our hotel jetty at the lake of Bacalar

It is time for a day off. Bacalar is a relatively quiet town, on the side of a very pleasant lagoon, apparently showing no less than seven different colours during the year. Since we are only going to be here a day or two, we are already happy to distinguish two colours, dark- and light-blue. Somebody suggested that this was because of the presence of cenotes – the sinkholes, of which more later – under the lake. Oh, and Bacalar also has a historical tourist attraction, the Fuerte de San Filipe, an almost 300 year old fort built to defend the town against pirates that used the lagoon as a shelter. But when we turned up, well before 7 pm, the official closing time, everybody had gone home already.

But Bacalar is also being discovered by the tourists, which means that services, from hotels, waiters and whoever else, vary greatly. Luckily, in between a dip in the pool and floating in the lake we manage to locate some fabulous restaurants, with fabulous food, and even a wine list, not something very common in the average Mexican restaurant. We even managed a bottle of Mexican wine, a first for us, aptly called Castillio Rhin.

the Bacalar lake, at least two colours

but also extensively used for boating activities

the town square of Bacalar

and the towers of the fort

another view of the fort, necessarily from the outside

our first Mexican wine, appropriately called Castillio del Rhin

one of the small, neat pyramids in Chacchoben

we have beaten the tourists, so far; the only other people are the cleaners, preparing the site

and there are some people carefully restoring some of the structures

small structure at the foot of one of the temples

The long-feared confrontation with tourists came the next day, at the archaeological site of Chacchoben, which is not far from Bacalar. So far, in the Rio Bec area, we had the sites we visited almost, or entirely, for ourselves. But here quite a few cars were parked already, however, by the time we got back to the parking, 45 minutes later, the fourth and the fifth touring car just arrived, inching their way in between several parked minibuses, whilst swarms of mostly Americans hovered around the souvenir stalls. At least we still managed to see the site relatively undisturbed, but the magic of the earlier sites had gone. The path was upgraded to gravel, clearly an unnatural addition, and lots of workers were either cleaning, or restoring parts of the several pyramids and temples. The buildings and staircases were impressive enough, but the biggest attraction, according to the guide books – that these were some of the few pyramids you could climb – is no more; the stairs have been roped off, and with so many workers around, it would be futile to try to sneak up. The structures here are quite different from the ones we saw earlier this trip, in that there was no decoration at all here, just stone and stairs. I loved the little pyramid, perfectly shaped, with sharp angles, as well as the larger structures, with the round corners which, perhaps, are not so typical for the Rio Bec structures, after all.

there are also several larger structures

the Indiana Jones feeling

small flight of stairs up one of the side buildings, equally Indiana Jones-like (except the rope in front…)

another large temple with wide stairs upwards

and there they are, the masses

brought here by a fleet of busses

On our way further into Yucatan we met with one of those typical situations we are not prepared for. I drove a little too fast, true, in a town I cannot remember the name of, where a stretch of road had a maximum speed of 20 km/hr – the rest of town is 40. Sure enough a police car – which I suspect was waiting for people like me – gets on my tail, stops me, and the policeman politely tells me that I really need to respect the speed limit, you know, with schools around, children crossing the streets etc. He then tells me that he will have to give me a fine, of 2000 pesos, some 120 US$, and will have to confiscate my driver’s licence, which I will able to get back tomorrow, after a lengthy process, amongst others including a two-hour re-education course. Hmmm. This interferes badly with our plans, backtracking several hours tomorrow is not my idea of spending our time efficiently. Ahhh! But there is a solution! If I want, I can also pay the fine here and now, except that they will then not be able to write me a receipt, of course. A classical set-up. What do you do? Call their bluff? Hand over my driver’s licence? Pay up, of course, and bribe the policemen. Both of them looked pretty well-fed, so I will not have been the first one.

I hate wasting money like that. But I hate even more that I contribute to such a despicable system. Makes me feel bad for the rest of the day. Next time, I’ll tape the conversation. And then play it back to the policemen, and ask them for 2000 pesos.

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