Well, it’s been a few days since my last post, and you’ll see in a moment why. Here’s a somewhat more brief synopsis of each day.
We had planned to wake up early in order to get to the ruins before the crowds, but then Joshua hit the snooze and we ended up sleeping until nearly nine. We were exhausted after our day at Xel-ha.
Once we were up, I went on a little bike ride with Lily to pick up some fruit for breakfast, and then Joshua made us juice. He’s pretty good at it, carving up the pineapple and mango, tossing in a banana, and then squeezing the juice of two oranges in. With a few cubes of ice and a cup of water, they’re smooth and sweet. And since the cost of fruit is next to nothing, a juice like that for all of us is less than two dollars.
Around 11, we finally left the studio. We biked along the path to the ruins and then paid our entry. The walk from the gate to the ruins was a bit buggy and quite hot, and all of us were sweating by the time we got to the wall of the ruins.
Once inside, Joshua and Lily went on an iguana scavenger hunt, and Lu and I went in search of shade.
To be honest, the whole experience really reminded me of our visit to the Acropolis in Athens. Hot and painful. I started to feel sicker and sicker, wandering around in the heat. There was hardly any shade, and I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm Lily felt over the iguanas. I think that normally the ruins would be absolutely stunning, situated as they are on a bluff over the coast, but I couldn’t get over the massive piles of seaweed. The smell made my stomach churn.
We left around 130, and I biked home as quickly as I could, Lu crying and writhing the whole way.
Back at the studio, Joshua and Lily decided to go get lunch, and Lu and I stayed back under the fans, resting. Two hours later, I was beside myself with worry. Joshua and Lily hadn’t gotten back, and our lovely birthday girl had refused to sleep a wink. We’ve been riding without helmets this whole time (helmets aren’t really Mexico’s thing), and while we’ve done our best to be careful, I was definitely imagining the worst.
They came back. Apparently “get lunch” had meant that they were going to a restaurant to sit down and eat, not pick up stuff to make lunch back here. I cried I was so relieved they were all in one piece.
While Lily took a nap and Joshua did homework for his geography class, Lu finally fell asleep. I read and took a nap too. Right now, I’m reading The Whole Brain Child to try a get some tips on how to deal with Lily’s tantrums.
After nap, I chugged some water, and it wasn’t until that point that I really started feeling better. I know. Shouldn’t that have been obvious?
We got dressed and headed into the center on bikes, stopping at the playground on the way. (Where Joshua and I were told by a policeman not to swing on the children’s swings… Oh, the mortification.)
Back on the main road, I was put in charge of picking the restaurant, a job I do primarily by scoping out atmosphere and a healthy amount of other customers.
I picked a place with a cute, painted Bug parked out front. It had been converted into a juicer, and inside, the decor was tastefully beachy. And they were playing Bruce Cockburn, Mark Knopfler, and Ziggy Stardust, so they had that going for them.
The tables had candles inside of brown paper bags, and when the waitress brought us the menus, they were pretty chic. Guarapa means “snack” and each snack came with a complimentary (in taste, not price) craft cocktail. The other patrons were beautifully tattooed, with edgy hairstyles and very skinny jeans…
I ordered the Mayan guarapa and mojito (which had habenero!). Joshua ordered the Azteca. The tacos came on beautiful wooden cutting boards, and the cocktails had stir sticks of raw sugar cane. Fancy, right?
Afterwards, we walked along the main road, in search of hammocks at a good price. The place with the cheapest price yesterday named me a price 100 pesos more, so the best I could do was to just get them down to the price they had been the day before. (But now we are the owners of two glorious hammocks! Yes, two! ((so we don’t have to argue over them))).
So the story of Thursday really starts around 10 PM on Wednesday when Joshua started puking. He started, and then he didn’t really stop puking until, oh, 5 AM.
Poor guy. It was definitely an ultramarathon. He’d come back to bed after a bout, only to groan loudly and get up again a minute later. And while I really don’t hold this against him, it’s worthy of noting that he is the LOUDEST puker I have ever heard. I mean, how the girls slept through it all, I’ll never know. But I am quite thankful that they did.
After an epic night of vomitting, Joshua switched to pooping his brains out. I mean, I knew that going on this trip Joshua would get sick at some point (with his delicate GI, it’s pretty much guaranteed), but this was a truly spectacular episode of sick, even for Joshua.
The next morning, Joshua was exhausted, and I wasn’t too spunky either, having been serenaded by horrific sounds all night long. I took charge of breakfast, but then I disconnected the blender from its base just as I was about to serve our juice, dumping the whole mess all over the floor.
Lily had a stupendous melt down, and though I tried every trick I’ve learned in my book The Whole Brain Child, none of them worked. I ended up taking Lu and going to buy more fruit to make yet another breakfast.
