Whale Sharks and Warm Jeeps in the Yucatan
If you go to an “eco-resort” in Colorado or Florida or Europe, you expect healthy cuisine, nature tours and nonconsumptive activity offerings. Go to an eco-resort in the Yucatan of Mexico, and you get a room without running water. I do not wish to be indelicate here, but have you ever paid good money for accommodations that feature a pit commode inside the room?!
Well, Cindy and I did in Mexico.
We enjoyed every minute of it.
Aside from the unique experience of not flushing but spreading sawdust in our loo, we woke to the gentle lapping of waves on the most remote beach we’d ever been on, swam with whale sharks, snorkeled in a jungle senote, and visited ancient Mayan ruins. Oh, and we ate real Mexican- every day.
We flew into Cancun, which as far as I was concerned, was no different than Miami, from whence we came.
We immediately rented a white jeep. This was a classic boy vs. girl exercise:
Boy: "I want a Jeep."
Girl: "Does it have air?"
Boy: "Of course it does. Any way, the top will be down."
Girl: "In this heat?"
Boy: "I want a Jeep. We’ll be traveling on remote jungle roads, beaches, in old Mayan
territory. This trip’s gonna be an adventure. I want a Jeep."
Girl: "What about my bad back?" (Cindy has disc problems)
Boy: "I’ll drive gently."
Girl: "What about my hair? It will take me a week to get the snarls
out." (Believe me- this wasn't about vanity.).
Boy: "I’ll drive gently."
Girl: "What about our luggage and everything? Every time we stop, we’ll
have to put the top up and lock it. With Jeeps, you don’t just push
a button you know.”
Boy: "Hey, I had a Jeep once, remember?
Girl: "You had a Cherokee, not a Wrangler."
Boy: "How do you know so much about Jeeps?"
Girl: "I know everything, remember?"
Boy: "Oh yeah. I remember."
Since I was paying the tab for this part of the trip, we got the Jeep.
Our first stop was the Port of Chicuila, then a short ferry hop to
Isla Holbox, sitting just off the northern coast of the Yucatan peninsula.
We had heard that this remote island offered the most reliable opportunity to snorkel among whale sharks, which gather here to feed every October. They are actually filter feeders, like baleen whales, and their main food source is the plankton that mass on the up-wellings of the Gulf of Mexico this time of year.
Cindy negotiating with our ride out to the ferry.
Isla Holbox is a long skinny island with the longest stretch of untouched beach that I have ever been on, and we stayed in a little pastel colored cottage right in the middle of it. As I mentioned at the top of this travelogue, the island has no central water or power; Gravity fed cisterns are mounted on stilts near every home. Most are painted black and thus are solar heated.
We stayed at the OhMay Inn. The beaches having no running water, the first thing we noticed upon entering our cabana was the pile of sawdust near the commode. Just “sprinkle some in after you go” said the instructions. We did. It worked every time.
The OhMay Inn, Isla Hobox, Mexico
Our bed at OhMay Inn had huge white mosquito netting around it. Through the netting you could look out open windows and hear the gentle surf. It was the most romantic little bungalow on Earth.
Flushing the "Turtle Throne"
George and Nancy ran The OhMay Inn. They were from Switzerland. Nancy handled the rooms and George cooked seafood and other local dishes every evening for dinner. George was also very careful to keep their beer cold. For that I was truly grateful. They told us that this stretch of beach (nearly twelve and a half miles of pristine untouched shoreline) was being spied by PepsiCo for possible development. If you want to go, go soon.
Our swim with the sharks was- wait a minute while I check the thesaurus. Adjectives escape me- how about “incogitable”?
Cindy and I are both experienced SCUBA divers, and I have a Divemaster’s rating. Never have I been so entranced. These critters were even bigger than the Pilot Whales or False Killer Whales I had volunteered with in the Keys. Their speed and power was awesome to behold. They would stay by you just long enough to check you out, as if by favor, then with one horizontal flick of their enormous tail, they’d be gone.
