Monday, November 22, 2021

Ek Balam and Cenote Xcan ché

I spent some time reading a few travel reviews of the Mayan Ruins at Ek Balam. Overall they seem to be a bit over the top. When compared to the madness of Chitzen Itza, which they all inevitably are, yes it is a less touristy site and yes you can climb the main temple but thats about where it should end. I enjoyed this site for what it was but it is not some splendor alternative to Chitzen Itza.

Now that being said, I may be a bit jaded having been to some sites of various grandeur in and around Latin America. These include Palenque, Chitzen Itza, TulumTeotihuacan, Cantona, Cholula and Ndachjian (Mexico) Copan Ruins (Honduras) Tikal (Guatemala) Cahel PechXunantunich (Belize). This site was small, although most archeologist I have read about mentioned that many Mayan sites uncovered and that are on display, there is usually an equal amount of that site lost to the jungle.

The park is about 25KM north of Valladolid. The best option for me was a share taxi called a colectivo. The colective location was easy to find but a first timer might be scared off because it was not the sexiest of taxi stands. That being said there were lots of friendly smiling faces callout out plus a few confused tourists not quite sure of what to make of it all. You jump into a taxi with 3 others and pay 70 pesos each and off you go. If there are not 4 people the taxi will wait, and so will you, until a forth arrives. I showed up and was on my way in about 10 minutes. 

* The colectivo location is on Calle 44, between 35 and 37. It is the only building with a large driveway that heads into a courtyard. The drivers are in white shirts and will shout out and wave you over if you are not sure. 

I just read that there are over 4,400 Maya sites throughout Latin America. That little fun fact blew me away.

The entrance did have some very nice murals, mostly of jungle cats. They are native to the jungle that I was about to trek into. As the local guy at entrance said when I knowingly and jokingly asked about puma and jaguar in the area. "If they are here you would never know, until they were chewing on the back of your neck". And with that, I was off.

Ek Balam as a site was small, 5 or 6 buildings plus the grand pyramid. The bonus here is you can climb the steep steps up the Pyramid, which I did. Fun Fact. Three days later my legs are still sore as they were shredded from the climb. I am out of climbing practice that is for sure. Although my last hike in Borneo destroyed my legs. Maybe, just maybe these old bones are starting to tell me something like less climbing, more SCUBA. If you want to learn more about Ek Balam you can click on the link. The best part of wandering this site is the climb to the top of the pyramid. The views of the surround jungles were brilliant and there were only a few people on top to share the experience. As I said, the steps were steep and it was slow and steady. I was feeling confident with each step, then a local guide passed me running down like it was the easiest thing he has ever done. Stupid Mayan blooded local. Time for a swim to wash off my tourist shame.

The second part of this day trip was that the Cenote Xcan ché was a 15 minute ride down a winding and bumpy jungle path on old rickety bicycle. This bike chain had not seen oil since the Mayan Times. It is a part of the same Archelogical site but a separate admission, naturally. It was a well spend 170 Pesos (C$10.28).

You had to take a cold shower before you went to the cenote. I don't ask why but I figured with all the lotions and sprays people put on now there was no desire to have any of those finding their way into the clear and pristine cenote water.

I have read all about he cenotes in and around the Yucatan. I did see one in Chitzen Itza but it was pretty nasty. Plus Centoe Zaci in Valladolid was closed although you cold take photos. This time everything was a go. There were some steep and very slippery metal steps you have to navigate down but before I did that I just stopped to have a look. It was an impressive site. A deep sink hole filled with clear blue water surrounded by hanging jungle vines. There was a man made water falls which added a nice effect. Once safely down the stairs of Mayan Doom you could pick up a life jacket (yes I did) and there were a few small inner tubes available (yes I did). 

