It felt SO good to sleep in. I didn’t have to be downstairs at the hotel lobby for the Xenote Maya tour bus until 9:00- perfect opportunity for me to grab an extra hour of sleep and enjoy a calm breakfast, beach side. The remnants of my hangover where completely gone and I felt back to my old self- restored and ready for action.
It was good to be back on a tour with a small group. Our guide was a tall thin, athletic looking man who ran a lean operation. Not only was he serving as our guide, but the van driver as well. He even explained that we would be visiting four xenotes, each for the four elements (wind, fire, water, air) in less than 5 minutes, and provided safety information in both Spanish and English, while driving. The tour began rather uninspiring with our guide being a tad bit detached. Nonetheless, I felt so grounded and comfortable that day having realized it was my last day in Mexico.
I don’t know why, but I was comforted by the drive into the jungle. The car was moving so fast that I could barely take anything in. It reminded me of the last 6 months of my life- and somehow I was okay with that. After a short 20 minute ride, we arrive at our destination.
The first xenote we arrived at was what our guide referred to as a young xenote. Much of the top layer of limestone was intact. So the xenote appears as a cave with a lush jungle covering the tiny bit of light that hits the blue waters. Underneath was 150 feet of crystal clear blue water, tiny catphish and a colony of bats. The only way to the bottom was repelling 55 feet straight down.
Our group was a mix of Americans and surprisingly a large number of visitors from Mexico City. We all walked slowly together to grab our life jacket and wait in line at the repel point. There two men with ropes informing us of descent options. We could go fast, slow, or upside down like spider man. There was another tour group ahead of us with two girls who were terrified of repelling. They screamed and hollered between shouts of “slow, slow’’ while the crowed cheered on… “you can do it, puedes hacerlo.”. It was a beautiful moment. I felt like I was at a team building trip, only we were just random people united by the Cancun Kumbaya effect, which was still in full swing.
Upon entering the first xenote I realized one of our travelers was bleeding. I felt the urge to want to point it out to her, but I figured if I did she would wipe it away with her hands and then I would be resisting the urge to track everywhere her fingers touched. I opted not to say anything, and hoped I wouldn’t have to sit in the same harness as her and that eventually her wound would be cleaned by the xenote waters.
Like usual, I was the last one in. I opted for the fast spider man descent, realizing how stupid I must have looked reaching my lands towards the xenote floor like I was some super hero. I wish I actually could have pushed myself away from the rocks and repelled like real people do. This was obviously a contrived experience- the repel landing zone, xenote entrance and exit had been excavated, reinforced and replaced with plastic structures- giving you the allure of an adventure with all the safety and convenience of Water World theme parks. I didn’t mind though. I knew what I was signing up for- as my first solo trip after nearly losing everything- easy breezy was the main idea.
I repelled down without the least bit of anxiousness, excited to be crossing yet another item off my bucket list. Right behind me the photographer shouted my name to get my attention. For 60 dollars I could get custom photos of my xenote tour-something I struggled with considering I was over budget with my trip and had purchased some water proof hollister in hopes of taking my own pictures during this and other watery excursions.
As soon as I hit the xenote water, I remember thinking three things. One how can I avoid brushing past the swimmer with the cut on her leg. two, why do I still get terrified a shark or prehistoric creature is going to come up from the depths and eat one of my legs and three: how ever would I manage to avoid the bat feces which was probably in the water and being dropped on me in the dark? But these were load grade fears and I embraced them fully. It helps when I realized that this could totally be a movie. and I would probably be the main character who is crazy and knows how to survive, despite being the only black person.
I wandered to the dark edges of the cave, listening quietly to the high pitched hum of the bats. I left the safety of the few rays of light that reached the xenote and swam towards the dark shadows of the cave’s edge. Up above and below, stalactites encroached us like the jaws of a jaguar. They looked as if they were frozen in time, and that any moment it could drop like a frozen icicle thawing from the morning Sun.
I considered pushing myself to try and touch the cave wall, but it was time to exit this xenote and head to grab some Mexican cookies bread and coffee while our guide pulled up the car. The whole thing was low key and slightly anticlimactic but the rush of repelling and thrill of bats buzzing around you made the 20 minute memory feel like forever. To seal the deal I made sure I jumped off the diving platform into the water- popping my signature thumbs up in case I chose to splurge on the pics.
