Mexico 2003: The Mayan Yucatan
Nov. 11 / Nov. 20, 2003

Michael J. Ferguson

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Journal Index


1  Montreal to Cancun, Tues/Wed. Nov. 11/12
2  Cancun to Puerto Aventuras, Thurs. Nov. 13
3  Puerto Aventuras to Tulum, Fri. Nov. 14
4  Tulum Beach to Chemax, Sat. Nov. 15
5  Chemax Camp to Chemax Camp, Sun. Nov. 16
6  Chemax Camp to Cancun(almost), Mon. Nov. 17
7  Cancun, Tues. Nov. 18
8  Cancun to Montreal, Wed./Thurs Nov. 19/20
9  Some Comments
10  Map
11  Google Earth Map of Trip
While a graduate student at Stanford in 1964, I was able to extend a trip, where we had to make our yearly progress report our research results to the US Army and Air Force, from Stanford to the east coast to include the Bahamas, and Yucatan. We stopped in Merida, and took day trips Chichén Itzá and Uxmal. Although I had hoped to see them again on this one week ride, heat, humidity, and short days, and a total stay of only one week conspired to keep me away. I flew from New York to Cancun, which did not exist in 1964, rode south to Tulum, back up to Valladolid, and back to Cancun. I had hoped to see several lesser known Mayan ruin sites, but missing a turn and an apparently non-existent road reduced me to two.

1  Montreal to Cancun, Tues/Wed. Nov. 11/12

The overnight bus ride from Montreal to New York was appropriately uneventful, and I arrived at the NY Port Authority at 6:00am, in time to catch the 6:20am bus to JFK. By 7:30am, I had checked in all my bags. Unlike the last time, when I went to Japan, there was absolutely no wait. I shared the bus to JFK with Terry, an insurance agent who had recycled himself to be first, an AA Flight Attendant, and now for a two year appointment as a ground manager in charge of cabin services. Even he was surprised at how quiet it was.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, and we landed 10min early, but had to wait those 10min for our gate to clear. My bags arrived all intact, and much to my delight the bike was unharmed.
I put everything together outside the terminal to an appreciative audience of about 15 security guards. Just as I was finishing, one of them said "Your are unusual. No one comes here this way!"
It was a hot, 32°C, sunny ride the 12km into Cancun Centro. However, sunset is at 5:00pm, and it was just after that I finally found some camping gas for my stove. I do like to have my early morning coffee. There was a brief evening shower. With some effort, and several questions, I found the Albergue CREA, that Lonely Planet said had camping, at the north end of the Zona Hotelera.

2  Cancun to Puerto Aventuras, Thurs. Nov. 13

Sunrise was just before 6:00am, and I was ready to go by about 7:00am. Before I left, the beach in front of my tent already was overrun by joggers.
Lonely Planet said the camping was nice but that the rooms at the CREA were grotty. They were not kidding.
I rode south through the Zona Hotelera, that is the heart of very upscale tourist area of Cancun. Some places were just small tourist traps,
but the most were huge, gated estates. Although all beaches in Mexico are public, there was no way you get to the ones that were here.
On the way down, I discovered that, contrary to the information in Lonely Planet, my ordinary North American cell phone could connect to the local network, and my provider allowed me to roam here. I won't use it again except for an emergency.
The ride south of the airport, where the road from the Zona Hotelera comes out, was very straight, very flat,
occasionally rainy, very hot, with a wonderful strong tailwind. At 3:30pm, with sunset about an hour and a half later, I could not push my bike forward with any real consistency. It was also clear I was not going to make my preferred destination of Xel-Ha. At about 4:00pm, I found a great, very isolated, place to camp, behind a power substation. I put up my tent, and collapsed inside to sleep off my heat exhaustion. At 8:00pm, I awoke, went outside to wash, made supper, and went to bed.
It was an exhausting day, but a good one. Except for the heat, it was the easiest riding I have had for a long time. The highway was busy but he shoulder was wide, and it was with the prevailing winds.

