The Yucatan is one of the most exciting places in the world.
Troop 33 experienced Yucatan on an adventure tour that included hiking through jungle, swimming in the surf, snorkeling coral reefs, exploring mayan ruins, and exploring colonial cities and Mayan culture.
DAY 1 - JUNE 22, 1999
We enjoyed a flight from Chicago O'Hare International Airport to Miami international, then after changing planes we flew to Cancun, Mexico. As we landed it started to rain.
We wanted to avoid taxis and mini-vans and instead take a bus downtown to save money. It was difficult for us to find the bus stop. We had several drivers approaching us and offering to drive us for inflated sums of money. We were rain soaked when we purchased our bus tickets and the only americans on the bus. Once downtown, we checked into the Parador Hotel, haggled over auto rental, then drove for an exploration of the American/European new town and hotel zone. Back at the hotel we enjoyed an evening swim.
Rain soaked view from bus - Parador Hotel in Cancun
DAY 2 - JUNE 23, 1999
We drove south to Akumel, which means "place of the turtles". We enjoyed the white sand beach with it's playful surf. There are some large resorts along this stretch of beach. After hours in the sun we enjoyed the offerings of a small ice cream shop.
Next we drove farther south to tour the ancient Mayan ruins at Tulum and enjoyed body surfing at it's beach. The largest structure at Tulum is called El Castillo. It towers above the Caribbean atop a sheer cliff. It is a very dramatic site. Beneath the rock cliff are sand beaches to the north and south. We swam in the beach to the north, which had terrific surf. The ruins are surrounded by a fortified stone wall. Beyond the wall is dense jungle growth. Within the walls you can wander past the many structures. One temple was built atop a cave.
In addition to the ruins and the beach, we also saw an ancient Mayan warrier dance program and another program featuring Totonacs, four acrobats performing on a high flying wheel as part of an ancient Mayan ritual.
After our visit to Tulum we drove northwest along a narrow road cut through the jungle on our way to the city of Valladolid (founded 1543). We passed tiny jungle villages along the way with thatched huts and block buildings.
In Valladolid we checked into a family owned hotel, the Hotel San Clemente (across the street from the Cathedral) and enjoyed authenic yucatan cuisine at a local restaurant, an unforgetable dinner. We spent some time walking in the town square which was alive with people and food vendors before turning in for the night.
Beach at Akumel - Beach and ruins at Tulum
Warriors in dance - Flying Mayan dancers
DAY 3 - JUNE 24, 1999
We visited the Cathedral of Santa Lucia after a buffet breakfast of authenic yucatan foods, then drove west to tour the Mayan Ruins at Chichen-Itza, arriving mid morning.
We were excited to climb the great pyramid "El Castillo" also known as the temple of Kuklakan. One of our Scouts attempted to move a slinky down it's great stairway but the experiment failed. Chichen Itza covered an large area which we were happy to explore. We were fortunate to have toured the expansive archeological site in the cooler part of the day before the buses of tourists arrived.
From Chichen-Itza we drove west to the great city of Merida. We drove through a driving rainstorm. It only rained twice during the entire trip. We checked into the Hotel Santa Lucia and had a refreshing swim in it's pool. We could usually get by with our limited spanish, but when we tried to ask for more detailed information about touring Uxmal we had to solicit help from the auto rental agency next door, their manager spoke english.
We explored the city on foot, had some dinner, and shopped for souvineers at a Mayan artist's coop. There was a folk program in the park across from our hotel. The program was just getting over as we retired for the evening.
Santa Lucia Cathedral - El Castillo at Chichen-Itza
DAY 4 - JUNE 25, 1999
After enjoying breakfast at a restaurant along a busy street, we visited Merida's great cathedral, the Cathedral of San Idelfonso. Pope Paul visited this cathedral in 1993. It was the first cathedral built in North America. We had a driving tour of Merida passing through it's neighborhoods and small shops. One of the highlight was driving through a large cemetary with it's maze of walkways and the spires of ornate monuments adorned with gifts and flowers.
We drove south through the jungle to the Mayan ruins at Uxmal. Although the great Magician's pyramid was closed for restoration, there were many other great places to explore. We saw many large iguanas sunning themselves at the ruins. Although these large reptiles looked very fearsome, they darted away from you if you approached too closely. We decided they were as common in Mexico as squirrels were in Illinois (just not as cute). After shopping at a market for souvineers, we drove north back through the jungle to Merida, then east along the new tollway 185 miles to Cancun. We stopped at a wayside along the tollway for some lunchtime snacks.
From Cancun we drove south along the coast to Playa del Carmen. After checking into our hotels (our group was split between two beautiful family owned hotels--the Maya Bric Hotel and Hotel Jungle Caribe), we explored the town, swam at the beach, and enjoyed dinner at Senor Frogs. From the ferry dock at Playa del Carmen you can look out to sea where the distant lights of San Miguel de Cozumel are visible against the night's black horizon. The evening air with it's refreshing sea breeze was a treat after the heat of the day. Mexican children and their families came to the central park to play and enjoy the coolness of the night.
Cathedral of San Idelfonso - Interior of cathedral
Mayan ruins at Uxmal - Mayan pyramid at Uxmal
DAY 5 - JUNE 26, 1999
After a bountiful breakfast we spent the majority of the day enjoying the fabulous beach at Playa del Carmen, body surfing in the warm turquoise waters. We fell in love with this tropical paradise.