We packed up as best we could, Joshua taking breaks to poop or lie on the bed in exhaustion. At some point in the past 24 hours, my GI had also begun complaining, and I also was making plenty of trips to the bathroom. As Lily said sagely to her little kitty doll, “Both Mommy and Daddy have diarrhea. It’s the both and.” (Which is hilarious because “the both and” is a special joke in our family.)
Florencia, the AirBnB owner of the studio, came to collect us at 11, and she dropped us off at the main road so that we could catch the collectivo to Playa del Carmen. Joshua was pretty miserable, but I love the collectivos. I think they’re brilliant. So cheap (less than 100 pesos for a 45 minute ride for all four of us) and a great opportunity for both Lily and Lu to get their flirt on with the locals.
From the bus station in Playa del Carmen, we took a taxi to our next place, a fancy-pants two bedroom apartment in the heart of Playa. We were early, but they stored our bags and gave us free reign of the pool.
Lily, of course, was beside herself with joy. The pool is pretty great. A good third of the pool is shallow and really designed with kids in mind. The sides of the pool have loungers and mats set in about six inches of water, and then there’s the deeper part which is never more than 4.5 feet. So, pretty much perfect for a three year old who desperately wants to know how to swim but isn’t quite there yet.
Around 2 PM, we were let into our room and then we went in search of lunch, walking down to La Quinta. La Quinta is kind of like New Orlean’s Bourbon, so yeah… Not our favorite place in the world. We did, however, find a little Argentinian place to have pasta.
From there, Joshua and Lily went back to the apartment to have a nap, and Lu and I went for a little walk. We didn’t get too terribly far because it was hot and the beach kind of grossed me out (seaweed and bros in board shorts).
After nap, we went in search of a little mercado and some ice cream for Lily. Leaving the tourist district behind, we walked a good ways. Lily said to Joshua, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to travel.” Which pretty much felt like the greatest success ever. She also said, “I like walks.” So, win.
The next morning, we headed for the pool, and then we hung out there, chatting and playing with other kiddos and parents either who lived in the complex or were visiting.
We took a break for lunch at Aguachiles where we ordered the shrimp tacos, and then back at the apartment, Lily took a nap.
I went for a run on the treadmill (ick), and when Lily woke up, we swam again and then walked down the length of La Quinta and over to a Trattoria for pizza and a glass of wine.
It was a day primarily spent swimming, and although we could be in a pool anywhere, we decided that this was good. We’ve been telling Lily that traveling with the family is about compromise, and staying in Playa with a pool was our vacation within our trip, a compromise for the girls. It’s been really nice, and while Playa isn’t our favorite, Lily has been happy as a clam.
Until Friday night, that is.
So, apparently eating pizza in Mexico is a VERY BAD IDEA. It gave Joshua his terrible night (that’s what they had eaten out for lunch), and then it gave Lily a terrible night. It’s a good thing there are three beds in this apartment, because once Lily would puke all over one, we’d move to another. It just kind of sucked after she had puked all over every bed and every stitch of bedding in the entire apartment. Pobrecita.
At one point, both Joshua and I were cleaning up puke and comforting Lily and I had piled pillows around Lu to make sure that she didn’t fall off the bed onto the hard, stone floor. At some point earlier in the night, I had knocked a glass over and it had shattered on the floor. We were a little busy, so we said, “be careful and we’ll sweep it up in the morning.”
But then, guys, probably the scariest thing that I’ve ever seen happened. I went in to check on Lu, and there she was, draped over the pillows, hanging head first over the floor. She was just dangling over the floor with shards of glass, and I don’t understand how she hadn’t fallen, given the position she was in. I grabbed her and ran to tell Joshua what had happened. As I lay in bed with her little body against mine, I just felt like there had to been a guardian angel watching over her. Needless to say, I’m not going to put her to sleep on a high bed anymore.
The next morning, we went for breakfast and then Lily took an early morning nap. Lu puked a few times and had some pretty explosive poops, so she was the third domino to fall. Luckily, both girls are sort of crazily good natured when they’re sick. They puke and within a few seconds they’re smiling. It’s bizarre.
During nap, I went for a hot, sweaty run, and when I came back, Lu was asleep on Joshua, so I went down to the pool. I found The Girl on the Train on a free bookshelf and it’s pretty compelling, so I’m almost 2/3 of the way through.
The family came down and joined me after nap.
After swimming, we walked to get ice cream. We had planned to walk by the water too, but I wasn’t feeling so great, and the seaweed really smelled terrible. We went back to the apartment and I took Lily for a swim while Joshua walked to get some food for dinner.
