The fall presents us with a series of holidays to celebrate and bring family together. From birthdays in August/September, Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November and finally Christmas in December, we have opportunities to celebrate and enjoy time with family and friends.
Our Christmas celebration this year continued our yearly tradition of visiting with Paul’s parents on Christmas Eve followed by a visit to Sue’s mom on Christmas day. As always, the Anderson Christmas celebration provided plentiful provisions and generous gifting. The gals were inundated with gifts from Paul’s parents, brother and three sisters. Hopefully the crew found the gifts given by us as thoughtful and as appreciated as the gifts given to us.
On Christmas, after opening the generous lot of presents left by jolly old St. Nick, we spent the day with Susan’s mom, brother and sister and their families. Once again we were treated to a grand meal and generous gifts. We followed up our gift exchange with a game of Catch Phrase which was uproariously fun.
We also enjoyed a white Christmas this year that allowed us an opportunity to do some backyard sledding and to build a snow woman. Life usually seems to be too full to enjoy days outside in the snow with the kids so having this day free to have fun with them was most enjoyable. Our snow woman “Sally” didn’t last long, however, as the day warmed and the snow began to melt almost as quickly as it had arrived.
As always, the time with friends and family went by too fast. We really should find more excuses other than holidays to spend time with family and friends.
Xel ha Park is essentially a natural aquarium that provides many activities to fill your day with adventures. Because the entry fee pays for an all-inclusive admission, we didn’t need to bring food, towels, snorkeling equipment or even money for lockers which simplified this adventure. We walked into the park and made our way to a tube ride which led us through a mangrove forest before expelling us into the snorkeling lagoon.
Here you could participate in numerous activities such as cliff jumping (which Susan braved) zip lining into the water (which we all braved) and other adventurous activities. Because we were pressed for time we were limited in what we could do but besides the tube ride we were able to
- see and hear about 10 parrots
- see a toucan close up
- walk onto a glass bottom boat and look at the colorful fish below
- discover many coati animals which are indigenous to the area
- discuss what a cenote is, although we didn’t have time to see or jump into one
Some of the adventures available here that we would definitely want to investigate next time include:
- Sea Trek® Xel-Ha – allows you to safely walk on the bottom of the lagoon without requiring scuba training
- Snuba – combines snorkeling and scuba by allowing you to use snorkeling equipment that is attached to compressed air tanks located on the surface
- Swim with the manatees
- Stingray encounter (swim with them)
- Zip Bike – a bicycle on a zip line gives you a bird’s eye view of the landscape
As is evident, there is a ton of extremely cool adventures available at Xel Ha. We absolutely loved this adventure and would go back and spend an entire day here so that we could take part in all of the activities. Although we were not able to squeeze in snorkeling during this trip, others in our party who did said that although they had to swim longer distances (than in Akumal) to find fish, when the schools were found they were as vibrant and plentiful as what you see on the Xel Ha brochures.
I think the biggest lesson learned here was that it is ok to, in a safe environment, step a little bit outside your comfort zone and take a calculated risk and enjoy the adventures that are in front of you. Susan set this example for the girls by jumping off the cliff even though it was intimidating. Hopefully the cliff jump planted a seed for the girls to enjoy life and to take a chance sometimes.
Tulum was a beautifully located coastal port believed to have been one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Mayans. The ruins of Tulum provide a glimpse into the life of the Mayan people living from 500 – 700 years ago. It was protected on one side by a steep cliff and on the other by what was believed to have been about a 15 foot tall wall that was around 25 feet thick and over 1000 feet long. Defense of the city was obviously very important to the Mayans.
The ruins included three major structures:
- El Castillo – a shrine that is believed to have been used as a beacon for incoming trading partners
- Temple of the Frescoes – used as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun
- Temple of the Diving/Descending God – central to the site so it is believed to be a key God
We considered seeing the ruins as necessary since the upcoming “end of the Mayan calendar” had some folks predicting the end of the world. It was cool to see firsthand the structures that were built by these folks.
You can also trek down to the beach at the base of the cliffs and take a swim in the ocean water. We passed on this option because we wanted to leave time for a same day trip to Xel Ha.
The ruins at Tulum are smaller than those we previously saw at Chicken Itza but the trip is shorter. When the gals are older we will consider making another trip to Chicken Itza which was named one of the new 7 wonders of the world in 2006 which happens to be the year that Susan and I visited the site. We decided to visit Tulum this time because the trip was shorter and would be enough to give the gals an introduction to the Mayan culture and architecture. We’d recommend visiting Tulum if visiting with younger children and Chicken Itza if visiting with older children.
