2018 – Honeymoon Excursion: Chichén Itzá

Second half of trip continued from blog labeled, “2018 – Honeymoon Resort Review: Riviera Maya”. Trip taken: January 2018.

My Montezuma’s Revenge occurred on the second day of our trip (which sidelined me for 3 days), and left us with just enough time to do only one excursion. 🙁 We carefully chose Chichén Itzá to appease our inner history nerd selves as well as the site being duly noted “One of the 7 Wonders of the World.”

At 7am, we started off our 2 hour journey in a jam-packed mini-van along with 6 other tourists. During those few hours in the van, we passed several pover-ish cities, miles of thick jungle, and mass quantities of stray dogs. About halfway through our trip, our first rest stop was at a store/gift shop where we could stretch; buy snacks, food, and gifts. Roaming the storefront grounds was a mama dog that looked like she had just recently gave birth, however no puppies were in sight. THANK GAWD! Who doesn’t love puppies?! She had saddest eyes and looked half starved for food AND attention. ARGH! Tearing at my heartstrings…and cue the ASPCA somber music and pictures of dismal looking dogs. Ugh. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

After about a 30 minute rest, we all piled back into the mini-van and continued our last hour of travel to Chichén Itzá. Upon arrival we were given one rule, “Meet back at the van at 2pm. If you are late, we are leaving without you.” OK then! I know “I” don’t want to be homeless in Mexico. Not gonna lie, I kinda felt like a kid on a school trip with our guides (chaperones) doling out snacks, giving us rules, handing out water, and asking us to “stay together” as we walked towards the entrance. Since we had to enter together as per our ticket reservation, our guides corralled us like cattle and continued to remind us of our strict timeline to meet back at the van at 2pm. Being Type A, of course I set an alarm on my phone for 1pm so that we had plenty of time to trek back to the meet up spot. I for sure was not about to live like the Maya and test my non-existent nature skills.

Once inside the gate we received a map similar to the one pictured below which will give you an idea of how vast the area was! I will cover the grounds in sections to stay organized (both you and me!). In the short video clip below, panning from left (Juego de Pelota) to right (Castillo) – this was only 1/8 of the entire property!

Our first task was to fight our way past the artisans who lined the walkway, trying to grab our attention by incessantly blowing their jaguar whistles in our faces and yelling, “Cheap, cheap…almost free,” while pointing at their goods and trinkets. Once through the peer pressure environment, we took a left and headed towards our first attraction, the Maya Ball Game Court. This was where the oldest and ruthless traditional team sport called “Juego de Pelota” was played.

This is loosely translated to the “Maya ball game” and was considered an ancient, sacred ceremony performed to resolve conflict and to promote victory of the sun over the night. It’s been rumored that there was a human sacrifice at the end of the game, but there is no record as to which team/individual was sacrificed – the winner or the loser.

The layout consisted of a long, rectangular field with sloping walls on the long length sides. The shape of the field was similar to an “I” and had stone hoops attached to the top of each long length side. The object of the game was to pass a rubber ball through these hoops by bouncing the ball to each other using only hips, thighs, head, and upper-arms. I would say, similar to soccer, but with a death match element. Wonder what those penalties were like! EEK! No hands, ma!

The backside of the court had a crumbling, sloped, rocky surface with a border shaped like a serpent’s back. We learned that the Maya mythology regards snakes as both a religious and social symbol. The snake shedding was symbolism for rebirth and renewal. They also believed that the snake was the gateway to communicate with gods and ancestors.

Our second stop was a short walk just past the backside of the court, where we slowed to admire the creepy Tzompontli (the wall of skulls) which prominently displayed the skulls of prisoners and enemies that were sacrificed. If you look closely, you will notice eagle and snakes embedded in this structure. Apparently this was meant to scare and freak out the enemy. Job well done! I scurried past this wall and quickly headed to the Jaguar Temple so I wouldn’t have nightmares later.

