Babble Travel Log #1: Akumal, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico (April 2015)

Oh man…where do I even start.  After much deliberation, my husband, me, and 4 of our closest friends decided to do a group trip to Mexico.  Hands down, best decision ever.

As this was my first “big” trip, I tried to leave my expectations behind and travel to unknown places with an open mind and an open heart.  I often scare myself, or talk myself, out of new experiences because of my fear.  I am so thankful that I traveled with an open heart.  I am so grateful to have had the travel crew I did.  I am so grateful for the time to reconnect with my husband.  I am so grateful to have been able to hang up all my titles (mom, daughter, advisor, etc) and just be me. I am so grateful to have had this experience and I can’t wait for our next one.

For the story of our trip, read on…

We started our trip out by taking BC Ferries from Victoria to Vancouver.  The excitement level within our group was palpable. This was a first international trip for five out of the six of us.  Once we landed in Vancouver, our next stop was to get checked into our hotel.  We stayed at the Travelodge Richmond.  I would not recommend it to anyone the night before a big, exciting trip but we found a way to laugh through it.  After we were checked in, we ventured out to the Amsterdam Cafe for a coffee and then off to dinner at Gyu Kaku, a Japanese BBQ restaurant.  The food was excellent – and so much of it!!  We were stuffed.  After dinner, we made our way back to the hotel to get settled in for the evening.  There was a lot of laughter, joking around and overall good spirits.

After what could be classified as one of the most sleepless nights in my life, we all got out of bed at 3:30 am to get ready for our big adventure.  Yes, I said 3:30 am.  The bonus to an early morning flight is you land at your destination early, the drawback, you have to get up hella early.  The airport shuttle came to pick us up at 4:30 am and we were all very cold but giggling at the state of our “bus”.  I’m pretty sure the ass end of the shuttle was kicking sparks the entire way to the airport, which luckily wasn’t that far.  Once we arrived at the airport, we made our way to the ticket booth and customs.  The Ogre forgot to take his belt off so he set the sensors off and was moved to the full body scanner AND his magic cards, tucked safely away in their homemade case, confused the baggage people so his bag got searched.  That set off another round of laughter and jokes.  The customs people seemed to get a great kick out of the six of us all laughing and joking together and so early in the morning!!  After customs and immigration, all that was left to do was wait and wait and wait some more.  Anxiety for the girls was pretty high.  I haven’t flown in 20 years, one of my best friends has never flown and my other best friend just simply hates flying.  We dealt with it pretty well though, plus it helped to have such supportive guys with us.

Finally it was time to board.  Watching my 6’6″, 275 lb husband trying to squeeze into the plane seat was something else. Having never flown on that airline before, we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of seat sizes.  We certainly know now and will make sure we book the larger seats next time.  Everyone boarded the plane and, even though it was an early morning flight, the energy and excitement on the plane was amazing.

Arriving
Arriving in Cancun

After a 5.5 hour flight, we finally landed in Cancun. It was incredible to feel the heat coming through the body of the plane. That was our first clue that it was going to be hot, hot.  It was also our first experience with “Mexican minutes”, as the pilot called them.  Our plane arrived just as three other planes arrived so we were told to wait for “5 Mexican Minutes” on the tarmac.  Thirty minutes later, we were finally taxiing toward the airport.  Once we disembarked the plane, we once again faced customs and immigration…along with approx. 500 other people.  It was chaotic and unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  It was a chaotic, three hour experience at that.

Once we made it through customs and immigration, found our baggage and managed the scanners, we were off to find our airport transfer.  Let me tell you about overwhelming.  There are people in the airport trying to get your attention to sell you timeshares so it’s a head-down race out the door.  Once you step out of those doors, the heat hits you.  Like a wave.  It’s unlike any heat I’ve ever felt.  The air is hot and humid and the wind is warm.  On top of the heat, there are lines and lines of people with resort signs.  We were frantically looking for our resort rep and we must have looked bewildered because another rep asked us which resort we were looking for and helped us find our transfer guy. I was very appreciative of that. Our friends had a private transfer and they let us all go in one van, with just the six of us.  That was also very nice because it was a 1.5 hour drive from Cancun to our resort, the Grand Oasis Tulum.

