Mexico: Cancun

It was time to move onto the next phase of our trip:  from hiking through ruins and swimming in ancient cenotes, to relaxing on the beaches of Cancun.  Normally, I’m a very busy traveler.

Can’t stop, won’t stop, right?

However, we planned the last few nights at the Westin in Cancun’s hotel zone to take advantage of the resort scene, even if it’s not my usual cup of tea.  Plus, I had all those SPG points to burn anyway.  I have to say, my son and girlfriend liked being pampered for a bit, even though I was completely out of my league.  And the Westin isn’t even top-notch, compared to some of the spots around here…

Continuing the theme from Valladolid:  So much to see, so little time.

I really wish we had some time to explore downtown Cancun, and see a bit more of the local flare.  It’s hard cramming a whole region of a country into one week.  I might be a busy traveller, but I also want to travel slow deep down in my heart.  I want to walk from one end of the world to the other.  You see so much when you slow down.  One of these days, I’ll take a whole year and explore.

Until then, a week or two will have to suffice.

Right about the time we were leaving X’Canche, I noticed the kiddo starting to act a bit funny.  He seemed wicked tired, but I chaulked that up to normal travel fatigue.  Only seven years old, first international trip, and we didn’t exactly have a lot of down time between activities.  Made sense to me.

By the time we checked into the hotel in Cancun, he was in full blown zombie status.  Wasn’t hungry, didn’t want to swim in the pool, and we couldn’t figure it out.  He started running a fever, so we laid low our first day in Cancun.  I managed to explain to the cashier at a nearby OXXO convenience store that “mi hijo tiene una cabeza calor” (roughly, “my son has a hot head”).  It was just enough, and I picked up some Tylonel.  The meds, plus a solid day of Spanish cartoons, and he was good as new!

The Hotel Zone

If someone says they’re going to Cancun, they usually mean one of two things:  they’re a backpacker, and actually heading over to Isla Mujeres or Akumal…or they’re staying in the Hotel Zone.  While this area of the city probably sees the most tourism, it’s about as representative of the Yucatan as New York City is of the United States.  Nothing against New York of course, but if all somebody knows of the US is the towering offices of the city, they’d never imagine the rolling hills of South Dakota.  The swamps of Louisiana.  The deep forests of New England or the northwest coast.  You get the idea.

The Hotel Zone is just a bit built up.

And that’s just a bit of an understatement.

 

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The spread at El Fish Frittanga

The beaches are beautiful, and the resorts there are great.  Just be sure to balance your time there with some real time exploring the beauty and diversity of the greater Yucatan region of Mexico, and to put a bit of money into the local, rural economies.  The zone has a little more than its fair share of American chain restaurants and shopping plazas, but there are some gems too:  on some recommendations from TripAdvisor, we stopped by El Fish Frittanga for dinner.  I knew I wanted to splurge once on some Caribbean lobster, as I’m a huge fan of lobster in the northeast.  Totally different animal, but just as delicious.  They run a small taco stand up at the street level for lunch that I hear is great too.

You can get anywhere along the Hotel Zone using the busses.  R1, R2, and R27 serve the main road, and run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  At only 10.5 pesos/person/ride (maybe 60 cents US), it’s a steal.  Just hold on tight, and keep an eye out for your stop.  The bus drivers are a bit crazy, but they’re really nice too, and can answer any questions you have.  Besides, driving in Cancun isn’t any worse than driving in Boston…

Westin Resort & Spa, Cancun

cu-westinspgsignThis one worked out perfectly.  I booked three nights at the Westin Resort, using the cash and points rate.  With the Starwood points gained from my SPG card, I was able to save over $200 for the 3 night stay, plus I got upgraded!  We’ll get into that a bit more next week, when I post the budget and finalize this little series on my trip to the Yucatan.

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I also happen to have Starwood Gold status through my AmEx Platinum card, netting me even more points on paid Starwood stays, and some extra benefits while on property (like that upgrade).  If you knew me better you might even think I, ahem planned it that way.  I have to say, I was really impressed with the level of service I received while at the Westin.  I grew up sleeping in the car on roadtrips, so to get pampered for a few days was totally different.  I was out of my comfort zone, and I honestly felt a bit overwhelmed at times.  So while I’ll still opt for hostels and AirBnB most of the time, the Westin in Cancun was an awesome experience.

A day or two before arriving, I received an email from the hotel, asking if there was anything they could do to help make my stay more enjoyable.  I wrote back, thanking them for hosting us, and asking if they could do something special for my girlfriend and son, since it would be his first international trip, and our first stay at a Westin.  We walked in on balloons and streamers, and were greeted a little later by a bottle of champagne, a cupcake, and a handwritten note.

Talk about service!  You should have seen the look on their faces when it came in.  The best part of our stay at the Westin though, by far, was releasing the baby sea turtles into the ocean.

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View on the lagoon side of the Westin.  The beach side view (from our room) is in the featured image above.

Tortuguitas

I was already considering this trip a success, since we had been lucky enough to snorkel with sea turtles in Akumal.  The baby turtles at the Westin took the cake though.  Sea turtles in the Caribbean come ashore to lay eggs throughout the early summer.  By late summer and early fall, the eggs are ready to hatch, and the turtles ready to crawl into the ocean, swim away, and start the cycle anew.

The resort has employees walk the beaches in the early morning during the egg-laying season.  I assume all of the hotels in the area must do the same.  Once a nest is located, the team gently digs up the eggs, and carefully removes them to a protected section of the beach.  All the nests are dated, then left alone to hatch.  In this way, the hotel can keep an eye on the nests.  The eggs are protected from clumsy tourist feet and the birds and other natural predators in the area.

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There were probably 70 the first night, and another 20 the second night we checked.

Once the hatching season rolls around, the Westin keeps an eye out for the little ones.  When they see newly hatched turtles crawling around, the baby sea turtles (tortuguitas, from tortuga, or turtle) are scooped up and sheltered in the lifeguard tower near the hotel.  Every night, around 8PM, the baby sea turtles are released into the ocean.  Guests are encouraged to check in with the front desk by 7PM, and if there are enough, the hotel allows the guests to partake in the release.

Needless to say, this was one of my favorite things all trip.  It was amazing.  By far, one of the coolest experiences of my life.

You pick up the little guy gently, and they’re already plugging for the water.  Those flippers are moving faster than you’d think possible for such a young animal.  Set them down in the sand, and you immediately see why.  Those little flippers are all they have to propel themselves into the ocean.  The first wave pushes them back farther, or even flips them over.  Maybe the second wave washes over them, and they’re still crawling toward the ocean, and the start of their life.

Then another wave rolls in, just a touch faster than the first, and that’s it.  They’re gone.  There were just 4 or 5 baby sea turtles crawling at your feet.  The ocean called them home, and they followed.  That tiny thing that fit in the palm of your hand just a minute ago will live 80 or 100 years, and weigh upwards of 300 pounds, depending on the species.

And for all intents and purposes, you just cut the cord.

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-FH

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