Playa Del Carmen // Xel-Ha

by spaghettipirate

Spending an entire 9 days worth of vacation in the sun can eventually take its toll on you as it is hardly past 21.00 and I am more wiped today than I think I have been the duration of this Cancun visit. I will however, chalk this up to the last 2 days that we have had, because honestly they were some of the most fun I have had and also some of the most ocean.

So once again I will break this down day-by-day as to help collect my thoughts on both days.

Friday:  We started the day early today after Mario – husband of my cousin – went to work. Today was particularly good because both Mariano and Mariana (yes, I know) also tagged along with the rest of us to Playa Del Carmen. However, the more people in your group the harder it is to get out of the house. So I think I can safely say we did a good job getting out of the house just past 1100 with two kids under 10 and a pre-teen.

Playa Del Carmen is about an hour’s drive from the house and is a tourist hot spot. It seems that in these days I have been often frequenting tourist places – but what am I if not a tourist, proper? Not that I much mind, it gives me a chance to hear some English snippets.

Consequently because it is so touristy, it is a lot more brushed up on La Quinta Avenida although that is about the last place we as a family went to eat. It makes for flashy bars, and a lovely nightlife – which we basically all but missed due to the three children.

The beach that we found at arrival wasn’t the biggest nor the flashiest, but it was by far more tranquil than the hotel fronted beach access points about half a mile away. It was also much more virgin sand and therefore much nicer to walk on.

And the ocean! The ocean was beautiful – really is there ever an ugly ocean in Cancun? – but more than that it was that there was hardly any current or undertow to pull the center out from under your feet nor were there any waves crashing into your body.

IE: The perfect ocean with which to sprawl into the ocean and drift aimlessly, in the warm water and blue skies and then come out to sprawl on the white sand to catch some rays. Even if the SPF 100 is needed to prevent burning.

Rinse and repeat until you are happy with yourself and life in general.

Because we had only brought cheese sandwiches to the beach, by about 1700 the kids were nagging for food, so we decided to find some fish to eat.

This of course led into a journey down la quinta of about 15 blocks of so in search of A) reasonably priced food and B) preferably fish. When in desperation we called Mario – the kids were hollering for Pizza, blegh – he said we had to walk right. back. to. the. car.

You can imagine the howls of protest. But if they didn’t want to be left on the corner sitting, walking it would be. And honestly?

The fish filet I had was worth it. Talk about fresh that fish was still alive yesterday and though I haven’t the faintest idea what type of fish, it went really well with lemon and refried beans.

Bruno – the littlest one – ate a pan fried fish whole – and I mean whole. Kid even ate out the eyes – something he saved for last, because its his favorite. There was shrimp cocktails and fish filet and we even had empanadas made from a type of shark found around here. It was okay if not a little fishy tasting.

Believe me I took pictures of Bruno eating the eyes because I have never seen such a thing! And he think’s I’m the crazy one for not liking churros! I am wondering, how it is that we can compare because no.

Then to walk off all the delicious fish in our bellies we wandered back into the heart of La Quinta Avenida beyond where we had walked, to walk the other side, with popsicles in hand. By this time it was closer to 20.00 so the street – which is entirely pedestrian – was coming alive with lights and people outside having their drinks.

Mariachi’s singing their songs, and men painted up in indian ritual paint feathers and all, we walked into the very heart of the Malecon. I could have walked more, but the kids being kids wanted to go back to the car. Just as well, as my aunt had gotten a sizeable blister on her toe from the flip flop, which started a hilarious game of swapping shoes.

In the end we were happy fed and sunned and prepared for today, which brings us to:

 Saturday: 300px-Xel-ha-inlet 

It’s weird, isn’t it? How much things can change in a year? I was thinking this morning about where I was at exactly this time last year – London – and how now in 365 days everything is different but also very much the same.

I know this won’t make sense to a lot of you – if any of you – but imagine last year flying high and on top of the world in London and now in the full sun of Xel-Ha in the Caribbean with family.

Things change and deviate from the course sometimes, but the game is in allowing the current to take you where it will, when it does. (I am somewhat tired and pensive, can you tell?)

Well imagine how difficult it is getting 7 people out of the house, if you can. Because while Xel-Ha park may have opened up at 08.30, it was about an hour and a half drive, and I myself was guilty because I wasn’t really ready until 07.15.

But shh we got there still before 10.00 which I ~really chalk up as an accomplishment and because Mario likes to drive fast – even if we did have to Indian Jones it a little with this ‘shortcut’  that leads to the highway that just about makes you lose your breakfast.