By the end of the night, I was pretty sure that I was the fourth domino to fall. I had a massive headache and I felt terribly nauseous. I rolled into bed, praying that I’d feel better in the morning.
Today, I woke up and although I’m feeling a bit better than I did last night and I’m didn’t puke, I’m still not feeling great. Neither is Joshua. Getting sick has definitely been another low point for us. Parenting is just extra hard when you feel miserable. Plus, it’s no fun to see your kids in pain.
Joshua took the girls and left me to rest and write, making breakfast for the girls and starting to pack up. Today, we’re taking the collectivo to Cancun and then we’ll take the ferry to Isla Mujeres for the last leg of our trip. We’re all feeling a bit worse for wear, but here’s to hoping that our last few days will be full of fun and less full of… Sickness.
Here at the Anderts, we generally thumb our noses as package tourism. Cruises? Never. Resorts? Not interested. Five days with everything included? No thanks. Booking a tour? We’ll do it ourselves.
Part of our disregard for the package comes from being cheap skates, but the other part comes from wanting an authentic experience, not one that has been polished and delivered to the few who can afford it.
I stand by these reservations, personally and parentally. While I strive to be generous, I’m also proud of my frugality. I like that when I’m at home with the girls that I often go a whole week without spending a single dollar. We ride the train (which is free with my student card), go to story time at the library, and make liberal use of our memberships to the Children’s Museum, Art Museum, and the Botanic Gardens. When the weather’s nice, we traipse through the gulch, find parks, and search for fairies and kitties. Fun needn’t cost a thing.
As for the polished and delivered experiences, those will always make me a little uncomfortable. It’s one of my things. I’m hyper-aware of class and privilege, and it occupies a lot of my thinking space. In terms of parenting and traveling, this presents an interesting conundrum. In one sense, we’re cashing in on privilege by traveling in a slightly less developed country with a weaker economy. I expect my dollar to go further, and I find myself irritated when I know I’m paying more just because I’m a foreigner.
In the past, I used to haggle for the lowest price and forgo just about every service except for those that were absolutely necessary. On this trip, I’ve adjusted my view. Not only have we decided to pay a bit more to make this experience more comfortable for the girls, but we’re also contributing to the economy. I know. I know. This sounds grandiose, but I guess I overthink everything. I like to think about where our money goes and what it stands for. I like to think about whether we’re making ethical decisions with our money.
So I don’t haggle anymore. I shop around and look for the cheapest price, and I might ask for a dollar or two off if I’m buying multiple items, but I’m not comfortable being as ruthless as I used to be when I have so much. The other thing that we strive to do is make sure that our money is going towards local companies or even better, local individuals. For these reasons, the hipster vegan restaurant owned by the blue-haired trustafarian from LA and the Chedraui (which is not a syndicate of Walmart but a similarly large corporation) are places that I would not return to in the future.
Oof! Get me off my soapbox!
All that to say that today we went to Xel-ha, and as you can see I’ve been overthinking (rationalizing?) the whole experience, but in sum, I loved it. The girls loved it. Joshua loved it. It was AMAZING, and you know what? In terms of my values, I don’t think it was too far off course. For the past five years, the Experiencias Xcaret has been named one of the Best Mexican Companies. Xel-ha employs 504 colaboradores, and from an outsider’s perspective, their jobs look incredible. What’s more, one of their missions is conservation education, and their grounds had composting and recycling available.
And before I completely move off my soapbox, another thing I’m mulling over: we’re in the jungle. The place is overflowing with plants and flower that come bursting out of the ground and race upwards towards the sun. The mangroves are a gorgeous and wild tangle of life. There’s the bluest, clearest water in the oceans and the cenotes, and the very rock you walk on is limestone and former coral reef, having emerged hundreds of years ago from the floor of the ocean.
And yet. The pueblos and cities and careterras are littered with trash. There’s a concerning stench coming from the streets, and it’s dismaying to see the refuse of our packaged lives accumulating in the tangled arms of the mangroves or dumped in the jungle. It’s not different from many of the places that we’ve traveled. Kathmandu, though we adored the place, was very dirty. So was Pokhara and Delhi and Rishikesh and Dharamsala. So was Cuzco and Cuenca. And Quito and so on. Part of it is cultural, and part of it is about infrastructure, but the truth is that we in the United States produce so much more trash than these places that we are exploring, but we just don’t have to see it. Our infrastructure tidily disposes of it, and once out of sight, it’s out of mind.
So what to think about these expensive yet pristine areas, landscaped so beautifully and really taking advantage of all that the jungle has to offer? It’s such a contrast. In a way, I saw what the cenotes, mangroves, lagoons, and jungles of the Yucatan could be today, but in reality, that’s not how they are. They’re littered with individual LaLa yogurt containers, styrofoam to go boxes, the wrappers of suckers, plastic bags, and on and on and on.
