Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mexico 2017 – Day 4 – Ek Balam

Today we planned to drive to Ek Balam, one of the best preserved Mayan ruins in the region. I chopped up a papaya for breakfast and it was incredibly good, such a different flavour than the ones we get at home which just don’t ever seem to ripen properly. I also cooked up a Mexican sausage that we had bought at the grocery store. The sausage turned to mush when I cooked it so it was presented on the table as an unappetizing bowl of greasy, red meat grounds. I think I was the only one who ate it. It was pretty good.

The van we rented came with a quarter tank of gas so we needed to fill up this morning. We drove to the local gas station but all the pumps were closed and the attendant told me they had no gas. So we drove around for a while trying to find another station but then decided that we’d just get gas along the highway, as the one we took yesterday seemed to have many stations. So we followed the GPS onto a highway that Merida Cuota. Now although Ana and I both speak Spanish, the word “cuota” is one we are not familiar with. After driving for a while we arrived at a gate where we had to take a ticket and then realized it was a toll highway. Still hoping for a gas station we continued along our way and the further we went the thicker the jungle became, and there were even occasional monkey bridges crossing the highway overhead, but no exits, few vehicles, and no gas stations. We checked the map and there looked to be a major highway junction within range, so I watched the gas gauge dropping steadily, trying to keep my cool as Ana was getting more and more nervous. We reached the junction on fumes and found a booth where we paid the toll and I asked the guy how to get to a gas station. He said it was 80 kilometres ahead and my jaw dropped. Seeing my look of horror he then told us he could call the petroleum cavalry (my words, not his) and a guy in a truck would be there within 30 minutes with ten litres of gas for around 200 pesos.

We pulled over and waited, a little suspicious of the situation, but since we had no other option we could only speculate at how badly we were about to get ripped off. A car pulled up to us and the driver asked if we needed help. Ana told him the situation and he pulled over, introduced himself as Jaime, and said he would wait with us to make sure the situation turned out okay. He was a lovely man and since it took nearly an hour for the gas guy to arrive we had plenty of time to practice our Spanish and learn a lot about Mexico. He told us all about the politics, the drug cartels and the crime situation and we asked him many questions.

The gas man arrived with a portable tank of fuel and gassed us up. Sure enough, he charged us 200 pesos and we were on our way. I hate to be so suspicious, but we’ve been ripped off so many times when traveling that we are naturally wary. It all turned out fine in this case and I was left with only the embarrassment of making such a rookie travel mistake.

We got off at the Tacim exit, found a gas station and filled her right up to the top. Most of us paid 5 pesos for a bathroom break and then we continued on to Ek Balam. We took a wrong turn and ended up doing a little detour through Ek Balam village, which looked like a typical Mexican pueblo and looked to be home to a lot of very poor people. We turned ourselves around, found the archaeological site and paid the entrance fee.

We walked through the ruins of some smaller structures and then moved onto the main pyramid. I was told by my dad that there aren’t too many ruins left where you are allowed to climb, but this was one of them. The structure was impressive and very well preserved. It had a giant staircase leading up one side and two levels along the way with temples and rooms. Magnus took off running up the steps at top speed and Stella and I ascended after him. It was an easy climb to the top and the once we reached the viewing platform we looked out to see miles and miles of nothing but thick jungle. But the main thing on my mind was the scene from the movie Apocolypto where the Mayan priests were chopping heads off the human sacrifices and first tossing the head, and then the headless body down the steps where they would slide, bounce and flip all the way to the bottom in a spray of blood and gore. I’m glad the kids hadn’t seen that movie, because they were scared enough to be up there and were reluctant to even turn their back on the staircase so I could snap a quick photo. As we were preparing to go down I saw that Rick had made it almost all the way up to the top, but the rest of our gang had chickened out.

It was  a lot tougher getting down the stairs so we took our time and the kids stayed right beside me most of the way down. We spent a little while longer looking around the site and then we jumped back into the van and drove to the nearby town of Valladolid, which is a regional centre of sorts. By this time we were starving so we found a Mexican style food court near the main square and ate a slightly underwhelming lunch. My tacos were pretty good but most of the others were not too impressed with their food so they finished up quickly and went to explore the few retail shops in the food court. I decided to walk across the street to the main square and found a nice piece of shade and a curb to sit on and take in my surroundings. I saw vehicles of all varieties. I saw female cops directing traffic. I saw young Mexicans in love, walking hand in hand through the park making googly eyes at each other. This town reminded me of so many other places in the world we have visited, and it reminded me nothing of Canada because in Canada right now anybody in a town square was probably wearing snowshoes and had their face double wrapped in a scarf, which makes flirty googly eyes very tough to pull off.

The rest of my posse soon emerged from the food court and we had a walk around the square and then checked out a few more shops. The kids bought some souvenirs and I picked up a pack of mini Montecristo cigars. Our final stop was for a round of ice cream cones and then we were back on the toll road with a full tank of gas headed for Playa del Carmen.

Once at the apartment Ana went for a nap as she had picked up a damn cold and was feeling terrible. I helped Maria with supper and we fried some delicious, thick tuna steaks accompanied by salad, fresh bread and a can of these terrific, prepared Mexican beans. The kids got to work on their daily journals – something I encourage (or perhaps force?) them to do every time we go away on a trip. At times they really don’t like having to do it, but they do enjoy looking back at the journals they have written from previous trip so I think it is a good exercise.

Together the six of us enjoyed a late dinner together and discussed what it would be like if this was our regular home and we all lived together. The kids thought this to be a ridiculous idea, but then they learned that both of their grandparents had grown up in houses smaller than this and with more people. What a life we now live.

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