Tuesday, March 19, 2013


The Coveted Chaises
After three days of snorkeling, rappelling and zip lining, we were ready for a day off.  We decided to spend Thursday enjoying the beach near our hotel and exploring the Playacar neighborhood.  The Viva hotels have a nice VIP area for timeshare owners.  This area features nicer chaises and a cocktail server.  Competition for this real estate is fierce.  It is not the case that all or even most of the places are actually occupied, but all of them are always "reserved."  The hotel has attempted to handle this problem by posting signs forbidding reserving spaces.  Prior to 9:00 am, the staff actually removes any towels they find spread across unoccupied chaises.  After 9:00, however, it becomes harder to tell who had "reserved" a spot by spreading his or her towel there and going back to breakfast and who has just gone for a swim.  The rules are not enforced after 9:00.

We had been enable to find free places on any of our earlier attempts, so had resorted to using chaises that appeared to be unoccupied (no shoes or sunscreen present) and just moving if somebody showed up.  Some people were nice about it and others were nasty.  We had begun to refer to the situation as La Batalla de las Toallas (The Battle of the Towels.)  On this particular morning, I had an appointment to chat with the member services folks, so Erika headed down to the beach, full of righteous indignation and prepared to do whatever was necessary to secure a place.  Luck was with her and she found spots without incident.  While lying there, she observed that, not only were people reserving places, some were "reserving" one in the sun and another in the shade. By the time I showed up, Erika had a conflict free spot waiting for me and all I had to do was slather on the sunscreen and guard our territory while Erika went for a walk.  We hung out on the beach until lunchtime and then cleaned up and went to lunch.

Viva Maya is located in the hotel zone within a gated community called Playacar.  Besides hotels, this community also contains many very nice private homes and a couple of shopping areas.  After lunch, we walked over to a bird sanctuary, but declined to pay the still entrance fee.  We could peek through the trees and see that there were flamingos, spoonbills and scarlet macaws in there.

I am in the process of working with an architect to design a major remodel of my home which will include a complete reworking of the exterior, so I spent some time photographing the houses I liked to share with my architect.  I found more houses I liked in that one afternoon than I had in years of looking at houses in California.  I guess it's safe to say that I like modern Mexican architecture.  Fortunately, my architect does, also.

We strolled through the shopping area on the way back and bought some earrings for gifts.  Erika headed back to the hotel for a siesta and I hung out at the Starbucks so as to take advantage of the internet connection.  On my way back to the hotel, I started to experience intestinal cramping, which is not the thing you want to feel when travelling in Mexico.  I ate very little for dinner and Erika went out to the bar before bedtime and brought me some hot chamomile tea, which helped enough for me to be able to sleep most of the night.

Hidden Worlds Vehicle
I felt a little better in the morning and the dreaded Montezuma's revenge had not materialized, so we got up early and went to swim in some more cenotes and snorkel with turtles in Akumal Bay.  I got to practice my Italian, as our guide, Alessandra,  and the rest of our party were Italian.  Our first stop was a park called Hidden Worlds.  This park includes access to Tak Be Ha,  the third largest cave system in the world and the largest wet cave system.  At Hidden Worlds we were provided with wetsuits, masks and snorkels.  We climbed down through a small opening to find ourselves in an underground cavern.  

Access to Tak Be Ha
Tree Roots
While Rio Secreto had amazing formations above the water, the wonders at Hidden Worlds were mostly below the water.  They had done an admirable job of lighting the underwater features and it was cool to swim past and get an idea of just how deeply those caverns reach into the earth.  There were numerous little fishes that came to nibble on our skin when we paused for more than a moment.  Roots from the trees above grow down through the rock until they reach the water level and then they stop.  We snorkeled from chamber to chamber through narrow passages.  Once again, I bemoaned the lack of an underwater camera.

Akumal Bay
By the time we were good and chilled, we climbed out of the water back in the main cavern and walked back through the jungle to our van.  If we had not come with a tour group, we would have made the 20 minute drive from the park entrance to the actual cenotes in one of the very retro vehicles belonging to Hidden Worlds.  We, however, traveled in a four wheel drive van.  Everyone in the area refers to these drives through the jungle on lousy roads as, "Mayan massage."  Once back to the highway, we backtracked about 10 minutes to Akumal.

For some reason, I was expecting Akumal to be an estuary with a lot of mangroves, so I was unprepared for the gorgeous beach and beautiful blue water that greeted us when we arrived.  Akumal is a public beach and there is fabulous snorkeling right off the beach.  Green sea turtles come there to graze on the sea grass that grows on the bottom of the bay.  The turtles are numerous and fairly unfazed by the humans splashing about and gawking at them.  Turtles are not the only life in Akumal, either.  We saw a couple of different types of squid and lots of fish.  There is a coral reef very close to both the shore and the surface, so the visibility was good and we saw many types of fish.  The water was very warm and shallow and we were pretty comfortable snorkeling without wetsuits, even though we were pre-chilled from our swim through the caves.

Turtle with Remoras
Our guide would signal when she found a turtle and then we would form a wide circle around the turtle so that we could all see her without kicking each other in the face.  One large turtle decided she wanted to surface and swam straight at me.  I backed up as fast as I could, but she passed within inches of my face  I've swum with a lot of turtles, but have never been nearly that close before.  I could have easily touched her.

Perfect Place for a Nap
By the time we got home, I was tired and my ear was starting to ache.  I decided to nap in the sun by the adult pool.  I had about two sips of a MaiTai and I was down for the count.  I managed to make it back to the room when the sun went down, but I slept through dinner and all the way through until my alarm went off in the morning.  I had just enough time to pack, get some breakfast and catch my shuttle to the airport.

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