Ok. So this is where the real story of Xel-ha starts. In the midst of questioning our sanity and this trip, we decided to do something different. Something we thought the girls would love. We decided to go to Xel-ha, an adventure eco park – “the world’s most beautiful natural aquarium.” And we decided to do it on Lu’s birthday.
Xel-ha is open from 8:30 AM to 6 PM, and it costs $90 per adult to enter. Children under the age of 4 are free and older children are $45. We left Tulum at 8:30 via a colectivo and from where we were dropped off, it was a half mile hike to the entrance (price of colectivo 25 ps. per adult).
Everything at the park is included in the price of the ticket: towels, snorkel gear, life jackets, keys to lockers, all you can eat food and drinks (including alcoholic drinks). Most of the activities are also included but there are some special activities that cost more. When you think about all of the that, especially the food and drink, it’s actually pretty reasonable (especially for us because we only paid for two adults and brought in two kids for free).
On the way in, Lily was fascinated, watching the special tours swim with dolphins. For once, when she asked us her usual questions – “are dolphins nice?” “do dolphins like Lily?” “are dolphins scared of people?” – about wild animals (and, I suppose, these dolphins are no longer wild), I had different answers. Dolphins are very nice! They like people. They’re playful. Lily was totally awe struck.
We made our way to the lockers, and then we went to the kids area. Lily was thrilled with the shallow splashing pool and extensive playground that included swinging bridges high over the jungle. Along the lagoon’s edge, lounge chairs and palapas provided rest, shade, and a stunning view of the turquoise water.
Joshua and Lily played for a while in the shallow pools and the playground while Lu and I nursed under a palapa and then ventured out into the water. Luckily, there were little baby life vests (as well as all sizes, because they’re mandatory), and it was very easy to take her in. Unluckily, Lu was not exactly thrilled with the temperature of the lagoon – 77 degrees.
After an hour or so, we decided to have a late morning brunch. Joshua and I scooped up the chilaquiles y refritos and Lily predictably had pancakes. The vegetable and fruit juices were also a big hit.
From there, we walked through the shaded, verdant jungle to where we caught a little palapa train that brought us to the beginning of a “lazy river” that wound through the mangroves. Lu wasn’t too sure at first, but once I began nursing her in the innertube, she fell asleep. It was so beautiful, you guys. The water was so blue and the branches of the mangroves hung down to the water and you could touch their gnarled elbows and ankles. The light filtered through in dapples and spots, and it’s just not hard to continue this story of a magic fairy kingdom for Lily when we’re in places like this.
At the end of the river, we got out of the water and Joshua jumped off the “cliff of valor.” I waited in line to do it as well but totally chickened out.
From there, we explored the other side of the park, passing by a family of friendly coati, including an adorable baby coati (but in general they kind of freak me out because they look like raccoons, and you all know how I feel about raccoons).
We swam through a narrow grotto and into a cenote with a rope swing where we easily spent an hour jumping in and then climbing out of the water. Lily LOVED it, and Lu watched, laughing and shrieking when she saw the splash.
We walked some more, past cenotes and into caves. We crossed the floating bridge. We stopped back at the lockers to reapply sunscreen and Joshua and I picked up pina coladas on the way. From there, we caught the train again and headed to the start of the river once again.
This time we floated down to the adventure park where there were ziplines and obstacle coursed through the water. Joshua watched the girls while I attempted a few of them, and then I took Lily to swim through the lagoon back to the main area.
Lily loved floating in the innertube and I swam behind her. We looked at fish and she got braver and braver, eventually eschewing the innertube and climbing on my back. When we got to our rendezvous point, Joshua was holding a sleeping Lu, looking out over the water.
It was 430 already, so we made our way to dinner. The traditional Mexican buffet was impossible for Joshua and I to choose, what with all of the dishes that we’ve intended to try included. Mole, pozole, sopa de lima, ceviche, and so much more. I had the ceviche. We’ll see. Cafeteria ceviche kinda concerns me, but it tasted delicious.
For dessert we had margaritas (the adults at least) and chocolate cake for Lu’s birthday. The chocolate cake was actually pretty incredible, and you all will be happy to know that Lu enjoyed a few mouthfuls and then methodically wiping it all over her body, as is required on one’s first birthday. We sang Happy Birthday and Feliz Cumpleanos approximately three dozen times throughout the course of the day, shamelessly telling perfect strangers that the flirt with whom they were cooing was one today.
After dinner, we raced back to the children’s area to eek out the last 45 minutes of our day. Joshua was my hero and took the girls while I went for a long swim along the lagoon – shhhh – sans life jacket. Mom, I wish you had been there. We could have done one of our forever swims (those forever swims are some of my favorite memories of you and I).
