With the trip to New Zealand now 23 days away, all I can think about is traveling, so here’s a recap of our trip to Mexico in August 2008.
We enjoyed our first visit to Mexico (albeit short), so we decided to go back, this time staying a bit longer. Although Cancun is usually the destination for many tourists along the Mayan Riviera, I voted for the quieter Playa del Carmen, an hour to the south. We elected to also stay at an all-inclusive resort and all in all were very happy with our choice.
The Hotel Riu Palace Riviera Maya was a rather impressive facility and immediately lived up to our expectations. With a liquor dispenser in the room, regular restocking of the mini-bar, and 24 hour room service, we were in Heaven; we also probably didn’t really take advantage of the amenities. We drank non-stop the first two days, but then it got pretty old and we didn’t drink much for the rest of the trip. (Also, I kept drinking strawberry daquiris and would just get full before I got buzzed=way too watered down). The resort had several restaurants (Japanese, Mexican, French Fusion, Brazilian, American Steakhouse), and ate once at each for dinner. For breakfast and lunch, we stuffed ourselves at the buffet and for afternoon and midnight snacks, room service.
You would think that I would have gained weight but I usually stay pretty active on my vacations…
As I’ve mentioned before, Alex prefers his vacations to be opportunities to relax; I see vacations as a time for excitement and exploring. As this particular vacation was 8 days long, we could strike a bit of a compromise with a good bit of laying around tempered with experiencing the Mexican countryside. We arrived on a Thursday and laid around until our first excursion to swim with whale sharks on Sunday. I’ve already detailed that experience here.
We slept in on Monday and awoke Tuesday to travel to Coba, which is the oldest and largest Mayan site. Most people visit Chichen Itza or Tulum (which I visited while on the Cruise in 2007), as both sites are well excavated and the buildings in rather good shape. I haven’t visited Chichen Itza, but Coba was much larger in area than Tulum, with many buildings not even excavated and mostly hidden by the encroaching jungle. It also has the tallest pyramid of the Yucatan Pennisula, Nohoch Mul. You cannot climb the large pyramids at the other two Mayan sites, and the story was while we were there in August 2008 was that Coba would soon be following suit, so we were lucky to have visited when we did.
After our tour guide had shown us around many of the excavated ruins and shared information about the Mayan civilization, we were encouraged to walk, bike, or be driven in a little rickshaw-type contraption the 2 miles to Nohoch Mul. Alex and I elected to rent bikes, and that was an adventure itself as it had probably been 10 years since I had ridden a bike (but its true, once you learn…).
We rode past several other partially excavated sites on our way, choosing to stop at some on the way there, and stopped at the rest on the way back. Alex likes to act like he couldn’t care less about this stuff, but he was rather enthralled, taking photo after photo. We arrived at the base of the pyramid and it truly was a site to behold. Photos don’t do justice to the sheer steepness of the pyramid. We began climbing up the pyramid, slowly due to scared and/or out of shape people in front of us. Arriving at the top, we had a great view of the jungle surrounding us, with only a few ruins poking out here and there. On our way down, Alex was able to step down as if he were going down modern stairs, but the shallow, uneven steps made me too nervous to be that confident and I went down the pyramid crouched (but not on my butt as some people were doing).
Arriving back at our van, we took off down the highway, on our way to a Mayan village. The tour group that we booked with pay these people to stay in their village and continue living in the tradition of their ancestors. Upon arrival, we stripped off our clothing to nothing but bathing suits and tennis shoes and began traipsing through the jungle surrounding the village. Along the way, the tour showed us the flora and fauna of the local area. At one point, he halted us and became extremely serious. He said, “Stay as far to the left through here and hurry through quickly,” giving no explanation as to why. After we had proceded along to a safe distance, this is when he shared that he had spotted a jumping pit viper.
But not to worry, if anyone had been bitten, there was medicine in the village that would preserve the victim for an hour, which was long enough to make it to nearest hospital for the medicine that would save their life.
I’m sorry, but why couldn’t you just have the LIFE saving medicine in the VILLAGE?!
Anyway, as I’m not too afraid of snakes, we carried on, first arriving at a collapsed cenote (underwater river), which had become home to crocodiles. We were to zip-line across, which was cool, but after our Honduras trip , I think Alex and I just have high expectations. Further down the path we arrived at another cenote, this one still entact. We were to rappel down into the cold, blue water below and paddle about on inner tubes. However, prior to going down, we were to be blessed by a little Mayan priest dude. The theory was that these waters are sacred to their culture. It was cool and all but being the cynical Americans that we are kinda thought it was just a big touristy act.
Look at my face!
I have never done any mountain climbing or other sport that requires ropes, so I was nervous about rappeling down into the water. It wasn’t until I saw the small boys (age 8 and 12) in our group have no trouble with it that I was prepared for my turn and I rappelled slowly down into the water. After climbing up rocks and trekking in a humid jungle, the cold water was Heaven. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay long at all and soon it was time to leave. We had two choices: a rope ladder or the Mayan Elevator, which were two Mayans hoisting my big butt out with ropes. Alex, being the big tough dude that he is, elected the rope ladder, but I was smart and chose the “elevator.” He remarked during the remaining days of our vacation how dumb that idea was, still sore days later.
By this point, we had been awake since 6 am with nothing to eat all day and it was already 2pm in the afternoon. We had worked up appetites and were STARVING! However, there was still canoeing to be done. Alex and I were ready to eat and literally paddled out into the middle of the lake and paddled right back, with the attitude of, “Ok, we did everything. Now can we eat?”
I don’t remember exactly what was even served, except that it was traditional Mayan cuisine and I skipped over most, being a rather picky eater (as well as nervous about contracting “Montezuma’s Revenge”). Alex mentioned only after we had left the jungle that he had seen a tarantula; I was happy to not have glimpsed it as I think I may have started running (not safe in a jungle full of jumping pit vipers). We also saw a monkey in a tree during our outing, therefore checking off Monkey and Crocodile on the #38 thing to do (I also count seeing Whale Sharks on this list).
The next day, Wednesday, was our last full day at the resort and we mostly just laid around, although we did take a moment to take a photo with the monkey they would take around the resort once a day. Alex had become obsessed with the monkey and had been begging to take a photo with it all week.
We also finally went parasailing, which was actually a hold over from my original list from high school. While it had been sunny all week, when we got on the boat, a storm, complete with lightning, came along. The storm quickly passed and we went up. It was fun to be able to see the resort and the beach from that height, but I think Alex and I have built up a tolerance to most things, seeking a bigger adreniline rush with each new encounter.
We had a great time and I would definitely go back. I’d like to go down into more cenotes and check out Chichen Itza finally. There’s also supposed to be this eco-water park near Tulum that I think would be a lot of fun to do snorkeling in. I’ve never been to the west coast of Mexico though; anyone have any suggestions about making it over Cabo or even Mexico City (I think at least going to Tenochtitlan/learn about the Aztecs).