BW Vacations in Playa del Carmen, Quinta Roo, Yucatan, Mexico-Part 2
So, when we left off, it was Saturday, and we had finished with the Mayan Ruins. Our guide, Daniel, grabbed the wet suits, life jackets, and flippers, and we jumped into the van and headed a little ways north of Tulum to another part of the Riviera Maya–Selma Maya or literally translated Mayan Jungle. Daniel and David chatted about where we were from and what we do. When David told Daniel that I do wetland tours (or swamp tours), he got very excited. “What? My brother, Ed, who owns our business, is in New Orleans right now taking a swamp tour today. I’m gonna call him!” I ended up talking with Ed via cell phone, and sure enough, he had just returned from a swamp tour in Honey Island Swamp. What a small world. We agreed to stay in touch and possibly swap out trips in the future. How’s THAT for serendipity?
We were outside of any city limits when the van turned into a nondescript parking lot, where we then jumped into a Polaris ATV with Daniel. (At this point, you should know that my big camera did not make the trip with me–too cumbersome–and with the rain, it would have been ruined; but I was lost without it. However, Daniel brought a camera in a waterproof case and offered to take photos for his throughout the day. You will have to use your imagination to conjure up some of the images described herein.)
We headed directly into the jungle, on a natural limestone and dirt road, about eight feet wide, cleared by hand by a little Mayan man, who also lives back in the jungle. More about him later. The Polaris bumped us up and down and all around, through huge water-filled potholes, (remember it was raining). As we rounded one curve, an entire herd of raccoon-like creatures, called “Coati” crossed the path in front of us. They are related to the raccoon and are quite common there. After four miles of travel at an average speed of about 20 mph, we finally reached a huge open-air pavillion called a “palapa” surrounded by jungle. The palapa was made from trees cut down right there in the jungle and had a roof thatched with some sort of dried straw. Here we donned our wet suits and were joined by our next guide, Caesar, and a few more adventurous folks.
Caesar quickly strapped us into harnesses and then gave us a quick lesson on how to zip line safely. Surprisingly, I was up for the challenge, even though I am (was) scared of heights. It was just a short walk through the jungle to the first set of wooden stairs leading up to the first platform. Daniel explained that he would place himself along the zip line route and try to get some good action photos for us. Once I’d climbed to the platform, I was a little shaky, and after reminding us what to do and not to do, Caesar stepped off the platform backwards, and off he went through the jungle. David went next, and then it was my turn. I didn’t step bravely off the platform, no! I sort of squatted and slid off, not very gracefully, I might add. But once you’re off, you’re really off and flying through the jungle. I immediately spun around in a circle, and when I landed on the next platform, I did so backwards! Piece of cake!
The next obstacle was crossing the rope bridge that led to the next platform that led to the next zip line. So, just to give you the short version, there were nine separate zip lines and five scary rope bridges of different types we had to cross. At many of the platforms, we were given a challenge so that we might earn extra points in order to get a taco for lunch. Seeing as how we hadn’t eaten all day, those tacos were starting to sound better and better. While this photo isn’t my most flattering side, it just goes to prove that I took the dare, which was to let go of my hands and zip line upside down! Ayeee!
After the zip lining, we walked through the jungle to a tall rock wall. I’m not a rock wall climber, so I took the steep steps to the top, while David pretty much schooled us on climbing a wet rock wall! Once at the top, we repelled down the other side. It was another first for the both of us. To be honest, after what I had just experienced? I felt like I could conquer the world.
David, Daniel, Caesar, and I continued on to another little palapa in the jungle where we traded the harnesses for life jackets and snorkeling masks. At this point, Daniel shared a little family history with us. He explained that as a local resident, his father was given 25 acres of jungle. He talked as we hiked through the rain to a half-cave hanging over a pool of beautiful, crystal clear water called a cenote (si-NO-tay). Called collectively Sistema Dos Ojos, these cenotes are part of the underground freshwater river and cave system. SIDEBAR: Many of the communities get their water from these systems. While driving through the cities, I had noticed black plastic tanks on top of the roofs with PVC pipes running into the tanks and out of the tanks. Daniel explained that the cenotes feed up into those tanks, and then the water is gravity-fed down into the home for the tap water, which is why we are warned not to drink the water.
