September 19th, 2015 / Author: The Mad Pixie
For those living in Toronto and its environs this summer it has been nearly impossible to avoid the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Games. That said, I have done my damnedest to do exactly that. Besides grumbling about the HOV lanes and taking in a couple of theatre events that seemed loosely affiliated with it the Games have barely been on my radar. This could be due in no small part to the fact that I know very little about organized sports. In fact I know zero. Zip. Nada. Bupkiss. The square root of bugger all, and I have been absolutely fine with this for the better part of my life. That said the daily newspaper fell open to an ad for discounted tickets to the Parapan Games and I took notice for a change. I remembered watching a fascinating documentary called “Murderball” about a group of quadriplegic men playing full contact rugby. They were superb athletes and I thought I should avail myself of the chance to see something like that live in action so I bought tickets to the wheelchair preliminary match. On a sunny Tuesday I left work early and made my way over to the Mattamy Athletic Centre, home to Ryerson Univeristy Athletics and, certainly more relevant to me, the old Maple Leaf Gardens where in my youth I had watched a handful of Marlies games and dozens of tinnitus inspiring rock concerts.
I took my seat, settled in and waited for the games to begin, confident that I would stay for a couple of periods (innings? Quarters?) and leave. The Canadian Women’s team was up first battling Brazil and within moments I was transfixed. These people were incredible – stopping, starting and spinning on a dime. Launching themselves across the court at top speed on arms that could have rolled me up like a cigarette. Their shots were incredible.
Coincidentally both women in number 7 jerseys were standouts for their respective teams.
Canada’s Cindy Ouellet was making shots that boggled the mind, including one hook shot from centre court that sailed through the net without a hint of rim. I only saw her miss once. Her Brazilian counterpart was a nimble minx called Ana Rosa. She too had wickedly accurate aim and seemed to be everywhere at once. Any time she scooped the ball I said a silent prayer as it seemed inevitable that she would score. The Canadian captain is a woman called Janet McLachlan. The top scorer for her team she towed over everyone in a tall chair with a long reach that stretched for miles.
This was a fast exciting game that saw the Canadians take an early lead that they hung on to through nail biting action. Final score: 82:51
Clearly I wasn’t going anywhere and my plan of watching one game then leaving was not going to happen. The half time show was entertaining and geared mostly to kids. They had their dancing mascot, which I cannot readily type.
Just looked it up. Evidently it is meant to be a porcupine that goes by the name of Pachi.
They had some fun camera games and shot mini basketballs in to the crowd
After a half hour rest the men took to the court. As they will whizzing about taking their practice shots I noticed something about one of the Argentinian players
See number 8? Notice anything? Like the fact that he has ONE @#%$^^^ ARM?????
Because wheelchair basketball isn’t challenging enough. The gentleman in #8 is Gustavo Vilafane, a triple amputee and possible immortal. If I wasn’t awed by the physical prowess before I certainly was now.
There was also one handsome guy on the Canadian team I referred to as “Wheelchair Ben Affleck”. (The real Ben Affleck has been in the news a great deal lately because of his rumoured infidelity with the family nanny, so I suspect there might be a potential for two “Wheelchair Ben Affleck”s if his wife is pushed far enough.)
Jonathan Vermette – “Wheelchair Ben Affleck”
The mens game was played considerably differently to the women. The men tended to cluster together, there was far more rigorous contact and fewer shots on net. The Canadian’s triumphed and I left quickly. Frankly I preferred the women’s game better – it was faster with more passing and covered the court more expansively. So much so that I bought tickets on the spot to the gold medal finals on Friday. They were nail biting and fantastic and I could barely watch for all the anticipation. Sadly, my ladies lost the gold but took a brilliant and shiny silver medal.
After decades of resistance, I am now a sports fan. A very very limited sports fan. But the lid is off. Let’s see what tempts me out next
July 13th, 2015 / Author: The Mad Pixie
The other evening I enjoyed a seven course tasting menu featuring foods both foraged and sourced from local producers and ethically and sustainably run farms. The tickets also included wine pairings and as I do not drink I brought along a friend to serve as my booze beard. The event was hosted on the second floor of a local museum, an austere setting with long white clothed tables that sat about twenty people each, fine silverware and crystal and a lovely terrace that looked over the city. The focus was meant to lie on the chefs who had prepared the fantastic meal, but I was soon distracted by another exhibit altogether.
