Archive for February, 2015

Mayan Adventure – Addendum

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Here are some of the pictures from the underwater sculpture tour.  I didn’t bring a flashlight so the colours are a bit desaturated, but being that close was a pretty unbelievable experience.


Man2 Crowd 2 People & Divers People Coral Zombie Crowd & Sun Crowd & Diver Woman2 Woman Phone Man1

Mayan Adventure – the return to the frigid zone

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Chris Walker is my new hero.

Chris Walker

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.

Tuna Carnitas1 Tortillas Lunch

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.

Mayan Adventure – Day 7

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

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.

gate Road to Tulum Wall

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.

View1 View2 Temple w:view 1 temple1 Temple2 Grounds1 temple view2 Steps to temple Beach temple3 temple4 temple 5 temple 6 Tulum Beach 1 Tulum beach 2 temple5 temple6 temple7 temple8 temple 9

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.

Public Beach1 Public Beach 2 Public beach 3

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.

Mezzanine pool Mezzanine bar Mezzanine restaurant Mezzanine entrance Mezzanine rooms mezzanine deck

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

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.

Dog 1

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.



Mayan Adventure – Day 6

Friday, February 13th, 2015

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.

00_09_JA_Bahia-Principe-AKUMAL-aerial-view-small Dive 1 mapaArrecifeEnews

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.)

6029178505_55e663d8d3 akumal 3

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.

tulum_akumal_snorkeling2eel OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Fish Burrito

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).

Monkey Cave sign MC Menu

The restaurant was located at the end of the Quinta strip of a shaded street in a beautiful garden with a fountain.

The Monkey Cave Monkey Cave Rd.

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.

Seared Tuna

It was very quiet and relaxed and just what I needed.  I grabbed my (by now requisite) sipping chocolate and made my way home.


Mayan Adventure – Day 5

Friday, February 13th, 2015

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.

Cancun3 Cancun2 Cancun1

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

10387390_776017965816404_6370238813172659337_n VW (Me second from right)

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)

23-sculpture-modern-art-jason-decaires-taylor-sculpture 7-sculpture-modern-art-jason-decaires-taylor-sculpture silent_evolution_011_jason-decaires-taylor_sculpture silent_evolution_010_jason-decaires-taylor_sculpture silent_evolution_009_jason-decaires-taylor_sculpture silent_evolution_007_jason-decaires-taylor_sculpture silent_evolution_003_jason-decaires-taylor_sculpture silent_evolution_001_jason-decaires-taylor_sculpture

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.

Mayan Adventure – Day 4

Friday, February 13th, 2015

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:

Massage room

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.

GateBeach 2 Beach 3 Beach 1 Akumal water

The pueblo side is really for the locals.  There was this resident waiting for the soccer match to start in an otherwise abandoned field.

Soccer Fan

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.ChurchArmless JesusSeller of all thingsScary Circus

Akumal is very laid back and charming,  Even the police seem content and dare I say jaunty?

Cop on an ATV
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.

Turtle Bay cafe1Turtle Bay cafe 2Orang

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.

Fish Tacos    Caramel Flan

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.

Hotel 1 Hotel 2

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.

Fishe pedicure 1 Fish pedicure 2

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.

Yaxche bread & butter Yaxche yellow dinner

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.

Mayan Adventure – Day 3

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

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.

Exercise RoomWellness Centre1Salt Pool1Lap Pool1

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.

Zip Line view Lake Zip Line 2 CanoesZip line 3

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.

Lake 2 Swimming in open cenote

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.

cenote1 Cenote2 Cenote3 Cenote 4

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.

PlankPlayadelCarmenrestaurant_zpsac830796 gI_128660_plank-playa-del-carmen-mexico

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.

Seared tuna Veggies

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.

Mayan Adventure – Day 2

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Day 2

I decided that this day would best be spent exploring my immediate surroundings, so I strapped on some sandals and started to wander. The new Tao residential community is still in it infancy but they have landscaped the first phase nicely and there is an exquisite (and apparently unused) infinity pool.

Tao PoolTao Pool 2

It lies on the edge of the enormous Bahia property and is set amidst their elaborate golf course. The Bahai complex has four separate resorts, the Sian Ka’an which is on the northern side of the highway and therefore not on the beach, and the Tulum, Akumal and Coba resorts which lie on the coast to the south. Between them the share some 4000 rooms and are spread over many acres. I wandered over to Sian Ka’an first which took me past the enormous golf clubhouse.

Golf Club

It took about 15 minutes to walk to the first of the resorts during which time I saw about three people, all of them staff of the hotel and this resident:

Resident Iguana

I walked past the driving range and in the same breath considered and rejected taking a golf lesson. The air was hot but not oppressive, the smells were intoxicating and the colours so vivid as to be blinding after the monochrome of a Torontonian winter. My hair tapped my naked shoulders to the rhythm of my steps and for the first time I consider the possibility of relaxing.

Sian Ka’an is set in the jungle. It is the smallest of the four properties and the most upscale. I elected for my first day to buy a meal pass that allowed unlimited access to the buffet restaurants throughout the resort. I am always a little leery of all you can eat buffets. The demon of “getting your money’s worth” seems to infect everyone’s brains and one eats exponentially more than necessary. The breakfast on the offer at Sian Ka’an was elaborate and catered to an international clientele.

Breakfast Buffet

My first round (yes, I succumbed) saw strange assembly of Chinese stir fried vegetables, a pancake with maple syrup, bacon, chorizo, a potato fritter and guacamole.


