Gaining Perspective At Chichen Itza and Coba

After the launch of the Rickshaw Run Diaries, I was suffering from a serious social media-hangover. The cure? Renting a car and driving three hours to the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza in the neighbouring state of Yucatán.

Marvelling at the ruins of an ancient civilization would be good for putting things into perspective, to realise how small and fleeting my life is (in a non-depressing kind of way of course).

Since I take myself and the things I do far too seriously most of the time (like writing this post, it’s a VERY serious business, you know), I like to occasionally be reminded of how small and insignificant I really am. It helps keep my ginormous ego at bay, as well as the fear and insecurity that arises from said ginormous ego.

The Road to Chichen Itza

Map Yucatan Quintana Roo

We left before sunrise, not a difficult undertaking since we had been rising super early in Mexico. After a pit-stop at a roadhouse restaurant, where we dined on cheese filled empanadas with spicy sauce (at 7am!), we pulled into the town of Piste, drove straight through it and arrived at the entrance of Chichen Itza.

It was around 830. The place opened at 8, and we had read that the tour buses wouldn’t arrive until 1030. Perfect.

There was a slight chill in the misty air as we entered the complex. Short weathered men scurried around with rakes and shovels as though preparing a stage set prior to a performance. Men and women unwrapped ceramic Mayan calendars and vibrantly painted skulls from protective paper packaging, their daily ritual as stall holders here.

Guides in crisp white shirts and the requisite ID cards slung around their necks (proof of their international tour guide accreditation no doubt) hung around in a group, and thankfully, left us pretty much alone. Fumbling around on my phone with a free downloaded guide to the site must have been a dead give away that I was TIGHT.

So we wandered around the expansive grounds for the first hour unencumbered by the usual accoutrements of culturally significant sites: crowds and touts. It was lovely. Since I didn’t have the patience for the digital guide (attention span of a gnat), I simply enjoyed walking among the shady trees and occasionally going “oh cool” and “really?” when Tyrhone threw out tidbits of information.

Chichen Itsza

Me and the fellas

A few tour groups had begun to flow into the grounds. We passed some of them ogling a Mayan mud-hut, and I had the pleasure of hearing Tyrhone utter the most surprising sentence, “That terribly unfashionable woman in the long black socks has a wind-up camera.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. In between a historical narration of Mayan life, it was the wind-up camera that most caught his attention. The unfortunate state of her dress was merely a side-note, and would have gone completely unnoticed, if not for her outdated piece of image recording equipment (as does anything I ever wear, sometimes I think I could wear a cardboard jumpsuit and he’d say ‘yes, you look nice’).

After having a good old laugh (more at Tyrhone than the poor lady), and thinking I’d shacked up with Sheldon from Big Bang Theory for the day, I sat on a rock in the shade for a while, whilst the source of my amusement photographed Iguanas.

The place had turned into a veritable marketplace by this stage. Strong young men hauled crates of souvenirs over the rope-barriers of ‘restricted’ areas. I thought, “Well, I guess they think, this is my city, I can do what I like.” I imagined what it must be like to know that your direct ancestors built this place where they worshipped the water Gods and played ridiculously difficult ball-sports, sacrificing virgins on these very crumbling alters.

I don’t know what my ancestors did besides terrorise the indigenous people of Australia. Not exactly the stuff of legend.

As we made our way out of the exit turnstiles, the crowds were just arriving. It felt so good to be going in the other direction as the day was heating up, to retreat to the icy-cold air conditioning of the hire-car. But not before taking a few snaps of these very eager hat-sellers:

The juxtaposition of the ancient ruined city and the modern-day economy resulting thereof was not lost on me. I don’t suppose their ancestors considered that these impressive pyramids and temples would provide an income for people fifteen hundred years into the future, they just wanted to appease the Gods. Maybe they did…

I guess we will never know the effect we have on the future. For all I know, this laptop will be unearthed from the sands of Playa del Carmen, long after I’ve said adios to my leathery, weather-beaten body. They’ll enter the url of my blog into the outdated browser as if unfurling some sort of ancient scroll, and marvel at the primitive arrangement of letters into unrecognisable hieroglyphs.

I think they called them ‘words’, one will say (the language of LOLs, OMFGs and emoticons being the only mode of written communication by then).

Laughing = Happy

Frown = Sad

Wink  = Cheeky

Tongue Out  = Drunk

Yell  = Constipated

From Chichen Itza To Coba

We made our way to Coba via the lovely colonial town of Valladolid. Children shovelled sweetened shaved ice into parched mouths on the way home from school, and men chatted in the shade of sturdy trees in a small town square framed by pastel coloured buildings.

We wandered through the cool stucco sanctum of a Catholic church with five-story high vaulted ceilings, then sat in the square eating fast-melting ice-creams before retreating back to the car. The heat of the day prevented us from doing much exploring, we had read there was a Cenote (water-filled cave) nearby and we needed to cool off.

Never did we imagine that the unassuming facade of this barely signed Cenote would be keeping such an impressive secret!

A damp stone staircase led down a narrow passage and opened out into a magnificent lagoon, cradled by rock and dripping with green vegetation. Paradise!

After swimming in the cool clear waters of the lagoon, jumping from ridiculously high ledges (Tyrhone) and having the living shit scared out of us by a high-diving Iguana with a personality disorder (who was convinced he was a cliff diver from Acapulco named ‘Eduardo’),  we returned to the car and headed for the second ancient city on our itinerary, Coba.