Our third stop was just across from the skull wall called the Jaguar Temple. This was located in the Southeast corner of Juego de Pelota and looking over the, “Ball Court”. This structure was speculated to be one of the first built platforms of Juego de Pelota. We were told that there’s an entrance located in the lower level of this temple that feeds into the main arena, as well as a staircase that leads up to the second level. There were barriers placed at the entrance to stop curious people like me from snooping around and possibly fall to my death. A drone would have been handy about now.

After taking a sharp left, we arrived at our fourth stop which was the Venus Platform. This serpent guarded structure was 83ft square, stairs on all sides, with side panels of art that were a combination of human, serpent, eagle and jaguar. This platform was used to track Venus (the planet) and to create the Mayan ritual and agricultural calendar. The stage portion of the platform was designed for public viewing – possibly for speeches, rituals or dance.

Our fifth stop – Table Temple, was just a short walk east of the Venus Platform. This structure got its name by the stacked “table” like formation of each level. The two-column temple rests atop of the fourth platform. This is basically a mini version of the, Los Guerreros Temple (Temple of Warriors) located next door.

The sixth stop – Los Guererros (Temple of Warriors), was a massive structure built over an older structure complete with a large scale temple at the very top. The plaza portion of this structure has over 200 carved columns of warriors and we were told that there were even a few women warriors among them. This plaza, Mil Columnas, was dubbed, “Plaza of A Thousand Columns.” To give you perspective on size, in the aerial photo below, the Table Temple is to the left of the Temple of Warriors. DAYUMMMM!

Seventh stop – House of Deer, or commonly known as the Deer Temple, has seen better days. This structure was named Deer Temple for the carved deer that was found inside upon first exploration. The carving has since disappeared, but the nickname has remained.

Eighth stop – The Casa Colorada (Red House) got its name from traces of red paint found on the inner walls of this structure. It is believed that this used to house royalty and has one of the best preserved carvings inside depicting a Mayan date correlating to 869 AD.

Ninth stop – El Caracol (Snail) contains an internal winding, snail-like staircase located in the central tower for which it was named after. There are several plotted points on this structure which have been identified that align with Venus, as well as the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset which align with the northeast and southwest corners of a staircase. This site has been dubbed the OG observatory and from atop of the tower, the views of the sky are unobstructed and perfect for stargazing.

10th stop – La Iglesia (The Church). This is known to be one of the oldest buildings on site and is adorned with Chac god masks with hooked noses, a crab, a tortoise, an armadillo, and snail. This building was named the Church by early explorers as it was next door to set of buildings called the Nunnery.

11th stop – Las Monjas (the Nunnery) is a complex of three structures located in the very SW corner of Chichén Itzá. The name of “Nunnery” was given to the site by explorers due to similarities to a monastery. Archaeologists believe that this was instead a royal palace. Within these buildings there are carvings that depict events occurring around 880 A.D.

12th stop – Temple of Kukulkan or El Castillo (Castle) is located in the center of Chichén Itzá as well as the most well-known landmark. Appropriately named one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”. The Maya were math geniuses and expert scientists and the Temple of Kukulkan was a perfect example of blending both subjects.

Each of the four sides has 91 steps which, when added together and including the temple platform, equals 365 – which are the total days of the solar year. If each of the nine terraces are divided in two (which makes 18) this equals the same number of months in the Maya calendar. The total terrace panels equals 52, which is the 52-year cycle when both the solar and religious calendars converge. #MathIsNotHard

Fun fact #1: During the spring and autumn equinoxes, at the rising and setting of the sun, the corner of the pyramid casts a shadow in the shape of a snake, representing the god Quetzalcoatl (feathered snake). As the sun moves, the serpent appears to slowly move down the pyramid.

Fun fact #2: When you stand in front of the very center of the steps to the pyramid and clap your hands, the acoustics coming from the top of the pyramid sound like a bird’s cry (the quetzal, a Central American bird) that ancient Maya people believed was a messenger of the gods.

