Sunday 7/4/2004 - Tulum, Xel-Ha Ruins

We woke up at 7:00 am and headed straight to the ADO bus station on 5th Avenue. We each bought a one way bus ticket for the 9:20 bus to Tulum for 31 pesos (the exchange rate is about 10 pesos to the dollar) apiece. We had about half an hour to spare, so we looked for a quick breakfast. We found a nice little cafe called Fresh Cafe y Pan. We told the waiter that we needed to catch a bus at 9:20, and he was quite attentive and fast. We asked what we might be able to get quickly, and he said that there were fresh-baked croissants just coming out of the oven. One glance at them and we were sold. We had fresh orange juice and deliciously decadent ham and cheese croissants which were baked on premises. The waiter was in a great mood, and was dancing around to the music. We got two more croissants for the road. We headed one block up to the bus station and ate our croissants standing on the street while waiting to board the bus. It was a nice, air-conditioned first class bus, very similar to the one we had taken to Chichen Itza. The bus stopped at the Xel-Ha Ecopark on the way. When we got back on highway 307, we could see the Xel-Ha ruins (which Pablo had told us didn't exist!) from the bus window. It took about an hour total to get to Tulum. The bus dropped us off on the highway, and it took less than 5 minutes to walk to the entrance. There was a bus station right there, and the woman said that buses to Playa leave every hour, and we could purchase tickets right there. So much for Pablo's assertion that we would have to walk 45 minutes from the bus stop to the ruins, and would find no way back to Playa! We looked in a couple of shops (which were incredibly overpriced) and decided we didn't want to buy anything there. We could have hired a guide if we had wanted to (the guide books said that it would cost about $20), but we decided that we'd like to explore the place on our own and in our own time. It was a quarter mile walk to the entrance. Some people took a tractor-driven tram, but we decided to walk. We paid our entrance fee (about $3 apiece) and headed inside. It seemed more crowded than Chichen Itza, probably because the actual area of the park is smaller and it is much closer to the hotel areas. There were iguanas everywhere, many of which posed perfectly atop the ruins. We wandered around admiring the ruins. The most dramatic views were from the Castillo, or castle, a temple and fortress which overlook the Caribbean. We watched tourists swimming on the beach below, and looked across a bay to the Temple of the Wind. It was quite warm, and eventually the turquoise waters of the Caribbean were irresistible. We walked down to the beach and got changed into our bathing suits in a small grove of trees. The water was beautiful, and the white sand was very soft, and hot, on our feet. There was no seaweed or debris, just beautiful, clear, warm water. The water was shallow for quite a ways, and we enjoyed being pummeled by the waves. The views were so impressive; it was amazing to look atop the cliffs and see the Castillo and the Temple of the Wind flanking the beach. After about half an hour in the water, we dried off, ate a granola bar, and put our clothes back on over our bathing suits. We did one more pass of the ruins. I was impressed that Craig was able to get pictures with so few people in them, since the place was so crowded. It had started to clear out a bit while we were in the water, however. We walked to the exit and stopped at a small pharmacy to buy some Gatorade to rehydrate ourselves. Although the bottle was printed "10 pesos", we realized the guy charged us 20 pesos each. We were disgusted, and decided then and there that we didn't want to eat lunch at Tulum and we would find an alternative.

We walked back out to the highway and stopped at Los Cantaros which advertised fresh natural ice cream. We got peach and mango sorbet which was served in little decorated terra cotta pots. It was served with a wooden stick as a spoon. It cost 60 pesos apiece, and we got to keep the terra cotta pot. It was delicious, and the pot kept it very cold right to the end. We spoke with the guy who was working there. He was very friendly and asked us what our plans were for the rest of the day. We said that we were considering taking a taxi to the Xel-Ha ruins. "Oh, the ones across the street from the ecopark?" he asked. He told us that would cost around 70 pesos. But he told us about an alternative: the "collectivo," or shared taxi. As he was explaining about it just as one drove by on the highway. It was a white van that said "Collectivo" and had a colored stripe down the side. He explained that you wait on the highway and flag one down (they come by about every 10 minutes). If they have enough room, they will stop and pick you up. From Tulum to Xel-Ha he said should only be about 10 pesos per person. This sounded perfect. We headed out to the highway and immediately found a collectivo driver. We told him that we wanted to go to the Xel-Ha ruins. He waited for a few more passengers and then we were on our way. He dropped us off at the entrance to the Xel-Ha Ecopark. He had forgotten that we wanted the ruins. It was no problem, they did exist, we simply crossed the street and walked about 300 meters.

We had read that the Xel-Ha ruins are usually devoid of tourists, despite the fact that thousands of people per day visit the Xel-Ha Ecopark across the street. When we arrived at the ruins, this seemed to be the case. The guy who sold tickets was sitting in his car listening to the radio. When we approached, he got out of the car and headed into the ticket booth. It cost about $3 per person. "Xel-Ha" translates to "inlet" referring to the rather protected coastline in this area. There were three other tourists at the site, and we saw them pretty much right away. They pointed us in the direction of some of the ruins that contained murals. It was amazing how deserted this place was after Tulum and Chichen Itza. This was the only place where we encountered mosquitoes on the trip, and we quickly slathered ourselved in deet since they were relentless. There were lots of iguanas here as well. The first dwellings at Xel-Ha were built of thatch and wood between 100 B.C. and 400 A.D. Starting around 400 A.D., masonry buildings were constructed. The city seems to have been inhabited right up until the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1500's. The buildings from this period feature inset lintels, like we saw at Machu Picchu but have not yet encountered in Mayan sites. Stucco covered the masonry at this time as well. We saw some sites which were built on top of other buildings. We got to one structure where a guard was sitting. This was the structure which boasted murals. One of the walls contained murals depicting red birds, and dates back to the Early Classic period (300 - 600 A.D.) These murals were labeled "Pintura Mural, Cuarto 1." It was amazing to see Early Classic paintings that were that well preserved. Around the other side of the structure were more murals (labeled as "Pintura Mural, Cuarto 2". These dated from the same Early Classic period, and depicted a checkerboard pattern and an anthropomorphic figure. Around the site there were other murals which were not so well preserved (such as a mural of a cat painted in blue, and the "Pintura Mural del Santuario.") We saw some interesting limestone fossils on the ground. We walked to a large cenote and headed down to water level. I dipped my hand in, and the water was quite warm. We saw several water fowl taking a swim in the cenote but neither of us felt up to it.

