Off to visit the Mayans – Day 4, Playa Del Carmen

The fourth day was unplanned. We had run ragged since we arrived in Mexico, so we decided to take a day of rest. Fortified with painkillers and antibiotics, I peeked out at the sunshiny day outside from our hotel room and greeted it with a wide smile. The sun did the same.

Sean got roped into listening to a vacation share sales pitch. I grudgingly agreed to it since the deal was they would give us heavily reduced tickets to the eco theme park Xcaret if we gave the sales team our time. We sat through the sales pitch in a beautiful resort while the children played on the beach. We refused to shell out $20,000 to buy two weeks of vacation and came back with four tickets to the eco theme park.

Mexican food is delicious but after four days of tacos (the children disliked the authentic tacos there since the meat was chopped and not ground and the taco sauce was different than what they are used to in the US), pibil, guacamole, nachos we were ready for a change of palate. We craved some soul food – Italian! We lunched in an Italian restaurant on fifth Avenue in Playa Del Carmen where the food was delicious and the price was exorbitant. Sea food fettucine for me, gnocchi for Sahana and Sean, salmon and shrimp pizza for Ryan, which he did not like.

After lunch we strolled back leisurely to our hotel, nodding to the local shop owners, smiling at fellow tourists. We came back, changed in our swim suits and found our beach by 3:45 pm. While the man and his cubs frolicked in the water, I donned my hat, shades, sarong and went on a long walk along the beach. Beach attracts me for the blue ocean, the faraway horizon where the ocean raises to kiss the cloud filled blue sky, the spectacular sunsets, the salty tang of air, the gritty feel of the sand beneath my feet, the intricate carvings on an abandoned sea shell. It also brings me close to the stillness, the carefree joy, the familial bonding that my fellow humans bring to the beach. Very rarely do I see wo/men bent over their electronic devices. They either rest, play, sunbathe, walk, bond, laugh by the water or in it. This coming together of nature and mankind makes me happy. I am both the observer and the absorber of nature and man.

The evening was dedicated to the beautiful beach city of Playa Del Carmen. Locals lamented the loss of its beauty and simplicity with the booming tourism and development of this area. As Cancun got overcrowded resorts started buying up property and developing Playa. Gone are Playa Del Carmen’s sleepy days. The city now dons a new apparel every night and glitters for the people who come to visit. We dined at a 100 percent natural Mexican restaurant, which the grown ups loved and the children did not care for.

After a satisfying, all natural, healthy meal at Playa Del Carmen.
After a satisfying, all natural, healthy meal at Playa Del Carmen.

Then we walked the entire length of Fifth Avenue as Sahana and Ryan licked their double scoops of ice cream from a glittery Haagen Daaz. There were men on stilts, overpriced artifacts, trinkets, masks, designer stores with that homogenous smell of designer perfumes. There were ferrets, snakes and baby Chow chows to be petted and taken pictures with, if you paid. Local artists painted on the roadsides and sold their paintings. Musicians serenaded diners in open air restaurants. We ended up at Punta Playa (the port of Playa) where we sat with local families and watched street performers performing skits in Spanish. Sean drew me closer and flicked his head up at the sky. I looked up following his gaze to see the splendidly shining moon finally emerging from behind some dark clouds, over the ocean. Sean found my hand and held on. We stood there for a while, my back against my husband as the moon played hide and seek with us and slowly, ever so slowly, disappeared again. How perfect was that moment!


We were back at the hotel by 10:30 pm and were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. Xcaret tomorrow – snorkeling, floating down secret river, flamingos, dolphins…


Off to visit the Mayans – Day 3, Chichen Itza and Playa Del Carmen

We checked out from our hotel Dolores Alba in Merida by 8:00 am on Tuesday morning and started our journey to see Chichen Itza – arguably the most visited Pyramid built by the ancient Mayans. After an uneventful drive of one hour and twenty seven minutes (Sahana timed it) we arrived at the gate of the ruins. As we parked Escargot and looked around us, we knew this site will not the have peace, quiet and relative silence of Uxmal. There were busloads of tourists with loud guides speaking different languages, people selling their wares everywhere. There were artifacts and trinkets, ice cream and cold drinks, masks and men dressed up as Mayan warriors, there were also little monkeys and a two month old baby lion. One could take pictures with them at a price.

