If any of you have traveled with a teenager, you probably know to give them a wide berth after waking them up early (very early) to catch a plane, bus or train. We woke Sahana up amidst whines and groans to catch our scheduled Easy Tour van at 8:30 am to go see Xcaret (eshcaret). Xcaret is one of Maya Riviera’s most popular destination – a ‘eco archaelogical’ theme park where one can go snorkeling in the part underground river, relax on their impossibly soft, yellow sandy beaches, swim with the fishes, pet dolphins, eat a 28 course buffet lunch, visit a mariposa (butterfly) garden, take pictures with macaw on one’s shoulders, see soft pink flamingos, tapirs, pumas, jaguars, turtles – all this at a high price. And yes, it does possess the ambience of a Disney theme park. You can have your adventure under well controlled environment.
After packing our bio-degradable sunscreen (only bio degradable are allowed since you get up close and personal with sea creatures), swim suits, change of clothes, hats, shades et all, we grandly exited our Adventure Experience Hotel after greeting the lovely receptionist a cheery, ‘Buenos Diaz’. Sahana just grumbled.
We had no time for a sit down breakfast so we ran to grab something from a nearby Starbucks. Cafe latte and chocolate croissant for me, chocolate croissants for Sahana and Ryan while Sean got something distasteful and healthy – egg white and cheese sandwich. We chomped on our breakfast while waiting for the van and slowly, like the rising sun, Sahana’s disposition became sunny with every bite of the croissant. It is funny what chocolate can do to a choco lover.
The van arrived promptly at 8:30 am and after stopping to pick up some other fellow Xcaret adventurers, it dropped us off in the expert hands of our guide, who then expounded upon the do’s and don’t’s of the theme park for the next 20 minutes – in Spanish! After 10 minutes or so, Ryan asked, “Can we please just go?”
Finally his very elaborate lecture ended, he extracted promises from us to meet him at the exact spot no later than 9:20 pm and after procuring that he let us loose and left us to our own mischief.
The plan was simple. Three of my family members would get on a boat with their rented snorkeling gear and get thrown off the boat mid-ocean to swim with fishes while I would find a lounge chair by the aqua marine water and update my journal.
Snorkeling in mid-ocean was not my idea of fun. As we waited for Sean, Sahana and Ryan to board their boat, we watched people getting kissed by dolphins, petting them, hugging them, playing with them – at a steep price. When Sahana heard how much it cost to touch a dolphin, she exclaimed, ‘Gosh, no!’
As the children and Sean waved goodbye to me and their boat turned a corner, I walked back to the beach, found a quiet spot under a beach umbrella and brought out my notebook and pen to retrace our steps with words. I realized a smile often formed at the corner of my lips as I recalled a particular incident in our journey together, a special moment of bonding as my notebook filled up in that hour and a half.
After an exuberant retelling of how exciting the snorkeling was, how fearless Ryan and Sahana were, how many fishes they saw and how they separated from the group to swim with a sea turtle, we went to an elaborate and sumptuous lunch in an international restaurant within the park (the price of the ticket included the buffet) which incorporated varied local delicacies along with dishes like pasta, fish and chips etc to accommodate all kinds of taste.
The next adventure was snorkeling down a part underground river – along with the mother this time. The water in the river was about 6 feet deep and the mother had already asked the guide in very broken Spanish whether it was safe for someone who can not swim well to go down it. The guide had said, ‘Oh sure!’ The mother was not sure if something had gone lost in translation. Bravely donning my snorkeling gear I took my valiant husband’s hand as I flopped my flippers on the stairs going down to the river. The first touch of water sent shivers down my spine. It was a chilly 75 degree Fahrenheit. There were two options to go down the river – one way was outside, lit up by the sun and pleasant foliage overhead to form a lovely canopy over your head, or the dark, sinister tunnel through which the river flew secretly and where the rays of the sun were prohibited. Ryan chose the tunnels. And I unhappily complied. Mistake.
I have claustrophobia and I have a fear of water. An unhappy combination if you are about to float down a river that flows through pitch black tunnels. As soon as we entered the tunnels, floating and splashing, I knew I was in trouble. I felt panic rising in my throat. And for a few moments I thought I could not do this. The tunnels were pitch black, there was not a single glimmer of light to illuminate our way, we had to feel for the sides of the caverns through which we floated by or jutting rocks with our hand. While struggling with my fears of enclosed space and drowning, I felt something touch my legs.
“Sean, is that you? Did you just touch my legs?” I screamed.
“No, I am right here. Next to you. Here hold my hand.” He said.
“Oh my gosh, something touched my leg. Something living touched my leg. A rat touched my leg!” I was almost hyperventilating in panic.
“No rats, no rats. Rats will drown here!” He tried to pacify.
“Then it was a snake! We are swimming through sewage water with rats and snakes! Why did you agree to come through the tunnels? Why did we not go the other way? It is all your fault!” I was wailing.
“You are doing great! I am right next to you!” The good man consoled me as he pulled me along.
A man, trying to navigate his family around my thrashing legs, had touched my legs. Not rats, not snakes, I discovered in a few minutes, when he said a fearful sorry – fearing my madness!
Thankfully at regular intervals there was sunlight pouring in through holes above us. We found Sahana waiting there for us, waiting to see how her brave mother was faring. She too, did not like the dark and was complaining that Ryan always gets his way about everything. Floating down the river in the sunlight would have been so much more pleasant. After gulping down the sunshine at these breaks, I sorrowfully plunged in the murky dark waters again, just to get to the end of it. Those moments of light were such blissful ones. I truly appreciated the phrase ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ when the tunnels regurgitated us floaters into clear water and blinding sunlight. Surprisingly though, somewhere between starting the river journey and ending it I learnt to rely on my life vest and finally started believing I was not going to drown. Somewhere along the way, when we got out into those sporadic moments of sunshine, I put my snorkeling gear on and put my face in the water, I learnt to breathe through my mouth. Somewhere along the way, I pried loose my fingers and let my tightly held fear slip away. Instead I grasped on to the belief that I can do this. And that is when I started having fun. As I put my face in the water and opened my eyes, once the tunnels ended and we emerged onto the sunlight, I discovered a brilliant world underneath me. Fishes of different hues swimming along beneath me. It was a moment of wonder, a boon of sight – ‘I once was blind but now I can see’ moment.
The day ended with a truly spectacular show of the cultures of Mexico which dated from the cultural aspects of Ancient Mayans and ended with modern-day Mariachi music.
By the end of the show the people in the entire stadium, irrespective of their country of origin, were rocking, clapping and chanting “Mexico, Mexico” It was a moment of bonding with the beautiful, hospitable, very pleasant people of a truly enchanting country of rich cultural heritage.
We kept our promise and returned to the tour guide by 9:20 pm. We were dropped back at our hotel tired, hungry and very content. After a quick dinner of lousy pizza and a promise to Sahana that we will let her sleep in tomorrow, we turned the lights out.
Oh, and if you are worrying about my infected finger still….rest easy, the antibiotics are working. Both the swelling and the pain are down. Dreaming of the ruins of Tulum that we plan to see tomorrow…