3  Puerto Aventuras to Tulum, Fri. Nov. 14

It rained, but stopped before morning so I was able to pack a wet tent in the dry. My first stop was the Xel-Ha National Park?, but I declined to go inside. It had all the looks of being a Disneyland, and cost $29us. On top of that, the Xel-Ha Zona Arqueologica was not even there, but about 200m down the road.
As I was buying my entrance fee, $29mex, about $2:50us, three curious kittens discovered my bike.
The ruins were small, and surrounded by jungle.
The cenote was off limits for swimming.
The major ruins for the day were at Tulum
This is very large compared to Xel-ha, but tiny compared to Chichén Itzá. Its real beauty is its setting on the Caribbean.
The nice folks at the Lonely Planet recommended Weary Traveler in Tulum, told me that there were campgrounds on the beach, about 6km away and even gave me a map. I stopped at Camping Santa Fe, which is really in business selling cabanas, and set up just behind one of them, in a very fine sand. The beach was large, fine white sand, and sufficient wave action to preclude any snorkeling. I think I much prefer grassy plots on which to camp - much less messy.
It appears that quiet hour does not exist at this beach resort. Someone turned on their ghetto blaster at 10:00pm, and I was entertained, continuously, with salsa rock music until 5:00am. I wonder that the batteries lasted so long.

4  Tulum Beach to Chemax, Sat. Nov. 15

It poured rain most of the night, with only a brief, but welcome, respite while I was taking down the tent. On the way back to Tulum, I was completely soaked, but it was warm. Much to my surprise, the San Francisco de Asis supermarket was open when I arrived just before 8:00am. I reprovisioned for supper and breakfast, including some non-alcoholic Sangria, the only Sangria they sold.
I also found that the Internet access at the Weary Traveler was open. I sent my first journal report, but had some very sad news from home. My favorite cat, Kali, that I had rescued from Toronto when Peggy had to give it up, had just died. The trauma caused in our family is immense. It also drained my spirit and I was pedaling with very little enthusiasm all day.
My major goal of the day was the Mayan city of Cobá, which was, at one time, one of the largest cities in the Mayan domain. After riding about 50km, I saw a sign that said 3km to Cobá. I saw nothing on both sides of the 3km highway signpost, so I continued. My map indicated that the road should turn north at the ruins, but it was continuing north-west. After, another 10km, a car with a British couple stopped and asked me if this was the way to Cobá. I said that I thought it was, but I had not seen any signs. They continued, and then came back, telling me that it was in the opposite direction. I decided I had missed it, and continued on to Chemax, which was on my map, and shown on my GPS map. It is clear that the road I took is not on my map of the Yucatan. I suppose that is the penalty for a 1:1,000,000 scale map, the best I could find.
The next major city was Valladolid, and it was clearly too far away. At about 3:30pm, I started looking for a place to camp, and finally found one that was acceptable just before sunset. It was in an unused farm road, and completely isolated from the highway. I had rejected at least six possibilities, for various reasons, earlier.

5  Chemax Camp to Chemax Camp, Sun. Nov. 16

It was a beautiful night, and brilliant sunshine, at my back as I rode the 30km or so to Valladolid, where the recently changed sign announcing the town said that they were now 69,749. However, before that, I took the old road through the charming little village of Ticuch.
I didn't realise how charming it was until I came back late in the afternoon and discovered that the village was being overrun by a busload of French tourists.
I arrived in Valladolid at about 8:30am and discovered that the town was in fully active with families and commerce in the main square.
Not all streets in Mexico are trashy,
as I discovered while making my way out of town towards the Lonely Planet recommended underground cenote about 7km west near the village of Dznitup. I stopped first in Dznitup,
and was greeted by curious folks. I have graduated to Shop Spanish but not to Conversation by the Square Spanish.
The cenote, which was back about 1km towards Valladolid, was as advertised - a clear, clean, underground pool with stalactites hanging from the ceiling.
My only swimming companions were a couple from Grenoble. It was a delightful, cooling experience.
I had intended to go north to see another small ruin at Ek Balám, but decided after 4km up the road, that this was silly in the heat and sun so I went back to Valladolid. I had really wanted to go to the Rio Lagartos National Park to see the flamingo colony, but it was obvious that I would not have the time, so I opted for the simpler route.
On the way into town, I bought some barbecued chicken, and had a late lunch, with a can of beer, in the square. In the early afternoon it was almost empty - siesta time?
Instead of staying in Valladolid, I decided to ride the 25km back to my campsite of last night. I was confident that I could find the campsite again, because I had recorded it on my GPS. However, without the trash at the entrance to mark it, I passed right by, and had to come back.
I set up camp and it was a good and quiet night.