Regarding our hotels, one hotel, the Maya Bric, was immaculately clean and had a beautiful courtyard garden of tropical plants and palm trees surrounding a luxurious pool, with an aviary filled with songbirds supplying a musical backdrop. The other hotel, the Jungle Caribe, had four floors of rooms towering above a colorful tiled courtyard with pool and garden of lush tropical plants and trees presenting the appearance of a neatly manicured jungle. A bridge spanning above connected some rooms. There was a restaurant and night club in the hotel but it was closed due to the off season. Both hotels were stunningly beautiful and within a block of each other.
We took a break from mexican food that night and enjoyed a sumptuous feast at an Italian restaurant. We cooled off with an evening swim at the Maya Bric hotel's pool before ending another fantastic day in paradise.
Beach at Playa del Carmen - Pool at Maya Bric hotel
DAY 6 - JUNE 27, 1999
We took the ferry to San Miguel on the island of Cozumel for an adventure filled day of snorkeling coral reefs. We snorkeled Paradise reef, Dzula-Ha reef, and Corona reef. Schools of tropical fish were everywhere. We fed them small morsels of tortillas from the boat which sent them into a feeding frenzy. Visibility was awesome.
We had lunch and explored shops in Cozumel. We found a small church adorned with the most beautiful floral displays everwhere you looked. It's marble tiled floor and stained glass windows were meticulously clean. The entire church was sparkling with light and color. We browsed the markets and shops. We also stopped in at the Hard Rock Cafe for some souvineers before returning on the ferry to Playa del Carmen.
Back in Playa we swam and enjoyed body surfing in the warm waters of it's magnificent beach one last time. We had dinner followed by a visit to a shop that offered large bowls of incredibly delicious Italian ice cream. We filled ourselves with frozen scoops of heaven served in a bowl. It was perfect. There was a children's theater troupe performing at the central park. Hundreds of local children and their families gathered to enjoy the program.
Back at the Maya Bric hotel, we indulged in a late night swim. A scandanavian couple shared the pool with us for a short time while some italians chatted quietly in chairs somewhere out in the garden. Our evening swim was the last event of our final night in Playa del Carmen.
Snorkeling at coral reefs off of the island of Cozumel
DAY 7 - JUNE 28, 1999
We drove back to Cancun after a quick breakfast at a donut shop. In Cancun we checked back into the Parador Hotel, had a tasty lunch at the Pop restaurant, went for a walk, then hopped on a bus to explore the hotel zone. We shopped it's markets, walked along it's white sand beach, and for our final dinner in Mexico feasted at the Rain Forest Cafe. We returned downtown to enjoy a late night swim back at the Parador Hotel pool before retiring to bed.
DAY 8 - JUNE 29, 1999
Our last day in Mexico offered some final souvineer shopping before leaving for the airport. During our layover in Miami, our second plane was delayed so we were late returning to Chicago.
For larger map - Click here
1999 Yucatan Adventure Tour
- American Airlines
- Playa del Carmen
- Cathedral of San Idelfonso
-- Merida, Mexico
- Cathedral of Santa Lucia
-- Valladolid, Mexico
ISLAND OF COZUMEL
- Corona reef
- Dzula-Ha reef
- Paradise reef
- Cancun (2 nights)
- Merida (1 night)
- Playa del Carmen (3 nights)
- San Miguel Cozumel (day visit)
- Valladolid (1 night)
- Cozumel Ferry
- Mayan Warrior Dance
- Totonacs Flying Wheel
LESSONS LEARNED THROUGH
THE AIMS OF SCOUTING
CITIZENSHIP - CHARACTER - FITNESS
We experienced citizenship at three levels; small group interaction, national, and world.
Small Group Interaction
This trip involved a group of people sharing a dream and working together to make that dream a reality. Contributing to that success and working together throughout the trip as a team involved citizenship.
In order to truly appreciate what the USA has to offer, you sometimes have to leave it's borders. While traveling in Mexico, or any foreign nation for that matter, you begin to better appreciate all those things about America that you take for granted. You see the U.S. from a different perspective. This all contributes to a better appreciation of our own American citizenship.
Part of Citizenship in the World includes experiencing a foreing culture, it's foods, language, customs, history, and arts. Also experiencing it's people are a part of appreciating the diversity of our respective cultures while also better understanding our common humanity. Our tour featured staying at smaller family owned hotels off the tourist track frequented by mexican travelers. Often we were the only americans in residence. Traveling independently by rented car gave us the freedom to explore parts of the Yucatan where tour buses don't usually go. We ate at many small mexican restaurants where no other americans ate (and a few tourist places as well).
We saw other lifesyles, ranging from the super slick grossly affluent hotel culture of american/european tourists in the hotel zone of Cancun, and contrasted that with the tiny jungle villages south of Valladolid with their thatched huts, cinder block stores, barefooted children, friendly bicycling men, and women in their clean ornate traditional dresses. There was a man balancing a huge load of palm leaves on his bicycle, three people on another bicycle carrying groceries. There was obvious poverty, but the people seemed proud but curious, gentle, and happy. Seeing how hard the lives of others can be makes you appreciate those luxuries we take so often for granted.
Climbing pyramids, hiking through cities, body surfing at Caribbean beaches, and snorkeling at coral reefs involved plenty of physical activty.
Visits to ancient Mayan ruins provided learning about the history and culture of the Yucatan region. We learned to communicate through broken phrases and gestures. We mastered (sometimes) land navigation with the occaisional directions of a friendly native. Also group members were involved in learning about the area and planning the trip months before we left.
We found emmotional fitness and stamina being developed through the maturing process of a group thousands of miles from home in a foreign culture learning to adapt and function during a long term experience.
This was included through visits the mammoth spanish colonial Cathedrals and smaller churches. We also experienced the natural beauty of the area with it's dense jungles, fabulous white sand beaches, and spectacular coral reefs, giving us a better sense of the wonder of nature and the power of it's creator.