The Rambling Writer Takes a Detour through the Yucatan, Part 2

Alas, all vacations must end, but after Thor and I tore ourselves away from our “paraiso” on the beach, we did manage a couple more detours along our winding road to the airport.

NOTE: Next week, April 21, I will return to my Greece travels and the promised rendezvous with Dionysos and his maenads….

On our last day at Playa Sonrisa (“Beach of Smiles”), the wind died down so we could take the double kayak out to our favorite snorkel spot, deeper by the reef. Then in the afternoon we swam out over the shallows off the dock to drink in the blue-green shimmering sea and enjoy one of our favorite rituals: letting the gentle waves carry us back to shore as we float effortlessly and the late afternoon sunlight shimmers over the undulating sea grasses.  *sigh* I need a Star Trek transport beam to take me back there.

One last glimpse of the beach from our cottage:

We had decided to take two days for the long return drive and flight home, so we had time for a detour southwest off the main highway to the Mayan site of Chacchoben, the Mayan name loosely translated as “the place of red corn.”

In a lovely, park-like setting among banyan trees, palms, and dense tropical forest, many structures of Mayan temples, platforms, and walls have been excavated and restored, while work continues. The structures uncovered date from 700 AD. Like many sites in this region that is literally blanketed with remains of the formerly dense Mayan population (the height of temple building was around 250-900 AD), this one lay covered by dense vegetation and mostly unnoticed until officially reported to the Mexican government in 1972 by an archaeologist flying a helicopter over the “hills” among flat farm and ranching land.

Here on the site is a partially-excavated mound covered by vegetation disguising it. I’ve seen many similar mounds surrounding excavations elsewhere in the Yucatan and in Belize and Guatemala. Recent Lidar scans of the region from the air have revealed even more extensive settlements than were previously suspected across these borders, hidden beneath the dense tropic forests.

The restored temples are dramatically beautiful, and climbing to the top gains welcome open views over the forest canopy and flitting birds. (In this site, we weren’t allowed to climb them.)

We have admired the use of native trees for railings and columns in some upscale homes near Playa…

…and at Chacchoben, we saw the raw material in this banyan crawling around a palm tree.

After a couple more hours heading north on the highway, we passed Tulum, another beautiful Mayan site we had visited on our original “pre-luna de miel” trip to the region. This site is unusual in its setting on cliffs above the sea, and there was a suggestion that one of the temples was dedicated to a goddess of the sea.

Here, Thor accepted my proposal of marriage…

…witnessed by the Great Iguana. Every year we check in with his minions to assure the G.I. that we are honoring our vows. Never mess with the Great Iguana!

At Tulum town is our favorite grocery store to stock up on snacks and water, Super Saint Francis de Asis. The sweet Mayan checkout ladies come up to about waist level to Thor’s Nordic six-and-half feet, and they find him greatly amusing. (Still looking for my missing photo of that….)

And then on to Puerto Morelos south of Cancun, a relatively subdued town among the burgeoning mega-resorts along this stretch of coast. We spent the night here as a travel break, and meandered around the town square and harbor.

Every town has a church, but also you find small shrines like the ones I saw everywhere in Greece, with a saint/icon and oil lamps or candles. I spotted this one tucked behind the native artesans’ stalls.

Locals were busy with the Sisyphean task of clearing the beach from an attack of Sargasso weed brought by currents from — you guessed it — the Sargasso Sea. The noxious floating clumps of weed clog the beaches and suffocate sea life while rotting and stinking. Unfortunately, these infestations in the Caribbean are becoming a bigger and more frequent problem with climate change. Some island resorts are severely impacted now with loss of tourism. We did have our share this year at Playa Sonrisa, too, but Thor and I held our noses and waded through it to get into the clear water beyond the pileups. Then, when a big wind came, most of the weed got pushed down the coast. No one is sure how the problem will play out for coastal areas.

But life goes on for the local fishermen and the hungry pelicans waiting for their share.

The next day, we had time to kill before our flight home, so decided to check out the small native petting zoo, Croco Cun, and were happy we did so. Many of the animals have been rescued from dangerous situations, and the open-air enclosures recreate, as much as possible, natural settings for them. Our guide Andreas was quite knowledgeable and clearly committed to caring for these animals. Here, Thor gets a kiss from a parrot who greeted us in Spanish and English.

Next, we got to hold a small crocodile. I was relieved that Andreas secured the beast’s toothy grin with a rubber band, explaining that the croc’s muscles are very strong when biting down, but rather weak when opening the mouth.

After viewing a “teenage” crocodile pileup….

…we got to walk through the open enclosure with the big guys. Apparently if you stay out of the water with the dominant croc, they won’t come after you. We decided not to linger.

Next came the snakes. This boa decided he liked the view from the top of my head.

Andreas told us that this large python could eat him, then wouldn’t need to eat again for a year. If he swallowed Thor, maybe that would last two years.

I hadn’t realized that these native Mexican dogs were regarded by the ancient Mayans as gods, and guides for the dead to the underworld. The genes making them hairless (though this napper has a mohawk) sometimes also inhibit the growth of bones, so that some are stillborn because of the lack of development.

The zoo is open-air, so wild spider monkeys come to visit and enjoy trays of snacks. We saw several, including mothers with their adorable babies.

Here’s a monkey video with YouTube link:

Finally we visited the native coatimundis, related to racoons, who have similar habits and can become quite the pests if they get used to raiding garbage cans or other human food. We have seen them rambling around the Playa Sonrisa jungle road, but the locals are careful to avoid encouraging them away from their normal wild habits.

This one seems content to enjoy a permanent vacation. “Hasta la vista.”  See you next time when we return for our Caribbean getaway!


You will now find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at




The Rambling Writer Takes a Detour through the Yucatan, Part 2 — 2 Comments

  1. Oh, wow. Banyan trees are really weird.

    That petting zoo is a real treasure. Always glad to see animal rescue sites.

    • Yes, we loved the zoo! And the banyan trees. Already planning our next year’s trip, when we will visit the Xian Ka’an nature preserve and hope to see more animals in the wild.