Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mayan Riviera (Mexico)

How different can one trip be from another? Well, from the rugged guesthouses of Nepal to a 5 star all-inclusive resort in Mexico. I can say I have done it all. And really, I thoroughly enjoyed them both. As a final hurrah to my sabbatical year, we cashed in our free week in Mexico just days before it expired. The experience was ever so much nicer knowing it was a gift from the resort, and didn't cost of a cent.

So, on Jan. 12 at 4:00 am, Richard, Adrian, Jeremy (my 18 year old step-son), and I taxied to Pearson Airport, and thanked our travel agent who convinced us to fly to Cancun with Sunwing Airlines. This new, charter airline flies directly over the US and straight to Mexico, with no carry-on limitations or crazy security delays. By 9am, we had arrived! They even served champagn on the flight, complete with free, hot meals. (Sorry if this sounds like a commercial for them, but truly they were great and started the trip off well.) Jeremy sat at the window and marvelled at how low we flew, and how much he could see of the passing countryside down below.

We were met at the airport and shuttled one hour down the road to our resort, Playacar Palace. We arrived bleary eyed from the early departure, but everyone was excited. Our room was not quite ready, so we left our suitcases and headed for the pool. While the sun shone, the temperature felt warm, but the pool was unheated and quite chilly. But the view was magnificent! The resort was located a few minute's walk from the town of Playa del Carmen, and right on the beautiful ocean with blue-green shimmers sparkling in the sunshine showing off the various water depths. The waves had been pounding at the beach for many years, and most of the beach itself was actually eroded and washed away, so a walk on the beach was really a walk in the waves. Further up the beach, there was construction to rebuild the beach again, and our resort was planning this for the futre. Thanks, climate change!

Our first meal was similar to most we would eat - an open buffet with international cuisine with lots of Mexican choices as well, and plenty to please both kids and adults. I especially enjoyed all the fresh seafood and tropical fruits. There was always food available, either in the 3 restaurants, at the pool, or with room service, which the kids utilized frequently, just for the fun of it. They made really good homemade nacho chips and quacamole, and the staff got to know our family well. In the room we had a fully loaded bar fridge with drinks, not to mention our own unlimited liquor bar. It's a wonder we ever left the room!

We quickly booked into the excursions provided free with the package. We spent one day visiting Tulum, the ancient archeological site down the road and right on the beach. The highlight, more than the ruins, was the many lizards that we saw sunning themselves on the rocks. We went snorkelling in a lagune and saw lots of fish. We revisited Adrian's favourite swim-up bar from last visit, and drank yet another strawberry daquieri together. We visted one of the other Palace resorts that caters more to teens, and spent the day playing water polo, enjoying a rocking game of doubles tennis, and hanging out in the games room with free access to riding motorcycles, driving cars, and shooting basketball games. I felt (and acted)like a teenager along with the kids!

Richard and I sat through the requested meeting to consider upgrading our membership, which we declined, of course, but the kids really appreciated the reward. We were already booked into a ziplining adventure, but they threw in an ATV ride as well. This day proved to be one of our favorite's, as it tested the spunk of us all. The ziplining adventure involved hanging from a harness a hundred feet in the air and zipping accross a river - 10 times! In the middle we did a "monkey walk" which required us to step on upturned logs and transverse an area about 20 feet long, with no support other than our harnesses. It's hard to describe, but was actually scarier than simply jumping into the air to launch the zipline, sometimes backwards! On our 6th zip, Jeremy and I chose the option of hanging upside down with no hands to cross the longest pass, and whooped and hollared my way across in extreme exhileration. Hard to imagine, but even Adrian, my generally cautious son, agreed to the zipline, although he didn't realize till he'd started that it was one way, and there was no stopping once you get started.

After the ziplining, we loaded onto ATV's and headed into the jungle. Jeremy rode ahead of me, and I had Adrian on mine as well. Every lurch and lunge is felt even more with 2 persons, and Adrian was hanging on for dear life as I tried to keep up with Jeremy and the rest of the group. Mastering the manual clutch took a bit of learning, but really it was nothing compared to trying to keep control of the machine as it flew over bumps, turned corners sharply to avoid hitting trees, and was air-born on the jumps. Adrian was initially bummed that they wouldn't let him drive because of his age, but clearly these are scary machines even for riders, and he had so much fun he forgot he had wanted to be a driver.

