Photos: Mexico

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This is part four of our vacation saga. [ref. Episode 1: New Zealand (2002), Episode 2: Chile (2003), and Episode 3: Africa (2004)] Many thanks to Pam for helping us pick these locations each year. Our single goal for this trip was relaxation.

We departed for a ten day vacation on January 2nd, returning to unseasonably warm weather in Massachusetts on January 12th. Since this vacation was more for pleasure than adventure, we only took our camera, bug spray, sunglasses and sun block.

To see the pictures from the trip, follow the hypertext links below.  I've assumed you're running in 1024x768 screen mode. If you don't know what that means, don't fret. All the pictures will display in this page so to get back to this text just click on the browser's back arrow or hit the Backspace key.

Feel free to right click and "Save As..." pictures you especially like for personal use. Many have been cropped or resized, so if you'd like the high resolution original, email me at logrus101 at yahoo dot com. I humbly ask that we're given credit for the death-defying feats involved in capturing these images. If you are linking to these or using them for non-personal use, ask permission at the same email address. :)

Day 1 - Sunday - Mexico - Playa del Carmen

Our flight leaves Boston at 5:50am. Wheeee! I'm wide awake and ready for relaxation. A quick layover in Cincinnati and we're on our way to Cancun, Mexico. This map shows the Yucatan peninsula area, our destination.

Our travels are limited to the east coast of the Yucatan. We get a preview of what the beaches look like as we fly over the Holbox area. From the Cancun airport we rent a car. In the United States, renting a car takes two employees and 15 minutes. One person helps you with the paperwork and one shows you your car. Sometimes they have the car ready and running for you. Not so in Mexico. One guy did the paperwork, one guy looked at the paperwork, one guy got the car, one guy cleaned the car, one guy inspected the car and one guy just stood around watching. The process took an hour and a half.

We head south along the coastal highway. Our destination is Kohunlich (just under the "R" in Quintana Roo), an archeological site and resort hotel. The trip will take the rest of the day so we stop for lunch in Playa del Carmen. About an hour south of Cancun, Playa del Carmen feels like a bustling Cape Cod village at the peak of tourist season. This picture is our view during lunch at the Yucatan cuisine restaurant Yaxche. The street vendor across the way is selling necklaces, hammocks and hats. Scooters and bikes are common sights. Nearly all the cars are small four cylinder jobs.

Lunch is delicious. We drive south for six hours into the night. Mathieu deserves an award for passing cars on an unfamiliar one-and-a-half lane road in the middle of nowhere at night. The last mile to the resort is unmarked, unlit, one lane, and pitted with potholes the size of our car.

Day 2 - Monday - Mexico - Kohunlich

The Explorean hotel at Kohunlich is in the jungle. The rooms are in thatched roof buildings downhill from the lobby and restaurant. Looking up the path from our room, we can see the red monolith that marks the swimming pool. Plant life here is exceedingly dense, although the tree canopy is only twenty or thirty feet high. Poor soil keeps the trees from sinking deep roots, but they can be very clever in the face of obstacles.

At breakfast, we watch yellow breasted birds bathe in the swimming pool. In the lobby, there is a cartoon map of the Yucatan showing the location and relative size of important archeological sites.

I declare today a day of rest. We read our books and swing in the hammock.

Day 3 - Tuesday - Mexico - Kohunlich - Dzibanche

Our morning starts with a trip to the Dzibanche ruins. We drive north for about an hour, stopping briefly to let some cow traffic pass by. The Mayan city, at its peak in 800AD, is only a short walk from the road. Each Mayan town consists of a plaza with four sides. The temple is usually on the north edge. We climb right up the stairs to investigate the top.

At the top, our guide Eduardo explains how the Mayan arch was designed without a keystone. One side of the arch may be destroyed and the other side will remain standing. He also tells us that the holes in the wall not only provide ventilation, but are also shaped like a skull - a tribute to the Mayan god of the winds.

At the bottom of the temple, Eduardo shows us a neat trick. Leaf cutter ant trails cross the entire jungle floor. These trails are very well maintained, with twigs and small rocks pushed out of the way in the name of harvesting leaves. Eduardo stomps on a leaf cutter ant nest. Hundreds of ants pour out to investigate. He picks up a large soldier ant. Ants are very strong. Evidently they are strong enough to hold an empty water bottle.

We walk a few hundred meters into the forest and find another Mayan plaza. There, we climb to the top of the Temple of the Owl. Eduardo shows us where faint patches of the original red paint remain on the temple. Mathieu poses for a picture with another temple in the background, nearly 200 feet tall!

There are ficus trees growing on every imaginable surface. They grow at what seem to be impossible angles. The roots spread far on the surface so that it looks like the trees are hugging the temples.

We return to the hotel in time for lunch. The hot tub looks inviting.

In the evening, we drive to a lake to go night kayaking. It is raining, but warm. Each of us is given a flashlight to strap to our heads. As we watch the shoreline, we can see glowing crocodile eyes looking back at us.

Day 4 - Wednesday - Mexico - Kohunlich - Franciscan Church

Today we go mountain biking. It is raining again (In a rainforest! Imagine!). Our destination is a Franciscan church established by settlers in the 1600s. On the way there, we encounter a snake in the middle of the road. Eduardo fearlessly investigates. After everyone has a chance to take a picture, the snake slithered back into the jungle.

We press onwards and arrive at the ruins. High up in the trees, we aggravate a group of spider monkeys. They shake branches and twigs fall on our heads. The jungle seems to have eaten the old church. We go for a walk and find the well they used for fresh water. We're told it is about 100 feet deep with sheer walls. I think it is wonderful that the unmarked and deadly well is right on the trail we're following.

