Secrets of the Riviera Maya in Mexico

 

Xcacel iguanas“This is the womb of the world,” he says, looking out at the sea which forms into waves so clear I can see the silver fish carried inside them.

Water churns around our shins in foamy currents, threatening to destabilize our footing.

“People are re-born here,” he continues, his gaze firmly on the sea.

Daniel is a short, stout, middle-aged man, strong in the legs and wide at the waist with that distinct Mayan nose, reminding me of the toucans living in the tangled jungle behind us.

His words tumble around in my mind, insistent as the waves.

The womb of the world.

People are re-born here.

It had taken me a while to warm to Playa del Carmen, the ever-expanding tourist town on the Caribbean sea. “Too developed,” I’d thought at first.

But it soon grew on me. When I discovered the spectacular stretch of coastline around it, known as the Riviera Maya, I decided to stay for a full year. Time now stretched out before me as wide as the expansive silvery horizon.

The sky, a hazy grey-blue, is invaded by thick clouds. A steady wind whips my hair around into such a mess I give up trying to tame it into a knot and let it trail behind me, facing into the wind to coax it from my eyes.

Xcacel beach, the most natural and beautiful of all the beaches in the Riviera Maya, is also the most rugged and unpredictable.

So much so that I’m not confident enough to tackle the waves like my friend Ariel. I watch as she dives diagonally underneath a rolling, cylindrical wave, her strong body carried like a twig in a stream. She invited me to Xcacel with along with Daniel, her Qigong teacher from the healing center she is staying at. We flew down the highway in his small, beat-up car after yoga class this morning.

We didn’t anticipate the wild weather, though I suppose there are worse ways to spend a blustery Caribbean day than shin-deep in water with a Qigong master.

The iguanas continue their slow, deliberate crawl along the sand, past empty green coconut shells, unperturbed by the imposing grey clouds looming overhead.

A group of twenty-somethings arrive in a flash of colorful bikinis and high-pitched squeals. They strip off and bound into the water, volunteering themselves to the strong waves which tumble them around like flimsy lingerie in a washing machine.

They emerge with twisted swimsuits contorted around them; their mouths full of hair, salt water and sand.

“You don’t want to go out?” Daniel teases me, his dark grey eyes shining with watery reflection.

“No thanks, it’s too rough for me,” I explain. I love to watch the waves crashing, tumbling, rising and falling, just not on me.

“It’s too rough for them also, no?” He asks, motioning to the group now collapsed on the sand like today’s catch, their stomachs heaving as their lungs reclaim lost oxygen.

He maintains a knowing smile as he turns to the sea again, extending his arms out wide as though taking in the water, the waves and the wind in an open embrace.

The rain hits. We flee from the beach, ducking pointlessly through the inescapable downpour. The three of us huddle under the open trunk of Daniel’s small hatchback and eat avocado sandwiches out of a cooler box, our arms and legs dripping with ocean and rain.

I eat hungrily and smile at the novelty of it all; sandwiches, new friends, Mexico.

After the rain clears we walk along a damp path through sand dunes covered in a blanket of verdant green. Rain pools in cup-shaped leaves of meaty tropical plants, containing the whole world for the tiny bugs who live on them.

The dunes give way to thick mangrove forest. A wall of vegetation rises on either side of the path as my flip-flops carry me along the slippery wooden planks through the jungle. We emerge at a natural pool known as a ‘cenote’, derived from the Mayan word ‘dzonot’, meaning ‘sinkhole’.

This isn’t just any cenote, though.

“It is a secret cenote,” says Daniel with a cheeky grin.

Birds flit between branches as I take to the water, peering down into the submerged world through my mask. The cenote’s secrets are revealed to me like a lens coming into focus. Fish dart under huge algae-covered limestone rocks for shelter and food. Around the perimeter, small, dark fish huddle in the mangrove as though whispering to each other.

I revel in the prospect of more secrets being revealed to me over the coming year, wondering which of my own will be carried away by the wind and dissolved by the waves, swept along ancient underground river systems and lost among overgrown jungle.

About the Author:  Sarah Chamberlain is an Australian writer, traveler and dreamer, currently residing on the Caribbean coast of Mexico.

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