Exploring Tulum's Mayan Ruins and Cenotes | Day 314 of my 2023 Journal
The cultural chock - Mayan ruins - Cenotes!
This journaling and sharing challenge is about sharing a story and a reflection of each day of 2023, accompanied by at least one photo. In theory, it is enough to simply state what happened or share one thought I happened to walk with on this specific day.
Some days are just hard to break down, though. Too many elements, too many ideas, too much going on.
So, let’s begin with this simple mortar out there on the sand in the Mayan Ruins of Tulum. It looks like a place to make chocolate or grain corn, missing the grinding stone, a daily reality for people living there.
It made me think. How much time goes into cooking, how it is easier now, how things have changed. And how they are the same.
We had booked a driver for the day, a very alien thing for us to do, and felt strange, alienated from our true selves, yet — this was what we wanted: To go out once or twice to see the highlights (so we never have to come back to Riviera Maya), and for many reasons (the main one being Jesper's driver's license on the with DHL from Europe, where he forgot it) we could not just rent a car.
On arrival at the Ruins in Tulum, the driver put us in the hands of the guide, Victor, and also offered to watch our dogs, so we did not have to go in twice, taking turns looking after the dogs as we usually do.
Sometimes, the troublesome and weird ways of the universe do present the solutions to random basics we have to work with. As I think about it, it seems life often works like this.
Sometimes, something seems strange but right, and it turns out to be the solution to a problem I had forgotten or given up on.
One of my children is very sensitive to the buzz of tourism and had to work hard with his reaction on the way to the ruins. The place was soaked with kiosks, entertaining dancers in Mayan clothes, hats for sale, hashtag signs for selfies, bars, candy, t-shirts, food, and noise.
It is rare to visit a highlight without this noise. Somehow, it is like a rite of passage; if we can push ourselves through it, we can overcome the hurdle and see the actual archeological site. Storm is the one to light up like a red flag, warning it is too much, and therefore also our savior: We just have to RUN through this part to get to the real deal.
So, we saw the ruins, listened to the stories, took pictures, appreciated the beauty, and faced our lack of knowledge. We are ready for documentary nights before we go out to see the next ones. And we were grateful for the guide we would typically never have booked.
Back at the taxi, there was a closed restaurant/bar-thing perfect for our quick-packed lunch in the shade, as if the universe provided again.
Random mid-way story: I went to 7/11 to buy water - the cheapest water option at the TulumRuins, one that also sported a LONG line of customers picking up what they needed: Coca-cola, sandwiches, candy bars, lunch in the form of tortillas. Waiting, I got to observe the shelves and was baffled by the variety of fresh fruit. What do you REALLY need so much so your local 7/11 has it ready for it? What sells the most? Banana, apple, lime, habanero. Randomly, amid all of the gringo-service-entertainment-feel of it all, I also felt, well, This IS, in fact, Mexico.
Next up was to visit Cenotes; as everyone told us, we just HAD to try to swim Cenotes while in the area. Were they right? Hmmm.
It is interesting how you imagine a cultural shock to happen and how it unfolds contrastingly differently. The stories of visiting the underwater rivers and pools, the stalagmites and stalactites, and the silence and beauty were aggressively contrasted by the hours spent searching the internet for where the f*** do I GO to find these places, and WHY is it all something with booking and tickets? Plus, the IRL experience.
Here is what happened:
Visiting the Cenotes was visiting a waterpark.
They are probably all different, but I suspect they are not THAT different. Most of them allow you to book RTVs, horseback riding, or both; some have zip lines and some canoes.
So, you shower and change, then wait until a group large enough to make it worthwhile has assembled. Except we had already had too many offerings of free first tequila shots and shopping options and music and plastic flags and bars to give in within 3 seconds to buy a private tour.
And NOT buy an overpriced water-safe thing for our mobile phones, so you will not see footage from inside the caves or down the water. I had an interesting conversation with my oldest daughter about exactly this a few days later and an equally interesting one with the youngest on the day.
When you photograph everything, it seems like you do not SEE it; the act of taking the picture becomes the aim, not the experience of the thing. Once the photo is taken, you are ready to move on. And the REAL experience becomes the sharing of the photos. A scary vision!
We have to become very clear in our minds to use our smartphones as tools, not becoming tools in the hands of those composing the apps.
Now, this is not all.
We began with the caves.
And as it happens, I am not happy with water. Might be because I was in a drowning accident as a child (I did not, in fact, drown, duh - but it was close); I just never made peace with the water. So, I am not the right person to explain how the first cave was from the inside as the deep (15 meters) cold water and the narrow entrance was too much for me. I waited outside, observing the colors, the water, the sounds - and the large group arriving just as my family came out of the other side with sparkling eyes and jaws dropped: They had seen the bats, the light, and the colors changing, and the formations in the cliff and the fossils, and were very happy.
In the next cave, I did it, got used to the safety vest, and found that trick I have with the fear - to just put it away and forget about it for a while. It was impressive, the roots of the trees working their way through and hanging exactly touching the water, the fossils and formations, and the moving through the whole thing through the cool waters - it was special.
After the caves, we walked to the more lake-like experiences, swam a bit, and enjoyed it. The water was beautiful, the fish was colorful, the rocks and plants and colors.
It was a strange thing, the whole thing. How something we expected to be an experience of nature was more like … an amusement park?
It was a very interesting mental experience to see if we could overcome the noise and enjoy the fact of the nature around us. What was left of it was overwhelmingly beautiful.
Is this all? I asked for a cultural shock when I planned the Mexico trip; I felt Europe had been too safe, too much of the same known areas, not a REAL challenge. But I did not expect it to unfold like this: The chaotic arrival at understanding what was going on around us and what our role in it all is, and understanding we will never really GET it, just need to fumble our way through.
We were exhausted when we went to bed that evening. Two days later, still confused.
What IS this place?
Thank you for reading
I would love to hear from you. Listen to your thoughts and reflections - or praise :) It is often emotional to share our lives like this, and we get very happy when we get your feedback. So feel free to share a comment below 😋
Where are we now?
Want to stay up to date with our travels and podcast? Then sign up for our weekly newsletter