Jessica-Benford-2540-Akumal-252C-Mexico-253B-Beach-Wedding-08-25283-2529

Majestic Mexico Venture; a Journey Back Through Time



Chillin’ at the Akumal Beach Club; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008



Caribbean Dream Wedding; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008

After arriving safely in Mexico – “Eagerly Awaiting the Majestic Mexico Venture; Coastal Road Trip,” the next morning was the “big day” for Jess’s best friend from college. I just purchased an Olympus Stylus 850SW, which was waterproof, shockproof, and freezproof. I was stoked to see how this camera worked underwater, as well as out of the water. I was a little suspicious on how the images would turn out, but for a little digital camera I was quite impressed! The wedding was definitely held in an intimate setting – perhaps one of the most romantic locations in the world and perfect for many photography opportunities! The ceremony comprised of about 25-30 people and everyone was in their beach attire. This wedding was a little informal, but most of us wore shorts and a nice shirt. With turquoise waters, white powdery sand, and the hot sun gracing our presence, the wedding day could not have been dreamier! This was quite the romantic getaway and the newly couple did a great job in picking a fabulous location. I never was at a beach wedding and I absolutely adored every single minute of it. Whether it was the humorous written vowels that the couple spoke to each other or the smiles that were on everyone’s face, this was one of the best weddings that I had been to.  This truly was a riveting experience, especially watching a happy couple state their vows barefoot within the white sand. Absolutely gorgeous! Unlike Jess who was on the verge of tears, I was simply taking mental notes for the future of my “big day.” 
 
The Happy Married Couple; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Fabulous Photo Opportunities; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008

A Little Mexicana Flavor; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
One of my highlights of their wedding was that they took photos in the ocean. Kristy had her wedding gown almost completely soaked, while Damien had water dripping from his white button down shirt. His stylish khaki shorts were drenched! Super romantic and who does not love the smell of fresh saltwater in the late afternoon? The beach wedding was a success it complimented the great food, awesome company, romantic moments, excellent weather conditions, and the newly married couple. 
The Cheerful Soaking Wet Married Couple ; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Jess and Kristy; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Amazing View and Beautiful Weather; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
The reception was an absolute Mexican fiesta! The event was complete with men in sombreros! It was definitely a nice touch to a beach wedding! After a great day, it was time to get some sleep for the early morning quest to unlock the Mayan civilization nearby. The following day came quick! Jess and I had planned to see some ruins in the area. We thought that the Tulum and Coba ruins were a must see; we both heard how amazing they were and we had to witness this for ourselves. One of the male wedding guests overheard us talking about driving to see the ruins during breakfast. He asked to come with, so we now had a party of three. Lucky for us, he knew the area pretty well, which made Jess and I get out of being the “GPS” for the trip!  
Reception, Mexican Style; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
  
Visite Los Cocodrilos; Akumal, Mexico 06.2008
Adult Male Crocodile; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
 
As we were getting closer to Coba, there was a medium-sized white sign that read, “Visite Los Cocodrilos” that quickly caught our attention. Maybe it was the Cocoa Cola umbrella that attracted us more? Regardless, we knew what “Cocodrilos” were – Crocodiles! As we dropped by to see the tourist trap alongside the road, we noticed that the price was a bit expensive. This is something that you do once in your life, so we figured why not pay the pesos that were asked. What made me chuckle was the idea that he accepted credit cards; in the picture above do you see a machine that took cards? Me neither! We negotiated a few pesos less than what was originally asked and soon as we knew it there was the feeding of the crocodiles! I enjoyed this “show,” because these crocodiles were not placed out of their natural environment to entertain guests. In fact, this was a large crocodile nesting grounds and there were several bodies of water leading into this lake. The perks for the crocodiles was that there were served free fish. I was baffled how one guy could make his business on a dock, but I guess here in Mexico these individuals need money too. Good thing there are people like us that fall for these tourist traps! 
No Swimming in Crocodile Lake; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

 

