Cozumel and Yucatan, March 2009
Arriving in Cozumel airport at 1:17pm, we grabbed our bags and headed for the shuttle ticket window. We paid the $7pp fee and were quickly loaded into a van on our way to Scuba Club Cozumel. After checking into the resort, we carried our bags up to Room 76, on the second floor next to the Dive Shop.
Our room was HUGE, comprised of a kingsized bed, a twin sized bed which we used for spreading out our camera gear and misc items, a counterspace with mini-fridge, empty water pitcher and cups, and a seating area with table, 2 chairs and counterspace nook. There was also a huge bathroom with double sinks, toilet, and shower. Through the sliding glass doors we had a balcony with table chairs and hanging rods on either end for drying gear. Wow! The decor at SCC has a definite Spanish flavor with painted tile accents, ceramic tile floor, and wrought iron lighting fixtures. The exterior of the buildings are white stucco with red tile roofing and with the turqoise water of the ocean, beautiful tropical plants, stairways winding here and there, the resort paints a lovely picture.
Our first stop was at the restaurant for lunch where we ordered a quick bite (we weren't hungry but it was several hours until dinner service). After eating, we headed to check in at the Dive Shop and fill out the mandatory paperwork and pay the Marine Park fee. An afternoon dive boat was loading up for a trip to the C-53 wreck. We had hoped to be on it but we hadn't even uppacked our dive gear yet so we passed on the trip and headed up to our room to grab money and Ron's rolling backpack. A 5-10 minute stroll is the store, Chedraui, and we needed to pick up a few things for the week. Ron found a styrofoam cooler to use as a rinse tank for his camera in the room. We also purchased beer, sodas, and juice for the fridge and put them into the rolling backpack for the walk back to the resort. Total spent: less than $20.
The dive lockers are located in two areas at the resort - right next to the Dive Shop and also down next to the pool/shore entry area. We grabbed our gear and a couple of padlocks we had brought from home, and headed down to the pool area to look for a few empty lockers. The resort was full this week but we did find a few lockers there for our gear. We returned our room for Ron to set up his camera gear, then downstairs to the Dive Shop to sign out tanks for a shore check-out dive and carried them back to our locker area.
Shore diving at SCC is so easy! There are benches right next to the stairway built into the dock. All you need to do is gear up and walk down the stairs and swim through a little tunnel area right out to the ocean. The water is 10-20' deep there in front of the SCC with lots of rubble making it easy to navigate and VERY easy to spend a full hour photographing all the fish and critters living there.
Dive 1: Shore Dive at SCC
As we entered the water we immediately were struck with the amount of fish and small animals so close to shore. Ron was trying out his new camera rig for the first time in the ocean and this was the perfect type of dive site for getting comfortable with it. Eels of several varieties, scorpionfish here and there including a tiny 2-3" long reef scorpionfish, blennies of every sort, cleaner shrimp, tiny crabs, all types of parrotfish and damselfish, an octopus, and several yellow stingrays made an appearance for us.
Dinner: Fiesta Night! Dinner service in the restaurant usually starts at 6pm, however, on Fiesta night the food and fun start out on the beachfront at 7pm. Large grills with charcoal cooked the steak chunks which were marinated in a combination of lime and chilies. The meat was then chopped and placed in a bowl. Other items on the two tables included quesadillas, tamales, tacos, guacamoles, red and green salsas.... lots and lots of yummy food. After about an hour, a large pinata was brought out and people were blindfolded and given a bat to swing at it. It was a fun way to end our first day but we were very tired and headed up to our room to crash early.
Morning coffee and tea is available starting at 6:30am at the restaurant and we both staggered over and fixed a cup. At 7am breakfast buffet service begins each day. Guests line up at the door, give their room number to the attendant and a menu is passed around for the dinner service options. The attendent then asks you if you will want the lunch special or will be ordering off the menu (lunch special is displayed on the front of the menu, always a Mexican option like chicken tacos or chili rellenos). Then you give her your dinner entree option for that evening. There are 3 options each night, usually a fish dish, a meat dish, and a chicken dish. There is also a Vegetarian option for both lunch and dinner. After giving your lunch and dinner choices, you proceed to the breakfast buffet. Each morning various types of eggs, breads, pancakes and french toast, meats like bacon or sausage, hash browns, and some mexican style foods are served to you. Then another bar area follows with large trays of various fresh fruits like bananas, watermelon, canteloupe, and mangos. Juices, milk, and yogurt are on another table. Needless to say, there are plenty of options for breakfast for even the pickiest of eaters. We both went for scrambled eggs and either muffins or pancakes and fruit each day.
