Mexico: Yucatán Peninsula 101

I’m overwhelmed by everyone’s enthusiastic welcome for my return on Thursday.

Friendly selfie of how I feel:


Thank you, especially those of you who dropped me a personal comment- your readership has been and always will be the strongest fuel to drive this blog. After spicy fried chicken on a sunny day.

But YES: Let’s go (back) to Cancun (forever). Today’s post is special because it’s going to be one of the few extracts taken directly from my journal. I fall asleep way too often nowadays when we’re on the move so I rarely get to jot down my thoughts in the moment. I seriously need to make greater use of my brain capacity.

So meet my 3 incredibly supportive and fun travel chums: Jane, DJ, and Wen.

Perfect ocean and girls
Jane, DJ (Dark Jane), and Wen on her tippy toes by the Caribbean Sea

Now then, hop onboard a long morning bus ride to Chichen Itza on Saturday, March 22, 2014, a day after we landed our happy butts in Cancun. I know Saturday is actually Day 2, but by the time I’m done we’ll be back in Day 1 because I can. Just read on, dearie.

Sat 3/22/2014, 10:30am. Sitting next to Jane. Yucatán, Mexico.

I’m so hungry. We went to a local supermercado downtown last night where I bought some apple yogurt, 2 pears, a toothbrush, and gum. Thank God I munched on my pear this morning or I’d be starving by now. After our 7:15am pickup, we have been on the bus with Enrique, our bomb 62 year old Mexican tour guide, for a good 2 hours by now. After picking up a whole lotta tourists from the Hotel Zone, we are now en route to Chichen Itza, southwest of Cancun toward the center of the Mexico peninsula. I keep falling asleep intermittently because we were operating on 3 hours of sleep. Traveling through the night sure seems to save time, but you definitely end up forgetting how long you’ve been awake until you knock out the moment your head hits the pillow. I risk falling asleep any moment right now (the other 3 losers have caved) so I’m just gonna bullet the highlights of yesterday, aka Day 1:

  • Shoutout to my friend Akash’s generous ride to San Francisco Airport. Surreal to leave school.
  • Surreal to find self in first class flight. Why did the flight attendant offer DJ cookies but not me.
  • Finishing IEOR 190G homework at Dallas Fort Worth Airport. Surreal in a bad way.
  • Sharing Tasty Turkey bagel with Wen. Giant-ass bagel with side of Pop Eye’s chicken!!
  • Short flight from DFW to Cancun. They never stop feeding you in business class.

Bus is still rumbling along. Just passed through local village. Enrique talking about some culture of honey, not tequila… (I think this is where I fell asleep because  the page goes blank.)

Scrambling out of the pages of my journal, I wanna just backtrack a little to show you a top down view of where exactly we’ve been on this journey. I realize that mapping was a critical feature I forgot to include in my Europe posts so I will contextualize properly this time.

Map 1: Escape from School

Flight route.
SFO to DFW to CUN in 8 hours.

Map 2: Bienvenidos a México.

Yellow: Yucatán

The yellow portion is the Free and Sovereign State of Yucatán, where we visited Chichen Itza, and the state on its right is the Free and Sovereign State of Quintana Roo, where we stayed in Cancun’s Hotel Zone and took a day trip to Xel-Ha. On the left is the Mexican state of Campeche, and together these 3 states form the Yucatán peninsula, which separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Carribbean Sea.

Map 3: A Closer Look at Yucatán Peninsula

2 trips
Our journeys: Cancun to Chichen Itza and Cancun to Xel-Ha.

Actually, if you had more than the 5 measly days on my itinerary, I’d highly recommend heading south to Belize and Guatamala because they are also part of this Yucatán peninsula. In fact, I just met a friend who grew up in Panama yesterday. His hearty recommendations of his home country and Colombia next door are located even farther south.

Yucatan from space! NASA you’re so cool.

I love it
Yucatán from space

Reflecting on Day 1, I hit that “wow, here I am” factor when I opened my eyes from slumber onboard flight AA1501 and looked out of the window to see a perfectly beautiful stretch of coastline disappear beneath the wing. The transient sight was white, wafer thin, and wonderfully deserted. You see how the coastal edges in the NASA photo glow? That’s what I mean. As someone who gets excited easily, I got very excited… and felt my eyes widen as I took in the flat green expanse sliding rapidly beneath our aircraft.

If you could spare a moment to indulge my inner geographer, I later found out that the Yucatán moist forests are part of the tropical and subtropical broad broadleaf forest biome. You also find these ecozones in IndoMalaysian Southeast Asia and equatorial Africa. While, sadly, I did not see any jaguars or opossums (I had no idea what they looked like either), Yucatán’s rainforests boast a rich biodiversity that call for me to visit again.

One other super cool fact is that this entire peninsula is in fact ALIVE- like a whale surfacing from the sea. OK that was kind of dramatic. But what my copyrighted metaphor means is that the Yucatán Peninsula is in fact an undulating limestone platform gradually emerging from the sea, as of one million years ago. The Peninsula is simply the chunk of the Yucatán Platform that is not submerged.

And my last Cal moment of the day is the fact that the Chicxulub Crater, made by the very meteorite believed to have caused dinosaur extinction, was found just off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula! As a Cal Bear, I feel somewhat personally involved by having been there because the Nobel-winning physicist who proposed this extinction hypothesis was none other than Luis Walter Alvarez from UC Berkeley! Gotta love Cal. I fondly remember gravitating toward a physical geography major when I became fascinated by his geological detective work in a class last year. There is so much to learn.

Jumping back from the Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago to Friday, March 21, 2014… We finally landed in Cancun Airport. Felt the heat and humidity. Stripped off our cardigans and leggings. Hopped onto an airport shuttle. Gasped about how less than 24 hours ago we were still knee-deep in math midterms, finance problem sets, and comp sci projects. Laughed at how far we’ve come (3198.9 miles on land to be exact) in paradise. Stopped laughing when we remembered that random Saturday deadline. Also because we saw, for the first time, how LUCKY we got with our hotel suite…!

This post is getting far too long so I’ll save the rest of Day 1 for next time. If you take a sneak peek at the view from my hotel room, you’ll get a clue as to what we did as soon as we checked in:

Unbeatable view
Unbeatable view.

Next post: beach, fun times on public transportation, dinner downtown, ordering spectacular food in unspectacular Spanish.

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