Tulum’s magical waters were a great initiation for me in México, a crash course even in the expression “Let Go, Let Flow.” Stress is not allowed on this trip, nor worry or crabbiness. . . When things happen, there is not always a clear reason to us, but the Larger Picture of our Life necessitates some bumps and detours and colorful events that in turn make us strong and capable persons, or in my case, a strong and capable Female Traveler.
Ready for a new day’s adventures, Marie (my lovely roommate at the hostel I am staying in) and I eat the free hostel breakfast at Mama’s Home and ready our things for a day trip to COBÁ. I have heard great things about the Mayan Ruins at Cobá, from my longtime friend Jenny (who I trust with my LIFE) who traveled the Yucatan Peninsula last summer and sent me a short list of MUSTS before I started my trip. Cobá was at the top of the list for its gorgeous and raw feel, the impressive Mayan structures/ruins, and the proximity from Tulum, just a 1 hour bus ride on an ADO bus (also it was only 66 MX pesos for one way ticket). We purchased a one way ticket because we weren’t sure how long we would want to be at the site and heard it was easy to purchase return tickets there.
Cobá means ‘waters stirred by wind’ or ‘ruffled waters’ in Mayan, and adjacent to the site there lies two large lagoons, Laguna Cobá and Laguna Macanxoc. Laguna Cobá is beautiful, our first sight as the bus pulls up. I hear that you could swim in it, although some of its local inhabitants are crocodiles. YIKES. I’ll wait to take a dip in the nearby cenotes… thanks! As at all Mayan sites, local tour guides (official guides that pay to be certified) line up to offer you their knowledge and company, but we opted for our own experience of the site ON BICYCLES!!! Yes, Jenny said the best way to experience Cobá was on a bike because the ruins are extensive with a few buildings grouped together but mainly spread over a massive area (30 square miles/ 80 square kilometers total).
It was cheap to rent the Bike (inside the site) and we saved ourselves a whole lotta walking. **Just trust me, YOU MUST BIKE IN THE RUINS. Other options are:
- Spend way too long walking the site and you will most likely be too tired to see the “Macanxoc Group” ruins on the far opposite side (they are so spread out)
- Pay more money to get ridden around by a local who Bikes you in a tricycle device that makes you feel pretty useless in life (A great option though if you are elderly or injured, or just plain Lazy) but has a built-in cover to protect you from rain or sun
Marie and I kept speeding past these tricycles because the locals were usually peddling 2 passengers, and therefore got around much slower. When it drizzled, we hardly felt wet with the wind whipping us dry from our biking & as the hot sun peek through (it was fairly overcast this day) we remained cool by a lovely breeze from our biking. My favorite moments were when were the only ones on the white roads (known as Sacbeobs, original roads that connected various parts of the site and also led to other important Mayan Cities) . . . We were in jungle, we were in the elements, and I started to believe that there was something special here, perhaps in the air. We opted to see the site with the Main Pyramid first . . . and without further ado. . . BEHOLD:
The 120 stairs that lead up to Nohoch Mul
At 137ft tall (42m), this pyramid holds the title for tallest temple in the Yucatán Peninsula. What do you think? Would you climb it? Seeing as the last time I climbed a pyramid was in México in the summer of 2007, in my youth you could even say, I was both excited and nervous to take on this endeavor. If it doesn’t look imposing to you in this picture, let me assure you, it’s an impressive sight. Before taking my first steps, I took a moment to Ask Permission… this is important, for me at least because
I recognize I am a visitor here in Mayan lands/Reconozco que yo soy visitante en estas Tierras Maya
I understand that these structures were originally used for ceremony, religious importance, and for honoring those greater than us humans. All I will say to you, is to be Mindful when entering these sites or “climbing pyramids”. Have respect for the people that have come before. But if you have the chance, climb the pyramid. **Confession, I was scared going up. I had to climb with my backpack which weighed more than I would have liked with my bulky camera inside. At times, I felt like lugging that bag on my back was working against me, I felt unbalanced, and each step taking me higher and higher up the pyramid made my heart beat faster, out of my chest even. I had to take the stairs slowly and carefully, taking deep breaths, telling myself I could make it up the pyramid no problem. I have not had fear like this in quite a long time. I don’t know why this day of all days, my first day exploring Mayan Ruins, I was doubting myself. For those of you afraid of heights, afraid of falling, or afraid of crumbling stones that were once steps, it is worth facing your fears. Yoga breathing (deep) and a Yoga Mindset (I can do anything) came in handy and I made it up the structure just a few minutes after Marie did. My heart beating like drums, dun-dun dun-dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun-dun, harder and louder until I reached the top and looked out into the Yucatan.
I am certain I cannot fully express what I felt in those first moments of this view, but it was MAGICAL. It was ENERGY. I was taller than the trees that towered over me just 20 minutes earlier. I was breathing air closer to the clouds than the ground. I was greeted by fluttering butterflies that also made their way to the top of Nohoch Mul. Light rain fell on me while I took in the landscape, speechless really. Butterflies danced and birds sang, all flying in and out of my frame of view.
