What makes me so excited to travel to Mexico?

I am in Mexico! I Cannot wait for beautiful beaches, seagrass, corals, Mayan ruins and of course, amazing Mexican food. We arrive in Cancun Mexico at around 9pm, hop in a cab and venture down to Playa Del Carmen. It’s a beautiful drive, the roads are lined with extraordinary resorts, these places are like nothing I have ever seen. The architecture is truly remarkable and the complexes are all extravagant, I thought they were palaces but they are all inclusive resorts, which are very popular in Mexico. We arrive at a beautiful apartment complex where a friend drives us to our hotel. Or so we thought…We get in the car and after, I am not kidding, around 7 U-turns! we arrive in a rather shabby looking neighbourhood out the front of an abandoned church. I am not entirely positive, but I don’t think this is the right place. Turns out the hotel we booked is an hour away and the GPS location pinpointed it in the wrong place! We decided it would be best to cancel that accommodation and book another place, we choose a resort called the REEF. We drive 10 minutes down the road and arrive to check into the REEF, but they cannot find our booking. I mean, what is going on?!?!!. Turns out there are two REEF hotels and has booked the other one. What are the chances of there being two REEF hotels in one city! We saunter back to the car and drive another 20 minutes down the road to finally arrive at the right hotel, in the right location. As much as it was a rather chaotic start to the Mexican adventure, it was worth it. The room is beautiful and the view is stunning. We waste no time and venture out into the street. Its 11pm but people are everywhere, apparently Mexicans go all night long. We find a nice little restaurant to have some dinner and I try to order the most authentic Mexican food that I can. I ended up with a goblet sized glass of margarita, the best guacamole I have ever had and chicken with mole sauce, which is a rich chocolate sauce that is so delicious. I rolled back to the hotel room with a full belly and only slightly staggering because you can bet, I finished that whole margarita. 

We awoke early the next morning eager to check out the city. After a delicious buffet breakfast we go for a walk through the town and along the beach front. This beach has the whitest sand and the bluest water but the first thing I noticed was what had washed up onshore. It was a seaweed called sargassum, a huge pest in Mexico and the Caribbean region. The issue with this seaweed is that it occurs in massive quantities which has a smothering effect on the seagrass growing in the near shore zone. It also washes up on shore in these large amounts and then decomposes producing a sulphide type of smell, akin to rotten eggs, which interrupts the otherwise scenic and beautiful beaches here. This is why Mexican resorts are in a fight against this pest, it significantly brings down the value of their establishments. I take a closer look at the seaweed and notice it contains gas vesicles which are the little grape looking balls attached and these help keep the seaweed afloat enabling it to travel immense distances. If it wasn’t such a pest, I think you could appreciate the beauty of this organism, but sargassum is a huge problem here, not just for tourism but for the seagrass communities that work to keep the coastlines stable and support the tropical marine life. I would love to work on helping to control sargassum populations sometime in the future, especially since this problem is only going to worsen with climate change as storms and changing ocean currents propel the distribution of this seaweed. Also, as human expansion continues so too does nutrient run off, whether this be directly or indirectly through rain. Where there are humans, food production and establishments we have a higher amount of nutrients running into the oceans which fertilizers the sargassum as they uptake nutrients directly through their leaves. This is what provides sargassum with the additional nutrients it needs to grow so prolifically.

Doyle, E. and J. Franks. 2015. Sargassum Fact Sheet. Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute.
Beach at Playa del Carmen

We continue down the beach and back into the town, the main walking street is a cobbled street lined with small shops and of course hawkers. It is hard to ignore them as you know tourists are their only source of income but at the same time, they do get tiresome. We pass a guy spray painting mini surfboards and wow, his work is amazing. Further along is an odd wildlife shop and not kidding they had a baby lion cub inside. Now, I don’t want to get into this too much but i am totally against holding wild animals for the pleasure of tourists, especially when they are an endangered animal. We walk further to find the centre square of Playa del Carmen which contains a historic church that is breathtakingly beautiful. Across from the there, a scene is unfolding. Around 7 men dressed in costumes are dancing around a tall blue pole while one of them plays a flute like instrument. After a while they start to climb the pole, clearly none of them share my fear of heights because they flew up that thing! The music played on while they sat up the top of the pole and wrapped the bits of hanging rope around themselves, this spectacle went on for around 10 minutes until they let go! Falling off the pole with the bit of rope attached to their ankle and swinging around the pole… it actually reminded me somewhat of dunking a tea bag into warm water, but anyway, it was very impressive, and I tipped them generously for the show. We continued walking and stumbled upon an apartment complex that had obviously been built on top of cleared jungle forest as fortunately some of his forest was still left standing, fenced off. Inside the fence we could see these rat-like creatures with the hind legs of a deer, they weren’t as big as a deer but had the same shape, the whole animal was about the size of a possum. These creatures actually looked familiar, I believe I had come across them 3 years ago on a trip to Belize. They are called royal rats, although I think that is the colloquial term and upon later googling, I found out they are called Mexican agouti. 

Main walking street Play del Carmen
Street artist spray painting mini surfboards
Lion cub at wildlife encounter shop
Church in Playa del Carmen square
Sculpture in the main square of Playa del Carmen

 

It was at this time I was feeling like a margarita so we walked back through the street and some hawkers caught our eye and offered us ‘an ocean view’ table at their restaurant. Can’t refuse that offer, we followed the waitress up the stairs to our ocean view table. Well all I can say is… we got duped! The ocean was only visible through a tiny break between two buildings, while I was understandably fooled, we laughed it off and ordered margaritas anyway. Within minutes a pigeon flew along and landed on the balcony blocking the view I had of the ocean, that gives a little context on how small the view was. It was very amusing and I happily sipped my margarita thinking about how beautiful this place was, then a rainbow appeared and I felt like I didn’t have a serious care in the world. We decided to start thinking about the next day and what we were going to do. We really wanted to check out the Chizen Itza ruins so we thought we would hire a car and drive down there then drive to Tulum to spend the night. Both the ruins at Chitzen Itza and Tulum are high on my list to see, the Mayan history and culture are one of my favourite civilizations, but more on that later. For now I am really settling into the relaxed, Mexican way of life. 

 

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