So far my day trip out of Merida was going swimmingly well. The Bennett family and I started our day with ridiculously good tacos at Wayan’e, which I liked so much that I had an entire post about them. And it was because I dedicated an entire post to those tacos that writing about my one day excursion turned into so many parts. We went to Acanceh and Mayapan after leaving the city of Merida, and I would have considered our trip a big success if we’d returned back home after visiting those wonderful places. But somehow all those Mayan gods must have been watching over us because there was more for us to do just around the corner.
A tour guide in Merida recently told me that there are over 1,600 registered sinkholes in the state of Yucatan. Scientists say a large meteor struck the Yucatan peninsula in/around a town called Chicxulub north of Merida about 65 million years ago, the impact of which created thousands of caves and underground sinkholes here (they also believe this meteor killed all the dinosaurs but clearly that’s another story). As we were leaving the ruins of Mayapan all hot and sticky, we thought how nice it would be to find one of these sinkholes nearby and take a quick dip to cool off. After all, we’d all visited the cenotes in Cuzama and loved them. With so many cenotes in the area we were bound to locate one, right?
And that’s how we began our adventure to find a cenote in a nearby village. The Bennetts had heard there was one somewhere in the vicinity so we asked the guards at the Mayapan ruins about it. We followed their advice and drove down the street to a small village where by the main town square, we saw a few locals milling about. We rolled down the window and asked whether they could point us to the nearest cenote. Two men stood up; one got on his bicycle gesturing to us to follow and the other guy came over to our car asking to get in. He said we’d never find it on our own and it’d be better if he came in the car with us. Hmmmm….. After a few seconds of confused looks between us, and Theo and I shaking our heads “no” in the back of the minivan to the idea of letting this man in the car, we decided to follow the man on his bike. I felt as if we were on the reality TV show “The Amazing Race,” allowing a local to lead us to some treasure. It was both exciting and a bit surreal at the same time.
We started to drive behind this little guy, moving at less than 5 miles per hour. It made for quite a hysterical ride for those of us in the car observing all that was passing by . There were turkeys and chickens on the dirt path, children playing in tall weeds, people sleeping in hammocks, and boys riding horses along the road. Where were we and where were we going? The Bennett children joked when we saw a large puddle of water that perhaps the man was taking us there and calling it a cenote…
We drove that way for what seemed like an hour and we turned left onto a yet another dirt road that was even bumpier. We said to each other that we would have never found this cenote on our own for sure. Just as we were starting to doubt whether a cenote existed here at all, the guy on the bike stopped in front of a wooden gate. What was this? He proceeded to unchain the gate and opened it as wide as he could to get our car through. We’d finally reached the mystery cenote! At the end of the road we saw a guy who seemed to be guarding the place and we could hear several voices from beyond. He charged us 20 pesos each and told us we could stay as long as we liked.
We changed into our bathing suits in the car and headed down the road and into a giant black hole in the ground that led us to the cenote below. I have to say, it was a bit sketchy and I wasn’t so sure about swimming in this one. Maybe it looks very different with the sun high up in the sky but when we reached this cenote it was already a bit late and there wasn’t enough light for us to see clearly what might be lurking under there. But we figured if it’s good enough for the local teenagers (there was a small group of young people tubing), we could certainly take a quick swim. The guard guy told us that this cenote was very very deep and we would never reach the bottom of it. This allowed the two Bennett men to take turns diving into the cenote that frankly, made my poor little heart skip a beat. They kept testing their limits by going up higher and higher each time, and all I could do was silently pray (and take photos). We stayed long enough to recharge in the cold water and as the sun was setting we retraced our steps to get back to the little town and then out to the main road again. It all seems a bit like a hazy dream to me now and I really doubt that I can ever find this place again. I have no idea what the name of the town was or how we got there, especially since I wasn’t the one driving. As they say here, “¡Que Padre!”
For our last stop of the day, we went to a restaurant that both Chris and I had wanted to visit for dinner. Na’Lu’um is a restaurant, located in a hotel of the same name near the town of Tecoh. It came highly recommended by the directora of my Spanish school and the menu showed all the usual Yucatecan suspects as well as a few unusual dishes. I played it safe and ordered what the Bennett children called red chicken or pollo pibil. The red color comes form the achiote paste made with annatto seeds. The pollo pibil at Na’Lu’um came in the banana leaf it was cooked in and proved to be the best I’d had in the two months I’ve been here. It was perfectly seasoned, ever so slightly tart from the sour orange juice it was marinated in, and really moist. A stack of hot handmade corn tortillas and a big carafe of cold horchata rounded out my dinner beautifully, and I was one very happy woman.
This meal was the perfect punctuation mark (I choose an exclamation point) to signal the end of a great Yucatecan day. Delicious tacos, unbelievable Mayan ruins, swimming in a mystery cenote, dinner a la Yucateca, all with with fantastic company. I think it’d be hard to top this anywhere anytime soon.
Na’Lu’um Hotel and Restaurant: Exit Carretera Merida-Cancun km 22.9 detour Carretera Merida-Chetumal Libramiento Tecoh (before you reach Mayapan), C.P. 97820 Tecoh, Yucatan, Mexico Tel. +52 (999) 195 6294