Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mexico: Akumal and the Cricket Artisan in Playa

Midweek, we went to the beach at Akumal, a quiet, laid-back community of villas, condos and beautiful, gracefully arching bays, clear, turquoise waters and clean, sharp horizons. In Yucatec Mayan, Akumal means "place of the turtles."

Not (yet) a major tourist destination, Akumal is a beautiful, mostly unspoiled area where visitors can swim with the sea turtles. It's also home to a non-profit group dedicated to protecting the sea turtles and the ecological health of the area.

As we drove through the little white-arched entrance, there was a collection of small shops, apartments, homes and businesses all loosely gathered together along the narrow packed-dirt road. We parked in front of La Cueva del Pescador, The Cave of the Fisherman. La Cueva was part of a small cluster of buildings in a shady palm grove. Behind it was a little clothing shop and at an angle behind the shop was Turtle Bay Bakery.

There were a few small tables outside; inside, the floor was simply sand (I don't think there was an actual floor below the sand) and there was a pool table where two young men were playing and an order window for the kitchen. Inside, the walls were covered with photographs of fishermen with their catches. Very picturesque, almost Hemingwayish. One of the servers told us that if we chartered a fishing trip on his boat, that they'd cook whatever we caught right there: "Hook it and cook it!" (We didn't do it, but thought it was a cool idea.) Terrific lunch!

After lunch, we walked across the road to the beach to rent snorkeling equipment for the family. There were charter tours available that would take the family out to swim with the turtles, but they decided to just rent the equipment ... and simply watch where the tours went and swim out to the same area. They put their equipment on and out they went. My daughter saw at least 8 turtles, some bigger than my 9-yr-old granddaughter, all swimming around and below them. Awesome, amazing and beautiful!

I sat on the beach (I can't swim) and had a wonderfully peaceful time sitting there just enjoying the ocean, the waves, the breeze. Just a perfect day! Very refreshing. (I have fibromyalgia so peaceful, calming experiences are very helpful in managing the pain. And after Xcaret, I could use the peace and quiet.)

There weren't many people in the area where I was so it was pretty quiet and calming. After about an hour or so of lazy, drowsy watching, I heard - and felt!- a solid *thud!* next to my hand. A coconut had fallen and barely missed me. Whew! Close call. I turned back to that gorgeous expanse of Caribbean before me and just as I started to drift again ... *bam!* Another coconut fell right next to me! I looked up into the tree. One ... two ... There were two more up there so I moved out of the line of fire! My son-in-law opened up one of them when they came back onshore. Tasty, fresh coconut!

After Akumal, we drove into Playa Del Carmen for dinner at Yaxche, known for its authentic Mayan cuisine. We chose an outdoor table right on the street. Shortly after being seated, a gentleman approached our table from the street and placed something on our table. It was a large green cricket! He started singing a song and dancing the cricket around on the table. As he sang, he made cricket sounds (I have no idea how to write a cricket sound in letters!) and jumped quickly up and down like a cricket. So delightful! A natural artisan, he'd fashioned these wonderful crickets from palm leaves, very intricately plaited, wth wooden skewers for legs. I'd love to go back and learn how to make these from him!

Such a wonderful day! I fell in love with Akumal. If the circumstances ever present themselves, I would love to buy a little place there and live in the peace and beauty of the place of the turtles.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mexico: Xcaret!

One day is not enough to see and enjoy all there is in Xcaret (pronounced "ish-carette")! It's a sprawling eco park with an abundance of natural beauty. You can explore on foot through the pathways or jump in the water for some snorkeling. The emphasis on the preservation and conservation of the natural habitats is evident everywhere. On land, there is the butterfly pavilion, manatee lagoon, monkey island, deer, flamingos, orchids, turtles ... in the water, there is Paradise River, snorkeling, snuba-ing, subterranean rivers, cenotes, dolphins, beaches, natural pools.