There were about 10 others there and I found a rock to put my things on. There were lockers at the entrance but aside from my phone I was fairly confident nothing was going to disappear. Loaded up with my life jacket and small tube I walked to a small platform about 5 feet off the water and jumped. It was refreshingly cool and after sweating in the heat of the jungle this was exactly what I needed.  I just bobbed along like a cork as I was not putting any effort into avoiding the small black and harmless catfish that were everywhere. There were a few Tik Tokers and Instagrammers there,(I am sensing a recurring social media theme on this trip) which was fun to watch as they argued about getting the best shots. There was one little blondie who had her doting and sadly submissive boyfriend take continuous pictures of her at the same spot with different poses, I counted 27 different poses so who know how many pictures. There was a close up of her ass which was amusing. Then they moved onto videos and I got bored.

I picked up the colectivo back to Valladolid from the spot I was dropped off a few hours earlier without much of a wait. I did grab a coke and a bag of chips from a local vendor which cost $5. So be it. I needed the sugar and salt. This was a nice daytrip to start getting back into the grove of of seeing the world outside the boarders of my comfort zone. Although Mexico is as about as easy a country to travel in as any I have been in. None the less, and with all due respect to Kerouac. I am back "On the Road"

Friday, November 19, 2021

Automatic For The People

The machines have now emerged and in control and we are their faithful, obedient servants. It has been a slowing creeping process, but now with COVID taking over the narrative it has created the perfect storm to kick automation into high gear, human workers be damned. Not convinced? When was the last time you went into a bank and dealt with a teller. Used money at or pumped your own gasoline. Spoke with a telephone operator. Did you notice that you are starting to check yourself out more and more when you are shopping. There is excitement for driverless cars and transport trucks. How about Pizza Delivery Robots?  Have watch of this video (its already 4 years old) and be very afraid.

Why this narrative today? I just went through an almost automated process from train drop off to sipping coffee at my boarding gate and when I took a minute it really kind of freaked me out...well not really but it gave me pause for thought. First up, GO Transit. As I approached a very dark bank of ticket windows there is one lonely person sitting there and yes in the dark. Their job is not to sell me a ticket, but to direct me to the ticket machine for my purchase. Cool, ticket purchased and my location, destination and history being tracked part 1 by use of my credit card.

 Next up, I need a ticket for the Union/Pearson Express. The ticket counter is closed off by plexiglass with a guy directing people to the ticket machine back down the stairs in the hallway. OK, ticket bought and off I go to Pearson Airport. My location, destination and history tracked part 2.

I had already checked in online as directed by Westjet 3 times within a 3 hour window. I must have been stressing the computer out by not doing it immediately like a good servant. Once at the airport I  still needed to validate my passport at the at the computer kiosk. This also doubled down to print both baggage slips as well as boarding pass. Then people with stored bagged carried or rolled them to the waiting rollers and loaded them, themselves. The human element is almost NIL. I took my boarding pass and off I went through what I feared was a COVID security check point like any good horror movie has driven into us what the future does hold. One the walk I did notice that there was a WestJet counter open for people who were having "technical issues", such as saying "fuck that, I am dealing with a human". That line was not very long and there were only 2 humans working.

I do not want to but I cannot ignore that the process was fast and efficient. Computers do not have personal issues that they take to work and have it affect their jobs and the end user experience. Computers 1 - Humans 0. I am not so concerned for myself as I am a long way down my personal road, however good luck to the up and coming generations who will be completely enveloped in AI and Automation. Human interaction will only be seen in old videos and museums.  They can focus on making Tik Tok videos, getting Instagram likes and tweeting all about it. It really is going to be a Brave New World. Enjoy the Soma Vacation.

Brave New World was published in 1932. "One of the most salient messages of Brave New World is the alarm raised by Huxley against the dangers of technology. Using scientific and technological advances to control society may give more power to totalitarian states to change the way human beings think and act."