Bait Feeding Crocodile; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
Curious Crocodile; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
A little background about Mayan Culture and Architecture that I learned in my “Ancient Civilization” course – The Mayan Civilization was among the original cultures of the New World and spanned more than 3,000 years. The Mayans lived mainly on the Yucatan Peninsula in the eastern one third of Mesoamerica and at its peak had one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world. Mayan culture is known for its spectacular art, impressive architecture, and sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems which were all way ahead of their time. Mayan architecture spans many thousands of years. While I was gathering information on Mayan architecture before my trip I read that the most dramatic and easily recognizable are the fantastic stepped pyramids in places such as Chichen Itza and Coba to name but a few. A year ago Chichen Itza was named as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for 20 years. 
Marvelous Wonders; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
 
Awesome Architecture; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Mayan Huts; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
Once at the archaeological site of Coba, the woman at the front entrance loudly emphasized to “Keep our bearings.”  Apparently, it is very easy to get lost on the maze of dirt roads in the jungle. Our mission for the day was to photograph and possibly climb Nohoch Mul. Not only was Nohoch Mul the tallest pyramid in Coba, but it was also the highest Mayan structure on the Yucatan Peninsula. With just a little over a mile the biggest pyramid awaited us. We instantly noticed that the main routes were on wide, well signed paths, but there were many smaller tracks leading into the jungle, which we did investigate a little bit. While walking down the foliage paths, I wish I would have had my trusty bird and butterfly book! The amount of birds and butterflies were overwhelming, they were everywhere! Especially being there in the hot summer month of June, the heat was intense, but the birds were abundant. As we followed the never-ending pathway, smaller trails seemed to branch off every labeled path.  The smaller trails were representations of the unofficial narrow paths that led into the jungle and were used by locals as shortcuts through the ruins. The same woman at the entrance told us that, “These were good for birding, but be careful to remember the way back!”
Guides on Bicycles Catering People; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
Close-up of Mayan Hut; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Me in the Jungle; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

During our time in Coba, we were able to see a dozen or so unique Mayan ruins. A little history about Coba – this Mayan city is located in the state of Quintana Roo. The word Coba is defined as “waters stirred by the wind.” This settlement is one of the oldest Mayan cities that are rested on the Yucatan Peninsula. Enveloped in the deep green of the tropical jungle, Coba rose between two lagoons. While I was taking pictures of the sights around me, an older married couple had come up and approached me. Instantly, I could tell they were tourists with their bright “Hawaiian” matching shirts and ridiculously large camera lens. The happy couple asked me to photograph them in front of one of the ruins, which I gracefully accepted. After I took their photograph, the gentleman had begun explaining the history behind Coba. It sounded like he definitely did his homework! Wow, I was totally blown away with all the “fun facts” that he told me. 

I remember a few of them for which he stated, “During its history, Coba had more than 50,000 inhabitants, and scholars believed that it was as important as Tikal in Guatemala, with which it maintained tight cultural ties. Coba exercised economic control over the region through a complex network of elevated stone and plaster roads, known in Maya as sacbe, radiating from the center of Coba to many other Mayan cities. The longest of these ran over 100km and led to the city of Yaxuna. Coba traded extensively with other Mayan communities, particularly the ones further south along the Caribbean coast in what is now Belize and Honduras. It utilized the ports of Xcaret, Xel-Há, Tancah, and Tulum.” After he finished emphasizing a few main points, he expressed that he did thorough research before he came to Mexico and used “Lonely Planet” as a guide. This was really good advice, which I never leave without my “Lonely Planet” guidebook (more on this in future post). 

