Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ruin and Rain

Last night we stayed over at the Hotel Dolores Alba in Chichen Itza. This evening I find myself writing at the Hotel Dolores Alba in Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatan. We headed here, rather than staying at Chichen Itza another night, since Margo at Xamach Dos raved about how great the Saturday night fiesta in Merida is. Sounded good to us, so here we are. Just as we arrived at the hotel, having found our way through Mérida, it started to rain. And rain. And rain. With some lightning and thunder thrown in for good measure.

It has largely let up now, but the streets are wet, wet, wet, and we're uncertain whether we want to brave that. Looks like we'll head out for some dinner first, then decide. I suppose it is worth noting that this is the first significant rain we have encountered. Lots of little, brief squalls, especially at night, while we were in Sian Ka'an, but this was quite heavy and prolonged.

But back to Chichen Itza, as promised. We went back to the park this morning, fully intending to wander around without a guide. Having done two other Mayan archeology sites yesterday, read the guide book on Chichen Itza, and gone to the evening light show, we had the notion we could see what we wanted, then hit the road.

The first guide to hit us up for business really rubbed us wrong, so we moved on, paid for our tickets, and entered the gates. Then another guide asked if we wanted one, but we declined again. He said fine, but if we were hungry later, to go to his wife's restaurant in nearby Piste, and gave us her card. He was very nice, and eventually we decided to hire him. Good choice.

Javier turned out to be a fine guide, and rather than regurgitating all we'd heard at the other sites and read in the book, he took us around relatively quickly, showing us nuances we might miss otherwise, such as places where there are interesting echoes or remnants of original paint. He emphasized the Mayan aspects of Chichen Itza and downplayed the Toltec aspects (perhaps because he's Mayan himself). As he finished our tour he made suggestions for how we might want to proceed to see other parts of the site he hadn't taken us to. As a result, we had a really good visit to the site, and feel we got a lot out of it.

I have to say, at the end of a week of touring, that I have immense respect for these guys who do tours in English here in Mexico. Many of them have relatively little formal instruction in English, but do a great job presenting their practiced pieces as well as answering questions. Nearly all of our experiences this trip have been very positive.

Leaving Chichen Itza park, we still had to checkout of our hotel, then rushed over to Balankanche Cave for the 1:00 pm tour in English. The cave is quite nice, but there was a big crowd, most of whom spoke Spanish, and therefore ignored the recorded story in English. This (along with marginal recording quality) made it pretty difficult to hear what was going on. As near as I could make out, it was a dramatization of a Mayan father taking his son down into the cave for the first time to see the offerings that others had made, and explaining the history and traditions behind it all. Might have been pretty interesting, but as I say, it was largely unintelligible.

The cave itself is spacious and easy to get through. Nothing uncomfortable or claustrophobic. Some of the limestone formations are quite lovely, and there are plenty of cute little bats flying and hanging. The various offerings are somewhat interesting, though again, I couldn't make out much of the explanations. All that said, I've been in better caves, and it gets very hot and muggy down inside this one. I wouldn't put it at the top of my list of things to do here.

As a footnote, we did, in fact, head over to Javier's wife's restaurant before leaving for Mérida. It's kind of at the far end of Piste, away from the tourist hotels, and seems to be more of a place for locals (or at least Mexicans) than American tourists. But we introduced ourselves, said that Javier had told us to come by, and we had a very nice, tasty, inexpensive meal. If you're in the neighborhood of Chichen Itza, you could definitely do worse than dining at the Loncheria Fabiola. It's on the main highway, opposite a big restaurant called the Atrio.

Tomorrow I have to head home. The rest of the family is staying to see some more ruins and things on this end of the Yucatan. But I need to get home to do some work.

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