¡Ándale! ¡Arriba!

In the words of Speedy Gonzales: Go on! Up! Although it was more like: Go down! Since we did a fair amount of diving. Basically it boils down to bladdy amazing! What? Where? Mexico, people… Google it and scribble onto your bucket list. You will not be sorry! In my case the opportunity was presented in a neat little package right at my doorstep. It was a no-brainer… Hell yes, I’m coming with!
We flew into Cancun and were going to meet up with friends who were already there and had organized the first night’s accommodation and some diving. As for the rest of the trip, we were going to wing it – my kind of holiday! As we prepared for landing we could spot Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) in the distance. A small island off the coast of Cancun that we definitely planned to fit into the wing it catagory.

cozumel... diving in paradise!

cozumel… diving in paradise!

Now let me warn you right from the start, if you plan to go on this trip… It will be hot. It will be humid. Make peace with it. What you can declare warfare on, is the bugs. There are loads of them, so rather just slather yourself with bug lotion or spray. Re-apply frequently. Especially the kind that contains deet. Some people will tell you how terrible this stuff is and that you might possible grow a third nipple. In my opinion growing a third nipple vs being eaten alive by mosquitoes? I will choose deet with a song in my heart and a hop in my step – the stuff works like a dream. Moving on…

We went straight from the airport and met up with our gang for the first session of diving in Akumal. Purely for those who don’t know me well, I would like to stop here and give a short report about my illustrious diving career:
• Take 1: Open Water in Cape Town… balked a bit at the indemnity form I had to sign at the start. Nobody mentioned anything about being claustrophobic?! I’m thinking my fear of closed spaces aren’t that bad, why not give it a bash? Suffice it to say the pool dives were kind of okay. The ocean dives on the other hand, ended in full-blown panic. I dodged the instructor for a full two months, until he eventually gave up. Diving – 1 + Anelia – 0 = Sad Panda
• Take 2: Fast forward a few years. On holiday in Thailand and desperate to dive, but still don’t have an Open Water license. What to do? Discover Scuba Dive – a short course that allows you to dive only for a day. This time around I did most of the exercises usually done in a pool, right at the dive site in the ocean. Although a little tight chested at first, I managed to get them all done and then spent two glorious dives holding the dive instructor’s hand. One of the rules of a DSD. This made me realize I was perfectly at ease in warm, tropical water with loads of viz vs the the icy cold water of the Benguela current with basically zero viz. Moral of the story: I am a fair weather diver and need to complete my license in a diver’s paradise!
• Take 3: I’m presented with an invite to Mexico to go diving. One small problem: I still don’t have a license. Lucky for me, the guy who rented me my trusty steed, Sophia, also conveniently turned out to be a dive instructor. To make things even more enticing he offered me a discount on the dive course, because I rented the scooter. The universe has amazing ways of just planning your path, without you even trying too hard. Plus, Tim turned out be a saint! I told him about my past experiences and he had the world of patience with me. After a couple of rocky attempts at mask clearance, I managed to get it right. The rest is history as they say and I became a very happy, qualified Open Water diver – whoop!

Back to the story. Our first session of diving was the Dos Ojos cenotes. Yes, at this stage I was also blissfully unaware of what it was, until I arrived there. Gulp! It turned out to be caves. For this rookie diver who just managed to conquer her Everest of claustrophobia, I was more than a little alarmed. Would I be able to stay calm? Was I going to make it? Good news is, I did! I’m not going to lie, I felt uneasy and probably used my air much faster than the rest of the group, but it was an experience that I would never forget. The stalactites and stalagmites were breathtaking – excuse the pun! Still, in spite of the beauty, I just didn’t enjoy it that much. Yes, it was magnificent… and yes, I conquered the Barbie Line (what the route was called), but I’m not made for the dark and I’m okay with it. The rest of the gang went back for more cave diving the next day, while I explored AKA surfing wifi at this cute little bar not far from the dive spot sipping the best Bloody Mary’s ever! In my defense, I was doing research for Playa del Carmen – where we were winging to next.

Since the dive site was only about 30km away from Tulum, we decided to head there for a couple of hours to check out the ruins. After Chichen Itza, this was the next best spot to explore ruins according to the intraweb. Although it was interesting and kind of impressive, I wasn’t that blown away by the experience. My feelings were definitely reciprocated by my fellow travelers and after an hour of wandering around, we decided to head onto Playa del Carmen. It was also getting late and we still had no accommodation. We found a lovely little condo not too far from the beach and right by Quinta Avenida, their 5th Avenue, where most of the hotels, restaurants and nightlife is based. It’s a bustling little walkway filled with bright colors, quaint architecture and lots of shops!

