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FAMILY FUN AT XCARET

By Irene Butler

Blissfully wrapped in turquoise surf, soft sand and alluring jungle, my "id" leapt for joy (as Freud would say) as I scurried between the kaleidoscope of attractions and activities. Xcaret (ish-cah-reht) Eco Park is a sampling of all that is Mexico. With something for everyone, whether aged six or sixty-plus, my husband Rick and I could readily see why this delightful site is referred to as Mexico's Disneyland.

A ride up to 80m in a rotating tower was a good start, awarding us a panoramic view of the 200-acre park and the Caribbean flaunting inviting blue shades above the second largest coral reef in the world.

We next made a bee-line for the talcum-powder beach. Bodies languished on chaise lounges or swung in hammocks strung between palms. But this was not for me - at least not yet. I was eager to pick out one of several novel water activities. Being an amateur at snorkeling, but not ready to scuba, I pulled Rick towards the "Snuba" booth. This sport combines diving technology with the freedom of snorkeling by using a breathing apparatus connected to a tank floating above on a raft.

While ruminating about having a go at snuba-ing, I gasped at the sight of strange entities in white helmets rising out of the sea. A young fellow standing beside us said, "That's Ocean Trekking, you should try it." When these beings surfaced onto dry land, I was further astounded when instead of a diving suit attached to the helmets, there were only bathing-suited bodies, and a great variance of bodies at that: two children aged about 8 and 12, along with their mother, and an octogenarian grandfather. This was for us!

After being instructed by our guide, Ana, on how to communicate underwater, we were lowered into the deep (well, to a ten foot depth). As soon as I was assured of normal breathing through the air hose attached to my head gear, and the stability of my weighted boots, I became lost in the wonder of the ocean floor. Reefs of pink and pale orange were illuminated by the sun's rays filtering through the water; yellow and silver shoal fish darted about, some so close they grazed my helmet. A giant turtle cascaded by. Aquatic flora of emerald danced to the rhythm of the sea. We emerged from this magical world -without even getting our hair wet.

I scoured my handy itinerary for what to do next. Floating down one of the park's underground rivers and swimming in a cenote (sinkhole) won out. Our guide for this adventure, Josť, explained, "The Yucatan Peninsula is covered with a porous limestone layer under a thin veneer of soil. Rainwater seeping through this layer forms a massive underground river system. Where the limestone collapses, making the river accessible from above, are known as cenotes."

Donning life jackets, we bobbed along on a gentle current sided by a tangle of jungle with swinging howler monkeys and perched macaws. And then through limestone caverns with glimmering stalactites, ending in a lagoon of mangroves inhabited by pink flamingoes.

Thoroughly waterlogged, land exploration was in order. At the Butterfly Pavilion we followed the metamorphosis from eggs to the egression of the winged beauties from their chrysalis. Butterflies fluttered among the expanse of tropical plants, often posing on leaves for our cameras to capture their intricacies of colour.

Indigenous fauna were enclosed in the park's spacious surrounds. The panoply of native plants would excite the most avid botanist. A field of Blue Agave, from which tequila is made, reminded me that a Margarita would be nice (along with a relaxing lunch). Rick concurred, ready to disown me for my accelerated pace.

Piping hot enchiladas and icy mango libation contented, we waddled over to the replicated Mayan village in time to see warriors enact the Dance of Fire. For the ancient Mayans this dance heralded a new life cycle occurring every 52 years.

Part of the village consisted of archeological ruins from the post-classical period (1400-1517 AD) when Xcaret was a ceremonial city and thriving port for trades with other Mayan cities in commodities such as gold and jade.

The evening "Spectacular" began as we settled into the 6000-seat theatre. As the lights dimmed, the central stage became alive with performers portraying the story of their history, from the rise of the great Mayan civilization, to the Spanish Conquest, then the fusion of cultures.

An ancient game of Pok-ta-pok was electrifying. Lean warriors raced and leaped bouncing a 9-pound rubber ball with only their hips, the objective being to send the ball sailing through the stone hoops along the sides of the walls. A pre-historic version of our national sport from the Aztec was next. A burning wooden ball was smacked with wooden hockey-like sticks in the game of Uarhukua.

I concluded the only thing little about this Eco Park was the meaning of Xcaret in Mayan -"little inlet". The park's "wow" factor is of mega-proportions. Wishing we had more time (although our feet did not agree) we ambled from the grounds filled with mirthful memories.

PHOTOS

1) Sea & Lagoon (by Irene Butler) 2) Sea Trek (Photo from Xcaret Media Pkg - with permission of Ana Almazan, Exec. Dir of Public Relations, Xcaret Park) 3) River Float (by Irene Butler) 4) Mayan House (by Irene Butler) 5) Pok-ta-pok1 (Photo from Xcaret Media Pkg. - Ana Almazan)

Sidebar:
As an Eco-tourism project, Xcaret's design and operation are geared to sustainability for both the local communities and the environment.

Location - 35 miles south of Cancun & 6 miles south of Playa del Carmen.

For more info:
www.xcaret.com
Tourism Mexico www.visitmexico.com

Ways to get there:
Xcaret Occidental Grande Hotel (769 rooms) is a 5 min walk from the park. www.occidentalhotels.com/grand/Xcaret.asp

Travel Agencies (in Cancun and Playa del Carmen) offer day trips to Xcaret.

Info on car rentals, taxis, buses from Cancun www.travelnotes.cc/cancun/links/xcaret.php

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

 


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