Saturday, March 16, 2013


Our Guide, Alfredo

Tuesday, we went on a tour to Tulum and a sort of adventure park where we rappelled, zip lined and snorkeled through cenotes.  Our guide was Alfredo, a very passionate and animated fellow with a master’s in biology and a background in archaeology, who reminded me of my friend, Paul.  He was so hyper that it was hard to get a photograph of him because he was always waving his arms around.  The van picked us up and we drove an hour or so west of Playa to the park near Tulum.  Before we could enter the underworld, we had to be purified by a Mayan shaman who smoked us with copal and blessed us in the Mayan tongue.  I found it very interesting how similar the ritual was to European pagan rituals.  He addressed the four cardinal points and the four elements.  We had to leave our cameras behind because we were swimming and ziplining and we declined to pay the $59 for the photo package they offered, but you can see pictures at if you are interested.

We rappelled down into a cenote and then snorkeled through to another exit where we could climb out.  There was a family with us that had two of the most timid boys I have ever met.  It took all of the adults in the group to get the youngest one to rappel down into the cenote and we had to repeat the process at the top of every zip line.  The adult women in the family weren’t much better.  Only the teenaged girl was truly adventurous.  Erika and I got to show off our rock climbing skills by zipping down the ropes during the rappel.  It was fun rappelling into water.  The first zip line that we did also ended in a cenote.  I really enjoyed the zip line until I made a clumsy landing in the water, skipped like a stone across the surface, and got water up my nose.

We then climbed into a Unimog and drove a short distance through the jungle on the craziest imaginable road.  A Unimog is a four wheel drive vehicle that can tilt up to 45 degrees in any direction.  We needed it.   It was raining quite a bit by this time and we were bouncing over rocks and up and down incredibly steep hills that I still don’t know how we avoided sliding down backwards.  None of us were prepared for how rough that ride was going to be.  It was quite an adventure.  We then climbed up a couple of tall towers and zip lined back to the starting point.  It was really exciting and not at all scary for us, although it was definitely pushing the envelope for the family from Pennsylvania.  The only bad part was that it was cold and raining.  We were glad to get back to the buffet and get some hot food, even if we didn’t get to change into dry clothes until after lunch.

Once we had eaten a lunch of traditional Mayan food, we climbed into the van and drove a few minutes to Tulum.  Tulum was a port city surrounded by a wall on three sides and the ocean on the fourth side.  The ocean side was protected by a reef.  This reef is the second largest coral reef in the world, surpassed only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  The dominant structure in Tulum is actually not a temple, but a light house.  When mariners lined up the two windows so that light could pass through them simultaneously, that served as a range finder to guide them through the only gap in the reef.  There is a beautiful beach with turquoise water at the foot of Tulum but, unfortunately, it was raining and we were huddled inside rain ponchos that we had recycled from an earlier tour group.  On a different day, I would have liked to spend more time at Tulum, but Erika had been there before and I had been to other Mayan ruins, so I was glad to get back in the van where I could get out of the rain and put on a dry fleece for the drive back to Playacar.

The Beach at Tulum
The Lighthouse at Tulum

The Beach at Tulum

The Timid Family from PA

Tuesday night, there was a show of traditional Mexican dances from different regions.  Erika had been drinking hot chocolate for a couple of days and I broke down and had a cup with triple sec in it while we were watching the show.

Our guide from the day before, Alfredo, had told us that it was worth visiting the caverns at Rio Secreto, so we planned a half day excursion there on Wednesday.  They didn’t pick us up until 1:00, so we had time to go to the beach in the morning before we left.  I ran along the beach almost all the way to downtown Playa del Carmen.  That gave me a chance to check out the beach facilities at many of the other hotels.  I was pleased to see that the Wyndham hotels had the nicest setups.  Some of the others offered little in the way of shade structures, but the Viva Wyndham hotels all have both palm trees and palapas, which make for plenty of shade and also an attractive view.  Closer to town, there are some very nice villas on the beach.  Playa del Carmen would be a nice place to live if I could live there year round, but I have been cured of the desire to own a vacation home after having spent the past few years trying to care for three houses in three different cities.

The VIP Section at Viva Maya
Beach Bar at Viva Maya
Beach at Viva Maya

Rio Secreto is a park where you swim through an amazing series of cenotes that feature stalactites and stalagmites in fantastic shapes.  Some of them had been formed in surprising directions due to air currents.  I really felt like I was swimming through the set of The Hobbit and I half expected to see Golum at any moment.  We all had wetsuits and helmets with lights, which made the experience much more pleasant than the previous day’s cenote swim.  Our guide was Pablo, who turned out to be Alfredo’s best friend.  He and I both thought that some of the caverns looked like they had been designed by Gaudi.  Like the day before, we really couldn’t take cameras with us.  I usually shun buying photos from tourist attractions, but Erika and I decided to split the cost of a photo, since it was such a fantastic scene. You will have to visit if you want to see more pictures of Rio Secreto.

After our swim, we ate another Mayan lunch (yes, another four meal day) before they brought us back to the hotel.  The show that night was a French themed extravaganza, featuring CanCan dancers and even a pole dance by the choreographer.  There was a cute number where the women were all dressed as pink panthers and the men as Inspector Clousseau.  The costumes were like something out of the Ziegfield follies.  It was worth staying up late to watch the show and we had nothing planned for the next day.

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