The next morning we had an early start to catch the 8am ferry to Cozumel. Another island where the diving was apparently amazing. We found the dive shop with ease and after everyone got sorted with gear, we headed out to the site. The water was the bluest of blue colors you can imagine and the temperature just perfect. We did two dives and the rumors about the diving being amazing was true and more. I would easily run out of adjectives for this place! Sadly, I don’t have many pictures since I sort of considered getting an underwater housing for my phone before we left. I regretted it every second! Next dive holiday, I’m making sure I have a device to document my underwater adventures! Diving is hungry and thirsty work and on recommendation of our dive leader, we ended up having some mighty fine Mexican cuisine in Cozumel before heading back for an afternoon nap. Note: diving also leaves you pretty tired!

360 degree view of isla mujeres!

360 degree view of isla mujeres!

The plan for the next day, was to head towards Isla Mujeres. This time around we had a leisurely start to the day and began with a visit to the The Little Teapot. My choices: a freshly baked oatmeal cookie with home-made peanut butter spread in the middle, followed by a Mexican Winter brew – basically rooibos infused with chilli and spices. They had many other varieties and pastries for all heart’s desires. A definite must on a visit to Playa del Carmen!

After a couple of days running around and diving, everyone was looking forward to some chilled beach time in Isla Mujeres. We were thinking of doing more diving there, but were told that the dive sites were over-populated and the water in and around Isla Mujeres very polluted. The result being that there weren’t much ocean life and corral. After the spectacular experience in Cozumel, we decided to quit while still ahead.
We started our morning with a visit to the Mango Cafe. A winner according to TripAdvisor and it surely lived up to the reviews. Great eggs benedict washed down with ginger lemonade. As we were about to catch a cab to head down to the beach, I spotted a little window on the world. A pathway that lead us all along the coastline. The island is really tiny and we had a great vantage point from where to see it all. After our exploration hike along the coast, it was time for chilling at the beach. Teal blue water, white sand, perfect water temperature and a limitless supply of cocktails. Heaven!

The next day we decided to move on to Chichen Itza. It felt like we’d experienced the best of diving, but not seen the best of the Mayan Ruins. Chichen Itza was apparently the place to go. Admittedly, a bit of a drive – 2/3 hours – depending on how much of a hurry you’re in. It’s also recommended to rather stay over for a night. The drive there and back is too much for one day, if you still want to take your time and enjoy the ruins.
We stayed at Hacienda Chichen and the reason why I’m telling you about this place and not any of our other accommodation, is because it was by far the highlight of them all. Located right outside the Chichen Itza site, it’s a tranquil and lush oasis that will leave you instantly relaxed and at peace with the world. It also has its own private entrance to Chichen Itza which only guests of the resort are allowed to use. Added to that are spa facilities, a very large pool and a restaurant that offer delicious fare with organic produce sourced mostly from their own gardens. Absolutely delightful!

poolside bliss!

poolside bliss!

The next morning we started exploring Chichen Itza early to escape the worst of the heat. A very wise decision indeed. Up until this stage we’ve had mostly cloudy weather, giving some reprieve from the heat. The ruins were unbelievable! Once again there are just not enough adjectives to describe this place. After the disappointment of Tulum, this was an experience of a lifetime – recently voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World! All the ruins were larger than life and I found myself wondering what great skill the Mayans had?!? With no tools and smart gadgets from the 20th century, you can only be in awe of what they achieved. Meticulous precision went into every stone block. I kept thinking how fascinating it would be to get transported back in time for a day to see and experience it through their eyes.

pillars as far as the eye can see in perfect symmetry

pillars as far as the eye can see in perfect symmetry

After about 2 and a bit hours of wondering, the heat got the better of us and our bodies were screaming for breakfast. The restaurant at the Hacienda did not disappoint! We loaded the car for the journey back to Playa del Carmen where we wanted to spend our last two days. We enjoyed the vibe and bustle of the center and wanted to do some shopping, so it felt right to go there. In retrospect, perhaps another night at Hacienda would’ve been better, but since our hotel was already booked in Carmen we decided to move on. To make our decision even worse, the last place we stayed at turned out to be the most disappointing part of our trip. The only thing that redeemed them, was an awesome 4th floor infinity pool where we basically spent the most of our last day at.

Besides our culinary delights at Hacienda Chichen, we also discovered a gem of a restaurant on our last evening that made the trip back to Playa del Carmen absolutely worth it – TripAdvisor reviews again proving to be very useful. This little pearl goes by the name of OhLala. The kind of restaurant that has only a few tables and small menu, which means you receive superb service and dishes are prepared with only the freshest ingredients and care. The owner of the restaurant came to our table in person to tell us about the specials and make recommendations. Our friendly waiter was super friendly, but not invasive. The food and wine was exquisite. In the words of Barry Ronge: A scintillating ten!

It was with a heavy hart that we headed back to the airport the next day. A holiday that will go down in the history annals and never be forgotten. My only wish would be stay longer and explore more of this beautiful country… make that a promise to myself to come back!

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