One of the attendees was one of the most cosmetically altered people I had ever seen. She took her seat three spots down on my right, so I could not see her clearly but my dining companion had a full frontal view for the duration of the meal. As the hours wound down my friend, drinking both her own wine pairings as well as my own, got deeper in to her cups and commensurately more riveted by this woman. “She has had everything done.” she murmured. Half an hour later she hissed “EVERYTHING!” . When the woman took a turn on the balcony I saw her in full force. On top of having a deep tan, tinted and straightened hair, false eyelashes and shaped eyebrows all of which can be achieved by a trip to the tanning salon and an aesthetician she had also had obvious breast augmentation, cheek implants, rhinoplasty, facial peels, botox, lip fillers, dental caps and I believe the first butt implant I have seen in person. Her bum, which was considerably larger than her frame would have suggested and could not possibly be achieved with any amount of weighted squats was a bulbous cushion that appeared on top of where her real butt should have started and seemed to originate around the 9th thoracic vertebrae. The most unnerving thing to me was that it appeared she had Fraxeled the backs of her hands. I have a friend who was one of the first initiated in to Fraxel which is a laser treatment usually reserved for the face. When I asked her about the process my friend admitted that basically you start by setting fire to your face, shearing off several layers of skin and taking all the fine lines and freckles with it. The effect on this woman was there was neither hair nor lines on her hands and forearms and she looked to be entirely without pores.
The net result? The woman looked otherworldly. Like a sex doll, but curiously (to my heterosexual female eye) not sexy. She didn’t really look human, more like an assembly of stamped parts selected from a pre-approved catalogue of what passes for beauty. Her face was set in a rictus of passivity and it was impossible to guess an age (though her un-enhanced female companion looked to be in her early 40s). I seriously doubt anyone from her youth would be able to recognize her. She had left no defining markers and was oddly generic despite her extensive efforts to enhance her appearance.
I have been thinking about her quite a bit, and I realize that my recounting of the event is completely judgemental. I have tried to unpack my own attitudes about what I saw and am concerned about my inclination to invent a back story for this person that may be entirely untrue. I am a product of my era and as someone who is edging to the end of my first half century on the planet I am affected by the generation in which I was raised. Back say, 30 years ago plastic surgery was something one did to reduce or enhance a part of the body that you were unhappy with. Breast implants would take someone from an A cup to perhaps a bouncy C at the most, and a nose job would shrink the original shape of one’s original proboscis down a size or too but the intention was to make these changes as subtle as possible, so no one would guess as to the extent of one’s vanity. I understand that this has changed over time and now in some cases surgery is viewed as an accomplishment. The irony (to me anyway) is that certain procedures – like the “duck lip” phenomenon of the past few years – just seems to make everyone look MORE alike, rather than a new and improved version of the person you were. We read about celebrity surgical mishaps – Heidi Montag (who I only know throughout the tabloids and could honestly not name the genesis of her notoriety) underwent a series of surgeries that turned her from a very pretty blond girl to a similarly pretty blond girl who didn’t look much like the first girl, except for having much larger breasts. Renee Zellweger has created a new version of herself that bears almost no resemblance to the original and frankly scrubbed away any unique appeal she may have had, and the list does go on.
Again, I have no idea who this woman at the museum was and it would be enormously hypocritical for me to castigate someone for trying to get professional assistance if they really believe it will make them look and feel better. I realized my own inclination was to assume that this woman disliked who she was as a person and was suffering from a severe body dysmorphia or that perhaps she was paired with a partner who was insisting she undergo these procedures to mould herself to his desires. I have no way of knowing this to be true. My own reaction was shock then pity, neither of which I suspect would have been well received. She might be the president of a Fortune 500 company who is using her own body as a canvas. She might wake up every morning, look in the mirror and give herself a mental high five for what she had achieved. I know she must have spent tens of thousands of dollars and undergone an enormous amount of discomfort to achieve the results.
I would love to have had twenty minutes inside this woman’s head, and if I could replay it perhaps I would have asked her to indulge me. I didn’t ask, and I averted my eyes every time she looked over because I didn’t want to be caught gawping. Is that fair? Does she want to be admired? She must know she is creating a reaction. Is that the point? Would she have given me insight, maybe even empowered me? I would love to know.