After eating, we headed for the Dive Shop to view the dive boat assignment board. We were on the Observer dive boat with DM Alberto and crew Martin and Juan, along with 8 other divers. At 8am we loaded up on the boat and left the dock first. The Observer is one of the smaller boats at SCC but is not a small boat. There is a head, benches for sitting down in the shade, or an area up top with the boat captain to sit in the sun on the way out to the dive sites. The boat isn't fast, taking about an hour to reach the southern sites and quite noisy with the motor going but the ride out was comfortable.
Dive 1: Santa Rosa Reef
Alberto gave a quick dive briefing and we all did a backroll into the water and headed down to the reef. In our past 5 trips to Cozumel we had always dived this reef and it was one of our favorites because of the lovely wall full of color. Not so now. The reef showed much damage from hurricane Wilma 4 years ago. Sand covered the entire top section and only under the overhangs could we see the original beauty of the reef. Fishlife was almost non-existent, too. Though most of the deeper sites have fewer fish than the shallow sites, we were shocked to see so few fish. The reef seemed stark and quiet. There were 4-5 other dive boats in the area and divers were everwhere! Ron had his wide angle lens on the camera so he was able to shoot lots of pictures of the divers. Vis was good, at least 100'. Water temp was 79 degrees here and that was true for all our dives all week on Cozumel. Ron's hammerhead signal horn was leaking and before we knew it he was low on air so we ended the dive early.
Dive 2: Chankanaab Reef
All divers returned to the boat, we grabbed water and juice boxes from the cooler and the boat headed back up north to our second dive site. After a surface interval of an hour, most of which was spent on the transit, we all backrolled in again. This reef looked in much better shape than we expected after the last, deeper dive. Though not what it was Pre-Wilma, there was plenty of reef still exposed among the sand dunes and tons of fish. A large octopus was found but he quickly dashed into a hole. Parrotfish galore swam around us and we were lucky enough to find 2 scorpionfish. We ended this dive after 57 minutes and the boat headed back to the resort arriving just before 1pm.
After lunch we went down to the Dive Shop to discuss our plans for Saturday. We had booked cenote dives over on the Mainland for that day and wanted to ask if we could take our SCC am dives and switch those with afternoon dives another day. After explaining our issue, the guy basically told us that he couldn't help us out at all. Maybe if there was another afternoon dive to the C-53 or night boat dive but he didn't think there would be one for that Thurs, Fri, or Sunday. He wasn't very nice about it either and acted like we were stupid for even asking. That week there were 3 large groups at the resort who each had their own boats and went out for afternoon dives each day. We kept smiling and begging, telling him that we knew it wasn't they way things normally worked but we hoped he could please help us out. No way. He finally said he could put us on the afternoon 2-tk boat dive with one of those groups but he would charge us for it. After thinking about it for a few minutes and how the reefs had looked on our morning dives, we decided it wasn't worth it. So we would lose one day of diving at Cozumel on the boats but as far as we were concerned, it wasn't that big of a loss. We signed out tanks for a shore dive and went back to our room to set up the camera.
Dive 3: Shore dive at SCC
Once again we geared up and walked down the stairs at SCC and off we went for a nice long shore dive. Fish were everywhere! Angelfish of every size from tiny juvies to adults, yellow stingrays hunting, several varieties of parrotfish swam around us chomping on the rubble, and scorpionfish were lying on this rock and that rock. A pair of eels were seen including a sharptail eel out hunting with several wrasse hovering over him waiting for handouts. One pile of rubble yielded all types of crabs and anemones, a juvenile spotted drum, a spotted eel, arrow crabs, and brittlestars. Excellent dive! This area is perfect for photographers! Ron was able to practice with his camera and after reviewing the pictures from this dive, he was able to make some minor adjustments making much better photos in dives here later on in the week.
