Merida to Tulum – cenotes, ruins, beaches and yet more sizzling heat…

(for the full post, click here)

I can’t say that cycling in the flat, featureless Yukatan Peninsula, slap bang in the middle of the Mexico’s hottest months, has been a highlight of my journey across this incredibly diverse country. Luckily the icy cool cenotes – underground, freshwater sinkholes – the spick ‘n span colonial towns, the crumbling Mayan ruins and endless bleached white, powdery beaches have made this detour worthwhile…

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Here’s Romain heading down into the dark depths of a cinote, one of some 3000 holes that link the underground waterways of this peninsula. Each has its own feel – this one was perhaps 30 metres deep, and eerily lit by a single shaft of light.

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Mexican safety standards – the ladder swayed gently and the rungs were slippery.

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Such incredible, otherwordly colours. This one is part of a triplet of cinotes a half day ride out of Merida. Roots from trees high above dangled down to drink from the clean waters, and cracks in the rocks lit the cavern like natural skylights.

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To get there, we followed 10km of singletrack that ran alongside a narrow railway cut into the forest, built for horse pulled carriages.

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More bike friendly towns in the parched hot, pancake flat Yukatan peninsula. We stopped here for a turkey taco and to fix a plague of punctures. Repairing flats in this 40c heat can be a real challenge, as patches melt away from the inner tube. We went a little crazy constantly squeezing tyres, imagining air was seeping out.

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Where we could, we kept to backroads that linked small villages. Road signs werefew and far between, so we clocked up extra miles riding round in circles. The colonial theme continued as we past churches, grassy squares and old, dishevelled haciendas, echoes of this region’s former splendour. Sustenance was provided by tortellerias and hole-in-the-wall tiendas – grocery stores – promising litre cold bags of flavoured water which we gulped down feverishly.

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Still hot. It’s so dry that when I say hello to passers by, it comes out as a raspy croak. The water in my bottles feels like it’s straight out of the hot tap.

Torture. This sign came as my morale was at an all time low, battling into a warming headwind, almost out of (hot) water, and drenched in sweat. 206km = a day and a half's ride away. All I could think of was slipping into the refreshing waters of the sea...

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Camping out. A local cat takes a liking to Totopos, my valiant steed, before trying to claw his way inside my tent for some attention. The irrepressable leafcutter ants had already beaten him to it, having deftly sliced their way in over the last few days in search of leftovers. These little suckers bite hard, too.

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Time for a new chain. I bought this 8 speed cheapo for 3 dollars. Should keep me going for a while.

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Chichen Itza, touted to be the 8th Wonder of the World in the Yukatan’s tourist blurb. In fact, compared to the likes of jungle-clad Palenque, I found it expensive, overcrowded and lacking in atmosphere – all the good stuff was fenced off, and by mid day, the car park was chockablock with tour buses.

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El Castillo detail – reminded me of a citadel from Star Wars.

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I hate to be negative about travelling, as it is what you make of it. But there’s no doubt the riding here has been uneventful – a polite word for boring. Distances are massive, and in this heat, taking a more direct route is sometimes the only option. This translates to a flat and hot tract of tarmac cutting through miles and miles of featureless bush. Occasionally we managed to pick up a cyclepath that ran alongside the main road, though the scenery remained much the same.

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Catedral de San Gervasio, in the colonial town of Valladolid. The town was named after what was then the capital of Spain. It’s a picture perfect hangout half a day from Chichen Itza.

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Here's Valladolid's main mercado, a haven for fresh fruit and vegetables. With the all consuming and ever expanding SuperResort of Cancun nearby, the Yukatan is no stranger to mass tourism, reflected in the way prices spike up for foreigners.

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Splashes of colours. Chillies to suit every palette.

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The Yukatan’s redeeming feature is how bike friendly it is. Here’s Two Less Cars…

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And finally, the arrival at Tulum, on the Carribean coast. Somehow, 10 magical days slipped by camping on the beach here…

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