Experience 36 of 52: Xel Ha

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.

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Experience 31 of 52: Cancun

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.

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Experience 17 of 52: Outer Banks, North Carolina

OB Olympic Balloon Tossing Event

This Outer Banks in North Carolina provide numerous opportunities for family life experiences.  During our visit this year we experienced many outdoor activities that were both relaxing and fun:

  • We kept an eye on the Mars Curiosity Rover as it arrived and landed on Mars.  It includes the names of Grace and Kate on a microchip that is on the back of the rover
  • We watched some of the 2012 Olympics and the girls enjoyed the “Outer Banks Olympics” with their cousins and friends as the participants.  Grace won gold in both the archery and gymnastics events while Kate won the gold in the Uno event and a bronze in the gymnastics event.  Thanks to cousin Meg and her boyfriend Bryan for organizing.
  • We visited with 2 long time family friends that happened to be vacationing at the Outer Banks during the exact same week we were there.
  • We crabbed off the pier and caught several crabs.  Unfortunately for us but fortunately for them, they were too small to eat.  We learned that crabs enjoy raw chicken necks and tying them to the end of a string or rope allows you to pull them up while they’re eating the chicken.  A second person uses a net on a long pole to try to scoop them up.

    Grace pulling up the line while Kate readies the net

  • We fished off the pier but had no luck with catching anything.  The girls ended up “adopting” a few of the worms as pets for a few days.  They loved to hold them and get their hands dirty.
  • We kayaked in the Albemarle Sound with Grace, for the first time, woman-ing (as opposed to “manning” ;)) her own kayak
  • We caught a Tree Frog and talked about what he’d like to eat
  • We caught a turtle and kept him as a pet for a couple of hours until he had to do his “business” in the plastic tub we were keeping him in.  We decided that a turtle was a bit too messy to have as a pet.
  • We spent some time at the beach and the girls did some limited boogie boarding (the waves were a bit rough), got up close with a jelly fish (Grace unwittingly touched it with her fingers) and we built our version of a sand castle (really a sand pit – a large hole in the sand big enough for a couple of us to sit it).
  • We ended our trip with the girls using money they had saved to purchase 2 hermit crabs they affectionately named “Hermes” and “Zeus” (we’d read Perseus and the Lightning Thief earlier this year and also remembered the Greek gods atop the dome of the rotunda that we visited earlier during this journey).  We’ve learned about their habitat and their living requirements and have created a home for them as our newest family pets (to go along with Emily the beta fish and “C-C” the cat.

    Kate casting

  • We also had family time with the extended family completing a very challenging puzzle of a Vincent Van Gogh painting and playing the fun game of Nerts.

Although we love the sound of the waves crashing ashore, we love the opportunities to fish, crab and kayak on the Albemarle Sound side of the Outer Banks.  This experience allows the girls to enjoy the roar of the ocean and the serenity of the Sound.

Playing Mancala and being silly

Time Spent: ~7 days
Cost: Dependent on where you stay

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