This morning I am snorkeling between dark stalagmite studded caverns and shimmering aqua cenotes…this afternoon sitting on a crowded airplane enroute to frigid Denver and sunny San Diego. The world has become so easily accessible to us, and yet so full of endless wonder and newness that it seems a lifetime of lifetimes is not enough time to explore it all.
These last few days exploring the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico has been amazing and such a treat. Having been rather spontaneously invited by one of my nursing friends to tag along on a family vacation, I had NO idea what to expect and so every day was such a delight and filled with adventure. My friends and I are not the type to sit around an all-inclusive resort for days on end (seriously, how could you…?) so we found ourselves out the door every morning only to return after dark every evening, still glorying in the sights seen, tacos eaten, waters played in, ruins explored, and the great company.
We had the privilege of acquiring a spacious condo at the Vendante, Grand Luxxe, and I have to say, while I don’t require a lot of luxury, it was a pleasure staying at a lovely resort where a maid comes and cleans your whole place twice a day, turning down the beds, leaving little chocolates on your pillow, washing dishes, straightening up all your things, hanging up clothes. I could get used to such. ☺ I’m afraid I would get dreadfully lazy though. I did love our little Mexican housekeeper. She always greeted us cheerfully every evening and left the place nicer simply by being so consistently sweet to us spoiled gringos.
Before I get going too much on my narration, I have to preface this by saying my last experience of Mexico was mixed: the pyramids of Teotihucan were incredible, the nightly streetside Styrofoam cups of hot Escitas became a staple, the bustling and colorful town of Peubla was fun, but the continued lack of a hot shower, the fear of getting sick, the horrendous border crossing experience, the poverty, and I guess, fear (?) discomfort (?) all left a rather unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth for the whole country. I had gone down to southern Mexico to visit my poor lonely sis who was teaching English in a little rural town, and I returned to the US, shaking the proverbial dust from my feet with no desire for a repeat visit. So, to get ahead of myself a bit, I am returning from this trip with a transformed mindset and experience ☺ Yesterday, I even romantically fantasized about living in a beachside villa in the little town of Akumel, with daily routines of snorkeling with the turtles, drinking cold cervezas under palm trees, and reading on the beach. Maybe look for me there someday…
Sunday, in an attempt to avoid the crowds (haha), we decided to venture over to the Isle of Cozumel. The choppy ferry ride had me green around the gills and almost in need of the green plastic barf bag thrust into my hands by attendees trained to spot the white faced nauseated passengers. All that was soon a distant memory as we drove down a dusty unpaved road to emerge upon the quintessential postcard Caribbean beach…little palm frond covered booths, peppy Mexican music emitted from behind open air bars, white sand and turquoise waters as far as the eye could see. And it was delightfully uncrowded. I wasted no time donning the virgin snorkeling gear (thanks, Mom for the Christmas present! ☺ ) and with just a bit of training on proper techniques, I was off and running, er , paddling away. I can scarcely describe the feelings. It truly is like discovering for the first time another world for that is indeed what under the ocean surface is. Teeming with life. Beautiful life. Quiet. Solitary. Glistening. The soft in and out sounds of my own snorkeled breathing. Colors. Wonder. These are all words and phrases that come to mind in an attempt to describe this experience. Newness. Whatever heaven is like, I remember thinking, it surely has to be a place of this: not the physical facts of swimming through water, but the constant state of wonder, discovery, awe, newness, excitement. I really feel it cannot be less. I was a child again and unashamed of the joys of discovery.
Monday we ventured further south to the beaches and Mayan ruins of Tulum. Another day of lovely experiences: hiring a boat and a guide to take us out to the reef where we prowled around coral reefs eying funny looking, large-eyed squid floating along, black spiky anenomies fastened securely to the coral, bright blue flat fish the size of dinner plates, yellow striped fish swishing in and out of dark crevices, skinny translucent barracudas, skimming along the surface. It was amazing. And I learned that spitting in your mask helps it not fog up. Who knew?
The Mayan ruins were super cool: right along the beach. They were so advanced in their understanding of astronomy it never ceases to astound me. Many of the Mexicans in the Yucatan still speak Mayan. Our guide in Chichen Itza had Mayan ancestry and showed us the flat back of his head, which is just one of the physical characteristics that distinguishes the Mayan bloodline. Chichen itza we visited the following day – barely made it there in time to get a guided tour before closing time. I suppose we were having too much fun exploring the shops and eating a delicious lunch in Vallodorid on the way there! The only thing that I really would have liked more of was a bit more wandering down city streets and just prowling around. I love to explore as well as play around with street photography. Maybe next time. Playa del Carmen….Akumel, etc etc. : a veritable wealth of interest to take in. I did spy this super cool bus in the parking lot of WalMart and started talking to the lovely couple that owned it. They are from Argentina and have been traveling for 9 years, selling t-shirts and copies of their photographic narrative book to be able to stay on the road. I loved their cool dog and they had a lovely daughter, who had been born during their traveling, making this the only life she’s ever known. She would be an interesting one to interview several years from now.
I arrived in Mexico with one burning desire: to swim with the turtles in Akumel. Finally…the day had arrived. First we snorkeled for hours at the lagoon: a sort of paradisiacal inlet/sanctuary for oceanic wildlife. I think I paddled a good mile or so all around the perimeter, exploring the deep crevices, spooking out the fish from their hiding places, looking at conch shells, watching the Barracudas, battling the currents. All in all, wearing myself out in a most satisfactory way☺ Akumel Bay was probably the most crowded beach we went on but after haggling and being haggled, we finally found a guide to take us out to see turtles and sting rays. There is something SO indescribable about these animals. Gazing down at their beautiful markings and the patterns on their shells I could see why they have become the stuff of legends and objects of worship. To have these mighty and ancient animals swim past you was such a beautiful experience. I desperately wanted to grab one by his front flippers and have it take me for a swim. Alas, no touching allowed. The sting rays are so creepy with their long, lethal looking tales and evil eyes, but also beautiful. I would be so scared to step on one!! They settle into the sand so you can’t even see them. Spooky.
Absolutely determined to experience a cenote before leaving, we all gamely got up early this morning and drove about an hour to Los Ojos, the largest system of cenotes in Mexico. Three caverns all interconnected by underground tunnels. I have always been quite scared of dark underwater depths and snorkeling around the dark, deep edges of the beautiful sun splattered cenote, I felt a frissone of fear creep into me. Through water as clear as glass, I couldn’t stop staring at the divers silently slip past me and venture into the dark tunnels…it was such a surreal, monumental feeling for lack of a better way to describe it. Finally it was our turn to be led through the caverns connecting the cenotes and into “Bat Cave” – ew. I like bats but they really are gross, hairy little creatures all clumped together hanging in obscene little lumps from the ceiling. Anyway, the caverns were incredible!! Silently snorkeling along with our waterproof flashlights, single file, we gazed down around, ahead, behind us at enormous stalactite formations, deep hollowed out voids of darkness, twisted corridors of rocks and edges, and curves – auras from other divers lamps creating bluish black illuminations farther down in unreachable places to us snorkelers. What a mystical experience.
All that loveliness and mystery followed by a sub-par roadside lunch and a speedy drive back home to hastily change for the plane ride home only to sit in the airport for ages – the story of my life☺. (My airport experiences this trip are a whole different, much less glorious chapter of this story that really doesn’t need to be told.)
So, Mexico, you have sung me a different song on this trip. One of seduction, adventure, romance and beauty….Thank you for generously sharing your wonders with me and maybe…just maybe, one day we shall meet again. Till then, Cambodia is calling my name and I must answer….