I flew from Quito to Cancun in Mexico. Deciding where to go after Ecuador was hard but I decided to keep with the history theme and go visit the Aztecs - one of my key interests. Getting to Mexico was another matter. The cheapest way to go was to fly to Houston and then get a connecting plane to Cancun.
My flight to Houston was fine. I had booked my luggage all the way from Quito through to Cancun and as both flights were with Continental and I had boarding cards for each flight I did not expect any problems. But I did not reckon on having to go through passport control again at Houston and how awful and how suspicious US passport officers could be. It was clear I was not staying in the US as I showed him my boarding card etc. Having showed this officer my boarding card he proceeded to ask me umpteen questions including why was I going to Mexico, what was I doing in Houston, did I know anyone in Mexico, where would I be staying, why was I travelling, why was I travelling for a year, who did I work for, how could I afford to travel and how many bags did I have? Why he was asking all these questions I am not sure. Surely some were more appropriate for the Mexican authorities?? He looked unhappy at all my answers then proceeded to open my passport. He went to stamp it three times and each time hesitated withdrawing the stamp and thinking some more. I seriously thought he was going to refuse me. Finally he stamped it and let me through. Ironically, if I was a criminal looking to do damage to the USA, by making me go through passport control instead of simply allowing transfer clearance they were actually giving me the chance to enter the States! Very odd. Even more ironically when I got to Mexico, the passport authorities did not ask me a single question but simply stamped my passport and waved me through.
I finally made it to Cancun quite late into the evening and what experienced an onslaught to my senses. Riding into the downtown area we went through the hotel zone. It was a hybrid of Dubai and Las Vegas. Enormous hotel after enormous hotel competing with its neighbour in style, eccenticity, lights and space. It was an incredible sight. Along with shopping mall after shopping mall and many western shops that I had long forgotten about. I had gone straight into the tourist trap. Luckily I had booked to stay in downtown Cancun which was a lot more local and typically Mexican. Phew!
I spent my first day there trying to track down a Lonely Planet book or something similar to help work out a plan for Mexico. I went to several bookstores but no joy. Entering shopping malls there was a serious temptation to shop but I was proud of myself and restrained. When I realised that there would be no guide forthcoming I gave up and headed down to the beach. The walk was about 2km down a path designed for Mexicans to jog or rollerblade down. Palm trees shaded the path and made it a lovely walk. The beach itself was a lovely whitish colour and soft but the tide line though had a string of seaweed putting me off dipping into the beautiful water. It was also full of tourists so after a while I returned back to Cancun downtown. One interesting fact about the impact of tourism- 30 years ago Cancun had a population of 100. Now it stands at 1 million. Talk about a boom.
The following day I started my exploration of Mayan ruins with a trip to Coba and Tulum. Coba is a 50sq km ruins set within the jungle. Construction peaked between AD 800 and AD 1100 with a population of 40,000 believed to have lived there. My first sight of it was a temple/church in the tradition Mayan way with many steps to the top. Trees grew round and over the stones. It was remarkably similar to the temples around Ankur Wats but that may have been due to the ever encroaching jungle and as the tour continued I could not shake off this feeling.
We saw more temples, including one where we could climb to the submit and look out over the jungle. Here and there you could see ruins emerging from the mass of foliage, and yet to be uncovered. It was quite surreal. At some sights we could see ancient tablets that had been decoded giving further insight into the Mayans. One held a ball court. Similar to football, the players had to get a rubber ball through, not a goal, but a tiny hoop, and were not allowed to use their hands or feet. Debate rages about whether it was the losers who were then sacrificed or the winners (who would then be powerful to go on to compete with the Gods). Either way it must have been an interesting game.
We left the jungle behind to head to the coast and the ruins of Tulum. Set against jade green waters this was a spectular site. One of the newer ruins, this was an immaculate albeit small site. It is also probably the most photographed with the towers on the cliff edge being set against the amazing colour of the sea - a photographers dream. Unfortunately history wise there is not much tell. The buildings showed decorative architecture including faces carved in the corners of the walls, but at all times my eyes were drawn to the sea. Just down from the cliffs was a white beach and you could well imagine why the Mayans chose to settle here. It was one of my favourite sites.
Cancun overall was a tourist destination and provided a surreal landscape that reminded me what it would be like to be on holiday rather than a hardened traveller. It also made me think about all inclusives package holidays and how much of the world you miss. I much prefer being the traveller!