A short drive brought us to the parking lot at Xel-ha where we will be boondocked for two nights. More on Xel-ha tomorrow. Today we toured the ruins at Tulum as a group. To my way of thinking Tulum is a fairly minor ruin; what makes it special is its location overlooking the aquamarine sea. Just like every ruin we have visited, Tulum has a unique look. Most of its buildings were square and not very high. I've read that the interiors of the buildings still have some frescoes and painted areas, but they were all fenced off to prevent us from climbing them, so that prevented viewing the interiors. The last time we were here we parked in the lot and walked into the ruins. We were shocked to see what a three ring circus this area has become. We have been fortunate to visit many ruins pretty much on our own or in the case of Chichen Itza they were so large, there was room for many visitors. Tulum is within touring distance of Cancun and Playa del Carmen where cruise ships dock, so it was crawling with tourists and tour groups. We had been told that this place can give you a mystical feeling, but between the vendors hawking their wares and the pizza place blasting tunes from the '60's and the Subway sandwich shop, we were more than ready to leave.
We had somewhere great to go - Hidden Worlds, a site featured in an IMAX film according to the brochure . The Yucatan is a limestone formation riddled with caves and underground rivers; none of the rivers here flow solely above ground. As the water flows through the soft limestone it erodes caves and cenotes (sinkholes). Over 3,000 cenotes have been found in this area, but less than half have been explored. We toured two of these cenotes wearing wetsuits and snorkels. The guide drove us through the jungle to openings in the ground that had only been discovered in the last ten years. They were formed by the collapse caused by the weight of heavy stalactite formations. We crawled inside down steep ladders. The water in the cenotes was cold and crystal clear; all the limestone dissolved in it gave it an odd taste. The caves were rich in formations both over our heads and beneath us in the water. The tour company had strategically placed lights so that we could see enough not to run into anything or get lost going around the corner, but it was definitely dark in there. Claustrophobics may not have enjoyed this experience, but this was like nothing we have ever done and a real thrill. In the cave closest to the ocean the water had a current and we could bob through it without exerting ourselves. Occasionally we could see blind fish in the water or bats sleeping overhead. Tree roots reached down, dropping over fifty feet to reach the precious water. It was as if we were swimming in an underground forest. We've visited a lot of great caves, but this spot was a surprise and a revelation. Next time we start driving down the road that seems so solid (except for all the potholes) I'm going to be thinking about the subterranean world right below us.