FRIDAY: A look at the cruise ship schedule for Cozumel today had me reaching for the smelling salts. The island, off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is slightly smaller than the Isle of Man, and it was about to welcome almost 20,000 passengers for the day, with Seven Seas Navigator, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Spirit, Ryndam, Carnival Conquest and Mariner of the Seas lining up with Allure.
I needn’t have worried. This is a place quite used to dealing with tourists in such numbers – it does so with lucrative frequency. In any case, as we are booked on an excursion to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, we ‘re walking straight from the gangway to get on another vessel – the ferry to the mainland.
An hour later we are stepping ashore at Playa del Carmen and boarding a coach for the 50-minute drive to Tulum, following an arrow-straight four-lane highway down the coast.
The coach park is a good 15-minute walk from the entrance to the ruins and Blackbeard in particular is keen to get moving. But he has not allowed for the needs of the other passengers on the bus. Let him explain:
“Our tour guide was kind enough to direct us to the rest rooms, conveniently located inside an extensive souvenir shop. He gave us 20 minutes to “freshen up,” which equated to a quick loo break and 18 minutes of avoiding the overly keen salespeople … Not impressed.”
We eventually make it into the site, which is a walled city which was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries, and survived for about 70 years after the Spanish occupation of Mexico.
While it doesn’t possess anything as extensive as the temples and pyramids of Chichen Itza – which was also available as a 10-hour tour option from Allure – the ruins are impressively solid, standing four-square on the cliff-top site, guarding a break in the off-shore reef which probably allowed boats to come up the beach for trading.
The squat doors to the remaining temple buildings hint that the Mayans were not a tall race, but that doesn’t explain why they were fond of carving upside-down figures in their frescoes; one is explained as the Temple of the Descending (or diving) God.
Strange. Although maybe not quite as strange as the belief that because the Mayan calendar ends this year, it means they predicted the world would end in 2012. To be fair, it would have been something to tell the grandchildren about if the world had actually ended while I am visiting a Mayan city. If you see what I mean.
The only problem with touring popular sites like Tulum on an excursion like this is that you are not alone. The population of this ancient city was only about 1,000 at its height – partly due to the culture’s fondness for human sacrifice – and there are way more than that many people here today.
There are so many other visitors that it’s difficult to get a clear view of the ancient stones, you get held up behind families with baby buggies on the paths, and it’s impossible to get a clear shot for a photograph. It’s also midday, and the Caribbean sun is getting relentlessly hot. I toy with the idea of bringing back child sacrifice, but think better of it.
After little more than two hours among the ruins, the prospect of returning to the air-conditioned bus is a welcoming one. So before long we are back on the highway, tucking into the packed lunches provided from the ship – if you can call a sachet of long-life tuna and a handful of crackers “lunch.”
There’s some disquiet among the passengers when they realise that instead of delivering us back to the International Cruise Terminal where Allure is berthed, the ferry will take us to Cozumel’s down town shopping area.
Not a problem as far as I’m concerned, although given my views on the sort of shops designed to cater for 20,000 cruise passengers a day, it’s a bit masochistic of me to say so. Russell is keen to grab an authentic Mexican souvenir, and he finds it in the shape of a garish yellow and red wrestler’s mask. Result, by a knock-out!
A $7 taxi ride delivers us to the cruise terminal where, for the first time, we find ourselves queuing to get back onto the ship. It’s as if Allure’s 6,000 passengers and the 3,200 from Mariner of the Seas – not to mention the lucky crew members who spent the afternoon drinking at the Crazy Frog bar – have all decided to return to the pier at once, overwhelming the security staff.
Dinner tonight is a meat feast in Chops Grille, only to be outdone by the barbecue bonanza coming up on Saturday in the Samba Grill. More about that, and some of Allure’s entertainment, later.