Mexico: Hot, Humid and Hospitable
When I mentioned that I would be going to Mexico many people showed concern, “Are you sure?”, “Is it safe?” Even though it had been in the news with some not so welcoming and down right scary stories I wasn’t afraid or put off. First of all, I wasn’t going anywhere near those horror stories, and secondly I always say, ‘if I want to travel I can’t let a few stories hold me back, life is too short.”
And so for my best friend’s wedding I headed off to Mexico for my first visit. Flying into Cancun’s airport we were welcomed by sun and it was here that I encountered a perhaps anxiety inducing situation that instead made me giggle. There at the airport check point each individual was ushered up to a large red button. This button once pressed would randomly choose from green – you can go, or red – you must stop and you and your luggage will be checked over. I stepped up and felt like I was on a game show more than I was at an airport security check point.
Our drive from the airport, along the Yucatan Peninsula was stunningly beautiful. The striking sunshine and hot Caribbean heat was on our side all week long. We arrived at Akumal Beach Resort an hour later. It was a relatively small resort yet quaint and had everything you needed. Right on the beach it was like our own slice of paradise. We were immediately welcomed by the smiling and friendly front desk staff who sent help to show us to our rooms. My room struck me with its pleasant warm orange hue with a balcony overlooking the picturesque palm trees on the resort and the beautiful ocean.
After settling in I set out to explore the grounds. I was surrounded by pretty palm trees, gorgeous red hibiscus flowers, tranquil waves brushing the shores and brilliant white soft sand. I searched for more, of course me, Lady of the Zoos, was looking for wildlife. On one side of the resort I scarcely saw a soul, yet I saw plenty of iguanas everywhere basking in the heat of the sun. Throughout my stay I encountered various new bird species, some comical, like the bird almost hanging upside down from the palm trees like a bat, and some that almost brought an excited tear to my eye as I had always wanted to see them, like the Magnificent Frigatbird. Another unique and amazing aspect of Akumal Beach Resort is that it is the site where many sea turtles come to nest and lay their eggs every year. The resort and its staff hold these tiny treasures close to heart and are very protective of them. They section off each nest site, date it and are always on the lookout and ask it’s visitors to be respectful to these gentle giants that swim off it’s shore.
It was hard not to feel overwhelmed with the breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, the friendly and hospitable staff like server Wilber, who made us all feel right at home and even knew our names like a character out of Cheers. Then there was Ricky who seemed to be ‘the man’ to entertain whether with dancing at the bar at night, performing in comedy shows or beach events. He was made for the part, he was friendly, funny and his smile was infectious.
A group of us decided to take advantage of a day trip that would take us to a sampling of Mexico and the Mayan culture. First was an epic visit to Coba. Built between two lakes during 600 – 900 A.D., Coba’s main pyramid Nohoch Mul (meaning ‘large hill’) is the highest on the Yucatan Peninsula at 138 feet tall (42 meters). Of the estimated 6,000 ancient structures only a few are restored and uncovered.
We unloaded from the shuttle bus and were immediately moist from the humidity, what a difference the ocean made to the temperature. Welcome to the interior of Mexico! Sticky but excited we headed into the forest and down the trails as our guide introduced us to some of Coba’s ancient life. From stele (which are large stone slabs with drawings and Mayan glyphs on them), one dating back to 780 A.D. to ballgame courts, not unlike a Roman sports complex. Then it was the long, hot and humid trek along the white road (also known as a sacbe – roads constructed by the Maya for travel and commerce) towards Nohoch Mul. Many people opted for a rickshaw type of transport but I wanted to walk the path as many Mayan’s had before me.
Like when I was walking along the cobblestones around the Coliseum in Rome, here at Coba walking the white road I could feel the energy of people past, the thrum of life that once was. Along the path, amongst the forest were more ancient structures and trees growing out of rocks, birds, lizards and beautiful bromeliads. After a slow trek I arrived in the shadow of Nohoch Mul. I’ve seen ancient buildings in Italy and Stonehenge in England but nothing compared to seeing this massive pyramid standing in the middle of the rainforest. We all looked like termites scurrying around a large termite mound. I was awestruck! Though sadly my fear of heights and vertigo kept me grounded I watched as some of my friends climbed it’s steep stairs towards the magical vista the summit offered.
Next on the agenda was a cenote. Wikipedia describes a cenote as “a deep natural pit resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.” They were sometimes used by the ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings. What it offered us was a refreshing coolness, a great way to recharge after the heat and humidity from above. We entered through what looked like an old well and walked down the steps into an eerie peaceful oasis. There was a small hole above that allowed some light into the cave and played off the stone walls and hanging tree roots. The water was crystal clear. It felt like it was a scene out of Journey to the Center of the Earth.
After an authentic Mexican lunch across from a small lake where hundreds of butterflies fluttered and various birds perched we headed to our last stop at a Mayan Village. Off a dirt road we awkwardly entered a family’s yard. I felt intrigued but sad and strange to be walking around where they called home, but through our tour they are given money – at least that’s something. There were a few huts and one large one where the mother made crafts as well as a traditional type of pita bread. It was here that I first spotted the family’s pet black spider monkey – though not in the traditional scenes of pet – it wasn’t wearing a ridiculous outfit or chained or caged, it had free rein. While we scattered around the village the monkey hung out in the trees watching us. There were numerous other local wildlife that were kept in the village such as a pair of playful coatis, a stunning toucan and a family of peccary (of the wild pig family) that even had wee little babies scampering around. It was cute to see the children following us around, curious, and all came to the entrance to see us off. It was a good reminder of how different family life can be for others in different countries.
I had a fantastic time in Mexico, being witness to different cultures, seeing its wildlife and wild spaces like Coba and even taking relaxing walks along the beach towards Akumal, passing the picturesque anchored boats in the shallows. I felt safe. I felt content and I felt at one with the World.
Did the safety of a place, like Mexico, ever scare you away from travelling there?
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