As we made our way inside the site of ruins, the impressive Kukulkan Pyramid, also known as El Castillo stood up against the azure blue sky, just like it always has for centuries before. For a few minutes, I became oblivious of my surroundings as I was transported to the Early Classic period (around 600 AD) when the city of Chichen Itza rose into prominence.

According to

‘Chichen Itza which means “at the mouth of the well of Itza “, is the 2nd most visited archeological site of Mexico today. The Kukulkan Pyramid in Chichen-Itza which known as “El Castillo” (the castle), is one of the new seven wonders of the world elected in 07.07.2007. It is exactly 24 m. high considering the upper platform.’

There are four stairways each with 91 steps ending at a single top step at the temple’s entrance. The number of steps add up to 365 – a step for each day in the Mayan Calendar.


Columns of Thousand warriors

The ruins of the city of Chichen Itza were majestic and grand and very, very catered to tourists. The presence of hawkers trying to eke out a living from this often visited site took away the essence that I wished to experience. It was too hot, too crowded, too noisy. A part of me tried to justify the tourism based economy but a huge part of me deplored it. There were hawkers everywhere trying to sell knick knacks at exorbitant prices. “Almost free” chant followed us everywhere. Hawkers started to converse with me in Spanish expecting the Mayan looking woman to translate to the gringo with her. The Mayan looking woman, however, smiled sweetly and hastily notified, “No habla Espanol” and the gringo, fluent in Spanish, took over.


After four very hot hours in Chichen Itza, the children took an ice cream break. All four of us were hot, flushed and ready to move on. We slowly made our way out to Escargot, in quiet contemplation of the Kukulkan Pyramid in its heyday. We poured some cold water on ourselves and headed towards south. Our next destination for the four days was Playa Del Carmen, just 42 miles south of the more famous Cancun. A fine moment of ‘I told you so’ arrived when my husband disregarded my suggestion of filling up the car in the city of Vallodolid before entering the Cancun Cuota (highway), thinking he will fill it up on the way. Well, he thought wrong! As we kept going on the almost empty highway and the gas indicator kept dipping dangerously, we discovered the next gas station was 93 kilometers away! I kept one eye on the indicator and other out for salida (exits)! We finally arrived at a toll booth where Sean pointed to the gas gauge and asked if there was a gas station nearby where he could fill up! Fortunately we were not the only clueless tourists who found themselves in similar predicament on that particular highway. The lady at the toll booth assured us they could sell us a couple of liters of gas that will take us to the gas station situated at the outskirts of Cancun. We bought the gas – at a steep price, of course! And off we went.

The Cancun cuota, as the name suggests, takes us straight down to the beach city of Cancun from Chichen Itza. It is a pleasant drive, a pretty drive – if the gas tank in your car is full, stomach is full and your bladder empty. They were no exits to get off and buy food or use restrooms.

We eventually made it to a gas station with the little gas we bought at the toll booth. Finally with a full tank of gas, a relieved heart (mine) and empty bladder we started on our Cancun adventure, except we had no clue where to go. Sean kept saying, ‘Keep looking guys! Tell me if you see something interesting and we will stop!’ But by the time we said, ‘Hey, that looks like a fun place! Let us stop there’, he had driven away. At that point we were all cranky with hunger and were snapping at each other like a herd of crocodiles! We could not find places to park, we could not figure out the lay of the land and we kept driving away from abodes of the food god. It was an utter mess! Finally we saw a very generic looking mall as a last resort before we killed and ate each other. And surprisingly enough a lovely restaurant was found by the bayside, right next to Hooters.

After dunch (lunch and dinner, since it was 5:30 pm by that point) we decided to abandon our initial plan of exploring Cancun and headed towards our final destination for the day – Playa Del Carmen.

Playa was easy enough to find, but the grid system of the roads was a bit more challenging to figure out, at least in my brain. My wizard of the path finder husband sorted out th grid system quickly enough and we found our temporary shelter Adventure Experience Hotel without much trouble. The hotel was half a block from the famous fifth avenue of Playa Del Carmen and a five minutes walk to the beach. I can only recommend the hotel for it’s location but unfortunately, for nothing else. Since we decided to spend our days touring different areas around Playa, the hotel was adequate for us.

At this point, my sore finger needs to be mentioned. As the days passed, I looked at it with increasing anxiety and a morbid awe. I had been popping painkillers to manage the constant pain and throbbing, since without the painkillers the pain was intense enough to wake me up from an exhausted sleep. The finger had swollen up like a sausage and the pus around the site had assumed a sickening yellowish green under the tender skin. I knew I was in trouble but I was also determined to get through the vacation without any sort of intervention. I figured I will have it taken care of once I went home.

