Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Mexican Vacation: Cancun, Chichen Itza, and Cenotes

Hey guys! I didn't originally intend for my vacation to be a vacation from the blog. I actually brought a laptop for the main reason of wanting to be able to blog. But, then life happens and I didn't actually get to blog so, you know, whatever. You'll get some recap blogs this week and then we'll head back to life. Ready to hear about my vacation and be jealous? Well, mostly jealous. Let's go.

Last Monday evening I head out from Atlanta on a 6:00 p.m. direct flight to Cancun, Mexico! My first destination in my first solely personal vacation in a few years! The vacation started off on a positive note with an upgrade from Delta which had me sitting first class and sipping champagne before the flight even took off – not too shabby.

This trip to Mexico has been in the works for about a year, as the reason for initially going is my friend Daniella’s wedding! You all know Dani, who I went and cheered for in the NYC Half Marathon before I had ever even run a race. She inspired me to run my first marathon in Paris and was a part of that incredible experience. And most recently, I convinced her to run the Miami Marathon with me. She is a dear friend and incredible support and all around incredible person. Since moving out to San Francisco from Upstate New York, where we became friends, she met an incredible Australian man, Paul, and they decided to get married and host their wedding in the Yucatan of Mexico.

Knowing that many people would be coming from far away to participate in the wedding festivities, Dani and Paul put together a 2-day trip before the wedding events began that people could take part in if they chose. The trip began in Cancun and would stop at a number of different cultural or tourist points along the way as we traveled from Cancun to Campeche, where the wedding festivities would begin on Thursday evening.

I arrived in Cancun in the evening on Monday and took a cab to the hotel where I was staying with a friend. The cab experience was a bit overwhelming as it is such a touristy location and the height of spring break time, there were plenty of taxi and shuttle companies just looking for people to rip off. I finally arrived at the beautiful resort, ate a simple dinner from the hotel and went to bed. Although it was my only night in Cancun, I really didn’t have a desire to be out on the town or getting wasted. It was a very tourist/resort centric place and the streets almost reminded me of Vegas with just resort after resort lining the roads.

Rather than stay up late, we went to bed early and set an alarm to wake up early and see the sunrise. It was reported to rise around 6:45 a.m. so we woke up at about 6:15 and head down to the beach to sit by the water and watch the sun rise over the ocean. The colors were amazing and I found myself in a meditative state, almost trying to count the varying and broad number of colors that I could see throughout the ocean and sunrise. It was a great morning and the first time in a long, long time that I have woken up in the morning with the sole purpose of seeing the sun rise. I end up awake for many sunrises due to runs, work, travel, etc. but never made the intent alone to be to sit and enjoy the skyline and I was really glad that I did and was able to spend the time in Cancun that way.

After the sunrise, we met up with the rest of the group going on the 2-day tour and departed from Cancun in a giant bus to head to our first stop of Chichen Itza, home of the Mayan ruins.

It was a fun ride and incredibly cool to walk around the Mayan ruins. They have been there for so long and hold so much interesting history. The Mayans had all sorts of customs and traditions and rituals that they invented to be able to explain how the world works. I was told that they would hold sacrifices daily to ensure that the sun would rise the next day. It’s incredible what we’ve learned and how much the world has evolved, yet these structures that were built so many years ago are still here.

The day was HOT as will be the whole week that we are here. From Chichen Itza, we drove to Valladolid to have lunch at Hosteria del Marques where I had the pork pibil. It was delicious Mexican pulled pork that you ate in a corn tortilla with some extra spices and pickled onion. We also dined on chips and freshly made guacamole, salsa, a fiery jabanero sauce, other regional dishes such as paunchitos and cheese stew and a beer and lemon mixture called. Everything was out of this world delicious.

