Friday, January 31, 2014

A Deserted Island

Zipline, though it has little to do with the Maya or any part of Mexican history has gained popularity as a vacation activity.  It is currently used as a means to travel through forrest canopy and is extraordinarily fun.  We went on a half day zipline course with the Selvatica company.  They have setup a course of twelve ziplines.  Varying in range and pitch they are basically hanging from a harness from a pulley moving across a more or less horizontal wire.

It was a blast.  We went with a basic package that was labeled safe enough for even a three year old, though I have a hard time imagining a three year old understanding the grasp of using your hand and weight as a brake.   Loren has never been on anything like this and I had been on only a mild version as a young teen.  We weren't quite sure what to expect.  The course goes out from the main entrance area around and loops back.  That way there is no need to trek back through the humid Mexican jungle to your locker.  They have other attractions which includes a bungee swing.  They offer various types of zipline styles, the "superman" being one I think would be a blast to try in which you zip horizontally through the sky like Christopher Reeves.  They also allow you to try zipping hanging upside down, though a guide rides down with you in tandem.  Neither Loren nor I had the guts to try this.  They have camera people mixed in with the crew of guides and they photograph you as you go through the course.  They said they do this, for good reason, because participants need both hands to free in order to brake when zipping across the wires.   These photographs are of course available to purchase for a modest fee when you finish your adventure.  During the zipline portion Loren had made the comment, "If we were stranded on a jungle island like Robinson Crusoe it would be cool to use ziplines to get around!"

After the ziplining course we rode in an army-style open air truck with bench seats in rows over muddy, bumpy roads towards our other destination.  Our main guide would let us know a fresh section of bumpy road was coming by announcing we should be ready for a "Mayan massage."  He made charming allusions to buildings in various states of shabby disrepair or construction with phrases like, "Here comes our super duper 7-11" or "On your left you will see our Starbucks...coming soon."  Once we finally made it to our second destination we split up, some of us going onto ride ATV's and the rest of us to swim.

Our particular package did not include the ATV portion so we enjoyed walking down a gravel path to a cenote of smallish size, about 30 meters deep our guide told us.  These are filled with cool fresh water, and seem endlessly deep.  They had a water zipline setup and we all took turns riding it and dropping a few feet into the water.  We had fun swimming and splashing around.  We made our way over to a submerged dock they had on one side connected to a path that wound up to the observation area.  While standing on it we had little fishes nibble/suck on our feet.  After careful observation and a quick query with our guide....yes it turns out that it was the self same type of fish used for fish pedicures.  However the fish in the cenote were closer to two or three inches.  It was fun to watch them.
After leaving the cenote we were taken back to the base area and fed some yummy chicken dinner, as well as offered our photos for a modest price.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

It Takes Guts

So as I predicted yesterday we took a breather today.  We spent the first half of the day at the hotel relaxing and spending time together.  It has been really nice eating on the balcony and watching the ocean and the boats.  The weather has been comfortable.  It has been quiet as there aren't many that walk around on the terrace outside our balcony.
Later we headed out to the suggested Market 28 to get some fun stuff to bring home.  Nothing is marked with any price, so finding out how much they want to sell things for is part of the fun of shopping there.  When you balk at the price they begin the haggling process.  We ended up coming away with a few nice items.  Loren got me this nice cotton outfit to wear in warmer weather.  I was advised by our personal shopping assistant that it is all hand made.  He asked if we were honeymooners, to which we answered yes.  When Loren asked how he knew, he said because Loren looked tired and I looked happy.  I looked at Loren pointedly to asked coyly what reason he would have to be tired.

As had we ridden the bus into town to get us to the market we wanted to ride the bus to get us back.  Unfortunately we had the bad luck of being on a one way street with little indication where the bus ran in the opposite direction.  Trying to read the map from the hotel front desk was a little daunting and a few attempts to get directions at a gas station backfired.  So a bottle of Fresca later we were walking down the one way street taking another whack at following the map.  We stopped some slightly more American looking individuals that looked like they knew where they were going, hoping to be able to get further directional clarification.  Alas it was a pair of French Canadians who spoke no English and were as lost as we were, after not actually making it to Playa del Carmen.  I ended up giving them directions to Market 28 and we were again on our way.
By this time my flip flops were giving me a blister and I wished to travel no further without proper direction or medical aid.  So, without further ado, I popped into a nearby Dominos and asked if anyone spoke English.  We were lucky enough to find an individual who spoke some broken English and I was able to get directions to a nearby pharmacy and a heading to follow for the correct bus line.  In the pharmacy we dealt with a similar situation as the previous gas station, however upon indicating the blister on my foot we were able to acquire a box of bandaids with many smiles and kindness.  While waiting for Loren to pay for the bandages I happened to notice a candy bar on the rack in front of me.  It was my middle name!  Awesome, and my mother always gives demerol all the credit.  So of course we had to buy it.
When we finally made it back to the hotel a feat in and of itself we decided to take a breather and Loren read to me in our room while we shared some strawberry ice cream.  After this we enjoyed another round of massages and dinner.  To say the least it has been a very interesting day.