May 8th, 2015 / Author: The Mad Pixie
It was the 2015 Hot Docs film festival this past week and after an unrelenting schedule of screenings I took a break to attend a food tour of East Chinatown hosted by Bites & Sights TO. I was leaving the Bell Lightbox theatre on King and needed to meet the tour group at Broadview and Gerrard so I hopped the King streetcar eastbound to ferry me up. The streetcar diverted at Parliament street for a few blocks taking me past the old location for the Animation House, a venerable institution founded by Bob Fortier which was at the time on the forefront of animation technology in Canada.
Many years ago when I was still in university I got my first job in the business working for a production company called TDF. I was one of a pair of receptionists and shared my duties with a beautiful girl about my age named Monika Storr. Monika loved to work making miniature characters out of modelling clay and had a dream of doing stop motion animation. She was worried that she had no formal design education but she eventually swallowed her fears and found herself a job at the Animation House and was on her way to living her dream.
I have not thought of Monika in many years and on an impulse I googled her. I fully expected to get a Facebook or Linkedin hit and was not at all surprised to see an IMDB page listing her animation credits. I was less prepared to find her obituary. Monika died this year after a six month battle with cancer. She left behind a husband and two children. She was fifty one years old.
I know that life is a series of cycles. There is a point in time where everyone you know pairs off and gets married. Then everyone has their first child. Then they have their second child, or get divorced or both. There are first houses, first teeth, first careers. Usually there is a bit of a lull then the next set of cycles begin – first when everyone’s parents begin to sicken. And then the stage that I seem to be on the cusp of; when your peers starting getting the nasty illnesses that seemed so remote when we were young.
I don’t like it. After a lifetime of near perfect health I am ill equipped to handle the concept of the inevitable fade to black. For me trying to understand it is like trying to grab handfuls of water. Elusive and frustrating. I am angered by the fact that the attacks seem random. You can be a nutritionist yoga instructor who does triathlons on the weekend and your chances of being hit by something ugly seem as likely as what might befall the chain smoking bar weed who lives in the trailer next door. Are you a parent? Doesn’t matter. Have you dedicated your life to good deeds? Doesn’t matter. It would be tempting to chuck it all and abandon my clean living lifestyle because it is pretty clear the Reaper comes for us all. Then I calm myself and try to remember that I am here, now. And my friends and family are here, now. And if illness befalls them I will be on their team and the reverse is also true. So I need to keep a clear head, keep myself in the kind of health that makes my living moments better and appreciate the time I have with the people that I love.
I’m sorry I lost touch with Monika but I am glad she had the courage to follow her dreams. I hope the brief life she had was a happy and fulfilling one. I doff my hat to her, and will endeavour to use this experience to love the life I live.
RIP Monika Storr (August 29, 1964 – March 29, 2015)
February 19th, 2015 / Author: The Mad Pixie
February 15th, 2015 / Author: The Mad Pixie
Chris Walker is my new hero.
Chris Walker is a personal trainer, nutrition specialist and boot camp instructor who has set up a practice through the Tao Wellness Centre where I have been camped periodically this past week. He also seems to have this whole life thing figured out. I met him briefly before one of the yoga classes I took at the Wellness Centre. He was handsome, affable, looked like an athlete and he clearly knew his target audience. I scooped his pamphlet which was very well produced and would appeal to expat North American audiences in a myriad of ways. He looked the part of a trainer, you would trust him and his prices were really good by big city standards. Personal training was regularly priced at $75 per 90 minute session but was discounted to $32 for residents of the community. By contrast the guy who taught my bootcamp in LA offered personal training sessions at $150 per 60 minute session. Walker taught boot camp three times a week prices at $70 for unlimited access for a month with pool fit classes at the same rate all of which could be pro-rated for shorter stays ($50 for 2 weeks, $25 for 1 week, $10 for drop in). I was tempted to hire him myself and while these prices are fabulous compared to what one would find at home I can imagine they would have been astronomical for the native audience. The lifestyle here would be easier and far less costly than in more northern climes. I admired his entrepreneurial spirit and wondered what stake of my own I could create here.