Our final adventure was taking the ferry across to Cozumel Island, a short 40 minute crossing. Cozumel is known for its fantastic reef close to shore, apparently second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. (Not sure what it's second in - number of people visiting, number of fish?) We cajoled the resort into loaning us snorkel gear, rented a scooter for Jeremy and a Mexican Ferrari (a convertible old VW bug with no bumpers), and drove to Corona Beach. After a brief Corona refresher, we hit the reef. While only waist-high, we saw hundreds of fish in all imaginable colours - bright yellow, black and white striped, brown with white speckles, long and skinny with pointed noses, royal blue, transparent with red around the edges. So beautiful!!! I have no idea what types they were, but they were stunning, and so prolific. We were enjoying our selves so much we missed our ferry and ended up wandering the town of Cozumel for an hour. Adrian was mesmerized by the street artists who make paintings using spray cans of paint, pieces of cardboard or metal, and then blowtorching the paintings to make them dry, and he brought one back with him.

Nights at the resort brought shows, including a wild Michael Jackson show that we caught twice at 2 different resorts. While I'm not a huge MJ fan, the Mexican MJ really had the dance moves down well and looked just like MJ. They also had a fun circus act (people only), complete with a clown, extremely athletic acrobats, and dancers climbing ropes. A great place to unwind at the end of the day.

After all these adventures, we generally ended each day in the family hottub in our room with lots of bubbles, and watched a bit of the Marathon "Lost" on TV to recover before dinner. Dinners were served late, around 8pm (that's late for us - we eat at 5pm) and were magnificant! There were 3 restaurants that served dinner - Mexican, Italian, and Japanese. We tried them all, and eventually found food that even Adrian, our picky eater would eat. Adrian tended to find one thing on the menu he liked, and then ordered that in quantity, like 8 orders of the appetizer Yakiniku (beef on a skewer) and ice cream (in quadruple size). Jeremy, on the other hand, has become our family foodie, and eats all kinds of seafood and enjoys experimenting with any food. He especially like the unlimited sushi, and I think we ate that 3 times, not to mention countless dishes of octopus, crab (real, not fake), shrimp, fish, and squid. Our final meal was a blowout (free, of course) of 2 massive grills of "sea and land" (beef, mahi mahi, shrimp, tuna steaks, and squid).

I expected the food to be good, but I hadn't expected it to be such an experience. My favourite part was my own private sommelier who came to me at each meal and helped me choose a wine to go with my meal. Once I chose the meal based on the wine I felt like drinking, but usually it the other way around, and always exquisitely matched. I chose a rare red wine in the Italian restaurant, and the sommelier had to climb, like a monkey, to the kids' enjoyment, up 50 feet to the top of the wine cellar amongst the top racks to find my choice. And then, every meal ended with decaf coffee and liquors (Baileys for me, Gran Marnier for Richard) and delicious, light desserts. Most meals took a minimum of 2 hours with all the courses, and were all stunningly prepared. Surprisingly, the food was really healthy and fresh, with few carbs and nothing fried, excepts the nacho chips and fries that the kids ate. I could eat like this forever, if only I had someone to cut my fruit and serve me as they do.

Travelling as a 4-some was wonderful, and we broke off into all permutations throughout the week. Adrian and Jeremy played ping pong while Richard and I drave G&T's at the bar. Jeremy and I tackled the adrenelin highs while Richard and Adrian were more cautious. Richard and Jeremy stayed wandering through Playa del Carmen while Adrian and I went to bed early. Richard and I went to Starbucks every morning to read while Adrian and Jeremy slept in. Jeremy and Adrian caught up on Facebook while Richard and I stared into each others' eyes.

All in all, it was a throughly relaxing and luxurious holiday. It's nice to be pampered, and when I returned I kept looking around for all those persons to take care of me and all my needs, but somehow they didn't follow me home. I love the Mexican attitude toward service. They are always friendly, helpful, and have senses of humour. They could teach the customer service business around the world a lot. It would have been nice to have slightly warmer weather, and the Mexican told us this was unusual for January (daytime temps around 22 degrees). The sunny days were warm, but the cloudy days made it less appealing to be in the water. But most of all I enjoyed being with my family again. It had been a while since we'd vacationed with Jeremy, and it was nice to spend time with him and get inside his world. I'm a lucky step-mom to have a such an open, accepting relationship with him. I would go back to Mexico in a flash, and Adrian tells me that despite all his travelling this year, his heart is still in Mexico and Mexico is his favourite place to vacation. So I think I'll probably be going back again some time soon.

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