April 2010: Mayan Riviera

A new kind of travel for me, usually the explorer, this time it’s all about snorkeling. With my friend Trish Lane, we arrive in Cancun (a horrible place) at noon on Friday. The first adventure was realizing we were at two different terminals and didn’t know who should stay and wait for the other. In any case we worked it out, got our car and after stopping at Playa Del Carmen’s Wal-mart to stock up on wine, nibbles, breakfast food, etc., located our rental in Akumal by about 5pm. It’s a very nice 3rd floor apt with a view, comfy furniture and a huge fridge.

The apartment
From the couch
Trish on computer
Trish on computer
Place settings

Trish immediately headed out for her first visit with the fishes in the Yal Ku lagoon. I was willing to wait for the next day, being more interested in unpacking, grabbing a shower and contemplating dinner. We’re staying a bit past the Akumal town center where it’s quiet, two minutes from the Lagoon and full of bird music and, of course, has wi-fi. I, of course, needed to crack open the macbook and do a bit of work before anything else.


A great grilled shrimp dinner behind me, I caught up on email and heard all about Señor Tomayo, the 82 year old keeper of the lagoon gate.


Early Saturday morning I found out I loved snorkeling. A whole underwater world I had never visited. Beautiful to see and fun to participate in. Later in the morning we went to the sea and I learned I could stay afloat there too, though it was harder to remember to breathe. In the afternoon we drove into Tulum, about 20 minutes south and found banks, farmacias, too many tourist shops and lots of eateries. We booked a snorkel boat for Sunday from the Akumal dive center after which, miraculously, it was cocktail hour. Trish is a creature of habit. The day starts with the lagoon and ends with a Piña Colada. I’m much more flexible – I alternate between Margaritas and Bloody Marys. For dinner I tried Lime Soup, supposedly a traditional Mayan dish. Pretty good, but not fantastic. The restaurant was on the beach, but it was windy, so we were behind a glass wall.


Sunday: a three hour boat trip to 3 snorkeling locations. Finally saw sea turtles, lots of coral and much more. Then back to the lagoon for a sunset meeting with the it’s creatures. We tried out a few of Trish’s old underwater cameras (film) so won’t know what we got until later. I’m reluctant to take my old Pentax digital in, though it’s rated for underwater. Maybe later in the week. An incredible dish for dinner this time, Octopus with carmalized garlic – the latter tasted like crunchy candy. Amazing.


Monday: the day-long expedition through the biosphere – an ecological preserve south of Tulum. The tour is run by the Sian Ka’an Center. There were 8 of us, so two boats were used, crossing a large lagoon with an opening into the sea, then entering a river that changed to fresh water where we were given life vests to float on. We floated into another lagoon, looking at birds, a small Mayan ruin, mangroves and banana orchids while getting to know our fellow travelers. While we were floating, the rain gently started. No matter – we were already wet. Our guide, René was a very knowledable young man with a passion for birds. He had brought an ailing Brown Noddy (native of So. Florida) to the center to see if someone there knew how to save him. Apparently the bird had flown here, unusual for his species but was very dehydrated. No vets from Cancun to Tulum knew what to do. Anyway, René regaled us with his knowledge of nature and Mayan Culture, not to mention his girlfriend in Oaxaca and his family history (Brazil and San Diego). After a return to the Sian Ka’an Center and a chicken fajita meal that was part of the deal, we were turned loose on their pristine beach for an hour. By then we had made friends with Canadians, Dev and Brenda who came up to Akumal for dinner to try the garlicky octopus with us.

Lime Soup
Octopus with Carmalized Garlic
Octopus with Carmalized Garlic
Catch of the Day
Cach of the Day (Lunch in Tulum)

Tuesday morning we met Dev and Brenda – at 7a.m. headed out to explore Cobá, a very old Mayan site, and one not so heavily visited as Tulum. By the time the busloads started arriving, and the heat was getting intense, we were on our way back to Tulim for lunch. Then back to the lagoon to introduce Dev and Brenda to snorkeling.


Wenesday was very rainy so we made it a catch-up day – I hadn’t yet bought any silver jewelry; Trish had to replace her lost hairbrush and I HAD to get a new blanket for the Pickle Yacht. We met our friends in the late afternoon and snorkeled in the rain for an hour. I finally decided to see if my Pentax really did work underwater as claimed, and while the fish weren’t quite as interesting (maybe they don’t like rain?), I got some good shots. After a couple of bottles of wine, we got treated to a wonderful dinner at La Lumita.


So, we’re up to the last day. Trish got it into her head to look at condos – bad idea – I found out they can be very affordable. Then we came back for lunch of leftover salami, blue cheese, cucumbers and red peppers. All that’s left on the agenda is another sunset snorkel and packing. Additional underwater photos will be added to the album in a day or two. Meanwhile, you can see the whole bunch here.


My very long trip back leaves at noon tomorrow, via Guatamala and San Salvador, to drop me at SFO shortly after midnight.


But wait — there’s more! The plane left a stormy Cancun on time and landed in sunny Flores, Guatemala a couple of hours later. Flores is the the capital of Petén, the department that includes Tikal and just west of Belize. The very modern airport it turns out, was built by the CIA – that according to wikipedia. Anyway the one hour stopover didn’t end in an hour. Finally at around 5 pm, when I should have been in Guatemala City boarding my plane for San Salvador, I was driven to a lovely Petén hotel for the night and brought back in the a.m. for my flight to Guatemala City. An hour later I was shuttled to another very nice Hotel for a 6 hour stay before continuing on to arrive at SFO 24 hours later than planned.

Petén Hotel Room with animal towels
View of Guatemala City from plane
Guatemala City Room

Yes, I could go out and see the city, but I can also chill out, watch cnn, download some more photos, catch up on some work and not have to worry about not having any Guatemalan money. This ‘adventure’ has made me want to see Guatemala though. People are really nice, what I’ve seen from the air is a beautiful country, and a couple of Peace Corps volunteers who were on the plane with me say they love it here. So, it’s now on my list.

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