We returned to our rooms and showered and changed for dinner. The restaurant upstairs is a bit fancier than the breakfast/lunch area downstairs and seating is limited. With the resort full, we had a few minutes wait to get a table but soon enough we were seated. After appetizers were served, we told the waiter what we had ordered at breakfast - one Hawaiian Shrimp kabob, one Chicken in chipotle. The food arrived and both dishes were excellent. Dessert choices were cheesecake and strawberry mousse which we picked, but you could order ice cream from the lunch menu. Drinks are not included in the all-inclusive packages so at the end of the meal, you sign one ticket for your "included" items for dinner, then one ticket for the extras which are added to your bill which you pay at the end of the week. We finished dinner, returned to the room to get the laptop computer, and downloaded the days photos then e-mailed home. Internet service is free at SCC but you can only access it over at the breakfast/lunch eating area or by the pool tables. Each night and again before breakfast we e-mailed home to stay in touch with our daughter who was home attending college.
We awoke Friday morning to find the wind howling and seas looking very rough. After breakfast we loaded up our dive gear and waited for the tanks to get loaded onto the boat. The same group boarded the Observer and off we went to the first dive site. The wind was still blowing and seas were very rough. The boat bounced and rolled all the way out and we were all concerned if we would be able to get back onto the boat after the dive. A couple of divers decided to sit this one out for that reason.
Dive 1: Palancar Caves
This reef looked much better than the reefs on Thursday! Though there were some sand dunes, the coral and color were healthy. Several large groupers and a small turtle greeted us as we dropped over the reef and started weaving in and out of the swim-throughs. It was a wonderful dive but we surfaced in 4-5' seas and though we were signaling the boat, he couldn't see us. It took quite a while for the boat to pick everyone us because as soon as one person would get on the ladder, the other divers would be pushed away from the boat by the waves.
Dive 2: Tormentos Reef
Seas were still rough but we all backrolled in. Wow, we were again shocked by the reef damage. Tormentos used to be a long snaking reef, lush with coral and sponges but now the reef we were seeing was only patches of color surrounded by huge sand dunes. We knew all those sand dunes were covering the old reef. Sad, very very sad. I did get to see a mantis shrimp walking around out of his hole at one coral head before the current swept me away. More divers were here again and some of our group ended up mixed with another boat group for awhile. We surfaced again in rough seas and once again it was a long wait to get picked up as our boat was too far away and didn't see us. Another boat came over and asked which boat was ours, then went over and told them where we were.
For lunch we had chosen to order off the menu. We rinsed our gear and sat down out on the beachside seating area and ordered cheeseburgers and fries. Afterwards, we ordered coconut and vanilla ice creams. Yummmmmmm.
Dive 3: Shore dive at the SCC
Another awesome shore dive! Ron had reviewed his shore dive macro attempts from the previous days and now it seems he has the right settings. Excellent dive lasting over an hour.
Dinner: Onion soup or ceasar salad, Pescado ala Veracruz, Beef kabobs, or Penne, kalua flan or chocolate cake with ice cream.
Since Saturday was our day in the cenotes, we had to pack dive gear and camera gear so after our nightly e-mail home, we got busy and took the gear bags up to our room.
Today was our Cenote Adventure day so after eating breakfast we took a taxi down to the ferry dock to catch the 9am ferry to Playa del Carmen (140 pesos per person one way). We had contacted Nicholas at www.cenotexperience.com.mx the week before our trip to schedule the dives and he was there at the dock to meet us as planned. After a quick walk to where his truck was parked, we were off on the highway headed south. Nicholas is a Cave/Cavern dive guide got hooked on diving only 6 years ago and moved to the area in order to make a living doing it full time. Since we are both experienced divers, he decided that we should go ahead and dive a cenote that most of the dive ops do not take divers to see. The harbor at PDC had been closed for 3 days so he expected all the cenotes to be busy, but Dream Gates would not. This cenote was only opened to the public this past year and is quite pristine and highly decorated with stalagmites and stalagtites. After about 30 minute drive, we arrived at the entrance to the property and off we went down a bumpy dirt road. We finally arrived at the cenote which was gorgeous. The opening of the cenote was maybe 50-60' across and a metal staircase descended down to a wooden platform inside. A pulley rig on the side of the stairs is used there for lowering tanks in and out which was nice. It was really warm and muggy at the site and Nicholas told us that after about April, most cenote sites are unbearably hot and mosquitos attack like vultures. We were glad it wasn't summer!