And immediately following this late afternoon feast, we head out to a cenote, or underground cave with a swimming hole, to put our enlarged bellies into bathing suits and jump into the water. Despite having just eaten, the water was exactly what I wanted. It was INSANELY cool to swim in this cenote with fish swimming right around us (they did not seem to be fearful of people whatsoever) and bats chirping and flying overhead. The stalactites dripped down from the ceiling almost touching the water, pieces of what looked like rope or tree roots hung from the ceiling, and only one small circular opening from above shone natural light down into the cenote.  Basically a cenote is a pit in the ground made from sinking limestone, or so Wikipedia tells me.

It was incredibly refreshing, breathtakingly beautiful, and a truly memorable experience to have swum in a cenote in Mexico with friends. I was immediately obsessed and wanted more cenote in my life.

I didn’t realize when I signed up for the trip before the wedding, that Dani and her soon husband Paul, would be a part of the trip with us. It was such a pleasant surprise and really has made this so much more fun. One of the things that I find challenging when I travel for people’s weddings is that I don’t usually have time to actually spend with the friends themselves. I know it is a frustration for people on both ends. Having this little pre-wedding trip along with the bride and groom is such a fun and unique thing. I love that Dani is so relaxed going into the wedding and enjoying this time with friends and family and her husband before the big weekend and then the honeymoon they have planned. Dani is such a unique and wonderful person with an adventurous spirit and infectious, unending amount of energy so it seems very fitting for them to have this trip as a part of THEIR personal wedding experience as well as providing it for their guests.

We finished the day by driving to a town called Merida, where we checked into a hotel, cleaned ourselves up, had a couple margaritas and some dinner, and then called it a night.

After my full rest day on Tuesday, I was ready to get out and run on Wednesday morning. Knowing that the days would be hot, even though our agenda on Wednesday consisted of a “free day” and we had no real plans – I got up out of bed early and head out for a run around 7:00 a.m. My initial intent going into the week was to try and run four times. I wanted to do a run Wednesday, Thursday off, longer run (+1 hour) on Friday, shorter run on Saturday, Sunday off, and then run on Monday.

I was about ¾ a mile into my run when I stopped to take a picture (hey, I was in Mexico!) and saw on my phone a text message from Dani asking if I was running this morning and if she could join. We wanted to run at 8 but since I was already out, we compromised and I got her down to 7:45 a.m. I ran a little over 2 miles and then returned to the hotel, picked up Dani, and we ran another ~2 miles together. It was one of the best parts of the trip to just be back running with my old friend, hearing about her plans with her husband, and chatting about life, work, love and catching up on everything in between. Obviously, two miles isn’t a ton of time to cover EVERYTHING, but we also got coffee at Starbucks following the run, so you know…

Getting coffee post run and “Starbucks Fridays” that used to be a thing in Schenectady running days were actually created by Dani so it was only fitting to have that be a part of this wedding week run.

When I got back from the run, Dani went to do wedding things, and I spent some time hanging out by the pool at our hotel. Reading and writing and enjoying the sun and some snacks. It was really warm and really sunny but also SUPER windy. I ordered a diet coke and the whole thing just blew over onto its side and spilled everywhere, so that was a fail.  However, I moved to the outdoor pool bar and read my book with some fake Mexican nachos and a new Diet Coke. This is what vacation is all about, people.

There were a few girls that had also been on the two day trip before the actual wedding that I had met the day before and we all decided to try and make plans for the free day together. Once we got organized, we set out on an expedition to first visit one of the old haciendas for lunch and then visit another set of cenotes in the afternoon. We hired a driver for the day who proved to be quite entertaining, and had a wonderful time first exploring the hacienda.

The colors are so beautiful and these old haciendas, which are large estates that used to be plantations or mines or factories, however they are built out in the middle of the jungle and are just incredibly peaceful and serene. There were peacocks, deer, and other wildlife just roaming about as well, which was really cool to see.

The highlight of the afternoon absolutely was the visit to the cenotes. One of the other girls had made the actual arrangements as to what hacienda we were going to, what cenotes we’d be visiting, how we would get there, etc. so I wasn’t totally sure what to expect besides what we had seen the day before, that I had loved.