I could have stayed up there forever, but there was more to see. We were really lucky with how few people there were here. There weren’t crazy crowds, nor lines to take pictures in front of some of the structures. I will say the most people I saw were on top of the pyramid we climbed. People were pulling out the selfie sticks and holding private photoshoots (distracting? Yes. More to come later on my issue with this “selfie stick”). But like I was saying, there were many moments where I felt I was getting lost in Cobá. . . in another era, and I was Indiana Jones stumbling upon this treasure. . . curious, cautious, falling in love and wanting to know more.
After having biked maybe 25-30 minutes from the Cobá Group side to reach the Macanxoc Group of ruins, we reached the quietest part of the site. That is, until THE LOUDEST THUNDER (that shook me to my inner core) struck from above. No wonder the Mayans had such a connection with all of the elements. The thunder was heard and felt, like a presence, wanting to be acknowledged.
I have never heard the sky speak this clearly, or directly. I am moved.
Appreciate thunder, for it means rain will come to the land. And appreciate rain, for it brings abundance for all living creatures. I admire the relationship that the Mayans had with the Earth, and Cobá is a great place to see how they lived in harmony with their natural surroundings. The Macanxoc Ruins displayed several Stelae (o Stelas), large stone slabs displaying noted Mayan leaders, events and hieroglyphs.
The slabs are covered to protect them from further weather damage, and although hard to make out exactly, they are beautiful examples of Mayan craftsmanship. It’s easy to wander around these less visited ruins and have moments to reflect and speculate about what COBÁ may have been like in its days of Power. It is said that Cobá was originally populated in the 1st Century and peaked at about 50,000 people. It was an important Mayan City for both trade (down to Guatemala and Honduras) and Religious ceremony. The site is still largely un-excavated, having only been visited for the first time by Archeologists in the 1920s.
For those of you wishing to visit AND climb Nohoch Mul, don’t wait too long!! I heard rumors that this site may shut down access to climb the Main Pyramid by next year sometime. As with all archeological sites, in order to preserve what remains, there comes a point when foot-traffic up the pyramids ends. I recommend you try to make it to COBÁ before then, because that view does not disappoint. . . soon it will be just a monument for picture taking and appreciating from the ground.
Leaving Cobá I had one more goal in mind, to visit a nearby CENOTE (from Maya dzonot or ts’onot, meaning “well”). These cenotes are found all over Mexico’s Yucatan and are “natural pits, or sinkholes, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.” (thanks Google) They vary in size and depth, and the color of the water and features of the rock also vary. We took a short cab ride to the Cenote Tamcach-Ha. They charge 55 MX pesos entrance and require you to shower before entering. I’m sorry in advance that my pictures don’t do this gorgeous natural swimming hole justice.
Swimming underground was kind of thrilling. I jumped right in and felt at home (water is always my home). The water was not cold nor hot, but perfect temperature. The depth of the water (either 30 or 50 meters, I don’t remember) didn’t bother me either, nor the bats flying around in their cave, but there was one problem. There were 2 platforms from which to jump if you so dared and having seen a few people fling themselves off the 5m platform already, I said to myself, ARIANA YOU HAVE TO DO IT. YOU HAVE TO JUMP. When are you going to be in another Cenote? You can’t go home and write about all the cool things you did and talk about how you DIDN’T JUMP FROM THE 15FT PLATFORM INTO THE DEEP BLUE ABYSS. . . So I marched myself up the wooden stairs, looked DOWN. . .
and that’s when the FEAR HIT, my left leg beginning to tremble and shake uncontrollably.
But I wouldn’t get off the platform. A whole Mexican Family down below started cheering for me, and counting down UNO DOS TRES. . . for me to jump. Are they crazy? Can’t they see they can’t rush me or I’m definitely not going to do it? I must have stood on that platform for 10 minutes really believing I would do it, but this time I climbed back down the stairs defeated. I swam around and watched others jump, and cheered them on from below. Marie jumped also. I was so disappointed I couldn’t muster up the guts to do it. And then 2 Japanese guys stepped up to the 10m platform (that’s 30feet HIGH people), and they were skinny Japanese guys with little fear and nothing to prove, or maybe a lot to prove, but they took turns jumping from up HIGH down to the depths. . . and I cheered for them. Impressed. Happy they came up for air unscarred. That’s it, ARIANA, you must now. Back up to the 5m platform I went. And of course, I made the mistake of THINKING when I approached the edge (Don’t THINK just DO). The Mexican Family below surely thought I wasn’t going to go through with it. And one of the local tour guides who was encouraging me to scream out loud CALIFORNIA as I leapt off, also probably thought I would wuss out. He offered to push me off. I told him I would do it. I WOULD. . . I must have stood on the platform for 20 minutes that second time, contemplating, trying to face some fear I had. . . battling internally to just let go of this fear that weighed on me, making my heart pound and my legs shake. The Japanese guys came to the platform where I stood to jump, and they tried to cheer me on, counting ICHI, NI, SAN (1,2,3) but nope. . . I didn’t. I let them pass ahead of me. And a few others as well came up and jumped while I clung to that platform with my mission.
Marie finally called to me that our hour at the Cenote was up, and our cab driver was waiting, we had to go. At this point, my adrenaline kicked in and I SHUT UP THAT VOICE THAT WAS STOPPING ME, THAT PESKY FEAR. . . I silenced it as I leapt off and landed superbly into the waters below. YES! Shaking a bit as I got out of the water to some cheers from strangers who I’m certain never expected me to jump. . . I felt Accomplished.