Dive 1: Dream Gates-Upstream
After carrying our gear down the stairs and gearing up, we climbed into the cool water. Following Nicholas, we slowly descended into the opening and staying within sight of the line we entered the first large room in a series which loop around in a large circle. The exit opening was always in sight and we were never more than 25' deep for the entire dive. Wow! The formations from the roof of the cavern and formations all around the room were amazing and far more gorgeous than photos can ever capture. I was in awe of the beauty and spent the entire dive saying "wow" through my regulator. Some of the formations reached all the way to the floor and formed huge columns. Other formations looked like sculptures and others looked like skulls and faces. It was very cool and very eerie at the same time. We made a large circle and reached the beginning point then turned and went back through the site the other direction. This was the same place but looked completely different. Since the Rule of Thirds was in affect and Ron and I both were good on air, we had just reached the first third point when we hit the turn around point. We finished the dive with approx 1000psi and around 52 minutes underwater.
After the dive, we climbed up to the truck to eat the lunch Nicholas had provided - water, juice, and sub sandwiches. No restrooms are there at this site so the bushes are your friends. We spent about an hour topside chatting and Nicholas took us down a path to show us the two small eye holes which we would be seeing on the second dive. Both openings are only 2-3' across and one has a ladder leading out of it. We returned back to the truck and after switching out tanks, we geared up for the second dive. This dive started at the same area but lead around to another opening.
Dive 2: Dream Gates - Downstream
Entering the water at the same point, we swam around the collapsed area of the cenote to another opening. This section of the cenote is called "downstream" as this is the direction which the water is flowing towards to ocean. Though not quite as decorated as the first section, this dive had more color and a different feel to it. About halfway we entered the domed area with the two openings. We surfaced and removed our regs and admired the room which was much larger than we expected. Birds and bats were flying around inside the air dome and the water appeared greenish. Nicholas explained that the color comes from the decomposing plant life. After a few minutes we descended again and off into a huge room full of gorgeous stalagmites and stalagtites, columns and formations that looked like giant jellyfish to me. Wow! Tiny fish live in both areas of the cenote and followed us using our lights in order to hunt and eat tiny shrimp. Nicholas also stopped at one point to show us a blind fish that lives deep in the darkness of the cenotes. Once again we finished the dive with plenty of air and about 50 minutes underwater. Awesome, awesome, awesome dives!
For a more detailed description of the Cenote Day, and all the photos, go here: Diving the Cenotes, March 2009
After the dives we loaded up the truck and headed back down the bumpy dirt road. We arrived back at the ferry dock right at 3pm and made a run for the ferry ticket booth but they closed and wouldn't sell us tickets even though the ferry was still loading. Dang! There was no 4pm ferry so that meant we had to wait until 5pm for the next one. We bought tickets and sat and waited. We had planned to do a shore dive when we got back to SCC but it wasn't going to happen at this rate.
After the ferry trip and taxi, we arrived back at the resort and took our dive gear to our lockers to drop it off. We quickly changed clothes and then went to the restaurant for dinner. Saturday is usually checkout day at SCC so most of the divers from the week had left and a few new ones arrived. Dinner was soup or salad, a choice of fish in papalliote, stuffed chicken breast, or fettucini alfredo, carrot cake or strawberry mousse. We were both too tired to dive by this time, so we just e-mailed home then went back to the room to crash.
We were assigned to a different boat now, the Reef Star with Nestor and Jesus. This is a much larger boat and with so few divers at the resort, it was the only boat going out for the day. There were approx 15 divers so we were broken down into 2 groups, one group was to dive with Nestor and our group was to dive with Jesus. The groups were dropped into the water a few minutes apart which was nice.
