No Shuttle Required

~ Marla~

Where to stay? Hmmmm?? With our planned escapades at Xcaret park, the decision to stay at Occidental Xcaret was an easy one. The resort is located literally next door …….. so no shuttle required.

The park is easily reached within 5 minutes from the hotel’s lobby to the ticket booth; or where you scan your wrist band and sign the waiver of “We’re NOT RESPONSIBLE if you DIE” form.

We also got an all inclusive deal of $169 a night, which was per room, not per person that fit well into our travelers budget. This however involved scrounging around for discounts and with the $300 airfare felt like we’d just won the lottery.

The Occidental Xcaret is expansive encompassing several Mayan ruins with numerous pathways and with my inferior sense of direction felt lost at times relying on Allan as my GPS.

Also roaming the resort with us were all sorts of mutant like jungle critters we couldn’t identify; along with a domesticated deer, monkeys and iguanas the size of our cat.

Sprawled throughout the property are 765 guest rooms, suites and time shares that are housed in multiple open air buildings. We stayed in building 19 which included its own concierge personnel. The staff were great and very helpful in giving us directions, things to do and information on which restaurants were open.

Our two favorite hombres were Pavel and Geoffrey who we affectionately referred to as the “Jeff’s”. Many a morning we would pop downstairs and say “Hey Jeff”, not knowing which guy we were talking to. These guys were exceptional and to our defense looked identical from behind…. and then throw in the mask thing. Poor guys, they were not only resolute to our incorrect facial recognitions but graciously relished in the private joke.

On the resort there are 11 different restaurants which includes the snack bars. The food was good but not great with the exception of El Pescador, the seafood restaurant. So this wasn’t our foodies paradise. It was also frustrating because not all the restaurants were open on the same day.

Due to the COVID-19 restricted occupancy the resort wasn’t crowded and made it easy to spread out. This was nice when visiting those restaurants and while checking out the 7 swimming pools and private lagoon.

My only real complaint was that it took way too long for check in. Perhaps I complicated things by not initially purchasing the UXX (Unlimited Xcaret Experience) during booking. This pass is a must and allowed us unlimited access to the Xcaret park during our stay. But due to a glitch in the hotels booking system, I was unable to purchase the passes prior to arrival. So instead of paying $199 a piece the price increased to $250 at check in. So when I slapped down that $500 for our park passes I felt a tad cheated and Allan’s face may have turned a bit green.

Parque Xcaret

~ Marla~

What is Xcaret Park? It’s a man made enhanced ecological park incorporating natural features of the land such as underground rivers. The park is dedicated to the preservation of the natural habitat and also a nature preserve of sorts for the rescue of wildlife and native plant species. Or, it’s Disney’s Jungle Cruise on steroids.

Originally the land was a 12 acre parcel of land owned by Miguel Quintana Pali for his personal residence. While clearing his property the owner, who was an architect by trade, discovered remnants of Mayan ruins along with underground rivers and lagoons. After contacting the INAH (Federal Institute of History and Anthropology) the land was found to be situated above an ancient Mayan city. Sr. Pali then decided the area would be better suited for public use and envisioned a venture creating an ecological park with a historical and cultural center.

Construction on Parque Xcaret began in 1984 and opened to the public in December 1990. The park now encompasses approximately 200 acres and is the first in a series of 6 parks between Cancun and Tulum in Quintana Roo.

We had planned on visiting 3 of these parks on our stay in Playa del Carmen, but spent our entire time only at Xcaret Park. Pretty Ironic since recommended time to visit was only around 4 hours. We in turn actually spent days exploring different aspects of this park.

There are maps and colored pathways throughout the park but I found them confusing at first.

The best way to visit the park is to choose the activities or things you want to see and then stay on the colored pathway that best corresponds to your choice.

For example, if you want to visit the aquarium stay on the blue line. If you want to see the aviary stay on the white. Swimming activities your thing?…. stay on the black line and so forth. Remember the park is huge and if you start crisscrossing you’ll end up chasing your tail!

In the beginning we didn’t have a game plan and only had a vague idea of what to do or see. Of course in retrospect we would’ve planned it better. But with each visit we had new discoveries and as the days progressed we got this park down and came to appreciate what a jewel in the jungle this place is.

To the Bat Cave!

~ Allan

You will typically regret the things you didn’t do more than the stupid things you did do. With this in mind we made another trip to Xcaret Park with the goal of doing the third and last underground river.

We got there early, as the Browns do, jumped in using our floating on our backs with our modified half-assed breast stroke technique and off we went. This river was more open cruising through mangroves and natural canyons, it was also the shortest river however still had several underground stretches of a few hundred yards.

And. And. Holy hell, it had blood sucking vampire horror movie bats. We didn’t have a clue, I’m sure it was in the waiver we signed every day upon entry, the one in Spanish and let’s be honest if it was written in English we wouldn’t have read it.