Once we settled into our hotel, showered, changed and went out to stretch our legs, Sean insisted we go to a pharmacy and get my finger examined. The pharmacist looked at my finger, shook his head and rattled off in Spanish. All I got out of that conversation was ‘un medico’! We walked a block to a different pharmacy where a doctor had an office but unfortunately the doctor’s office was closed. Sean still dragged me to talk to the pharmacist and explained my situation and showed my finger. While all the talk in Spanish was going on I lost focus on my surroundings and looked at my angry finger, finally admitting to myself I needed antibiotics and my finger was badly infected. I was vaguely aware of two very young women in tank tops and a young man standing in that pharmacy next to us. While I stood there feeling sorry for myself, one of the young women came over to me, took my hand and started probing and prodding the wound. I was first stunned at this breach of personal space and then when electric shocks of pain registered in my brain I snatched my hand away from her and said, semi-politely, ‘My finger hurts, I need doctor!’ The woman smiled sweetly and pointed to herself, ‘Doctor!’ She WAS the doctor who had just finished her office hours and was on her way home when we waylaid her with my infected finger. She examined my wound, wrote a prescription for antibiotics and advised me to be strong since Sean will have to poke a hole and drain the finger. I gulped. When Sean offered to pay for her consultation, she refused payment, smiled again and wished us good luck.

Armed with syringes, hydrogen peroxide, gauze, iodine, bandaids, antibiotic tablets and antiseptic cream we returned to our hotel room. After washing his hands twice my valiant husband started ominously fiddling with the syringes in a poorly lit hotel bathroom – in Mexico! All of a sudden I chuckled. This is what memories are made of, I suppose! The good, bad and the ugly!

‘Are you ready?’ He asked.

‘As ready as I will ever be! Let’s do this!’

I called Sahana, who showed a very gleeful interest in the whole process, to hold down my hand. As I looked away, I helped my husband by saying ‘Don’t put an air bubble in my vein. That will kill me!’ (He was, of course, nowhere near a vein. I am just evil like that:) ).

And then he plunged the syringe into the skin. And then the pain…

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 2, Uxmal.

The second day started with Ryan loudly ‘whispering’ to Sean at the crack of dawn, ‘Dad, Dad, I am really, really hungry!!’ And when Ryan is hungry, he is worse than Eric Carle’s ‘The very hungry caterpillar’. We got up and pattered around the room, getting ready for the day. The parents tried to be quiet to let Sahana sleep a while longer while Ryan tried to make as much noise as possible to wake her up! Soon enough, we heard a dying pterodactyl groan from under the covers:

‘It is 6:30 in the morning!! Why are you all walking around?? Why are you even awake? I disown all three of you! Let me sleep!!’

Sahana groaned and moaned while the wicked brother giggled and chuckled. Finally, she got out of bed just to tackle him to the ground for being a pest, got ready and came down to breakfast with us.

After a breakfast of huevos (eggs), beans, cereals, papaya, banana and cafe (for me), we slung our bag packs on our shoulders, went to find our vehicle Escargot and embarked upon our journey to Uxmal – 67 Kms away. And this is the gift we received for our endeavor.


As Escargot ate up the kilometers on an empty two lane highway, all four of us quietly basked in the beauty of the sun kissed day, the young, verdant green creating a foliage over our heads, the occasional farmer by the road tending to his own farm. The journey took us less than an hour and a half to get to Uxmal, which, in Sean’s opinion was the best of them all. Sean had visited the same area twenty five years ago as a young backpacker.

I got my camera out as we entered the site but the children forgot about the pyramids because they met him……or her. I really can’t be sure.


We named him/her Sultan/a. The iguana population distracted Ryan and Sahana while I stood in front of this with my mouth open.


And to put the size in perspective


The Pyramid of the Soothsayer, also called The pyramid of the Sorcerer.