Dive 1: Dalila Reef
Since all the divers on the boat had just arrived at the SCC on Saturday except us, the dive plan was to do an easier reef so the DMs could check people's skills. The Reef Star boat is much bigger and roomier than the Observer, with several tables for gear. Ron was able to set up his camera rig on one table and cover it with a towel we had brought from home, this way he could dry off the port between dives. Very nice! There was also a big head and plenty of room up top to sit and relax. The boat wasn't as noisy either which was a huge improvement. We really did like this boat much better. Since the boat is bigger, entry into the water was by giant stride off the back. We jumped in right behind our DM Jesus, and headed down to the reef. This reef looked pretty good and we were immediately met by several groupers. One of the fish we saw in greatest numbers here were smooth trunkfish - they were everywhere, and not just one or two but groups of 3-4 or more at a time. We also found the tail of a large green moray but couldn't find his head which was buried back inside the reef. Seas were much calmer than Friday so it was easier to get back on the boat. Also the boat crew was better on this boat as when Ron handed up his camera, it was immediately taken over to the hose to rinse it off before putting it into the camera dunk tank (which was also much larger than the bucket used on the Observer).
Dive 2: Paradise Reef
Jesus had briefed us that he would find us a toadfish and seahorses on this dive and he delivered on his promise. I found the first splendid toadfish right after we dropped in and a few feet away Jesus found another one. He also found a pipehorse and an orange seahorse along with a juvie filefish that was adorable! The reef looked very good considering how shallow it is and we really didn't want to return to the boat as there was so much fishlife here. Great dive.
Lunch special today was chicken tostados and they were excellent! After eating those we ordered mroe ice cream and a couple of Coke Lights, then headed to the Dive Shop to get tanks for a shore dive.
Dive 3: Shore dive at SCC
Another excellent shore dive of over an hour with tons of juvie fish along with the eels, scorpionfish, yellow rays, and baby drums seen on previous dives here. One eel we saw out hunting was solid white with no spots and the body type of a sharptail eel. There was also a group of 5 large permits swimming around under the pier which was unusual. The old collapsed pier area has large blocks of concrete and several Sgt. Majors were there guarding eggs. Ron shot some pictures and you can see the babies inside. Waaaay cool!
Dive 4: Night Shore dive at SCC
We finally got to do a shore night dive and it was worth the wait. We got in just as the sun was setting so we got to see all the parrotfish settling in to sleep and all the other fish coming out to hunt. Ron got some nice shots of the orangeball coralimorph in front of the entry passage, too. Great Dive!
Dinner: Corn soup or salad, BBQ shrimp wrapped in bacon, Beef Tips Mexicana, or pasta, chocolate pie or pineapple cake. Very good.
A few more groups of divers had arrived at SCC, so more than one boat would be going out today. We checked the assignment board right after breakfast and found we were on the ReefStar again with most of the same divers. We had ordered 32% nitrox tanks for this day so we analyzed them and set our gear out by the dock. This was going to be a hectic day as we had plans for the afternooon. As soon as the boat returned, we were eating a quick lunch then heading down to the ferry dock again. This time we were to meet a car rental agent though as we were driving ourselves to Piste. Our plans were to arrive in Playa del Carmen on the 3pm ferry. More about that later...
Dive 1: Columbia Reef
After boarding the boat, Jesus and Nestor told us that we were heading 1+ hours south to Columbia today. This reef is our hands down favorite, or it used to be, and we were excited to be doing it. The reef topography includes enormous pinnacles and divers swim around them, sort or like scuba diving through a mountain range. It is deep, but very cool. We arrived at the dive site and after our briefing, all headed down to the sand first before dropping over the edge. We were shocked to see garden eels out over the sand here! We have never seen garden eels in Cozumel. We proceeded over the top of the wall and found a turtle sitting there eating and relaxing. Then we all droppped over and started weaving in and out, it was just as gorgeous as we had remembered. Near the end of the dive a large nurse shark was found under a ledge but as soon as divers crowded around, it swam off at top speed. As the dive neared the end, the group left the outer rim and headed over the sand towards Columbia Shallows area. Yuck! Sand and more sand covering the reef was all we saw. It was very sad. This used to be a gorgeous, lush shallow reef full of life but no more...We surfaced and once again had to float at the surface for awhile as we waited for the boat to see us and pick us up.