Entrance to Bat Cave from above

So as we were waiting for a fellow floater (a floater sounds like a dead body that has drifted ashore) to enter the cave and she pointed up at the top of the cavern about 20 feet over us and in perfect English said “bats”.

Wha-wha-what? I didn’t see any- holy crap those leafs on the ceiling were bats. Hundreds of, according to Hollywood and Brad Pitt, blood sucking bats hanging upside down. Cool! And here and there a “ leaf” would fall from the ceiling and fly around like a bat.

We floated underneath more in awe than uneasy and a minute later we floated out of danger and down the cave we went.

Can you imagine this in the litigious USA?

Xcaret

Toward the end as the river drifted through the mangroves, we took some more photos by scanning our wrist bands for the Xcaret cameras to memorialize the Brown floaters.

We then searched for the bromeliads ( jungle plants for you fellow hillbillies) and orchids. After consulting the map a few times we gave in and asked for directions. The bromeliads are near the river entrance yet off the beaten path, the trail wanders through the jungle and is thankfully well signed. After a couple minutes the ambient sounds of the park are muted and there were times I was pleased to find the next sign reaffirming our direction. We came upon a small green house with orchids and bromeliads and it was nice yet underwhelming. After some more walking a mad scientist lab appeared showing the propagation of the plants in hundreds of glass bottles. There was no one around as we peered into the lab waiting for Igor to return from procuring Abbey Normal and tap us on the shoulder. It was eerie, were we trespassing?

After some more twists in the path there was THE bromeliad green house, it was huge Marla was in her drum shop heaven, and in her own world.

After taking time to stop and smell the bromeliads we moved on following the signs that lead us out into the main park.

Well done Xcaret! Well done Mexico!

A Mexican Extravaganza!

~ Allan~

The big show at Xcaret is in a huge enclosed arena that we walked by every day to and from the hotel. It has an open air design allowing the breeze to come in like a giant beach palapa, sort of, maybe a photo will help. So after a couple days of walking by we timed one of our adventures to end with the start of the show. The Browns got there about an hour early and found great seat right on “the fifty yard line” with our back up against a walkway and the row in front of us blocked off for social distancing. I had plenty of leg room and oh look… we were right next to a small side stage where the band played.

Before the big show, (for you Boomers The Really Big Show), there were some performers banging on glass bottles. Let me explain: two people playing glass bottles of different colors and sizes hanging from a rack tuned like a xylophone. One would play the higher notes and one the lower notes, and with their back to one end of the area there was another pair playing a duplicate bottle rack.

The two pairs of performers were churning out playful Mexican tunes while the audience was being seated. What my drummer brain noticed was that both groups were totally “N Sync” (a Millennial reference), this is extremely hard to do and note for note no less. It was though you were hearing one instrument being played.

Who cares? Read on about the freaking precision of the show.

This was a 90 minute show and was one of the more professional shows I’ve seen with real talent and without the glitz and show biz of a Las Vegas act.

The band appeared next to us wearing their sumo wrestler Mayan thongs and started banging drums. I was digging the primal rhythms and grooves. My drum brain, or dumb brain, noticed that the patterns were in 6/8 time, or two 3/4 times stuck together, or to dumb it down think of a polka or waltz rhythms- boom dada boom dada as the underlying groove.

Did I lose anyone yet? This factoid comes into play later.

So, the band of drummers started their primal Indian jungle grooving and nets started to arise from the floor on the side and ends of the arena. What? On the fifty yard lines faux stone rings appeared about 8 feet in height with a 2 foot hole. Ah! Remember all those scratchy black and white photos in your history text books of the Aztec and Mayan ball courts well that was about to begin as the players took the court.

What I didn’t know was that no hands and no feet are used to volley what appears to be a rubber dodge ball back and forth within the teams. The players would slide on their knees to knock the ball into play to get it bouncing higher and higher subsequently bouncing the ball off their chest and stomach to get the ball through the stone hoop.

Each team would get 6 tries to score and many of those shots came really close drawing groans from the crowd. The teams exchanged turns about 4-5 times each without a score…and then they were then all decapitated. No, sorry history books.

Throughout the show there were musical acts displaying the styles of the different Mexican states throughout history and they were all wearing masks due to the pandemic, many singers wore clear plastic shields and held their microphones underneath.

There were horses, dancers, mariachis and even a flaming lacrosse ball game played for those with short attention spans. All of these acts were tight, well rehearsed showing an appreciable level of professionalism.

My dumb drum OCD brain also noticed that all the songs were in 6/8 time as I drummed along in my head, after over 50 years of drumming I cannot not notice these things. Also there was no prerecorded music or singing, it was all live.

