By Laura Lazorski
My first solo assignment was Coba. Emily had to work on the website all day so she sent me to cover the Mayan ruins in Coba, and I also begged to go. I first heard of them from a French-Canadian who roomed with us in Isla Mujeres (which, if you recall, is the place to go during whale shark season). He said you can’t climb the tallest pyramid at Chichen Itza anymore. He said you could climb the tallest one in Coba.
I managed to ask the ADO agent for my ticket in Spanish, and was proud. I’ve been trying very hard to communicate in Spanish. I got to the bus station around 9:30am because the bus leaves at 10:00am, and they are usually on time. I bought a round trip ticket for 104 pesos. Importantly, the return bus left Coba at 1:45pm and if you aren’t on it you are stuck in Coba for the night or paying a lot of money for a taxi. The total trip by bus was about 45 minutes. Trampers take note: the bus leaves you closer to the entrance of the ruins, but picks you up farther out. Make sure to be toward the entrance of the gravel lot looking for your bus around 1:40pm.
It cost me 52 pesos to get in the complex. Once in, you realize that the ruins are much farther apart than at Chichen Itza, and that you should probably rent a bicycle, or hop in a bicycle taxi. There are guides versed in many languages at the entrance and their rates are negotiable. I sped right past them though because I was on a mission to climb the tallest pyramid at Coba. So for 35 pesos I rented a bicycle and headed down the gravel path in the direction of the largest pyramid.
The excellent part about the ruins of Coba is that they are not rehabilitated and many are still amassed with jungle. The gravel paths that linked the ruins had jungle bending up and around them, vines shaking hands at the apex. The jungle surround made a tunnel of sorts. The bike jaunts between ruin sites were nice and shady, and I did not require as much sunscreen as I had planned for (bonus!). Birds cried out as butterflies cut all around the cyclists en route. It was a verdant, hot day dream.
I pulled over many times. I had to get my eyes on each site: a ball court, a market place, paintings where only the sepia tones survived, and great carved tablets. Finally, I pulled in to the area in front of the large pyramid. Signs about warned that climbing was done at one’s own risk. Yes, that is how it should be. I tried to take in the full shape of the pyramid, a blast of heat and bright stone. I saw a massive rope bisecting the terraced ascent, and saw the grooves of so many footsteps concentrated in the center of the climb, where the rope was too. I recalled that people had fallen to their death in their descent, which is why the rope was there. Dizzying thought, that the ruins still protect themselves with their sheer height.
So I drank some water and climbed. It took all of 15 minutes to ascend, but it was a path carefully picked. The stones are worn unevenly, and of varying heights. I could only look down with intense concentration during the entirety of the climb. I tried to keep my pace regular and stayed focused on steady, relaxed breathing. I made it to the top alright, one or two big last steps and then I was there. In the face of structure at the top, I noticed a man carved upside down and then a man carved right side up. I focused on these carvings and the absurdity of a world inverted, at this height, before I turned around. And of course, it was worth the climb. The farthest reaches of the jungle were open to the eye, and it is a mighty jungle indeed. As it turned out, I managed the descent just fine. I saw some people scooting down on their bums like crabs, so there is that way. But know that you can get down the ruin and live to tramp another border.
I came out of the park at 1:20pm, which did not leave me enough time to catch a taxi to the nearby cenotes for a swim. The taxis ask for about 35 pesos to take you to them, an easy 6km away. That was my regret and a possible advantage to going with a group and chartering a taxi for the day. Alas, my bus was due at 1:45pm, the last bus back to Tulum that day, and so I boarded and thanked the universe for the privilege to climb the great stairs of a Mayan temple.