Dive 2: Tormentos Reef
Sigh! We had done this reef earlier in the week and were very disappointed with its condition. As we arrived at the site, we noticed about a dozen other boats. Since we had hoped to get back to the SCC dock by 1pm as usual, we soon realized it wasn't going to happen. Our boat waited until all the other boats put their divers into the water and then we started gearing up. The current was heading in the opposite direction from normal, so we dropped in at an area that looked pretty good. We were immediately struck by the difference in this part of the reef as opposed to the part we had dove earlier. There was plenty of coral here, looking pretty healthy, mild current, and lots of fish. A spotted eel was found, along with several varieties of filefish, all over one coral head waiting to get cleaned. We also found several lobsters, yellowheaded jawfish in the sand and a large southern stingray. Since we had been using nitrox for the first dive, we knew we could get a longer bottom time here but it wasn't quite what we expected. Robin hit deco without even noticing ~oops~ and had to do a long safety stop as all the others boarded the boat.
We returned to the dock at 1:30pm and rushed to get gear rinsed and sitting out in sun on our balcony. We ate quickly and since we had packed the night before, grabbed our bags (containing only our cameras and a change of clothes, toiletries, etc) and jumped into a taxi at 2:30pm. We arrived at the pier and ran up to the window... oh no! There was no 3pm ferry! The next ferry was 4pm. Rats. Ron grabbed his cell phone and called the car rental company in PDC to let them know not to meet us at the dock until an hour later than scheduled. We bought our tickets then sat to wait. Once we arrived in PDC, the agent met us and walked us block after block to a car. Then we drove right back by the dock and the opposite direction to the Rental Office. When we arrived, finally, paperwork was done and at 5:05pm we were finally on the road for our 3 hour drive to Piste. Luckily, we had bought the maps at www.cancunmap.com of PDC and Mayan Adventures which gave us all the information we needed. Gas stations are marked on the map so we stopped to fill up before getting onto the tollroad just south of Cancun, and headed west towards Piste. Tolls were 267 pesos from the entry until exiting at Piste and we arrived at our hotel just after 8pm.
Villas Archeologicas is one of three hotels sitting right next to Chichen Itza and we had booked online a week before our trip. Rate was around $80per night and we found the hotel to be quaint and lovely, decorated with Mayan art and huge trees growing right through the buildings and grounds. The restaurant was still open and we were hungry so we dropped our bags in our room and headed out by the pool in the center atrium. The restaurant is actually surrounded by the pool on 3 sides and open-air under large thatched roofs. Several other travelers were out there also, eating and drinking and relaxing. The front desk gave us a password for the internet access, so we got the laptop going and e-mailed home to let our daughter know we had arrived in Piste. For dinner we ordered 2 kinds of quesadillas and beers, and a couple of large water bottles. Food was excellent and much spicer that we had gotten in Cozumel which made us both happy. Since we live in New Mexico, we are used to very spicy food so it really hit the spot.
We awoke early, and walked around the grounds as the sun came up, taking pictures of the hotel. At 7am breakfast service began. We ordered the "breakfast Americana" which consisted of plates of fresh fruit, fresh breads, eggs, fresh squeezed juice, and coffee. Other guests soon arrived and it was obvious that the hotel was not full. A few groups of Americans and another group of young men speaking French and English were there. After eating we checked out of the hotel and drove around to the front entrance of Chichen Itza. If we were staying at the hotel more than one day, we would have just walked as there is a back gate by the three hotels. But since we would be leaving around lunch we decided to park in the main parking lot so we had quicker access to the highway.
As soon as we paid the $1 parking fee and parked the car in a shady spot, a man approached the car. "Do you need a guide?" We weren't even out of the car and already felt a bit overwhelmed. We got out and grabbed our cameras and the man persisted. We stopped to chat with him, saw that he had an official guide ID around his neck, and agreed to go to the front door with him. After paying 222pesos fee at the Chichen Itza gate, Feilipe offered to give us his free orientation, then we could hire him or not. Five minutes after he began we were hooked. Felipe was wonderful and gave us the tour of a lifetime. He didn't spin the BS stories, he just gave us the facts, then told us what some of the theories are, then we would chat about what we thought was the most logical reason. He had a briefcase full of photos and drawings, showing the excavations, what was found, what it probably looked like before and what each of the carvings would look like restored and what they meant.