After the show’s climax and big finale the music dimmed and we were ready to leave. But no one was standing up, no one was moving and there was no farewell announcement. After a few minutes we noticed on the big screen that there were was an act performing in the far corner blocked from our view. A tall wooden pole had been erected and four men had now climbed to the top and started to descend on ropes while it was spinning without safety cables in feats of daring-do. Cool!

And then the big ass finale of performers started with the main singer that I’ll refer to as Freddie Mercury Mariachi Man. This dude could really sing and he had that Freddie Mercury strut to go with it.

Well done Xcaret!

Gluttony

~ Marla~

The breeze was warm and balmy and at only 60% capacity we always got the best tables.

Tonight we overlooked the lagoon with the ocean in the horizon. This was our second time for dinner at El Pescador, the resorts seafood restaurant, and by far our favorite.

The bread arrived immediately and while I procured the menu I slathered those carbs with garlic butter. Then without much thought jammed that delicious bread down my throat.

I had my heart set on Salmon tonight … but what is this? I can have surf and turf! Salmon and steak! Yep! Because this is so expensive I never order this at home, but it’s already paid for with this all inclusive thing. Right? So I’m going for it! Bring it on!

The waiter asks if we would like an appetizer. Well hell yah! What have you got? He begins to talk about the Baby Squid and I say that sounds good while Allan’s not so sure. Well what else you got I asked? We can fix you up with some fish cocktail he says. I say yes that sounds great!

After the waiter left Allan said “Wow did you just order a lot of food?”. Umm did I? Not sure? Then I leaned forward and gave him my little “sad face” and said I was hungry. Actually I lied… I wasn’t.

Hoping against all odds that my over zealousness didn’t equate into some type of glutinous sin, the waiter arrived with my “first” appetizer.

While this little lady admired the presentation of ALL her food, I also started to feel a little melancholy. Without the assistance of some Mayan cocktail I thought about how I hated wasting food and dwelled on the many food insufficient people around the world. I felt very lucky and sad at the same time.

Lost in Translation

~ Marla~

With mandatory testing many of the resorts in Mexico offer free COVID-19 testing…. except at our hotel. So for $20 you can go to Occidental Xcaret’s on site clinic or pay $30 and they’ll come to your room. Of course we choose the cheaper route.

We were a bit anxious about our test today. Not because we weren’t looking forward to having a long q tip swab jammed down our noses. Nope. It was because we weren’t instilled with confidence as we scheduled our appointments through guest services. Not to sound like a “Karen” but really they should have this down by now. Maybe something was lost in translation??

The conversation went something like this: Is this where we schedule our COVID-19 testing? Yes they replied…. long pause… but that other person over there can help you. Please wait, he’s with another guest at the moment. Ok, no problem we said.

I surmised, as I was eavesdropping, that the guest was having issues retrieving his test results. Oh I thought… hmmm that’s not good. Poor unlucky fellow. I wonder when he’s checking out?

Next, this fellow leaves and a beautiful young couple walk up. Can we help you beautiful young couple and please sit down. What???? No! We’re next! Honestly, were we like hideous trolls or something?

So we now sit down and start to schedule our COVID test… I think?? I’m wondering why this guest service guy isn’t pulling out some type calendar to figure out the 72 hour window of testing thing? Right? He asks us what day we are leaving? Good. We reply Wednesday the 2nd. Then he asks us two more times. Ok probably language. That’s ok. Room number? Name? Ok good. So we are scheduled? Yes he replied.

He didn’t volunteer information on where the clinic was or the cost or that they can do it in your room for an additional fee. Although I already knew most of this information we would’ve felt more comfortable if we didn’t have to ask. He did though tell us to bring money and our passports. That was helpful.

Ok so our appointment day arrives. We go to the clinic, scan a bar code, fill out the information and stand in line in a hall that is very warm and humid. A large family before us go in and the door closes. We wait and we wait… Should we knock on the door? As we wait and wait….we start to get all sweaty. Allan now looks like he has COVID but I choose not to tell him that.

Finally the nurse steps out with a clipboard that has all the appointments… and no we are not on it. Our room number is on it with someone else’s name that has been checked off. Ugh!! I quickly glanced over the entire list, huge HIPA violation in the states btw, as I was still in disbelief. The nurse said not to worry. We will take care of you. I’m thinking this maybe this happens all the time??

Once in the clinic the medical team was great and very efficient. We were very appreciative of that. They told us our results would be available within the hour and sent to our email. I asked if us boomers could get a paper copy too? Absolutely after 4:00pm… at guest services. Hmmmm….

Well we did receive our negative results within an hour. Great! Then after 4:00pm we shuffled over to guest services again and yep, you guessed it, they didn’t have a copy and couldn’t find the record. Here’s what you do they said… email us your results and we’ll print them out here. Ok this probably does happen all the time….. it’s Mexico.