We got home last night. I'd typed a whole post from the hotel room yesterday morning but it got lost somewhere in the ether between Playa del Carmen and Fort Worth. So instead of typing with my feet up and mimosa in hand on the pool patio while the kids all take one last swim and James returns from a sunrise swim in the ocean with a group of Mexican masters swimmers (he always finds his tribe), I'm typing it at my kitchen table wearing all my fleece and drinking my favorite hot tea. It's not a terrible trade- I can't wait to start decorating the house for Christmas later today, but living the all-inclusive life in paradise was certainly lovely while it lasted.
When we last left off, we were in bed early (well, four of us were; I'm a night owl in all locations) to catch a 7:40 a.m. bus for our offsite excursion to Xcaret. Every Paradisus resort employee we spoke to about excursions all said "Oh go to Xcaret. You'll love it." And they were exactly right.
A 200 acre "eco-theme park," it has miles of underground rivers and caves, stunningly beautiful landscapes, Mayan ruins, tons animal sanctuaries and exhibits, aquariums, a thriving sea turtle farm, a bunch of restaurants, and also, just for something extra, a gorgeous expanse of beach with natural ocean pools and great snorkeling. It's insane. It's absolute touristy, but it gets its tourism naturally- the underground rivers, the beach, the pools, the ruins- they were all there. Xcaret just made a bunch of well manicured paths to connect everything, added a slightly incomprehensible map, and several successful animal breeding programs.
And, like the best of tourism, what they've added is actually helpful. Like, when you go to swim the underground rivers, you lock your belongings in a locker and then take your towels and shoes (and a change of clothes, if you knew what you were doing as we did not) and place them in a waterproof bag that they lock up, and then they give you the key and transport the bag to the end of the river, so when you exit at the other end of the park you can dry off and warm up! You also get fins and a life jacket and before you know if, you've walked to the beautiful pool with a river through a ravine and you know this is going to be amazing.
Unfortunately the day we arrived was chilly- in the 60's in the morning, and then it started pouring rain when we arrived. I put on a good face, but honestly, I was thinking of how lovely it would be to be sitting on my dry pool patio with a pot of tea. I hate cold water and all I could think was how cold the river was going to be and how miserable it was going to be to get in - and then how miserable it would be to get out. But since it was already pouring, we figured we might as well get wet on purpose and off to the rivers we went.
And so we did. And it was amazing.
Truly so. And because it was so chilly outside, the water felt almost warm.
It was like being in the Ozarks of Mexico, but all the caves are full of water and you swim through them instead of hike. Long stretches are almost completely pitch black and then you pop out to another lush, green, waterfall-filled oasis before swimming through another cave again.
There are openings in the roofs of the caves and warm natural springs that feed the rivers in surprising and very welcome hot spots throughout.
The kids loved it. It's so easy to forget Cora just turned 3- she's so brave and up for anything. She cheerfully held on to James's back like a little baby turtle and seemed to genuinely love every minute.
Later in the day when we asked the kids if they wanted to do another river, they jumped at the chance, and we got take another stunning tour through the underwater limestone caves and lush rivers banks. It's an extraordinary place, even without anything else.
But there is more. We swam in ocean pools, enjoyed a delicious Mexican buffet, and held a bright red macaw, among so much more.
The sea turtle farm tanks were a favorite - huge and elegant giant sea turtles swam through rivers that ran along the paths. The green sea turtles are in tanks by age, including 40-day old hatchlings and teenagers (in turtle years anyway) soon to be returned to the sea.
There were stingrays, a wonderful aquarium, and even a jellyfish tank- which, though I've been stung a number of times, I find so beautiful in their otherworldliness.
After our second swim, when we'd changed back into our still-damp clothes, it really started pouring. We were across the park and figured we might as well keep going since the first bus didn't come until 4:30 and it was only 2. We were quickly soaked to the bone, but despite it all, when we climbed onto the bus at 4:30 p.m., 8 hours after arriving at the park, after swimming more than a mile of river and walking many miles more without a stroller, umbrella, or nearly enough clothes, Cora announced "I do this again TOMORROW." The kids are such troopers and so very fun to travel with. We take them totally for granted, but we also take them on pretty fantastic trips because of it, so I think we're even.
We spent the last day of our trip frolicking in the beach, the pool, and then the beach again. Despite the awesome activities we never ended up using the kids' camp. The kids were too good and James too willing to freeze his arse off playing with them in the water.
I helped by drinking mojitos and taking pictures from the dry patio or beach chair. Unless you're taking me through an extraordinary underground river, I've fully retired from swimming in cold water.
This was the deepest I went in and it was freezing.
The kids never seemed to mind one bit.
After our date night we picked up the kids early because we wanted to get dessert with them. When I got my little party animal, she rested her cheek on my shoulder and sighed. "Do you want to get dessert?" I asked. "No, I got night night now," she replied. So I got my gelato in a cone to go and back to the room we went. No one vacations harder than Cora.
On our last night, we took one more walk on the beach. I can't believe I'd never been to Mexico, having lived so close to it for so long. Playa del Carmen was just gorgeous and very chill and family friendly. The downtown was vibrant, but small, and we couldn't even see another resort from our own.
Our travels home went as smoothly as 10 hours of traveling can go. Our private shuttle was on time and efficient, both planes left on time, customs was pretty quick, and all our baggage made it to our final destination, but it was still a long day. As we pulled into our driveway about 7:30 p.m., Cora saw our house and cried out, "But where is my NEW house?!"
Poor thing, Fort Worth was a bit of a comedown after all the time on "her" beach and "her" pool. Other than occasionally asking about her big girl bike, she had fully adopted our hotel room as her own, stubbornly insisting all the way through packing the night before "but THIS is my house." And for a few days, it was a lovely one! But after sleeping in until 10:15 this morning and waking up surrounded by Christmas lights and Christmas books she forgot we had, her old house doesn't seem too bad.
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