We drove for a while after the hacienda, finally arriving at a little stop in the middle of a dirt road with a few people milling about. I was super confused because the cenote we went to the day before was huge and there were lots of tourists and other busloads of people all there. At this stop, I first off, didn’t see any other tourists, or really any other people, and also there was no way that a bus could have even made it down some of the roads we navigated to get to this point. Also, where we stopped, I saw no cenote.

Everyone climbed out of the car and as we were standing there and I was feeling very confused. I then saw a couple of the locals setting up a small cart on the end of what looked like mini rail road tracks and connecting a horse to the front of the little cart. Huh? As the pieces were clicking together for me, we then were all ushered over and instructed to climb on top of the rickity little hard and the horse pulley then started to trot and pull us out even deeper into the jungle. It was so funny and so unexpected to me as I had no idea that this was going to be a part of the adventure.

There were 3 different cenotes at this point and being that we were there pretty late in the day, decided to only try and visit two of them. The first that we went to, we were the only ones there, which made us laugh since the day before we were talking a lot about wanting to have “private” cenotes. Well, here we were with our own private one!

When we first walked up to this one, it seemed a bit creepy. Given the time of day, there wasn’t a lot of light, we were the only ones there, and it was incredibly silent. We had been just pulled on a horse buggy 15 minutes into the jungle and everything within the cenote looked to be the same color so we weren’t even sure where the water began. We threw some rocks, began to feel a bit more comfortable, and ended up having a full on photo shoot within our private cenote and a few of us wading into the water a bit.

After the photo session, we got back on the horse cart and moved on to the next one, which was much better for swimming. This cenote was my favorite of the ones that we visited throughout the trip. There were massive steps leading us down into the underground cavern and a big opening provided lots of light into the clear blue waters. There was a cliff you could jump off of, a very deep and wide opening to swim, and not many people there considering how gorgeous it was and what we had seen at the bigger cenotes the day before.

We stayed quite a while at this one, swimming, climbing, jumping and taking pictures in the refreshing water on what was a really hot day.

From there, it was horse and buggy back, a quick hop into our hired car, a stop on the side of the road for some cervezas to enjoy on the ride back, and in about an hour we returned to Merida.

As we drove out of the little country roads that we had taken to get to the cenote, the sun was setting and we were cool and relaxed and riding with the windows fully down and hair whipping around us while our driver blasted some of the local, high energy, Spanish language music that has a way of being both energizing and soothing at the same time – despite having no idea what the words mean. I was surrounded by amazing, strong, smart, women, who had become fast friends and adventure companions over the last couple of days. We drove through a small town where people walked from open air shop to shop, kids ran in the streets or rode bicycles around, people stopped to talk to one another and stared at our car as we drove by.

Life was happening all around us.

I have never done a vacation where I have stayed in one place. I have never stayed at a resort and tend to avoid the more touristy parts of cities when I travel. Sometimes I wonder if I should. When I return from vacations I don’t usually have that fresh, totally relaxed feeling that you can sometimes. As I write this, I am on the plane headed back from Mexico and I certainly don’t feel that way now. My stomach is still a mess. I know I have a pile of e-mails looming waiting for me, as I really did a good job of disconnecting while on this trip. I am tired from having busy days. My suitcase is a mess from packing and repacking it as I stayed in 4 different hotels throughout the course of one week. I wonder what it would have been like to stay in somewhere like Cancun for a full week or Tulum, and just relax at a beach every day.

Yet then I think of moments like this and I think I make the right choices. I like to explore the world. I like to see new things and want to fit as much of that in as I can. And not just see it, but experience it. I want to spend time in areas and cities that are off the beaten path and learn and grow as I travel – not just get a tan.

This trip did all of that for me and for that, I feel happy.

That's all for now! More to come on the next part of the trip!

1 comment:

  1. this sounds like the BEST vacation - so amazing!! i feel refreshed just reading it!