Sunday, 8 November 2015

Scuppered Schedules, Sunburn and Snorkeling

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Yes we said we were going to wring out the last drops of excitement and fun from our trip and we had all intention to hop on the bikes the morning after the last post and pedal South to Laguna Bacalar. Then we got an offer to go to Akumal with Meg, the Coloradan from the homestay, and we thought we can postpone a day to go snorkeling in Akumal, which means 'place of the turtle' in Mayan. So Monday morning we got up early to pack and get sorted so we'd be good to go first thing Tuesday. That's when we noticed that Tom's back had taken quite a cooking the previous day at the lagoon & cenote. Ok so I know it might look bad getting so sunburned, but here's the thing, you're not allowed to wear normal sunscreen in the cenotes or the lagoon as its damaging to the wildlife. What we should have done is wear a shirt, but we didn't, so here we are. Tom is as pink as a camarone and we have an afternoon of snorkeling planned. We've learned our lesson and we pack long sleeved tops for Akumal.

We have our first colectivo experience, which was surprisingly straightforward and easy. They are little minibuses that hurtle up and down the coast and are the primary way most the locals travel making them extremely cheap. We are dropped off on the highway by the Akumal turn off and walk towards the beach. Meg has had a recommendation of a place by the lagoon that has cabanas for rent and so we get in a (totally overpriced) taxi who says he'll take us to the lagoon. He starts saying the words 'caro' (expensive) and barato (cheap) but none of us are sure quite what he is getting at. He then pulls up outside a person's house and it transpires that he is saying we can access the lagoon here for 150pesos each or we can pay US$40 each at the 'other place'. It all felt a bit odd, like in India when the rickshaw drivers try to take you where they will get a commission, rather than where you want. But we paid the lady our money and followed her down this little alley. I was extremely dubious. We wandered through a garden, past a pool, and out to a little concrete area where two other gringos were sunbathing with a palapa umbrella and steps into the lagoon. Still a bit odd, but at least there's the lagoon and they're going to rent us snorkels pretty cheap.

The snorkeling was fantastic. Tons of beautiful, bright fish darted around the clear water. There were lush little islands with large leggy cranes holding still, eyeing the fishes below. As we explored the whole lagoon we noticed there were bizarre currents which you could both feel and see. Warm sea water mixed with the cool cenote water. We've never encountered anything like that before and coming up for air after diving down we both excitedly exclaimed that it was, inconceivably, warmer at the bottom! We spent happy hours gliding back and forth, all previous doubt and dubiousness gone from our minds. Tom is a total pro at diving down with his snorkel despite only ever having been snorkeling once before. I was totally in my element and with GoPro in hand was realising my childhood dream of working as an underwater cameraman, with a David Attenborough commentary running continuously in my head.

Sadly we didn't see any turtles, I don't think they venture into the lagoon, but it was a wonderful experience nonetheless and as the sun began to set we headed back in to Akumal for a meal on the beach before flagging down a colectivo back to Tulum. The three of us went back to Paola and Julio's to say a final goodbye to them and the kids. We ate fresh coconut, drank beer and left with an invite to stay with them again next time we're in Mexico. 

Morning came and with it so did the discovery of a load of blisters all across Tom's shoulders. We decided that spending 7 or 8 hours in the baking sun cycling south was a bad idea which would probably result in Tom losing a significant area of skin and opening up the potential for infection. So we extended our stay in Tulum further. A lively discussion started up on Facebook about the best course of treatment for the burn and after a day of cold green tea compresses we got our hands on some aloe vera leaf and carefully extracted the oozing, jelly-like centre to gently smear across the blisters. The morning after we were utterly amazed that the blisters had almost all disappeared and Tom reported it being much less painful. Nevertheless we spent a second day emulating vampires by avoiding all sunlight to be on the safe side. Thursday came around and we'd planned to cycle to the biosphere but the weather was obviously still concerned for Tom's skin and it poured with torrential rain all day so no outing. Friday morning was pretty fine so we grabbed our chance and went to Gran Cenote for more snorkelling action. 

It. Was. AWESOME. It's a sizeable cenote, 20ft below ground with huge caverns opening up underwater and overhanging areas you can snorkel into, swimming between stalagmites and stalactites with bats flying overhead and fish and turtles gliding along beside you. It really was remarkable. The water was unbelievably clear and we were both mesmerised by the sunlight streaming through the turquoise, dappling the sandstone and spotlighting darting fish. In the recesses of the caverns looking back out to the sunlight Tom and I both commented on how it had the feel of a cathedral. Golden sandstone lit up by the glorious blues and greens of the stained glass windows of water. 

Our photos do not do it justice, but we had a lot of fun diving around, trying to sneak up on turtles and just floating about in utter wonder. We picked up some BBQ chicken on the way home for lunch and just after we got in it started to pour with rain again. If we'd been snorkeling I think we might have drowned. It was relentless and phenomenal; the swimming pool was overflowing, our shower started to flood and the sound was deafening. So much for our planned trip to the beach that afternoon. Raymond, the owner of our little apartment, said there had been between 10-12 inches of rain in 24 hours. We were scheduled to leave the following morning, but were wondering if Tulum would again find a way to keep us there longer still.


  1. How can you bear to come back to rainy England? says Mummy

    1. Well it's not like it's not rainy here, mucho mucho lluvia! But yes, there is going to be quite a temperature difference...

  2. Wow these water pictures are amazing!! So beautiful.