We exited the ruins (the ticket seller was once again in his car listening to music) and walked back down the highway toward Xel-Ha Ecopark. There we saw a man who appeared to be trying to flag down a collectivo. We waited with him, and only a few minutes later, one arrived. It picked up and dropped off many passengers on the way to Playa del Carmen (some tourists like us, but mostly locals on their way to and from work), and Craig ended up playing musical chairs in the back seat. It dropped us a couple blocks from the bus station and only charged us 20 pesos apiece. We did a bit of shopping, and then realized that it was only around 5:00. We were hoping to meet up with Tracy and Jacob later on, but we didn't know when or where. We decided it would probably be best to get something to eat, since we had skipped lunch. We wandered down 5th Avenue and stopped at the very Mayan looking Xlapac Resturant and Bar. We sat at a table close to the sidewalk. The restaurant was a courtyard, and a tree kept dropping small flowers into our hair and onto our table. Craig ordered a Negro Mondelo beer and I ordered a lemon daiquiri. At one point we looked up, and who was standing there but Jacob and Tracy! They were hungry as well and went in search if Middle Eastern food. It seems they also skipped lunch and felt they'd better get a quick bite to eat before meeting up with us. We made plans to meet them at the Blue Parrot at 8:00. Craig had arrachera con nopales, rajas, guacamole. cebolla, cambray, y arroz (marinated beef, cactus, sliced chile, jalapeno, guacamole, onion, and rice). I ordered enchiladas con mole rojo y mole verde con arroz (enchiladas with red and green mole and rice). Both of our meals were absolutely delicious. The restaurant also had a smoothie bar, and we were told that they offered the best smoothies in town for 22 pesos. We had hoped to try one, but by the time we finished our food and had another round of drinks, we were too stuffed.

We headed back to the hotel. We were supposed to meet Pablo before 7:00 to get our airport transfer time but he wasn't there. He had said that if we didn't meet up with him, he would leave a message for us, which he never did. We assume that he was probably just trying to get back at us for not booking a tour through him. The Tulum and Xel-Ha Ecopark tour that he wanted to sell us would have cost us a total of $212. We wouldn't have gotten to go to the Xel-Ha ruins, by Pablo's own admission we would have spent a maximum of 30 minutes at Tulum, and we would have spent the bulk of the day snorkeling at a busy theme park. Instead, we got to take our time at Tulum, explore the Xel-Ha ruins at our own pace, and the entire day (transportation, entrance fees, and snacks included) cost a grand total of $38.

We ran down to the 4th floor pool for a quick dip. There were several other couples there, and we talked and laughed with the men while the women danced on the bar after a couple of tequila shots. Craig had a beer and suggested I have some tequila shots too but I decided not to. We swam around for a while, and then we headed back to the room to shower and change. At 8:00, we arrived at the Blue Parrot. It was still early, so it wasn't crowded. The main bar has swings instead of bar stools, and we staked out four of them. I ordered a strawberry daiquiri and Craig got Sol beer. Soon Tracy and Jacob arrived, and the four of us had a lot of laughs. It was fun to swing while we talked, and we had a great time. Craig had a few more beers. I had a couple more daiquiris and a sangria. At around 11:45, the dancers arrived. As they prepared to hit the stage, we traded our swings for a table on the beach right next to the stage. We were much closer than we had been the other night, and it was a totally different experience. I sat in the sand and took pictures. A man next to me stood by with a fire extinguisher. At first, the acrobats did their routine. It was amazing to see how muscular the girl was. Then the fire dancers hit the stage. Everyone was dressed in black, and at times the girls' pants would catch on fire, and they would quickly pat the flame out. It was amazing to see the intricacy of their routines from such a close vantage point. After the fire dancing show was over, Jacob and Tracy decided to head back to their room since they had an early morning departure. We stayed for a few more minutes, and then walked back down the beach to our hotel. It looked like all kinds of chaos had taken place at our hotel. Some sort of wedding or something had taken place and it was clearly a crazy time. There was a pool chair at the bottom of the pool and Craig scrambled to take a photo of it but once again, a grounds person came along immediately, so we decided to distance ourselves from the scene of the crime. There was a blue balloon in the stairwell and Craig gave it to me and I batted it up in the air just like a volleyball. It sailed out of the stairwell and onto the roof. So much for my present. We arrived at the room at around 12:30. I wrote in the journal and then we went to sleep.
El Castillo, Tulum


Temple of the Wind, Tulum

Beach, Tulum

El Castillo, Tulum

Xel-Ha Ruins

Pintura Mural, Cuarto 1 (Bird Mural), Xel-Ha Ruins

Swing Bar at the Blue Parrot with Jacob and Tracy

Fire Dancers at the Blue Parrot

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