Peering over the edge of an overlook was hard–dropping off one was even harder–especially backwards! Safety ropes in hand, I stared at the rest of the group. All I had to do was lean back and let myself fall. The guide grinned and said it was easy–my safety ropes would hold me. I inched back. First one foot, then both feet teetered on the rock edge. Could I do it?
Tryprovides a Mayan jungle adventure that’s all about exploring another culture and learning about their environment. These ecotourism experiences are on Mayan land and guided by Mayan people.
So there I was, my second day in Mexico, trying to overcome my fears and put my trust in my guide and rappel into a collapsed cenote.
FAQ about Cenotes:
- A cenote is a sinkhole or natural pit with groundwater or a pool at its center.
- The drop to the pool is up to 40 feet and the depth of the pool is up to 100 feet.
- Cenotes are accessed by what often appears to be nothing more than a small hole in the overarching surface (think of crawling through the legs of your kitchen chair).
- Over time the top of a cenote may wear away or crumble, so that the sinkhole is exposed and the water may all but disappear.
I’d started the day with a two-hour van ride from Cancun, where the Alltournative tour guides had picked me up from my hotel.
The adventure began with a jungle walk. Our guides talked about the different parts of the ecosystem and how the Mayan people had survived for centuries in it. One thing I found a bit disconcerting was that the jungle has poisonous trees. Luckily, though, the antidote tree generally grows beside it. That, I thought, was a perfect match!
While the jungle trees weren’t as tall as I’d expected at this point, the jungle itself was as green and vibrant as I’d always imagined. The bird calls and songs definitely weren’t from a Saskatchewan bluff, nor were the flowers. I didn’t have the privilege (luckily!) of meeting the king of the Mayan jungle, the jaguar, or the chulul, another small cat.
The iguana, however, was one creature I’d already noticed everywhere in Mexico. The fastest running lizard on earth, the guide affectionately called these creatures mayan chickens. Although I was somewhat intimidated by the largest ones–they grow up to a yard and a half in length–they seemed to ignore people altogether.
We reached a lagoon on our walk and paddled across it in pairs. It was relatively shallow, similar to what I’d call a slough back on the Canadian prairies. After more hiking through the jungle, we reached the first challenge — a zipline back over the lagoon to the other side.
It was my first zipline, as I’m sure you can tell by the fear on my face in the photo.
The set-up was simple, a stand below the wire line that you were clipped onto by the guide. I didn’t go first. I didn’t even go second. If I hadn’t been advised that the only way to the other side was to hike back through the increasingly hot jungle to the canoe and paddle, I wouldn’t have gone at all. I waited until another participant, a lady in her 70s, agreeably hooked up, kicked off, and zipped away, before I stepped up to the box.
Now, I’m not a coordinated person, so the thoughts of using the traditional “brake” I was handed, a long stick with a v-shaped end designed to grab the wire and produce friction to slow you down, made me nervous. Determined to do the best I could, I shoved my glasses in a pocket and my camera down the front of my shirt and prepared to launch.
I flew–seriously–the wind blowing my hair and the smell of the lagoon plant life in my face–about as fast as was humanly possible over the water. My braking efforts were futile. Rather, two very able Mayan guides caught me before I could take out the landing platform.
It was fun!
Next activity, rappelling. While our whole group did take the zipline, not all could find the courage to drop over the edge of the cenote with the rappelling ropes. Once I actually pushed myself off, I enjoyed it more than the zipline.
The first half of the fall was the easiest, and the most like I’d seen on t.v. as there was a rockface to kick off from. The ropes were easy to manage, and I could set my own descent speed easily. About halfway down, though, I reached freefall where I was out in the middle of nowhere dangling on the lines. I was already confident in my ability to control things though, so reached the bottom of the cenote with a smile on my face.
Since cenotes are sacred places to the Mayan, considered a gift from the gods, we participated in a Mayan ceremony after climbing back to the surface.
This YouTube video takes you through all of my adventure with Alltournative:
My adventure also included a Mayan lunch cooked over an open fire in the jungle. Delicious! The facilities were clean, comfortable and eco-friendly, particularly the outhouses.
Two more activities were still on the list. The first was swimming in a cenote, which was a wonderful way to cool off in the heat of a scorching hot afternoon. The second was a move to the ruins of Coba–a Mayan village that at one point had up to 45,000 inhabitants.
FAQ about Coba:
- Coba is situated by four natural lakes.
- The Nohoch Mul pyramid is 42 meters or 138-feet high–the tallest pyramid in the Northern Yucatan.
- There are up to 6500 structures here, with only a few completely cleared from the jungle that surrounds them.
- Coba has about 40 sacbes (white rock roads) built 1200 years or more ago leading in many directions, the longest 100 km, ending close to Chichen Itza.
- Two ball courts and some elaborately carved vertical stone tablets called stelae have been uncovered.
Coba was intriguing, particularly the roads, which were used by foot traffic. While Mayans had knowledge of the wheel, they didn’t use it for transportation devices since they lacked draft animals to pull carts. Hiking over the white rocks was great, but I eventually took a Mayan taxi (a cart pushed by a friendly Mayan) to finish the tour. I even made it up the full 124 steps to gaze out at the jungle from the top of the pyramid!
Indeed, the atmosphere and experience of Coba is the most important part of why I chose my Mayan adventure as stop #23 on my 2012 Staycation, where I’m revisiting destinations I’ve previously explored. The zipline and rappelling were certainly fun, but sampling the Mayan culture and history was even more interesting for me.
If you go:
My Mayan adventure was with Alltournative – http://www.alltournative.com/tours-expeditions/overview.asp
For information about the Mayan culture see Mexico’s virtual guidebook written by locals – http://www.playa.info/index.html
You’ll find trees, plants, birds, and wildlife of the Yucatan with beautiful photography in the Yucatan adventure eco-cultural guide – – http://www.yucatanadventure.com.mx/