Hola mi amigos! (that’s the extent of my Spanish, right there)
It is sad to be done with spring break and it is even more sad that I am no longer spending my days busy in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. I just spent an incredible week there with some students in the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program participating in a “Global Experience” (click the link). Although it was just one week, we crammed a bunch of activities into our schedule! We were tired at the end of our days, but it was incredibly worth it.
To start, we had to meet ridiculously early at the airport that Friday morning. I just stayed up all night because my mom had to pick me up from my dorm around 4:30am. After many random naps on the plane (and one in the airport), we arrived in Cancun and were met with the most amazing weather outside (palm trees galore partnered with a lovely breeze). We met our tour guides (Miguel and Fausto – you’re the best!), hopped into our two vans with our goody bags (including some interestingly odd candies such as tamarin on a stick coated in chile pepper powder – to help you sweat and keep cool), and headed out to Valladolid. We soon found ourselves in a beautifully open hotel where we soon ate lunch.
Sabrina and me outside in Valladolid striking the poses we used in our "name game" earlier
Let me stop now to take a moment and make a tribute to just how incredible the FOOD is down there! Literally everything I ate throughout the entire trip was absolutely delicious. Before every meal, we shared chips, pico de gallo, guacamole (we could never get enough of it), and even some habanero sauce (spicy goodness that may upset your stomach if you eat too much of it). In addition, tortillas were served with our meals and you can wrap up just about anything into them. Let’s just say that our group was well known for asking for more of all of the above as well as sharing all of our food with each other. We would get full, but kept on eating. And when we couldn’t eat any more, we would pass our plates around the table just because we didn’t want to waste it (sometimes you would get your plate back with even more food on it then before you had passed it LOL)
Me eating my first meal in Mexico: Marques Broth Soup from the hotel. It has chicken, rice, veggies, avocado, and cheese...YUM!
During our full day in Valladolid, we drove out toward the Gulf of Mexico to enjoy the fresh breeze on boats, spotted a crocodile bathing in the sun, and learned about mangroves (incredible plants that turn the salt water into fresh water). We stopped to observe some flamingos (turned pink because of the food they eat) while notating the very salty environment (there was salt foam that would ruffle in the wind as well as a line of salt brimming the bottom of the shoreline). We then trekked through some grayish mud (sinking up to the knees at points) to go swim in water so salty that we floated (warning: do not get the water in your eyes). We went back through the mud toward the boat and then proceeded to cover ourselves in the grayish gloppy substance so we didn’t dry out in the hot sun. Dean Nazario got an awesome group show of us covered in mud (to be revealed soon on the website, hopefully) before we hopped back into the boats and headed back.
We're trying to not dry out in the sun after swimming in the very salty water
As soon as we were all washed up (more or less), we travelled to the site called Ek’ Balam (Yucatec Mayan meaning “Black Jaguar”). It was here that we got our first taste of Mayan architecture and we even got to climb our first stepped pyramid! It was super scary to climb all the way up there and I have yet to Google how high we climbed. My adrenaline was pumping and I could feel the nerves getting the best of me which is why I decided that it would be a good idea for me to not. look. down. Somehow I made it to the top! It was exhilarating to be up there, but now came the worst part (cue the dramatic music). We had to climb down. Dum Dum DUMM! Why is climbing down worse than going up? If anything you think that it should be easier because if you were to fall, you would be closer to the ground than if you had kept climbing. “Slow and steady” was my middle name as I spidermanned backwards down the steps. I was very proud of myself for making it all the way to the top and I was actually quite eager to climb another pyramid in the future!
Ek' Balam! I'm all the way at the top - I promise!
On the next day, we traveled out of Valladolid to stop at the very famous site of Chichen Itza. Miguel was an excellent tour guide for the site and provided us with a wealth of knowledge such as that regarding the ball courts (we passed through the biggest one!) and the incredibly detailed main pyramid (with the 7 special shadow triangles on the west side). After checking out the observatory, we had a bit of time to walk back past all of the artisans to buy some really cool souvenirs. Lots of the souvenirs were advertised to us at special prices (“almost free!”) because we all looked like beautiful Mayan princesses.
