Tuesday, March 17, 2009 4:14 PM
Ruins, Cenotes, Monkeys and More
Yesterday, the kids had a day off from school to celebrate (early) Benito Juarez' birthday, so I packed them and their bikes into the Xterra and we set off on a much needed adventure. Our first stop was Coba, about an hour and a half from Playa del Carmen, where, for $81 pesos ($51 pesos for my entry fee and $30 pesos for my bike rental), we spent a wonderful few hours riding through the jungle, spotting coatimundi and iguanas with green parrots flying overhead. On bikes we easily managed to see the whole site and all the various ruin formations. Our kids love visiting ruins and I can really see their fertile imaginations at work as they try to read the hyrogliphs and decifer the mystical carvings worn by centuries of weather. They looked for "footprints" along the paths made by civilizations long gone. They concocted fanciful stories about the renegade chicle farmers when we would happen apon a tree with the tell-tale machete marks.They played on the ball courts pretending they were ancient Maya youth competing for the pride of their city and the favor of the Gods. What more could a child want than this fantastic backdrop on which to paint their fantasies!
Our last stop was the grand pyramid which I was obliged to scramble up behind my two intredid explorers. As always, it was worth it to see the look of accomplishment on their faces.
The next stop on our trip was a well deserved cool off in a nearby cenote. Recommended by like minded adventurer Sara Moen of Playa Maya News, Cenote Tamcach Ha was a spectacular find. Cool, deep and unbelievably clear this cenote is almost completely underground, accessed only by a twisting, narrow wooden staircase that disappears before you into the eerie darkness. Once inside, the enormous cave is well lit by floodlights running off of a generator, casting dramatic shadows on the stelagtites and stelagmites and allowing us to see to the very bottom of the cavern. Cole was brave enough to leap from the jump off point and encouraged some of the older swimmers to follow. A mere 10 minute drive from Coba, this is the perfect place to cool off and relax after a hot day at the ruins. There are 3 other cenotes nearby to explore as well. Adult entry for each cenote in the area is $45 pesos. My kids, at 5 and 7, again entered for free.
Now, well into the afternoon, we dried off and once again set off on an adventure to find Punta Laguna, also recommended by our pal Sara. Some 20 kilometers down a well paved but perilously narrow "highway", we found the tiny Mayan village supported primarily by tourist activity at Punta Laguna. To say that there are more dogs and chickens than human inhabitants is NOT an exageration! We pulled in, quickly paid $20 pesos admission to the park (again, kids were free) and trudged off with our towels down to the water's edge. We shared the lagoon for just a while with a group of French tourists and then we had the whole place to ourselves! We rented a kayak ($70 pesos for an hour) and the kids took turns paddling while I laid back and enjoyed the sunset.
I'm not sure sure how long we were out on the water, (there was certainly noone watching us) so we returned the kayak on our own and headed into the jungle in hopes of finding some spider monkeys. On the way, we found our kayak guy and $150 pesos later, we were surrounded by monkeys, jumping, swinging and feeding in the trees above our heads. Adults, juveniles and mothers with babies all gathered in this area, close to the edge of the lake, to forage for food after the sun had dipped below the horizon. According to our guide, dawn and dusk are the very best times to view the primates in their natural habitat. Unlike the howler monkeys at The Baboon Sanctuary in Belize, these monkeys are not tame, just tolerant of our presence. We tiptoed along the ragged paths following our guide and trying not to trip or disturb the creatures around us. Our guide, a young Maya, pointed them all out to us, identifying each one by name and approximate age. Having grown up in this tiny village, he knows these creatures as he knows his family and neighbors. It was an amazing experience.
Tired and sore (just me really) from our exciting day, we wound our way back to Tulum for a quick dinner. I was so tired, I don't even remember the name of the restaurant. We all split a large bowl of piping hot seafood soup, and a couple of tamales, treated ourselves to ice cream and, sleepily, (not just me) drove back home to Playa. It was a great day and one that the kids will be sure to remember and talk about often. With all the remarkable places of interest within a reasonable drive from Playa del Carmen, we have no shortage of great destinations for special day trips and fabulous adventures. Next time you have a free day, log off the computer, turn off the TV, grab your kids, fill up the car and just go! You'll be making memories that last a lifetime!