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July 3rd, 2013

I went down to the crossroads

The next of our tours with the MexiGo company was to Coba, yet another Mayan city, but one where shade was provided by the jungle trees which are not fully cleared. This site is of interest as it has one of the taller, more slender-style pyramids one sees at places like Tikal in Guatemala (which we never got to), and a watchtower at what was once a cross roads. This watchtower was in the up-ended bathtub style of the Sorcerer's Pyramid at Uxmal. Here we first saw the descending bee god we would later see at Tulum.

Of greater interest this day was the cenote of Multum Ha, which, aside from a spiral staircase down to it, and a hole in the ceiling for lighting, is an entirely-enclosed underground chamber. A pier has been constructed from the stairwell to the centre of the chamber, tyre tubes provided and a rope strung across the breadth of the space. The earthen walls are tan and white in colour, and the water a natural blue, due to minerals rather than reflected sky. It is incredibly clear, allowing a crisp view of the stones laying at the bottom and the tunnels heading out in various directions. One also sinks with alarming rapidity – I assumed the pin shape and dropped from my tyre tube a few times and found myself farther underwater than I had been expecting. There, under the water, with the submerged tunnels below, one who has watched as many creature feature films as I have did not find it hard to imagine some prehistoric reptile emerging to take the swimmers above.

Naomi, who is not a strong swimmer, was delighted to be kicking about with her tyre tube, and I believe that day was the most blissful I've ever seen her. Our time in this cenote is a special memory that we will fondly recall for many years. Sadly, the photos of this (which I will eventually, probably in another two years, put up) failed to capture the experience, though this will allow us to remember it as we want to.

Not much could have improved the day for Naomi, but the final item on the itinerary did just that: a trek through the jungle to find monkeys. The spider monkeys which were expected did not make an appearance, though a family of howler monkeys fronted up and made it known why they are named as they are; fighting possums or cats would be deeply ashamed in the presence of these creatures.

Thus, we left Valladolid and headed to the touristic hell of Playa del Carmen, collecting a recurring character in my many global adventures.

Water underground

In mid-February, 2011, Mother, Naomi and myself went to Playa del Carmen to collect Dave Curtin for a few days of adventure. If this town, just north of Cancun, is the run-off of tacky tourist resort evil then it is my firm desire that I never head south. A taxi from the airport to a hotel five kilometres away costs more than a taxi ride across two states would in the valley of Mexico. I did raise this point, but was given an already-known lecture in microeconomics by the driver. Still, to vent is cathartic.

The town itself is full of hotels, and we stayed in a cheap but nice one, and a million shops selling all manner of random junk. The oppressive heat and constant touts took their toll; Dave lost his cool and showed a level of aggressive bargaining over a cane hat that would make the previous champion Elaine blush. One peddler said something utterly vile about us in Spanish as we walked past, and I lost my cool and confronted him where normally I would brush it off. Jumping to the end of the trip, when we hailed a taxi back to the airport the price asked of us (and one should always check) was so egregious that we told the guy to get lost, walked back into the hotel and asked them to call us a taxi. The taxi that then arrived asked a fair price, and we departed, only for the former taxi to pull up and abuse our new, fair-minded driver. This was the feeling I came away with – that the tourist and the local in this town are mutually dependent on each other, but are mutually exploiting and mutually loathing each other. It was not a fun experience.

That said, there is much to do to entertain one's self there. We found a brochure for underground river tours by Río Secreto, a short way out of town, and caught the bus there. Here you wait in a holding area until a group of ten or eleven accumulate, and then are minibused to the entrance, suited up with wetsuit, helmet with LED light, and those little booty things. They insist that cameras must be left in your locker, and that you can buy a DVD of photos afterwards. This, after our experiences so far and my attachment to my waterproof camera and ego regarding photography, left a bad taste in my mouth, though I will return to this later.

The group, led by a guide and accompanied by a photographer, then head down to walk, climb and swim for around 1.6 kilometres of the river's cave system, though it goes on for many kilometres more. In addition to the helmets' lights, lighting has been installed in the caves, though the operators stress that they attempt to make as little impact as possible, and indeed bemoan how the town above is depleting the aquifer system for tap water. At the furthest point before turning back, all lights are turned off and the group sits in silence (or as near to silence as unfit folks can manage). Dave then suggested to the guide that expert cavers such as himself must surely praise the advent of LED torches, and the security they provide.

Exiting the cave, you are shown to computers which display the photos taken of the group and the stock photos of the site also provided on the DVD. I cannot recall exactly what it cost, but unlike much in Playa del Carmen, these DVDs were extremely good value and high quality.

This lunar cycle

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