Lost in the Yucatan

Posted by Ted on May 16, 2011 in Travel, Vagabonding

Alone, I awoke this morning in the room of someone I’d met just 36 hours before. I’d been connected to JC through a woman I’d met once at a Burning Man party last summer. Thankfully, travelers tend to look out for each other and freely offer crash space, even if it isn’t theirs.

I’d arrived in Cancun on Saturday night and made the 90 minute drive south to Tulum, passing kilometer after kilometer of one resort after another. However, as soon as I reached Tulum, it had a different feel – more like Pai, and less like, well, Cancun, the top of every spring break list.

I spent my first full day enjoying the beach at Playa El Mariachi, and my first cavern dive at Dos Ojos. While entirely awesome, that will be a different story. On a rather tight timeline for the week, I don’t have the leisure of staying in one place for long, so today I started off snorkeling at Gran Cenote, before heading off towards Chichen-Itza, stopping for lunch at a roadside ceviche stand.

I saw a sign mentioning Ek Balam, and decided to follow my map along smaller roads. Unfortunately, said map appeared to be a bit incomplete and outdated. I passed Yalcoba as expected, but ended up in Xtut rather than Dzalbay. Turning around, I came across a sign for Hunuku, but still had to stop a few times to ask locals the right way. Interestingly, this lostness wasn’t stressful in the slightest. There was still plenty of daylight left, and the scenery was beautiful. There were arches of beautiful red-leafed trees and rolling fields. I stopped to let a small herd of cows pass, and several iguanas played frogger across the road.

I finally arrived at Ek Balam at 4:50, only to be told that the gates closed at 4:30, and really, anytime after 4:00 since everyone gets kicked out at 5:00. But I took even this in stride. The day, much like this trip, is about the journey, not about the destination. Besides, a stranded tour guide needed a lift down the road to the next town, so clearly my purpose in showing up so late was to be his ride. Casimiro and I talked about local life and his desire to start a family as we made our way to Temozon.

Now I sit alone in Hotel Dolores Alba in the town of Piste, near Chichen-Itza, with plans to visit the ruins first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrive from Cancun, and then I shall try again to see Ek Balam, and either spend the night in Valladolid or return to Tulum, before returning to Cancun on Wednesday for the true purpose of this trip, to witness the Sacred Mayan Journey of hundreds of canoeists traveling from the mainland to Cozumel to hear the wisdom of the goddess Ix Chel.

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An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. He is also managing editor for Rolf Potts' Vagabonding, where he curates a Case Study series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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