A week of firsts with an Eco-Adventure tour of Cancun
This story has been one of the hardest for me to write. See, I didn`t start out as a “writer” I started out as a “talker”. I then figured if I had the words to say, I could write them down. This worked well for a very long time, as I have never had a loss for words. I’m known for the gift of gab. The problem is that on this trip I saw so many beautiful places, and experienced so many new and different things, that I feel like I do not have enough appropriate words. As I speak to family and friends, no adjectives or deions seem to do justice to this life changing experience. For the first time in my life, I did`n t know what to say or how to accurately say it. When you love something you want to do everything “just right”… I loved this trip to Cancun, and I wanted to describe it “just right”, but I have learned that might be impossible. I am hoping whoever reads this, travels there for themselves, and it is so amazing for you too, that you also have no words.
When my editor sent me the itinerary for this trip, he said, “I don` t know if this is for you”. I have to be honest, that inspired me even more to go. The worst thing you can do is to tell me not to do something. I barely read the itinerary and told him I would go. He asked, “Are you sure?” At this point, I would have gone no matter what. He tried to explain to me, that I was “high maintenance” and something about being a princess. I ignored him and started to pack. If this was a little out of my comfort zone, I figured even more reason to go! I had no fear! (Maybe I should have.)
I arrived at Cancun International Airport, where it was very hot, and I noticed the difference right away in the humidity. Having traveled from NY, I had a jacket on and I must have looked very silly. I had never been to a Club Med and I was excited to be going there. This would be the first of many new experiences on my trip. Whenever people talked about Club Med, I felt like I was on the outside of an inside joke, and I was missing something. Now I know what I was missing. This is an all-inclusive resort, and supposedly, Club Med Cancun is one of the first and one of the best. The staff is overwhelmingly helpful and friendly, and in the little amount of time I had to enjoy all the amenities, I realized I would want to come back for a vacation. They think of everything to help you leave your worries behind, and the relaxing and enjoyable atmosphere was right up my alley. I had some time for some lunch and sat by the pool and decompressed. This was probably a smart move since I knew the rest of the trip would be action packed.
We were picked up for dinner and went to Plaza La Isla, a very nice shopping village. I wish we had more time here since I remember thinking to myself, this is a mall, this is perfect for a princess. What was my editor thinking? This isn`t an adventure! We walked around the outdoor mall, a mix of high-end stores, novelty shops, clubs and restaurants. There was even a gondola ride through the center of the mall.
We then went to the Interactive Aquarium, a nice treat in the center of the mall, which I thought was very nicely done and interesting and engaging for all ages. There was a pond to pet animals, a dolphin show, and many exhibits.
Just as I thought this trip couldn`t be any tamer, they led me to the shark tank. When asked if I wanted to feed the sharks, I said sure. I didn`t realize I would have to go down into the tank to feed them. I thought I would sprinkle food in from safe ground. By the time, I realized what was going on, I was being lowered down to the sharks with a guide and another guest. We were in a see through cage, and the water started pouring in, as we were being lowered. We had snorkel equipment on and were holding raw meat in our hands.
Okay, so now I know what everyone was talking about with this being slightly out of my comfort zone. I thought I was going to die. Everyone commented after about how brave I was, but I just kept thinking I am not brave; I am just too stupid to know any better! As the sharks started to circle the cage, I can honestly say I was never more frightened. I felt like I was on the Discovery Channel, except I was not being paid to do this for a living. I was so scared, I didn`t want to open my eyes. But it was weird, after a good three to four minutes, I said to myself, “Christine you will be so mad, if you went through all this and missed it because you were a wimp”. So I took a deep breath, opened my eyes, and looked all around me.
It was so beautiful, I had no choice but to calm down and enjoy it. I was just blown away at the size of some of these sharks. I loved watching this underwater ballet, watching how they swim and move their bodies with grace. What made it even more special is that I was the only one to see it, so it felt like they were putting on a show just for me. I put the meat on the stick and a fish came my way and ripped it right off! All the sharks were just inches away from us in the cage and I can`t lie, it was scary. I don`t know if I would recommend this for everyone, but if you can do it, do it! The guide was very nice and helpful, and put me at ease whenever I was scared. It was kind of expensive, but I think worth every penny, as this was such a rare experience.
After feeding the shark we ate at a restaurant called El Arca. The food was delicious, the service delightful and the décor was magnificent. The bar looked like Noah`s Ark, filled with all different animals peeking out, looking over you. Everything tasted great, but I do think I was still on a high from my adventure with the sharks.
We went back to the hotel and I decided to go right to bed since the next day was an early morning. At 6am we started our 4-hour drive to Chiquila, a little village across from the island of Holbox. We all climbed onto a boat for an hour drive, to go look for Whale Shark. . I didn`t know exactly what I was looking for, but I kept looking out at the sea hoping to see something! Finally, I saw a big fin peek out from under a wave and slowly I could see the shape from under the water as the shark rose to the top. It was amazing, the Whale Shark was as big as the boat! They float near the top of the water to eat the plankton. The boat ride was rocky and wet, but once we stopped to see this magnificent sight, it seemed as though our stomachs calmed down. There was only one shark out that day, and although I wished we saw more, I was glad to see the one, as the guide was telling us that sometimes people make that long trip and see nothing.
