We are now in Tulum. The end of our stay in Palenque passed rather uneventfully, and after our last day we opted to take the overnight bus directly to Tulum rather than staying an extra night. Our hostel in Tulum is a bizarre affair. It's a plot of land with three rooms and a semi-outdoor kitchen. The owners live elsewhere and merely dropped us off. We found ourselves the only residents in the strange hostel and bizarrely the entire area of town seems to be a work in progress, with not more than two of the buildings actually looking completed. We passed another uneventful day, walking the dusty road into town for lunch and browsing the seriously overpriced gift shops.
The one good thing we did find at our hostel was a leaflet for Xel-Ha, a place that certainly hadn't been on our itinery until we saw it. Feeling we deserved a holiday from our, uh, holiday, after the pleasant heat and fun tropical diseases of Palenque we got a taxi to the resort.
Xel-Ha was another Mayan City, again it's exact founding date remains a mystery but it is believed to have been occupied by the 1st century CE. It
is situated on an inlet of the Maya Riviera and according to legend was created by the Mayan deities as a paradise. In modern times it has become a beautiful natural theme park. While still retaining its natural beauty and preserving the ecosystem of the area it is also a fun place to enjoy the wildlife and experience various water-based activities.
As soon as we arrived we reaised we were no longer in Mexico. Theme parks have that feel where local culture is put to one side or packaged up and presented in shallow minded tourist packages. Local language bows out and American English is acceptable everywhere, as is the dollar. While usually I would abhor this I have to admit it was a lot of harmless fun and very relaxing for a couple of worn out travellers. The first thing we saw on entering was the 'swimming with dolphins' area. Watching the dolphins interact with the few people in the pool was amazing and giving in to temptation I went to find out more information. I soon discovered what was happening in the pools was advertising (well I should have known the average visitor didn't wear that much waterproof
make up and have a couple of photographers chasing after them!) Still swimming with dolphins would be an amazing experience so I asked to learn more. I took a deep breath at the price and argued with myself that it was still a once in a life time experience and surely must be worth it. Then they told me the DVD was extra... and then the photos were US$25 each! Realising that at a minumum we would be spending $300 per person we decided to explore the rest of the park and discover what there was. We found ourselves lockers and then went to show our wristbands at the snorkling equipment hut. Carrying flippers and snorkling masks and tubes we found the first snorkling spot. Life jackets were conviently hung beside rows of deck chairs. Kitting up we slowly eased ourselves into the cold water which after five minutes seemed perfectly warm. We soon got the hang of snorkling, although my failing was forcing my head lower to catch a better glimpse of some bright fish only to find my breathing tube was suddenly full of water!
The area is beautiful. We leisurely swam around the rocks and watched the
fish in the clear water. When we tired of swimming we moved on. We walked to the far end of the park where a large floating bridge seperates the park from the open sea. Crossing the bridge wasn't particulary easy and I was certainly glad to be wearing a swimming costume as the water sloshed up onto the bridge and sea spray showered us from time to time.
Across the bridge we discovered the pretty 'hidden beach', a secluded white sand beach with hammocks strung between the palms. From there we follwed the trail onwards, took another dip and chased a few more fish about and then found a walking route around the centoes.
We decided to float back to the front of the park. A good system was set up where we dumped off our bags which would be taken for us and be available for collection when we arrived. We sat in giant inflated doughnuts and proceeded to drift with the current. I thought the current would be a little stronger and it was soon apparent it would take us a long time to get back to the front. Eventually I slipped out and towed the dougnut back
to shore. After my exertions I was ready for lunch. Food was included in the price and showing our wristbands we could just walk in, order whatever drinks we wanted and help ourselves to the extensive buffet. For once being vegetarian inMexico wasn't a problem and I had a huge variety to choose from and even tucked into a grilled cactus bake. After eating more than we should and getting more excited than the kids over being able to fill our own ice cream cones from the machine we decided to return to the hidden beach for some serious relaxing. We wandered across the floating bridge and somehow I managed to be standing over a hole as a wave hit. A jet of water shot straight up and soaked me while my fellow bridge walkers all laughed as I stood looking quite stunned by the unexpected attack!
I soon dried off, swinging in a hammock, enjoying the sun and the sound of the waves. Walking back we took a last swim before returning our snorkling gear and heading off to find a taxi. It's been a wonderfully fun and relaxing day. Tomorrow, it's back to business.. well ruins anyway.
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