This was our busiest day. It started with a hard night sleeping because I was still anticipating being awoken and don’t want to hear the alarm. Our air conditioner at least worked properly whereas JJ’s un-renovated room, which was the only available room since his reservation never went through, had serious issues including a flaky loud AC unit.
I woke up at 5:43 a.m., saw the phone synced to Topeka instead of Cancun, and jumped out of bed dragging Herr with me. We were downstairs a little after what we thought was 7 a.m., except the whole time zone thing was explained. So, awake and ready to go an hour before the continental breakfast opened, we skipped out and started the drive south to Uxmal. Driving through Merida, especially central Merida, is painful; lots of pedestrians, narrow or no sidewalks for them, and significant traffic including motorbikes, bicyclists, and trucks.
We thought to pick up some food along the way, but nothing was open. We noticed the speed bumps now that we were driving through towns rather than the 180D; they vary from rumble strips of used tire rubber to massive even-going-three-kilometers-will-bottom-out “bumps” or sharp painful hills of concrete. We were just outside Uxmal, a UNESCO heritage site, when we finally spotted a white hotel with a restaurant. It would have been a great place to stay – walking distance from the site. The breakfast was decent as well.
Uxmal is fantastic. It is somewhat spread out but has few people; we were able to get a lot of photos of buildings and lizards, which were plentiful. In fact, it has a Temple of the Iguana. We walked all over the place, and while the main Pyramid of the Magician was roped off, a pyramid farther back was open to walk up. Steep steps, no safety rails, and a great heat under the scorching sun… totally worth it for the view and experience. When done exploring, we shopped a while at the few stores in the visitor center and imbibed some tasty frozen mango drinks.
From there is a series of ruins clustered together in a “U” shaped path. Originally, Kabah was taken off the list due to time and ruins overload, but as we drove along it is literally on the side of the road. So we stopped and were happy we did. Kabah only had three or four other couples visiting, so we weren’t crowded at all. It has a façade chalk-full of Chaac masks, the rain god, and some great glyphs.
Afterwards we found Sayil, which was much different than Uxmal and Kabah. Rather than stairs and lots of up and up, this was deep in the wooded jungle (not rainforest jungle, more like tropical woods). At first the shade was a relief, but we quickly grew more uncomfortable due to the lack of wind. The palace was okay and lookout tower mostly in ruins, but we still appreciated this slight variation (this might have been one to cut if only considering architecture).
By this point we were melting but determined to continue on to Labnah. This fourth site of the day was completely empty of people and no one else arrived while we were there. This is definitely worth seeing, with an intact causeway, or Sacbe (white road) as the Mayans called it, that connects the main gate to the palace.
Each of the smaller sites was only 50 pesos each, which is worth it if one can survive the heat and make the time.
While each site had its own interests for us, we were quite done with ruins after Labnah. I had planned one final site, the Grutas de Loltun, caves that were inhabited thousands of years ago, as a nice cool activity to wrap up the day. Our extra stop made this tight; in fact, we were nearly ten minutes late for the 2 p.m. tour. They weren’t busy, thankfully, so after a brief lecture on why the visit needed a tour guide, Ricardo brought us down into the caves. Just the three of us for most of the tour (he ran through it quick enough to bump into the previous tour), and it felt great to be in cooler temperatures out of the sun. It has mostly stalactites due to annual flooding that washes away the minerals needed for stalagmites to form.
We saw 10-12k year old art work, and other remnants of human habitation were visible. At the end was a beautiful cave with sunlight pouring in and which may have once been a cenote. The tour guide suggested a tip, and we did pay it although I didn’t feel too great about it in the end.
By then we were hungry but rather than eat the restaurant across the street, we opted to go to the one I had found online. It proved harder to find in person though, and we almost turned around when we came upon it. On the second floor was a huge thatched roof with many fans running. Not much English spoken, so ordering was a challenge. My meal ended up being a large slab of cheese floating in gravy and topped with ground meat and salsa. It was okay but not something I would eat again.
We made the long drive back to Merida, but after a quick shower were back out to buy some dessert. We walked around many blocks looking for local ice cream before resorting to a DQ Express with the cutest mini blizzards. While not Mexican, still fun because of the size (one that should be available in the U.S.!). We were done after that, and ready for a new hotel.