Upon arrival at our resort, we just all stopped and took a minute to take it in.  One whole wall of our resort was glass and right outside was the Gulf of Mexico.  The colour of the water and view was breathtaking. We proceeded to the front desk and checked in. After we got checked in, we grabbed our bags and started to try and figure out where our rooms were – OOPS!  We probably should have waited for the bellboy (I mentioned we were first time travelers right?).  Long story short, we got lost and the bellboy had to find us and lead us to our rooms.

That evening, after settling in, we realized that there would be a white beach party.  That meant where all white and party on white sand beaches!  We were totally down.  Too bad we found the patio right next to the beach and found the servers….after many, many cervezas (beer in Spanish), we figured we wouldn’t be making the beach party so we headed back to our friend’s room.  We had a great time and there are lots of memories from that evening I’m not prepared to share with the interwebz.  A girl has to keep some stuff to herself 😉

For the next two days, we decided to stay on the resort and explore. We spent a good deal of time at the pool bars and at the back pool.  We were sure we’d never get used to being able to order drinks and just walking away.

Hot Tub Dance Party!
Hot Tub Dance Party!

On the last “resort” night, we went to the Grand Exclusive Casa Club, which was a party area with large hot tubs on the roof of the resort.  Again, after many, many cervezas, we had a little dance party in the pool.  Our bartender got a kick out of us and closed down the bar but left us there to keep on enjoying ourselves.  It was a great night!

After lounging and relaxing for a few days, we were finally ready for excursions. We went to speak to our travel representative to figure out the best way of doing that. We had three things we really wanted to do: shopping in Playa del Carmen, snorkeling with the sea turtles, and visiting the ruins.  Our rep suggested we attend free shopping excursions, although we had to spend an hour at the sponsor’s private mall, walking along the beach and renting snorkel gear for the turtles (more on that later) and booking a tour for the ruins, which included swimming in a cenote (pronounced SEN-OH-TAY).  We felt those were all pretty good ideas and booked our shopping excursions and our tour.

The next morning, we were up early and ready for our first shopping excursion. Again, we had no idea what to expect but we all piled into the van and off we went. Our first stop was a place called Metis. It is a privately-owned shopping place.  They make a lot of their jewelry onsite with gems and stones found in Mexico. Although our rep was quite pushy, the Ogre ended up buying me a ring with blue Mexican fire opal in it along with a sapphire. The price was right so we figured why not. After spending an hour at Metis, we went to 5th Ave in Playa del Carmen.

A quiet shot of 5th Ave, Playa del Carmen
5th Ave Playa del Carmen

Again, that was overwhelming.  There are people EVERYWHERE and the shop owners are all calling to you to come in and see their shops. They use some funny selling tactics such as “24 hour price drop”, “low price for you only”, and other things trying to hook you. Although it’s overwhelming, it’s beautiful and intriguing as well.  There is so much to see!  A new restaurant every 3 feet, a new shop every other 3 feet.  It’s really incredible.  I would have loved to see it at night time as well.

As a matter of fact, we enjoyed that trip so much, we went back the next day through another company called “Lapis”.  It was along the same lines where you had to spend a certain amount of time in their store in order to get the free shopping trip but when you’ve got nothing but time on your hands, it’s worth it to not have to pay for a cab!  Overall, I would say our shopping excursions were a success and worth every moment.

Mexico buddies at Lapis
Mexico buddies at Lapis

The next day was actually the Ogre’s birthday and the one thing he really, really wanted to do was go snorkeling with the sea turtles. Our vacation rep told us it was about a 15 minute walk down the beach (truth is, I think she said 50 minute but it’s very hard to tell with their accents). We figured we could rent snorkel gear while we were there so, after breakfast and our morning routine of drinks in the infinity pool, we packed up our beach bags and set off down the beach.

