Tulum, Mexico, Day 4: Snorkeling and Cenotes with Nick


Isabel and I were right on track to meet Nick, the guide we scheduled, at the supermarket parking lot when we got a call from him asking where we were. All the guidebooks and the phone — most of the time — indicate we’re in Central Time. Buuuut, Mexico changed the time zone for Cancun and Tulum a couple of months ago to Eastern Time to be better for business. Then they decided they would not spring forward at the end of DST. As Nick said, “Don’t try to make sense of it — this is Mexico.” (He’s from California.) So we were an hour late, but I don’t think it mattered. And he understood. And he really should have warned us. He said it has caused all kinds of problems, with irate diners coming for their reservations among other things. The time on the phone varies from correct time (Chicago time, an hour behind Eastern) and an hour earlier. I think it depends on the carrier. It is very confusing. I added Chicago to the list of clocks on my phone and I have to verify with that when I check the time rather than looking at the time the phone is reporting for the local time.

Anyway, once we got there, we headed to a government turtle sanctuary. The place where we were originally going to go, Akumel, gets busloads of people, so you have to go really early.

We got to this pristine (except for masses of seaweed) beach, no hotels, no nothing. We put on our gear and set out to swim to the reef. It was really, really choppy, fairly difficult to swim out against the current, and I started to get really seasick, really seasick. Who knew you could get seasick swimming??? Plus the choppiness was making the water fairly murky. It was not the crystal waters of the Caribbean you think about. We saw some trigger fish and some of those blue fish with the yellow outline (Isabel called them Dory fish from Finding Nemo), but it was certainly not spectacular, and I have to say I felt really awful. We came back in after 15 to 20 minutes and I had to sit and recover. I felt positively dizzy. I had my homeopathic anti-seasick remedies in the car, but hadn’t brought them to the beach because who gets seasick swimming??? I took them as soon as we got to the car and felt better immediately, placebo effect or otherwise.

We walked from there to a small cenote, basically a round, clear, deep pond that is an opening to the underground river system. There is no fresh water source in this area other than the cenotes. When we were in South of the Border, South yesterday, we passed a place where several people had their feet in tanks of brownish water with little fish in them. Isabel knew what it was, had read about it in NYC. It’s a new beauty fad where little fish eat the dead skin off your feet. I find it hard to believe people want to put their feet into water where someone previously has had fish nibbling their dead skin off.  Well, these same little fish were in this cenote. When you sit on the edge, they come and nibble at you. It’s really weird. Nick said someone told him there was a whole-body nibbling option in Thailand. We were all in agreement that we would not be signing up for that. The little kids who were there thought the fish were hysterical.

Nick grew up near San Francisco, went to Waldorf schools, but when he went to study to be a Waldorf teacher, he decided it was all a bit too weird. His dad lives in an ashram in India, 6-7 hour drive south of Mumbai. A very sweet guy with a very sweet attitude on life.

The next stop was to the Sac Actun cenote. Sac Actun means white path in Mayan. We drove a few miles off the main drag down white unpaved roads. This cenote is privately-owned and very well maintained. Nick supplied us with shortie wet suits. The water was quite cold! But the whole swim was in caves. Mostly stalactites because the stalagmites won’t build up under water. The ones that are there were created before the cave was flooded, probably thousands of years before.

We didn’t bring our phones since we were in the water, but I got some photos off the net.

sac actun entrance1 sac actun1 sac actun2

There were quite a few bats, different kinds, some of them quite small. They flew around a bit, making their squeaky sounds. The caves were so beautiful, white to almost white formations, lit with plain white light. A few caves had little or no lite, but Nick had a waterproof flashlight. It was such an astonishing thing to be doing. The light when it came in from above was magical. I could have skipped the first two activities gladly, but this was just amazingly wonderful.

After that we went to the town of Tulum. We had only been to the beach road before. It was slummy chic or maybe just thatched slummy. But we ate in a really great outdoor restaurant. Lots of beggars and people selling stuff. Nick recommended the ceviche, which I thought would be a bit terrifying, but was actually delicious. We also shared shrimp fajitas. The food here has been good, but not completely amazing. But that’s fine, because I didn’t really have huge expectations. Fish tacos at a place on the beach road are the best thing we’ve had so far.

We asked Nick about what was safe and not safe to eat and he said the water comes from the cenotes and is purified, pointing out (as I had been thinking) that the economy is based on tourism, so it’s in everyone’s interest to keep the food and water from making the customers sick. So far, aside from when I’ve inadvertently eaten a flour tortilla, my stomach has been fine, knock wood, and we’ve basically been eating everything.

We read and napped when we came back. It had been a lot of exercise! Isabel fell asleep and then was annoyed that it was 7:30, so we just ate here, which is not a particularly interesting option, but we were both so tired.

I asked Nick about monkeys and he told us about a place I’d already read about on tripadvisor that has closed because the owner died. He told us the owner was killed by a camel sitting on him because the owner had given him Coca-Cola and the camel freaked out.

But there’s a spider monkey sanctuary and I looked it up, the Jungle Place, that was so perfect. But they only allow two tours per week and they get booked up months in advance. I emailed,, but there’s nothing the next two days. :-(

We’re going to see if we can book a kayak tour through Sian Ka’an, the giant nature preserve just south of here. Exotic birds, beautiful sunset. Have to see if they have room tomorrow or the next day. May visit another cenote we read about also.

Our towel sculpture of the day.

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Click to enlarge any photo.

2015-03-20 16.23.17

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