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Mexico - The Mother of all Akumal Trip Reports, Part II

Author: Entilzha (More Trip Reviews by Entilzha)
Date of Trip: March 2005

When I got back, my wife was undergoing shopping withdrawal (after all, it's been six days). It took some effort, but I convinced her that Playa Del Carmen would be too much for only an evening -- maybe Puerto Adventura (almost next door) would do the trick. Telling my daughter that there were dolphins there got us the necessary majority vote (a cheap shot, I admit). We were all set up and ready to go when there was a knock on the door. Elio's wife told us that a turtle's nest was hatching. Louis and Claudia bolted out the door, and both were gone in an instant. We followed them to a small gathering, and indeed, in one of the turtle nests, one little head was peeking out. A second one came, then a third, and within half an hour, about nine or ten small turtles were visible in the sand. We knew from the record that 87 eggs were in there. Nothing happened for a another half-hour, but we all knew we were in for the treat of a lifetime. We weren't the only ones waiting, as a couple of vultures and a frigate flew lazily above. If any of them had the nerve to come down, they would not make it out alive. Elio and his wife gave instructions to everyone on how to behave. No flash photography. Nobody in the water. Wash your hands in the sea and sand before picking and helping any baby. Two adult turtles were visible 10 to 15 feet out in the sea, as if they were also waiting for the babies to come out. Suddenly, it was just like popcorn. Within a few seconds, over 40 to 50 babies popped out of the sand and raced to the sea. We had prepared a corridor, and all the children put the stragglers back in the right track. It was absolutely mesmerizing. Once they had safely reached the sea, Elio gently began to scoop out the sand. The remaining brood were helped out of the nest and sent on the way to safety. Out of 87 eggs, there were four duds--one dead turtle and one baby with a paralyzed flipper. That one was kept in a bucket to see if it would regain control of its flipper and released at night, so its chances of survival would be greater.

By the time it was all finished, it was 7:30 pm, and we were all famished. Plan B became dinner at the Turtle Bay Cafe. When we sat down, the mosquitoes immediately started to have their own dinner on my wife's legs, but the staff thankfully had some bug spray available. They have a very interesting and original children's menu, which is rare and was much appreciated. My wife had the pork chops (much better than La Buena Vida), and I had the very delicious fish tacos.

Day 7
In contrast to the previous post, not much happened today. The clouds were gathering when we got up, and we were just not in a Speedy Gonzales mood. We thought of swimming Xcacel and doing the groceries, but a big thunderstorm scratched the first part of that plan. We ended up shopping in the Tulum shops and doing our groceries in San Franscisco. The rain finally stopped in mid-afternoon, and we just had time for one dive each in HMB. Not the best, since visibility was poor, and the waves were beating us up. Still, I managed to spot a couple of new species. After dinner at the penthouse, we got to the Lol Ha to play cards and have a margarita. I think I'll skip Lol Ha's margaritas the next time. They are very small, yet very strong--not the best combination. Also, I like my margaritas with crushed ice, not blocks. I have to figure out how to ask about it in spanish.

By the way, I did spend part of this rainy morning doing a video montage on yesterday's main event.

The was a huge storm that night with lightning, thunder, and wind like I have never seen. I was in the DR last year when tropical storm Claudette went above, and she didn't even come close. At one point, the wind picked up the patio table and slammed it on the lights of the ceiling. The power went out, and all we had was lightning to figure out where did we put the candles.

Day 8
The morning of the day after the storm was still pretty overcast, even a little chilly. A tree by the condo had fallen across the street, and the only thing keeping it from falling all across was the electrical wire 8-0. We felt that since the day was cool and that it was a Saturday, the day most of the tourists come and go, it might be a good idea to hit Xcaret. I always assumed Xcaret was sort of like a Mayan Disneyland. The moment I pulled in, I knew I had assumed incorrectly. The parking is actually quite well-designed, with lots of trees for shade. At Disney, it would just be a huge slab of asphalt. We got in at 9am and were only the 10th car coming in. The landscaping of this place is just fabulous--the best I have ever seen in a theme park. Lots and lots of tropical vegetation filled with trails and surprises. The iguanas were also as abundant as squirrels in Central Park. As the clouds were still present in the morning, we started by doing some exploring. We had fun in the ruins, visited the Mayan village and the butterfly house (nice design, but not enough species). When the sun got out, we hit the beach, and I took a tube, put my daughter on my lap, and paddled to the screen across the lagoon where you get very close to the dolphins. There were a lot of little fish in the lagoon, and when a bigger one wanted to have lunch, they would all start to jump out of the water (very cool). Our favorite activity on that day was the underground river. I almost had to twist one of my wife's arms off before she agreed to go and almost backed out when she dipped her toe into that (almost freezing) water. In the end, she was the one who had the most fun, since she is an excellent swimmer with an incredible leg stroke. That river is long, and it's a long swim... but still a lot of fun.

