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Coba (Quintana Roo, Mexico)

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A large ruined city of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

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      13.07.2009 10:55
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      On of the many ancient and less well-known Mayan sites of the Yucatan

      Our recent holiday to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico was not just in order to get a relaxing break in the sun but also to see some of the sights for which the area is famous. The ancient Mayan sites are important tourist attractions and undoubtedly responsible for bringing many visitors to the area.

      Probably the most famous of all of these is Chichen Itza and we had intended to to visit this at least. We also wanted to visit Tulum, the site which is located right on the edge of the sea and of which we had read impressive reviews.

      In the end we did visit Tulum and found it to be every bit as fascinating as it had been described. Chitchen Itza, however, would have been a seven hour round trip from our hotel, leaving only a relatively minimal amount of time for exploration. In addition, as with Tulum, all of the actual constructions are off-limits to visitors, especially the pyramid. We decided to pass on this trip and look instead for something nearer.

      The tour guide at our hotel told us about Coba. Unlike the other popular sites, Coba is relatively undeveloped and so it is possible to get far more of an impression of what it looked like when it was finally explored in the 1920s. Not only this but Coba also has the tallest pyramid in Mexico, which remains one of the very few that visitors are still allowed to climb. All of this convinced us that a visit to Coba would be a very good substitute.

      The tour package that was offered us combined a visit to a Mayan village deep in the jungle with the visit to Coba. At the village we would get to abseil (they use the American term - rappelling - there, but it's the same thing) down a cliff and then zip-line though the jungle canopy. This would be followed by lunch prepared by the villagers. Then we would be off to Coba. All this for around $95US per person, including all transport to and from the hotel.

      You approach the Coba site around a large lake that looks quite inviting until the guide informs you that it is home to a crocodile. The animal could be spotted swimming about in the middle of the lake. We decided that a quick dip to cool off from the tropical heat would have to wait until out return to the hotel.

      The size of the Coba ruins isn't as apparent as it is at other Mayan sites on the Yucatan. Unlike Tulum and Chitchen Itza, the jungle has not been cleared back from the constructions, other than immediately around each, so that you can walk around them. Indeed, in some cases, not even that is possible. This is certainly true of the pyramid.

      There are a number of constructions close to the entrance and these were where the guide did most of the commentary on the history of the site. Here there is a smaller pyramid, which shows the stages of development, which took it, over time, from simply a platform, in three stages up to what you see today. The motivation, it appears, was for the worshippers to try to get ever closer to their Gods.

      Nearby is what is thought to be a games court. The only problem is, no one can figure out what sort of game it might have been or how it might have been played. There are number of these dotted throughout the site. The interesting feature of these is two stone hoops set vertically at the top of the bankings on each side. An early form of basketball perhaps?

      After this you are free to roam the site in the time remaining to you. You can walk to each construction but it will take you some time to do so. What you can do is to hire a "taxi". Throughout the Mayan Riviera you will see hundreds of tricycles where the two parallel wheels are at the front rather than the rear, and take the place of the front wheel. In most cases this section of the trike forms a large basket. You see guys carrying goods around in them.

      At Coba these baskets have been converted into seats for two people and form a sort of Mexican rickshaw where the driver pedals behind the passengers. You can hire one of these for 95 pesos (just less than £5) and the driver will take you anywhere you want on the site, stop whenever you ask and wait whilst you explore.

      These guys are also very knowledgeable about the history of the site and the nature of the constructions. We found ours as good as the official guide. He pointed out the remnants of one of the many raised roadways that we wouldn't have noticed but which was obvious once you looked at it from the right angle. Apparently this road originally ran 100kms from Coba to Chitchen Itza, so enabling an exchange of trade between the two city states.

      We made, first of all, for the pyramid, the one thing we most certainly didn't want to miss. The ride through the jungle took a good ten minutes and we travelled at least three times faster than we could have walked it. Along the way there were many other constructions but we decided to view those on the way back.

      The pyramid (Nohoch Mul) stands 140 feet high and is surmounted by a stone temple, which remains largely intact. The pyramid is very steep and the steps broken and uneven but still climbable. It isn't in as good a condition as the one at Chitchen Itza. A rope has been attached to the top and runs to the bottom, for those who need the security of something onto which to hold for either ascent or descent. I didn't find the climb difficult and didn't need the rope but I did need a stop to catch my breath halfway up.

      The view from the platform in front of the temple is staggering. You can see for miles. Mostly what you see is the green jungle canopy stretching in all directions, out of which poke the tops of the other constructions on the site. As the guide said, the Yucatan is as flat as a pancake and so anything that rises above the jungle has, by its very nature, to be man-made. That's how these places were rediscovered.

      We probably spent longer than we should have here but the views were just so engrossing. I took loads of photos and video. Eventually we climbed down and set of to see as much of the site as we could in the time remaining to us. We saw and explored most of the construction that we had passed on the way out to the pyramid but in the end time defeated us. We certainly hadn't had a chance to see everything in our couple of hours on site.

      As with most of these tourist sites, at the entrance are a number of memorabilia shops. There are also decent toilets here, as at most sites. The Mexicans seem to be sensitive to the sensitivities of tourists where this is concerned. Even at the Mayan village in the heart of the jungle, the toilets could not be faulted: clean, airy and relatively odourless.

      We greatly enjoyed our visit to Coba and also to the Mayan village. As with most of these excursions, there is never enough time to do everything that you would like to do. Certainly there wouldn't be enough to justify a whole day at Coba but another hour would have been good. Many of the photos I took I have posted on my Facebook page, along with pictures taken at Tulum and elsewhere.

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      A large ruined city of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization, Quintana Roo, Mexico.