09 Apr Chichen Itza, Boxed Tours, and Birdmen
I haven’t taken a boxed tour for along time, for a good reason. When you first start traveling, especially to very touristy places, boxed tours can seem like a great way to see the sites without a lot of hassle. But they are chalked full of another kind of hassle: annoying junkslingers wasting your time and shamelessly pandering for your money. But let me explain.
Boxed tours, not to be confused with box tours☺, are tours set up in any travel destination that promise to take you to the thrilling landmark of your choosing. You will get to ride in a luxurious air-conditioned coach with 50 others sharing your dream to explore unseen exotic lands, you will have an “English-speaking” tour guide who will caress all your sweet naïve travel questions as he shepherds you around with a big ugly umbrella, and you will eat a “delicious” buffet lunch of the local cuisine made with finest mass produced ingredients.
The idea of this is pains my soul so much I threw up a bit just writing this down. So why did I do it, knowing full well what awaited me? Well there is apart of me thatalways wants to believe in the dream, like the promised mythical non-douche ridden club or MTV beach party that is full of horny women in thongs clawing to get at me as they are keenly aware of the sweet, sensitive guy that just entered the scene (*see sausage fest). And of course there is the logistical factor and the cost factor (it may not be accessible via public transport or highly expensive to do it solo dolo). But mainly, it is the lazy factor. It is easy to just show up and have it all done for you.
So what did my luxurious Chichen Itza, the gem of the Mayan civilization-one of the 7 wonders of the world-the once in lifetime adventure tour – look like?
A jammed mini-bus ride to a central meeting point where all the tourist dressed in their dopey tourist clothes wait to be organized for 30 minutes until they are wrangled up like cattle and put on the bus. The cattle sorting wait time gets filled with the obligatory “so where are you from” questions by tourists donning their passport holders around their neck and spf 55 on their nose. My bus had these cool seats that went all way back for extra comfort, unfortunately, the nice gentleman’s seat in front of me always fully reclined and I got to spend the day contorted like acrobatic circus monkey. The tour guide had a very impressive command of English…and Spanish, so we got to hear all the explanations twice in alternating sentences. Kind of like Spanish class in school except with patronizing commentary and canned jokes.
“Da Mayans, are one of the most ancient civilizations…and you know why we call them a civilization? No, not nagging wives…writing!”
I would have paid doubled knowing I would be getting this comedic value.
The first spot was one of the special Cenote Holes (basically a big cave hole with a swimming pole) where the Mayans used to “cleanse” themselves. The water was a nice escape from the scorching heat and local vendor gauntlet you had to run through to get there. Lucky for us, there was also real life Mayans wearing the full on birdman assemble to take pictures with at the bottom of the hole. The Mayan birdmen were also thoughtful enough to make gigantic propina (Tips) signs so I didn’t have to worry about where to put in their baksheesh.
Our next stop was for the lunch buffet, which graciously allotted 45 minutes to peruse the colony of jewelry and ceramic stores attached to the compound. Our guide made sure to point out the benefits of buying here versus at the illegal vendors at Chichen Itza.
“You see…when you buy on da street you don’t know what you will get. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Dez people here are real Mayans. They still exist. And they make the most authentic calendars in all of Mexico [China].”
Lunch did in fact promptly begin when promised and was accompanied with dancing and music by the “Mayans”. Like their brethren at the Cenote, they too had graciously mastered the art of the giant tip bin for ease of guilt-ridden donation. Our guide made sure to recommend that we try a “little bit of everything” so as to have the real Mayan experience. Actually this is pretty sage advice when it comes to buffet eating, as it is a natural insurance policy as it spreads the risk of getting a crappy dish (spoiler – all of them) around. After lunch (?) the gods of pity found me and I stumbled upon a nice swimming pool on the compound where myself and several other of the bathing suit clad tourists on my bus could lounge Mtv beach style before commencing the
ferociously tugging at my balls torture tour.
After lunch we were almost to the Mayan Promised Land: Chichen Itza. All we had to do was make it through two more sales pitches on the bus by our tour guide. One consisted of buying a sort of Mayan cartouche made of the purest gold and silver in Mexico. It was highlighted with the tale of a Russian man who had “foolishly” bought his silver cartouche for $1000 at Chichen Itza from a bad vendor whose fake necklace had turned his skin green. But don’t worry; you can special order your gold or silver cartoose from the tour company so that horrible fate will never befall you. The other story prior to Chichen Itza was of a personal nature: a telling of the guide’s twenty-year career as a tour guide. The take away was something along the lines of one of his tour buses getting into a car crash in which he was the only one who was hurt by being thrown off the bus. This resulted in being in traction for 9 months in the hospital. I was a bit disappointed however after the story because I was expecting (hoping?) him to offer to sell us some of the magical Mayan healing water that must have been used to cure him of his ails.
And at last, we made it to Chichen Itza. Epicenter of Mayan civilizationand birthplace of incredibly accurate calendar system still used today. The epic queue to get in was only outmatched by the blistering heat. Fortunately, they had a bar with beer on tap parallel to the line so that solved those problems. Our tour guide whisked use around the ruins telling tales of ancient Mayan sacrifice and dispelling Myths along the way. After giving 45 minutes of tales and doling out another propina (guilt induced of course), I was off to explore the vast system of ruins left with my 15 minutes.
Overall, the Cenote, Chichen Itza, and the heinousness of boxed tours lived up to all my expectations. I got to see an amazing world wonder, cleanse my body spirituality with Mayan Holy water, and got a renewed sense of cynicism and wonderment in the world of travel. But next time, I’ll save the $50 and just use a revolver.