Round 2 (I wasn’t kidding) saw smoked salmon and two kinds of caviar

Caviar X 2

Sated (or perhaps stuffed is a better word for it) I went to explore this resort. It is an adult only facility and as such is serene and set along three quiet pools. There are golf cart shuttle trains to ferry people to the beach and to the remaining resorts but I opted to walk much to the utter incomprehension of the staff. I made my way down the road and over the highway bridge and ended up at the Tulum Resort

Tulum Lobby

Tulum is enormous, the least expensive of the resorts and caters to younger (read: partying) crowd.


There wass piped in music, pool activities and an MC. You could take Zumba on the beach

Zumba on the beach

After the tranquility of Sian Ka’an it was like a knife in the ear. I made my way down to the water and moved towards the Akumal property.

Akumal LobbyAkumal Resort MapAkumal Theatre

This one was equally enormous but seemed a little more mature. There was a quiet area in the pool

Quiet Pool Sign

and they don’t take kindly to the frivolities of the Tulum crowd.

No Topless

(That said there was one pool that had piped in the unmistakable strains of “Funkytown”. I guess some things cannot be escaped)

The properties all share a beach area. The water was warm and the sand surprisingly cool.


Bahia Beach 3Bahia Beach 1

After lingering on the water’s edge I made my way up to the final resort, Coba.

Coba Lobby

At first I could not figure out what the specific market was for this resort. I started to wander around and when I reached the first pool I was greeted with a large children’s waterpark. Ahhhh. Families. I turned on my heel and escaped.

I had by this point been walking for several hours so I hopped on one of the courtesy carts for a lift back to Sian Ka’an then walked home. My own choice of accommodation seemed like the wisest decision I could have made. These resorts seem to cater to those who want to have FUN. Lots of food, lots of drinking, lots of noise. I am much more content to have lower case “fun”. Sitting around with my smart witty friends, reading and watching the world.

I decided to drive back to Akumal Resort for lunch (an even larger more elaborate selection that Sian Ka’an) the in to Tulum for supplies. The supermarket was a revelation. They sold everything from oranges to sombreros, with a large selection of tequilas in the middle. There was a bread bar, a cheese counter and to my shock and delight an ham bar featuring different variations of aged and smoked pig. I bought breakfast supplies, snacks, water and a sample of Serrano ham (I couldn’t resist). I did give the frightening dessert counter a wide berth.

terrifying Dessert2Terrifying Dessert 1

I headed back to the villa and spent a lovely few hours on the roof deck with a couple of plunges in to the refreshing pool. I finished the evening with a nice restrained dinner at Sian Ka’an though I could not resist the lure of the dessert buffet.

Dessert BuffetDessert Buffet 2

I will expand my culinary horizons on the rest of the trip, and hopefully not my waistline with it.



Mayan Adventure – Day 1

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Day 1:

I am on a vacation. The opportunity presented itself; the need was absolute and I decided to wing off to a small town called Akumal in Riviera Maya. I have rented a villa and am going to do my damndest to relax. I have taken a couple of four day long weekends but the last time I was south for a week was eight years ago. Too long by far.

On this break I am going to try a new approach. I am going to be nice to people and try to be friendly. Sounds easy doesn’t it?  I do not generally go out of my way to be unpleasant, but I am an impatient and demanding soul by times and shy to boot.  Now seems like an appropriate time to try to change my ways.

The journey started off inauspiciously with a one hour flight delay, information I received via email some fifty minutes before the scheduled departure time and within a window where I suspect most of the passengers have already arrived at the airport. I would normally find this profoundly irritating but instead I had decided to dwell on the bloody miracle that is modern flight and that even with a delay by the end of the day I will be in a different country and climate.

The departure board was indicating a different time than the email suggested so I decided to ask an agent. The diminutive woman behind the desk eyed my approach warily – I suspect most interactions she has with the public are unpleasant – so I threw on my sunniest smile and asked which to be believed , board or email? She was visibly relieved, told me the board probably was more accurate, I smiled and thanked her and went off to wander the terminal. Pearson 3 is clean, renovated and offered some reasonable food options. I set myself up with a jasmine tea from David’s, a piri piri chicken wrap from Amaya and settled in. That was not so difficult.

The flight was uneventful, the Cancun airport is ridiculous but I was resolved not to lose my new cool. I picked up my rental car and drove for about 80 minutes on a well paved, arrow straight highway. The speed limit signs seemed absolutely random but I resisted to urge to break any of them and I arrived at my destination.

A two bedroom villa in a secluded private area on the Bahia Principe estate.  Two bathrooms, a TV nook (that has thus far yielded on channel featuring a Bradley Cooper film dubbed in Spanish, but no matter) all lit by an enormous skylight.

2nd Bathroom 2nd Bedroom  Kitchen Living Area 2 Living Area Master bath 2 Master bath Master bedroom Sitting area Skylight

Plus an outdoor privacy deck, eating area and plunge pool.

DeckPool & diningPool1Pool2Stairs to deckPool from balconyDeck1Deck 3Deck 4


The villa lies on a new development section of the vast Bahia property.  Eventually there will be 400 units of varying sizes but to date only 70 have been built and may of them are unoccupied.  As as the tourist season does not really take effect for a week or so I suspect my timing is perfect.  I believe there are fewer than 100 people in the immediate vicinity, none directly attached to my little home and there is precious little evidence of the remainder.  This promises to be a beautiful adventure