Caesar told us this cenote is called La Bonita and that at one time, it was a full cave. At some point, the front half of the cave collapsed, leaving the water exposed and accessible. It’s 12 feet deep, and we could see clear to the bottom. Daniel encouraged us to jump into the cenote from the platform, so we did! Once in the water, Daniel gave us a snorkeling lesson, and it was time to test our snorkeling skills After we were comfortable with the gear, he told us to go ahead and explore the half-cave on our own while he took some snapshots. It took me a little while to relax my breathing enough to enjoy this new journey, but once we got the hang of it, it felt like second nature. Little fishes swam right up to us without fear. Oh, and with the water temp around 75 degrees, we were very thankful for the wet suits!
After we had gone as far into La Bonita as we dared, it was time to get out of this cenote and hike to the next surprise–an actual cave called Celestial. Daniel led us down into the dark cave, handing us waterproof flashlights, and what was the first thing I saw? Bats on the cave ceiling! I asked Daniel, “Are those fruit bats?” He said, “Yeah, and they eat insects, too!” That made me laugh. Caesar meanwhile, somewhere outside the cave, cranked up a generator that lit up a few underwater lights, enabling us to see clear to the bottom.
Heading in face first, Caesar led the way as Daniel swam around taking photos of us. It really was like a magical kingdom, with the light reflecting off the stalactites under the water, the stalagmites coming down from the ceiling, and the columns where they met in the middle. I noticed bottom-dwelling fish down there that scurried away every time I shined my light on them. In my awe and excitement, I failed to ask my guides the name of the fish, but I’m certain they must have been some kind of freshwater catfish. Also among the fishes were the same little fish that swam with us at the first cenote.
Cave snorkeling almost defies description, and comes with its own challenges, like not hitting your head on a stalactite while gazing at the bottom! I only hit my head once before cutting my finger on a very sharp stalactite, simply because I didn’t see it. It was quite painful, but the cold water kept it from bleeding until I got out into the warm air. But try to imagine snorkeling in a cave, with your face down in the water and no way to see what’s above your head or on either side of you. It’s really quite unsettling or thrilling, depending on your nature; but I will admit that because I had a fear of being left behind, my breathing became a little labored, making me grow tired. So, I was very ready for a little break when Daniel said, “Swim over here and sit on this stalagmite with your son so I can take your picture.” Whew, thank you!
We left the cave, cool and refreshed, and hiked back to the main palapa, where Daniel asked us, “Are you ready for your lunch?” Are you kidding me? It’s 3:00, and we’ve hiked the ruins, hiked the jungle, zip lined through the jungle, repelled a rock wall, swam in two cenotes, and all without breakfast. The Mayan man who made the road and the foot paths had cooked us an authentic Mayan meal—pork and chicken, seasoned, marinated, wrapped in banana leaves, and cooked underground for hours. The meat was falling-apart tender, in its own delicious juices and beautifully seasoned–nothing like any Mexican food I’ve ever tasted. Ceasar demonstrated how to “fluff” fresh corn tortillas before placing one atop the other in their traditional fashion. Then he placed the meat on top and told us to put the rice and red sauce on the pork, and to put the marinated purple onion and green habanero sauce on the chicken. Oh my gosh, my tastebuds were singing and my tummy was humming along!!! Again, I’m so sorry to say, we were so starving that we didn’t bother to hike to the Polaris and grab a camera. We just chowed down.
Before we knew it, it was time to hop into the Polaris for the bumpy, wet, and somewhat chilly ride back to the highway. Along the way, we scared up some Chachalaca birds. They’re sort of like noisy chickens that hang out in the jungle trees. Ceasar yelled to us from the front seat that they are very noisy birds, and so anytime someone talks a lot, they call that person a Chachalaca! Oh, and we heard wild parrots, although we never saw them. We also saw a big woodpecker on our way out, which they called a Carpenter. I thought that was appropriate!
