Sunday, June 22, 2008

Voyage To Turquoise Waters of Half Moon Bay, Akumal (Day 1)

Flight to Mexico, 12/1 Tuesday

The Broadway cab arrived at the Orr house at the ungodly hour of 4:20 AM, but most of us had been up since 3:30 anyway, too excited to sleep. We quickly completed the necessary checklist to secure our daughter and son-in-law's house in Portland, Oregon. Then we piled into the cab, heading for Portland International Airport for the first leg of our trip to the far away sunny shores of Mexico.

After checking our large suitcases at the Alaska Airlines front desk and proceeding through the security gates, the four of us were soon on board, heading for Los Angeles. We had been concerned about the weather, which had been terrible up and down the West Coast for the last few days. Several flights had been canceled due to fog and extremely rainy conditions. Fortunately, at the time of take-off, the sky was mostly clear and we got away right on time. However, the ride to Los Angeles was quite bumpy, and the flight attendants had trouble serving breakfast as the seat belt sign was on most of the flight.

At the Los Angeles airport we walked quickly to the Tom Bradly International Airport which was fortunately close to our Alaska Air arrival gate. After some searching, we found the Mexicana Airlines check-in desk right where it was supposed to be, and checked in for our flight to Cancun. We arrived at the departure gate for our connecting flight with only nine minutes to spare, but soon realized that we were already on "Mexico time" and that the pace was slowing wonderfully. Despite boarding ten minutes behind schedule, the Mexicana crew managed to get things done so that we could leave on time, and after a smooth take-off we were on our way to Cancun!

Our four-hour flight took us down the Mexican mainland until we were parallel with the Yucatan. Then we flew over the Gulf of Mexico until we spotted the unmistakable sandy beaches and turquoise-blue waters that surround Cancun. The flight attendants kept us satisfied, serving up one cold drink after another, to compliment a quite acceptable chicken dinner. We found Mexicana airlines very gracious, and would recommend them any time.

We arrived in Cancun at 4:20 PM, and proceeded through the first stage of customs, getting our travel cards without any problems. We were thankful for our new passports as they really smoothed the way, compared with last time when we traveled to Mexico with only birth certificates. We were also delighted to find that our entire luggage had arrived safely, having been transferred successfully from Alaska to Mexicana Airlines. The Cancun airport was buzzing with late afternoon activity. The usual people were trying to make a dollar by insisting that they carry your luggage in hand trucks. However, we declined, because we knew that it was only 50 feet to the final stage of customs where your baggage is checked for illegal items. At this point either a red or a green light comes on, with most people receiving a green light. Of course I set off the red light. Fortunately, the customs lady took one look at me and realized rather quickly that my middle-aged Grandfather- type gringo looks were not those of a terrorist or drug dealer. She made only a very quick and short inspection of my suitcase. After spotting my snorkeling gear, she asked if we were going to Cozumel. I told her that we were going to Akumal instead, and she said: "Oh that is much better!"

Our next stop was the Budget Rental Car desk in the airport where we had made advance reservations for a rental car. After completing the paper work, we soon encountered three gentlemen who loudly insisted that they were from Budget, and they needed to carry our baggage the short distance to a waiting van. It would have been easy for us to just walk across the street, but we let them carry our bags keeping in mind that these people make their living doing this work. Our bags were loaded into the van, and we were driven around the block to the Budget Rental Car building, just across the street from the airport. Of course we had to offer the customary "propinas" for the transportation. After finishing more paper work in the main building, our car arrived, a bright red "Tusuro" which is the Mexican equivalent of a Nissan Sentra with few frills. After carefully going over the car for existing dings and scratches, we checked all the equipment to make sure that it was there and operating. Then we crammed our entire luggage into the trunk and back seat, and set off to find Highway 307, the beautiful Cancun-Tulum corridor. After finding the right road, we drove south as darkness fell on the Yucatan.

We noticed that significant improvements had been made to the highway since our last visit, but there were still significant areas of construction, with many workers and heavy machinery evident. As we drove, we saw that strange, battery-powered orange lights as well as traditional oil pots illuminated the construction areas. Their yellow-tongued flames lapped at the dark sky, providing an eerie atmosphere for driving. To make things worse, an immense tropical storm rolled in from the Caribbean, dumping intense amounts of rain, and making visibility almost non-existent. The driving was very difficult. The Mexican police were very active, and we saw many blue flashing lights as we journeyed to Akumal. Despite the police, many drivers were greatly exceeding the 80- kilometer speed limit. We kept to the posted speeds and were ignored by the police.

Despite keeping track of our progress in kilometers, I managed to drive right by the turn-off that leads to the Hotel Akumal Caribe. After driving nearly to Tulum, we turned around, and after a few more wrong stops, eventually made our way back to the right turn off. We realized at this point that roads are not as well marked or lit as in the United States, and one has to employ more concentration to find the right directions! After passing through the gate at the Hotel Akumal, we made a left turn and followed the line of condos that are situated on Half Moon Bay. Eventually we arrived at the Vista Del Mar and the 3-bedroom condo that we would be occupying for the next 12 glorious days.

Soon we were reunited with the Orr family who had had come on an earlier flight, all of us having arrived safe and sound in our own particular tropical paradise. We capped off the evening with fish and chicken dinners at "La Buena Vida", a fantastic beach bar and restaurant just a stone's throw down the beach. Then we returned to familiarize ourselves with our room at the Vista Del Mar. The upstairs bedroom had a beautiful balcony overlooking the bay, a Jacuzzi bathtub, satellite television and a flight of stairs leading to the roof, which offered a grand view in all directions. Although there was no air conditioning, an overhead fan provided cooling movement of the air, and fresh breezes blew softly into the bedroom from the nearby Caribbean. A large sliding glass door provided access to the balcony that contained table, chairs, hammock and a panoramic view of the mufti-colored waters below. There was a "kitchenette" with a microwave, small refrigerator and a large bottle of "augua pura". The bed was firm and restful, and there was plenty of closet and drawer space. Downstairs featured a more complete kitchen, two more bedrooms, a bathroom and a living room with sliding glass doors opening to an outside stone patio from which you could walk to the beach not more than 50 feet away. All in all, these were very nice accommodations, and we retired in exhaustion to prepare for 11 days of soul restoration.

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