Friday 15thFebruary: The good ship SS Norwegian Star docked at Cozumel early in the morning but we didn’t leave the ship until 12.30 pm…….. another excuse to load up on the excellent onboard food. When we did disembark we only had to walk 200 yards to our ferry to the mainland which then took 40 minutes to get to Playa del Carmen, the town close to our hotel. The Virgin Holidays organisation was super efficient for the entire transfer from ship to hotel and when we got back to the Occidental Grand Flamenco we found that our request for a room with a sea view had been fulfilled and our new room a big improvement on the previous one. Then it was back to our familiar routine of strolling down to the beach for a lounge in the sun before getting ready for another sumptuous dinner. These all inclusive holidays play havoc with the waistline.
Saturday 16th February: A Great Day: We didn’t actually do anything but it was a great day nevertheless because it was my father’s 102nd birthday. I felt rather guilty as it was the first birthday of his that I’ve missed for 10 years but the holiday dates meant missing it this year. I telephoned the nursing home where he now lives, and where the excellent staff there take wonderfully good care of him, and was assured that he was well and enjoying his birthday cake.
Sunday 17th February: Xcaret Park. This park is right next door to our hotel, the hotel even has private access, and our holiday package included a free entry each to the park. We had been assured by other hotel guests who had visited the park that it was a good experience so after breakfast we obtained our passes and went into the park. It’s part zoo, part aquarium (including swimming with dolphins and petting sharks), part beach resort, part archaeological site museum and cultural centre. We started off with a spin up a rotating viewing platform about 120 feet high to look down on the park: our hotel and the surrounding countryside. Then a ride along one of the sunken/underground rivers that are a feature of this part of Mexico. Then a look at the aquarium, and nurse sharks being stroked by visitors who sat in the pool with the sharks. Then a manatee encounter: they are BIG, about 8/9 feet long and very large around the waistline. Then a look at a cougar and a jaguar (a magnificent animal and sacred to the Maya). Then back along the connecting path to our hotel for a leisurely lunch and back to the Park in time for a demonstration of horsemanship; before finishing off with a two hour show featuring aspects of the very vibrant and colourful history of Mexico showing how the various cultures featured in the history of this country. All good stuff.
Monday 18th February: Chichen Itza, Cenote Ik Kil, Valladolid
Definitely the highlight of the holiday as Jane and I have always had a wish to see this ancient Maya site. It involved an early start as Chichen Itza is about 2.5 hours from our hotel. The Virgin Holidays rep at the hotel had organised the trip for us and, as expected, it all went very efficiently and smoothly. We were in a minibus with 11 other Brits from another hotel and the journey was quite comfortable along flat empty roads through the jungle (more scrub than rainforest). We stopped first at a craft centre for a “comfort break” and a chance to buy some local handicrafts. Jane bought a couple of very colourful table clothes hand woven from a mix of cotton and the fibres of a local cactus (the same one that also produces tequila). Then on to Chichen Itza (pronounced as three words Chi Chen Itza). Although we arrived there at 11 am the site was already crowded with tourists but it’s very large and the buildings are quite spread out so the crowds weren’t a problem. We were taken to various sites including the very impressive and iconic Pyramid of Kukulkan over 80 feet high and built of limestone blocks formed using obsidian tools (iron and copper were unknown to the Maya). After a very interesting 90 minutes being shown around the site by our expert guide Willy, we had an hour to ourselves for further sightseeing and browsing the many souvenir stalls around the site. Then it was back to our bus and off to lunch at a restaurant built to resemble a hacienda. Then we headed for the Cenote Ik Kil and a swim for those brave enough to jump into the cold water. A cenote (pronounced sin-oteh) is an underground pool whose roof has collapsed into the pool. These are a common feature of the Yucatan which is virtually entirely flat limestone with all the rivers flowing underground. This cenote, Ik Kil, is very spectacular with the surface of the pool some 90 feet below ground level and with circular opening to the sky. Jane was the only one of our party brave enough to swim in the cenote and reported that it was a great experience. Our last stop was the Spanish colonial era town of Valldolid
Which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment for me. I’d been expecting a sleepy town with beautiful white and pastel houses around a gracious shaded square. The shaded square was there but it was surrounded by busy roads and rather shabby buildings: although the church was very pretty. After just 20 minutes (quite enough) it was back to the bus for the return drive to our hotel. We arrived back at 7.15 with plenty of time to clean up and get ready for a final Mexican meal at the Hotels’s Hacienda Restaurant (one of 6 eating places in the hotel).
Back home tomorrow. Let’s hope the return journey is as good as the outward journey. So it’s “Adios amigos. Viva Mexico! Yucatan!” El Gringo Jenks