Yes, I know I've been home for almost 2 weeks and have not yet blogged about Mexico. Joe and I had such an amazing time in Cancun that it was almost like a dream. Coming home was a harsh wake up call...but I'm re-adjusting...slowly. I took a ton of pictures and have just picked my favorite 3o or so (ha ha!) for you here.
Joe and I were invited to go down to Cancun by our good friends Justin and Angela Baker who had a 2 bedroom Villa at the Royal Mayan resort. Justin's dad has a couple of time shares and this was a trade from a week in Hawaii, so it was upgraded and we were all just shocked when we got to our villa on Saturday afternoon - it was literally on the beach. You would walk out the patio doors onto the grass and then down about 8 steps to the beach. It was beautiful. I loved being able to open the door or window and hear the ocean. Of course you couldn't leave the window open all night because the humidity down there is insane and I can't sleep when it's hot! Here are a couple of shots of the view from our room:
Saturday night we decided to go shopping for some groceries so we took the public bus (which was like $.60 to ride) to where else...Wal-Mart! The food there was cheaper than at the food at the markets at the resorts and it's always comforting knowing that Wal-Mart is pretty much the same no matter where you go. The bus ride was a little crazy, but very efficient. The driver hits the gas as soon as your money is in his hand so you better hold on!
On Sunday we were all a little tired from traveling and wanted to take it easy so we had a relaxing day. We hit the pool and the beach. There was this guy on the beach trying desperately to sell these really ugly hats. We didn't buy the hats, but we paid him a few pesos to let us take a picture with them on.
On Monday we rented a car to head out into the jungle. Justin is fluent in Spanish and Joe's Portuguese was close enough for him to get along, so that gave us a real advantage. I think you could easily do the Cancun area without it, but it sure helped, especially with the driving. Before we went down there we heard all these horror stories about how the Mexican police pull tourists over all the time and you have to bribe them to let you go, so we were a bit nervous. Since Joe was the only one of us with foreign driving experience (Canada doesn't count) we elected him driver. I must say he did an amazing job. He never got pulled over and by the end of the 4 days we had the car he was driving like a native (although I'm not sure that's a good thing). There are two very annoying things about driving in the Mayan Riviera, the changes in speed limit and the accompanying speed bumps. We were on a fairly major highway and there was honestly a change in speed limit about every half a mile. It would go up and then back down and up again. Obviously the Mexican Government doesn't understand anything about gas efficiency. At the beginning or ending of any little town (or just when they randomly felt like it) there were these HUGE speed bumps. They look like this and you have to slow down almost to a stop to go over them. It was insane and don't even get me started on the caution signs. Anyway, Joe did a great job driving and I was very proud.
On Monday we drove down to Tulum which is a Mayan ruin site. It was a port city so it is right on the ocean and its beach is just stunning.
On the way in, this guy basically handed me his giant iguana and then quickly told me it would cost $5 to take it's picture. I guess I should consider it a donation to the Mexican economy. It WAS a pretty cool iguana:
Here are some of my favorite shots of the ruins and the beach at Tulum. Don't let the breezy conditions and overcast skys fool you, it was like 90 degrees and 100% humidity there. I've never sweat so much in my life!
These things are everywhere!!
When we left Tulum we went to the Dos Ojos Cenote. A cenote is a sink hole which means it's basically a lake in a cave. We didn't really know what to expect and on our way in they tried to talk us into paying for a tour guide, but we thought we would just try exploring a bit by ourselves. We took our snorkel gear and headed down to the water. The water was so cool and incredibly clear. It's probably the cleanest water I've ever swam in and it felt so good to cool off. It was so neat to swim around and look at the stalagmites and stalactites which have formed in the caves.
There were only a very few other people there which turned out to be a huge stroke of luck for us because the photographer that usually goes around with the tour guides was sitting around bored. He came down and was swimming and talking with us for a little while and he asked if we had been to the "bat cave". We told him we didn't even know there was a bat cave, so he offered to take us to it. It was a cave you had to snorkel to through a small opening and it was just beautiful. There were a few bats in it, but they certainly weren't bothering us in the water. The photographer took a bunch of pictures of us and gave us a great deal on the CD of all the images. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
This is my favorite picture of the whole trip:
We left Dos Ojos and drove to Playa del Carmen for dinner. I loved Playa and I think if we go back to the area we would probably try to stay there. Several blocks around the beach are closed to traffic and it's full of shops and restaurants. We found a great place with a really affordable buffet for dinner and then walked around the shops. Everyone was so friendly! We also had my favorite Spanish faux pas in one of the shops there when Joe asked the shop keeper if she would accept a "Carta" for a wrap I wanted to buy. Apparently in Portuguese Carta is "Card" but in Spanish it's "Carton". The lady just laughed and told him no, she would not accept a carton, but would accept a "Tarjeta" meaning card.
