Saturday, 8 November 2014

Water stirred by wind - Visiting the Cobá Ruins

It doesn’t take long before you start exploring the Cobá ruins that you start to feel like you’re in a game of Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones. Set deep in the jungle, with only a sleepy little town at its entrance, both James and I felt like an adventurer as we spent the whole day climbing and searching for what this place had to offer.

Entering Cobá

Visiting the ruins in Cobá was never in the initial itinerary… in fact it was more of a last minute addition which we were both unsure about. I actually hadn’t come across it during my cursory research and the Lonely Planet just mentions it as a bypass. The first time I heard about it was when a friend recommended it especially because you can get to climb a Mayan Pyramid… Climb an actual Mayan Pyramid? Hell yeah!

The Big Mound

At the time we were visiting Cobá, we were staying in Tulum. We caught the ADO coach service at 10:11 (very specific timing) and it was only a 45 minute ride to the current, small sleepy town of Cobá. Since we were catching a bus to Valladolid in the evening, we booked another bus ticket back at 3pm, which we initially thought would give us plenty of time to explore... but ended up being just enough time. 

Exploring the ruins

Cobá itself was one of the larger Mayan cities, with a population of 50000 at the peak of its civilization between 600-900 AD. It was thought to have been abandoned when the Spanish invaded the Peninsula around 1550 and then rediscovered in the 1920's. Although the ruins are open to the public, there is much more to be excavated in the dense jungle... so who knows what we unwittingly walked past!

Walking from one ruin to another

We went to Tulum the day earlier, which set the barrier low for expectations (believing that Tulum ruins were the best Mexico had to offer) and I’m glad that our experience at Cobá far surpassed these. From an archaeological point of view, Cobá ruins seemed better preserved. It was the first time I saw what an actual ball court looked like (boy do they look difficult to play). The hieroglyphics were less weathered away and traces of paint still remained on some of the structures. You could even walk on the ancient sacbes - Mayan roads! From a travellers point of view, Cobá is undeservingly less popular with tourists, hence less crowded and commercialised. It also does help being in the middle of the jungle - shade kept us going on for longer. I think I enjoyed it more than Chichen Itza!

A peak at one of the ball courts

Climbing Nohoch Mul 

Not so keen on climbing Nohoch Mul as we approach it

The highlight of the ruins, and the reason why anyone comes to Cobá, is being able to climb Nohoch Mul. The pyramid stands proudly at a height of 42 m and invites tourists to climb up the 120 steps to gain a spectacular view of the jungle, the two lagoons and rest of Cobà. I took my time sitting in the shade, topping up on sun cream and bug repellent - there was no rush, right? Then I saw the light - or lack of - as a cloud blocked the sun and covered the pyramid in shade. 

"James! Lets go now!"

I ran towards the pyramid but it was too late, the cloud was a little too small and the sky was a little too blue (damnit, why did we have to have such wonderful weather today?). I had no choice but to climb up the steep, uneven steps (all 120 of them) in the blazing sun. Many had tried to conquer the beast before me but alas, I had to clamber past the unhealthy-sized americans, the too-keen-to-pace-themselves athletes and the poor poor kids who had no idea what they were up against. Alas, all those geological field trips became worthwhile because the great Mayan Structure seemed easy enough to climb and the bane of the whole experience was surviving the intense sun at the top (there was a dearth amount of shade).

James would like to think he is one god-damn sexy explorer

Thank you Harshnira for suggesting the Cobá ruins! Maybe I felt a bit like an explorer dashing through and searching for the next remnants of a great Mayan civilisation, but I can say for sure this has been one of the highlights of our tour of the Yucatan peninsula.

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