Let me tell you.

That was no 15 minute walk.  We hiked down the beach for over 2 hours!  In the blazing hot Mexican sun in sand that is incredible difficult to walk in. We must have looked the sight, as we hopped from one small area of shade to the next.  Oh, did I mention the shady spots were very, very far apart.  Kind of like one tree per mile kind of deal. Anyway, we hiked about 10 kms in total and by the time we got to our final destination, we were sunburned, hot, and tired but somehow we still managed to smile and make the best out of it.  I mean c’mon, we were still in MEXICO!  Besides, we all love Ogre very much and really, really wanted him to snorkel with the turtles on his birthday. How epic right?  Wrong.  The bay was incredibly choppy and the ocean floor is sandy so the water was very murky and we wouldn’t have been able to see the turtles so we opted out of the tour.  We did go for lunch at the Lol Ha Restaurant which was incredible and our lovely friend Red Chef treated us all to lunch, which was also wonderful.  If you ever want to see the beach, check out https://www.locogringo.com/akumal-beach-webcam.  I felt very disappointed for my Ogre.  I knew he really wanted to go snorkeling and he felt really bad about making us hike down the beach.  In the end, it is certainly something none of us will forget and I can just imagine the stories and jokes centered around it for years to come.  After our hike, we all agreed that we were going to take a cab back to the resort and we did just that.  Once back at the resort, we quickly changed and jumped straight into the infinity pool to cool down.

Ruins at Coba (photo courtesy of Red Chef)
Ruins at Coba
(photo courtesy of Red Chef)

The next day was our tour to the ruins.  That was really, really incredible.  We started the day off by going to the ruins at Coba. It was moving to be in such an ancient place and just absorb the history and scenery and the way things might have been back then.  Truly incredible.  Our tour guide was explaining a bit about their heritage and their customs.  He also told us our professions based on our birth dates.  Because of my birth date, I would have been a “Moen”, which translates to “Director of the Universe”…the jokes still haven’t stopped *grin*  At Coba, we were allowed to climb on the tallest ruin, although this is the last year to do so.  I tried but I chickened out about twelve stairs up.  The ruins were very tall, very slippery and between my hurting back and swollen legs, I thought it was smarter to keep my two feet on the ground.  Three of our travel group made it to the top though – brave souls as they are!

Again, I just can’t tell you how awesome it was to spend time here with some of the people I love most dearly in this world.  I think that made the whole trip even better in some ways.  To watch other people’s excitement and to watch them absorb the history, the culture and to take everything in was really half the fun.

Travel buddies - Coba
Travel buddies – Coba

After our trip to Coba, the next stop was swimming in the Grand Cenote.  That was an incredible moment in our lives.  After a short drive, our driver turned down a long, long dirt road.  After about 15 minutes, we were starting to wonder where we would end up but we arrived at our destination shortly afterward.  Our van pulled up to a small walking path and we set off walking up to the site.  When we arrived, we could see three circular entrances…doing down into the ground.

Entrance to the Grand Cenote
Entrance to the Grand Cenote

Our tour guide was explaining a bit about the centoes to us.  After our brief history lesson, we were directed to the change rooms and showers where we could change into our swim suits.  Once we were changed and ready to go, we started our descent down the largest of the circular openings.  The staircase was a bit scary as the steps were only about a foot wide and descended down into the earth about 30 feet or so.  We all practiced good caution and made it to the bottom safely.  Once down at water level, we had a chance to enjoy our surroundings.  The water was 2 m deep at the shallowest parts and 10 m deep at the deepest parts but it was crystal clear!  You could clearly see the rocks on the bottom of the cave and see little catfish swimming around.  I will admit, it was a bit freaky. Super cool but certainly brought jokes about water monsters out.  We were able to swim in the refreshingly cool water for about 30 minutes until it was time to pack up and head to our last destination, the ruins at Tulum.  Once everyone was changed and back in the van, we set off toward Tulum to see the ancient ruins at that site. Although the ruins at Tulum were fascinating and picturesque, by the time we arrived there our entire group was hot, tired and a little sun burnt.  The bonus to the site at Tulum is that it was completely excavated and was easily visible.

