Trip Start Nov 24, 2006
Trip End Nov 30, 2006

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Flag of Mexico  ,
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Xel-Ha - paradise on earth.  We've been waiting a long time to see this place.  There was absolutely no way I was going to skip such a beautiful not man-made place:  A blue maze of creeks, lagoons, natural wells and ancient caves fed by subterranean rivers flowing to the beautiful Mexican Caribbean Sea of the Riviera Maya.  Our hotel package included a trip that consisted of a half day exploring the ruins in Tulum and spend the rest of the day in Xel-Ha.  We've heard from other travellers though that they regretted not being able to spend a whole day at Xel-Ha and decided to buy a day pass, rent a car and go on our own.  

We purchased the all-inclusive package at the activities desk in our hotel.  I don't remember how much we exactly paid, but I thought it was something close to $50.00 and covered all of the following:

Park entrance fees, use of showers, bathrooms, floats, life jackets, hammocks, river train, and bag to transport your belongings. Use of snorkel equipment is also included along with a free snorkel tube as a gift, towels and a family-sized locker. Meals and beverages in any of our restaurants, tips and taxes are also included.  You cannot use your sunlotion in Xel-Ha, but if you bring it, they'll hold it for you (until you leave) and trade you a small package of biodegradable lotion.  It's not much, but it's better than nothing and you can lather up before you leave in the morning.

We reserved our car the day before, because we wanted to leave bright and early in order to beat the crowds.  Reserving the car only took about 10 minutes and I thought it was going very smoothly. However pick-up the next day took a whole hour!  The rental car person fill out pages after pages and trained a new person (index-finger typing only).  It seemed to take forever.

We had this idea of how the drive would go down:  The sun burning down from a bright blue sky, while we're taking a small car over old bumpy roads, with happy music roaring from the speakers, windows half down, smelling the air - just enjoying the ride.  BUT when we finally got our car, it turned out that it had:

~no radio
~no "oh-oh" hand bars
~no switch to flip the mirror for night driving
~no fire extinguisher (I was told that this was mandatory in Mexico)
~no power stiring
~no automatic transmission (costs extra)

Apparently all of the above is luxury.  Didn't know what a luxury limousine you were driving at home, did 'ya? We accepted the extra insurance for $22.00.  We always do because Karma always catches up with me on vacation time and this way I don't have to worry :)  I need not be concerned about scratches and dents - $0.00 deductible baby.

Driving wasn't too bad, a bit aggressive maybe. I just pulled onto the shoulder and let the other drivers pass, whenever the harrassment level got too high.  I didn't stick with the flow of traffic, which means driving about 10 or 20km over the speed limit, because I did not want to get pulled over not speaking the language.  That meant that I had to slow down from 100 km/h to 40km/h snail speed at every single hotel exit and there are a lot!

The road has two lanes each way and you can imagine the surprise when police appeared behind us in our lane with flashing lights.  We immediately pulled over - worried and unsure what we did wrong - just to find out that they dashed right by.  They didn't want anything from us.  Maybe we didn't take one of the many speed bumps fast enough?  This actually happend a few more times along the way :)

We enjoyed the ride and it was great to see that all the sister hotels were right along the way.  We passed the Aventura & Spa Palace and later on the Xpu-Ha Palace.  Shortly after that traffic came to a screaching halt.  We were only one car in a long line of cars that didn't move.  We waited for about 10 to 15 minutes until patience ran out and we got out of the car.  We couldn't find a reason for the hold up, it was like the first two cars in the line just stopped and refused to go any further or maybe an abyss had just opened? 

It didn't matter, because now I really really had to go... So we decided to turn around and make a pit-stop at the Xpu-Ha palace that we just passed.  This hotel is really cool.  You enter through a massive Mayan stonegate, the lobby is one giant bamboo hut and there are exotic animals everywhere.  We decided to take a little break from driving and have a late breakfast (plus the first Margherita of the day), followed by a quick tour of the Xpu-Ha (via golf cart - okay that's not really a break from driving is it?).  Before long we were back on the road, the traffic jam had cleared up and we had only a few minutes ride left before we were at the entrance of Xel-Ha.   

Once inside we locked up all our private belongings and headed right over to the snorkel desk to pick-up our gear and plastic swimbag.  I thought the plastic bag was the greatest thing, because I had brought a point and shoot camera for "land shots" and a single use water camera.  Well it turned out that the plastic bag was distributed at the other end of the park and I just couldn't make myself go there, because I wanted to get into the water - now!  It looked awesome.  One huge turquoise lagoon, parrots, huts, palmtrees, tropical flowers & hammocks.  This place should be in the dictionary under "Paradise".  

But first I had to march right back to the locker, because they needed ID as a deposit for the snorkeling gear.  I practically ran back and forth, taking down anybody in my way (okay slightly exaggerated) just to finally get into this beautiful water and boy it felt GOOD!  Once I got used to the feeling - I always need to get over a little panic when I see how deep it is and how big the fish are - I dared to venture further.  Hubby & brother & sister in law were content snorkeling around in circles exploring their own areas and I ventured towards the floating bridge where I've heard the really pretty fish like to hang out.  It was a bit awkward to hit streaks of warm and sometimes also yellow water.  I couldn't help but scour for a perpetrator.  But there was nobody close by, so I guess that's just the way it is.  

