Family, travel, drums and watches. Marla and I have been traveling together for over 40 years. I love going somewhere new experiencing that wonderful feeling of the unknown, getting uncomfortable and having an adventure.
As Anthony Bourdain said, “… travel leaves a mark on you and you leave a mark on it…”
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 25, 2021
Like stupid gringos we didn’t pack or even carry a water bottle and hiked to Xcaret. We walked along the man made river and 10 minutes later we were in the park. We walked around getting the lay of the jungle after reviewing the map at least a dozen times.
The walk ways cut through the jungle so you can’t see the area without a drone and we didn’t have that, or water. We could buy water you say? We would need money for that and well we were traveling light and idiotic. The humidity and the heat added to it but we walked around, did a river boat trip, saw some mariachis, a horse show and got our steps in. The Apple Watch said we walked 6 miles on this day including our morning walk about and swim (ocean and pool).
We got back at the magic hour of 5:00 where the restaurants opened at 6:00 requiring a dress code. We hydrated got suited and booted before heading back to La Hacienda restaurant which we were looking forward to. Of course La Hacienda was closed on this night so we hit the buffet where it was Caribbean night and had two servings of wonderful jerk chicken. A dessert knocked us out for the night.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 26, 2021
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.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 28, 2021
After a nap and recharging our spirits we walked to Xcaret park. This time we headed towards the bird aviary and it was fantastico! Muey buen!
They really put a lot of thought into the layout and design of the park with all the twisty curvy walkways , bridges and tunnels incorporating the historic ruins with the ecological preserve.
The butterfly enclosure was underwhelming but damn the puma and jaguar exhibits were great. Imagine two giant islands separated by a moat and waterfall for these regal beasts. There was a suspension bridge transversing the islands over the waterfalls for some added thrills that had that disconcerting sway and bob. Again, Mexico’s Fk you to lawyers and any lawsuits for accidental yet gruesome deaths.
There are some underground walks that lead to the underground rivers…..
….. and a cemetery (more like a hill with graves on it.) Big Brother Apple Watch said we racked up just under 8 miles on this day. Our feet showed it with bandaids, the blister preventing product Compeed and I lost a toenail, nice.
We had dinner at the Mediterranean restaurant, Los Olivos , having salmon and eggplant parmigiana which were excellent. We promised to take it easy the next day and maybe scale back our plans to go to the Xcaret Xplorer park for zip lining and riding ATVs through the jungle.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 29, 2021
Today was our easy day and we decided to go snorkeling at the hotel’s beach and not do the walk to Xcaret park. We found a couple of lounge chairs in the shade and set up camp. We put on the snorkel gear and snorkeled around the cove for about 30 minutes before relaxing in the shade.
Within minutes the shade from the palm tree shifted leaving Marla out in the intense sun so we shifted over a chair to the left, and then the shade moved again. So rather than having me hold up a palm fond for my dear wife, which I would have gladly done, we moved again up to a another level on the beach and with a partial view of the cove but it had more shade.
I continued reading one of Anthony Bourdain’s first novels before Kitchen Confidential came out and made him a star. The book has some behind the scene kitchen drama mixed with a mob murder. Good fun and good dialogue. Bourdain encouraged people to get out and travel, let it leave a mark on you, embrace teetering on the edge of the unknown and his travel shows were aptly named Parts Unknown and No Reservations.
I recently saw a photo of Bourdain riding a tandem bicycle with one of his best friends and fellow chef, Eric Ripert, while they were filming an episode for his show in France. He looked happy however took his life two days later. He has inspired many, including us, to travel, and eat, with no reservations.
It was lunch time so we headed back to our favorite lunch spot at the hotel a buffet over looking a pool on top of a waterfall that hides a swim up bar.
The waiter knew our drink order of two Diet Pepsi’s and two waters, the place is quiet without the ambient loud bistro noise of the main buffet and most importantly the WiFi is good. This buffet overlooks the adult pool so there the occasional DJ playing house music and organizing exercises or water games, but that is usually earlier in the day.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico May 30, 2021
We walked to Xcaret park with our eyes on the underground river before the crowds hit. We were there at 9:00, bagged our belongings that get transferred to the end of the river, put on our river shoes, a life vest and jumped in.
The water was cool but we got used to it quickly as we doggy paddled onward. Soon we realized it was best to float on our backs and let the buoyancy of our river shoes float to the top and then do a breaststroke paddle. The river has a slight current to it and has a big fat rope on the right so you can pull yourself along which came in handy to pass the slower and /or annoying people who were narrating their adventure. Put the selfie sticks down and enjoy the moment people.
The river is mostly underground consisting of five sections from 200-300 yards to 600 yards at a stretch. You can bail out after each section if you wanted but would still have to walk to the end to get your bag of belongings.
The underground rivers are dark dimly lit and not for those with claustrophobia or fear of piranha.
It was nice and quiet for the most part this early in the morning but as we were walking back we could see the floating flock of humanity building up.
To our surprise at the end of the river we noticed people emerging from two other tributaries. When we first headed into the cave there were three choices of tunnels to take and we took the middle one but we did not noticed any signs… Mexico.
We highly recommend this adventure, relax, float and go with the flow.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico June 1, 2021
Within Xcaret park there is an outdoor museum for 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.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico June 3, 2021
Today we slept in, all the way until 7:00AM which was 5:00 AM California time. Breakfast at the Steak House was nice and quiet getting us fueled up for hitting the river at Xcaret park. The walk wasn’t bad today the start of my blister had faded enough to walk normally, yippee, but I did start to lose a toe nail on the other foot. Bad feet suck and Marla had the foot issue today from walking in her wet river shoes. As I write this at lunch we have walked 4 miles according to Big Brother Apple.
We picked a different river today to float and had the whole routine down like pros. The float trip takes about 45 min and snaked us around and under the park. We took advantage of the many photo ops from the cameras triggered by scanning our wrist bands.
The end of the river put us next to a beautiful beach where we dried out before slogging back to the hotel.
Lot’s of walking here, like a nerd I measured 200 paces or 200 yards from the lobby to our room. From the lobby to ticket booth is 400-500 years, from the ticket booth to the heart of the park is probably another 400 yards. I wore my best running shoes and changed into river shoes once at the park or pool. I also slipped in an additional insole for comfort into the river shoes. You will get your steps in.
Marla tried to to get some bandaids for her feet and they were suppose to deliver them to the room, but it had to be from a security person for liability reasons. Liability in Mexico? It’s counter intuitive. A Mexican liability lawyer? What’s that?
There are so many things here that the lawyers in our culture would never let happen in the states. Just walking around the resort there are uneven stairs, stairs made of rock in a do-it-yourself fashion, wild animals and all kinds of fun stuff that us Americanos would never see state side. If you trip in Mexico it’s your own fault not the stairs, don’t do it again, watch where you are walking ya idiot and don’t be a cry baby. We saw just one security person in the river, one, you are on your own and don’t be a cry baby.
Lunch for the third day in a row was at the Pool Buffet and had the same thing a vegetarian patty with onions, tomatoes and chips with guacamole and pico de Gallo. Our Diet Pepsi habit has increased and we promise to go straight after returning home, but it’s Mexico don’t be a cry baby.
Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico June 4, 2021
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 meandering 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.
So as we were waiting for a fellow floater (a floater is also known as 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?
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.