We then took the boat to the village of Holbox to have lunch. Holbox is Quintana Roo`s northern most island, and is home to a population of fishermen, who work the rich fishing grounds of Cabo Catoche. This island looks almost deserted, far from the commercial areas of Cancun, so I walked around and took in the sights. I would have enjoyed spending more time here and just relaxing. There is a restaurant and even a hotel and I would love to come back to this location to “escape” the more commercial areas of Mexico. We ate lunch at the restaurant and had tortilla soup and a Grupper fish entrée cooked in garlic and butter. The fish was caught that day and tasted so fresh, it was delicious! We all piled back on the boat and began the long trip home. Like most excursions on this trip, I enjoyed the actual activity very much, but the trip to and from was exhausting in itself.
The next day we started the multi sports adventure. We woke up early again and drove to Puerto Morelos, a quaint, colorful artisan village. They also have a hotel and restaurant worth visiting while planning your trip. We received a brief explanation on coral reefs, snorkeling and kayaking. I was a little nervous because I had never been snorkeling before, but again, the tour guides were wonderful, taking me into the hotel pool to practice, and then into the shallow part of the ocean, so I would feel comfortable when I was out by the reef. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip, since I discovered I loved snorkeling, and found it so relaxing. I originally thought it would be a claustrophobic feeling, or that I would be nervous because I am not a good swimmer, but with the life vest on, I felt safe and with all there was to see underwater I was so preoccupied that I didn`t even think about anything else.
We sea kayaked to our own private spot on the reef. Everyone told me that I was spoiling myself by my first snorkeling experience being at the second largest reef in the world. They were right! I thought after kayaking I would be too tired to enjoy myself but I was wrong. I didn`t even want to come back, I was so happy floating along and just spent a good hour looking around, being amazed at the amount of colors and the vibrancy of it all. As I turned any corner there was something new to see, whether it was an unusual piece of coral or a school of fish. The tour guide knowing this was my first time, pointed out and identified all the different things to see, and answered any questions I had. We kayaked back and had lunch at Ojo de Agua restaurant. After such an active day I was starving and the grilled chicken, vegetables, tortillas and beans hit the spot.
I woke up the next morning and I am embarrassed to say, I got sick. I didn`t drink enough water, so I was hot and dehydrated. I learned a valuable lesson, if you want to play with the big boys- you have to take care of yourself. I spent the day at Club Med while the rest of the tour continued the adventure. I missed out and I was disappointed, but I did learn to take better care of myself, and prepare myself better for next time. I spent the afternoon enjoying Club Med. It was a young crowd and I felt comfortable being alone. Everyone was so friendly that I was never alone that long. I looked around and realized that there was so much to do on premises, that this is a vacation in itself. If you wanted to, you would never have to leave the Club Med grounds.
It took me until the next sunrise, but I arose feeling much better. I was ready for the day and in hindsight I was glad I took care of myself and prepared for this day, as it was my favorite of the whole trip. We met the guide from Altournative, an eco adventure touring company, and we drove to explore Coba, situated deep in the jungle, clustered around a series of shallow lakes. We visited the village of Pak Chen where we saw an authentic Mayan community. I slowly remembered everything I had learned about the Mayans in history class. I kept thinking, this is how we should learn about history, by living it and seeing it, not by reading books. We climbed and toured the pyramids , hiked in the jungle, and biked through the ruins where I even saw spider monkeys!
After a good hike through the jungle we “zip lined” across the Cenote Caiman. This was so exciting and another first for me. After being strapped into a harness they hooked me up and we flew across this river. I was a little nervous to go by myself, so the tour guide went with me. This was a great idea until I realized that the weight of two people only made the zip line go faster! I screamed the whole way across, but loved every minute of it.
We then hiked to the Cenote del Jaguar, which looks like a little hole in the ground almost like a well. They hook you up to rappel into the hole, using the same harness as with the zip line. It is dark and you cannot fully see what you are going down into. After three steps down, the hole opens up into a cave under ground river. You lower yourself into this river and then get into an inner tube to float, since there is nowhere to stand. It is about 125 feet deep and I am convinced this might be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I wanted so much for my family and friends to see what I was seeing, and I knew in an instant that I would be back. I felt as though I was at peace in a spiritual place, and I felt honored to be somewhere that so few get to go. The light from above came streaming in through two holes in the cave ceiling, and formed two eyes on the walls of the cave. They sparkled and danced like nature’s light show, just for us. The cenote is named after this because they look like jaguar eyes. I truly didn`t want to leave. I could have stayed there hours, just floating and relaxing, or looking at the fish swim around my legs. This was a once in a lifetime experience that words do no justice. I will come back to Mexico, and if for nothing else, I will come back to do this again.
There was canoeing on the lake after, and then a family cooked lunch for us, fresh and hot. I played with the son and even though we didnt speak the same language, I think hide and seek surpasses all language barriers. This family seemed so happy to share their world with us, and I will be forever impressed with them.. They seemed so happy with so little and I thought about all the possessions that I thought were important, or all the unnecessary “necessities” I trekked with me for this trip alone. I realized how none of this was important and this little boy was just happy to have someone to play with. I think I got more out of meeting him, then him meeting me.
We returned to the hotel and ate dinner. We had some time in the afternoon before my flight. I liked snorkeling so much that I snorkeled at Club Med before coming home. I laugh as I type this, since I went from being scared and unsure, to loving snorkeling in a matter of days!
I think it is a shame that Mexico, especially among younger people is known for Spring Break, partying and drinking. I didn`t do any of those things on this trip and didn`t want to. I experienced just a taste of the adventure there is to do and explore, and I want more! This will definitely go on my list of best trips I have ever been on, not just because it was different and exciting, but the people of Mexico made all the difference. I felt welcomed and supported in trying new things. They wanted to share their world with me and I was thankful. I hope to be back very soon.