We climbed in the waiting van and hit the highway heading south from the jungle to a little resort town called Akumal. First, we stopped by a little freshwater lagoon to snorkel again and see beautiful fishes, but the gatekeeper said it was too late. By this time, it was 4:30 p.m. So, after showing us a home once owned and occupied by Daniel’s friends, the Grateful Dead, Daniel parked in front of Half Moon Bay, and we disembarked with life jackets, snorkel gear, and flippers. We walked along the beach until just the right spot where we entered the salty water of the inlet, and Daniel showed us the best way to put on our flippers walking backwards until the water was deep enough to swim. but Daniel asked me to hold onto a life ring, allowing him to pull me while I kicked in order to avoid my getting stung by any high-reaching coral we might pass over. David followed along, freestyle!
The water was rough and a little turbid from all the wind and the rain, but before long, Daniel pointed to the bottom, indicating we had found what we had come for. There on the bottom a huge green sea turtle scooted along eating grass with a sucker fish attached to its shell and a little companion fish by its mouth, slurping up the crumbs. The only rule was that we stay an arm’s length away, so we swam around them and above them and they were not the least bit disturbed by our presence. Eventually, we came upon about five or six more, eating causally along the bottom. We watched them surface for air and go back down within just a few feet of us. It was a truly amazing experience. Finally, we left the turtles and swam through the coral, which was a beautiful eco-system with lots of colorful fish and sea urchins.
We arrived back at the hotel at 7:30 p.m., exactly 12 hours after our excursion day had begun. The day ended with a very late dinner of fresh rock lobster. Yum!
I’m so grateful to David for researching these activities online for months to find just the right ones for us. He wasn’t satisfied to buy a packaged deal where we got on a big tour bus with 50 other tourists. Instead, he found us a private excursion, on family-owned land, where we got one-on-one attention for most of the day. That’s definitely the way to go!
Where to stay: Le Reve` Hotel and Spa
What to do: edventures.com
Webcam at Akumal Beach where we swam with the turtles
Ooooh! You really had some wonderful adventures! You are so brave! I could not have done the ziplining that you did. Snorkling in a cave had to have been wonderful! I’m so glad you got to experience all of it. Coati are neat to watch. They actually live here where I am in NM! And small world with Daniel’s brother being in New Orleans on a swamp tour! Too bad he couldn’t have taken one of your tours. The meal made by the Mayan man sounded wonderful too. You really got a real taste of the Yucatan. I agree with you a small personal tour is the way to go. When we were in Costa Rica we did that and it made all the difference!
I remember your mentioning that it was good to have your guide in CR, but I have to say it was weird not planning any of this trip for myself — to say that I was trusting my son totally, and he did a great job. I think, though, that I taught him well, because I used to go to a lot of trouble to plan our family trips in order to get the most out of them. While we were in the cave, he recalled learning about stalactites and stalagmites in Sequoyah Caverns, TN, on a family camping trip when he was just a little boy. He really enjoys planning fabulous trips, and it shows!!!! I showed all the photos to a friend today, and every time I see them, I get to relive it over and over. I’m still riding on that vacation enjoyment high! Trying to preserve some of that relaxation and pull it out in everyday life when I need it most!
Food in Mexico is not at all related to the Tex-Mex food we eat here. Yummy, isn’t it?
I’m thrilled with your travel experiences with David! What a guy. I’ve already gushed about him in another post so I won’t repeat myself.
I love Mexico and have been on several trips. But going in those caves and walking those shaky bridges? No way, Jose!! You are one brave girl.
When thinking back on your trip you will forever smell the ocean and jungle. Welcome home, y’all.
We will have to meet at George’s and talk about our trips to MX one day soon, Cuz. Once I was there, on that first platform, there was no turning back. I wish the guide would have gotten a photo of the “High Five” challenge. He stood down in the jungle, and we had to turn upside down, reach down, and give him a high five as we flew by! I just keep wondering how in the world I engaged in all that physical activity without one little back ache, no fatigue, and most of it without any fuel in my tank. Just goes to show that we don’t really need all the food we consume in a day, out of boredom or whatever, it’s just not really necessary. I so want to go back, and while I know it was a true vacation, and the next trip might not compare, as you say, I have my thoughts and memories to draw upon when I’m exasperated! I hope it’s not a “once in a lifetime trip”, though!