I came back with about 15 minutes to spare and we traded off so Joshua could enjoy a little float.
At five to six, we went back to the locker rooms. We showered, changed, and walked out slowly, watching the employees clean and lock up and sneaking in a few more moments with the dolphins.
We walked back to the road, completely happy. Both of the girls were so amazing all day. Lily fell half a dozen times, and though she still cried, she dusted herself off and bounced back so quickly. She had this huge smile on her face the whole time. Lu’s favorite part had to have been walking the many paths through the jungle and relaxing in the innertube down the lazy river.
As we walked, we thanked Lu for giving us all a fabulous birthday gift.
We ended up taking a particularly persistent taxi back to Tulum, and then we all collapsed on the bed and flicked on the TV to let Lily watch Nickolodeon, completely spent. Oh, and then I ate a pink dragon fruit and some lychee.
Soooo, pretty much a perfect day. Now we’re scheming a week long vacation for when the girls are older and can swim. We’ll rent a place in Playa del Carmen, and we’ll buy a three day pass to Xcaret, Xplor, and Xel ha. It’ll be a “vacation-y” vacation, but if it’s this beautiful and this fun, we’re in.
I am happy to report that today was an amazing day! In fact, ever since my low point yesterday morning, things have been so much better, and we’re starting to get into the groove of this whole traveling thing 🙂
This morning Joshua and I took turns running. Afterwards, we had breakfast, and then we all piled into a taxi and headed for El Gran Cenote.
Guys, cenotes might just be one of my favorite things. These freshwater pools are textbook paradise. They just take my breath away. Today, as I was standing in the pool with Lu in my arms, I just kept thinking that this place is a living poem.
// you are a poem of rock and water // with secret passages for the nests of small birds // that swoop and dive and flit // over blue water and above my head // with water so clear that I think I can touch the bottom // but I can’t // with a blue that begs all the overused similes // and yet rings true // lover’s eye // sky // sapphire and turquoise // I swim through your caves with my baby in tow // you take us in and I whisper // this is magic // this is where the fairies live //
So yeah. Pretty magical. Enough so that it warranted a poem.
After two hours, we headed back to the studio for lunch and a nap. Lu and I nursed and took a nap too (!) while Joshua worked on a video of the trip.
After we woke up, we took out the Ergos and walked into town. Here’s what I wrote in my journal to Lily:
We walked though las tiendas, gently touching the vibrantly embroidered flowers and admiring las calaveras. Dream catchers with feathers of every shape and size swung in the breeze next to chandeliers of shells ands seeds from the jungle.
You ran and laughed, sneaking behind corners and hammocks.
You picked out a bracelet and wore it proudly.
We ate ice cream outside on the street, serenaded by a man and his guitar. And two old ladies cooing over your blue eyes and blonde hair.
We found a playground, and you walked into the fray, a little uncertain.
At dinner, you ate sopa de lima and agua de sandia, sipping through the straw and draining the oversized margarita glass down to the last drop.
Your eyes were lit up, and you were so happy.
On Friday, we had another breakfast of fruit and gathered at the yoga palapa. All four of us did our own versions of yoga, Lu crawling around and exploring the shrine, Lily imitating moves of ours and then improvising some of her own (downward dog with one leg extended seems to be her go-to), and Joshua and I running through modified sun salutations. The more I do, the more I want to know everything about yoga. Strangely, it might be the non-exercise part of yoga that is most compelling to me. Or maybe that makes perfect sense.
We packed up our gear for the day and headed into Akumal, stopping at the fruteria and mercado for some pan dulce, nuts, and fruit. From there, we walked past the main beach and up a few kilometers to Yal-Ku. Yal-Ku is a semi-freshwater lagoon filled with fish and other sea creatures. The entry free is a bit steep, but the grounds are beautifully kept and there are lovely bronze statues punctuating the paths through the jungle and the rocky shore of the lagoon. With palapas and wooden staircases descending into the water, it was pretty idyllic.
That being said, it was not the greatest spot for young children. For the five and over age group, it would be perfect, a total water playground, but for the three and under age group, less so. Lily enjoyed tagging along as Joshua and I took turns snorkeling, but after a couple forays, she grew frustrated and cranky.
Joshua and I took a couple more turns discovering schools of brightly colored fish and swimming through the cool water. In between, we tried to entertain the girls in the sculpture garden as best we could, but both of them grew increasingly frustrated. Finally, we left.
The walk back was hot and humid, but the manicured lawns of the private residences along the beach drive offered tons of fallen flowers to pick up and enjoy. I tucked a perfect hibiscus behind my ear, and felt very tahitian 😉
Back near the public beach access, we found a spot in the shade and let Lily lie down on a towel, she had been complaining of being tired earlier, which should have been a huge warning sign, but more on that later.
