We actually missed our flight! I sill can't believe it, for that has never happened to me before. Ever! I had a frantic day on Thursday, with a million things to finish, and somehow lost track of time. So when we finally left for Changi airport, it was already only an hour prior to the flight departing … leaving it down to the wire … but then we got stuck in traffic and when we finally reached our check-in desk the attendant said to us 'sorry, the system has already closed your flight'. I was livid. At myself. For letting it happen.
So instead of going to Lombok and Bali, both for a day, and then flying back to Singapore to catch the flight to Mexico, we skipped the former part and went straight to Mexico instead. Given that our routing was Singapore >> Moscow >> Houston >> Cancun, practically traversing half of the world, and took 28 hours, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that we missed our Lombok/Bali flights for then the itinerary would have been absolutely crazy!
There is no better feeling after flying for 28 hours than seeing your luggage come out #1 and #2 on the luggage carousel! Jet-lagged and tired I suddenly got a natural adrenalin rush when I saw our Rimowa's roll in. And I knew after all, this was going to be a great trip. It's an omen.
Yucatan, which is the peninsula on the south-eastern part of Mexico, is one of the parts of Mexico that I had never been to. Cancun, of course, is the quintessential tourist destination. This is where all the winter birds (Americans and Canadians escaping their harsh winters) flock to. What I was surprised to find out is that till the 80's, Cancun used to be a poor, quiet fishing town. Only after that did it develop into a bustling tourist destination, when it was decided by the government that given it's natural beauty and setting by the beach, it was to be developed into a tourist centre. And a resort centre it is today!
It is actually one big resort after another, spreading all along the Riviera Maya coastline. From Cancun, down to Playa del Carmen, Tulum and onwards. And right across from the mainland is a very popular Caribbean cruise ship stop, the island of Cozumel.
The beauty of the beaches in this area is undeniable. White pulverized sand and turquoise water. So stunning and captivating. It's the Caribbean and it's really hard to match that combination anywhere else in the world. The main resort strip in Cancun is a narrow sliver of land with the resorts lined up one after the other, on one side the azure sea, and at the back the inland water. As you walk along the beach you notice giant pelicans flying past you, poised in the wind, elegantly gliding down the coast. And there you notice the vulnerability of this haven. In 2005, hurricane Wilma lashed out and devastated the strip. Most hotels were destroyed and had to be re-built or had to undergo a major renovation. A lot of the white sand eroded away. No wonder, Cancun is open to the elements, completely exposed to the sea.
For a relaxing vacation, where you don't plan to venture too far away from your resort, Riviera Maya is it. Gorgeous sea and sand, wonderful resorts, culture nearby if you want it, accessibility ... yet there was one thing conspicuously missing. Tourists. Granted, October is low-season. Yet our first hotel was eerily empty, as were all the neighboring ones. And the strip wasn't that crowded either. Could Americans and Canadians be fleeing away given all the bad press that Mexico has been getting over the years? Unfortunately, it's nearly every day that you read about the drug-lord wars in Mexico, where since 2006 more than 28,000 people have been killed.
It would be a shame. I hope it's just low-season!
HOW TO GET THERE:
The easiest way to get to Cancun, the gateway to the Yucatan, is via the US. We flew into Cancun from Houston and flew out to Newark, but all major American airlines fly to this very popular holiday destination.
As you fill out your immigration cards prior to landing, I noticed that the cards said 'United Mexican States'. Never saw Mexico referred like that. Gosh, it's definitely becoming more and more like the US!
> Currency: USD is widely accepted, so much that we never bothered to get any pesos.
WHAT TO DO:
Besides relaxing …
> Playa del Carmen: if you don't want loud, brash resorts like the ones you find in Cancun, head south to Playa del Carmen. Still very touristy, still beautiful beaches, yet toned down and on a smaller scale. It's low-key and manageable. Although I shouldn't say low-key, for when you see the number of bars, restaurants and shops on 5th avenue, which runs down the length of the beach … nothing low-key about that!
> Swimming with the dolphins at Delphinus: Every time I think of dolphins I think of a Glee episode, where the blonde Dutch says 'Dolphins are just gay sharks'. Well, whatever they are, they're amazing creatures. Beautiful, smiling, intuitive. Gentle, caring, perceptive. Spend 60 minutes swimming with them, patting their rubbery body and being propelled forward through the air as they push you from behind. You will strike an immediate bond with these beauties.
> Chichenitza: Located inland, some 200 km west of Cancun, lies the magical ancient Mayan city of Chichenitza. As we departed Cancun we were told that the name Cancun is actually derived from the Mayan words Can-Cun, meaning the snakes nest. Likewise, Chichenitza means the city of the water sorcerers. I've always been fascinated by the Mayans. Their obsession with numerology is intriguing, after all who isn't aware of the 21.12.2012 doomsday predictions. According to popular culture, the Mayan calendar predicts that the world will come to an end on Dec 12, 2012. But as we found out today, that's a slight mis-representation. On that date there will be a big shift, for the era of the male negative energy will come to an end. Only to open a new door, a period of female positive energy. Finally! Since with the Maya's everything has a numerical representation, so do all the temples in Chichenitza. The number of stairs, the layers of the temples, the direction they face all have numerological meaning. The centerpiece of this ancient city is the main temple, which is constructed in such a way that during the solstice, the shadows cast on the pyramid create an image of the body of a snake sliding down the side of the temple. We saw the photo. It's true. The grounds also have an observatory, various playing fields and cenote's (large sink holes) which were used for human sacrifices, which the Mayans loved to perform. As you leave Chichenitza, make sure you stop at the Ik Kil cenote … it's a beautiful and very large sink hole in which you can swim. It's a scene straight out of Avatar.
> Isla Mujeres: in two words, don't bother!
> Fairmont Mayakoba Hotel: this resort is located close to Playa del Carmen, some 30 min from the airport and south of Cancun. Built some five years ago, it's a sprawling all-encompassing estate. It has several pools, one of them right on the beach, a Greg Norman designed golf course, spa and 3 restaurants. I really liked that they had bike stations everywhere, which you could use to get around the resort. Otherwise you could order a buggy. Last resort is of course to walk. The Fairmont Mayakoba is built around a system of man-made waterways, the fresh water being supplied by the aquifer below. To view this water setting, I recommend you do the 40 min boat-trip around all the canals. It's actually better than it sounds, for you will be able to spot several animals within their natural limestone habitats such as iguana lizards tanning on rocks, kormoran and other birds diving into the water chasing their prey, even crocodiles lazily lounging by the water. The only odd thing about this resort is that none of the rooms have see views. The majority of the rooms face the inland waterways for there is a marshland separating the built up area and the beach.
> Le Blanc Hotel: situated at one end of the Cancun strip, this all-inclusive resort is beautiful. As the name implies, the resort is all in white and has a modern boutique design to it. And the white features go beautifully with the turquoise sea and the green palm trees on the grounds. Sitting outside by the infinity pool, you can admire all the different shades of blue spilling from the pool, into the sea, and onto the sky. This vista is unmistakeable … it's the Caribbean. And the feel … all relaxed, also thanks to it's smaller size. Extra bonus = the spa, which is terrific and the impeccable service and staff in the resort!