After bread and tea we all scurried back to the bus. I threw my shorts over my wet bathing suit and tried snag a few selfies. Surrounding each of the xenotes were tiny gargoyles which offered protection to those who entered. These were nothing like the original guarding built by the Maya, but I was totally digging the tourist experience and quite surprised at how I didn’t mind the Universal Studios feel to everything. The next stop was yet another xenote where we would have the chance to zipline into an open xenote before grabbing some lunch.
We travelled a short ways away and arrived at a beautifully landscaped preserve. One of the cool things about this tour was that the xenotes we visited were private nature preserves. I assume that our proceeds went to grounds maintenance and upkeep of the science, which were better than many preserves and museums I have visited in the States.
I finally got the nerve to try out my water proof iPhone case after encouragement from several other tourists. I was super annoyed though because we were supposed to be snorkeling and I didn’t have the chance to make sure my case was water tight before trying it out. Thankfully, one of the photographers opened the case and placed my phone in with dry hands after I ran the plastic cover under the cenote to check for any leaks. Thankfully my phone was safe and I was able to snag some pretty cool snorkeling pics.
Okay well some of them are kinda awkward cause I didn’t have my phone oriented the right way, but it was still super amazing to be able to capture the stalactites and underground root system on camera. I was pleased with my last minute splurge and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the xenote. It was good to not have to worry about sharks, plus it was comforting to be able to see what was below you in the xenote. Not as many fish as snorkeling near the sea, but the tiny little catphish, tiny little dead skin eating fish used in spas and tree roots were enough to keep anyone interested. It was about this time that I realized that although I enjoyed water sports, I wasn’t too keen on being underneath the water, but instead loved to feel the power and motion of the water beneath me. I cannot stress enough how awkward and exposed I feel in water.
Due to the technology problems, I didn’t get to spend as much time exploring this xenote while snorkeling, but I was super happy I captured some up close pictures of the stalactites with birds and butterflies buzzing around me. It was such a treat!
After less than 10 minutes snorkeling around, I emerged from the water in a whirlwind and headed through a hidden entrance to go kayakling. A long line of Mayan men in matching t shirts greeted tourist who paired two by two on bright yellow kayaks.
My kayak partner was a young recent graduate from law School in Los Angeles who studied drug law. She had just finished taking the bar and was celebrating with her family. She had never kayaked before but had no problem manning the boat so I could take pics. We laughed back and forth as we navigated our way through the open xenote- strange black ducks followed us as they quacked loudly and ducked away from our sloppy paddling.
It had been a while since I kayaked. I was glad to be steering and felt comfortable taking the lead with the less experienced traveler. She was easy going and didn’t mind speeding things up to pass some confused and paddling challenged tourists. It was all fun and games though and before every bend you could hear a slurry of “wow”, “look at that”, “que hermosa” from the paddlers ahead of you.
After 30 minutes of kayaking, we turned our boats around and headed back to the xenote entrance. There we were greeted with the same line of eager young Mayan guides. One spoke a prayer over us, while another squirted all natural water proof sunblock over us as we left the water. My arms were still peeling pretty bad from the day before and I was grateful to have a natural sunblock to protect my ailing skin- normally I would have been grossed out with us all sharing pumps, but instead I was relieved that they thought of everything and grateful that the product was coconut based.
After kayaking, we swam a short ways through a small man made system of xenotes and arrived at the ziplining xenote. I was happy to report that I successfully managed to avoid the bleeding tourist both entering the bus opening and exiting the first xenote, and upon finishing kayaking. Even though I was super annoyed that we would again have to all share harnesses, It gave me relive to think about the odds of all of us contracting Hep C or some other disease from the bleeding tourist. Inviting the obsessive thoughts with me- I literally stepped up to the plate and decided to zipline in the same harness as everyone else.