Taking turns jumping into the water, both Joshua and I had good luck snorkeling. I saw a large, beautiful sea turtle combing the ocean floor and then combing up for air about 10 feet away from me, and Joshua went out and saw three sea turtles (and a sting ray).
On the beach, however, Lily was melting down further, and Lu was no happy camper either. We decided to call it a day and head back to Organic Yoga.
Finally, after a walk from the beach to the carretera, a ride in el collectivo and a ultra-baby-wearing slog, we arrived in our palapa which thankfully, had air conditioning. We quickly showered off the sweat, sunscreen, and bug juice, and then laid Lily down in bed. She fell fast asleep, completely tuckered out.
While I showered, Joshua took care of Lu and made dinner. We ate, occasionally checking in on Lily and growing more and more concerned and remorseful.
It was pretty clear that after five days of no nap, lots of sun, heat, and bug bites, our eldest was completely done in. All day long, I had been frustrated with her constant whining, numerous freak-outs, and timidity, but this was a major reality check. Laying in bed, hot and flushed, a little sunburned and with tons of mosquito bites was a three year old. Just three. And while the whining and melt downs are not pleasant, I feel responsible for not having really listened to her, because she was telling me that it was too much, and all I heard was the whine in her voice.
Poor girl. Joshua and I talked. It is too much. At the beginning of this trip, as we were in the airplane and I had a moment to write in my journal, I wrote out my intentions for the trip, and the first one was that Lily would have a good time. I wanted to show her the magic of traveling, and I wanted this experience to draw out her urge to explore, her curiosity. But sadly, five days in, she was a dehydrated, exhausted mess. That night, she woke up in tears and pain, and we gave her some Tylenol and a bottle of water, hoping that a night of rest and taking it easy the next day would do the trick.
So yesterday, we had a slow morning. We made avocado toast and ate a whole papaya for breakfast. We packed up and swung in the hammock. Lily was feeling much better, so we did a little yoga as a family again.
When we were all ready to leave, we begged a ride from the Organic Yoga proprietor, Leon, and he was more than happy to oblige. From there, we hitched a collectivo and then met the next AirBnB owner at the bus station in Tulum.
Florencia ushered us to a taxi, and we then had a short ride to our next home away from home.
Upon arriving, we took in our clean, modern, studio apartment. While there is no AC (yikes), it is bug free inside and it’s an easier space with the girls. I’m not worried Lu is going to scoot up to a scorpion and Lily won’t have to be shower mates with the lizards.
We put Lily down for a nap right away, and I went in search of a lavanderia with a huge bag of clothes on one of our cruiser bikes that comes gratis with the apartment rental (praise hands). After a bit of searching, I did find a lavanderia, and man. If only lavanderias were this cheap and plentiful in Denver. I would never do laundry again. For a huge bag of all of our clothes, I paid 118 pesos (about 7 dollars) to have them washed and folded (praise hands, praise hands).
Back at the studio, we entertained Lu while Lily slept. Yeah, cuz the girl never takes naps. Can anyone say energizer bunny? At least she’s pretty good at independently playing!
When Lily woke up, we loaded up the bikes and rode down to the beach. We had a moment that would have been embarrassing if we were being filmed and on the Amazing Race, but luckily only our children saw us bickering quietly about food and money and where to acquire and spend the former and the latter. Am I right? Does anyone else think What Would an Amazing Racer Do when their traveling? WWARD? No? Just me?
So we ended up at this waaaayyyy too cool little vegan hipster joint owned by a blue haired white girl from LA (I know this because she was there). While she was discussing the design of her menu with a guy in a topknot and skinny jeans and so much cool he wasn’t even sweating, the four of us caved. We had been using natural bug juice up until this point. You know. Like citronella and cedar and eucalyptus. Like $30 bug juice from Natural Grocers. But then we were in the middle of the jungle and there was OFF! on the tables and even the too cool vegans were slathering it on like, hey, I’m an animal rights activist/armchair vegan unless it comes to mosquitos, and then I’m like, those f***ers have got to die, and we were like, wow, it’s so disheartening how much better this stuff works than the natural stuff, and maybe we should go to the super market on our way home and stock up on DEET.
Anyway. We doused ourselves in DEET and it was amazing. Not a single bug bite. I mean, I guess Silent Spring wasn’t kidding. Even the little lizards and geckos kept their distance.
The menu, as it were, was a work in progress, delivered in a sweet little scroll tied with hemp. The prices were slightly staggering (which always puts me in a GREAT mood), but we had already caved once, so we decided to order anyway.
