Coba, History and a lot of fun

The plan for our first day away from our oasis of foreign overeater’s resort was Coba. We rented a car from Cheap Tickets with Thrifty Car Rental. It was a good thing too because our $59 US per day car rental was over $100 per day if booked at the resort! Needless to say upon discovering this I bought some Internet time at the hotel and reserved a van with Cheap Tickets for two more days later on during our stay. The Thrifty Car Rental representative at the hotel was happy to arrange for the vehicle to be ready for us at our hotel and so it was even more convenient than I had expected.

We got up early in the morning but with 5 children, we did not leave the hotel at 8 am as expected. It was more like 9:30 am due to the flexibility required when traveling with a large group of children. Packing snorkeling gear, sunscreen, bug repellent, snacks, water, hats and swimsuits were only some of the things we did not want to forget on our day trip.
Coba is about 1.5 hours from Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera where we were and about 2.5 hours from Cancun. The drive South on the Freeway to Tulum was an hour along the most frustrating stretch of highway. Every 10 to 20 kilometers we would find speed bumps that were half a foot high and three feet long. What was most frustrating was that not always were they well marked by a sign. On at least two occasions I approached the speed bump much too quickly and screeched to a much quicker launch over the speed bump than the rental car company would have wanted me to. It did however make for quite the conversation and excitement among the children in the back row who were jolted in their seat belts. The experience however did make me a bit paranoid about following the actual speed limit and certainly made me pay better attention to the road signs that were ahead. I soon came to realize that the speed bumps usually were grouped into threes with the middle one unmarked. The once yellow painted speed bumps were long worn to their original colour that blended into the road.

The road west from Tulum to Coba was much easier although only one lane in each direction. The half hour drive consisted mostly of jungles on each side with the occasional shack and two quaint little towns along the way. Driving through these little towns (with their dozen or more speed bumps) gave us a glimpse into their modest lifestyle.

About one kilometer from Coba was a large intersection that was rather confusing. After almost going the wrong way around the roundabout we did find the side road to Coba. The town of Coba was small. After passing through the town we drove alongside the lake which had at least two people showing off crocodiles to the tourists (with the expectation of a couple of dollars in exchange). It was mostly a couple of village boys trying to make a few dollars off of the tourists that flocked to the area.

Parking in the muddy entrance to Coba surrounded by little shops was only 15 pesos. Overall the experience to this little treasure was not only affordable but a unique experience. Our guidebook suggested we bypass the overpriced offers for a guide outside the park. As a result we paid for our admission of 450 pesos per adult (free for children), told the kids to use the washrooms (there are none inside the park) just outside the entrance before walking into the park.
Just as we entered it started to pour with rain. The ten minute downpour was the longest of many short periods of rain we experienced. Given how warm it was however we were not going to let the wet weather dampen our spirits. We just started up the trail to the first of 5 sites spread out over many acres. As we walked to the first group of buildings one of the guides who were now huddled under a little thatched roof shelter approached us and offered a 45 minute tour for $20. He didn’t seem willing to barter (and was much less than the $35 we were previously told it may be) and so we took him up on his offer.

He proceeded to tell us about the history and significance of Coba and how it was older than and had links to Chichen Itza. The children even gleaned a fair amount of information from the guide who had a number of photos, pictures and diagrams in the waterproof binder he carried.

Our first building was a temple site where ceremonies were performed followed by a visit to the area where the priests resided. Following a walk through a short tunnel (due to the fact that on average Mayan’s were shorter than my 5 foot tall wife) we headed over to the old Mayan ball court. This is where the Mayans would use their knees, elbows and hips to hit a 10 pound rubber ball through a stone hoop 30 feet up a stone ramp to either side of the court. The winner was honorably sacrificed to the God’s. You can’t tell me he would have been trying that hard to win the competition now can you?

Following our tour of this first group our guide dropped us off at a bike stand and asked us if we wanted to tour the rest of Coba by bike or in the front of one of the many locals who had three wheel bikes with portable umbrellas to protect the passengers from the rain. It was at this time that it started to rain again and so we decided to hire two chauffeured bikes (950 pesos) and two self propelled bikes (300 pesos) for our family. My pregnant wife and youngest kids were not up to the two kilometer hike to see the rest of the ruins. This was probably the most fun we had during the day and we were whisked from one group of sites to another.
Our chauffeur’s didn’t speak much English and so we had to mostly had to rely on our limited Spanish and their limited yet better English as we visited the remaining groups of sites in Coba. At one point we followed their pointer finger down a path that lead to a fairly large building where no other tourists were. It was tucked 50 meters down a trail behind another small structure where a group of people were gathered.

We biked past another ball court and observatory before reaching the tallest building in Coba. The kids were excited to know that they were allowed to climb this ancient structure. As we approached it each of my children made a quick dash to its steep steps before I called them back for a little lesson on safely climbing Mayan structures, something they didn’t feel they needed a lecture on. It did make me feel somewhat more comfortable about the climb. . . that is until my careful children started to run up the edifice faster than I could say “slow down”. They zipped up bypassing all of the adults three times their age paying no attention to the safety rope that dangled down the centre of the steps. At one point I did ask them to stop so that I could go ahead and at least get a video of them scampering up the ancient temple. They were only too happy to oblige and as I filmed their ascent I was even able to capture the slip of my 9 year old Dailin, who was climbing a bit too fast and got a nice sized gash on his shin. He stopped and sat down in the hot sun that was out and had a bit of a cry at this point before I asked him the all important question, “Do you want to continue to the top or head back down.” Well he was hurt but there was no way I was going to stop him from climbing on this cool ancient playground equipment. So with that he hobbled up the second half of the steps to the top of the structure.

From here we could see Coba Lake in the distance along with the Observatory and a canopy of Jungle trees. It was a beautiful site from the top of these ruins and in the five minutes we were at the top, two 30 second rain showers passed by. From this vantage point we could even see the rain as it moved past us and off into the distance. It was quite a unique site to see.

Well it came time for us all to climb down and my kids were just as happy to hop down the steps as some of the adults around us clung to the lifeline rope for dear life. I accompanied my 7 year old while the others did a semi-descent job of following my instructions of leaning back as they went down the stairs. It was at this point that my observant 7 year old Orin said, “So you would rather that we lean back and crack our heads than lean forward and die from falling down?” I couldn’t help but chuckle and confirm his remark with a simple, “Yes, that’s right.”

Our bike ride back to the entrance of this archaeological site followed the same path we came on. We zipped along the path at a leisurely pace to finish off our day. It was a nice relaxing, educational and thrilling day for all of us. We were happy to get away from the resort and to experience the true life and history of the people of Mexico.

2007 Coba Costs:
Parking – 15 pesos
Admission – 450 pesos per adult (free for kids)
Guide – 2000 pesos
Bike – 300 pesos
Chauffeured bike – 950 pesos
Chauffeur tips – 500 pesos (optional)

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