23.05.2009 - 23.05.2009 90 °F
We're back now, after a fantastic four days in Playa del Carmen. Before signing off, though, I'm posting some photos from our Saturday snorkeling excursion.
On Friday, we wandered into The Snorkel Shop downtown, chatted with the owner, and ended up booking a tour for the next day -- private, due to the slow tourist season. Our guide Eddy picked us up at 9:00 am, and took us straight to a cenote outside of town.
Quick geology aside: when an asteroid smashed the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago, the entire area was a shallow sea with a limestone floor. The impact of the asteroid cracked holes in the surrounding area (and killed the dinosaurs), which have since filled in with fresh water. There are vast networks of underground lakes and rivers, called 'cenotes' in Spanish, and they're filled with cool, crystal clear water -- perfect for snorkeling.
The cenote we visited featured the usual stalactites and stalagmites, plus fossil reefs (what had been the sea bottom until it was upended by the asteroid impact), small blind fish, bats, and even Mayan-era human bones at the bottom of one 30-40 ft deep hole. Worryingly, Eddy (wearing a wetsuit, as opposed to our swimsuits and life vests) referred to the water as 'freezing' on entry. That must have been only by Mexican standards; it was a good 70 F, and with no wind underground, was hardly cold.
My waterproof camera enclosure did not arrive before we left, but the tour provides one and a CD with the photos after you're done, even more convenient than taking your own. Here are the two of us underground and half underwater:
Once out of the cenote, we headed to Puerto Morelos (halfway between Playa del Carmen and Cancún, roughly) to a nationally-protected reef area to check out the sea life there. We met up with the government-approved reef guide, hopped a boat, and drove a couple hundred yards offshore to a spectacular shallow-water reef, where we spent a couple hours exploring and getting increasingly sunburnt.
The diversity of the fish and the coral life is astonishing. I picked out a few of the better photos:
Here is Colleen, making her way delicately around the coral:
And here I am, holding a massive conch:
Not pictured, unfortunately (bad lighting), was the nurse shark we saw hiding in a cave, or the spiny lobsters in burrows at the sea bottom.
By the time we came back to the beach, ate lunch, and were dropped exhausted at the hotel, it was 4:00 pm. It took about an hour nap and some ibuprofen to regain the energy and will to leave for dinner. We had huaraches down at a little street stand at the corner, then passed out for the night for good.