Close to the Shore, My First Trip to Mexico

Cactus at TulumOn my recent trip to Mexico last month, I saw many wondrous things. I’ve always wanted to visit, since Mexican cuisine has it’s allure using some of the sexiest ingredients ever – including chilies, chocolate, coffee, and pomegranate just to name a few.

My husband and I only had 6 days, so we had a dilemma. We could go to Oaxaca and Puebla. delve into markets dried by the summer sun, toting all our camera gear and Spanish language guide or head towards the water for a bona fide no-work vacation. Playa del Carmen, situated on the “Mayan Riviera” is a little Caribbean beach town that is bursting with wild life, free drinks, and loads of Americans who prefer something more tasteful and quiet than Cancun. Playa del Carmen, originally named by the Mayans as Xaman-Ha, was used for pilgrimages to the island of Cozumel, reputed home of Ixchel, the goddess of the moon, love, pregnancy and childbirth.

Meet SimbaFirst stop? Our hotel right on the water of course. I love the ocean – but the water in Playa isn’t like any other place where I’ve taken a dip. Growing up near water my whole life, I’m accustomed to the icy jolt of chilly lakes, rivers, and of course the Atlantic. Oh no, not in Mexico where the water is as warm as the hospitality. We floated in the warmth of a clear turquoise sea where baby swordfish, barracudas, sea turtles, dolphins, and many other silvery water beings cover the ocean floor beneath you. The natives of the warm waters here are friendly – but so are the creatures by land. Meet Simba, a jittery squirrel monkey, who loves to perch and pose with American tourist when he’s promised a treat!

And this vacation was turning out to be a real treat. Next stop was a tour to Tulum, only a 30-minute drive from our resort. Tulum was built some time around A.D. 564 and in Maya means “Wall”. Just imagine a walled city made of stone overlooking the ocean – talk about beach front property.

TulumThe kings of this clan had the right idea. Looking down from the highest point, I glanced over its broken walls and decaying palaces. Imagine how important this city must have been for trade back in the day. What was the life of Tulum’s locals? I could almost see the people – their breasts, chests and arms heavy with finery pounded and set with turquoise, obsidian, gold, and silver. They worshipped in the center of town, in a vast triple-tiered temple shaded from the sun. Heavy pillars, thick and stable as any modern bank, still stand today.

Turtle SignLooking out to sea, this sign announces the presence of huge sea turtles. The Mexicans are wise to prohibit swimming here as these barricades protect the nests of lady turtles. After laying their eggs, big mama turtles cry salty tears, returning to the foamy sea alone, hoping that their young will survive. Later that afternoon, on the way home we stopped at a lagoon in Akumal, where I had my first snorkeling adventure. I quickly forgot the rubbery pinch of the snorkeling mask when a sea turtle as large as my body, swam beneath me, gobbling up mounds of water grasses rippling with the waves.

Dried OreganoSnorkeling works up quite an appetite and we were ready to fill our bellies with homemade tamales, roasted meat marinated with chilies and frozen fruit drinks to cool our throats.

The resort was hosting “Mexican Fiesta” night, where they lavish the guests with scrumptious foods, wonderful service and an extensive show highlighting all the traditional Latino dances. Tamales, tingas, and hand-shaped tortillas stacked high on my plate – I wanted to taste everything. Here I am testing out “Horchata” – a drink made of ground rice, cinnamon, and vanilla that tasted like a rice pudding milk shake. Next stop in line was the grill with flank steaks marinated in chili Chipotle served with assorted salsa and a tamale wrapped in a corn husks. Clay pots brimming with chicken stew, black beans, and posole caught my eye next.

Satisfied with my tour of the banquet tables, I made my way towards the dining hall below the stage. The show must go on! Every act was superb but the leader of the Mariachi band won my vote – his vocals had real old-time cowboy charm!

MariachiAnother cowboy appeared on stage with a heavy hand-woven lasso, giving “jumping rope” a whole new meaning. As he swung his lasso off stage, a troupe of muscular dancers strutted on in Mayan garb, feathered headdresses, their torches streaming with smoke and fire. Drums and chanting in the distance announced the entrance of the tallest dancer dressed in a deer costume and the hunt began. Next were cowboys, Spanish ladies, farm hand, and carnival queens, and salsa divas. Belly pleasantly full, eyes twinkling from the stage lights there was more to come, on with more dancing and dessert, we already knew that we’d be coming back to Mexico soon…


  1. Karen (DiCicco) Slagle says

    Hey Jen!
    Just thought I’d take a moment to let you know that I’ve been following your site for the past few months. Love it!! In particular, this most recent update re: your trip full of Mayan flair. I very much enjoyed your reflections, as my husband and I adopted a baby girl from Guatemala last September. The photos of the ruins and the corn cakes brought back treasured memories! You’ve come a long way mi amiga! Great job!
    Fondly, Karen

  2. Oh my gosh Karen!!! So great to hear from you and thanks for your lovely note! Great news about your baby girl, please send pictures when you get a chance. I just heard from Jean (Trevarrow) Hershberger, she has two adorable daughters. I’d love to write a recipe and dedicate it to your daughter. What’s her name and favorite dish?

    Thank you so much for the good wishes, it’s always great hearing from old friends.

    Stay in touch!

  3. Karen (DiCicco) Slagle says

    Hey Jen!
    Sorry it took me two years to reply. This morning, I was perusing your site (as I often do, still love it and am always trying the recipes!)and came across your aforementioned response that I had not seen before today. My daughter’s name is Julia Monet,she is an interesting study when it comes to food for a 3 1/2 yr.old. She loves tropical flavors. Some additional favorites include spinach pies and anything chocolate! Yet, she tends not to eat the diet of a typical American child….loves almonds, quinoa bars,cottage cheese.
    I’ve tried a bunch of the recipes in Deceptively Delicious with success. Very clever book,indeed.

    Take care, Hugs, Karen

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