We also saw manta rays, sea turtles, and other wonders. The one thing I was not ready for was the cool temperatures in the up-wellings. I am a complete wimp around cold water, and every time we would spy a new group of sharks to snorkel with, Cindy would be the first off the boat while I watched my goose bumps grow.
After leaving Isla Holbox we pointed the Jeep’s nose southwest for Chichen Itza, once the capital of the Mayan civilization. After spending the last 72 hours in the Mexican sun with no air conditioning, I gallantly announced to Cindy that I would keep the Jeep’s top up for this part of the journey and turn on the air conditioning (I was dying).
I reached for the console and heard Cindy laugh.
“Go ahead.” She chortled.
"There is no air conditioning in this vehicle."
“Who needs air?” my Arizona girl shot back. “Just put down the top.”
She smiled but looked straight ahead.
Chechen Itza was a bit touristy- well very touristy- but worth the visit. Of course before going in, I spent twenty minutes snapping the Jeep’s canvas roof back into place. Chichen Itza was BIG. I mean, if you got away from the main pyramid and the square, smaller ruins just kept going and going. It was the oldest place I had yet visited in my travels and I was awe struck. I was also very hot. Amongst the locals pitching trinkets- some authentic, some not- I spied a pink plastic mister fan for sale. I walked past it on principle, but it hurt.
“How about if we check out a nice upscale (read ‘air conditioning’) restaurant for lunch?” I suggested to Cindy on the way out of Chichen Itza.
“How about I buy you bowl of black been soup and some fajitas at that little open air place we saw a while back?” responded my Mexican food loving significant-other from the Southwest.
“And a cold beer?”
I rolled down the windows.
The Great Pyramid at Chichen Itza
The next day we entered the Yucatan Jungle for a snorkel in a senote.
A senote is a water filled cave or cavern that dot this part of the world.
The water is cold, crystal clear and you can swim back under the earth. Bats fly over your head and Cichlids nibble on your toes.
The Jungle Senote
On the way out, I drove a little aggressively and we hit a big rut. I heard Cindy groan, which was the last I heard from her all day.
That night, we stayed at a wonderful motel outside the City of Merida.
We were delighted to find that the inn had a pool which was actually a tiny senote with lights and ladders. We had a very romantic swim at 2am and stayed up talking ‘til morning.
Have you ever noticed how travel flavors your conversation? When you travel, mundane subjects reveal hidden nuances (for better or worse) in a relationship, new discoveries lead to intimate revelations, and life becomes something which is peeled back, to expose what’s important. That almost never happens except on the road, which is one reason travel is such a necessary part of my life, and such a wonderful part of Cindy’s and my life together. I recommend it highly.
Yep, Life's a b..... but what's that on my wrist?!
After Merida, we headed east to Tulum, once the main port city of the Mayan. I had picked up a small carving of Chuc, the Mayan sun god at Chichen Itza, and he now watched over us from the dash board of the open jeep, just like a little plastic Jesus.
Tulum sat right on the rocky coastline just below what the tourist trade calls the Riviera Maya. Both a Mayan ruin and a modern hamlet, Tulum was inviting and welcoming. The locals walked the streets and offered assistance to backpacking college kids and adventurers. Outside of town we stopped for lunch in a little family run place where the tortillas were made in outdoor stone ovens and the family dog kept you company while you waited for a most delicious home cooked meal. It was to be our last before heading north to Cancun for our flight home. Belize and Honduras were agonizingly close, and I wanted to just keep going, but the bills had to be paid and the job was waiting back home.
Our favorite Meal while in Mexico:
The result: Best bowl of soup anywhere.
Taco the Wonderdog agrees.
At one point on the trip back to Cancun, we were stopped by the Federales, the Mexican para military police. They checked our passports and searched for drugs. My most vivid memory of the interior of the Yucatan Peninsula though, will be the small hamlets and towns. Simple dwellings, families playing on main street, the wash being hung out to dry on balconies. No cell phones, no Nintendo, No Cable TV. Everyone looked happy.
As we pulled the Jeep into the Cancun Hertz garage, I looked at Cindy. She looked beautiful in her sundress.
“Can we find some air conditioning now?” I asked.
“Sure, she said. Just as soon as I brush my hair.”
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