Twice a year, Josh and I try to travel somewhere awesome. In the fall, when the Pacific Northwest is the most beautiful place in all creation, we keep our travels local and on foot, in the playground of the North Cascades. Someday we’ll venture to the Central Cascades, but there’s still SO much to explore out our back door. (That’s a figurative back door, by the way. We still have to drive a couple hours to the trailhead.)
But in the dismal days of a Bellingham winter (or spring for that matter, since it doesn’t stop raining and warm up until July), we prefer to get out of town. Somewhere warm. I am a devoted follower of Groupon Getaways, so when a Groupon appeared for Las Villas Akumal, a cute non-resort an hour south of the chaos of the Cancun party scene, Josh and I deliberated for exactly an hour before purchasing it and our airfare. No regrets.
Our apartment was 20 ft. from the beach, just a short walk from a public beach, with a full kitchen, free kayak and snorkel use, and a breakfast of pastries and the freshest ripest fruits. I left Washington feeling vaguely flu-ish—backaches, nausea, headaches— and after 12 hours in Mexico I felt perfect health. I swear, there’s magic in sunshine.
These sinkholes are filled with fresh water, and are supposedly all interconnected via underground caves. They are also sacred sites for the ancient Mayans. Some cenotes have evidence that they were sites of ritual and sacrifice, but perhaps more importantly, they were an abundant source of fresh water. We visited two of the less traveled: Cenote Azul, which was primarily above ground, and Cenote Calavera, which was a hole in the ground with a vast cavern beneath.
Last fall I had the opportunity to take an intro to Flamenco class up in Vancouver, B.C., with my friend Megan. (Thanks again, Groupon.) Like most people, I watched some flamenco videos on YouTube before classes started. I thought it looked like a lot of stomping and clapping and couldn’t be that hard. What I learned over this four-week class is that there are a half dozen different ways to stomp, and a couple different ways to clap, and all of that stomping and clapping is actually the percussion of the song, which is cued by the vocalist and the guitar. Flamenco isn’t just a dance. It’s musical relationship. And it’s REALLY hard. In the video below you’ll notice that two people are clapping on off beats from each other. Try it, I dare you.
We had the good fortune to see Maria perform at Lol-ha Restaurante in Akumal. She must be in her late 50s or early 60s, just over 5 ft. tall, and she is a powerhouse of strength and force and precision. I wish the video quality was better.
The Yucatan peninsula is full of Mayan ruins. We were staying very close to the Tulum archeological site, and just 45 minutes from Cobá. We had every intention of visiting the more famous Chichen Itza, since we were SO CLOSE (120 miles, compared to 3,791), but in the end we decided that our time in Mexico was too short to justify the 6 hours we would spend in the car driving there and back. It wasn’t THAT close.
After a couple of laid-back days in Akumal, we weren’t prepared for the tourist pressure at Tulum. The government tourism officials were giving the hard sell for all sorts of package deals, and it took us 45 minutes to extract ourselves from them and proceed to the ticket booth. Once we arrived, we were unprepared for the expense. Admission was a reasonable ~$7 per person, but guides cost over $50! We passed on the guide and hoped the placards at the site would give us enough information. They didn’t. We saw a lot of fascinating old buildings, but we had no idea what they were used for or how this ancient community lived. It was a miss for us.
We repeated our mistake later at Cobá, but this time because it was late in the afternoon and the archeological site was HUGE, and we decided to cover as much area as possible and read about it online later. When we return to this area, we’ll allow for most of the day at Cobá, and definitely hire an English-speaking guide. These ruins were beyond description. We were both awed by the power of the place. Unfortunately all of my photos of Cobá have my mug in them, so I only included one here.
Finally, I have a new love affair with Talavera pottery. I was ready to pawn our furniture to buy a full place setting, but Joshua helpfully pointed out that there was no point in having a beautiful table setting if you didn’t have a table to set it on. We settled for four plates and small bowls as an early anniversary present.
I’m so excited to return to this beautiful area of Mexico! Planning another visit also gives me a reason to keep practicing and improving my Spanish.
Plans for next time:
- Stay a LOT longer than 4 days.
- Perhaps be even more frugal and find somewhere to stay via airbnb
- Swim in every cenote we pass (there are dozens, all along the highway)
- Bring our own snorkel gear from home
- Visit Chichen Itza. Hire a guide.
- Expand my collection of Talavera pottery 🙂