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Three perfect days (and a tarantula)

August 31, 2018

Sunday was an off day for me, excursion-wise. Which meant I had to try to be, just be, in the luxury. Not a natural state for me.

No yoga on Sundays, but there was 10am stretching class with Victor, one of the very enthusiastic entertainment crew. The class, which was mostly conducted in Spanish, since I was the only English speaker there, was great. I felt pulled in all the right ways and my back felt better than it had in weeks until – pop. I felt it go. Something happened in my left hip flexor that I’d never felt before. It’s better now, 5 days hence, but I still can’t lift my knee higher than my waist (something I could do a week ago). I don’t think it was anything Victor instructed us to do, I think it just happened and I need to deal with it. I finally made an appointment with my doctor to figure out what’s happening to me, but I hear you universe – I need to stretch more.

An hour break to try to figure out what had happened, and I was in the water aerobics class. Old lady exercise felt right, and was a blast as Victor was joined by Anna, one long beautiful muscle, and Ricky a turbaned sunglassed ball of flamboyant energy. at check out we were asked to name our favorite staffer and I can’t imagine anyone didn’t name Ricky. It was a blast.

I spent the rest of the day writing on the beach. It was what I had come to do and there I was doing it. I was starting to believe in the magic of Tulum.

On Monday I was picked up after breakfast to visit a fabled cenote. Cenotes only exist in the Yucatan and are underground freshwater pools connected by an underground series of rivers. They  are generally found when someone steps into a sinkhole. There is a Cenote Segrada at Chichen Itza (the final resting place of many Mayans as well as, spoiler alert, Sully in Against All Odds, a film I have loved since the 80s). Chino, our guide was a shaggy haired millennial hippy who would have fit in as a guide for fishing in Alaska or canoeing in Colorado or just about any other water sport anywhere. He was energetic and happy and his energy was infectious. We first went to a fish filled lagoon to snorkel. Chino was frustrated by the many tour groups disturbing the water with flippers – he has a strict no flipper rule – but eagerly told us about the many varieties of native fish. Then he sent us into a dark corner saying “I won’t spoil it for you,” as we swam over a giant eel which wriggled behind some rocks.

Next up, the cenote. There are hundreds in this area and the one we visited was on private property on land next to, we were told, properties owned by Laura Bush and Nicholas Cage (side note – where doesn’t Nicolas Cage own land?) We drove deeply into the jungle til we came upon a clearing with a ladder reaching down into the ground. We climbed down the mineshaft like opening and waited as our eyes adjusted to the dark. Chino told us about the stalactites and stalagmites that grew tows each other over millennia. “Do not touch them,” he insisted. “You will kill them with your touch.” and we jumped in the chilly water. Chilly for Mexicans anyway. For New Englanders it was rather temperate. The caves were dark and silent, with stunning rock formations, one of which I’m pretty sure I killed as I turned too quickly and had to steady myself on the most stable thing I could find.  I was advised to swim in any cenote I could find and I would echo that advice to anyone headed to the area. It was magical.

Back to the hotel for lunch and beach time and by mid-afternoon, I decided it was time to try the temazcal, the Mayan sweat lodge, which had a shaman come in to lead ceremonies every other day. Turns out, you can’t just wander over and be welcomed in. You need to reserve in advance and be accepted in. Not a great lover of saunas or middle aged men in loin clothes and feathers, as the shaman was, I figured temazcals weren’t for me. Still I signed up for the one on Wednesday, thinking it would be 50/50 if I showed up. And with that zumba with Ricky and Victor it was. I’m very uncoordinate, but good golly zumba is fun.

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Coba. Coba is a Mayan ruin deep in the jungle. There is a little town of Coba, and then you get to the site, which requires a long walk through the jungle to a row of pedi-cab, “Mayan limousines” our guide told us. We rode a couple kilometers and then had to walk through the jungle to get to the temple. “STOP” someone said as we made our way over roots and rocks. I froze and followed his finger and just to the right of my right foot was a tarantula, the SAME SIZE as my foot. The gigantic spider was making its way through the jungle and showed little interest in us, so we walked around it (way around it) and kept going. The pyramid at coda is 120 uneven stone steps high. It was important to the Mayans to rise above the tree line. I took a deep breath and, a little concerned that I couldn’t take large steps with my left leg, started up the staircase. It was grueling, but only took about 10 minutes to get to the top. From their the view was both amazing and kind of dull. It was tree tops as far as the eye could see. There was a dog in a little cage up top. No idea how that happened, but we all took pictures. I held tightly on to the guide rope on the way down and did some of it on my bottom. Down is always scarier then up, but especially in this case, when you could see the long fall ahead if you missed a step.  I love an ancient temple and I’ve seen a lot of them – Machu Picchu, Ankor Wat, Taj Mahal, the Vatican – but I’m thrilled to add the Mayan temples to the list. One of these days I’ll get to Egypt.

That night, I ate at the hibachi table in the restaurant. It was just three of us, two women from the Mexican town of Merida, and aunt and her niece, and me. We delighted as the chef put on a full show tossing shrimps, onion volcanos and all. The niece told me that she was the mom of a 10 year old with autism and her aunt had offered to take her on a much needed break. It was the first time in 10 years she’d been away from her son. She cried as she told me the story and it was clear how much she both loved him and needed this break. Her aunt was about my age and unmarried, which, according to Esperanza, the niece, was the shame of the family, but Patty, the aunt, said not in this life would she marry. I loved them.

Tulum is magic.

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