6  Chemax Camp to Cancun(almost), Mon. Nov. 17

Today turned out to be a long one of 117km, with several failures, but it was a good day.
I was only about 3km from Chemax, and about 135km from Cancun. My first stop was Chemax. At 7:00am, it was, indeed very much alive.
The single speed tricycle in front of my banana store is a favourite mode of transportation for woodcutters and families.
Just on the edge of town was a small, traditional? farm.
However, the surprise of the day came just as I left town.
The next small village was Catzin.
On both sides of the village of X-can, there was a bike path, that except for the sharp little hills was much better than the road for the tricycles - and for me.
X-can was just off the main road, and was not the last, of several villages that I passed.
Just outside of X-can, I was able to fill all my water bottles (8 litres) with, supposedly drinkable water. I would have bought some of the spring, purified water, but the choices were 1 litre, and 20 litre bottles. When I hesitated, the kid at the store said that the large cistern had "agua potable". However, I will filter it just in case.
At about 3:30pm, I started seriously to look for a place to camp. I now had enough water to wash clothes so I was willing to stop early. At about 4:10pm, I found an access road to a large power line, but after some thought, recorded it on my GPS for future reference, and decided to continue on to Leona Vicario and take the small road south to El Dos ruins. I asked, Leona Vicario about the road and was told it was terrible, and barely, if at all passable. There were no signs, so that appears to have been official policy.
It was now within 10min of sunset, and I had gone 10km from my marked campsite. It would be completely dark, and a waste of 20km, so I continued on to Cancun, which appears to have the only camping that anybody knows about.
It was getting quite dark, when I decided that I had to camp. The small power line by the side of the road had short access openings to the power poles and I stopped at one of them. There was a road, overgrown with small shrubs, that would have to do. However, as I was unloading my bike, unfortunately visible from the road, a car and truck, stopped almost beside me and turned into the next farm, about 50m down the road. Evidently, my cover was blown, so I repacked and continued into Cancun. It was now so dark that I couldn't see anything by the side of the road so I was reconciled to riding the 40km into town. Except for not being able to see well, this was the pleasantest cycling weather I have had.
Not giving up totally on finding a place, I stopped at an open Mini Super and asked if I could camp. Again the advice was, "Go to Cancun." At the second one, I was greeted by Fabian, who had also stopped, and he told me "I almost killed you back there. Your light is too low!". Indeed it was aimed too low, and I promptly fixed it. Then he asked "What are you doing out?". I told him that I was looking for a place to camp, and he offered me the possibility of camping, on nice grass, at his father's Rancho, that was only 6km down the road towards Cancun. I thought this was great, but demurred from trying to stuff my bike and trailer into his Toyota Corolla. The trailer plus 4 people was just too much. He offered to escort me to the Rancho, and drove along behind me the whole way. The whole way turned out to be 15km and I was totally exhausted.
Fabian introduced me to his sister, Patricia, and her son Alexandro, a guest, Suzanne from Louisville, and his mother. Then my bike was hauled through the house and out to the garden. The garden has a pool, showers, tennis courts, horses, and a playing field. The Rancho has become a Centro Recreativo Hacuna Matata. I set up my tent beside the a swing, with Alexandro observing until I had finished, drank my last beer, and was about to take a shower, when Alexandro came back and invited me to have something to eat. Patricia cooked a super Mexican meal just for me, and Alexandro made some fresh squeezed fruit juice. It was wonderful.

7  Cancun, Tues. Nov. 18

This was the best camping I had on the entire trip.
I wanted to say "adios", but no one, except Patricia's other brother, was up so I just left. It was a short ride into Cancun, where I spent a very lazy morning and afternoon sitting and observing. I arrived at the CREA at about 3:30pm, set up camp, crossed their beach to go for a swim, but quit before I even got wet because I didn't want to fight the seaweed. I also failed in my attempt to take a shower at 5:00pm - no water. It was to be on in an hour. I failed again at 6:00pm - now the water was supposed to be on in another 30min - but was successful at 10:30pm. There was no water. again, in the morning.

8  Cancun to Montreal, Wed./Thurs Nov. 19/20

It was a beautiful sunrise, but the day was not without complications. I discovered that I had broken a spoke, tried to take it out, and stupidly, turned it in the wrong direction and punctured the tube. I finally had to replace the tube, and put on the new spoke, and was on my way, with a very soft tire - perhaps I need a better pump.
I again went to the airport via the Zona Hotelera, with big, and bigger hotels.
Apparently, there are still not enough of them.
Just after I arrived at the airport it started to rain, and continued until I left.
The rest of the trip home was appropriately uneventful.

9  Some Comments

A number of tourists I met wondered how safe it was to ride because of the wildness of the Mexican drivers. I didn't have any problems, and was usually given more than enough margin. However, it does appear that the government feels that reminders are necessary.

10  Map

My entire trip was about 535km (330 miles), mostly flat, except for a few hills around X-can. I found it too hot and humid, and the countryside did not have much variety. Water was indeed a problem.

11  Google Earth Map of Trip

This is the link to the Google Earth Map of the entire trip in the Yucatan.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.64.
On 16 Aug 2006, 04:11.