Anu and me ballin' in the largest ball court of Chichen Itza
Sabrina and me in front of the west side of the main pyramid at Chichen Itza
After hustling out of the site, we trekked just a little bit further until we reached the Cenote. The flat Yucatan area has limestone underneath and there are no collections of water above the ground (no ponds or lakes, etc.). The cenotes are natural sinkholes were water collects and it is incredibly magical looking! It’s basically a big hole in the ground and when you look waaaaaay down, there’s water. The one we went to had water that was at least 90 feet deep. My friend, Sabrina, and I decided to climb up a few stairs so we could jump into the water from 25 feet above! The experience was pretty scary because when I jumped I thought I would hit water sooner than I did, but it was just silent air. I found it incredible to just float around (with a life jacket of course!) and stare up into the beautifully blue, slightly cloudy sky. The rock formations around the perimeter of the sinkhole were as incredible as the vegetation enmeshed within and the long skinny roots hanging down, lightly grazing the water’s surface. Before you knew it, we had to skedaddle and move on to the next adventure. And that wasn’t even the end of our second full day!
I personally loved the city of Mėrida perhaps mostly because that first evening hosted my favorite unplanned event on the trip! After an absolutely splendid group dinner that Sunday evening, we were heading back to the hotel when we passed a man dancing (quite lively, I might add) to a small musical group in the street. We slowed to watch especially as he grabbed our international student to go dance with him. We lingered in the area for awhile just watching until Dean Nazario gave me his professional camera, grabbed his wife, and started dancing. Within minutes, the camera was being passed around (who knows what he saw later on when going through those pictures haha) and we were all dancing with each other. I never used to dance, but I was enjoying it a lot! Sameen taught us some Salsa steps, Richard was an advocate for the Merengue, and somehow I ended up dancing with some strange older man for one freakishly long song. Now slightly sweaty, we walked back to the hotel with a little dance in our steps and smiles on our faces (mostly over this one man dancing so….”lively” that he put the first dancer to shame).
Dean "Julio" Nazario and his wife, Isabel, dancing in the streets of Mėrida
To make this brief, on our second day in the Mėrida area, we got a chance to shop around (Ashley and I found a wonderful store tucked away with some magnificent handmade crafts), eat some pizza, have a short lecture, and tour the city via foot and van. Oh and we traveled to another Mayan site called Uxmal, I climbed another pyramid (still kinda scary) and then we saw a light show there later that evening (btw, if you see a light show in Mexico, it will probably be in Spanish. At least I could still appreciate the beauty of the starry night sky).
On Tuesday we headed out to the Biocultural Reserve called Kaxil Kiuic. We met up with our friend James and he showed us around the forest-y area. The surrounding area is quite hilly compared to the flat northern part of the peninsula and the reserve is not open to the public (VIP passes lol). On our walk, I quickly found a chert core that would have been used in stone tool making (Koobi Fora Field School training for the win!), a piece of pottery, and helped identify a right scapula bone lying around. Most of us climbed the observational tower and I realized that a good part of the trip involved me scaring myself by climbing up to really high places. Nina led us in our new favorite game called “Village” after dinner and then I proceeded to pass out in my hammock.
Me trying to find my zen at the top of a pyramid in Uxmal
(pretty self explanatory)
After a quick bird watch at 6am (including a bird who mocked James quite profusely), we left for Puerto Morelos. This was our last stop for the trip and I found that the beach in the Caribbean was the perfect place to end. On a trip to Mani, we visited one of the two sites of massive burning of Mayan culture (books, masks, carvings, and the sacrifice of many people). We visited a famous embroidery, had an incredibly windy dinner, and even went snorkeling on our last full day (special shoutout to the sea turtle who made an appearance outside of sea turtle season)
On our last night together, we had a “toast” to a great trip experience, busted open a piñata, danced some more salsa, and watched the sunrise.
Sameen and DJ displaying their bromance as the sun rises
We were all incredibly sad to leave this beautiful area. It was the best spring break I ever had because it was full of adventure, learning, great people, relaxation, and of course…amazing food! Seriously - I can’t truly express my love for all of the food. Please do yourself a favor and go there…even if it’s just to eat. That’s a good enough reason. I promise :D
And the best part about the whole trip is that it only cost "cinco pesos." (Inside joke. Had to throw it in there – love you guys!)
Myself and Sameen posin' in front of the Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal
Although there were so many fantastic pictures, this is clearly my favorite and it therefore earned the privilege of being my first Facebook profile picture as soon as I returned.