Since we arrived at Chichen Itza as it was opening at 9am, the sun was not blasting yet. It was a bit windy too which helped cool us off. We walked and talked and walked and talked for 2+ hours. Vendors line every walkway and approach you every time you stop. If you go, be prepared to be dazzled and annoyed. The goods being sold ranged from t-shirts to handmade linens to intricate carved objects and storyboards. There is also an official vendor area outside the park as you leave so if you want, you can wait until you exit to make purchases though I think inside the park is more of a selection.
By 11am it was blazing hot and the wind had stopped. The park had been pretty deserted with only maybe 100 people strewn all over the massive grounds (including all the guests we had just seen at breakfast at our hotel) up until this point but buses began to arrive and thousands of people began pouring into the park. Most people had guides with them which is the ONLY way to do this incredible site. There is no way you can really see and appreciate the park without a trained guide. Filipe really brought the whole experience to life for us and it was well worth the 600 peso charge. Guides are available in English, Spanish, Italian, German, and Mayan at the front entrance desk.
After the full tour, we paid Felipe and gave him a nice tip, too. He was wonderful! He gave us his card so we can use him again when we go back with our daughter. We will go back, too. It was everything and more than we expected. (to contact Felipe personally: firstname.lastname@example.org) Next time here we will stay a few days in the area, visiting all the other ruins in the area including Ek Balam and the cenotes in the tiny villages. If you go to the area, be sure to stop at a few cenotes as these are the primary source of income for many of these villages.
Around 11:30am we left the grounds, bought a wood carving and a t-shirt and off in the car we went down the free highway towards Valladolid. This roads passes numerous small villages and if we had time we would have stopped but we had to make it back to Cozumel. We stopped in Valladolid at Zaci Cenote Restaurant for lunch which is a large thatched roof open-air place overlooking a large cenote right in the middle of town. (see the Map mentioned above for more info) Our entire lunch of Chochinita pibil and pollo pibil with 5 different salsas and 2 Coke Lights came to only 180 pesos. Service was excellent and the view amazing. We wanted to stay and actually do the tour down into the cenote (extra $) but we didn't have time, so we headed off to the entry to the tollroad. We arrived back in Playa around 3:30pm and headed to the ferry pier. Oh great, not again... no ferry until 5pm! What the F#@&^ is up with the ferry schedule? Can't they run them on a regular schedule?
We arrived back at SCC, got changed then headed up to the restaurant for dinner at 6pm. Since we had not been at breakfast that day, we hadn't ordered dinner. We were told the day before it would be fine, but as soon as we told the waiter he went running off to the kitchen to get approval. WTF? We were in an all-inclusive and hadn't eaten several meals there because of our travels to the mainland and now they were going to give us heck for showing up to dinner when we hadn't even been on the island all day? The waiter finally returned and said it was okay. We ordered the seafood platter and the chicken parmesan which was some of the worst food we had gotten all week but the salad was excellent. Food had been very inconsistent all week - some days very good, others not so good. We found that the food tended to be bland and underseasoned overall and not as good as food we had eaten in our past trips to Cozumel. I guess that goes with Americanizing the menu but as lovely as the food looked when delivered on the plate, it just didn't deliver on taste.
After dinner we headed back to our room to start the grueling task of packing. It would have been nice to sit outdoors and drink a few Margaritas... but oh well. By 9pm we were done packing but too tired to do anything but crash for the night.
Check out and travel day! After a big breakfast we headed downtown for some last minute shopping. We returned to the resort and ordered a last Coke Light and some coconut ice cream while we sat on the deck in the ocean breeze. Then we grabbed our bags, dropped off our tips in the front drop box, and checked out. The doorman had a taxi waiting for us and off to the airport we went.
It was a trip full of highs and lows. The highs were the cenote dives and the trip to Chichen Itza. The lows included some of the reef dives in Cozumel which seemed more like sand dunes than coral.