Tuesday, July 17, 2007


The Good

1. Chichen Itza and Tulum: We had a personal tour guide for these two Mayan ruins. Helaman was recommended to us by friends and we loved every minute of our long day with him. No taking kids on a big tour bus--we traveled in a 15-person van that let everybody sit where nobody else could touch them. Helaman has been a tour guide for more than 20 years and he made the sites much more interesting than they might have been. Okay, he couldn't do anything about the heat (and really, what were those ancient Maya thinking building in a steaming hot jungle?) But his stories were fascinating, his sense of history and culture was impeccable, and he had lots of fun with the kids. After Chichen Itza, we lunched at a wonderful buffet restaurant (you'd never have suspected the beautiful courtyard and restaurant from the building's facade) and then it was off to Tulum. This was a Mayan port, protected by a coral reef. There was only one way in and out of the reef, and apparently the Maya watched the Spanish and Portugese wreck ship after ship on it for more than twenty years. Tulum definitely wins for best setting of ancient ruins--not quite so claustrophobic as the jungle.

2. Hilton Iguana Club: My two youngest adored this for-kids-only program. They spent two full days learning to golf and touring the hotel (including the presidential suite) and doing a treasure hunt and playing with water balloons and painting shirts and gathering sea shells to make a picture frame . . . we'd only planned to put them in for one day, but they had so much fun they insisted on going back. (Honestly, it was their idea. It had nothing at all to do with the fact that with them safely looked after I could spend hours lying by the pool reading without interruption.)

3. Dolphins: We swam with the dolphins while the youngest watched and my husband took pictures. It was spectacular. I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoyed it. We were in a group of six, me and my three kids and two teenage girls, and we got to spend time with the dolphins swimming around us and through our group, petting them and feeling their incredibly smooth skin. We got to feed them and kiss them and do the foot-push (where you lay in a deadman's float and the dolphin pushes at your feet and sends you skimming across the water.) I'm so glad I did it. I'm not much of a get-in-the-water person, but this was one of the highlights of my life.

4. Food and beverages delivered right to your poolside cabana. Need I say more?

5. Eating as a family. This doesn't happen often with my husband's work schedule. We enjoyed each other immensely, from teenager to 1st-grader. Those are the moments for which we go on vacation . . . those memories of laughter and jokes and funny faces that help us get through the day to day stuff of life.

The Bad

1. Xcaret: We wanted to enjoy this ecological park. We really did. It's a cool concept--lots of native flora and fauna, beaches, a reproduction Mayan village, an evening show. But it was just not our day. We did enjoy the underground river, though it took our youngest a while to relax in his life jacket and realize he wasn't in imminent danger of drowning. (I mostly floated on my back through these caverns while he rode on top of my stomach.) But things went rapidly downhill from there. The park is huge and spread out and it was virtually impossible to follow the paths to where you wanted to go. (I think they're like Hogwarts castle, with the constantly-changing staircases.) We missed our first dolphin appointment because there were two dolphin pools (but only one was on the map--apparently you don't need to speak Spanish to get around, you need to be telepathic.) It was miserably hot and humid and there was no way on earth we were going to stick around until late that night when the bus would return. So we took a taxi home and made a vow--Never Break the Sabbath Day Again.

2. Taxis: I'm not sure I really mean for this to be under bad. More under, hmmm, adventurous? Dangerous? Take your life in your hands? Every single taxi we rode in went like this: Driver in driver's seat; dad in front passenger seat with daughter on his lap; two big boys and mom in the back with little boy on mom's lap. No question of seat belts. Some drivers were more adventurous than others. But hey! We're here, aren't we? And frankly, after having been in Kenya last summer, I can confidently state that these were not the most dangerous roads we've been on.

3. Coming home: Always the worst part of a trip. There's the long hours of waiting at airports and flights and wishing you could just apparate wherever you wanted. Then there's laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. And housecleaning. And cooking. And, you know, little things like having to make your own bed. And knowing that the vacation long looked forward to is now in the past.

We'll just have to start planning our next one.

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