Cancun: The Ruins of El Rey and Playa Delfines

Can’t get enough o’ those great iguanas, those rocky piles, those sands o’ white and waves o’ blue. We discovered that there are two – count ‘em, two – ruin sites in Cancun, one north of the city near Puerto Juarez, and the other in the southern hotel zone, across the road from Playa Delfines, Dolphin Beach. Since today was a beautiful sunny day, we opted to visit El Rey and then head to the beach.

When we arrived at the ruins, no-one was visible at the front desk, but lo and beyond the caretaker emerged from his poker game and newspaper reading as soon as he saw us heading into the site.

The structures here are quite small, built between 1300 and 1550 AD, and the main activities of the inhabitants were fishing and Mayan trading with salt. This city was abandoned after the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, and being located so close to the Caribbean sea, the area became a haven for pirates for a long time.

But what El Rey lacked in size it made up for in numbers of iguanas, many of whom emerged from their burrows and followed us around the site when they saw that we had apples for them.

At one point the lizard master was interacting with about nine lizards and a bird, and several other iguanas were streaming towards him from other parts of the ruins, all with one thing on their minds – food.

The birds and the iguanas duked it out for the bits of apple thrown by Ty and I. We saw the remains of a dead iguana, its carcass stripped almost to the bone, presumably by the other beasts.

It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of these thousand year old ruins against the backdrop of the more recent ruins of an abandoned hotel in one direction and the gigantic pyramid-shaped Iberostar hotel in the other. Ozymandias, anyone?

After our fun with iguanas, and a climb up the small pyramid,

we walked back across the road to Playa Delphines, a beautiful wide local beach with a few palapas and loungers and no hotels in the immediate vicinity (very unusual for Cancun). There are no restaurants or bars here, so I hopped aboard the bus, went to the nearest Oxxo, and returned with snacks to stave off starvation and dehydration.

There are some food vendors on the beach, including a few guys selling something called “jeebie-jeebie” or “heebie-jeebie”, small edible pouches of fish or meat carried in what look like small aquariums.

Once again the surf was up. The ocean along this coast is rough; every single day we’ve been to the beach the red flags have dominated, with the occasional yellow flag indicating caution.

Many of the people ignore the red flags and frolic in the waves anyway, even if they can’t swim. At Playa Delfines were mostly local families enjoying Fathers’ Day and big numbers of people were in the waves, keeping the lifeguards busy. Right in front of us a middle aged lifeguard with a strong freestyle stroke and a red lifesaving buoy made two saves in the space of an hour, hauling in two men who’d gotten into trouble too far out.

The currents here are very strong and it’s easy to get pulled out if you’re not careful. Many people drown along this coast every year.

Ty and I enjoyed playing in the waves but made sure that we were in the yellow flag section where the current wasn’t as strong – the waves were just as high, though – whooshhhh! Ty took a pounding surfing in on one gigantic wave, while I managed to duck down underneath it.

Our apartment in downtown Cancun is really sweet. It’s the upper floor of a two story row house in what used to be a townhouse community. The young couple who own it, originally from Argentina and resident in Cancun for the last ten years, built the structure and made all the furniture inside from hard wood, mostly with what looks like old ship’s fittings. Many beautiful shells are displayed on the shelves – Aldo is a diver and gathered these from local dive spots.

Aside from the usual insanely barking dogs, and the renovations sometimes going on next door, the place is pretty quiet.

See more pics here.

From Playa to Cancun: Last Stop on the World Tour

One block away from us in Playa Ejido was a very nice small park – La Ceiba – which has colourful sculpture, a cafe with brightly painted furniture, several art studios, some for kids, and a cinema.

We had originally planned to stay in Playa for four weeks; however, by the third week, we’d had enough of the hard sell everywhere and wanted a change of scenery. I was, though, happy to meet world traveller Nikoya, a woman originally from Vancouver now staying in Playa via twenty years in Chang Mai, Thailand.

We spent a nice evening wandering the Fifth Avenue strip the night before Ty and I hit the road. And I was also happy to share my space with the two small frilled lizards that kept us company – here is the tiniest, and most skittish, one.