I think the legend associated with the pyramid is most interesting. An alux (aloosh) is a creature with a body of a baby and the face of an old man born out of egg. The common belief was (probably the folklore still exists) that these were spirits of old gods driven away from temples, taking revenge on non-Yucetecs. The legend, according to ‘Yucatan & Mayan Mexico’ goes something like this:

When the story began, Uxmal was a humble place, with nothing like the grandeur it later attained. It was ruled over by an old King who lived in the fear of prophecy that he would be dethroned by a new lord, a dwarf, and this lord would herald his arrival by beating on a drum. Now, there also lived a woman, a witch, who did not have any children but pined for one. She found an iguana egg, which she brought back home and cared for. Eventually a baby was born out of that egg. The baby could speak as soon as he was born but stopped growing after a year of his birth. He was an alux, the Dwarf. One day he found a drum and started beating. Panicked, the king sent his army to capture the drum beater and be brought to him. The king set the dwarf some seemingly impossible tasks, which the dwarf agreed to do provided the king matched his efforts. The king challenged the dwarf to build a house overnight that had to be higher than any house in Uxmal – which the dwarf accomplished. The Pyramid of the Sorcerer was built overnight thus. Finally, the crucial test was them both hitting each other with giant hammer. The Dwarf’s mother placed a magical tortilla on her son’s head but the king’s head was unprotected and therefore smashed. The Dwarf became the new ruler and the prophecy was fulfilled.

Although Uxmal has several glyph inscriptions and stelae, they have not provided a complete history of the region like Palenque. There is a lot of information on the history of Uxmal and the architecture of the Puuc region but since the blog post is a personal journal, I will steer clear of facts and history. Due to the number of visitors, they do not allow climbing on the Pyramid of the Sorcerer anymore. However, one can still climb the steep steps of the Temple of the Mayor and enjoy the view atop the monument. One can see the sweeping vista of the ruins and the terrain adjoining the ruins. The day we chose to travel to Uxmal, the sky was blinding blue, the sun was sweet and strong and we truly felt at the top of the world as we gazed far out from top of the The Tempelo Mayor.


Climbing up the Temple of the Mayor.

By the time we explored the big structures, went up and down the Temple of the Mayor, the children were hot and tired. Even the iguanas seemed to lose their capacity to entertain. So we brought them back to the entrance, sat them down in the shade, bought them ice cream, handed them water bottles as well as our backpacks and like any responsible parent, we took off with a reassuring ‘Stay here, we will be right back!’ (Please do not call child services on me, they are older and responsible enough to be left alone 🙂 )! There were a few sections we had not explored and Sean and I are that type of curious people who like to see it all!

Uxmal was magnificent, the day was glorious. It was less touristy and Uxmal had a grandeur that demanded respect and awe. The relative silence of the place let us do just that. We looked up at the monuments in awe and marveled at the ingenuity, depth of astronomical knowledge, artistry and vision of the ancient Mayans.

I turned around and bade farewell to the majestic temples and sites of Uxmal as Escargot got on the road to take us back to Merida. But stomachs were growling at this point and lunch seemed imperative. On the way back, we discovered a thatch roofed (palapas) restaurant, more like the roadside Dhabas in India and we decided to pull in. That turned out to be one of the best decisions we made on this trip. The staff was simply wonderful, very cheerful and proud of their heritage and cuisine. Our server took us back to their garden and showed us the chillies and other vegetables that they grew themselves. And then he showed us the typical regional way of cooking meat – Pibil. They put the meat – chicken, pork, beef with seasoning in a stainless steel container and buried it underground and cooked it for hours. He took out a container while we watched. The meat was so tender it seemed to be falling off the bone. I, of course, ordered that.



Uxmal, the day, the food, the people – all of these made me so deliriously happy that I wanted to convey to the world and especially to the nice staff of the restaurant how wonderful everything was. The trouble was , I wanted to convey all this in their own language!! The delightful joint thrilled me so much that I unknowingly brought in rudimentary French in my very, very broken Spanish as I tried to bond with our server. I got embarrassed nudges from my daughter as I said ‘moi’ instead of ‘mi’ and ‘tres bien’ instead of ‘muy bien’ .

‘Mama!!! That is French!’ She whispered. Typical teenage embarrassment over parental faux pas.

‘Shush!’ I said, undeterred. ‘Both are romance languages.’

And continued the communication with a lot of smiles, hand gestures and Franish (French/Spanish). The server and I did just fine! While I bonded, Sahana nudged and Sean smiled, Ryan sipped his Coca cola and kept sticking his tongue out saying, “I am drunk!”

The afternoon found me by the poolside writing in my journal, Ryan splashing in the water, Sahana sunbathing and Sean snoozing in the hotel room. The plan in the evening was to explore Merida. After the sun set and the heat lessened we walked around the capital city of Yucatan, Merida. It is a quaint city, with interesting architecture of vibrant hues. Bright pinks, fluorescent yellows, strong greens, deep blues on buildings seemed to work very well in that city. I loved the brick streets, the parks, the beautiful cathedral, the call of the friendly hawkers, “Amigo, almost free!”