Besides the beach and swimming in the pools at the hotel, swimming with the dolphins was the one thing the girls really wanted to experience while in Cancun. Although I must admit it was a little intimidating to see the gals in the water with the dolphins, we trusted the water park and enjoyed seeing the gals smile each time they were able to interact with one of these brainy mammals.
The girls were able to pet, hold fins, cause the dolphin to do tricks and get a kiss from the dolphin. In addition, the dolphin created a whirlpool affect, splashed the participants and did impressive jumps and tricks in the water while the girls were participating. This was a memorable experience and we were very pleased with the length of the program and the quality of the experience. Although the water was cold, the gals thoroughly enjoyed the interaction.
Akumal, (which means “Place of the Turtle” in the Mayan language), a small town 100 km south of Cancun, was like a picture postcard of a Caribbean beach. Small boats to be chartered for snorkeling adjacent to an ocean front cabana made it feel like heaven. We relaxed in the numerous hammocks before moving to the cabana for vittles.
After lunch we continued further along a dirt, pot-hole filled road to reach Yu-Hal to begin our snorkeling adventure. We donned our gear and trekked a stones throw to the lagoon. We were treated to a multitude of species to stimulate our sense of wonder and awe. Yellow, blue or black in color; short medium or long-nosed; in schools or swimming alone we coasted along enjoying the beauties of the undersea world.
One of our cultural experiences in Cancun involved the local market where upon arrival we were greeted by every vendor within shouting distance seeking to sell us overpriced t-shirts, wood carvings or jewelry among many other trinkets. We reached the market via the local public bus which was an experience in and of itself. Racing through the streets hoping that you figure out the correct stop before going beyond the presumed safety of the tourist zone while the driver is petal to the metal and hard on the break as if he is racing and jostling for position in the Indy 500.
We managed to safely arrive at the market and were greeted by numerous vendors ready to negotiate their goods for our hard earned American dollars. Besides the overall cultural experience of the market, our goal was to locate some local señoritas to braid the gals hair in Caribbean style. We got our negotiating feet wet by haggling over the price of the hair braiding with three separate señoritas. We managed to talk the second señorita into reluctantly accepting $15 for both girls (vice $30 for 2). Feeling good about our negotiating tactics we decided to walk away to see if we could do even better further inside the market. After the third señorita reluctantly agreed to $15 we guessed that this seemed to be the rock bottom price. Susan, however, after seeing the 2nd señorita looking forlorn after losing our business and watching our every move with seeming desperation for us to return, felt the tug of empathy for the local señoritas trying to earn some currency. We walked back to the shop of the second señorita and offered the woman and her daughter $20 if they would braid the girls hair. They were initially a bit confused considering we haggled to get them down to $15 but they didn’t seem to mind ;).
As it turned out, the hair braiding fell out after only 2 days so we made a second bus trip to the market to have the hair re-done. The señioritas were more than happy to accommodate and pretty much re-did the braids. The newly braided hair lasted for 2 weeks after we returned home.
After the hair braiding and meandering through the market for a while longer, we haggled over a few additional items and received our fill of the experience. We hopped onto the next bus and returned mentally exhausted from shopping in this way.
If there is one thing this experience taught the gals, I hope it is that it is ok to walk away from a product (or anything else in life) if you don’t feel it is worth the cost. If there’s a second thing, as my wise mother-in-law stated, the goal of any transaction should be win-win for both parties.
The education that comes with traveling to other countries can’t be compared to reading about it in a school text book. Although the girls have been absent from school this week, the cultural experience of being in Mexico has, among other things, provided opportunities for the girls to
- navigate an airport and understand how to go through security, how to determine which gate your plan will be at, how to find your gate and where to pick up your luggage (yes, we do involve the girls in the entire process)
- understand the customs process and the purpose of passports
- read a map of a park to determine how to reach our destination
- convert pesos into U.S. dollars (good work on their multiplication skills)
- learn about safe travel in other countries
- learn about public transportation by riding the public bus for local business
- purchase goods in a market where prices are negotiable and learning that it is ok (and sometimes profitable) to walk away from something you really want if the price is not fair for both parties
- hear the Spanish language used in an authentic way
The girls have also been able to enjoy themselves playing in the pools, walking on the beach, ordering drinks from the pool bar, playing on the playground, making t-shirts, doing a piñata and visiting with family.
I think the point I’d emphasize from this trip is that all of life is school and every experience we give our children adds value to their lives. In the experiences that involve traveling, especially to other countries, our hope is that the girls will come to understand that the United States is but one country in a large world and just because we do things one way in America it doesn’t make it the right or only way. Diversity of ideas and lifestyles is what makes the world such a fascinating place and the sooner we can appreciate and accept differences in others the sooner we can find peace in ourselves.