The food was amazing. I had coconut ceviche with thinly sliced sweet potato chips and some fire-hot but amazing sauces. Joshua ordered Tacos with something amazing inside (I’m not sure what). It was super, super good, but super, super not kid friendly. Both Lily and Lu were in tears from the heat.
From there, we biked up the beach to some public access. Unfortunately, the entire Riviera is having some serious seaweed problems, and a lot of the resorts and spas along the beachfront are dredging the seaweed from their patch of shoreline over to the public areas. Drying seaweed smells a lot like burning rubber, and it a lot makes me want to barf. It’s not so fun to go diving in the waves with an algal bloom in the water. Lily sat on the beach, looking totally forlorn and dismayed by the experience. Lu cried because nursing in the sand is easier said than done (and painful :(), and Joshua and I looked at each other, feeling overwhelmed and a bit defeated.
We biked back, stopping at the super market on the way that looks suspiciously like a Walmart. We stocked up on some fruits and vegetables and then headed home. From the gate to the door of the studio I was attacked by a new and vicious breed of mosquito, and by the time we got inside, I was covered in a dozen new and very angry welts. Luckily, the rest of the family was spared. I’m the sacrifice.
Once inside, we showered off and Joshua started making pico de gallo. Friends, this is where doing the Whole30 would be dirt cheap. Here, fruits and veggies and whole foods in general are super inexpensive. Everything else is only slightly cheaper than the US.
There’s a TV in the studio, and in an effort to make vacation a bit more relaxing for our eldest, we gave her a special fruity drink and handed her the remote. I must say, it was the most chill she was all day.
Last night, we turned on all the fans and left all the windows open (there are screens, thankfully). Joshua set his alarm for an early morning run, and when he came back, I went out too. As a part of our effort to make this trip more enjoyable for the littles, we have decided to cut down on the amount of walking. We’re trying to address Lily’s whines immediately and with more empathy, and we’re being even more purposeful about spending our day in a way that she would enjoy.
So today, we did our research and decided to find a beach club with pool. While the words “beach club” reallllly don’t float my boat, apparently that’s how you do it in this neck of the woods. I think of it like a coffee house. You want a nice place to do some studying with good ambiance, and so you pay for a cuppa (and I also happen to love coffee, so not a bad deal, right?). In Tulum (maybe everywhere?) you want a nice beach and maybe some shade and yeah, I’ll take the freshwater shower too, and so we pay for a margarita (also not a bad deal, right?). It definitely feels like bought time, but with the right amount of shade, a hammock, and a little booze, I guess it’ll work for us.
Soooo, we went in search of Playa del Cielo, a beach club that’s supposed to be kid-friendly and have a pool, because my friends, Lily wants a pool. Pretty sure her favorite day so far is the day we got here and swam in that pool in the not-so-great hotel in Cancun (I say not-so-great because we were on the third floor and their elevator had broken, so by the time you got to the room you were pouring with sweat.
We biked the couple of kilometers down to the main road that has beach clubs, restaurants, and resorts on one side and shops and cafes on the other. We bike another few kilometers until we saw the small wooden sign for Playa del Cielo and…. It was closed 😦 😦 😦 Parent fail: 30.
We asked a nice man where we might find another pool and then we went on a 40 minute goose hunt (or chase or whatever), but to our knowledge no place called “Mestizo” exists. And if it does, I have concerns about its name, but I guess that’s another matter entirely.
Anywho. We gave up and went to La Zebra, a place we had read about that we knew had a playground, Lily’s second request. By the time we arrived, we were all dripping and not looking so lovely, but nevertheless, we found a patch a shade with a little table and ordered a couple of Coronas and some empanadas and chips with guac.
Lily and I went to check out the wooden playground and the hammocks, and Joshua stayed with Lu, playing in the sand with the little sand toys we had picked up on our way.
While we were playing, two little boys ran over and introduced themselves to Lily, and she was smitten, just over the moon, at little kid contact. So even though the beach was kind of crummy and the seaweed was really bad, Lily had a good time, and that was the point.
We biked back to the studio for a nap, and afterwards, we took the bikes to Tulum center for dinner. On our way into the center (which is about 2 km from the beach), we encountered a pretty stellar playground. We decided to stop and play, and a couple of little girls came up and introduced themselves to Lily (Parent Win: 2ish).
When the mosquitos started coming out, we left for dinner, and it was AMAZING. I had tacos de pastor and I’m not sure what Joshua had, but we topped it of with aguas naturales melon for Lily, a mojito for myself, and a Dos equis for Joshua. I tell you. Nothing like pork and cheap booze to lift your spirits.
This morning when we stopped to buy beach toys, Lu’s eyes lit up when she saw a mini pail and tool set. When Joshua picked it up, she quickly snatched it out of his hand and refused to let go for the next hour. It was pretty hilarious how clearly she knew it was hers and hers alone.