 
Jess Resting; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Mayan Architecture; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Jess and I; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
I did research a little about Coba myself while I was offshore on the Gilavar “6 Humbling Highlights on Gilavar; a Moment of Contentment.” I learned Coba continued to be a significant site in the Post-Classic era. I read that the Mayan archaeology in Coba is truly inspiring and most of it is unexcavated – honestly, I could tell you absolutely amazing this place was, but I would suggest you embrace the experience yourself! I remember reading in my “World Cultures” class that the temples in Coba, both new and old were maintained until at least the 14th century. These temples were still preserved during the late arrival of the Spanish. As I glanced around and saw all these beautifully hand-crafted architectural in front of me, I was memorized by not only the history, but the historical significance in this area. 
Jess and I Posing in Front of Wall; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
Visiting all the Coba ruins took a lot of effort due to the long distances between each landmark, but it was very worthwhile. Astonishing, we trekked a little over a mile to witness one of the most popular and highest attractions, the pyramid of Nohoch Mul. Funny story, I was never truly fond of heights when I was a kid. I had a traumatic accident, which involved me almost plummeting down 2 stories into some shale and trees underneath the rock that I was climbing at the time (more on this in a later post). Nevertheless, it was time to face my fears and “Be a doer, not a thinker!” As I tilted my head back to see this gigantic structure in plain sight, I realized that this was a really large formation, 138 feet of nothing, but stone! My eyes seemed crept further up the structure and soon as I knew it I barely could see the top! The design of this structure was beautifully crafted; the 120 narrow step stairway composed of seven, round-cornered platforms. I knew in my heart that I had to make it to the “top,” regardless of my phobia of heights and the inappropriate footwear on my feet. As I had begun walking up the narrow steps in my flip flops, I noticed there were mothers with a baby latched on their back as they walked and crawled up this structure. I remember thinking, “If mothers with newborns on their backs can climb Nohoch Mul, then so can I!” 

The smaller crevices in between the steps made me a bit uncomfortable as I trekking up Nohoch Mul. When I reached the stone vantage point, I felt a rush of sheer adrenaline overcome my body. I leaned quickly against a rock and caught my breath for a brief second. To my surprise, there was a brilliant view of the treetops of the jungle right in front of my face which spectacled the entire Yucatan Peninsula! The humidity left no air to brush against my sun-burnt face, the birds obnoxiously made loud noises as they flew in the mist of the clouds directly above the treetops, and piles of sweat poured off of cheeks as I stood there examining the jungle that extended to infinity beneath me; however, none of that mattered, because I had defeated my “Acrophobia” (fear of heights) and this moment was blissfully mine.  

The View of the Yucatan Peninsula; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Me Completely Exhausted; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Nohoch Mul, the “Climb;” Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Nohoch Mul Mixed with Clouds; Coba, Mexico 06.2008