13th stop – Sagrado Cenote (The Sacred Cenote) is located north of the Temple of Kukulkan by way of the Ceremonial walkway. A cenote is a natural sinkhole which was the only water source for the Maya on the Yucatan peninsula. At the bottom of this creepy AF cenote the following were found: shells, rubber, copal, copper, incense, gold, jade, pottery, turquoise, obsidian, and bones of AT LEAST around 200 women, children and men. It is said that humans were sacrificed during drought seasons to appease their gods.

This entire site was built with the purpose of religion, culture, math, science, mythology and symbolism. Everything was connected in some way to the above including: the sun, stars, planets and then connecting back below on earth including: animals, water, nature and people. Life was truly simple ages ago but at the same time, ruthless. I am still left wondering who WAS sacrificed after the Juego de Pelota ball game – the winner or loser?!

Guess I’ll never know!

Due to my sickness cutting into our excursion time, I was unable to see/do the following (womp, womp).

  1. Tulum Ruins
  2. Coba Ruins
  3. Cenote snorkeling
  4. Jungle zip lining

Hasta la vista, Mexico! I’ll be baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack.

 

2018 – Honeymoon Resort Review: Riviera Maya

This lengthy blog covers our summation of the fancy, schmancy hotel that we had the privilege to stay at this past January (2018) on our belated honeymoon. When I asked my travel agent, Pam, to “level up” and find us an all-inclusive trip that was a step up from what I normally book for myself, she definitely delivered!

Why do I use a travel agent you ask? For one, I prefer to work with someone who has personally visited sites so that I can interrogate them with my hundred questions about the pools, beaches, food quality, the staff, and nearby attractions and adventures. Even after experiencing my boujee ways for the first time 3 years ago, Pam still continues to expertly match me with perfect vacations without fail. Her knowledge, experience and patience are the epitome of what an amazing travel agent should be.

Trust me, having someone else do all the leg work on research saved me from anxiety as well as from spending a shit-ton of time and countless hours reading yelp reviews, travel blogs, and travel websites. No thanks! Not to mention, this also prevented me from accidentally booking an outrageously expensive Groupon vacation while under the consumption of mass amounts of libations at/or post happy hour(s). No one has time for that! I mean…not that I’ve done it before or anything. o_O (P.S. I’ve since deleted the app from my phone so that I am not tempted…again.)

Back to our hotel – which was about one hour South of Cancun, and as I mentioned in my last blog, “In Sickness and in Health…‘til Sunburn Do Us Part”, we booked a direct rideshare van. Only the BEST.VAN.EVER! We were VIP all the way and had the van all to ourselves! Our driver was so chill, in fact, he offered to pull over at a mini-mart after asking if we wanted some local brew to guzzle down during our long car ride to our hotel. Hell yeah! This is how you start a vacation! Cold brewskies + blasting AC = distraction from the crazy driving.

Once outside the city limits and on the main freeway, which I’ve dubbed “hotel row”, the scenery went from big city hubbub to hotel front, after hotel front, after hotel front. Some entrances were as simple as wrought iron gates, or stone archways, while others were adorned with colorful designs of Mayan art. The most memorable entrance I saw had a massive water fountain wall display that was at least three stories tall, with a shallow, rectangular pool running the length of the wall. Hotel entrances lined both sides of the freeway and boasted heavily guarded check-in stations where legit credentials were necessary to enter the hotel property. Once inside the perimeter, the two-way road was skirted with vegetation and jungle on either side and was about a 7 minute drive from the entrance gate to the hotel doors. That’s about three Vegas blocks in (that’s about six regular street blocks for those who are not familiar with Vegas).

Upon reaching our fancy five-star, all-inclusive, 8-month old hotel, we were promptly greeted by extremely attentive, energetic bell boys who graciously took our bags just as we were handed cold hand towels along with refreshing cocktails. Now that’s service! From the moment we stepped through the lobby doors, we felt as if we were honored, royal guests staying at a modern day Mayan palace!

The hotel lobby had a striking, rustic charm, complete with a large central water fountain feature. On the vaulted ceiling, over-sized chandelier lanterns hung from exposed wood beams. The inviting, button-tufted leather sectional situated in the center of the room was surrounded by remnants of Holiday decorations, local art and accent pieces to add to the contemporary impression of the region.