I remembered how proud and jazzed I was at my silent victory. To those looking at me I popped the thumbs up out of excitement to be ziplining. Really though, I was happy to be in a good enough place to challenge obsessions big and small. And oh boy, was it worth it. Zip lining. Was . Amazing. Looking back, I equate ziplinging with the closes physical experience of freedom. The speed of your own body flying straight in one direction, the weight of your collective experience being held by wrists and fingers clinging to autonomy, scraping up every inch of strength to take it all in. Zip lining was that and more. I enjoyed watching the tourist cheer on nervous travelers. The lily pads surrounded us and the sun beamed down on us. Everyone was happy and all was well.
We spent 20 minutes ziplining at the open xenote. We took turns trying out the superman, the Spider Man and the Tarzan runs- laughing when people hit the water hard and cheering when anyone nailed the perfect landing. It was magick. I remember telling the guide that I had to have a xenote one day, and that I would open it up to everyone because we all could use a little more magic in our lives.
Lunch was phenomenal. We had sandwiches- the first time we were treated to picnic style American eats and I welcomed the departure from shitty Mexican inspired food. It was good to have fresh meats and vegetables. Plus we were treated to a delicious Mayan vegetable soup which I wish I knew the name of. I sat with a friendly group of young couples- all under the age of 31 and celebrating their recent nuptials. It was hard for me to imagine finding someone you could spend your whole life with. I had trouble living with roommates, let alone traveling with another.
After lunch we headed to our 4th and final xenote where we had the chance to ride a water slide and intertube down a mature xenote that had become and exposed river. Of all our stops that day, this xenote was the most open and expansive. In addition to a fabulous water slide and huge bathrooms, the entire grounds consisted of tiny little paths with open areas, hammocks and several displays. All around you was jungle, branches nipped at your feet and you frequently had to duck to miss a branch or dodge a bright colored butterfly. This was definitely a place I could call home, a place where my heart did not worry and my body felt strong. A place that I was safe-a place that I could call home.
I’m mad at myself for trying to capture the perfect shot or video instead of merely enjoying my surroundings. As you can see, I tried (rather unsuccessfully) to take several videos of my ziplining and sliding. Instead I messed up my photo opp with the professional photographer and looked like those tourist who stopped every 5 seconds to take a selfie.
We had another chance to zipline and I admired all the hidden gnomes, gargoyles and animals around us. I can’t explain how safe and comforted I felt at this last xenote. Even the bathrooms had a homie charm to them. By the time it was time to inter tube down the river, I was barely fazed by the signs urging us to watch out for poisonous water snakes.
We floated aimlessly down the river in life jackets, stopping beneath a trickling water fall and then kicking frantically to keep up with our guide who ran back and for the ferrying flip flops and corralling us to the final dive spot. It was such a captivating experience. I really enjoyed the group dynamics. Even though we were all strangers, we helped to guide one another in the water and offered to take pictures wherever possible. My favorite part though was the constant team cheering that happened when people were afraid to jump off the ledge.
Although I wasn’t afraid to jump, I was burnt out and really enjoying just lounging around in the water. At the last minute, fear of missing out took over me and I deiced to jump of the cliff. After all, it was our last xenote, and my last day in Cancun. I don’t generally enjoy the feeling of zero gravity, but I peeped some of the photos our photographer took during lunch and I already deiced I would be purchasing them, on account of me being so photogenic and all (which NEVER happens BTW) which gave me the last bit of umph I needed to jump off the cliff. So again, I took the plunge, even agreeing to let our guide take an awesome video, which I am happy to share with you all.
Despite me explaining to my guide that I couldn’t return to the hotel on account of my having lost my heart at the last xenote, we headed back to Cancun exhausted with huge smiles of accomplishment on our faces. We were treated to more tea, coffee and sweat breads which was the finishing touch of our trip. I snagged a few more selfies of the preserve, realizing that yet again, there was so much I missed.
It was only a 20 minute ride and I was happy to have been able to arrive back with the Sun still up and the beach still calling my name. I ate a leisurely dinner and enjoyed the last of my free beers on the beach. Hard to imagine that I did so much and soon would be returning to my other life, which now seemed even less relevant than before. Nonetheless, I was inspired and amazed by the Xenote tour and a was already spinning up dreams of moving to Mexico to start and ecological tourism hostel with my own xenote when I drifted pleasantly off to sleep.