Snake's Nest

Chichen Itza, seventh wonder of the world.  Home of the Maya that worshiped the snake, or "Can."  Incidentally we learned today Cancun means "snake's nest" in Mayan.

Our Mayan guide was a tiny guy named Miguel, who smiled a ton and told us to get ready to speak Spanglish.  He gave us a pretty thorough overview of the Maya as a culture as well as how much of the known information was discovered.  We learned about everything from Mayan Society, to Mayan paper, to Mayan religion.  He said today Mayan people have been more integrated into society, but still speak their language in their homes.  He assured us his first language was Mayan.  There are a few who still speak it as their only language.

We first stopped at Ik Kil the largest cenote or sink hole in the Yukatan.  We were given the opportunity to swim in it but the hotel had not indicated swimming suits were needed on this trip so we just watched.  Loren said that with the depth of the pool he might have had a hard time swimming in any case.  Our guide said it is 50 meters deep.

The water looked black, belying I believe the depth of the water.  It was beautiful never the less.  There was a whole little flock of small birds like mud swallows flying around and around inside of the cenote.  One of the women in our group said she was afraid of going near what she believed would be bad energy from the many sacrifices that had been dumped into the cenote over the centuries.

Ten years has changed Chichen Itza, according to Loren.  He said before they were able to get there and the amount of tourists was relatively small.  Guests could climb and go into the temples as well as explore to their heart's content.  However now there are fences cordoning off the ruins from the many hundreds of visitors that show up every day.  Loren suspects the company that runs Xcaret acquired the right to maintain the land the ruins are on and therefore have not only developed the drop off entrance for the tour groups but maintain the land and in order to be able to funnel loads more visitors to the site.

He said he was sad we couldn't go into the temples so I could see how they were built one building on top of the other.  According to Miguel one of the only sites you may climb still is Tulum.  If we were staying longer it might be fun to go see those ruins.  As things are we plan on resting somewhat tomorrow after today's excursion.  We'll see what we decide on for Friday.

There are so many buildings and ruins at Chichen Itza.  After the main square there is a path that leads past other smaller ruins, one of the two cenotes at the site and onto other smaller pyramid temples and later an observatory and an un-named hall that feels more like a mansion.

There are even two of the Mayan ball courts.  The main court adjacent to the main pyramid temple at Chichen Itza, then a smaller court behind a building near the observatory.  We were shown the frieze or carving that helped them determine the way the game was played.  The carvings on each side of the court depict seven players for each team.  The ball players are distinguished by the bar through their septums, the twin bats and the skull symbol on their hips.

This also shows the captain of one team have decapitated his rival opponent.  Aparently the game is representative of the cycle between this world and the "underground world."in the story a god gets decapitated, so I believe that is the significance of the depicted decapitation.

The Mayans flattened out the areas they built their cities forming an almost manmade butte or mesa in the jungle. They did this, it was explained, to mirror the Mayan concept of the universe as a flat plain.

Mily told me these places always have an energy about them. I would guess that energy would change based on the occupants of the land. Loren talked about how he feels like the Spaniards came at a good time. To come at the decline of a large civilization and end the amount of human suffering. I find it an interesting juxta position of two cultures the Maya and the Spanish. The people here seem to be proud of both.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Day Off

The worst thing for any vacation is for the vacation to feel like you aren't getting any rest an relaxation.  So we decided to take a breather today and enjoy the amenities.  After waking up at a lazy 8:30 am we got ready and ate on our patio in the open air.  In fact we've done that every morning and it has been so nice to take advantage of the pleasant weather an temperatures.

Later we headed down to the beach to lounge and relax.  It was nice to watch the waves and listen to Loren read to me.  We are continuing to enjoy our book "All the Trouble In the World" by P.J. O'Rourke.  Loren is such a good reader.  I also took advantage of some of that time to sketch.  Though I did not get too far in that project however.

