Tuesday 5 December 2000

Back from the honeymoon

So we went to Mexico, to Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan peninsula, for our honeymoon. Despite being the dry season it rained rather a lot. Our first day there was the coldest for two months. The Yucatan is flat jungle bounded by a ribbon of sandy beaches and azure sea, so as far as scenery went, an Axminster carpet would have had more variety.

When the sun did come out, the beaches were excellent as was the snorkelling, both in Xel-Ha eco-park and Chankanaab eco-park over on the island of Cozumel. However, like all things worth doing in this part of the world you had to pay to enter the parks then pay again to do anything else once you were in and whilst Xel-Ha and Xcaret had a great variety of things to do and see - swim with dolphins, snorkel along a river, see the turtles and butterflies and jaguars, go to a Mayan ball game and see the traditional show at the end - they felt more like theme parks than preservations of nature, especially in their requests that you didn't bring in food, drink or sun-cream for ecological reasons, all of which they were then prepared to sell you at inflated prices once you were through the door.

The ruins at Coba provided a good day out, although the rain spoiled the climax by teeming down as we approached the biggest pyramid on the site, making the limestone too slippy to climb in my opinion although Gerrardo, our guide, leapt up the steps like a mountain goat. He was more circumspect on his descent. Gerrardo was an excellent guide, taking us through the jungle paths and later showing us spider monkeys and a typical Mayan house in another part of the Coba site. The Mayan ruins are just that however. Either they are barely discernible piles of rubble overtaken by jungle or restored (rebuilt to a large extent) by archaeologists which leaves you questioning their authenticity.

Playa del Carmen itself was a typical resort. It could have been anywhere in the world, although had it been in the Canaries or Greece there may have been more to see and do and a greater history about the place. Playa had no old town and little character, just a grid of commercial streets and houses. Our hotel, the Continental Plaza, was well-sited, being on the edge of town at the start of the hotel strip of Playacar, so we were able to stroll in for dinner without resorting to taxis.

The food, by and large, was good but not great. International cuisine meets Mexico. Mexican food is typically quite bland, unless you take a mouthful of chilli in which case it becomes the exact opposite. Very few dishes seem to strike a happy medium. The Media Luna was our favourite restaurant, especially the starter of calamari with avocado and melon in a balsamic dressing. Tomato chipotle soup was rich and smoky and anything featuring meaty shrimps was usually a winner, but the chicken in chocolate mole sauce was grittily bland. Homemade salsas varied from place to place but were usually wolfed down with crispy tortilla chips. The jugos, large bowl-like glasses of fruit and vegetable juices and purees, were very refreshing. Tiny tins of chipotles in adobe sauce were a good buy (about 30p each) and will feature in Wallace recipes for the next year!

Overall, we won't rush back to the Yucatan. We had relaxed into the walks along the beach as the weather improved in the second week but there was too little to do and see (unless you took a big risk in hiring a car and driving for hours) for non-water-sporty folk like us subjected to above average rainfall levels.

But the company was grand!

Up, down, turn around, please don't let me hit the ground... After a turbulent return flight across the Atlantic, we're home to settle into married life. A package holiday in Mexico wasn't really our kind of holiday destination. We probably didn't devote enough time to arranging the honeymoon, what with all the other wedding arrangements to take care of. We also were still quite high on the excitement of the wedding itself and seeing all the family and it was a bit of a jolt to suddenly disconnect from all that and head for somewhere that was rather boring. I think we'd both rather have waited a few days to see everyone off and then been wrapped up in front of a roaring fire in the Highlands somewhere. The Royal Hotel in Comrie in the snow, perhaps...

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