And Xel-Ha is a natural park and one they label as the largest natural aquarium. What makes it really neat is that it is exactly at a juncture where the sea water of the Caribbean mixes with fresh river water that spring up in sinkholes and a river.

As a result of the thermocline and hydrocline – woah I learnt something today go me – the water is a little blurry and it looking through it can look a little like looking through oil. This is an optical illusion of course, as oil and water don’t mix. (I was reading their signs)

But this is another kind of paradise because the water generally is so clear. And when the sun warms up the water it is the most refreshing wonderful swimming I can ever describe to anyone. They have manta rays and barracudas and a whole host of other fish in there, that you can see for yourself as they hang out around the reefs and people swim through them

I swam through various schools of fish which was possibly one of the best experiences of my life as they approached but never touched me and moved as one body even though there were so many of them.

Green fish, yellow fish, blue fish, black fish, it was like a Dr. Suess book with all the different types of fish. And what made it better was that I was allowed to swim without a life vest and really swim swim swim more than hobbling along on some form of a crutch.

Xel-Ha also has mangroves lining a river, and I both took a snorkel and tube tough through the swamp where the river water meets to ocean. The roots of the mangroves are like human skin, so they advise us not to use chemical sunblock right before going in because the roots can get clogged. And because it’s such a web of roots, one gets clogged, they all get clogged.

But you follow the current swimming along and if it is not one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen or done, then I just don’t know what is. Top 10 for sure.

So then there was the issue of me losing my family. I think I went left, they went right, or they went left and I right, but I surely didn’t let it stop me from enjoying myself!

I took another boat ride down another current and ended up in manatee bay and ended up talking to a chap (yes I did use that word) who also lost his family. We just swam around in the lagoon where people drifted by knowing that eventually our families would have to eat.

We found them of course, and after lunch we took the loop around all of Xel-Ha. This means crawling into caves of the sinkholes, and flying on ropes to splash into water.

imagesThe best bit were either the Coati’s – where we saw a whole troop of them hanging out being Coati’s (because even though there were iguanas galore, they’re not nearly as nifty or new as the Coati’s anymore) or the 5 meter jump into the water that was 3.5 meters deep.

And the adrenaline that pumps through your body when you are standing at the ledge, saying your prayers but you don’t even have to think or allow yourself time to think about it because you just take a running start and leap knowing that gravity will do its work.

It feels like an eternity with your eyes open waiting for the splash and your belly is in your heart but the water hits your body all at once, and the thrill of it send you running to do it again and again. So while at first I may have been hesitant and needed some coaxing, if Bruno who is absolutely fearless can do it, and Mariano who is a nervous wreck can, and Mariana mother to them both can, then what will stop me from jumping?

Then there were zip lines and more zip lines splashing us into the water – where for whatever reason I had to wear a life jacket that rode up and around me which was silly but falling into the water like a bird lands is also a lot of fun.

And when the water is 23 C it’s even better. Even when you’re trying to swim upstream and your legs are aching (I will definitely feel it tomorrow – hell I’m feeling the burn now) the water is so nice and fresh that you just don’t want to get out.

The one half empty bottle of sunblock didn’t much help because honestly? By the time I got out and was showering, I had a star contrast between where my bathing suit was and what was exposed to the sun. My skin is a little feverish at the moment – but tomorrow if we head to the beach I will be shaded lest the burn get worse.

The only one not burnt was Bruno because he clearly spends all his free time shirtless he’s so dark. Even sun tired and struggling to write this post, it was so worth it.

Even if there were about 8 other “additional cost” activities, such as swimming with manatees or dolphins or scuba in the sinkholes, I can’t say I had a bad day at all. Even getting lost I ended up making a friend – whose name I never got – and who gave me pointers for when we go to Veracruz.

We left at about 18.00 by which point most of the park had all but filtered out, which left us fine to change and try to comb out the knots in our hair.

Amazing what a snorkel mask will do to your hair.

My aunt walked in the front door when we got back and crawled or fell como un chango viejo (which will never not make me laugh) into bed. I doubt we will see her until tomorrow.

The kids say that this will become a book and that they will be famous for now theyre on the internet, but I mostly laugh and tell them it’s a place for me to collect my thoughts and to help me remember down the road.

Tomorrow marks our last full day here in Cancun and I am not ready in the least bit to leave it. It’s such a warm sunny place, that I am already counting down the seconds until I can come back again.

And with a lucky and fulfilling life – I just might.

But for now, bed.