While I mentally categorized the different new lives I could create for myself (dare I call them fantasies?) I reluctantly packed up and set sail from my villa. I decided to have a final meal before I returned to the airport and headed in to Playa del Carmen for one last time. Two of the restaurants I had earmarked were closed for lunch (the town seemed to get off to a slow start on a Saturday morning) so I wound up somewhat reluctantly at Mi Pueblo on Quinta. I was skeptical at first. Although the place had received a good rating from my tourist bible, The Explorer’s Guide, the place was fairly innocuous from the street and offered the same large visually distracting menu that seemed to be a staple of many places on the strip. I ordered the tuna carnitas and hoped for the best. And the best came. Perfectly seasoned cubes of tuna nestled on a sea of guacamole in a volcanic rock bowl (which I have since learned is called a molcajete) studded with fresh onion and tomato. It came with fresh tortilla skins and two kinds of sauce, one fiery tomatillo and jalapeno and a milder tomato fresco version. There was enough food for two people and I ate every last bite.
The rest of the day hardly bears repeating. I made my way to Cancun without incident and returned the rental car. I cleared customs and found my way to the gate to discover my flight was delayed by almost an hour. The airline did send a notification of the delay which was time stamped at 5:14 PM, four full minutes AFTER the scheduled departure time and at a point where I think it could be reasonably said all of the passengers had all figured it out that we would be late anyway. Another hour was spent on the tarmac after the ground crew loaded 1500 pounds of cargo that was not intended for our flight in to the belly of the plane then had to remove it and replace it with our actual luggage. I think everyone heaved a sigh of relief when we recognized the bags on the carousel one we landed safely home. I know I did.
This had been a wonderful and very emancipating week. I learned that I am capable of vacationing solo, in fact flourish while doing so. I also learned that I need to factor in these adventures more often. Eight years is too long to go without a proper break away from work and the stresses of everyday life. I need sun and sand and blue sky and sea. Let me know if you want to come along on the next adventure.
February 15th, 2015 / Author: The Mad Pixie
On my last full day here it seemed appropriate to check out the local ruins. Tulum is set on the cliff at the edge of the Caribbean sea and the original settlement had access to both land and sea trade routes, which made it an important trade hub. At its peak probably had a population of about 1,000 to 1,600 inhabitants. Because of the proximity to major tourist areas and the main highway it is a very popular site to visit for the people that feel duty bound to see at least one archeologically significant place before they leave. I have visited Chichen Itza a couple of times and know from experience it is best to visit such places first thing in the morning before the heat of the day takes hold and the tourist hordes descend en masse. I blatantly ignored my own advice and arrived at the park entrance at about eleven in the morning.
The place was well on the way to filling but the site is huge so it never felt too overrun while I was there and there was a nice breeze from the sea that prevented the air from getting oppressively hot. I eschewed the guided tours (my vow to be more open and friendly did NOT extend to large groups of tourists). I had read a bit about the history and the cultural significance of the site before I came and really only wanted to take a look around. I was dismayed to witness a tour guide leading a group of Japanese visitors who pulled up one of the rope barriers and ushered his group under to an off limits area. When my mother was younger she visited the Parthanon in Greece and was able to roam freely amongst the temples. Now the whole hill is a forbidden zone as visitors were literally pulling the place apart by plying off small chunks of marble to keep as souvenirs. Watching people exhibit such a casual and selfish disregard for the simplest of rules distresses me. How many of the world’s treasures will be gone before I can see them? I tried to do my bit and gathered up some discarded water bottles and walked them to the trash.
The authorities in the Riviera Maya are keenly aware of the fragility of their ecosystem and it is refreshing to see almost no litter on the side of the highway, in the town streets or on the ocean floor. They are adamant about preserving the wildlife, the sea life and their wonderful landscape. We should all be so diligent with our environments.
The vista of the spectacular beach at the foot of the cliff started the tour off well. The temples had a quiet majesty. I wondered what life would have been like back then. I got a sense that this was a very real living place.
After I finished walking through the ruins I wandered a short distance down the road to the public beach. It was sparsely populated and here, like at many of the other beaches I had seen, there were few people actually in the water.
I am by nature a rather active person and while I spent hours in the dunes at Sandbanks sunning myself and reading as a child I suspected that at this stage in my life I would find sunbathing rather boring. Not so. I took a dip in the turquoise water, collapsed on to a blanket on the sand and felt the motivation ebb right the hell out of me. I read the same page of my book about fifteen times, gave it up for naught and opted instead to listen to the meditative rhythm of the waves, dozing and drifting with a periodic check of my watch to make sure I wasn’t turning into tempura.
