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Honeymoon in Cancun – Part 1

Among the many, many issues I spent the summer before our wedding stressing about, not least of which was where Nicole and I should take our honeymoon. The day for our nuptials was in early September so that dropped us into one of the best seasons of the year to travel; the families are back in school, the rates have dropped into low season and the weather has yet to turn – let us use the term – poopy. Where to go? Where to go? Where to go?

This past year we’d finally brought canoes back into the shop at Clavey and I was pretty geeked to put together a trip into Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. But then again, if we’re driving all the way to Idaho to get on the water, we might as well take a raft and get on the Main Salmon. I’d run the Lower Main years before but had never actually gotten on the River of No Return and had kicked myself every time I got an offer to go but couldn’t get away for some silly reason (read: work). Of course Nicole and I had been talking about Tuscany, and with the economic earthquake of the past year, they were practically giving away trips to Italy. But then there’s Catalina. I’d spent eight years sailing the island from my days in L.A. – each trip better than the last. Or we could sail the San Juans and the Gulf Islands in Canada. Or I could drive my car off the Golden Gate Bridge and then I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.

As I was contemplating the speed it would take to break over the side of the bridge, Nicole got a call from one of her bride’s matrons (I know it sounds odd, but she’s married and that’s just good grammar), saying she had a timeshare just south of Cancun we could use if we wanted. I put the keys to the car back on their hook and began looking up flights. To be completely frank, Cancun wasn’t the sort of place I wanted to go back when I was in high school. It wasn’t the sort of place I wanted to go to when I was in college. Heck, it wasn’t the sort of place I even wanted to go to when I was in the navy. I’m no teetotaler and before meeting Nicole (and not one moment after) I had been a fairly strong advocate of scantily clad, inebriated college girls enjoying a ribald time in the sun. But even at that, Cancun just wasn’t for me. Until now obviously.

The wedding went off without a hitch, almost as though we got married every day. Nobody stood up to declare why we shouldn’t get married. Nobody gave an embarrassing drunken toast involving a previous relationship before falling backwards into the cake. Over all it was probably 92% Martha Stewart, 5% Oprah and only 3% Jerry Springer. It was an awesome wedding. And bright and early the next morning we said our goodbyes, packed our bags and flew to Cancun.

Now, it’s my understanding, that there was a time when you could walk up to the service counter of any major airline, show them your wedding band, flash a huge smile, tell them you’re on your way to your honeymoon and they would grab your ticket, give you a wink and tell you they just bumped you up to first class. Well, I’m here to tell you those days are OVER. The look on the woman’s face behind the counter told me she was probably getting ready to end her third marriage and wasn’t about to help anyone who might be starting their first. Never the less, we sneaked a bottle of Nyquil past security and had no problem sleeping away the flight with the rest of the riffraff back in coach. By the time we arrived in Cancun, we were well rested and ready for whatever it was we were about to do, of which we had no idea.

As I was done researching post-wedding vacation spots by the time we committed to Cancun, I had no idea what to expect outside of the muy autentico dining experiences of places like Senor Frogs. I knew there was some diving. And I had a vague idea about some Mayan temples. That was about it. Luckily, we manage to stumble into a pack of feral time share sales people at the airport who were more than happy to give us all sorts of useful information. Oh and by the way, if we’d care to listen to a brief time share spiel, they would shower us with lavish gifts: Dinner, drink, spa treatments, the key to the city, their first born male child, the list goes on and on. Neither Nicole nor I had ever sat through the time share sales pitch before so we were kinda looking forward to it. This would end up being a vacation of many, many firsts.

After dropping off our bags at the resort, we found a Hertz in Playa del Carmen and traded the inconvenience of waiting for a bus in for a new Jeep (ah, the freedom of a vehicle). Now that we were truly unencumbered from immobility, we began our search for the ultimate tacos. Our Hertz guy sent us up the street to a little taqueria where the carne asada was muy el yummo. Satiated with bellies full of beef and beer, we began walking the town hoping maybe to get our gift shopping out of the way early. Just off the main calle we stumbled across a little shop packed with Talavera, the Mexican artisan pottery we had planned to look for for the kitchen. The plates and bowls were exactly what we wanted at the price we wanted, so of course we decided to shop around. Who knows how much time we wasted over the week looking at other Talavera before finally coming back to that little shop at Playa. Eventually we bought so much Talavera that the plane was actually listing to one side on the flight home.

