Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Coastal ruins and an almost-hurricane

We left Belize by boat, bouncing on foaming waves towards the Mexican border. Upon arrival at Chetumal, our bags were searched, re-searched, sniffed by dogs and then searched once more before we could proceed, passports barely glanced at as we entered our fourth and final country. We hopped on the first bus north, and settled in.

Our first stop was Tulum, with its unusual coastal ruins, framed by the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean. Unlike nearby Cancun, Tulum is relatively un-touristy, but still with all the amenities you would expect from a popular location. Our guesthouse was friendly and relaxed, the taxi prices fixed, and the area ideal for visiting both the ruins and nearby cenotes.

After arriving in the pouring rain, we prepared for a wet first day, but luckily the clouds parted overnight, and the following morning was clear. Not entirely trusting the weather, we grabbed a very early taxi to arrive at the ruins just as they opened, and were part of only a handful of people exploring the site. Although lacking the scale of others we have seen, the buildings were nevertheless impressive, sheer drops leading to crashing waves and small tunnels revealing new areas.

A couple of hours later, and we were finishing up the classic side-on shots showing the main temple alongside the pale water when the weather began to turn. Thick clouds drifted inland, and we were pleased we'd come so early. Walking back to the centre of the ruins, huge coach groups had begun to arrive, and as we took a final look at the temple from the front, a man wearing nothing but a tiny pair of white shorts jumped over the barrier and ran up the side of the building to take a photo of himself at the top. It was disgusting how blatantly he ignored the rules and contributed to the wearing of the stone just to have a photo. Not to mention how ridiculous he looked in the shorts... Unfortunately, our shouting (aggressive? us?!) did nothing to deter him, and there were no guards around. We left soon after, not wanting to witness any more disrespectful behaviour.

The winds had started to pick up by this point, but the rain was minimal, so we continued onto the 'Grand Cenone', a freshwater hole common around that part of Mexico. We'd decided to go knowing very little about cenotes, but I am so please we did as it turned out to be one of the best things we saw. The water was an incredible shade of shade of crystal blue, a deep aquamarine that stretched on and on. Visibility was perfect, revealing the huge stalactites that hung from the cave ceilings. Fish darted to and fro, and the sandy floor glittered as the light reflected around the water.

Leaping in with snorkel gear on, the water an icy respite from the heavy heat, we explored into the caves, grabbing air from pockets and watching the tiny fish bob around our heads. The experience reminded me of diving Silfra in Iceland - clear, cool freshwater with amazing views.

As we returned to town, the weather was deteriorating fast. Rain pelted the streets, and the winds were gusting with increasing intensity. We'd heard about the nearby hurricane, but had assumed that we were too far north. The owner of our guesthouse gave us the hurricane drill, and all the shops and restaurants shut up for the evening, dragging chairs and tables inside and packing up breakables. By 9pm the town was deserted as everyone settled in for the night. Luckily the precautions proved unnecessary as the hurricane just missed us, but the winds that night were incredible, loud and fierce. By the following morning, everything was back to normal, the locals completely used to this relatively common disruption to their lives.


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