The Mayan culture is celebrated throughout the park. Explore the various archaelogical sites, enjoy watching a Mayan ball game, see the Mexico Espectacular show with over 300 artists showcasing the traditions, history and beauty of Mexico from pre-hispanic times to the present. Just a beautiful place!

Above is the bell tower near the entrance.

Paradise River - A raft takes visitors along the river to explore various areas of the park by boat.

In the subterranean river:

The blues of the Caribbean!

SeaTrek - An underwater walk wearing a breathing helmet. Lots of tropical fish to see and feed. Bri decided to opt out after they put the helmet on her.

See the white helmets? Those are Amber, Brian and Jasmine walking underwater.

Me, relaxing while waiting for the family to come back from SeaTrek. Aaahhhhhh ...

View from a hammock:

Jasmine and, behind her, Amber (taking a picture of me taking a picture of them):

Tortugas! (Turtles)

The rope ladder. The girls were having a great time ... then Daddy created some mayhem and Jasmine fell into the water. :-)

One of the performers for the Mayan show:

At the Mayan show. It was packed, standing room only.

We spent the entire day there and didn't get to see it all. Guess that means I have to go back!

Monday, July 6, 2009


Grand Mayan entrance

We had a wonderful vacation sunning and funning in the Riviera Maya area in early June. My daughter, son-in-law, two granddaughters and I enjoyed the pleasures of the beautiful Grand Mayan resort, south of Cancun and near Playa Del Carmen. This is a huge, sprawling resort; our rooms were amazing and the service was impeccable. We had two large bedroom suites, with sitting areas and bathrooms, connected in the middle by a larger sitting area, kitchen and dining space, a ton of space for the five of us. The total square footage was larger than my home!

On our balcony: a cooling pool, perfect for casual lounging. And the resort pools were all interconnected; everywhere you went there was pool, pool and more pool. And we took full advantage of them, day and night.

I love this area of Mexico; the language(s), the culture, the people, the courtesy and kindness of the people we met. I love the simplicity of life and the way the Mayan culture is celebrated here. There is no official national language in Mexico; the languages of the 63 indigenous cultures are all considered national languages. But I love the soft, susurrous sound of spoken Spanish; I wish I spoke it. The country is truly amazing in their efforts to preserve cultural identities, languages and practices, as well as their efforts in environmental and ecological consciousness. Eco-tourism thrives in this area.

Jas and Bri, loving sisters!

The turquoise waters of the Caribbean, palm trees swaying in the breeze, soft white sand between one’s toes, warm weather – what more could a person ask of a vacation? We spent time on the beach relaxing, we lounged in the pool, visited Cancun and Playa Del Carmen for dining and shopping.

La Habichuela restaurant (Cancun)

We spent one day in Xcaret, an ecological theme park. Lots of snorkeling, Mayan archaeological sites – there is so much to see and do here that one day is not enough to explore Xcaret. Another day was spent in Akumal (which means “place of the turtles” in Mayan). We had a delicious lunch at La Cueva Del Pescador, where the motto is “Hook it and Cook it”: the local fishermen who own this little place will take you out fishing and then prepare your catch for your meal. Friendly place!

We took a tour to visit Xel-Ha and Tulum. Xel-Ha is a wonderful open-sea “aquarium.” You can spend the entire day in this biological preserve (I spent part of mine in a hammock watching the waves of the Caribbean exploding on the rocks), exploring the jungle, snorkeling with brightly colored fish – it’s water, water, everywhere, with a deep commitment to preserving this beautiful natural wonder where Mayans once lived. At Tulum, we were so very fortunate to have Javier Savala as our guide. His passion for the Mayan culture and his extensive knowledge of the scientific, mathematical, political, architectural and cultural details were contagious. A brilliant man who I respect a great deal.

It was a wonderful, memorable week! If I could, I’d buy a little place in Akumal for my retirement and live there along the bay, among the warm and welcoming people and the sea turtles, writing and painting, taking morning walks on the beach – ahhh … I love Mexico.

Coming up: a tad more on Xcaret, Akumal, Xel-Ha and Tulum (short posts, I promise!)