We came back to the hotel after dinner and went straight to bed. Day 3 would take us to Chichen Itza and then southward bound to the beaches of Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Akumal.

Sore finger continues to swell, continues to throb, continues to change colors in different shades of unhealthy green. But ‘after all, tomorrow is another day’…

Off to visit the Mayans….with a sore finger!

My eyes opened at 3:48 am and my brain registered the acute pain – the reason for my sudden wakefulness. We were about to leave the house to catch our flight to Yucatan, Mexico in a couple of hours and my right ring finger was throbbing with intense pain. Intense enough to wake me up from deep, exhausted-from-packing-and-organizing slumber. I knew I was in trouble. After weeks of planning where to go for spring break, what made sense financially, whether the children will be happy with our choice, we had decided upon the ancient Mayans. The Yucatan peninsula – the land of the Mayans, soft yellow sandy beaches, turquoise blue water and waving palm trees. The ruin-addict in me wanted my fill of ruins and my water loving family wanted beach fun.

My knowledge of Mayan civilization is sketchy at the best and garnered primarily from travel books and internet. But I knew that the Mayans were the most sophisticated culture of ancient America with their astounding knowledge of astronomy, science and a complete writing system. Their culture survived the ages and there is a thriving community of Mayans in the Yucatan peninsula. I was often mistaken for a Mayan woman and when told I hail from India, there were confusion and surprise on the face of the person who started a friendly chat with me in Spanish, thinking I was local.

According to the book ‘Yucatan and Mayan Mexico’ one of the most remarkable things about the Maya is that our image about them is not some fixed, established text, but has been transformed over the last 40 years, and is still developing.’ The Mayan civilization is fascinating, intricate, enigmatic, brutal. The sites and ruins made me wonder about their fascination with death,  their thoughts of afterlife. One of the cardinal points in Mayan philosophy is to live the present moment – live it fully. I hoped to bring home that wisdom and incorporate in our lives.

Early morning did not see anyone in good spirits. Sahana and Ryan were tired, I was in pain and slightly worried about my finger, which, by the way, was caused by my foolishness. I tore away at an annoying cuticle on my ring finger with my teeth since there were no nail clippers to be found. And somehow, the finger got infected.

We finally reached the airport. Few bickerings were squashed with cliches like ‘it is more important to be kind than to be right’ etc. My expert husband, who travels around the world thirty percent of his time, got us to the gate in no time at all and even got one seat upgraded, much to the joy of Ryan (he always wanted to travel first class). There was not much question who was going to avail the upgrade 🙂 ! Sahana said she was going to listen to her six hour worth of music on her iTouch, she was oblivious of her surrounding and she did not truly care where she sat on the plane.

As I sat there guarding the luggage, while the family went in search of breakfast, I looked through the glass wall of the airport to take in a young, nascent, blood red sun getting ready to kiss each corner of the earth and make it blush crimson red. And just like that I was happy. A break from the usual, a few days of searching for the unusual. A few days of looking at the sun set and moon rise, a few days of eating ice cream for dinner, if we so wanted, a few days of trying something new perhaps. And for me, a few days of freedom from the wire. I had no phone, no tablet, no computer. I had my camera attached to my hip, my black and white composition book and a whole lot of pens. A few days of going wireless.

My elation lasted for a few hours till the finger started letting me know I had made a huge mistake over that cuticle. As the hours passed on the plane and in airports, I sadly kept looking at my ring finger, which started swelling up and changing color. After two painkillers, I could pick up a pen. ‘Tomorrow morning the swelling will be memory’ I thought to myself, staying positive.

We arrived in Merida and rented a little Matisse, which we named Escargot for it’s shape, and yes, speed too. As we were focussed on trying to find our Hotel Dolores Alba on Calle (street) 63, we did not see much of Merida. We had traveled the whole day and wanted two things – a shower and most importantly, BED! We found our hotel and were delighted as we stepped into the beautiful courtyard adorned with copies of Frieda Kahlo’s artwork and gorgeous mosaic floor. Very comfortable, clean rooms. Lovely showers with hot water, happy, smiling staff.


My eyes were closing as I jotted down my thoughts. Uxmal calling tomorrow….