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
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
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
I declare today a day of rest. We read our books and swing in the
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
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
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
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
Day 6 - Friday - Mexico - Kohunlich to Xpu Ha
The Explorean literature has some funny Spanglish
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
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
Day 8 - Sunday - Mexico - Xcaret
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
A major highlight is our visit to the butterfly
pavilion. We see green
butterflies ("siproeta stelenes" a.k.a. Malachite) and
("caligo memnon" a.k.a. the Owl Butterfly) on just about
to look like iguanas. Employees leave bananas
out to feed the butterflies. I couldn't count the number of times
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
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
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