Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Marriott Casamagna Hotel, Cancún

Tourists doing the pyramid crawl at Chichén Itzá, Yucatan.

Before leaving the "Ocean View" hotel this morning, I was surprised to find a continental breakfast is included in the cost of my room. Had my first cup of coffee since Texas. It tasted good.

As the highway cuts through dense forest above Campeche, the air is alive with swallows. I ride along with them as they dart in and out so quickly, the motorcycle is hardly a threat. I wonder if these are the same birds that fly across the Gulf and up into California in Spring?

Watched the evolution of clouds, from clear blue sky in the morning to towering thunderstorms at day's end. They seem to just rise in place, while the earth turns eastward beneath them. Today's big storm had a swirling cirrus crown that must have spanned well over 100 miles in diameter. I was beneath it for hours.

I passed many road crews working with machetes to clear dense growth along the shoulders, but I also saw a weed whip in use. A rare sight! I was VERY surprised to see one of those tractor-mounted mowers that can level forests, cutting trees and branches up to several inches in diameter. (I had seen these used extensively in Alaska and the Yukon.) Signs promote Yucatan's campaign to keep the state clean.

Outside Merida, stopped for gas and visited a new "7-11" store for a "Squirt". It was still being outfitted, but they were open for business. In the upper 90s, I stood outside in the shade, drinking my soda. I met Javier Solas, a multi-media designer, when he walked over to look at the bike. He came here from Mexico City and says the people of the Yucatan are much more tranquilo. "It is safe here." The trade-off is the heat. "It's always hot, and when it's not cloudy it can be 42 or 43°C (108 to 110°F)."

The "freeway" across the Yucatan and into the state of Quintana Roo is excellent, though the cuota (toll) is shocking: about $24.00 for the 200-mile stretch from Merida to Cancún. Clearly this is a price only the affluent, or commercial operations can readily afford. (Thus you find the average citizen contending with secondary roads. On the toll road, you can average 66 mph (110Kph - the speed limit), whereas you're lucky to average 35 mph on secondary roads. If you're affluent, you can save your precious time. If not, tough luck. The American FREEways are truly one benefit most can share.

The tolls are high, however the gas price is lower than in the States (about $2.25 gallon right now), so that softens the blow a bit. I understand the "Pemex" gas stations are government-owned. The gas price fluctuates, apparently with the market, but stations seem to charge the same current market price.

Left the toll road to visit the ruinas of Chichén Itzá. I am shocked by the number of tour buses rolling through the town. The area of the ruins is developed and very well maintained. Security personnel are prominent.

This is like an amusement park, with gift shops, cafeterias, snack bars and hundreds of tourists, many of them American. I suddenly felt I'd rather be back where there were no Americans or Europeans in sight. Apparently these tours are arranged through the hotels in Cancún, about 100 miles east.

The heat and humidity were oppressive. I didn't want to deal with the crowds, so I didn't bother visiting the information kiosk or museum. I just paid my $38 pesos and went in to explore.

Of course, I know nothing of Chichén Itzá's history or the Mayan culture, but I felt I could research it on the internet later. (I know, it's backwards, but there's not always time "to do it right.") And, here in the tropics, I'm constantly looking at the sky to estimate how long before they close in.)

Templo de los Guerreros, the Temple of the Warriors

Wandered the grounds before attempting to climb the Pyramid of Kukulcán. It was a bit daunting, given the conditions this afternoon. But, I was finally compelled, probably by a competitive spirit more than anything, to show I was up to the task.

At the base of the pyramid was an entry way with a few people queued up. Several persons at a time were allowed inside the pyramid. I waited to go in, a slight sense of panic rising in my solar plexus. I entered into a narrow, dark, very damp passage that turned a corner, then led up a slippery stone staircase. It was illuminated by a string of incandescent lamps. "At least this will save me climbing up the outside in the hot sun."

But the stairway led up to a crypt that must lie just inside the top of the pyramid, with no exit to the exterior platform. I carefully climbed back down, then went outside to rest before ascending the exterior steps.

The Pyramid of Kukulcán, east side. The north and west sides have been restored, allowing visitors to climb the steps.

