I managed to save myself over $500USD by figuring out that I could fly into Cancun and grab buses down to southern Belize so I officially considered myself initiated into the backpacker’s club. I also managed to rationalize a mini-solo-vacation to the Riviera Maya (one of my favorite places in the world). After living and volunteering for two months straight in hostels, it was time for a private, queen-size bed with no one to answer to. I was also going back to somewhere familiar, with guaranteed friendly people and food to die for.
After three flights (Vieques-San Juan-Atlanta-Cancun) and a bus ride to Playa del Carmen, I finally arrived for my five night stay in a quaint guesthouse halfway between the beach and the local section of town. It was truly a luxury to sleep in a queen size bed with fairly new sheets, a fully-operational air conditioner, a private bathroom, and a quiet that I hadn’t experienced since leaving Philadelphia. At one of the most beautiful places in the western hemisphere, I managed to even have my own pool for only $30USD per night. Run down from my previous work and sleeping in an 8-bed dorm with fellow volunteers, I left Vieques sick and with medicine somewhat inaccessible, I had no choice but to wait until I got to Mexico to rejuvenate. In the morning, I went straight for one of my favorite mexican dishes- chilaquiles (Crispy tortillas smothered in red or green salsa with a sprinkle of cheese, cream and your choice of protein- chicken for me… like most Mexican foods- it sounds incredibly simple, perhaps even a bit boring, but always some of the best food you will ever eat in your life!). The restaurant also served up a liter of fresh juice for only about $3USD. Finally, it was back to simple, healthy, cheap, cheerful living! Hallelujah!
The supermarket across the street was enormous, and coming off of a tiny island with just the basics, I found myself strolling up and down every aisle just for sheer amusement. I will surely always be grateful for luxuries like these. I was ecstatic to be back in the land where people were genuinely interested in making conversation with you and always had a cheerful demeanor about them- whether it be a taxi driver, a waiter, cashier or passer-by on the street.
Essentially my time in Playa was all about relaxation. I spent my first day sleeping, two days at the beach, one day at a café getting my Belize itinerary together, and one day touring my wedding venue. I met two nice girls, respectively from New York and New Jersey, and spent the day with them at a beach club- where for roughly $30USD, you got a cushy lounge chair and umbrella and waiter service where the money you already paid went towards your food and drink tab. That sure was my fancy day. It was also nice to have a simple day with typical American girls from my neck of the woods and not be trying to have any profound travel experiences. Shout out to Vicky and Cookie!
Another highlight of my trip was coming out of my room one night to be greeted by two Italian men in the kitchen cooking up lobster seafood pasta! I felt like I was in Italy. They kindly offered me dinner, but I went out to get some Mexican takeout as I didn’t want to infringe on their night let alone eat their lobster! They barely spoke English, so I assumed they were just being polite. I came back with my dinner and they invited me to sit outside with them. Don’t you know, they insisted on putting a full plate of food in front of me, decorated with lobster tail and all! They also gave me some wine and parmesan cheese straight from Parma, Italy! My night was full of speaking Spanish and English and interpreting what broken Spanish/English/Italian that I could. Sadly, I was off to Tulum the next day, but the guys swore if I stayed they would keep making me more italian food. It was certainly attempting offer considering that dinner was better than anything from Little Italy in New York that I’ve had.
Another bus ride to Tulum and I arrived to probably the coolest hostel/lodging facility I’ve ever been to! This place was constructed out of enormous concrete tubes and beautiful varnished wood. My tube was cozy, with a fabulous mattress and pillows that felt temperpedic. My prayers were answered! After stowing my belongings underneath, I rolled around and bounced on my bed in the fresh A/C like a little kid! Then I hit the town with my cheap rented bike, fully equipped with a large basket- I just needed Toto!
I committed the ultimate sin and didn’t go to the beach this time, because it was so hot in Tulum I seriously didn’t feel capable and the bugs were incessant. Mexico surely held a different type of heat that I wasn’t used to despite living in Puerto Rico for two months. Instead, I did the ultimate tourist venture (and ultimate backpacking no-no) and purchased two tours for the next two days to really enjoy myself.
On day one, I headed out for a tour of beautiful cenotes and Coba. Cenotes are underground limestone cave systems that are all inter-connected throughout the Yucatan peninsula. The Mayan civilizations considered them sacred and often used them for religious rituals. Through the years, nature has opened up some cenote ceilings often due to erosion or tree roots reaching down through the rock to drink from the cenote floor. The Mayans also used the cenotes as wells to drink from. The water, rich with calcium yet safe to drink, contributed the the density of the Mayan people’s bones but stunted their growth. I quickly bonded with a young couple from London, a Spanish man and Italian woman, as we went swimming into the pitch black cenote, while following a guide with a tiny flashlight who showed us the stalagmites, stilagtites, black catfish and an abundance of fruit bats (which I always find adorable unlike everyone else).
Then we left to tour Coba, a civilization with the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan. Francesca and I made it about halfway up. I looked behind me and saw that we were even with the tree line, and decided that would be enough for me!
On day two, I toured the Si’an Ka’an biosphere reserve. This gigantic mangrove-lined lagoon flows into the ocean and it’s absolutely gorgeous with crystal clear turquoise waters inhabited by dolphins, turtles, crocodiles, manatees and exotic birds. We went snorkeling and had encounters with beautiful turtles and dolphins with their babies.
All in all, I had a beautiful week and absolutely cannot wait to get back to Mexico!