We had appointments at the spa.  First on the agenda were somewhat tickley fish pedicures.  Loren laughed and hooted, fit to be tied.  It felt very strange.  As we acclimatized to having our dry outer epidermal layers sucked away by tiny cleaners we discovered one thing: fresh meat is just as appetizing to them as it is for their bigger counterparts.  We had to have the spa attendant bind our blisters with bandaids to deflect the aquatic munchers.

Then we had hour long massages.  Having never been to a proper spa before this was a unique experience.  A deep tissue massage and a warmer placed underneath my body when I flipped over to the front to keep my muscles relaxed.  It was the best massage I have ever had.  Loren said his was as well.  aFter sixty minutes with my masseuse I didn't want to leave the peaceful seating area set aside for after a treatment is completed.  I told Loren that if their massages were this tranquilizing I wondered what their facials were like.

We rode our first public bus since we arrived here and it took a little while to get my "sea legs" back.  We missed our stop and had to walk back to the restaurant.  It was fun to sit and chat and eat.  Loren really likes HardRock Cafe and we enjoyed the music and the ambience.  The restaurant is located in the shopping and club area of the hotel zone of Cancun.  We were laughing at the random people walking around in Mexican versions of Jim Carrey's The Mask costume accosting passers by to get them to take photos and go to Club Coco Bongo which advertised an atmosphere combining, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Madonna and Spider Man.  We stopped at the Haagen Daas ice cream shop for dessert.  I have never gone to an ice cream shop that had a waiter in the States before.  This one did however, we got to select our ice cream dessert from a menu and were even given a selection of coffee or water as accompaniment.  What we ordered was divine, banana caramel crepes!  I am inclined to agree as Loren once said the best bananas are in Mexico.

Mexico Espectacular

After spending a day at Xcaret Mexico I can say Loren and I are "espctacularly" tired.  It was so much fun!  We enjoyed an adventure filled extravaganza  of the culture of the Maya and the history of Mexico.  There was a surprising amount of Mexican visitors at the park.  Almost like the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, Disneyland and Sea World were combined into one park.  We kept joking however that the branding put Sea World to shame (as Sea World has a complete lack of branding what-so-ever), and it was a lot less safety conscious than Disneyland.  Corporate criticisms aside, then park was everything we expected and more.

We managed to canvas almost the entire park in one day.  A feat my well traveled mother-in-law might argue is very hard to do.  As we had spent all of the previous day snorkeling we opted to wander around the park exploring.  We looked at tropical animals, though we chose to stick mostly to those living on dryland with the exception of the manatees.  Loren got to see his peccaries, we saw a tapir, leopards and loads of parrots.  There were more lizards roaming freely than you could shake a stick at and we even saw an Agouti crossing the path on a nature hunt through a densely planted area of the park.  

One of our favorite animal exhibits though was the Mariposas or butterflies.  It was amazing, more like a fairy world than anything.  There was one particular butterfly with blue wings that seemed to be attracted to my feet (or my blue nail polish).  One of them landed on Loren's sandals too.  Orion mentioned he wanted most to go to Mexico to see the butterflies so we made a special trip to film them for him.  it was so magical to see them fluttering everywhere and have them fly through our range of vision. It was very magical.

We had fun taking in most of the park's cultural aspects.  We attended a demonstration of the Ritual of Los Voladores.  It was pretty incredible to watch the men first climb the high pole and then to spin or "fly" back down on ropes going around the pole thirteen times a piece.  On the Mexican Cemetery mount the Mexican flair for color was out in full force.  

After touring the Hacienda and the equine area we were all set to attend the night show.  Just as the name promises, it was quite the spectacle.  We were treated to a game of the pre-hispanic ball games of the Maya as well a crash course in Mexican history through Cortez and the cultural folk dances and music of the various regions.  The whole production was in Spanish, however the flow was easy enough to follow even though we could not understand the narration.  We loved it.

Due to the porcelain quality of my skin I am very cautious about sunscreen and coverage when venturing outdoors.  Today we discovered the only part of me to show any indication of sun.  I was meticulous making sure that all of my porcelain hide had been covered when snorkeling yesterday.  This was in part thanks to the admonitions of my brother and his unfortunate sun experience while snorkeling here last year.   Loren neglected one swath of gluteal flesh and I have a burned crescent on my back side.  Loren has been teasing me all evening like Achilles I have only one part of me didn't get "dipped in the river."  Ouch!