Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Round the World Five - Day 13 (Tue, 18 Mar)

Itinerary: Tuesday, 18th March. Leave Wynn by taxi for McCarran Terminal 1. Fly US Airways US590 at 06:45 First Class to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, arriving Terminal 4 at 07:57. Transfer to US Airways US315 leaving 09:01 for the 4 hr 10 min flight First Class in 757-200 to Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Arrive Terminal 3 at 14:11. Met by Cathy Matos Mexican Tours for private transfer from Cancun airport to the Mayaland Lodge at Chichen Itza for a 2-night stay in a Royal Mayan Bungalow. The Mayaland Lodge is a 5 star hotel located right next to the Chichen Itza ruins, in the state of Yucatan. The Mayaland Lodge was one of the first hotels built in the area and one of the first ones in the world to be located next to an archaeological site, with a mystical atmosphere that will take you back to the ancient times with the commodities of modern life. In any of our 39 bungalows you will be able to enjoy the comfort and space, as well as a pool and garden view. Each one of these bungalows was built in the traditional Mayan style based on wood, stone, Yucatan marble and thatched roof; thinking about guests that like to be in touch with nature and the great culture that inhabited this land a long time ago.

And so we leave fair Las Vegas. I had to get up at 4.00 a.m., checkout, get a taxi to the airport. As soon as I got out of the taxi, there was a 'Kerbside Check-in' for heavy baggage with the guy touting for business. It certainly saves dragging a heavy bag round the airport, but there's a two-dollar charge (and they appear to solicit gratuities, too). Because I'm on a First Class ticket for this leg (it's like Business Class, really) I've a separate check-in agent so I don't have to wait in line. It makes it so much easier, particularly when it not even half past five yet and I'm not really at my best. I walk to the gate, find a quiet seat and, what do you know? I'm able to connect to the airport's unencrypted Wi-Fi with my new notebook computer (a Fujitsu Lifebook series P) and send a few e-mails. Last night, I failed to connect to the hotel's unencrypted Wi-Fi, despite a number of attempts. Heartened by this success, I board the aircraft (an Airbus A319), we taxi at remarkably high speed and enter the queue for departure. Then the captain announces an air traffic delay of thirty minutes. He shuts down one of the two engines for economy and we watch countless other aircraft, in the livery of various airlines. Alaska have the face of a man, presumably an Inuit, on the tailfin, another airline has a picture of a stag. US Airways, whom I'm flying with, have a stylised Stars and Stripes.

Our route give an excellent view of Las Vegas. The city lies in the centre of a sandy plain at least fifty miles across. The tall structures of the strip form a little pincushion, viewed from the air. I think rock underlies the sand on this plain, which is why they can build tall. We fly out across the desert over the suburbs. The light brown plain is divided into a square grid by access roads and then each large square is developed with houses clustering around various arrangements of local roads and cul-de-sacs. I've previously commented on a similar arrangement in Miami, but Las Vegas is far less colourful from the air: it's a study in brown and some of the blocks are only partially developed with houses. As we start to cross the mountains which ring Las Vegas, Lake Mead is very clear in the distance (it is 100 miles long, after all) but, although I think I recognise the one escarpment in the vicinity of Grand Canyon, I can't make out the canyon itself. I think our flight path takes us too far to the South. There's just time for the crew to issue a soft drink and a 'Quaker' energy bar (not bad) before the captain announces the descent into Phoenix and turns the seat belt sign on.

Phoenix also sits on a plain ringed by mountains but with more small mountainous areas scattered around the plain. It's all noticeably greener than Las Vegas. In the distance, I can see a large river and various irrigation canals criss-cross the landscape. The suburban areas follow the same general pattern as Las Vegas, large squares developed with estate roads and houses but it looks more 'organic' - there's not quite so much regularity and some of the big squares 'wobble'. It also looks older and more established than Las Vegas. In numerous places, the ground returns flashes of sunlight, probably pools, but we're still too high to be certain. There are a number of metropolitan areas with high-rise buildings and larger flat-roofed industrial buildings. As we get lower, I spot Honeywell but I think there are also a number of electronics companies based in Phoenix, like Motorola. There are also railway lines and sidings. I can see numerous lines of freight cars - it looks like flat cars loaded with containers. At one yard, there are 19 large diesel electric locomotives all in a line, awaiting their next duty.

The terminal at Phoenix is not too new and its low ceilings make it a bit claustrophobic, particularly since it's very crowded. I'd not found a transfer desk so went to the departure gate where there were lots of people milling around trying to check-in. The agents were under a lot of pressure. Even when we started boarding, people waiting for other departures were blocking access to our gate so, after a series of requests on the Public Address, one of the agents came to physically shoo people away. I got to the front cabin of my B757. Fairly old-fashioned equipment but wide leather-covered seats and a friendly crew. I noticed the door to the cockpit was left open until just before push-back, about right time. We taxied some distance on the parallel taxiway to 7L-25R (that means there must be a 7R-25L runway, probably handling arrivals, but I couldn't see it from where I was sitting). Aircraft in front of us were taking off in quick succession. I timed the last few departures - only 40 seconds between two aircraft of the same type, 65 seconds before a slightly smaller aircraft took off then we departed 50 seconds later! As our aircraft demonstrated the B757's rate of climb, I counted a further nine aircraft already waiting to follow us.

After a couple of hours, we land in Cancun. I´m met and taken by road to Chichen Itza. It´s good to be in Mexico, where I don´t feel such an alien as I did in Las Vegas! With my new notebook computer, I´ve written things to tell you but, natch, I can´t get it to connect to Mayaland´s Wi-Fi. More later.

Travelling across the Yukatan.
Mayaland Resort Hotel.