Monday, December 5, 2011

Back from South of the Border!

E & I got back on Tuesday from Mexico. The trip was great! Like any of our trips, it had its ups and downs, but it was great to explore another area. Having been to Mexico before, the trip didn't feel as foreign as going to Costa Rica or Panama. However, the Yucatan region is great (except for the water...why can Costa Rica and Panama have clean water but the Yucatan fails so miserably when there is WAY more tourism in that area? Apparently the hotel zone in Cancun is okay but we didn't venture there). What I liked best (and why I really recommend the area!) is that it has all the awesomeness of a beach vacation along with cenotes, underground sinkhold caves, along with Mayan ruins. We also had some great snorkeling, which you don't really get on the Pacific side.

A few highlights:
This hotel was amazing! I booked it last minute after our original reservation was cancelled because the hotel was subject to a land grab (shady titles are apparently the norm in the region). Miraculously, the BEST cabana was available, #1. It was the only one that had a full ocean view. We fell asleep to the sound of the waves every night underneath a mosquito net. It was wonderful! Electricity is also in short supply in the area (ours was solar-powered) so we only had power from 5pm-10pm. It was actually really cool to live that way! We would have a last swim right before the sun went down around 5, shower, then go get dinner. We would come back, look at the stars, then go to bed right around when the lights went out. Then at 6am or so, the light starts streaming in and you start to stir. Maybe by 7 you get out of bed, have a morning swim, relax, and then have the delicious, included breakfast at 8. I am NOT a morning person so it was really cool to see how naturally your body responds to the light and dark if you don't have electricity or TV to stimulate you after hours. We also stayed there during a new moon, so the stars were super bright. E brought out his Android and we used Google Sky to identify the constellations. It was magical. Nice, quiet beach.

We ended up changing our plans and coming back to the area for the last two nights. The water was exceptionally calm, eventually like glass. When we had been there before the waves were extremely strong, full of seaweed, and actually a bit intimidating. I went boogie boarding on this beach that was now wave-free! I liked being able to experience the different moods of the same ocean.

It ended up being really worth it to come back to the Cabanas (even though we didn't get as good of a cabin the second time) because sea turtles hatched! Even though it's past the season, the hotel manager had kept some nests in coolers waiting for them to hatch. Two nights in a row, we had people stand at the water with flashlights and released the turtles into the ocean. Feeling a little creature like that in my hands was so, so cool. I felt a little guilty because I have been so conditioned not to touch endangered species, etc., before realizing that in this case, I was the "handler," the person in charge of making sure the creature got into the ocean. Some of the turtles starting moving right away toward the ocean. Others were a little stunned and didn't move at all. I was really worried one of them was hurt but it turned out the little one just needed some time to adjust before he started swimming toward the water.

Back to the breakfast--I love fresh-squeezed orange juice, which was served every day at breakfast. All over Mexico, this is considered the norm, not a luxury. It is so delicious. It tastes clean, a little more watery, and it's so refreshing. OJ containers, in contrast, always have a slightly syrupy or more powerful flavor. Even fresh-squeezed in containers doesn't taste the same as Mexican OJ. Mmmm.

Ok, now more briefly:
My favorite Mayan ruin. More chill than Chichen Itza with some impressive, unrestored sights. We climbed a really high pyramid and biked to all the different sections of the ruins.

In the Si'an Kaan biopreserve, this hotel was in the middle of nowhere. We befriended one guy who had been there a few times before and this really great family, since we were taking all our meals together. And I learned how to play Cribbage! Also, this family was just SO lovely--three gorgeous blond kids, and we celebrated the Mom's 40th birthday. On our last day, the boy comes over to me and I see he's walking with a limp. I say, 'Hey, guy, did you step on something? You okay?' Then his Dad, who's nearby, says 'You want to tell her, or me?' And this boy tells me that he had a stroke when he was in his mommy's belly and it affects how he walk and his eye. I was stunned and had no idea what to say, only that I didn't want to say what I was thinking, which was that he was brave and he's been through a lot. I was worried that it would turn into some patronizing statement when I've never had to deal with anything like that. Instead, I think I said, 'Wow,' and I don't know what else, just processing. And I told his Dad and him I had no idea, that this was the first I noticed. 'He's come a long way,' the Dad said, and that made me feel like I had at least made some kind of appropriate response. Then later tells me the Dad has colon cancer--he had finished chemo and that was part of the reason the family was taking a three-week vacation. It was crazy to see this family, perfect from the outside, was going through so much. It really blew me away.

We also went inland to Merida for a couple nights. We stayed in a lovely hotel but weren't such a big fan of the hot, crowded, diesel-fumed environment of the city. E says "no more Central American cities." We left a day early for Playa del Carmen, which is an hour south of Cancun and supposedly more "European." It was very, very touristy. There is a huge main pedestrian strip with tons of restaurants, bars, and shops, a few avenues away from the beach. It felt like San Diego or something--not Mexcio. E took issue with everyone being all dressed up, in heels etc. He prefers a more chill environment. We checked out and headed down to Tulum instead the next day. On the plus side, we ate breakfast at this French place and probably had the best almond croissant and "manzana tarte" in all of Mexico. After so much Mexican food that was a nice respite.

Another highlight was renting a car! Though it ended up being quite expensive because of all the insurance add-ons (80% of our cost was insurance!), it helped free us from the crowds and made sure we were on no one's schedule but our own. We also went to smaller, more out-of-the-way spots. E was a great driver! I hate the rules now about not letting anyone else drive unless you pay extra--I only drove in the biopreserve, partly so I wouldn't get carsick because the roads are filled with potholes--like it's actually the worst road I've ever been on.

I caught a cold on my way back and missed work Wednesday and Friday--now I'm leaving two Fridays from now for Seattle! Turns out I miss my work Christmas party, but oh well. I have stuff scheduled right now for seven out of the ten worknights (screenings, plays, parties, etc) and probably will end up doing something else too--CRAZY!! The end of the year is coming too fast now!

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