Having flown over from Los Angeles to Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport with a 4 hour lay-over, we walked around the terminal, looking for food. We even had enough time to assess and decide on my food option from the whole terminal before bringing it back at our boarding gate.
Just as I was about to devour my meal, the lady across me commented with one of the best Southern accents that I have heard to date: “Excuse me, where did you get that salad? I saw you taking photos of your salad. And I said to myself, I gotta get me some of that salad.” I wasn’t certain whether or not to laugh.
After lunch, a 6 hour flight to Cancún and a car ride, we finally arrived at our apartment in Playa Marlín. Air-con, unpack, swimmers on, private beach, nap. Nothing more to be said.
The next morning, it was back to our private beach again. I could see it slowly becoming a ritual – Waves, tan, returning back to our apartment for naps in the air-conditioning, and out again to check out one of Cancún’s biggest shopping malls right outside our place, Plaza Kukulcan. Here, we entered ‘luxury lane’ as it was named, and true enough, it proved to be my best shopping experience yet. We were served Australian Yellow Tail wine by the glass on a silver platter by the Chanel counter, as a violinist travelled up and down the escalators playing ‘Rather be’ by Clean Bandit.
And at night, we grabbed dinner at a local restaurant (or perhaps bar). The usual suspects – burritos, tacos and nachos with the table condiments contained in a mini boxing ring on the table. We then rested up early because tomorrow was going to be the big day!
The Chichen-Itza Tour we booked through our apartment manager started the day off with an exploration of the local villages and waterholes. Our travel host was incredibly humorous, with a microphone in hand, enlightening us on Cancún’s history and culture with light jokes in-between.
We paused amongst local villages and sinkholes (cenotes) before finally making a stop for lunch. Before that, we were given a demonstration on the obsidian stone. For the moment, it doesn’t look like much. But when dipped in water and held in sunlight, it has a natural gold sheen all over its surface, which could possibly be what tricked the conquistadors into believing in the legendary ‘Lost City of Gold’, El Dorado.
After that demonstration, I knew I just had to get one for home from one of the many souvenir stalls set up around the Chichen-Itza temples by locals who claim to be decedents of Mayan heritage (historical sites turning into tourist traps, what’s new).
We bought ourselves a fresh coconut to have against the heat of the hot sun, and settled down with our plate of chicken, tortilla wraps, beans, pickled vegetables and rice from the buffet before us. Also, for some delusional reason, I kept grabbing tablespoons of ‘green stuff’, which I simply assumed to be guacamole but turns out to be a pretty spicy mix of green chillies (lesson learnt, stop stereotyping).
After grabbing two complementary scoops of yogurt as we left the plein air restaurant to calm the heat on my tongue, we were back on the coach and headed to the big attraction.
Remember history lessons in High school? When we were educated on the Aztecs: their head-rolling (literally) human sacrifices down those steep steps as offerings to their Gods; their flag and legend according to Aztec legend in 1323, of an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, eating a snake indicating where they were to build their home; one of the most intelligent ancient species due to their advanced technology; and most notably the first makers of chocolate?
Well. Never did I imagine back in those days that I would have spent my 21st birthday at this very place of a World Heritage Site in Mexico.
Spot the stone hoop in the picture above. See it? This is one of the world’s deadliest sports.
Set in the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica, known as the Great ball court, it measures 168 x 70 metres. As our tour guide explained, the game ‘ōllamaliztli’ might have called so because (some part of the name) sounded like the echo made from the ‘pong’ of the ball in the court. Which is amazing, given the size of the court, but somehow standing in the middle of this open-air court while he demonstrated, the echoes were definitely loud! And we got to try to.
The main objective of the game was to get the ball into those high hoops (which would usually end the game, as it’s so difficult) without using your hands or allowing it to touch the ground, and is sometimes “played” as a way to settle war. Losing this match would mean that the leader of that tribe would have his head cut off, but it also meant that only one would have to die, rather than more. (See picture below of blood spurting out of the head).
After being shown certain angles on how to make it seem like we are carrying the pyramid on our shoulders, and bargaining for my obsidian, we were ready for our next location to escape the heat.
Cenote Ik Kil is a well-known cenote located in the northern center of the Yucatán Peninsula and is part of the Ik Kil Archeological Park near Chichen Itza. Cenote Ik Kil is sacred to the Mayans and the Mayans used this cenote for both relaxation and ritual services, but is now open to public.
We got changed to our swimmers, took a rinse then headed down the carved stone stairway down to a swimming platform. The cenote is open to the sky with the water level about 26 metres below ground level and 40 metres deep. We were asked if we needed to rent lifejackets because of the minerals in the water that makes the water very heavy (and indeed it was!), but we decided to take the chance. Nell also decided that we should jump off the diving board, and though we were hesitant at first, I’m glad we did. Hanging unto vines and swimming through small waterfalls on the side in this beautiful sanctuary was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For breakfast, we decided to head to Kukulcan Plaza Mall to try out the breakfast buffet. We had orange juice, omelettes, fruits etc. With our tummies full, we were ready to start the day.
After buying our boat tickets across this beautiful blue…
Next stop, Isla Mujeres.
We took a hike around the island, found ourselves a nice piece of private beach and ordered ourselves some drinks.
At night, we visited La Isla Shopping Centre again where Jake and Nell bought me a slice of chocolate cake from Häagen-Dazs. I closed my eyes, made a wish, blew out my imaginary candles and thanked God for all the years that He has seen me through. Never in my wildest imagination would I have dreamt how I was about to spend my 21st year on Earth.
Next stop, New York.