Ruins at Tulum (Photo courtesy of Red Chef)
Ruins at Tulum
(Photo courtesy of Red Chef)

Unlike Coba, which much of is still under the jungle.  We walked around a bit and went to the observatory deck to check out the beach.  The beach is one of the most incredible beaches I’ve ever seen (and we live in British Columbia, which has amazing coastal beaches).  The water was an unreal shade of blue and the sand looked like white velvet.  Simply breathtaking.

After a short visit at Tulum, we went back to our rendezvous point and sat down to enjoy a nice cold beer.  I still couldn’t get over how cheap the beer was there!  Once our group was back together, our tour for the day was done and we headed back to our resort for some much needed rest and relaxation as it was time to leave the next day.

After the hot, hot sun of the day, we quickly changed into our swim suits and jumped into the infinity pool again to enjoy the services and view one last time.  As the evening came on, we decided to get ready for our last dinner in Mexico.  Earlier in the day, we had the forethought to make reservations at one of the a la carte restaurant called “Careyes”.  It was a mostly seafood restaurant and the food was delicious!  It was a lovely dinner.  It’s hard not to have a lovely dinner with soft music, the sound of waves, a warm breeze and good company.  Truly divine.

Mexican sunset
Mexican sunset

After dinner, some of our group went to a Mexican party on the rooftop but some of us decided it would be wise to go “home” and pack and get a good night’s sleep for the trip home the next day. Although we were sad to be leaving, we were all looking forward to going home and seeing our children and be in our own homes.

The next morning we were up bright and early, went to have breakfast and got our things together for the trip home.  We were all nervous about the weight of our suitcases.  Our transfer picked us up at 12:00 pm (Cancun time) and we left our resort for the final time.  Once we arrived at the Cancun airport, we found a scale and started weighing our bags.  That was another chaotic moment in our lives.  All of our suitcases were open and we were shuffling things from one place to another trying to make sure we all hit the weight target.  Luckily we achieved that goal and avoided extra baggage charges.  After our luggage was sorted out, it was off to check in, customs and immigration (again). We went through that without a hitch and then we were faced with the waiting and waiting once again.

Going Home
Going Home

Boarding time came and we went to find our plane.  Once everyone was boarded, we took off and we were headed home. Going home we were flying into the wind so it took about 6.5 hours to arrive in Vancouver. By the time we landed, all of us were very grateful to get off the plane. Coming back into Canada was probably the easiest time we had.  We breezed through customs and immigration and were off to the Travelodge for the night.

The next morning, we were all pretty ready to go home.  So we set off to BC Ferries for the last leg of our trip.  After an uneventful, albeit COLD, ferry ride home, we were back on the Island.  It was fantastic to have the opportunity to see our home through tourists eyes…and boy we live in a beautiful place.

Overall, this was an incredible trip. I can’t say enough about how great our travel group was. It probably helps that we’ve been friends for so long but even still, travel is stressful and it was great to see a group of people love and support each other so much.

Another point that really caught us by surprise was the driving in Mexico! Those drivers are incredible. No one does the speed limit but the freeway just runs so smoothly! Very different than our Canadian drivers.

The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the vacation let-down. I was excited to come home while we were in Mexico and I was missing being “at home” but almost immediately I missed Mexico. It’s a good lesson to learn and I’ll be more aware of that next time we go…and there will absolutely be a next time.  We are already talking about a trip next April.  We haven’t quite decided if we’ll go back to Mexico or if we’ll head to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.  Either way, travel is certainly something I will do more of in my life.

Until next time folks!

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