My scary airport experience? From the time my hotel transport dropped me off at the airport to when I picked up my coffee and was at my gate, but no more that 20 minutes. That includes standing in line at Timmies. (which was .30 more than any Timmies I have been to. The security process has not changed. You put everything in a bin but now you keep your shoes on so I guess the scary "bomb in the shoe" scenario has passed. Your stuff scanned and away you go. I only travel with a 55Litre pack so I can carry it on. I normally don't have any liquids or gels as I get purchase whatever I need at my destination. This time I did have a used 100 ML tube of toothpaste as it is allowed. Just for my personal humor I pulled it out and put it in the tub with my computer. The agent actually picked it up, looked at it, opened it and smelled it and put it back. Good time happening in the circus that can be my mind. There were 7 different blue gloved people standing around menacingly and ready to pounce at  if you showed any signs of being sick. Good luck to the unlucky bastard who sneezes.

Fast forward to my entry into Mexico which was fast and flawless. I did have to fill out an online questionnaire about my Covid situation before my flight. I passed (surprise) and saved my credentials onto my phone. I was never asked to show it but much like Canada there were a few people glaring menacingly with blue gloves at the ready. I will see what the insanity will be when I return to Canada in the Spring. They just lifted the PCR test for short trips so lets see what the spring brings.

I bought my bus ticket from the Cancun Airport to the Central Metro Station I spoke with a human, then handed over Pesos,  my dirty and virus infected nasty polymer plastic payment method. I tossed my rucksack into the storage compartment and climbed aboard. Thirty minutes later I found my downtown hotel,  The Hotel Jardin and went searching for tacos. There will be no Cancun beach time today.

A small open air casita was about 10 minutes from my hotel on the way back to the ADO bus station. I missed it on the way to my hotel as I was on the other side of the very busy street. But, alas, here I was sitting on a wobbly plastic chair at my wobbly plastic table with the open air fryer behind me. Chorizo Tacos were 6 Peso each, .35 cents Canadian, so I had 10 of them. I had not eaten all day and my belling was singing with happiness as the return of the flavors of Mexico has begun.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Wheels Up, Wheels Down

Wheels up from Toronto is 9:30 AM on November 16th. Wheels down in Cancun Mexico at 1:40 PM. This will be the 4th time that I have gone to Cancun and although the downtown is fun, yes the downtown and not the beach strip, this is just a one night stop over. 

There is a direct bus from the Cancun airport that costs about $5, to the downtown ADO station. From there it is about a 15 minute walk to the Hotel Jardin. I will toss my rucksack after check in and then go murder as many street tacos as I can find. Then it's off to Hunters Bar near the bus station and embrace the fact that I have returned to the top country on my travel list. FYI, my top 5 are Mexico, Vietnam, Ecuador, Thailand, Nicaragua and Cambodia...OK Top 6. I will catch a bus the next morning for Valladolid, where I am going to take 4 days there to shake off my COVID past and feel the warm embrace Mexico. There is quite a bit to explore and experience in and around Valladolid, including plenty of Centoes.

After 4 days I am off to Merida. I have no timeline but its looking like at least 2 months here, maybe until mid January. I have a room booked for 9 days at the Casa Lol Beh. The reviews are good so lets see how that goes. An extended stay means searching for an apartment, which the Merida Expats FB has shown it is easy enough. I do have a few old friends that winter there now. A few who stayed at the same place I did in Leon Nicaragua and then a former colleague with whom I worked as a bartending in Collingwood a lifetime ago, plus and her husband will be there, but a friendly face on the road is still a friendly face. They are in Progresso on the beach, about a 30 minute bus ride away from Merida. 

Once the bloom is off the rose in the Yucatan,  I am going to fly to Medellin Colombia and tour around country #51. (for the kids # means number). There is some great hiking in and around the Sierra Madres and diving on the Colombian Caribbean coast. I also have another former colleague , this time from working in Tehuacan Mexico. Both Mexico and Colombia have open boarders with zero COVID restrictions. Depending on that for Honduras I want go from Colombia to Utila Honduras to get my diving on. Then back to Merida to wind down before the big return to springtime in Canada around April.