After a toasty hour or so I wandered further down the road for lunch at Mezzanine which is known for its fabulous views and Thai food.
The service was glacial, and I noted only three servers scampering amidst the tables scatter throughout the restaurant. Most of the patrons seemed unaffected, lulled by the view and the sun. I was trying to stay relaxed and when my grilled fish arrived I had to concede it was worth the wait. It was one of the best Thai meals I have had.
Grilled fish with jasmine rice, mango salad and green tea.
I flew home to my little villa where I showered, did some reading and waited for dinner, which I had decided to spend back in Tulum at the Buenos Aires restaurant. The restaurant opened on the Tulum Boulevard (aka the 307 highway slowed to 40km). The lights were low and I wound up eating bread with a delicious spread that I absolutely could not identify. I did make a new friend, who became remarkable more attentive at the arrival of my dinner.
I had ordered a half portion of the house specialty, Argentinian style steak. It arrived and was the size of my foot. I cannot imagine what a full portion would entail.
A trio of student musician arrived to serenade the patrons. They were young and nervous and one of the girls sported an impressive Frida Kahlo unibrow while the gentleman of the group was strumming the beat on an actual jawbone of an ass.
I was delighted by their performance as well as the profound lack of rhythm displayed by one of the American tourists to my left. She simply could not clap in time – it was like she was trying to applaud and wrestle a squid at the same time. She was having a good time and the trio were well tipped so everyone left happy, including my furry canine pal who did end up winning a bite or two of my dinner. He bowed his thanks, I applauded mine and made my way home, scarcely believing the adventure was nearly over.
February 13th, 2015 / Author: The Mad Pixie
The day started with a hatha yoga class at the Wellness Centre. You’d think I would have learned to avoid this place but clearly I had not learned my lesson. The class was more active than the Kundalini class and afterwards I was ready to scuba.
I began by assembling my needs for the dive. Mask, fins, dive boots, snorkel, defog, towel, dry shirt etc. I also brought a change of clothes for later as it can be quite chilly out of the water. I realized at that point that I had lost all sense of what constituted clothing. One of my epically ugly $20 bathing suit specials had become pretty much my go-to outfit, from the beach to the dinner table with few stops in between. As an homage to at least covering my butt I had taken to wearing linen trousers rolled to the knee, like a winsome J Alfred Prufrock with a profound sense of colour blindness. My hair was a tangly salty mess, I had given up on makeup about twelve seconds after deplaning and there had been a decided paucity of deodorant applications. Salty, sandy sweaty and brown. I sounded like a questionable law firm.
I had signed up for my dive through the Akumal Dive Shop and I made my way to their departure point to meet my dive master, Adiel. The shop limits the groups to six divers per boat and I was buddied up with Randy, the second Edmontonian I had met in as many days. He, like Gina, was very friendly and helpful. (I found myself wondering some hours later if I should move to Edmonton as the populace seemed so overwhelmingly nice but I immediately wrote the idea off as having taken too much sun). Randy was in print advertising sales by day, had been vacationing with his wife in the area for some twenty years (in Akumal specifically for six) and was the veteran of over 200 dives. He was the perfect person to be buddied with. The reef itself was only a five minute boat ride from shore and the day was perfect.
We went to a depth of about 60 ft and the visibility was unlimited. (Again, I don’t have an underwater camera so these pictures have been cobbled from the web.)
The bay in Akumal is known for its sea turtle population. Alas, I did not see one at depth but there was what looked like a barracuda and several smiling eels.
The dive was over in a flash. I went back to the Turtle bay cafe for a delicious fish burrito and seriously considered extending my trip for a couple of days so I could get some more diving in.
The flight wouldn’t have been a problem but my villa was not available and frankly it didn’t seem worth the money or hassle to have to move so I put that thought away. Next year I will book at least ten days. Maybe more.
I went home and rinsed off, donned an outfit that was a marginal improvement on my sodden bathing suit and went back to Playa del Carmen for an authentic Mexican meal at La Cueva del Chango (The Monkey Cave).
The restaurant was located at the end of the Quinta strip of a shaded street in a beautiful garden with a fountain.
I was visited by a shy little cat whom I failed to seduce into staying (perhaps some food would have helped) and was a table away from a magnificent spanish matron who made smoking look good to me for the first time in decades. I ordered rare grilled tuna the came in a deep brown sauce with an emphatic chili kick. Rice was on the side as was a surprisingly cooling salad of chopped avocado and pickled onion.
