Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Best Day of Our Honeymoon

Two weeks ago, Eric & I got back from our honeymoon - two fun, fascinating, adventure-packed weeks in Mexico. Neither of us had ever been to Mexico and we loved it and want to go back as soon as possible.

December is usually my favorite month of the year, in large part because with my birthday and various holiday festivities it always feels magical and celebratory and exciting. In the weeks since we've been back it's been a little hard to focus on those feelings because of various small stressors in our personal lives and because of some awful, depressing, soul-crushing current events from the last couple of weeks.

In an effort to relive some happier memories - and because people have asked about the trip and I have been too busy to put all our pictures and stories on the internet - here is the story of the best day we had on our honeymoon.

One of the things we were really looking forward to doing while we were in Tulum was checking out the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. To make a long story short, we didn't make plans ahead of time and realized when we got there that the company we wanted to book a tour through was closed for renovation. So we consulted our trusty Lonely Planet and found another tour company that sounded good, but their website advised that you book things at least 72 hours in advance - and we were hoping to get out there the next day.

All this to say that on our first morning in Tulum I woke up at 7am and speed-walked to the Community Tours Sian Ka'an office to see if it was possible to get a kayak tour that morning. The good news was that a guide was available and we could get a ride from town to the reserve with another tour group - but we had to be back at the office ready to go at 8:30am. So I had an hour to speed-walk back to our hotel, potentially wake up Eric, get packed for the day, eat breakfast, buy beach towels, and walk back to the tour office.

Luckily, the town of Tulum is small enough that this wasn't an impossible timeline, but it was a little rushed. And luckily Eric was awake when I got back and not at all phased that we had 40 minutes of hustle ahead of us. So we make it on time, and get picked up by a van with some Americans from DC, a woman from Belgium, a couple Mexican families, and our tour guide. A few minutes into the drive the tour guide started telling us about Sian Ka'an and about his life. He grew up in a small Mayan village in the biosphere reserve and only spoke Mayan until his teen years, when he learned Spanish - and then a few years later he took an intensive English class and now gives tours in his second and third language!! Seriously impressive.

Our luck continued when we got to the reserve and our kayak guide met up with us and said we could tag along with the other tour group if we wanted, since they were going to tour the Muyil cultural center and then get a Mayan snack - and he was fine to take us kayaking after that. Obviously we chose the option that included a Mayan snack, and it was a good choice.

In the cultural center, we learned more about the life of our van guide and Mayan culture. The way he moved so seamlessly between English and Spanish was just so enjoyable to listen to, and what he told us about the uses for various plants of Sian Ka'an was equally as fascinating. After walking around the small cultural center he took us on a tour of the plants around the grounds and actually picked the fruit off of a chicle tree and showed us how to make gum from it. It blew our minds.

Our Mayan snack consisted of the most amazing, thick corn tortillas we've ever had (and we have eaten a ton of good tortillas so we do not give that praise lightly) and some squash and squash seed salsa - YUM.

Then we set out with our kayak guide, César, and got to the lagoon where we were going to start kayaking.

The sand at the bottom of this lagoon is legit QUICKSAND - many tourists' shoes have been lost there.
As we kayaked, César told us that Community Tours Sian Ka'an was created by the UN as a sustainable tourism project after the reserve was created in 1986. The restrictions on land use put in place meant that a lot of Mayans lost their jobs as fishermen, farmers, etc. So they trained the locals as tour guides and taught them English and worked with them to develop other sustainable businesses. César is actually the only non-Mayan working for Community Tours, and he was hired to help set the whole project up.

We kayaked through crocodile-infested waters and over a small cenote and saw some beautiful birds and just couldn't believe how lucky we were to be there.

Eventually we got to the canal:

The Mayans carved these canals through the limestone (without using any metal tools!) so they could get from one lagoon to the other for trade routes. This canal led to a freshwater lagoon only accessible by boat - and you can only swim in it if you get there by kayak. Again, we were pretty lucky that day:

It was so beautiful and calm and quiet - a true luxury after all the noise and bustle of Mexico City, Isla Mujeres, and Tulum. The water went as far as our eyes could see, and we walked and walked and the water was never more than waist deep. There were no crocodiles and no quicksand, which was a nice bonus - but the lagoon floor was very squishy and clay-like and so much fun to walk in. And did we mention that it was beautiful?

Eventually, Cesar reminded us that all good things must come to an end, so we kayaked back to the dock through a little bit of rain and then went to look at the Muyil ruins. Even though we got lots of mosquito bites, there really is nothing like walking through a dense, swampy forest and suddenly standing right in front of this:

There's still a ton of Sian Ka'an that we didn't get to explore, so we definitely need to go back. Anyone wanna join us?? (If you do happen to go without us, take a tour with Community Tours Sian Ka'an. Seriously.)

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