The same look and feel can be seen throughout the common areas of the hotel along with the typical terrazzo (I presume for easy cleanup) as well as rich, warm woods to offset the crisp, hospital look. The front bar area had a very stately look with a menacing jaguar placed directly in the center of the bar counter complete with a sleek row of stools and pendent lighting. This room made you feel as if you should be smoking a cigar and playing a betting game of pool.

Our sleeping room was just as impressive with its modern décor and clean lines. It was equipped with a hydro spa tub conveniently located on the roomy balcony with picturesque panoramic views of the breathtaking OCEAN! Seriously, wow!! The hotel staff were also top notch and at our service 25/8. Our room was replenished multiple times on the daily with unlimited snacks, beverages and alcohol. Our snack basket was filled to the brim with the Mexican versions of chips, chocolate, pistachios, granola bars, etc. The refrigerator was also well stocked with water, local beer and soda. The liquor cabinet was continuously filled with wine, local tequila, vodka and rum. All included. ALL.DAY.LONG. #partytime

Since our vacation timing was post-Holidays and pre-Spring Break, our fellow hotel guests were an extremely quiet bunch with ages ranging between 40s to 50s. So quiet in fact that I labeled our three pools – quiet, quieter and quietest. I realized how boring everyone was when I saw an inflatable water volleyball court set up in the “quiet” pool where ZERO people played and ZERO people showed interested in anything but lying on lounge beds or chairs the entire week we were there. W.T.F. I wasn’t expecting a “girls gone wild” scenario, just some healthy competition or some form of sports exercise. Even though this made for very relaxing pool and beach time without the constant chatter and annoying, drunk kids to shoot the look of death at, alas it was still killing me inside. I prefer my vacations to be a healthy mix of being active and relaxation. This bunch wasn’t giving me the active portion I craved. Le sigh. :/ On the bright side, this really forced me to slow down and chill TF out.

Next up – FOOD! The hotel offered five versatile, upscale restaurants onsite which included the following cuisines: Italian, Yucatecan, Japanese, American fare and a café. The hotel also had 24/7 room service and the restaurants all kept late hours in which the café overlapped during odd hours so that you weren’t left starving in-between seatings. In addition to the restaurants and the café, they had an outdoor firebrick-oven restaurant near the pool area, where they offered made-to-order pizzas and tacos. So many tasty options!! None of this $8 half-can of Pringles or stashing sandwiches mid-day for this girl! Been there, done that.

That Mayan palace vibe continued throughout the hotel grounds and were just as jaw dropping on the outside as was the inside! From the beautifully landscaped terrace, to the natural trees and shrubs edging the hotel property, to the light and airy look and feel of the hotel’s architecture and layout. This made you feel as if time had slowed down. Where the sun clung to the clouds just a little longer, as if you were gifted an extra hour of relaxation in your day. There were no schedules, no commitments , no appointments or phone calls to make. Just you, the beach the sun and the ocean. Aaaaaahhhhhh…

Aside from the impressive lobby, spacious sleeping room, multiple pools, the variety of restaurants and the gorgeous grounds, the best feature in my opinion, was the MF BEACH! Our resort was nestled between an empty lot and another hotel which in turn made it expansive and underpopulated. The sand was soft and clean of debris (except for that fucking sharp shell!) and the water was sea-green and free of kelp. It was magazine perfect and postcard worthy. According to the locals, the weather was a bit “cold” while we were there. HA! Did they say cold? I would gladly take the 75-81 degree weather ANY DAY compared to the current (at that time) -10 with wind chill back home. They couldn’t even fathom that thought when we tried to explain it. The best I could do was say to picture Alaska for a visual and then know that if you went outside for 5 minutes with skin exposed, you’d die. How’s that for being dramatic!

The hotel was equipped with idiot staff to book off-site excursions and adventures as well as an on-site spa! Due to being extremely ill, we ended up with only a one day excursion and one day of relaxation. My relaxation included a half a day at the spa, while hubby’s comprised of a day on the golf course. Since he only took one picture and his ride was late, there wasn’t much of a story there, so I’ll just go ahead and tell you all about my spa day!