On Tuesday we took on an even bigger adventure and traveled to Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza is one of the seven wonders of the world and has a very large Mayan Temple. It is about 150 miles from Cancun, but by then we were confident in Joe's driving. On the way there we stopped in Valladolid which is a colonial Mexican town. It has Mexico's oldest continuously operating cathedral which was really neat. I'm not sure we would have actually stopped, but Joe and Justin spotted a shop on the street selling insanely inexpensive barbecued chicken and they just couldn't resist. We got half a chicken with rice and tortillas for about $5.00 and it was really good. Here's a picture of Joe and me with the cathedral in the background.
Chichen Itza was truly awe inspiring. The scale is just massive and it's been so well preserved that you can really imagine how it looked in its time. I really loved it.
There are 2 different roads from Cancun to Chichen Itza. One is a toll road and one is not. Our map didn't really say which was which, but on the way there we ended up on the toll road. It was a great road. The speed limit was consistent and the road was straight and not very busy (except for the thousands of yellow butterflies with a death wish). When we got to the toll booth we found out the toll was about $20.00. That seemed like a lot to us so on the way home we decided we would take the non-toll road. It ended up being the worst/most entertaining decision of the whole trip.
I think it took us about 2 hours to get to Chichen Itza, and about 4 hours to get home! The road wound it's way through ever little town between there and Cancun and every one of those towns had six of the gigantic speed bumps. It was beautiful and wonderful to drive through the "real" Mexico, but after a couple of hours we were all so over it! At one point when we slowed down for one of the hundreds of speed bumps our car was mobbed by about a dozen children and old ladies trying to sell spices, peppers and tamales. They were hanging on the car and banging on the windows. Talk about determined sales people! We also ran into construction where Joe had to navigate between a five foot drop off on one side and the oncoming traffic on the other side with about six inches to spare. In the meantime a crazy city bus driver kept trying to PASS us!
We finally got back to "civilization" and were following the signs to Cancun, but after about 20 minutes we realized we had somehow passed the turn off to Cancun and were too far north. We were getting a little giddy with our fatigue and just started laughing and laughing. We pulled over and asked directions and the man chuckled and said "Usted está muy perdido" or "You are really lost." He pointed us in the right direction, but it took asking 2 more people before we really found our way back. Luckily everyone was very good natured about it and we just viewed it as an adventure.
On Wednesday we got to take advantage of the sail boats that our resort offered use of for free. Joe got a 15 minute sailing lesson (which he didn't really need because he's an experienced boy scout) and then took me out to sail around the Lagoon. It was a really nice surprise activity that we enjoyed more than we expected.
That night Joe and I went to dinner at a place called Hacienda Sisal. I have to say, ALL the food we had down there was just amazing. I don't know how they make their refried beans, but they are SO much better than the ones here. Nothing was too spicy and I loved it all. At Hacienda Sisal we had a great waiter who really wanted to chat. We talked with him about politics and tourism and he gave us a lot of insight into life for Cancun natives. The Swine Flu panic has had a really negative effect on everyone who works in tourism (which is pretty much everyone). Everywhere we went people would tell us that it was so slow and although it made for a really nice vacation for us, I do feel bad for the people there.
On Thursday we drove down to Xcaret which is an "eco-park" sort of a zoo/theme park/water park/beach with a big cultural show at night. It was wonderful. We saw their animals and enjoyed some great snorkeling. They have an underground river that was like one of the cenotes and we followed it out to where it met the ocean. We didn't really see fish in the river, but once we reached the ocean we saw a lot, including some BIG suckers that made even Joe and Justin scream like little girls.
On the last day we did something that all of us had always wanted to do - swam with Dolphins! We took a ferry out to Dolphin Discovery in Isla Mujeres where we got to play with a sea lion, swim with dolphins and also manatees! It was truly one of those "once in a lifetime" experiences. The dolphins are so smart and well trained. They would even come up and push you by the feet back to the dock. The manatees were so gentle and very different than I thought they would be. Dolphin Discovery is one of the few places that will let you swim with manatees because they are endangered. They feel like if you get in the water with them and get to know them you will become an advocate for them, which is totally true. I never really even knew what they were before, but now I'm very interested in them. I don't have any pictures of us actually swimming with the animals because they wanted like $20 per picture, but here are a few I snapped from the shore:
That night we went to our last big dinner out at a great sea food place. As much as I missed my kids while we were gone, it was so nice to just be able to go out every night and do whatever we wanted.
Well, I could probably write a lot more about the trip, but this is already longer than I intended it to be. I do need to give my mom a HUGE thank you because she and her friend Janet took care of our kids while we were gone and Brad and Lucy both got sick. Lucy had an ear infection and Brad got a virus that won him a trip to Primary Children's hospital for a chest x-ray. Even though she's a nurse, my mom got a lot more than she bargained for, and I'm incredibly grateful because I knew they were in good hands and didn't have to worry. Thank you mom!
And now back to your regularly scheduled posts about real life....