The World’s Largest Collection of Fat Men in Speedos can usually be found on the beaches of the French Riviera.
Today The World’s Largest Collection of Fat Men in Speedos seems to have descended on Xel Ha, a lagoon-like natural wonder brimming with tropical fish, under-water caves (called cenotes) and a spectacular river fed by fresh-water springs flowing into the sea.
Xel Ha is unimaginably spectacular.
The speedo convention was not.
I’ve never understood the attraction of a speedo. I understand it even less on a man bearing a strong resemblance to a pregnant manatee.
Before heading to Xel Ha we toured the ancient Mayan ruins at Tulum. My friends roused me at 7:00 am, a time to which I strongly object, for the two hour drive south from Cancun to Tulum. I was grumpy, as any sane person would be at 7:00 am, but quickly perked up in anticipation of seeing one of the best-preserved coastal Mayan sites in existence.
The Mayans selected their real estate well. Tulum is situated along one of the most stunningly beautiful beaches in the world. The site, believed to date back to around 1200 AD, contains the famous Temple of the Frescoes, used for tracking the movements of the sun. (Perhaps it was from here that the Mayans decided we ought not make big plans beyond 2012?)
After a couple of hours touring ruins in the blazing sun we were baking, so we made a bee line for the crystal-clear waters of Xel Ha.
Our first order of business was a hike to the mouth of the fresh-water river, down which we would snorkel until it met the sea hundreds of meters later. Xel Ha rules require you to be wearing a life vest to enter the water.
I chucked mine in about 12 seconds, and enjoyed swimming amongst the abundant sea-life in the brackish water.
(What? The rules say you have to wear the vest to enter the water. I didn’t see anything about what you had to do once in.)
We worked up quite an appetite during the long swim and decided to grab lunch at one of Xel Ha’s restaurants. We’d purchased the all-inclusive package, so were able to eat anywhere without toting around money. All things being equal I’m not a fan of all-inclusive packages – the food is generally poor and the alcohol watered-down. But the food here was surprisingly good, and they weren’t shy about pouring tequila.
Walking to lunch an awful thing happened to me. I was minding my own business, thoroughly enjoying the perfect day at this magnificent oasis, when a bird shat on my head. This is the sort of thing I would have found hysterical had it happened to someone else. Happening as it did to me, however, I found it less amusing. I loudly swore on all that was holy to see the foul fowl cooked and eaten by day’s end.
(I failed to make good on that one, and even managed to laugh about it later, once I’d cleaned the bird-poo out of my hair.)
The very best snorkeling at Xel Ha can be found along the floating bridge, near the mouth of the bay. One side is open to any who wish to snorkel. Tourists are forbidden, however, to enter on the other side, facing the open ocean.
So I went in on that side.
My friends tell me that some dozen attendants screamed at me for a good 10 minutes as I enjoyed the spectacular undersea life. My head was underwater, so I couldn’t hear them – much – and besides, I was having far too much fun to get out. When I finally surfaced in front of the screeching staffers they were gesturing wildly and probably saying unkind things about my family in Spanish. The ruckus over my sojourn into the “forbidden zone” had attracted quite a crowd, probably hoping some swimmer had been eaten by one of the massive barracuda patrolling the area. I figured my best bet was to play dumb, mumble an apology and lope off to the approved side.
After a long day in the sun we were exhausted and the girls decided I should drive the two hours back to Cancun while they dozed in the car.
As we drove away we casually discussed the appropriate amount for the bribe should I be pulled over. In Mexico, if the police pull you over, they’re not really interested in writing you a ticket. They just want a little cash. This is so commonplace that you don’t even have to bother working up to the bribe – negotiations start as soon as you roll down the window.
Lidia felt I could get away with as little as 200 Pesos (about $15); Lucia believed it would be far more, since I’m a Gringo. We finally decided I’d hold firm at 500 Pesos, and if that failed I’d demand the cop call the US Embassy.
I didn’t get to put my negotiating skills to the test, but it sure got me thinking; my insurance company would have no excuse to charge me what they do if I could only handle my US speeding tickets so easily!