My spa experience started off with checking-in with the front desk and heading back to the women’s changing room to store my belongings in a locker. The terry cloth robe provided was EXTRA soft and fluffy, with pockets for my locker key and phone. They also brandished rubber sandal slides to use throughout my spa visit. With minimal Spanish/English translation and hand signals, I was led to a shower unit where I was to receive my tantalizing warm, steam shower. Little did I know that within the broken Spanish/English communication and hand signals back and forth between the spa employee and I, that at the end of my warm-hug shower was a shockingly COLD rinse! WTF! Not sure if that was to “close” my pores or to wake me up for the next step in my spa service. DAYUM GIRL! I wish I had understood what was to come as I shrieked with surprise when ice cold fucking water killed my warmth. I quickly exited the shower stall, completely covered in goose bumps and shivering. I looked up to see a few of the other spa occupants smirking in trying to hold back their laughter as they realized that I hadn’t seen that coming, either. Fuck OFF!! Why didn’t they have my back? I should have been warned! I then spotted the large Jacuzzi hot-tub, and rapidly hurried to ease myself into it (without cannon-balling) so I could get to get my body temp back to normal. I waited with glee as the next spa newbie was about to step into the shower unit. 😀 YOYO! You’re On Your Own! Suckaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Once my body temp was back to normal, I climbed out of the hot-tub and rinsed off in warm water, dried off and relaxed near a salt lamp on a tiled, lounge chair. After a few minutes of quiet rest, a spa employee was ready to take me back to a secondary waiting area, where we passed by lightly swinging, basket weave chairs and stepped into a overly cushioned space with a neutral color scheme for further relaxation. Just beyond the swinging chairs was an outdoor pool area where you can bask in the sun on lounge beds post-massage. Which was exactly what I did a few hours later.

After about 10 minutes of sipping on cucumber water and snacking on a banana, I was then escorted to one of the massage rooms where two therapists awaited to perform a 4-hand massage in tandem for 1 hour. This was the first time I’ve ever experienced this and would gladly do it again! They worked in perfect synchronization to loosen up tension in problematic areas in my neck and back. No weird issues in this massage room! HA! Strictly business, ma’am, strictly business.

My next service was a combination of a full-body exfoliation, wrap, massage and hydrating facial. This 2-hour treatment was located in a larger massage room down the hall which had a massage table, an over-sized shower stall, and a facial steam lamp. My service started out with a regular massage and then followed by two exfoliation scrubs which required you to shower in between. The spa provided a flimsy one-time use bikini tops and bottoms to wear during each exfoliation. The material was basically equivalent to super thick Viva paper towel with ribbed, elastic lining. The top wore like a bandeau while the bottoms were similar to full-coverage underwear. Not cute, but did it’s job. Next up was my facial! So I’ve had a few of these done, but never before had someone taken the time to remove all of my blackheads! OK, well just one in my case. It was pointed out to me that there were a few micro ones on my nose and she expertly took care of a large one on my face that I thought was just a skin irritation from too much sun. Super gross, but super thorough!

Pro-tip: Do not book a massage if you have acquired a sunburn. Especially if you are receiving a full-body exfoliation scrub – otherwise your scrub will feel similar to someone taking a cheese grater to your skin. Just sayin’.

Last but not least was the gorgeous, private lounge area to relax in post-massage. THIS was the best! I was the only one in this oasis for the duration of my time at the spa. It was quiet, serene and I had it all to myself. No sharing necessary. Woot!

All in all, this trip was an amazing 5-star vacation and I so wish I could live at this resort. Starting mornings off on a quiet beach with waves crashing, the sun peeking out through the distant horizon to gradually brighten your day. Better yet, ending your day with unlimited serene sunsets that leave you feeling peaceful, calm and relaxed. That’s the life. Now, who’s ready to vacation?! Let’s GO!

Next up – RIVIERA MAYA EXCURSION! See next blog, this post was turning into a fucking novel!