Narrow Steps on Nobach Mul; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
The walk to visit each landmark was pretty interesting. There were stelae, protected by palapa roofs. Trekking the wide path provided us a chance to observe the jungle life; butterflies, birds and insects abound. There was the option to take a bicycle ride for roughly ten dollars, but since we were already walking everywhere why pay now? As we progressed towards what we thought was the entrance we encountered an area called, “The Ball Court.”  As I analyzed this structure, a younger man stood next to me. I could tell that he wanted to chat, so I asked him if he knew anything about this structure. Shockingly, he also did his homework like the married couple that I met earlier that day. He exclaimed, “The game played in the ball courts by the ancient Mayans was very important to their culture. We can make some assumptions about how the game was played by reviewing the carvings on the walls of the courts around the area. It is believed that because each player is wearing different costumes that players from the surrounding area would represent their tribes. The game was played with a hard ball that would shoot through the stone ring in the court.” Jess added that this was a violent game and some individuals did get killed due to the nature of this sport. 
The “Ball Court;” Coba, Mexico 06.2008
I have to admit as amazing as all of this was to take in, I was getting attacked by monstrous mosquitoes! All of my family members and friends can tell you that I am notorious for getting bit. I can quadruple layer mosquito repellent on my skin, avoid areas of thick brush, sit next to a fire, but still I manage to have dozens of bites! The same scenario happened that day – lots of insects attracted by the moist jungle environment resulted in a massive blood-thirsty feeding on me for the day! This reminded me of the time when I lay on a beach in San Salvador, Bahamas, which was a little before my Scuba Diving session with my professor and college mates – “Follow Your Dreams; Exceed Your Own Expectations.” I woke up to find hundreds of mosquito bites all over my body! Gross, it makes me itch just thinking about this! Long story short, I had to go to the doctors once I arrived back in the states and was stuck in a hospital for 3 days!  I discovered my immune system was weakened and they wanted to tend to the bites as best as they could. Though I did attain my Scuba Diving certification, it was quite the painful experience! Regarding my time in Coba, the mosquitoes were biting hard and I had my fill of excitement of Coba for the day. 
The day was almost complete, but there was one more stop on our list. In my opinion of the greatest places to snorkel was in Akten Chen’s cenote in Akumal; the water felt amazing on my newly formed mosquito bites! Until I went to this cenote, I had only heard the term used once before. You may ask what a cenote is. A cenote or “Sacred Well” is a break in the limestone shelf, which exposes the underground river systems. During my time swimming in the cenote I learned that they are natural geographical features that were found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. This cenote in particular, was dated at 5 million years old and had an underground crystal clear cenote. A long time ago, dinosaurs roamed the planet and topped the food chain. Humans had not yet come into existence. The form of the continents and the composition of the earth were very different from that of today. Everything was about to change. Many experts feel that the end of the dinosaurs’ reign came about as the result of a major astronomical event. After the impact, incredible global changes occurred including a significant drop in sea level which exposed land masses. The Yucatan’s limestone rock bed, which had been formed from millions of years of sea life and reef growth, now overlooked the sea with great cliffs in place of today’s white sandy beaches.
A little further biological information that I learned from the guide on cenotes was, “Throughout the glacial periods, the ocean level has varied, and this platform found itself submerged by water. When the level of the ocean drops again, the caves begin forming. The heavy rain falling on these formations dissolves through the rock the carbonic acid from the soil and leaves in putrefaction. This carbonic acid mix carved the fragile rock, creating underground passages in which water would find its way back to the ocean. The cenote in return created and became full of impressive stalactites and stalagmites formations. During the last glacial period, the oceans were 100 feet below their actual level. Around 18,000 years ago, the ice started melting and the ocean rose to the level we know now, flooding the passages and generating a wide underground river system like nowhere else on earth!” In other words, the Yucatan Peninsula was primarily made of limestone; since there are no surface rivers in the Yucatan, the rainfall penetrates the porous and honeycombed limestone, which eventually creates an intricate and seemingly infinite maze of underground rivers. The guide also emphasized that, “Not only were the cenotes a fresh water source, but they were also depictions in Mayan civilization. For instance, the cenotes were known as the windows to the “After World” and a key to their afterlife. Thus, ceremonies and rituals were made to the “Underworld Gods.” 
The marine life was absolutely phenomenal! I certainly adored the light effects that shined on the slalom stalagmites and stalactites formations. The water visibility was superb and the Halocline, where the salt water mixed with the fresh water, resembled a large cloud. Snorkeling is one of my favorite pastimes; I could have not selected a better place to snorkel – in the cenote the environment was very peaceful. After a long day at Coba, this was unquestionably needed!
**

There were archaeologically structures separated into 7 different groups and areas:
Grupo Coba Structures Description; Coba, Mexico 06.2008
Lake Macanxoc and the Macanxoc Group: Composed of eight stelae, some of which are protected by palm roofs, and also a few smaller structures.
Frescoes Group: Compiled of twenty structures the best preserved being which is made up of five platforms and a stucco-painted temple at its top. At its base is and has a thatched roof protecting its paintings.
Nohoch Mul Group – Has carved human figures in sky-downward, descending motion most likely depicting Mayan gods. It is thought that a pair of jaguars lived at Nohoch Mul for many years.
Coba Group – Created of several mounds and a large four hundred and ten foot by sixty six foot terrace. This is a difficult site to visit because of the dense jungle vegetation. La Iglesia, a pyramid over 65 ft (20 m) high and the second largest at Cobá, is what you’ll find if you take the path bearing right after the entrance. Walking to it, notice the unexcavated mounds on the left. The steps of La Iglesia are steep and crumbling, and climbing is prohibited.
The Church – The second tallest pyramid in Coba, standing seventy nine feet high and partially restored. Constructed with nine platforms, it was most likely built between 800 and 1,000 A.D. Stella 11 is located at the front of the pyramid. A chamber with a Mayan corbel arch is to the left and to the south is a long, forty nine foot vaulted tunnel.
Other areas – are Lake Coba, the Chumuc Group, the Dzib Mul or Mound of Writing, and the Ball Court.

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