Hey Wendy! I sooooo enjoyed reading about your trip! What a wonderful surprise from David. I just knew in your first post when you said you did something you never dreamed you would that it was ziplining!! I want to try it so bad! I am sure I would scream the whole time but I want to do it! I am not sure I would let go and zip upside down though! You are my hero! I know you are super busy and I am also with grandbabies but it would be so great if we could get together and reminisce about times gone by! Hope your day is great!
Grand babies? As in plural? Must be Carly!!! It’s a blast, but it goes by way too fast! I’d love to see you, too. I am super busy right now working diligently in an entrepreneurial program in New Orleans to promote my immersion trips. I don’t get down your way much any more . . . used to drive to GI once in a while. I usually fish the GI Ladies Rodeo which is this weekend, but I just don’t have the free time. But maybe one day we can meet in Houma for lunch or coffee or tea? 🙂
What a fabulous time you had. And that absolutely is the way to go — no packaged tours for me, either. I’m past the time when I’d do the cave diving or ziplining, but that’s all right. There are so many kinds of trips, perfect for anyone’s tastes.
Speaking of taste, that meal sounds absolutely wonderful. It took me a few years in Texas to figure out that Tex-Mex and Mexican are quite different. I enjoy both, but I think good Mexican food has far more variety.
You certainly did cram a lot into a short time. I’ll bet it’s hard to move back into the “routine” — whatever that might be. What are these immersion trips you mentioned? Is this something new?
Well, it took a lot, figuratively and literally, into that wet suit, but I was glad to have it with all the rain. The other folks were soaked through and shivering. You know, I really was just totally amazed that I hung in there the entire day and never wavered or wearied. My son’s prayers were answered. And part of me just said, “Go for it” because he had gone to so much effort to make this a memorable trip. How could I disappoint him? But I’m so glad I did.
Those jungle tacos were indescribable and were seasoned like nothing I’ve ever tasted. There was a language barrier, so I have no clue what he marinated the pork and chicken in. It shall remain a mystery! As far as moving back into the routine? It was the FIRST trip I’ve ever taken where I was truly totally relaxed, thus making re-entry into normalcy much easier than if it had been a stressful trip, if that makes sense. I think about the trip every day and draw upon the experiences, the feelings, memories of the sights, senses, and smells to give me strength each day when I encounter negativity. So, it is genuinely a vacation to beat all!
Your trip was just what you needed. I know what it is like to just take off and go and really enjoy the heck out of it. That was what we did last year with only one actual planned event which was a friends wedding in Wyoming. I miss doing that and look back on it to help me relax too.
And yes, Mexican food is as different from Tex Mex as night and day! Lots of my neighbors are true Mexican cooks and during the summer evenings, the smells are fantastic.
Did you find out what that tree with the orange blossoms and white fruit was? It reminded me of a seagrape plant. There is also one called a Noni and on called Che Chen. I had some exotic fruit today for lunch at an Asian restaurant. I had cantalope and lychees. I love them.
Well, then you know what I’m talking about. I’ve never been to Wyoming, but I hear at certain times of the year, it is absolutely breath taking! Speaking of Tex-Mex, I went to a new Mexican restaurant in town yesterday, hoping to find a true Mexican menu where I could relive some of those fantastic tastes; but alas, I was disappointed that although most of the wait staff were Mexicans who spoke with heavy accents, it was just another Tex-Mex place. Sad face inserted here!!! About that tree–NO, and even though I put my query on Facebook, no one has been able to positively ID it. Someone else said it resembled seagrape, but after looking that up, the fruits just aren’t the same. Again with the language barrier, no one can tell me. I even emailed the Edventure Tour people to ask them, and they said it was a Flamboyant tree, but they are wrong. It’s not that either, to my disappointment. So, the quest is still on to ID that tree! all help is welcomed!!!