Our second day we went shopping again, this time in Cancun. I don’t remember anything specific that we bought but I can tell you, if you want to watch a Mexican vendor cry because of how he got beat up so bad on his prices that he had to sell one of his kids just to make up for the loss – then you want to go shopping with my wife. It was after the first piece of jewelry that we bought that I remembered how we met – at Clavey. I had somehow forgotten the way she had kicked me to the curb over the price of a kayak she was planning to buy. These poor guys who spent their lives haggling over prices didn’t stand a chance. Whenever she would begin ask about prices, I would step outside. I couldn’t bear to watch. After ten or so minutes, Nicole would step outside smiling, a new piece of silver around her neck or wrist. I would glance back into the store and catch a glimpse of the owner, his hand shaking as he tried to raise a glass of tequila to his lips, his shirtfront soaked from his own tears. After a couple tacos and couple beers we were ready to head back to the resort for the day.

I’m not one to ask for directions, even in a foreign city I’ve never been to. So I looked at the sun, I looked at the ocean and then I proclaimed, with confidence in my voice, “That way!” I put the key in ignition, turned the engine over and ten minutes later we were hopelessly lost in the sketchy barrios of Cancun. Eventually Nicole had had enough and insisted I pull over for directions. Forty minutes later we were back on the highway heading south.

The next morning we put the top down on the jeep and took off for Sian Ka’an, the Biosphere Reserve just south of the Mayan temples at Tulum. We paid our 25 pesos to get into the park, said goodbye to the pavement and made our way towards the estero where we would hop on a boat and head up the river to the freshwater Lagoon of Chunyaxche. Now, based on a knowledge of the Cancun area found only from the MTV Spring Break of my youth, I was surprised to find the surrounding area, which I will call the Yucatan Peninsula, stuffed full of some of the most interesting natural and historical locations I’d ever seen.

The Lagoon of Chunyaxche (please don’t ask me to pronounce it) for example is 9sq miles of fresh water in the middle of the jungle that wells up from these sink holes, called cenotes, that are all over the place. And the river to get to it from the estero? The Mayans dug it out. See how that works? Nature and history coming together to create an awesome wedding gift just for Nicole and me. At the lagoon we drove around for little while looking for manatees, but after going 95% of the way for our honeymoon, I guess nature decided to cheap out on the extras.

On the way back, we stopped in at a little Mayan ruin on the river. My guess is, it was kind of like a starter temple – two really small rooms and some bats for ambiance. Then we jumped in the river and just floated for a couple miles soaking up the warm Mayan sun. After we got good and pruney, we jumped back in the boat, Nicole yelled, “Home James!”, and we were off like a shot, back to the dock at Sian Ka’an. I don’t recall what time we got back to the dock but it must have been fairly early because we had full day still ahead of us. Ariel, our local Mayan guide, had suggested a couple of great spots to hit later, away from the huge tourist resorts. Based on my prior history of driving around Cancun, Nicole suggested we might hire Ariel for the rest of the day if he could escape from Sian Ka’an. They said no problem. He just had to be back at work “manana” – which of course, based on my previous experiences in Mexico, could either mean tomorrow or next year.

It ends up, this wasn’t Ariel’s first day as a guide in the Yucatan. When the tires of the jeep finally hit pavement, we put the hammer down, racing back towards Cancun in an effort to get the most from the day and our guide. Slowing down only for the topes (the most serious speed bumps you’ve ever seen), we made our way to the snorkeling mecca of Akumal. This was the first time I’d ever seen a halocline, which I thought was more likely the result of a chemical spill nearby than the introduction of saltwater to freshwater. It looked like something out of science fiction movie. There you are snorkeling around the beautiful crystal blue waters with your new bride and then, from nowhere, a clear but gelatinous looking cloud appears in the water before you. 24 hours later you’ve become a giant avocado and Mayan zombies take you away to make to make human guacamole for their volcano gods. Actually, we never did turn into avocados but I was a little nervous since no one really seemed capable of explaining to me what we were seeing at the time.

After drying off from the sci-fi fish farm, we jumped back in the jeep and raced back towards Tulum in search of cenotes. Our first stop was Dos Ojos, which at 38 sq miles is one of the largest underwater cave systems in the world. Unfortunately, because of some national holiday, they were closed for the day. This is how Clark Griswold must have felt when he got to Wally World (Mexican businesses shut down for more holidays than any other except the United States Postal Service). They did offer a suggestion for a cenote that probably would be open. Ariel said he knew of it but had never been there so we gave it the old college try. If you were looking for suggestions on cenotes to dive on, this probably wouldn’t be my first suggestions.

And in part two of this exciting story, you’ll discovery why.

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