17 May Aktun Chen Nature Park, What the Tourists DO
After many weeks of working on our blogs, our books, new websites (Eyepudding and the infamous Jimmy Eats World), Sarah and I decided it was time to do some travely stuff. Or rather she scored a couple free tickets for doing what she loves most, writing. This is how we found ourselves on a Collectivo at eight am (the middle of the night these days) on our way down South to see a natural amusement park called Aktun Chen. We got some great photos and even greater memories. Enjoy.
A nice chilled out thirty minute drive and forty pesos later we were dropped at the gates to “Indiana Joe’s”. The confusingly alternate name for Aktun Chen. A little Mexican fellow minding the gate informed us in very broken English that the park was another four kilometers down the road, that we should wait ten minutes and someone would come and get us. Fortunately for us he was a funny little dude and spent the ten or twenty minutes repeating the words “Como se dice” (how do you say), followed by Spanish spoken so quick it was a miracle we could keep up. By we I mean Sarah, who managed to teach him to say “Hello Lady, would you like to go to the disco with me.”
Once we got to the park the super friendly staff (they have somehow managed to get the best customer service in Mexico at Aktun Chen!) walked us through what would be happening and offered to let us play with their hair pulling, nose nibbling monkey. After watching him playfully lay waste to someones hair style we politely declined and instead prepped for the day (copious amounts of mosquito spray).
First up was the zip-lining. Unfortunately you can’t take your own camera, something to do with zipping through trees upside down and possibly destroying your equipment, and we weren’t quiet ready to drop $60 for digital copies (and we didn’t actually have the money with us). So we only have a couple pics of us strapping our genitals in nice and tight. I’ve never zip-lined and it was a lot of fun hanging upside down, spinning and generally zipping through the tree tops. Mostly fun though because of the staff who cracked jokes constantly, which after doing this for the zillionth time would have to be a struggle. When double zipping in a somewhat provocative position a couple were asked “You’re not brother and sister are you? Because that would be awkward.” Along with “Ok this time we do it without harnesses.”
Showing a little leg for the ladies.
The boys and their impressive ability to pose.
After the zip-lining it was off for a cave walk. The cave is pretty amazing, an underground testament to the age of this landscape. But for those with short attention spans like Sarah and myself it was a little bit long. Again though the guide made it a lot more interesting than it could have been, and the finale is spectacular. A deep underground cenote untouched by swimmers and such with thick roots hanging from the cavern top into its crystal clear depths. There is a bit of a light show to highlight features you might not notice and then it is off to the next event. I couldn’t get any decent photos of it because of the low light, but trust me, it is pretty spectacular.
Bats hanging out in the cave
Lunch was next, where we dined on Fajitas and Quasedillas. I made friends with a parrot who was maybe expecting more from our relationship than I was willing to give, and stared while squawking at me through the window, the whole time. I would have been more friendly but the big sign which none to subtly suggested the loss of fingers kept our time together on strictly no touch terms. I will always mourn what could have been had I been more courageous. I will miss you Palome the Parrot. Luckily our heartache was blunted by some of the other animals in the park. Like a sleeping monkey, a giant snake and mosquitos.
Palome the Parrot giving me his sad look.
Palome’s mates, who actually tried to chomp me.
What we spend most afternoons doing.
Our final destination for the day was one of the most attractive cenotes I have had the pleasure to swim in. Mostly underground and lit with a mix of natural and man made lighting. The water in this cenote is ridiculously clear. So much so that sometimes you have the strange sensation of floating on air as opposed to in water. We were guided around it and then given time to explore by ourselves. At some point everyone left and when I pulled my head out of the water I was floating in a large cavernous room with light beaming through a hole in the cavern ceiling with no one else around. The water seemed impossibly blue for something so clear and the ancient cracks four or five meters below me glowed in the piercing light. There was no noise except for water dripping from my hair (which is really sparse so barely any noise at all!). It was a delightfully zen moment. Floating alone in an underground river which is likely millions of years old.
The refraction an’ that make it look shallow, but it’s actually 4 or 5 meters deep in places.
Did you hear that?!
Then we were off. Back to the main entrance, an attempt at wallet fleecing for the photos (in all fairness I suppose it isn’t much for your average tourist, and they did offer to come down in price), and then trying to find a way back to the main gate. Usually your travel would be included but because of our free ticket thing we had to make our own way. A hotel tours driver suggested that if we paid him the money we would have paid a collectivo, he would take us back to Playa del Carmen with his passengers. At first it seemed like a fortuitous bit of luck, then we met our travel companions.
For the most part I have been pleasantly surprised by the Americans I have met, and never quite understood the stigma of the traveling U.S.A’ian. I have now had the misfortune to discover the other side of peoples arguments. At first our new companions were freaking out because “There ain’t gonna be space for everyone!” There was, because only about ten of them had come in a bus which could take about sixteen.
Once we were on the bus they got really annoying.
The gent in the front seat kept shouting back the worst jokes to everyone, and showing off like a six year old. Then there was the guy two seats in front of us, who after letting us know with a grin on his face that “things are gonna get loud and crazy in here.” turned around every two minutes to see how we were reacting to “the craziness” (which amounted to the loud dispersal of beer and then fatigue dulled comments).
With many more cringe worthy moments we made it back to Playa. Which is when they delivered the coup de grace. As we pulled into the large town of Playa del Carmen the gentleman next to me pointed at a super market and said “Is that your hotel? What’s it like?” I decided not to point out the shopping trolleys and people walking out with shopping bags. “No, we live closer to the beach.”
This was followed by someone else declaring with a gasp “Wow, look at this place”. They were of course referring to Playa del Carmen, which they had no idea even existed because they had never left the resort, but I mean, C’mon! Its Playa del Carmen, you are staying ten minutes away.
“So where are you from?” was next. “Australia, Perth.”
“Wow, want to see my knife?” This from the large brutish fellow next to me with a ridiculous grin on his face.
“What? Do I want to see your knife? Umm, well, OK I suppose.”
“You know, Crocodile Dundee. Do you want to see my knife!”
“Ahh OK I see the connection. That’s not a knife, this is a knife.” (Guffaws all round).
“So you live here. Wow, I’m like you, I like to get involved with the culture, you know, not these tour things.”
“Really? But then why are you…? Never mind, yeah totally we’re the same. So like, enjoy the rest of your holiday in the resort, I mean holiday in Mexico. Driver let us out here. This will be just fine. Yes I know it’s another three kilometers but I like walking. Here’s a hundred pesos, keep the change just open the door please.”
In Fairness, they were very friendly in the end. Just naive, which might have been endearing if it wasn’t for the stare bear and the show-offy nonce in the front seat.
All in all it was an interesting day. A bit different from the stuff we usually do, and aside from a few mosquito bites, tips for the great staff, and extreme annoyance on the ride home, it was free! Can’t ask for much more than that.