It was very quiet and relaxed and just what I needed. I grabbed my (by now requisite) sipping chocolate and made my way home.
February 13th, 2015 / Author: The Mad Pixie
As the purpose of this trip was really to relax and take a break I scheduled few activities before my departure. The cenote dive was one exception, and the underwater sculpture dive was the other. I heard about the sculpture gardens from one of my cohorts at work. An artist by the name of Jason de Caires Taylor started dropping concrete statues into areas of the ocean where the reefs had suffered damage from hurricanes, tsnumis and human interaction. He started in Grenada and has projects in several locals but one of the largest is off the coast of Cancun. I re-certified my diving license in order to take a proper look and signed up.
Cancun is about an hour and twenty minutes from Akumal and about a million light years apart in atmosphere. The hotel zone is laid out around a looping reef system and feels oppressively urban and touristy after the village of Akumal and even Playa del Carmen with it local charms. A drive to the dive shop around the perimeter of the zone confirmed my preference for accommodation and locale.
I eventually found the dive shop (after a few overshoots), suited up and headed out for a forty minute boat ride to the site
On the ride out I met a delightful woman named Gina from Edmonton. She had started visiting the Mayan Riviera only a few year prior, learned to dive and swiftly became addicted. She was returning every three to four months on what she deemed the “diving and dental tour”. Apparently the standards of dentistry in Mexico are extremely high and cost a pittance in comparison to what we pay in Canada. Gina suffered degenerative bone loss in her mouth which resulted in the loss of many of her teeth. She required extensive bridgework and grafting and had received a quote of $70,000.00 Canadian dollars to have the work done at home. She had checked out the locals thoroughly and said that her teeth in Canada would have been a Mercedes, here they were a Ford. They looked great and she reported that her care was excellent and the pain suffered, minimal. Gina was a woman after my own heart. She was about my age, a clinical mental health care specialist and had travelled to many of the same places I had, and often alone. She was the first person who thought that my solo tour was not only NOT bizarre, but normal and admirable. (She herself was accompanied by her very nice snorkelling boyfriend and while she seemed genuinely fond of him I got the feeling he was a bit of an anchor at times). We had a great time chatting (see Day #1 -attempt to be friendly) and we may try and meet up at another exotic local for some more dive adventures in the future.
The dive itself was in relatively shallow water ranging in depth from about 15 to 30 feet. The sites can be snorkelled but I preferred to dive as you can stay longer with your own air and get much closer to the exhibits.
Here are a couple of shots from my group, thanks to the dive masters at Aquafueled. I am second from the left. One of the more flattering pictures of me
I did bring along a waterproof camera but I have little faith in the quality of my shots and I have not had them developed so the following site photographs are courtesy of the underwater sculpture museum. We saw the “Anthropocene”(pictured above) as well as the “The Banker”
but it was really the “Silent Evolution” that took my breath away (or would have if I didn’t have a tank of air on my back)
It was a pretty amazing experience.
We headed back to the dock and back away from the sprawl that is Cancun. I stopped on the way home for dinner at Imprevist in Playa del Carmen, the sister restaurant to Plank. The restaurant was much smaller and quieter that its nearby sibling. I had duck breast on vanilla mashed potatoes with port sauce and caramelized figs. Need I say more? I was at a table between two very different pairs – an older couple who did nothing but complain and order combinations not on the menu while making some pretty unreasonable demands (“Can you make the chili sauce less spicy?”) and a seven year old girl who kept begging her mother for the maraschino cherries from her potent drinks. (“No, honey, there’s some pretty strong alcohol in these.”, That’s ok”, she replied in a very reassuring manner, “I can have it anyway”). People watching is fantastic when you are armed with a book.
Dinner was delicious as was the Maya sipping chocolate #2 (or was it #3?) purchased for the long walk back to the care. The next day promised another dive so I tucked in to bed for a blissful sleep.
February 13th, 2015 / Author: The Mad Pixie
Having had such a nice start yesterday I headed back to the Wellness Centre for a massage. At the suggestion of the concierge I signed up for a Mayan abdominal massage. When in Rome, right?