It was very steep, and the steps narrow. On the west side, a rope was laid down the steps so that visitors could steady themselves. Of course, I had to try the north side, where there was no rope. Focusing only on the steps before me, not looking in any other direction, I climbed to the top. It took a long time to recover my breath, and by now I was drenched in sweat. It was a long time before I gathered the confidence to climb back down.

timtraveler a bit soaked after a climb to the top of Chichén Itzá's Pyramid of Kukulcán.

Were this the U.S., of course there would be railings everywhere. But not here. "Climb at your own risk", the signs clearly state. "People with hear risk and fear of height" should not climb.

I noticed tour groups stopping at one particular point on the large lawn surrounding the pyramid. The guide would clap his hands, demonstrating the acoustics of that citadel. I went to that spot and tried it. The echo bounced back from the pyramid (and from other structures around the yard's perimeter), but it sounded like it was emanating from the pinnacle. I imagined the a person with a strong voice, speaking from this location, might project that voice so that it would appear to come from the altar high in the pyramid.

Templo de los Guerreros, the Temple of the Warriors

Time to move on to Cancún, I took a wrong turn and ended up on a secondary highway, rather than the toll road. On the two-lane roads, when following a vehicle and the driver briefly signals with his left indicator, it (usually) means it's okay to pass. If it's not safe, trucks particularly often cross the centerline to block you from passing.

I was now heading into the daily deluge. This one unavoidable if I were to continue to Cancún. Changed into my riding suit a mile or two in advance, then plunged in. Assumed my posture for the now-accustomed torrential rain and lightning: head down, toes on the foot pegs, and throttle as wide open as I dare. I missed the center of this thunderhead, the lightning being mostly off to the left.

Returned to the toll road at the next opportunity and found it virtually empty. Soon I was out of the rain and, at 70 mph, starting to dry out again.

The fuel gauge "on the fritz" again at 28,000 miles, dropping to half-way after only 50 miles, then jumping back to full a while later.

Approaching Cancún, I think I took a wrong fork, missing the turn-off for the aeropuerto and zona de hoteles. Instead I was headed for the centro. A large city, with conditions very similar to what I've seen throughout Mexico, the traffic in Cancún was heavy and frenetic.

I bounced around through the city streets, thinking this couldn't possibly be the tourist destination. Refueled at a "Pemex" station and asked directions to the hotel zone. The attendant pointed out across a bay to a line of light-colored towers that seemed to glow in the late afternoon light. Followed his directions to the strand. Far from the dirty, working class city, the tourist zone, or "party center" as it is called, is very similar to the "Vegas Strip" (with a little less neon). Towering hotels, many big chain restaurants (including "Hard Rock Cafe", "Bubba Gump's" and "The Crab Shack") and a very clear police presence. I drove for miles, past all the façades, never catching a glimpse of any beach.

It was growing dark, and I needed to get serious about finding accommodations. No camping out here! Tried a couple hotels but couldn't accept the over $200 per night price. (The prices are quoted in U.S. dollars.) A bellman suggested I try a group of three properties mid-way down the beach. Pulled into one, the "Carissa", but is was so clearly neglected, that I decided to try a bit harder to bargain at one of the better hotels.

My story of traveling many thousands of miles on motorcycle didn't hold much sway. And my request for a "AAA" discount was almost laughed off. An aging Hyatt seemed promising, and only $125, but no internet service. They suggested I try a newer hotel, like the Marriott. So, this is where I made my stand, the Marriott Casa Magna. I got the price down to $125 plus tax, which still ended up at $150. They then have the nerve to charge $20 per day for internet, $20 for breakfast, etc., etc. If you ever visit, be ready to quickly part with your money!

The rooms are very plush and this hotel is undergoing a facelift. A sign in the bathroom assures that it's safe to drink the water and consume ice in this hotel. The water's filtered and treated with chlorine. (It's incredible, that in one of the wettest places on the planet, people must buy drinking water in plastic containers!)

Jorge, the concierge, recommended a restaurant for dinner: "La Destelleria" and gave me a coupon for a free drink there. Though fairly tired from the day's activity, I did my duty and went out to see a bit of the town. I couldn't get over how warm and humid it was, even at night. I thought being on the beach might have a cooling effect, but the temperature was in the upper 80s, with the humidity about the same.

I feel quite out-of-place here in Cancún. It's such a foreign world, devoid of any real fulfillment.


Drew Kampion said...

That beard will soon reach your navel, and then won't you feel silly?!

timtraveler said...

Better be careful, or I'll DELETE you!