This week has been our busiest week of the trip. We began the week with a guided tour of the Tulum ruins. It is one of the newer cities of the ancient Maya empire. According to our guide, it was first settled about 200 BC, but never came to its own until just before 1500. Just in time to face the conquistadors from Spain. Tulum, Maya word for "wall." Is the only ancient Maya cities that was surround by thick walls. Only the elite royal and religious leaders lived within the walls, most of the other 10,000 citizens lived outside the walls. They were traders, farmers and fishermen. Like all the great Maya cities, they would add new layers to their plazas, new façades over existing buildings or build new additions to their temples every 52 years to coincide with the Maya short calendar because each new cycle was a new beginning.
Following our Tulum tour, we stopped by Xel Ha, an environmental park, for a well deserved afternoon of rest and fun. Even though we enjoy the all you can eat restaurants, we snorkeled, floated down the river in tubes, jumped off cliffs, crossed the rope bridge, and napped in hammocks, there was an educational piece too. Students learned despite millions of visitors every year, they park was environmentally friendly. They enforced the rules to use only bio-degradable sun block, composited their waste, recycled their plastics and had porous walkways.
On Wednesday, we venture across the Caribbean by ferry to the nearby island of Cozumel. We had guided snorkeling tour of three protected reef areas ranging from 15 to 40 feet deep. The water was very clear and the reef system seemed very healthy. Unlike Akumal, the reef areas were on the protected side of the island, were much deeper and the currents were much stronger. These factors help keep the reef waters clear of pollutants and algae. I also noticed that there were three large cruise ships at port in Cozumel. In inoder to better balance these large ships a sea, they take on large amounts of water. Before docking at the next port, they release the water. Often new species, like the lion fish, are introduced to new areas when the ships take on or release these waters. This important because the lion fish has no natural enemies and are becoming an increasing problem in Akumal Bay.
Friday we visited the Coba ruins and swam at a nearby cenoté. Our guide told us a story much different from our previous guides at the other ruins. He told us that the winners of the ball games were sacrificed. Our previous guides suggested that they were not actually sacrificed, but were symbolically sacrificed instead. No matter who you talk to, the truth is that we really don't know that much about the ancient Maya people.
After our tour, we went to the Tamcach-Ha Cenoté for a refreshing swim. This cenoté was about 40 feet underground in a cave. They had platforms mounted at 24 feet and 15 feet for guest to jump into the water. The water was anywhere from 15 to 40 foot deep. It was the most clear refreshing water we've seen so far.