The massage started innocuously enough with a gentle lubricated body rub. The tiny masseuse commanded me to breathe and I was gently dozing when the abdominal portion of the hour began. I rolled over, the therapist dug in and it HURT like the devil. I do quite a bit of ab work in my various classes by my poor muscle wall was no match for the pneumatic probing of the Mayan Marquesa de Sade. The pain shot through my kidneys and to the base of my spine. I envisioned a childhood of clandestinely acquired gummi bears being manipulated to a decades late race for freedom. There was a brief respite when the therapist left the room, leaving me panting on the table with a cloth over my eyes. She returned some minutes later carrying what sounded unnervingly like a bucket of ice. Seconds later she laid a shockingly cold towel over my midsection. I whimpered and eventually slithered back to my room, reluctantly admitting to a slight sense of euphoria and a suspicion there might be visible bruising in the next day or so.
The scene of the crime:
Eventually I rallied my senses and decided to get on with my day. Having mastered the drive to Playa del Carmen (in the rain, no less) I decided to head back and survey the town for myself. The last time I had been in this area was about five years ago for a four day sortie to Xcaret which is a resort built around a water park just as few kilometres down the road. At the time if I recall I was in the middle of a rather epic sulk so I had no desire to mingle. I also had no car and the very visible presence of a Sam’s Club cemented my decision to stay away. Now I had a rental car and no real agenda (and the sulk lifted) so I decided to do some exploring. I started off by visiting Akumal which is the most proximate town to where I was staying. There is an excellent reef just off the shore and I wanted to sign up for a dive. The playa is well equipped for such things and I wandered over to the Akumal dive shop to secure a space. It was right on the beach and there were dozens of people swimming and snorkelling and enjoying the day. Akumal is a small town so it was not overly crowded. The playa side houses most of the tourist shops and restaurants.
The pueblo side is really for the locals. There was this resident waiting for the soccer match to start in an otherwise abandoned field.
There was a little church with a particularly unfortunate Jesus who had also lost his arm in the melee (someone had daubed the stump with red paint to make it look intentional), a tiny store that sold everything (fruit in the front and a butcher in the back) and also what appeared to be the world’s most frightening circus.
Akumal is very laid back and charming, Even the police seem content and dare I say jaunty?
I stopped at he Turtle Bay Cafe & Bakery, a charming brightly painted place housed in a series of palapas tucked off the main drag and a short jog from the beach to eat. It was curiously presided over by a large breasted orangutan sculpture that I do not know the story behind, nor did I seek it.
I selected one of their specialties – fresh grilled fish tacos with poblano sauce and sliced avocado and as they are a bakery I felt compelled to order another specialty, flan caramel.
The flan was silky and sweet and I wondered if, after my Mayan abdominal assault, I was commiting an act of gastronomic Russian roulette.
Sated and slightly afraid I rolled back to the rental car and pressed on to Playa del Carmen. PdC started out as a sleepy fishing village where one caught the ferry to Cozumel Island but has grown to a city of about 150,000 with a flourishing tourist trade.
Most of it is centred around the pedestrian boulevard of fifth avenue known colloquially as “Quinta”. Here you can find small artisan stalls nestled next to Louis Vuitton, Sunglasses Hut and American Eagle Outfitters.
There are dozens of restaurants and it seemed like every second building was a boutique hotel. I think if you had reasonable Spanish , some spare time and an intrepid soul you could find a great place to stay for not very much money.
One of the main reasons I had for coming to Playa del Carmen was to treat myself to a fish pedicure. My friend David was here a few months back on his honeymoon and he recommended it highly. It is a very strange experience. Small fish called Garra Rufa which are native to Turkey swim around in a tank about the size of your average desk top aquarium and when you immerse your feet they nibble (or suck) off all your nasty dead skin cells. It is enormously ticklish at first but you quickly get used to it and afterwards your skin is remarkably soft. The poor buggers couldn’t do much for my heel callouses but neither can a chisel so with only 15 minutes they did their fishy best.
With a spring in my step I headed off to another recommended establishment for dinner called Yaxche on the Quinta strip. This place specializes in a modern take on tradition Mayan cuisine. I had the Xaman Ha, a fish fillet stuffed with vegetables, wrapped in holly leaf covered in a white wine sauce and served with a pungent mushroom side and local vegetables. The taste was subtle and the shredded vegetable stuffing loaned it an oddly asian feel.
