We will have our tour to Sian Ka'an biosphere today, but first we have to get to Tulum from Playa (common nickname for Playa Del Carmen). There is an express bus to Tulum that leaves at 7 am and arrives in Tulum at 8, but we want a bit flexibility since we do not need to be at the tour office by 8:30 am. Hence, we catch a collectivo ride. The cost is half of that of an express bus ticket (40 pesos). Collectivo is a minivan that takes you from one city to another in Quintana Roo. I have heard that there are many collectivos stand within Playa. The collectivos that can get you to Tulum from Playa are stationed at Calle2, Ave 15.
The ride takes about 1 hour, about the same time it takes if you go with an express bus, but it makes quite a few stops along the way to drop-off or pick-up people. Sometimes the collective does not just stop at the side of the highway that connects Tulum and Playa, but it goes a few blocks in. Since I do not know what to expect in the beginning, the first few stops get me a bit paranoid lest the trip takes too long and we miss our tour. In the end though, everything is fine.
When we get to Sian Ka'an tour office, we are told that the Punta Allen Eco Adventure tour is cancelled because it's too windy and there are high waves. Access to the lagoon is limited to smaller boat, and with such winds and waves, it will be too dangerous to go to the open sea. Refusing to be disappointed, we decide to take the Muyil Forest and Canal tour, also in Sian Ka'an. The tour is operated by a Co-Op called Community of Sian Ka'an. This co-op is 100% run by Mayan people who live in Sian Ka'an. Part of the tour revenue goes to preservation of the biosphere and the improvement of the Mayan people who live there. We are excited about the trip to begin with, but after we know that we also indirectly contribute to the betterment of the community there, it feels even better. :)
Our first stop is Muyil forest. There we see the natural jungle in Yucatan peninsula, the wild animals and plants. We see some spines of porcupines from a few days ago, as we were told by our guide, Alberto. He saw a small jaguar tried to hunt a porcupine and failed in its attempt. That's why we saw the left-over spines on the trails. We also saw plants and seeds that the Mayan people use for their daily life -- some kind of seeds that smell like bubble gum that Mayan people use as detergent, and some leaves for their veggie. The veggie leaves smell like kafir lime leaves. I actually chew and eat it too.
In Muyil forest, we also see a Mayan few ruins, albeit smaller in scale to the one we will see in Tulum or Chichen Itza. Alberto, our guide, tells us various theories on why the entrance to the structures is so short. Some people think that Mayan people are short. That's possible but it would mean they are all dwarfs because the openings are just about a meter high. The more plausible explanation is that the door is designed in such as way as a defensive mechanism for the people inhabiting the place. If the door is so short, then visitors will have to duck to enter the site. If the visitor is an uninvited guests, then it's occupant can launch an unchallenged attacks to the intruder. Makes sense...
After visiting the ruins, we also walk through the jungle. It is a good 15 to 20 minutes walk, and we stop at a marshland. On the way, we also stop at a lookout point where we can climb a watch tower, probably about 4-story high. The walk up has to be done through a rickety (ok, more stable than the word I choose) permanent ladder, and it's very windy at the top platform of the watch tower, but we have a good view of the marshland and the jungle that we just crossed.
By the marshland, we are served with fruit salad topped with coconut slivers while waiting for our boat to the Muyil canal. The Mayan build quite a few canals to connect the inner side of the marshland to the sea so that they can trade with other Mayan from different regions. In this canal we will be floating away our rest of the day. Can't wait...
From one side of the marshland, the boat takes us across what appears to be a big lake, and then we arrive at a canal. We slowly cut through the canal with our boat, and we see another big lake. After crossing this second big lake, we see another canal. Over here is where we will float our way towards the carribean sea. The canal is not very deep. For the most part, I could pretty much stand up straight and only have about 2/3 of my body in the water. However, you see a lot of plants and animals in this ecosystem like various kind of egrets, various kind of fishes, wild orchids, etc. It's a very windy day today, but when we float in the canal, we don't feel the wind at all, although we can hear it. When I float face up, I can see the tall grasses of the marshlands, flying birds, water and winds sound in my ears. It feels very surreal.
Before we finish our trip, we are taken to an open top cenote in Sian Ka'an. Cenote is pretty much a sinkhole that collects fresh water. It usually happens when rain water or underground river erodes the limestones that is pretty much what makes up the Yucatan peninsula. This cenote is very deep. There is at least one spot where one can jump into this "abyss" from about 7-8 meter high, and when I jump in, I cannot even feel the bottom. However, when you see into the cenote from above the surface, the water is so clear that you can see the rocks and stones at the bottom. I could even see some of the scuba divers scouting the bottom of the cenotes. Although the outside air is pretty warm, the water in the cenote is quite cold to put it mildly. I am not sure if a rash guard or wetsuit will be an overkill, but it might be an option you want to consider.
After the tour, we are dropped off at the Sian Kaan Tour main office in Tulum Centro (downtown Tulum). We decide not to have our dinner at Charlie's (see schedule). We opt for a dinner in Playa Del Carmen and a second attempt to see the fire dance at Blue Parrot Club there. So we walked to the bus station, and stop by a fruit/veggie store and got a couple of champange mangoes for just 8 pesos. Pretty good deal. The bus ride back to Playa from Tulum Centro is 88 Pesos for each person. It is a bit costlier than that of Collectivo, but it is roomier.
In Playa, we decide to go for some humbler establishments for dinner. We go to El Fogon. We got lost on the way, but are helped by a passerby. She recommends us to a different place (<name here>) however. We try this place, and it sells fantastic sopa de lima (chicken lime soup). Then we go to El Fogon for some for taquitos and some more beer. They are very good, and the best of all is that the entire things do not cost more than 7 USD for both of us. Whoa, talking about dining on a budget.
At night we stop by Blue Parrot for the fire dance. Blue Parrot is an "Institution" in Playa, and some say that a visit to Playa is not complete without a visit to Blue Parrot. The fire dance really lives up to its name. It is quite a fascinating 20 minute show. BTW, be prepared to give some tips to the dancers. Apparently Blue Parrot is not paying for these dancers. They are indy dancers.