We had chosen to have dinner at the night show. The tables are very well-designed and positioned. The food was good, but a better-designed children's menu would have been appreciated. They don't appreciate peppered chicken with Caesar salad that much. The first act of the show (the Mayan part) was just spectacular. It began with the jugo de pelota, where the players try to put a rubber ball through a small stone ring using only their hips. This looked extremely hard, but they accomplished it with a certain elegance. Then it was a hockey game with a flaming rubber ball. That is really something they should do at the NHL, as it would really spice up the game. There were some ceremonials between those with beautiful costumes and animals. Finally, there was a large rendition of the arrival of the Spaniards, the conquest and the rise of the Catholic church. After that, it was string of folkloric songs and dances from the different parts of the country. I should have mentionned that 80% of the people at Xcaret on that day were Mexican, and they were really digging this. They knew the songs; they knew the music; they were having fun and showing it. As for me, my knowledge of Mexican folk music is right up there with Mandarin pottery, so it all began to look and sound the same. The drums from the state of Tabasco were cool, though. After two hours, the mariachi walked in (they're right up there next to street mimes in my book), the kids had their share, and we made our escape to beat the crowd at the exit.

Then, all that was left was the harrowing drive on a Saturday night on a dark Mexican highway. If it's not the drunken tourist swerving at 70 km/h, it was the drunken Mexican 6 inches behind your rear bumper with his high beams on. Sometimes it was a combination of both. Finally, I almost had a head-on collision with a tour bus passing two other tour buses and assuming oncoming traffic would just pee in their pants and swerve madly onto the shoulder (I sure did). We got home and crashed... in our beds, dead tired, but very satisfied by another great day.

Day 9
Well, we have most clearly passed the halfway mark, and we have begun to start counting down. Today was a day of surf and sun. After yesterday's hectic day, we did sleep late (first time ever in here) and took our time to get into gear. Then all we did was walk downstairs to the pool and the bay. I watched the kids play in the pool while my wife snorkeled, and after that, it was my turn... that was our morning. Actually, a lot happened. My wife met a very large elongated silver fish that got pretty close to her. The curiousity was mutual, but when the fish opened up his mouth and she saw all those teeth, she just freaked out... she had just met her first barracuda.

The surf was pretty rough that day. It was sunny, it was hot, and the wind was its usual self, but the waves were the worst I have ever seen here. Maybe it was the tide, or maybe it was a storm offshore. I haven't been here long enough to know. I do know that there was a pretty good riptide, and that hasn't happened before. At one point, when I was following a squadron of four squids, a big wave came and ripped my goggles off. I should have known, because these little babies like to hang out where the action is. By some unknown reflex, I had managed to grab onto my goggles, and that's when the training and experience paid off (don't stand up and crush the coral, put goggles back, hold top, blow air out of your nose). By that time, those little thingies had gone off, and I decided to call it a day.

After lunch, we were wondering what to do when it hit me. What do you do when surf's up? Well, you surf, of course! I knew that 10km to the south was a beach, Xcacel, which was a good turtle nesting ground and which did not have a barrier reef. Off we go with the boogie boards in the trunk. The road to Xcacel is very poorly indicated (actually, the sign is after the road, as I had noticed on a precious trip to Tulum). Also, there were potholes the size of my car. A guard told me in Spanglish that we will have to take all our stuff, he will watch the car and we will tip him on the way back. I already knew about this so all we had were our towels and boards.

And what about those waves. There were really killer, and it's a great thing I did not listen to James when he told me there were no waves at this time of the year and that we should have left the boards at home. We boarded until all our body cavities were completely filled up with sand, and then we started to do a rather lame beach-hopping on the way back. Both the beaches at South Akumal and Jade Bay were not accessible. There was a small path leading to the beach at the northern tip of the road in Jade Bay, but the beach there was very rocky. We stopped at Akumal, but it was packed with locals (it was Sunday), and the water was too blurry to snorkel. We finally decided to get home, as it was already 5:30: time to shower and get a beer.