Note: This is not actually Eduardo. This is his cousin Juan, who resides at Chichen Itsza. He believes he is a Mayan king and spends his days sacrificing Iguana virgins…

“Now there’s a place I might be able to relate to,” I said to Tyrhone in an overtly Australian accent, “Howzitgawen Cobba?!”

He didn’t laugh.

Neither did I when we were waved down at a Police checkpoint, about 10KM out of Coba. I’d read about dodgy cops in these parts (i.e Mexico) and was pretty sure we had all our bases covered; papers, licenses, registration. The police officer perused each one with great care.

“Hablas Espanol?” he asked, already knowing the answer by our strained expressions.

“No, Ingles,” I replied with a nervous laugh.

“Ingles,” he repeated, mulling this new information over. “Passport?” He took a stab.

“No passport senor,” I answered. We thought they’d be better off in the safe at home.

“No passport?!” he reeled in mock horror, eyes widening as the edges of his mouth curled upwards. He looked like a cat stalking a mouse, coming in for the final kill.

I explained that we were just out for the day, staying in Playa del Carmen in the neighbouring state of Quintana Roo .

He shook his chubby head. “Big problem, Yucatan, big problem. Must pay infraction, sixty-five dollars,” he informed us, rolling the ‘r’ in ‘dollars’ like a now-contented cat who just devoured that poor bloody mouse.

Now remember how I said I was tight? Well I am in fact so tight, that the thought of handing over even a single peso to this slimy hombre made me want to risk a night in the Mexican slammer.

I felt like saying, “I’ve watched Get the Gringo, I’ll Mel Gibson that shit!”

But I didn’t. Instead, I called his bluff.

I stared Tyrhone down as his hand flinched to reach for his wallet, and I told the Police officer we didn’t have the money. I asked him to write down this ‘infraction’ and we would pay it when we returned to Playa del Carmen.

“No cannot pay in Quintana Roo, must go to Merida,” he double-dared me, testing how far I was willing to go.

“That’s six hour’s away!” I scoffed, “We’re not going to Merida, we’ll pay it in Playa del Carmen when we return.”

There was a few minutes of this, back and forth, “Must pay in Merida, cannot pay in Quintana Roo,” with me silent, staring ahead, having no idea what my next move would be.

“Okay but next time must bring passport,” he quickly muttered, surrendering and handing back our papers as I almost caught his double chin in the window I was furiously winding up.

“Go! go!” I hissed to Tyrhone through a clenched jaw, my calm expression betraying my elation.

We won! I didn’t look back.


It started pissing with rain after we bought our tickets to the ancient ruins of Coba. We saw it as an opportunity to whizz around the expansive grounds on hired bicycles, covering the whole place, including a sprint to the top of the biggest pyramid in an hour-and-a-half flat.  My kind of sightseeing!

It was late in the day, 330pm and the place closed at 5pm. We sped through the quiet streets of Coba like BMX bandits, laughing into the rain as it whipped our faces. After scaling the biggest pyramid far more easily than I expected, I surveyed the green expanse stretching towards the horizon. A silver lightning bolt speared through the thick grey cloud, and the chance of a lightning strike atop an ancient ceremonial tower made me feel totally badass.

Okay, I said I ‘felt’ badass, didn’t say I was…

Now I’ve just gotta get down…

Add to that my gutsy brush with the law, and rather than feeling small and insignificant in the face of such historic grandeur, I felt totally fucking awesome.

Not exactly the perspective I’d expected to gain from the day, but as always, just what I needed.

Another lame attempt at badassness…


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Gaining Perspective At Chichen Itza and Coba — 13 Comments

  1. I would say your run-in with the law definitely makes you bad-ass! I definitely haven’t been traveling long enough to have the stones to face down authority figures! I am such a scaredy cat about getting into trouble that I likely would have paid the $65… so glad you didn’t get scammed!

    And also, I am really excited to hear more about your India adventures! I wanted to comment earlier, but we have been in China, where the internet has been sketchy at best…

  2. OMG, you are BRAVE!!! That badass photo in the last frame suits you- you earned it! Make sure to bring those guts to India :)

  3. That cop could have busted you for not having your passport. So, it was a ballsy move on your part to not give him anything. But, they don’t want bad publicity, so it wouldn’t have been cool for him to bust a couple of gringo looking travelers. I don’t like to carry my passport around. After entering a land, I make a couple of double-sided copies, one side with the passport page, the other with the stamp or visa. I prefer to carry one copy of that around, but haven’t been asked for ID anywhere yet, nor have I rented a car.

  4. When we got home we told our land lord and he said it was crap. We usually have copies on our phones but we got new ones and forgot. Sometimes your instincts tell you something aint right, if it was a real law he could have written out a fine, but since he was just trying to extort money from us, he didn’t! Will def carry a copy next time though! Thanks Mike!

  5. I loved reading this Sarah – you made me laugh out loud so many times! Eduardo and Juan was a stroke of comic genius! So glad you are enjoying Mexico, it certainly seems to be bringing out the best in you. Oh, and you are totally badass my friend. I hope we don’t have any run-ins with the law in India, but if we do, I won’t worry :)

    • Thanks Han, glad you like Eduardo and Juan, they were my favourites too (if I do say so myself!). Hopefully we won’t have to deal with any more corrupt cops, but if we do, I’m on it girl!!!

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