I was sitting under a yellow light which is causing the decidedly jaundiced tone to these pictures. Do not be off put.
The previous day I had discovered the delights of Maya sipping chocolate. I picked one up for the long journey home, saddled up the white chariot and headed back home. Another eventful, blissful day done.
February 12th, 2015 / Author: The Mad Pixie
I started off my day with a kundalini yoga class at the Tao wellness centre. The centre itself is beautiful, sent amongst the trees in a tranquil spot. There are salt water lap pools, a workout room and a multi purpose room for yoga, fitness classes etc.
Kundalini is a little more low key than I generally go for but mellow was my new word of the day. We spent much of the class breathing deeply and gently stretching and exercising our spines. The instructor had a very heavy spanish accent and she kept exhorting the class to “Fuck It”. This was precisely the attitude I was hoping for but it is uncommon language for your average yogi. It wasn’t until halfway through that I realized she was actually asking us to “focus”. Both options were fine by me.
It was my first day off campus and I had signed up for a cenote tour with a local tour operator called Lahabna at the recommendation of Trip Advisor. A cenote is is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Often they feature freshwater as a top layer and saltwater bottoms, and the labyrinthine underwater caves can strech for miles underground and sometimes connect to the sea. In this neck of the woods cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. I hoped I wouldn’t be one of them.
The owner/operator of Lahabna is a gentleman named Sergio who has done extensive exploration in the area. I am not rated to cave dive so I had opted for the zip line and snorkel tour. We started out being loaded into a minibus and driven to a freshwater lake over where we spent the first part of the tour and then on to an open cenote for a swim. The weather was perfect and the lake water was crystal clear. There were two zip lines, the first of which took a relatively easy pace and could be experienced several times, then a second line which was faster and about twice as long that landed on the canoe docks.
From there we walked a short distance to an open water cenote for a swim. In a fit of stupidity I had forgotten to bring a towel so I opted to watch my snorkel mates swim while I sunned myself. Again, the water was clear as glass and I am told refreshingly cool.
After about an hour we were escorted back to the minibus and taken to the centre for some fresh fruit and guacamole. The next leg involved getting back in to the bus for a twenty minute drive down the most rutted bumpy road I have been on in ages. I feared for the van’s suspension. It was like travelling around in a popcorn popper. We finally reached the cenote, shaken not stirred and descended down some steps to the dock. The mouth of the cave was dimly lit and intimidating. We were told that this cave was linked to hundreds of others and armed with a few flashlights we stepped in.
The atmosphere in a cenote is an otherworldly one. Stalactites and stalagmites, formed when the cave was above ground stud the rooms. There were bats and blind fish and I suspect several things that go bump in the night. Without light you are cast in to utter darkness and as the caves are not linear you never know where the bottom is or where the next cavern will lead. We paddled around for about 40 minutes and marvelled at this strange place. I was very glad for my wetsuit as the water was chilly and the atmosphere made it more so.
I did not bring a waterproof camera so these cenote pictures are courtesy of google images, but they are very similar to the one I was in.
It was absolute fascinating. I highly recommend it if you get the chance.
I drove back to my little house to change then headed in to Playa del Carmen for dinner at Plank. It was recommended to me by Betty, the charming property manager at Tao who had told me about the yoga class.
Plank is located on a pretty little street just off the main strip (Quinta). The only problem was I had never been to Playa del Carmen, the main strip or the pretty little street before and now I was navigating in the dark in a sudden blinding rain storm. I managed to find my way in to town and down to the main drag and with the help of several kind and I suspect rather bemused locals I found my way to the restaurant and bang on time no less.
Plank features dishes cooked over high heat on either a slab of Himalayan salt or a cedar board. I was given a free appetizer featuring a cedar baked flatbread with three dips: a hummus with the consistency of pudding, cumin heavy and delicious, a sweet roasted tomato relish and a poblano and corn based crema. I thought the latter would be my least favourite but after it was gone I considered licking the bowl.
My main was sesame crusted tuna with a side of mixed vegetables grilled in a cedar wrap. The tuna had the texture of butter and I was told to eat it quickly lest it continue to cook on its salt rock bed. I did not need to be told twice.
After this lovely meal and a brief walkabout I headed home, triumphant in my navigational success. I felt like Ponce de Leon in a white VW Classico. I fell into bed and dreamed of what adventure would be next.