by Lydia Linton Pontius (April 2012)
We woke up slowly, enjoying our last morning in Akumal. We enjoyed breakfast at Lol-Ha (see video) and spent some time talking with Paul Sánchez-Navarro, Director of Centro Ecológico Akumal (link to videos). Then we thanked everyone for an amazing night to remember. Lol-Ha's staff are the best at making an event memorable and they handle every detail with incredible finesse and attention.
We made a quick detour to Punta Sur, Akumal to drop in on our friends Steve and Sharon Wandler at Casa Alma de la Vida (see video). We had met them many years ago and wanted to see their new home and say our good-byes. You can read more about their lovely place in next month's issue.
Sad as it was, it was time to head farther north for our last day before flying out, so it was off to Playa del Carmen. The first time I saw Playa was in 1998. I was still a documentary producer at the time and we were on a family vacation. I had been doing research on a possible video about dolphins in captivity. I was invited to Xel-Ha to meet their trainers; they were not open to the public so I was given a private tour of the dolphin facility. On our way back to Cancún, we pulled off the then-two-lane highway to drive through a small fishing village called Playa Del Carmen. There were a handful of dirt streets, a pier for the ferry to Cozumel, and not much else. We decided not to stop.
Photo courtesy of Kathy Munoz. Shot at the same location in Playa del Carmen.
The first was the original ferry dock, 1983; the second was taken in 2007.
Over the years we have seen Playa grow at an amazing rate. Some studies say it has grown at a rate of 20–25% annually; others state it has been, or is, the fastest growing city in Latin America, while still others claim fastest in the world. Whichever it is, it has been amazing to watch. Playa is now one of my favorite cities in the world. I love the energy and have met some amazing people who have made it their home. Whether I am traveling alone or bringing a group with me, I love to make 5th Avenue a stop. I usually like to arrive in the late afternoon so I can enjoy the transition from daytime to night. It is a great place to shop, eat, drink, dance, and, above all, people-watch! At night the lights come on, the music seems louder, and there is a pulse of excitement in the air.
We arrived and checked in early at La Tortuga Hotel & Spa. (See review and videos in next month's issue.) The rooms were not ready but the staff were very helpful and let us store our stuff. I can't say enough good things about this spot. It is the sister property to Cabañas Tulum (see review) and the two complement each other perfectly!
With our stuff dropped off and the car parked, we were off to see 5th Avenue and the beach.The middle of the day can be brutal on 5th, with the sun beating down; I much prefer it at night. That said, Mike and I decided to escape the heat and let Matt and Lisa wander off to explore. We ducked into 100% Natural. I had heard great things about it over the years and had never eaten there. The setting was just what we were looking for. You step inside and it is like you are in a café in the middle of the jungle. With fresh fruits incorporated into the décor it was a perfect spot to relax and get a bite to eat and pass some time. The food was fresh and wonderful, and the service was good. Note to first-time visitors—relax when you dine in Mexico; in this culture it is rude to rush someone through a meal, so don't expect fast service to be a priority. We did see four tourists walk out because service was not as fast as they would have liked. I say, take a deep breath, exhale, and relax!!! Leave your watch at the border.
Finished with lunch, we decided to head back to our gorgeous hotel and enjoy the amenities. Much to our surprise they decorated the room in honor of Mike's birthday. How sweet is that? We had two great rooms to choose from. The first was nestled on the first floor in an amazing tropical jungle atmosphere with a winding pool at our feet. The second was on the top floor with its own private rooftop jacuzzi. Mike and I opted for the first floor, knowing the young couple would enjoy the latter more.
We ordered a cocktail and relaxed on our patio, taking in the amazing atmosphere of the resort, as a brief shower rolled through (see video). Later, after the rain had passed, we joined Matt and Lisa in the hot tub located in the middle of the winding pool. It was the perfect spot to unwind before dinner.
That evening we had a spectacular dinner at the hotel's restaurant, El Bistro. The service was stellar and, to my delight, they had the same incredible appetizer that I adored from El Bistro at Ziggy Beach. It is as good a take on tuna tartare as you will ever experience; coupled with avocado and a hint of sriracha, it melts in your mouth and makes you smile. I am smiling now just thinking about it. The rest of the meal was equally spectacular (see review in next month's issue) and it ended with a stunning display of Mayan Coffee.
The next morning we woke up slowly, packed our bags and headed to breakfast. I was finally going to get to meet Michele Kinnon, one of our great contributing writers, bloggers and keeper of the Calendar of Events from BuyPlaya. We had another excellent meal at El Bistro and a wonderful time sharing ideas and stories, which ended too soon.
We had one more stop we had to make before heading to the airport. There is the most amazing small store, Siete DeTalles, on 1st Avenue that specializes in Talavera, the gorgeous handpainted Mexican pottery, and assorted silver. They carry the work of 7 artisan families, so you are assured that you will get authentic pieces. I have a collection of Mexican crosses and, over the years, I have started a collection of Talavera for Matt. I wanted us both to get a souvenir from here. I also wanted him to see where many of his pieces came from. If you are looking for a very special gift or token of your trip, be sure to check this place out! I already know I will be going back for Christmas and know exactly what I am buying myself—I mean asking Santa for!
We went back to the hotel to say our goodbyes to the amazing staff, get the car and head off to the airport. The trip ended but the memories continue to bring smiles to our faces. Matt and Lisa are now engaged and, just the other evening, we were sitting around talking about their honeymoon—the Riviera Maya is one of the top possibilities ... and so it begins for another generation. Why again is Playa growing so fast?
Regarding what the news media would love for people to believe about how dangerous Mexico is, I would like to close with my own commentary on that. I travel often to the Yucatán, but not nearly as much as I would like to. Sometimes I travel alone and other times with groups of newbies, seasoned-traveler friends, and family. I have NEVER run into an uncomfortable situation. I have also never gone looking for one. As in my everyday life here in the States, I don't dabble in drugs, seek to be friends with dealers or cartel members, and I don't even own a gun. I seek like-minded people who have a love and respect for the Maya Culture, an appreciation for the diverse environment, who care about good causes, and sincerely want to leave the planet a little better when they go. I find these people in abundance in the Yucatán. So if you have never visited, you are really missing out—take the plunge, you won't regret it. And to all my friends and business associates there—thank you!