I was well on my way to the floating bridge when suddenly I "ran" into a couple of absolutely gigantic fish.  Here's a little fact about me:  I love the ocean, but I'm absolutely terrified of drowning.  I don't like deep waters and I certainly don't like big fish.  I don't know any types of fish, I don't eat fish, but they don't kow that :)  Anyway I panicked.  I didn't know what type this big fish was (and how friendly...) and went on a race back to the steps bypassing my hubby, making everyone else crazy and turn around too.  Clearly there must be a shark in the water .  Ask questions later - get out of the water now.  Well eventually everyone rolled their eyes at me, annoyed at having missed seeing the big fish.  And eventually even I decided to get back in the water, but from now on I staid close by.  

It was really quite beautiful - we snorkeled all over the big lagoon until we reached the floating bridge, where we got out of the water and walked over it.  A very nauseating experience :)  On the other side we explored the land until we came upon a hole in the ground with a photographer on the top.  Turned out we found the swim-in cave... on land.  Of course we had to get in now.  The photographer took a mugshot for later purchase opportunity.  

We walked a little more on land, coming up on the rope-swing pond.  It looked interesting, but I had a mighty respect for the solid rock wall that you would crash into if you swung a little to far...  Next we walked the path of conscience, which had been inspired by the frailty & beauty of nature.  It's an uplifiting walk through woods, passing ponds & lagoons and over rocks following the pathway.  The pathway was lined with rocks that held chiseled inscriptions quoting wise words like these (in Spanish):

"I pledge loyalty to the planet that gave me and all life the chance to be. I also pledge loyalty to the three and a half billion years that made it possible for us to be here.

We are responsible for making sure that the billions of people yet to come also have a chance to be. These unborn beings depend on the path we set for them. Our commitment ensures that their world will be at least as beautiful as our own"
David Brower

A pamphlet with translations is available - but it would get wet - unless you got your plastic bag... Let's not go there.  It was a beautiful walk that took us straight to the "cliff of courage": a cliff jumping opportunity.  Hubby & his twin were quite taken with this action and wouldn't leave for what seemed an eternity. I jumped twice, thoroughly bruising each time, but you just have to love that little feeling that makes your heart skip a beat when you jump off the cliff.  Once you hit the water you're officially in the lazy river where people float by on tubes. 

We snorkeled a bit more, but by now we've literally been in the water for hours and my sister in law and I were feeling the effects.  Whenever I got a chance I pulled onto a rock and whorshipped the sun a bit to warm up.  It was time to get out of the water, but hubby & his brother got caught up at the "Rope crossing".  Men...

Eventually thoroughly shivering we got back to the big lagoon and went out of the water for a quick shower and some dry clothes.  After this much excercise it was time for some food and we decided to eat at one of their restaurants.  I forgot what we ordered, but I remember the food was all right!  

With new found engery we ventured through the shops looking at all the beautiful nick-nacks that were absolutely useless but soooooo pretty.  One thing I love about Mexico are all the pretty colors they use.  Everything is bright and cheerful.  It really lifts your spirits.  The good thing for us was that our hotel offered the same souveniers we saw here in their gift shops for half the cost.  We knew where we were going to shop.  

With excercise, food & shopping behind us there was really only one thing left to do: Crash on Hammock island.  It was very relaxing and I was just slightly worried about the coconuts on the tree above my hammock (I'm a total wuzz...).  I could have slept forever, but it started to get dark and we still had a long way to go home.  So sad as it was we had to leave paradise after only one day.  But it was a day filled with fun, action & natural beauty we surely would never forget.  A half day at Xel-ha is definetely not enough.

The ride back was very quiet, everyone was worn out and sleepy.  However there was one last adventure on the horizon.  The car needed to be returned with the same amount of gas as it had when received, no exception here.  If you go to the gas station that the rental person tends to suggest (about 8 km behind the Moon Palace towards Cancun) then you might be in for a little trouble.

Most of the gas stations are on the road towards Playa del Carmen (2 lanes in each direction) and there are not many U-turn (or left turn) opportunities. Not to mention that you'll have to be in the left lane in order to do the U-turn, driving 80km/h.  Try to slow down in the left lane in order to take the sandy spot between the two trees.  Good luck with the upset driver behind you that was already bumper on bumper with you stupid tourist, driving only 80!  He might just try to pass you on the left side.

Not in the mood for an accident I waited for a real turnaround opportunity and that took me all the way into Cancun, getting really lost at night.  I turned around just to find out I was going the wrong way again when I started seeing the airport.  That's it!  I had to make an illegal U-turn right in front of the police, but they couldn't have cared any less. 

We did eventually make it back - happy at the sight of the Moon Palace sign, worn out and tired from an awesome day!

PS: We learned from the experience and on our next trip got gas in Puerto Morelos which is about 30km from the Moon Palace.  We did not need to fill up again by the time we were back. 

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