In the same vein, and completely unrelated to travel, Lu has picked up a few words in the past week and a half: Mama and Dada are clearer and more purposeful than ever, she also says Hi and Owie. She also shakes her head “no” which is juuuuust about the cutest thing.
I loved watching Lily share her beach toys with the kids at the beach club playground. She was so generous without prompting from me. Like, “here you go!” For those of you who know how much she can struggle with sharing, you’ll know what a victory that was!
I love biking here. The girls love it, and the ocean breeze makes the heat bearable.
The food. I’m so serious when I say that pork and booze completely changed my whole outlook on this vacation.
Lavanderia!!! Gotta love those clean, folded clothes. Lily came with me to retrieve them this morning, and we saw a bunch of stray kitties on the way. She was very concerned about them, and we talked about why they were stray and where they might sleep. Now her “magic-nation” narratives involve a lot of motherless, sisterless, street-living kitties. That’s my girl. She’s got a flair for the macabre.
Playgrounds! Guys. I have this idea. Ok. So MEXICO has this idea, and I happen to think it’s BRILLIANT. Exercise equipment for adults at playgrounds!!! Isn’t that a fabulous idea? Get people off their iPhones and on a spinmaster5000 (or whatever)! You can totally watch your kids play and work out at.the.same.time. Call me a weirdo, but I’m serious. US, get on this.
On our way back from La Zebra, I found a ring of keys in the road. I pulled over at the next business to drop them off, thinking anyone looking for them would go to the nearest establishment, and funnily enough, the guy behind the counter at the diving center knew whose keys they were! We stopped and chatted for a few minutes, and he filled up our water bottles. It was such a friendly exchange, and he was so sweet to the girls. And even though he spoke perfect English, he humored me and conversed only in Spanish with me! Which is definitely a first. Usually once people hear me bumbling in Spanish, they switch to English is theirs is slightly better :(:(:(
Running. You know, steps are good n all, but running just does it for me. Like, 30 minutes, you know? Just you, the path, no kids, and 1000 mosquitos.
The chance to be here with my family and to experience all of it together, the good and the bad.
Pitaya. Out of curiosity, I bought a pitaya at the fruteria. It’s also called a pink dragon fruit, and it was incredible. The inside is a white flesh with small black seeds interspersed throughout. It reminds me of kiwi (probably because of the look and crunch of the little seeds) but has a milder, sweeter taste. I plan to have one every day from here on out.
My kindle. I’ve been able to read almost a book and a half in the time that we’ve been here, just in the moments before bed or while nursing Lu.
Y’all, I had a low point this morning. We had just picked up the beach toys and Lily was melting down over something, and we were all sweaty, and I was dreading the burned-rubber stench of seaweed and feeling sad that the water is thick scratchy seaweed, and sort of just generally thinking oh my god we have 12 days left and what have we done with all of Joshua’s time off and all this money and have we made a horrible mistake and are the girls happy and am I a shitty mom…
You get the picture. So I voiced my concerns to Joshua. I usually have this attitude that I WILL enjoy this! Dammit! When it comes to the grittier side of traveling, but I just sort of felt pushed over the edge, you know? It really devastates me to see Lily so sensitive and timid and well, unhappy.
So we talked, and we decided: 1) spend more money (this means more taxis, less walking in the heat, more stuff that Lily will really enjoy) we’ve been spending about $50 a day and we think upping it to $75 will take the edge off and not break the bank 2) scrap Valladoid. We had planned on going into Valladoid to see Chichen Itza and a bit of the interior of Yucatan, but it’s supposed to be even hotter, and we’re not sure that ruins are really going to be a 3 year old’s cup of tea. 3) Find a place with a pool for those three nights instead. We’re thinking Playa del Carmen. 4) Listen to Lily. Really listen to her. Try not to get irritated and try to meet her needs quickly so that she has the reassurance and comfort she needs to handle new experiences. 5) Next time don’t be quite so stingy. If $20 more a night gets you a pool DO IT.
So after that talk and then our spontaneous bike ride through Tulum center, I was feeling so much better. On that bike ride, I felt like I was reclaiming that part of traveling I love where there’s not really anywhere you have to be, so you just explore and find little gems around every corner. And you know what? Lily and Lu loved it too 🙂
So there you have it. The struggles are much in the same vein as they were a post or two ago. Traveling with kids means less of that spontaneity and devoted relaxation, but even in navigating this morning’s low point, I feel like there are so many lessons to unpack, and I love that Joshua and I are in this together, trying to problem solve and be the best parents we can be.
So to end, an intention:
I am a loving, caring, and adventurous mother. I want to be playful and attentive. I want to model curiosity and good will.