Friday, January 13, 2017

Mexico 2017 – Day 7 – Shpu-Ha

Despite the delicious papaya, pineapple, watermelon and bananas we had been eating for breakfast every morning there was a noticeable lack of fresh juice stands around town. One would assume that with all this lovely fresh fruit around, and the young organic tourist crowd, there would be a roaring market for freshly squeezed juice and smoothies. But surprisingly, we only came across one such vendor a couple of days ago, and since we had just eaten we weren't in the right state of hunger to indulge. Ana had a theory that perhaps Mexico exported the majority of its best fruits, leaving little behind for juicing. Or maybe they just preferred beer?

The original plan for today was to visit Akumal – a beach between Playa and Tulum known for its large population of sea turtles within each reach of the beach if you had a mask and snorkel. But we found out that today was King's Day – a national holiday in Mexico to honour the 3 Wise Guys that brought Jesus those strange gifts, and also the day when Mexicans exchange presents, marking the end of the Christmas festivities. So that’s why they were still playing the damn Christmas music in the shops. We were told that on national holidays you did not want to go anywhere close to free Mexican beaches unless you wanted to sit in your car for hours looking for parking.

On the advice of Mom's neighbour Jose we went to a private, paid beach called Xpu-Ha. Yet another thing we've learned during our time in Mexico is how much they love the letter "X". You see the letter X everywhere, which is particularly odd in that the letter X is barely used in any of the other Spanish speaking countries we've visited or lived in. Perhaps it's the Mayan influence? Drive the Yucatan Peninsula and you will see signs for Xcaret, Xel-Ha, Xplor Park, UXmal, X'Canche and X'Keken, to name just a few. And it seems the X is pronounced differently depending on the word. Today's destination was pronounced "Shpu Ha" which is just so fun to say that this word has been rolling around in my head ever since.

Don, Donna, John and Maria joined us in the van and we made it there in about 30 minutes. A long, narrow, potted gravel road led off the highway and, after depositing 80 pesos per person with the young man working the manual gate, it opened up into a backpacker's paradise – sturdy, simple tents for rent, hammocks strung everywhere, palm trees providing shade, a faint aroma of marijuana in the air, a beach of white power sand, a shack renting sailboards, kite surfing boards and snorkelling gear, and several beach restaurants. And there were few people on the beach, so we unloaded our half ton of beach gear and set up base camp and then went for a swim and body surf in the largish waves. We were told there are turtles here too but the waves made it tough to get very far our snorkeling.

While we were in the water two young Mexican ladies had set up beach chairs behind us, stripped off all their clothes except the microscopic, G-string bikini bottoms, and fired up a bit spleef. I was wondering if John would pretend not to notice them, but when we went for a big beach walk a while later he asked me, laughing," What do you think of those bathing suits?"

 "What bathing suits?" I replied.

After an hour or so, Jose dropped off Mom, Rick, and his son Sebastian to spend the day, as we didn't have enough room in the van for everybody. Half of us went for lunch at the first beach restaurant and the food was pretty terrible and overpriced. John and I ordered a whole fish, expecting a red snapper, grouper, or some other scrumptious ocean fish but they brought out an over fried, muddy, fresh water Tilapia, supposedly grown in Mexico, but I expect it probably came from Vietnam or China. We sent the second shift of eaters to one of the other restaurants and they said the food and prices were decent.

Magnus had been in a strange mood all day – quiet and reserved, very unlike himself. So I took him for a drive to cheer him up and we went to visit the nearby Cenote Azul. We paid the entrance fee, and then walked a short jungle path to reach the first of the two swimming holes, both of which were shallow and small and only had a few people. So we continued on to the main cenote, which wasn't hard to find as it was packed full of people and many of them were cheering as people jumped off the small cliff into the deep water below. We put on our snorkels and went for a swim, finding hundreds of little fishes of many varieties, many of which were very colourful like ocean fish. We decided to take a rest and found a nice sloping stone beneath the water where we could sit and remove our masks. As we did so, a few of the fish swam up to our feet and began munching away – a free fish spa! My right ankle in particular attracted a lot of attention and Magnus counted 20 fish picking away at whatever microscopic organisms were living there. We sat there laughing hysterically as the fish tickled our feet.

After we had fully explored the cenote we gathered our things and walked back to the first set of pools and Magnus stopped for a quick swim and found one of them full of some type of catfish. It was interesting how different this cenote was than the first one we visited and it made me curious to try out even more of them – but this would probably have to wait for a future trip as we had to return our van tomorrow.

We drove back to the beach and joined the others for some final beach time. Stella decided she wanted to learn how to juggle so she found three large tree nuts and I gave her a quick lesson. Little did I know that this would consume her for the rest of the trip – from this point on we all had to protect ourselves from the out of control nuts being tossed around.
Just as we were packing up to leave, Jose and Soani showed up so they joined Mom, Rick and Sebastian as the rest of us drove back to Playa. There, we had a short rest and then went back out to the mall and supermarket to pick up the groceries we would need to get us through to the end of the trip. I actually ducked out to the food court with my laptop and did some journal writing while the rest of the gang explored the mall. One thing that struck me in the mall was the amazing variety of people there. Yes, there were many typical looking Mexicans – short and a little boxy, but there were others of all shapes, sized and colours. It was clear that there were many different ethnicities within Mexico that contribute to such a diverse range of people.

On the way home we noticed that a beautiful, live, picture perfect Christmas tree had been placed outside the gate of one of the apartments. It seemed hard to believe they were able to grow such trees in this climate, but I think it was the nicest Christmas tree we had ever seen.

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