Near the church, there is a crypt containing the remains of natives and settlers killed in an early battle. A ficus tree has grown over the location of the crypt. It is slowly exhuming the stones and bones inside. Creepy.

Day 5 - Thursday - Mexico - Kohunlich - Rappelling


Today we're going to rappel down this cliff. We walk through the jungle towards the top of the cliff. Howler monkeys make monstrous noises as we pass. Mathieu's a lot more adventurous than I am and speeds down the rope in big jumps. In my second descent, he snaps a picture of me.

Day 6 - Friday - Mexico - Kohunlich to Xpu Ha

The Explorean literature has some funny Spanglish issues.

We discovered that the maid is incapable of carrying glasses. Whoever's job it is to carry empty glasses up the hill does not come to our room. The glasses have accumulated in our room during our entire stay. We think this is hilarious.

We pack up the car and drive north. During daytime, we can appreciate the small Mexican towns. Each town has people selling things by the side of the road. For example: pineapples. Each town also has at least one stray dog. In the dog picture, you can also see the gigantic six foot speed bumps that our four cylinder car has to struggle over at least twice in each village.

By early afternoon we are standing in the lobby of Xpu-Ha Palace (pronounced "sh-poo ha"). Like a Disney World with fewer rules and lots more liquor, Xpu-Ha Palace has lots of animal exhibits - like crocodiles and coati. I like the lobby bar.

Day 7 - Saturday - Mexico - Xpu Ha

Today we're signed up to go horseback riding. I can't stress how dangerous it is to talk and ride. You may crash. There are about thirty of us on horseback, a new record for us. Here you can see Mathieu riding along the gorgeous beach. At the beach we have a chance to take the horses galloping. Afterwards, most of the group decides to take the horses into the water.

If you happen to go riding in Mexico, I suggest you wear real cowboy boots. We wore long pants and sneakers and still got lots of flea bites.

Day 8 - Sunday - Mexico - Xcaret

Xcaret describes itself as a "Eco Archaeological Water Park". As soon as we enter the park, we're confronted by flamingos and Macaw parrots. They are stunningly beautiful. Since Xcaret is ecologically friendly, they grow extra animals and release them back into the natural ecosystems of Mexico. We snuck behind the scenes to spy on their Macaw breeding laboratory and the Macaw storage facility. They may be ecologically friendly, but I'm not sure how PETA feels about them.

We sign up for a swim in the underground river. The cave runs underneath the whole park, about half a mile long! In the dark of the cave, we see fish swimming with us and even an eel!

We towel off and visit the orchid greenhouse. Mathieu likes orchids a lot, and there are many beautiful species there. There is also an edible fungus farm.

A major highlight is our visit to the butterfly pavilion. We see green butterflies ("siproeta stelenes" a.k.a. Malachite) and brown butterflies ("caligo memnon" a.k.a. the Owl Butterfly) on just about every surface. Butterflies disguised to look like iguanas. Employees leave bananas out to feed the butterflies. I couldn't count the number of times they landed on us.

The best part of the day is swimming in the snorkeling bay. We couldn't take the camera in the water, but some of the things we see: coral, flounder, and some sea turtles. After our swim, we visit the Xcaret aquarium, which has sea slugs you can touch. The aquarium is also home to the sea turtle breeding program. We can see baby turtles up close. In pools outside are adolescent turtles. Next to the spawning pool is the adult turtle bay. They are huge! It is feeding time when we get there. These adult turtles will be released directly into the ocean via the snorkeling bay. I think that might be why we saw turtles come in from the ocean when we were swimming. They like to visit their home.

There's great signage to help us navigate. We swing by the jaguar island on the way to the blinged out graveyard. The tomb mound features a three dimensional cross on the top, a la Dali. Underneath the tomb is an altar with more lit candles than I have ever seen.

On the way out, we snap a picture of Xcaret's Day of the Dead display.

Day 9 - Monday - Mexico - Cancun

In the morning, the sun hits our door in just the right way to make a rainbow through the peephole. It really looks cool.

One down side to our all-inclusive resort is the annoying wrist band we have to wear 24 hours a day. If we take it off or lose it, we have to pay $100. On the plus side, they fold our towels into cool shapes like pigs and swans. They also have a nice collection of plants, including a parasitic cactus.

Today we visit downtown Cancun. There are lots of shops to visit, and we have lunch at "La Habichuela", a fancy restaurant. The Cancun infrastructure reminds me a lot of the African infrastructure. Some of the cars are simply one-of-a-kind.

We make it to the beach strip in time to watch the sunset from the Beach Palace resort. Then we drive south to Playa del Carmen - a town bustling with night life. A walk down 5th avenue is like a walk in Provincetown in mid-July.

Day 10 - Tuesday - Mexico - Cancun

This is our last full day in Mexico, so we head down to the coastal town of Tulum. There's a troop of "bird men" swinging around a pole. As they swing, the ropes get longer until they reach the ground.

There are iguana all over the place. I nearly tripped on this one. Many people come there to visit the beach. The ruins of Tulum were like a vacation resort for the Mayan nobles. The view from there makes a worthy end to our trip.

Our flight home is delayed because the Mexican authorities need to sign off on some aircraft maintenance work. We miss our connection, but catch the next plane to Boston - only a four hour delay. Temperatures reach sixty degrees the day after we get home.

One week later, Boston is hit with one of the worst blizzards ever. I'd rather be having breakfast in Mexico.

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