We dragged ourselves out of bed at 6:20 this morning so that we could get an early start on Chichen Itza. We took the bus from Valladolid a little after 7am, and arrived at the park at 8am, just as it was opening. This turned out to be a great plan... there were only 8 or 10 other people that arrived when we did, so we had the ruins virtually to ourselves.
The first thing we did was climb the 91 steps up El Castillo, as every visitor must. It is only 25m high, but it is extremely steep and the stairs are very shallow. There is a rope going up the center of the stairway, in case you need it, but Lauren and I found it easiest to climb using our hands. Going down is really the hard part, and Lauren ended up "bum-bumping" her way to the bottom. I managed to stay upright, but it's only because I've gotten used to steep staircases after doing the Inca Trail. Lauren is petrified of heights, so I was really proud of how she handled things.
After that, we explored the rest of the ruins by ourselves for a couple of hours. The grounds are quite large and there is a lot to see. At around 11am, we headed back to El Castillo, near the main entrance, which had become inundated with hundreds of tourists being herded around on their guided tours. It was also very hot by that point. What a difference from the peaceful early morning that Lauren and I had enjoyed! The last thing I wanted to do was climb El Tunel, which is a passageway leading up to a jaguar throne in the older pyramid inside El Castillo. The entrance to the tunnel, at the base of El Castillo, doesn't open until 11:00, so we got there just in time and managed to be the first two inside. The narrow stairway is very dark, steep, and hot... all in all, a claustrophobic experience, but still pretty cool. Once again, Lauren surprised me -- I really didn't think she would be up for it, but she was just fine.
After we finished with Chichen Itza, we had the dilemma of how to get back to Valladolid. Our plan was to head to the highway and flag down a passing bus heading to Cancun, so off we went. We made our way to the highway and decided that instead of just sitting around, we would start walking. I knew that the Cenote Ik Kil was only 3km away, so I figured that if a bus didn't pass us by the time we made it there, we could go for a swim and then wait. Half an hour of hot, dusty walking later, and still no bus, we made it to Ik Kil and went in to check it out. This particular cenote is far more beautiful than the one we saw yesterday in Valladolid. There were small cascades of water plunging from the high limestone roof, which was ringed in greenery, and the water was very deep... there is no gradual change in depth from the edge; it's just straight down. The water was cool and refreshing, but there were a LOT of catfish, which kind of creeped me out, so I didn't stay in for too long, and Lauren didn't want to go in at all. There were so many catfish that the kids swimming around me would reach out and grab hold of them for fun.
After my swim, I got changed and we went back to sit on the side of the highway. Before long, a collectivo passed by (a collectivo is like a minivan that will stop and pick people up if you flag them down... somewhat disorganized), and we were back in Valladolid in time for supper.