Day 10
This vacation is really sinking in now, as we are starting to get up later and later. After breakfast, I settled into the hammock and continued my reading on the rise and demise of the Inca empire. My wife and daughter had gone to Akumal for some supplies. When she came back, she had this little smile she has when she makes an executive decision and knows I'll like it. The first thing was that she had registered me for the turtle walk tonight, as there was one place that has become available. The second thing was that she had chartered a fishing boat, and we were leaving within the hour.

It was a small but sturdy boat with four lines. It came at $100 for two and a half hours--a pretty good deal, I think. The boat took a northern turn and soon, we were passing in front of HMB, each of us with a rod and chugging cervezas and agua, as the sun was quite hot. Just before Xaac Cove, something gave a hard thud at my rod, and the line started spinning. I gave it a pull, and I saw this large barracuda jumping out of the water. It was man versus fish, predator versus predator, but I was not letting go. While my wife was watching, another one made way with her bait. I finally reeled in this 3.5-foot barracuda--about the size my wife had encountered yesterday. I inquired if we could eat it and asked about the potential risk of ciguatera. Moises told me that if the fish had put up a lazy fight, it would have been too risky to consume. This one, however, fought really well, so it was good for the casserole.

Nothing happened for another hour, and the kids almost fell asleep on their bunk. I ask Moises for another cerveza when my rod got a pull and went limp--that one got away. Immediately, Anne-Marie screamed that she's got one, and the other rod beside me started spinning. I grabbed it, and both of us were pulling and reeling. We got a two-foot-long barracuda each. We immediately decided to release the both of them, since we already had more than enough fish meat. So in the end, it was two misses and three hits. We got back to Akumal Bay, and I had to go through the usual "fisherman with a big catch" pause for posterity. Moises then filleted the barracuda, put it in my ice box, and off we went.

After lunch, my daughter fell asleep, so I snorkeled HMB with my underwater camera. The conditions were much better than the last two days. Visibility was very good and wave action minimal. I was able to finally get a good shot at a squid and a large pool of blue tangs. Finally, I almost collided with this 2-foot turtle that lazily swam by me for about five minutes before moving on. When Claudia awoke, she wanted to go to the beach, so we went back to Playa Akumal. I snorkeled with her in water one to two feet deep, and a surprising number of fish went by. That included a two-foot barracuda and a cute cofferfish. I did some exploring on my own, and at one spot, there was a large metal plow half buried in the silt, and under it was this 5-foot green moray eel. I think it was the one I saw last week under those concrete blocks.

Dinner was (very) fresh barracuda, and off I was to the CEA turtle walk. It began with an interesting presentation on turtles and their life cycle. One thing I did not know was that turtles spend their first 10 to 15 years in the same bay where they were born. There are currently 22 turtles in Akumal Bay, including a local turtle with only one flipper, which has become a local celebrity. We then walked up the beach to Jade Bay (actually named Bahia Tortuga) without seeing anything. When we reached the hatchery, Ivan (their boss) ran to us and told us that one of the nests was hatching. The staff became very excited and started hugging each other. It was to be the first hatching they would witness, and they kept reminding me how lucky I had been to have witnessed such an event a few days ago. We were not allowed to go to the hatchery, but they brought the 100 babies in a styrofoam box. Ivan got in the water with a flashlight to simulate the moon, and each of us was allowed to take one and put it onto the beach to watch them make their way to their new life. I came to Akumal in the hope that I would be able to witness at least one egg-laying event. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be blessed to witness two hatchings instead.

Day 11
I was planning to skip this report because we were on full farniente/manana mode and nothing. All day I did basically nothing. I got breakfast at Turtle Bay Cafe (which we are totally hooked on), did some snorkeling, read, and took a siesta on the hammock. So as you can see, there was nothing to report. There was neither waves nor wind today. Only a puny little thing blowing from the jungle and bringing even more humidity. The visibility in the bay was crystal-clear, but there was nary a turtle flipper to be seen. Those who know me and those who are still reading this report know that this is totally out of character. So yes, there was a method in my laziness. Another turtle nest was due to hatch, and the sand had started to drop, a sign that the eggs were hatching under one foot of sand. So every hour or so, I would walk on the beach to the nest to see if any little head was poking though. Nada all day long.

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