Playa del Carmen
October 1-11, 2019
Our plane out of Fresno left at 1:00 am. We planned on sleeping on the plane but had difficulty. Our second leg was from Dallas. We only had 30 minutes to get from our gate to the next, but we easily made it.
We ended up sitting in the Dallas plane for 3 ½ hours before we finally took off. There was an air conditioning problem. They had no meals and so by the time we got to Cancun we had not eaten in about 18 hours. Once we were past customs, we were bombarded with natives trying to give us a ride. The air was humid, and it made my jeans stick to my skin. Our driver was at the very end of the outside parking lot so we had to walk past all of the cat-calling before reaching him. The drive to Playa was an hour but our driver dropped two loads of passengers off first, making the ride even longer. It was interesting seeing big beautiful hotel complexes with large gates and guards at the entrances sprinkled along side jungle, junk yards and dilapidated structures where people were still living. The driver took us down a side street. He said the government had abandoned a section of a small town and gave its citizens the parcels. He wanted us to see his parcel, which had a two-story structure on it that apparently was unsafe, but occupied.
I noticed signs along the way that indicated to beware of wild jaguars crossing the roads. The Maya people considered them to be deities and their statues can be found at many of the ancient ruins. Today, they still roam around this area wild in the jungle, however we were assured that they are nocturnal and avoid humans.
At last, we were dropped off at our hotel, Panama Jack’s All-Inclusive Resort. We upgraded to a room with a balcony view of the ocean. It was stiflingly muggy, but we wanted to take in the view so we went onto the balcony, closing the sliding glass door behind us. It somehow locked itself from the inside. Our phones were inside the room and there was no one above, below or beside us. We simply shook the door until it somehow unlocked itself. We never completely closed the door again while being on the balcony.
All inclusive meant that we could eat and drink unlimitedly while on the property. They placed vinyl bracelets around our wrists so that the wait-staff would know. There were several restaurants to chose from and we would end up trying all of them. There was a poolside sushi bar, Brazilian steak house, Mexican restaurant, an Italian restaurant and a buffet that would have varying culinary themes throughout our stay.
There was nightly entertainment, first outside by the pool, followed by live music in the lobby. During the day there were always activities including bingo, beach volleyball, dance lessons, drinking games, etc. The funniest was when they filled the pool with foam shot from a cannon. Swimmers were given long balloons that they would bat around to the beat of the loud, fast Mexican music that played.
The sister hotel across the plaza was a Hilton hotel. They housed a company called Real Club. We agreed to a 90-minute presentation in exchange for a free breakfast (more upscale than we had at Panama Jack’s) and a couples’ massage. It was extremely high pressure and very shady. I enjoyed the experience because they applied sales techniques that I had been taught and I was viewing the entire scenario analytically versus emotionally. My husband hated it. I must say I’m shocked that Hilton allowed this to happen on one of their properties. A lifetime of branding was greatly diminished in one morning as far as I was concerned.
Walking along the beach was interesting. Each hotel had guards so that you couldn’t access their property if you didn’t have the correct bracelet on your wrist. While the frontage directly in front of the water is accessible to everyone, only guests of the hotels are allowed closer to the properties. The water itself isn’t ideal for wading or swimming. There are a lot of rocks and there is a seaweed problem. Locals are paid to rake the seaweed into wheelbarrows all day long. They are all along this stretch of beach.
There are fishermen that come in with boatloads of fish. The crew pulls a net out near shore with hundreds of fish. The men take the fish out of the nets by hand and place in the boat. Men in the boat place the fish in containers similar to milk crates. Men on the other side of the boat carry the containers to shore. The containers are so heavy they can only carry one at a time. The fish weren’t moving so I’m assuming they were already dead. One of the men said they were ‘bone’ fish, not good for eating. He didn’t know what they would be used for.
You can get a massage on the beach. There are open air tents with rows of massage tables. Their prices were far lower than that of the hotel spas. It was nice to lay there having your muscles kneaded while listening to the alluring sound of the waves and birds. We only did this on the last day. I wish we would have done it more often.
Women and children walk up and down the beach selling trinkets to the tourists. Some of the items are junk, while other things are very nice quality and hand made. We purchased souvenirs from a young boy on the last day. We should have negotiated the price but felt bad doing so. Which is precisely his parent’s strategy, I’m sure.
