Iguana sightings: 12
Carnivals inadvertently attended: 1
After spending our first few days on the coast we rented a car to avoid the tours and headed inland to a new time zone in the Yucatán region. The pastel washed town of Valladolid offered a lived-in, friendly feel with far less tourists; relief. We parked up after an eerily lonely journey on the straightest road I’ve seen we headed out to the main square in search for some cheap tacos – this was our first taste of authentic Mexico and it was delicious. Our afternoon activity was determined from the outset by Seb, we were going swimming in a Cenote and he couldn’t wait! Unsure of what to expect after Seb’s description of “well it’s a big, dark pool you jump in to… underground…with stuff hanging down!” admittedly I was more hesitant than he. We headed 5km out of town to the larger Cenote Dzitnup where my anxiety spiked as we were stopped by the Policia who warned us not to go to the Cenote due to a conflict between the owners and the locals – the army were en route to contain anticipated violence. It was an easy call, we turned back. Disappointed, Seb suggested we call in at the smaller Cenote Zaci in town. Refusing a life jacket on the basis of being too proud, we jumped in to join everyone – most wearing life jackets – and what seemed like hundreds of catfish. There were no safety instructions, life guards or obvious tourists, just a crowd of locals and travellers hanging out under the stalactites; two thirds of the Cenote underground with the rest drenched in glorious sunshine.
Still adapting to the time difference(s), we returned to the town square in the evening for a quiet, small meal and an early night. Instead we happily found ourselves on the corner by one of four stages setting up for the evening carnival! A collection of costumes paraded past us from emojis to Cubans infused dresses to a terrifying and somewhat politically void group of men who painted themselves black with chains around half of the group’s waists. The latter aside, the atmosphere was jubilant, family-friendly and full of vibrant culture. We stretched our voices and sang along to a feminist band on our corner stage who donned an eclectic mix of fancy dress from fluorescent wigs, dress with public hair sewn on and a male drummer with a sequinned bra. The celebration pushed our tiredness back to at least 9.30pm where we eventually succumbed to our lovely hostel Casa Hipil ready for an early start in the morning.
We set off after a much needed slumber to the local market to purchase food supplies for the day ahead. Arriving early to avoid the coach loads of tourists we glided through the ticket office equipment into the world-renowned Chichen Itza – 1000 year old Mayan ruins. The experience was incredible, to witness an area whereby a community built and lived on such solid, intricate stone was truly a wonder to see after such a long time. The only thing which removed the magic slightly were the forceful market traders offering everything from t-shirts to tattoos.
Wilted by the harsh heat, we bid farewell to the twelfth or fourteenth iguana we marvelled at and battled our way through the offloading coaches to the safety of our car. Here we set off to Tulum for a three nights stay back in Quintana Roo. Not before another Cenote dip though! We braved a visit to Dzitnup were the trouble had thankfully evaporated. We soon appreciated being turned away and subsequently directed to Cenote Zaci as Dzitnup was a hard-selling taut zone. More expensive, busy and with continuous packages / deals / parrot-photo-offerings we escaped after a short dip and continued on the road.