Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mexico 2017 – Day 3 – Cenote

Today was the day to pick up our rental vehicle so for the following five days we would have wheels. Mom, Ana and I took a bus downtown, found the rental place by 9:30 which was the pickup time, but the place wasn’t open yet so we waited.  It was located right on Fifth Avenue and happened to be right across the street from a cigar factory so I browsed their selection and picked up two dark, thick, aromatic Mexican stogies.  The girl working at the rental place showed up about 45 minutes late, but fortunately Ana had first place in line so it didn’t take too long to get the vehicle. We were pleasantly surprised to find they had given us a practically new Honda Odyssey. And it was the premium model as opposed to the basic one we owned at home so it had a backup cameras, right turning signal camera, great stereo system, push button start, cooler box, an 8th seat, and automatic side doors. The only thing missing was a chauffeur, but I guess that was supposed to be me.

The drive back to the apartment was a little hectic, and I nearly got smoked when a taxi cut across two lanes in front of me to make a right turn. The trick with driving in a foreign country is watching how they drive and then try to drive in the exact same manner. The best way to get into an accident is trying to “take it easy” because then you are just a menace to other drivers. The driving in Mexico is actually quite good, and people seem to follow the rules, so once you get used to the lack of defined lanes you are okay.

We picked up the gang, loaded up our beach gear and drove down to Tulum, which is less than an hour south of Playa del Carmen. The main highway passes right through the center of Tulum and the town looks like nothing more than a giant truck stop. After a couple of misses we found the road that led to the beach and followed it for several kilometers until finally reaching the ocean road. Here, we found a narrow street with a solid line of slow moving traffic and many backpacker types pedalling bicycles amidst the traffic. On both sides of the road was a solid line of shops, restaurants and hotels, making it mostly impossible to see the beach, other than glimpses between buildings. We continued along until there was a break in the commercial zone and suddenly a beautiful beach appeared on our left. We immediately found a parking spot, perched perilously on a rock breakwall, and we unloaded our gear and set up shop on the beach. After discovering that a colony of ants had Trojan Horsed their way inside our cooler via a hunk of chocolate bread that had been left on the counter for too long, we cleared out the invaders and then enjoyed our ham and cheese sandwiches on the beach, in true family backpacker style.

After lunch we explored the shops and John found an awesome, classy, Hemmingway hat that was a perfect replacement for the nasty ball cap he got free from the nut and bolt shop in Brantford. Magnus and I found an older, groovy, plaster and stucco hotel with architectural curves like a beautiful lady, so we entered her and toured around while the others were sifting through the souvenieristic junk in the shops. We found out later that the hotels in Talum are extremely expensive, so I have a feeling many of the backpackers we saw were actually flashpackers; that is, youngins who want to see the world in a low impact, organic, dreadlocked, MC Hammer pants, free spirited sort of way but have a voluptuous budget able to support seaside hotel stays and meals served on plates instead of in bags.

We returned to the van and did a drive through the actual town where the locals live, hoping to find some hidden Tulum gems but we didn’t find anything like that at all, so we either missed the good stuff or Tulum doesn’t have that much to offer beside the ocean road. Yes, there are the amazing Tulum ruins, but there were so many cars and tourist busses jammed into the entrance that we decided to skip it and visit one of the other ruins instead later in the week.

We started back on the highway and soon arrived at the Los Ojos cenote, the second of our touristic targets for the day. Now before coming to Mexico I did not even know the word “cenote” so how happy was I to learn that the Yucatan peninsula is chock-full of inland, freshwater pools that are spring fed, cold and unbelievably clear. I imagine that in days of old most of these cenotes were hidden in the jungle and you could machete your way through and enjoy a refreshing swim in solitude. Now, they are major touristic attractions and I think Los Ojos may be one of the most popular ones because it cost us 200 pesos each to get in (about CDN $14) and the facilities were a little threadbare. For example we couldn’t find any change rooms so had to don our swimwear in a dirty toilet with a quarter inch of piss on the ground. But once we got through that and feasted our eyes on this amazing site we were not disappointed. After descending a series of stairs in the jungle we found a giant cavern that contained a large body of water which, in turn, contained dozens of human bodies, some wearing snorkeling gear, some wearing full scuba diving gear and others not wearing much at all. In fact, after surveying the crowds of swim suited females, I was worried that Ana was going to be fined for being the only lady wearing a bikini bottom with fabric where the ass goes. The standard ass-less bikini bottom was a single thread of fabric escaping from the top of the butt crack and connecting around the sides to a thin strip of fabric at the front. Dreadful, just dreadful.

We put on our masks, pushed through the crowd and jumped into the water. The initial cold blast was painful, but after a few moments the body adjusted and we snorkeled around the area. The middle part of the cenote was about 12 feet deep but the closer you got to the edges the deeper it went. I dove down about 20 feet and looked to see an expansive cavern below, probably reaching a depth of at least 60 feet, and I could see light coming from the second cenote, connected to this one through the underwater passage. We explored a while longer and then got out and walked over to the second cenote, and found it was much larger so we had an amazing time snorkeling through the waters and seeing all the deep trenches, fish, boulders, and even stalactites hanging from the cavern roof. The four of us snorkeled together and found some areas where there were no other people, making it feel like we were exploring this underwater cavern by ourselves.

We packed up our gear and started walking back to the van when we got hit with a massive downpour so we took refuge in one of the small massage shacks where two Mexican masseurs graciously let us in and even offered us chairs. When the rain let up we scurried back to the van, got changed, and then drove back to Playa del Carmen, quite satisfied with the day’s adventures.

This was Randy’s last night with us as he was leaving tomorrow so we had a barbeque at the pool in our apartment complex. As we were cooking the burgers and dogs on the charcoal grill one of the kids pointed out the lovely crescent moon, which was rotated 90 degrees compared to home, producing a delightful smiley face in the sky. Seeing the moon so happy made me happy too.

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