What is my biggest challenge? Looking at a map while I plan my trip. There is a great budget hotel in downtown Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and exploring there has lots of possibilities. Damn, the flight from Punta Cana to San Juan Puerto Rico is 45 minutes (and cheap) or there is a 12 hour boat ride which would be fun. The history of Puerto Rico is epic. There is a 5 day boat tour from Cartagena Colombia to Panama that passes through the San Blas Islands. Carnival in Brazil runs Feb 25th to March 5th. The borders are open and I would have to pull out the American Express for this little journey, but its Rio during Carnival! There in lies the challenges of my scatterbrained travel mind. I could easily find myself in South Africa if I am not careful...which would not be a terrible thing. That is September or October of 2022, but we will get to that later. 

So you see, my challenge is real. I am absolutely going to be focused on the Yucatan, Colombia and diving in Utila Honduras. There are epic moments to be had, so lets get to it shall we.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Wasted Days

Beware, observational rant ahead. Enter at your own risk. There will be no Q&A 

On Friday March 13, 2020 I arrived back in Canada having been out in the world, working and traveling, for about 2 years. Today, November 3, 2021 marks day 600 of my Canadian Exile. It was time to head back and regroup, and thanks to the emerging madness of COVID, it was an easy choice to make. I always know what to expect when I return to Canada and particularly Niagara Falls. As much as a twinge of excitement accompanies "wheels down" at Pearson Airport, the mundane reality of the world I am reentering takes no time is establishing a foothold into my personal global perspectives. 

We have dovetailed into a zombie cultured social media world where the need for the endomorphic rush seems to have replaced breathing, let alone logic and common sense. This is the new norm and it is not going away even if it is not based in reality. Jordan Peterson said, "You can not twist the fabric of reality without it snapping back. You never get away with anything". I think society does not have the ability to live a truthful life and social media and the main stream media supports the hubris that becomes our twisted fabric of reality. I think about this on a daily basis. Have I emitted arrogance instead of humility in my non acceptance of herd mentality. Maybe both. My reality is that this all bears fruit at my frustration to be back at ground zero, thus finding my self going through the same stagnant and life sucking routines that I had strived to break free from.

What I will not so is float like an autumn leaf into the darkness of an abyss and drone on about the negativity of the past 600 days. There are some incredible positives that have evolved and my eyes, once hazed with the re-emergence of the past, have again become clear with the future. 

I came back to  Canada as COVID 19 was starting to do it's global thing and I figured Canada and Niagara Falls was as good a place to ride this out as any. I was in my home town, I had the safety and security of my house and I had people around me that I had history with. So what happened? We flattened the curve which became lockdowns and what I believe was the growing criminal abuses of society. I took a few jobs including selling insurance of all things. I bought a truck as even though I had vowed never to own a vehicle again. I was just riding the COVID wave. 

The world has gone insane and I believe it has not reached its apex. Greed, poverty, agenda driven media, political irresponsibility without remorse, pollution and plastic, more frequent and worse floods, fires and storms, war, revolution, mass human migration and crime are all wrapped in a warm blanket of ignorance and entitlement. Rising taxes and rising prices for all commodities have started to become unmanageable for many. The cost for fuel to heat our home and run our cars is met with a "shrug" and "nothing we can do about it". Companies making billions and not paying employees a livable wage thus creating a modern slavery culture. I have seen camping tents appearing along trails and in bushland because housing is unaffordable and the immediate response is, "look at those lazy people". We then turn to our phones hoping for likes and comments to produce enough of an endomorphic buzz to forget about really dealing with the reality. 

Dom Hélder Câmara said “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”  Think about that the next time you see someone living in a tent, hidden in the bush alongside your well manicured walking trail.

I can not say that I have tried my best. Ultimately Covid and societal attitudes has created a tragic general malaise that I became a part of. Observing so many people evolving into gargoyles of what they once were has horrified me. The obsession about money, ignoring time or the longing for a lost youth that has suddenly disappeared and dripping of melancholy like icicles during a spring thaw.

So here I sit, searching for inspiration as I move forward. A Springsteen and Mellencamp duet will do just fine. I am forever reminded that everything happens for a reason, and I believe it to be monumentally true. However, if you allow assumptions to continue to overshadow possibility then hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. Personally, I am getting back in my lane, back to where I belong.