The Riviera Maya is on the Yucatan Peninsula in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, and it is surrounded by the jungle.
I mean like the real jungle.
Welcome to the jungle
I have a tendency to downplay things that involve me. So when the travel agent told me our destination was surrounded by the rainforest and the jungle–I thought–well, okay.
“We are going to the jungle, but I mean, I don’t really know if it’s the jungle jungle,” I told people. “It’s probably just a lot of trees.”
Definition of jungle: an area of land overgrown by dense forest and tangled vegetation typically in the tropics.
The ocean was going to be there (and food! and wine!) and so it didn’t really matter to me. We wanted to snorkel and experience marine life while spoiling ourselves in everything the all-inclusive life had to offer. What I later realized was how intricate the jungle was to our overall experience in the Riviera Maya.
“You look like a troublemaker,” he said to Logan.
Our tour guide looked like he should be puffing on a smoke and holding a beer (and I think he probably would have been if he wasn’t our driver) and he nodded down at Logan who’d crossed his arms in defiance of a handshake.
“My name’s Jesse. I am troublemaker too.”
He and Logan momentarily locked eyes as mutual respect seemed to fill the space between this tattooed, bald and stocky, six-pack enhanced, middle aged Mexican man and my freckled faced, strawberry blond, backwards hat wearing, American six-year old.
As seats started filling with groups from neighboring resorts, each new passenger was personally introduced to Logan.
“This here is Troublemaker,” Jesse said with one hand on the steering wheel and the other pointing to Logan who attempted to live up to his name by grunting to the crowd. “Don’t mess with him because he’s strong.”
Jessie and the boys at lunch. Our lunch was served in a small outdoor patio where the people in the local village cooked us chicken who we assumed were siblings of the chickens running around our feet. At least we knew it was fresh!
A winding road in the small village of Akumal (we braked for crabs!) took us to our first of three snorkeling sites, and as we turned off to park we ended up under a green canopy.
Worn dirt paths walked us through dense greenery and as I wandered out of the bathroom hut (yep it was hut) to the little locker station, I was enchanted by the scene–until one of the guys we were with reminded me to watch out for tarantulas and he was SERIOUS.
After we were briefed on how to work our inflatable life vests which allowed us to dive deep when we wanted but then blow up
(Connor was in charge of the water camera and didn’t take any pictures of us getting in but this is where we entered the lagoon. I got this picture from the tour company’s website and you can see more pictures of the lagoon and the other places we went during this excursion here.)
Here is a video of us getting in:
When my face went into the crystal clear water, I was greeted by three huge pacific blue tangs. I raised my head out of the water to yell at the boys.
DUDE! It’s Dory!
I almost cried–that’s no joke either. I love Dory. Meeting her was like a dream.
Jesse led us around the lagoon with his Troublemaker right beside him. If Logan (the youngest one on the tour) left his side there would soon be a roll call.
“Troublemaker?” he’d yell. “You got this?”
And he did have it.
With their faces squished into masks and their eyes taking in everything around them, the boys were in their element.
And let me tell you, this was a relief, because our parenting frustrations weren’t left behind in America.
The kids fought about Minecraft on the plane (don’t make me land this thing) and about what side of the bed they’d sleep on in the room. The beach provided multiple meltdown opportunities when goggles were swept away with the tide and sandcastles were stomped on.
Plus there was Logan’s mission to get a root beer–because every time he ordered it they tried to serve him a Bud Light and honestly he would have probably been fine with that if Shawn and I didn’t intercept it. No one in our resort knew what it was, and Logan made it his job to educate the Mexican culture about root beer.
Today was different though.
Diving into what seemed like endlessly deep waters, everything floated away except absolute awe of our creator. Evident in the three sites we visited (the lagoon, a cave, and a cenote) was the glory of God’s design.
Under the surface of the cave waters where tiny catfish and huge boulders tickled our feet, the aquarium-like waters of the cenote, together we experienced God’s creation at its finest (in my opinion at least). Under the surface of those waters was a whole new world, and we were blind to it until we went deeper.
This taught me something. The surface of life is shallow until we peek under the surface and dive into the pages of the God’s word. There is an entire world of understanding offered there but we will never see it until we seek it.
Cave snorkeling terrified me at first (and the water was freeeeeeezing) but it was one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen. The water so was so clear it was hard to tell where it began on my skin, and the underwater boulders represented years of formation. I have no sufficient words (or pictures) to describe this experience.
Snorkeling in a Cenote
Cenotes are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock, which has revealed a secret subterranean world of groundwater pools. Most cave cenotes have fresh water that has been meticulously filtered by the earth, making them so clear and pure that you can see straight through to small fish frolicking in the plant life below.–
defintion from: www.lonelyplanet.com/mexico/yucatan-peninsula/travel-tips-and-articles/secret-swims-the-cenotes-of-mexicos-yucatan-peninsula
In the picture above, the boys are about to jump 20 feet into the cenote, and below is an underwater video of us snorkeling in it. Please note when watching the video that we really suck at making videos.
Deeper Understanding and a Troublemaker Goodbye
Logan’s first ever front seat experience was through a small Mexican village about an hour from our resort beside Jesse who had offered him the job of co-pilot on the way back (which I assume is legal in Mexico).
As I listened to Logan chatting with him about life in America, I studied the lives of the underdeveloped villages we were driving through. People and goats were walking down the street, and fresh raw meat hung on the patio of a local butcher shop.
It struck me how different my story is from theirs, and I wondered what it was like to live in a place where tarantulas (and other things like that) freely roamed.
On the day we’d visited the Mayan Ruins, we’d biked through a jungle so thick the 138 foot pyramid (the tallest pyramid in Mexico) wasn’t visible until we came right up on it. Logan and I were “taxied” (which means a guy on an adult tricycle pedaled us around) while Shawn and Connor rode 12 speeds. As we rode the dusty trail, our driver Carlos who spoke good English, pulled out his phone and showed me a video of two snakes eating each other.
“The small one won because he was venomous,” he said and then pointed about 10 feet from where we were. “I took the video over there.”
Oh dear Lord.
My biggest concern at home was when I googled the big snake I found in the flowerbed and read it was deadly–the kids weren’t allowed to leave the house for two days until I realized my phone was actually showing me pictures of an Australian black snake.
Now here we were biking through the jungle like it was open season on humans–oh, I really learned to trust God that day.
Here are three horrible pictures of our driver and Connor’s view from the top of the pyramid:
My attention snapped back to the conversation after the other families were dropped us and it was just us.
“You know, Troublemaker, you remind of my son when he was little,” he said, ruffling Logan’s hair.
My heart smiled when I realized why this attachment was there.
Jesse began to tell about his life in the Riviera Maya, and his voice cracked when he spoke of his wife who died cancer a year ago.
Although tour guides are trained to be personable, somewhere between diving into the frigid waters of the cave, eating extremely fresh chicken, and driving through colorful yet disadvantaged villages, this man had become our friend.
Even though I may not have realized it, God had lessons and new friends waiting for us in the thick life of the rainforest.
In fact, I felt quite welcome in the jungle.
Read the first installment of The Duncan’s in Mexico here, or catch the last installment next week.