There were men who would carry musical instruments and/or a microphone with an amplifier and sing along the beach, in the streets, in front of restaurants, etc. They’re not allowed in the hotels so they stand right outside, hoping for donations. Some of them have their wives and children walk around with a hat out for money while the men are singing.
We debated bringing pesos instead of dollars but decided on dollars. We could always exchange via an ATM if need be. The only time we needed pesos was when we wanted to use the hotel’s computer and printer to get our boarding passes. We had to exchange a one-dollar bill for Mexican change. We were told to bring a lot of $1 bills for tipping which turned out to be a great strategy. The people we tipped seemed happy with just a $1 USD.
The iconic structure of Chichen Itza did not disappoint. It’s called Ed Castillo, or, Temple of Kukulcan, and is the centerpiece of this Maya city. I’d been wanting to see it for decades. We were picked up a few blocks from our resort at 4 am. It takes hours to get there and it’s located in the jungle. The heat is stifling so going earlier makes it more comfortable and less crowded. The reviews talked about renting an umbrella, which we did for $4 USD. We were glad we had it. The sun is piercing. We had two hours with our guide who was supposed to be an archaeologist, but we’re pretty sure he was not. You do get more out of the experience with a guide. Then, one hour on your own to wander about the ancient village.
The architecture is amazing. They constructed the buildings around the seasons so that there were visual ques on or surrounding the structures at key agricultural times during the year. The most notable is at the spring equinox when the light catches the Temple of Kukulkan in a way that appears to be a lighted snake with its mouth open at the base, also known as the Serpent Effect.
The entire experience is diminished by the excessive amount of maniacal, rabid vendors who line the many paths with tables of trinkets. They will stop at nothing to get your attention making it impossible to even hold a conversation with your companions. It’s a shame that they’ve let this happen to such a fascinating place.
These ruins are from the smallest Mayan city but also the richest. In ancient times, it was the only city by the ocean. Only 500 elites lived inside the wall surrounding the city. Everyone else lived outside of the wall. Much commerce passed through this port, salt being the most valued which was used to preserve food.
The heavy rain today impaired us a bit. The mosquitoes were relentless despite the doses of repellent we lathered on our skin. We had a guide, which I would suggest to anyone touring this amazing city. Otherwise, you don’t really know the history behind what you’re seeing.
Cenotes are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock, which reveals a secret subterranean world of groundwater pools. The Mayans revered cenotes because they were a source of water in dry times. The name cenote translates to 'sacred well.' There are thousands of them in the Yucatan.
We visited three cenotes. Each was completely unique. Prior to entering any of them, you must rinse off your skin. The bug spray, sunscreen, hair spray, etc. harms the natural inhabitants of the holes.
The first was called Cenote Verde Lucera, which translates into ‘Green Star.’ You can zip-line into the water which was great fun. You can also dive or jump into the water from above. Spider monkeys were all around travelling through the trees and seemingly showing off. Our group consisted of eight people. Our guide said in the peak months their group size swells to 26. Worth it to visit here in the off-peak seasons.
Another was Cenote Xibalba, or, ‘The Hell’ which you just walk through on a plank. The water is in this one is shallow. The Mayans believed that these cenotes were the passageway to hell. Hell, to them, was simply another place, it did not have the connotation that most other cultures have. Trees grow down into the cenote to reach the clear water. There are bats living inside and when you shine a light they cover their eyes with their little wings.
And finally, Cenote Caracol, or, ‘Shell.’ In this one, we could swim. It was a cave with stalagmites, stalactites, and trees growing down from the earth above. We wore life-jackets and swam in a group through the cave. At times it was very tight quarters where you have to float on your back, your nose not even an inch away from the stalactites. You can’t touch the stalactites because they will stop growing. I’m actually surprised that they allow this. Cenotes Xibalba and Caracol both had lights placed around, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to see.
In this part of Mexico, there are many, many things to do. There is zip-lining, ATV rides, cultural parks, and snorkeling to name a few. Since we could do and have done all of these activities in other parts of the world, we decided to focus on activities that can’t be experienced elsewhere. I am surprised how interesting it was to learn about the Mayan people. I’m not a history buff and only tolerate museums. But the Mayan civilization captured my attention. It’s too bad that we only know parts of their history, the rest is only conjecture. Their architecture alone seems to go beyond the capabilities of an ancient culture. Everything else that we can surmise just adds to the intrigue.
For our remaining time, we relaxed at our resort, primarily enjoying the beach, music and getting to know other travelers from all over the world. It was like a mini United Nations, except we were all happy.
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