me his bike. Believe it or not, his was in much worse condition than mine. All in all, it may be best to avoid the Ek-Balam ecotourism sites.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Garbage Man; Coca Cola

The sanitation industry is a whole different ball game in Mexico. The garbage man comes by two or three times a week, and I usually hear him when he comes, but I can't figure out what the schedule is supposed to be. He has come weekdays in the evening or very late at night, or even 9am on a Saturday. Last night he came at 2:30 am, and I heard him, and it woke me up, but I didn't even try to catch him, even though I have been trying to "take out the trash" all week.
If you know when he's coming, you can leave your stuff in bags outside your gate. When I see bags outside peoples gates I leave it out. But if he doesn't come, the cats and dogs get into it. Aside from that, there is lots of garbage in the streets and gutters. Littering is common.
A couple of weeks ago, I heard the garbage truck and went out to give them my garbage. The guy who took the bag from me asked me for a drink, so I got him a cup of water. He drank it and got back to running alongside the truck. After he left I realized I should have given him something else. People here don't typically drink water. Why? I think because (in restaurants) it is about as expensive as soft drinks, and people here like their coke.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Yesterday, at 5PM, just as I sat down to eat some black beans and rice, I felt something on my leg. Apparently, a small scorpion had been under my seat, and when I sat down he was startled and climbed onto my shorts and then onto the bare skin of my knee! If that had happened to me two months ago, I probably would have caught the next plane back. It scared me like few things could. But it didn't kill me. Quite the contrary. This picture was taken moments before its unearthly demise.
Tom - 1, Scorpions - 0

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Seahorse Stalactite

One of the less-impressive features of the canyon to which the guide directed our attention was this stalactite in the form of a seahorse. You have to see it to believe it. So there you have it.

Big Reptile

This is one of the 3 or 4 crocodiles we saw on the canyon tour. The guide said he was young, but judging by his wrinkly skin I would have guessed he's pretty old.
I won't include pictures because none of them came out, but I also saw two small monkeys hanging by their tails, fighting each other (or maybe just playing). What a life, to just monkey around in a tree, or lay out in the sun and scare tourists! These animals know how to have a good time.

Canyon Tour

This was the trip I got burned, and it only lasted about 2 hours! It must have been a combination of the water's reflection and the altitude. We took a boat about 10 miles through this canyon, which was 100 meters at it's highest point from the water to the top. There were crocodiles, monkeys, vultures and other interesting creatures to see.


In Chiapas, the landscape is rarely flat. So corn and other crops are grown as shown in the picture, or even on more extreme inclinations. Also, big trees and bushes and other plants are allowed to grow alongside the crops. This may be because they don't require irrigation. It rains so much (I think 9 or 10 months out of the year) that all kinds of plants can grow without much attention. And crops can also be harvested throughout the year as well. Quite a contrast to Yucatan, where water must be more carefully conserved.


At long last, we got to Palenque. It started raining pretty hard, so I didn't take as many pictures as I would have liked, and we didn't get to stay very long because it closed at 5. In this picture I was standing on the only inhabited building that has been excavated. It was 80 meters by 100 meters.
In the background is the Temple of the Inscriptions, wherein was found the mummy of Pacal the Great. His tomb was kept secret from the first team of excavators. In 1994 a hidden door leading to his tomb was found. They no longer allow people to go down to the hidden tomb, but it was impressive anyway. 98% of the Palenque ruins are still covered by the surrounding jungle, according to our unauthorized, under-the-table guide.


This was a waterfall we stopped at on the way to Palenque. It had some Mayan name that escapes me. I was glad that it was getting cloudy at this point because the Chiapas sun is a lot stronger than here in Merida (maybe for the altitude) and I was getting more than a healthy dose.
Although I generally take pictures myself, a pretty Dutch girl offered to take this one for me. :)

Agua Azul

You might be wondering where I was able to find these beautiful waterfalls and ponds in the Yucatan, because there are none. I came down to Chiapas this week, specifically to see Palenque. On the way with our tour, we stopped at "Agua Azul" which is what you are seeing.
There is a small pueblo along the water where many of the people don't speak very good Spanish, just Maya. The kids don't go to school, they sell stuff to tourists. Even on the roads leading to the town, groups of kids and some adults had tied strings or ropes to
tree branches and waited across the street with the other end, and when a car approaches they pull the string to try to get the car to stop, and they approach the passengers with bowls of bananas or fried breads on their heads. Our driver just drove through the strings and was not very courteous to the people.
It was sad to see so many kids who are not given the opportunity to learn. Lack of education can lead to some strange beliefs and traditions, as seen in the church of San Juan Chamula.