Our last few days were spent on the beach and the weather was grand, much better than it had been, pretty well clear and getting hotter. Just as in many of the places we’ve visited over this past year, here, too, the beach is eroding. Although people on forums that I’ve read say that beach erosion is a natural phenomenon (and, yes, it is), the kind of erosion we see here and elsewhere has two primary causes – rampant development and global climate change. The building of gigantic hotel and condo developments, and long piers jutting out into the ocean, disturbs and changes the ocean currents, taking sand from one area and depositing it somewhere else. Also, with global climate change, and the melting of glaciers, the sea level is rising. Just as we saw in Thailand, especially on Koh Samui, here, too, the rising water level means that some businesses along the beach are having to pile up sand bags (or sand whales as they’re called here) or put their sun loungers on an artificially raised platform of sand so that the sea doesn’t inundate them.

I think that the entire Mayan Riviera beach is human-made, with millions of cubic meters of sand trucked in from somewhere else (where, I wonder?) to the tune of millions of dollars. The new sand is just dumped on top of the remaining old sand, or onto rocky shores, and, in not very much time, much of it is eroded away again by the ocean. In the meantime, this sand has blanketed the reefs and killed the coral; as well, the water at the moment is a murky, turbid, milky-white (not sure whether this is temporary or the result of the sand trucked in). So, no sea life can be seen near the shore in developed areas except tiny fish.

In the middle of Playa’s main beach, in front of Fusion Restaurant, the beach has almost disappeared, revealing the original rocky shoreline.

One of the last days we were there, after a rain storm, we could smell the sewage that had obviously overflowed the storm sewers and was just gushing out from pipes into the ocean, turning the turquoise water a dull dark brown in places. Since swimming in that water wasn’t very appealing, we walked north, past the new Ultramar pier (one of the culprits for the beach degradation?), to the north beaches. Last time we were here there wasn’t much in this area but has it ever been developed since then. Many large all-inclusives and beach clubs line the wide beach along here, attracting young people and many locals. Right now this is the best beach area in town, from what I can see.

After checking out of the Casa Ejido we took the ADO bus up the highway to Cancun, our final destination on the around the World jaunt, before heading back to Vancouver the end of June, selected for ease of departure and, hopefully, sun and beach.

We’re staying for 2 days at the La Quinta Inn and Suites downtown before moving to an apartment in a local neighbourhood. La Quinta is almost brand new, has a small pool out back, and is nice enough for a brief stay. One really nice feature is a free shuttle bus which has transported us the last couple of days to one of the beaches in the Hotel Zone.

The Hotel Zone here is enormous, about 26 kilometers of peninsula jutting out into the ocean east of the city. And the hotels are also enormous; gigantic monoliths, huge mostly white condo developments, some older run-down and/or abandoned properties, line the beach and the lagoon the entire way.

These, and the biggest and “best” of American or Americanised culture, such as Hooters, Coco Bongo, Senor Frog’s and the like, and crappy little souvenirs shops with the usual junk, comprise the Cancun peninsula.

Unlike Puerto Vallarta, there is no malecon or beach walk here. The hotels have been built right on the beach, preventing access almost everywhere to what is public beach. To allow others who are not staying at these properties to access the beach, there are ten public entrances dotted the length of the zone but, unless you know where these are, they’re not easy to find. Yesterday, after spending a few hours at the Cabana Beach Club (not an optimum experience), we walked down the beach for about 45 minutes and could not find a public access point off the beach.

So, since we were tired and hungry, we decided to walk through a hotel property. Of course, since Ty doesn’t exactly blend into the background, we were accosted and about to be escorted off the premises until we told the security personnel that we wanted to see a man about a room. After being directed to the lobby we exited at full speed stage right and flagged down a bus outside.

Today the weather was wonderful and we rented two sun loungers on the beach at Gaviota Azul, having a lazy day playing in the big surf.

The large, wide beach was full of local families, with kids large and small enjoying the day. Because this area of the beach has a sand bar not too far offshore, a shallow pool of ocean water untouched by the big surf is created so it’s perfect for small children.

At the moment red and yellow flags are up so the water isn’t good for swimming; however, the high waves are a blast. Ty, floating offshore, was just about pounded by a gigantic one but managed to duck under it in time. Several people enjoyed burying one another in the sand, including this little boy who placed small handfull after handfull of sand on his reclining mother.

Below is a picture of what the beach would look like if no sand was brought in to Cancun.

Although Cancun is not at all our scene, if the weather holds, it will be a very pleasant spot to spend some time frolicing in the water before heading back to what sounds like a cold and wet spring at the moment on the west coast.

See more pics here.