Saturday, February 28, 2009

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

It's hard to even know where to start! Truly an amazing, once in a lifetime experience. We experienced so much, took WAY too many pictures, are exhausted but rejuvenated, and had an absolutely fabulous time.

I'm going to post some pictures here, but I'll include a link to all of them for anyone who wants to see them. Out of all the pictures we took, I am printing 100 of them - and those are just the good ones I couldn't live without.

Day 1 (Sunday):
We left at midnight Saturday night in order to make it to Denver (a four and a half hour drive) in time for our flight. Then we got on a plane for four hours, made it through customs in Cancun, found our luggage and boarded a bus to the Iberostar Paraiso Del Mar in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. By the time we got checked in, got a drink at the bar, and found our room, we were exhausted. But dinner wasn't until 9:00 that night so we just wandered and checked out the resort, made out on a lounge chair on the beach in the dark, and had a snack at the buffet. And had some more drinks. And maybe a shot or two...

Between the exhaustion, the shots, and the never ending supply of drinks we didn't have to pay for, I vaguely remember a really great flaming Mexican dish for dinner, lots and lots of walking, getting a little lost a few times, and more walking. We slept really well that night.

Here's a photo of the lobby:

and the flamingos in the lobby (flamingos are my favorite birds. How cool to get to see them so close!)

And here's the view from the room we were in the first night:

Day 2 (Monday):
We slept with the balcony door open and woke up in the morning to a pretty good rain storm. Between the birds chirping throughout the trees and the rain falling.... Oh, it was just beautiful. If I could wake up to something like that every morning, I'd be happy. The rain quit before we had to walk to the breakfast buffet, thankfully, so we stayed dry. Monday was a mix of wandering around, hanging out at the beach, taking a nap in a hammock (my very favorite place in all the resort), and wandering through the shopping center. It was a nice, relaxed pace and we saw some neat things. Dinner that night was at 9:00 again, this time Brazilian. I've never eaten so much meat in one meal in all my life. It was delicious.

My beloved hammock:

Day 3 (Tuesday):
We signed up for an excursion called the Nohoch Jungle Tour. We were up at 6, had a quick breakfast and were in a van by 7:35. It was in this van that we got our first taste of driving in Mexico. I'm glad I didn't eat too much - I'm not sure it would have stayed down. Okay, it might not have been *that bad.... but it was a little scary. We drove for an hour and a half and got to a little protected cove on the beach near Tulum.

There we kayaked out to a reef and spent an hour or so snorkeling around the reef. It was my first experience with snorkeling. It went really well - it was beautiful and fascinating. And hard work - my muscles aren't used to things like that, and there's nowhere to take a break, the water is too deep to stand. We had life vests and flippers, but it was still tiring. I had a great time, but was glad when it was time to get back on the kayak.

And then I realized how cold it was.

Soaking wet with the wind blowing wearing very, very little clothing. The sun didn't shine at all that day really, it was cloudy and cool. Any sane person would have been wearing at least a light sweater, not a skimpy bathing suit and playing in water. By the time we got to shore and got off the kayak, I was shivering and my teeth were chattering. And then just for good measure, it started to rain.

It really was fun. Just.... really cold, too. The only other time I have been so cold was when we kayaked down the Colorado River a few years ago in the spring. Same kind of can't-get-warm-no-matter-what-you-do kind of cold.

Sitting on the beach for awhile though, with towels and a sweater, I finally warmed up. Then they put us all on a four-wheel drive Mercedes thing and drove us out into the jungle to Cenote Nohoch.

A cenote (say-note-ay) is a limestone sinkhole created millions of years ago when the Yucatan peninsula raised up out of the ocean. They are basically caves filled with fresh water, all fed from the same underground river system running all throughout the Yucatan (the second largest underground river system in the world, apparently.) And Nohoch means "big" in Mayan. So yeah - Big Sinkhole. Cenote Nohoch sounds so much cooler, doesn't it?

At some point it occurred to me that the water in an underground cave that is fed from a running river can't possibly be warm. And I was already freezing.

Yes that's me there on the end. I look miserable, don't I? :o) I was not looking forward to it at that point. I wanted to go, but I didn't want to be cold. In an attempt to convince me to jump in, the guide put a wet suit on me. So, so much better. The only way in, they assured us, was to jump.

I have a very sincere fear of the unknown. So jumping into a pool of water where I couldn't see the bottom, in a fairly dark cave... yeah. Not so good for people with a fear of the unknown. That made it all the better though - it was awesome. Definitely a rush. After some photos near the stalagmites...

...we began making our way through the cave. I'm not sure how far back it went in - far enough that we couldn't see any light, and it felt like we just kept going and going, snorkeling along and looking at some awesome limestone formations.

The guide in front had a head lamp, and the guide in back had one. We were at their mercy, for sure. At one point we all gathered together with our heads above water in a little cove and they turned off the lights. Absolute, pure blackness, darker than any dark I've ever experienced. It was awesome. To be that deep in the ground, with only water and rock around you... indescribable, really. We snorkeled around in there for probably another hour or so, just winding along through the cave system. It was hard to decide whether to look up, or look under the water, there was just so much to see.

After we got out we went to another, smaller cenote to do some swimming. A wooden ladder leads into a hole in the ground - it's kind of a tight squeeze.

Then it suddenly opens up into a big rock room with a small dock and lots of water. Again, we jumped.

A sort of rock-island was in the middle of the cenote. They led us around it.

At some point the guide says "it's best to go around the roots". Roots? Ah yes, I understand now! Those things that feel like SNAKES WINDING AROUND MY LEGS are only tree roots. Awesome. And let us not forget that while these snakes are trying to eat me, it's pitch black and I can hardly see the french woman not five feet in front of me, and my husband was somewhere way up ahead, nowhere near enough to protect me. And just for good measure, there was a family of bats flying around up near the ceiling of the cave.

It was awesome. That day was definitely one of the most adventurous days of my life, the most fun I've had in a long, long time. I'm not going to forget any of it any time soon. After all the swimming and snorkeling they fed us a traditional Mayan lunch, which was either the best food I'd had in days, or I was just really, really hungry.

We got back to our resort around 5:30 - it was a ten hour day of adventure. And then we had about an hour to walk to our room, shower and change into decent clothes, and walk back to the buffet. And then we ate quickly so that we could catch a ride back into Play del Carmen and pick up a rental car by 9:00 that night (and adventure in itself, really.)

But I've been sitting here way too long, so I'll write about the next day's adventure later. :o)


Kim said...

That vacation sounds SO awesome. I can't wait to read about the rest of it! You write so well, I felt like I was there with you the whole thing, I love it!

Deb said...

Wow.... all I can say is FAN-FREAKIN'-TASTIC!!! You go, girl!!! Sounds like sooooo much fun.... I'm so proud of you for being so brave! Woot Woot!

Katey said...

thank you for letting me live vicariously through you