Xcalak (ish ka lak) is a wonderful little piece of paradise
by: Lydia Linton Pontius
Xcalak (ish ka lak) is a wonderful little piece of paradise. The questions are how long will it stay that way and how can you experience it before it's too late? I have been exploring the Mayan Riviera for several years now both for pleasure and for work. I am a freelance documentary producer and writer. The first time I went to Cancun I realized there was something special about this place, not to mention stories to uncover.
To give you a little background, I first went to the Yucatan for a family vacation with 3 teen-age boys (my husband's son and my brother's 2 sons). We picked an all inclusive in Cancun; figuring that solved the problem of feeding these boys. Being more of an off the beaten path type of traveler, I convinced everyone to join me on a day trip south to visit Xel-Ha. Ahead of time I arranged to mix in a little work by spending the day with the dolphin trainers, while the family enjoyed the rest of the park. My second trip to Cancun was also pleasure with just a hint of work-related location scouting. On this trip we ventured as far as Chichen Itza and Isla Mujeres. By the 3rd and 4th trips, which were work related, we spent a majority of our time off the beaten path bouncing down dirt roads as far south as the Sian Kaan Biosphere.
I tell you this so that you can see why I jumped at the chance to go to the Xcalak when my friends Kate and Charles from Centro Ecológico Akumal (www.ceakumal.org ) suggested I join them to see what the places I have grown to love looked like several years before tourists made them popular.
So now you are up to date, it is my 5th trip to the Yucatan, my husband and I fly into Cancun, rent our car and spend the first night in Puerto Morelos heading south the next morning to hook up with our friends in Akumal. Our first stop along the way was the library in Akumal to drop off a suitcase full of supplies. A lot of these supplies were sent to me by folks who visit the Bill-in-Tulsa website (www.bill-in-tulsa.com ). Bill Johnson has a website that books reservations for lodging from Cancun to Xcalak. He also has a wonderful bulletin board where you can ask questions. The folks who are regulars on the board really care and have organized wonderful fundraisers and donations for local organizations along the coast.
Again, I digress. Forgive me. Next stop Centro Ecológico Akumal to pick up Kate and Charles. We say our hellos and pile in the car and head south past Tulum. The further south you drive the denser the jungle becomes, and at times you feel it is about to engulf the entire road. South of the Sian Kaan Biosphere the Mayan Riviera gives way to the Costa Maya. Here we turned off the main highway onto the road to Xcalak. Down this road is a military checkpoint. It is a brief stop and most often you will be asked to get out of the car and open the trunk. Once past the checkpoint you can go straight to Majahual or turn to go to Xcalak. We decided to have lunch at Majahual.
Majahual is tiny but absolutely gorgeous fishing village at the very end of the road. We found a little local restaurant and had the best ceviche and barracuda steaks. The government has built a huge dock here, and since our visit, cruise ships have begun to call. Here's hoping they are careful with the development down there. We then headed back to the main road, back to the checkpoint and turned south to Xcalak. Drive slowly cause there is lots of wildlife along the road.
There are several folks living in Xcalak now that Kate and Charles knew from when they lived in Akumal (Dani, Suzanne, Eric, Scott and Steve) who work at the XTC Dive Shop. They suggested we stay at Casa Carolina (www.casacarolina.net ). It is an ideal spot with 4 beautiful studio apartments. You get a balcony with a hammock and chairs, a nice queen-sized bed, a full kitchen and beautifully tiled bath. For those of you who prefer the Mayan approach to a good nights' sleep you can also hang the hammock inside your room. Along with the amenities you get Bob and Caroline's hospitality. Bob, I should add, is a dive instructor, for the previous 18 years he was the Director of Public Relations for the Temple University Health Sciences Center, and now he's finally doing what was always his first love, diving. Caroline is an ex-social worker who in 1976 was the first public health social worker in Horry, Georgetown, and Williamsburg Counties, South Carolina. Both are very interesting expatriates. We knew immediately we had found the right place. We settled in our rooms and turned in early relaxing on our balconies and letting the sound of the water lapping and soft tropical breeze gently rustling the palms lull us asleep. With the lights of Cancun 4 hours away the stars are so bright here you feel like you can reach up and touch them. I vaguely remember that being my thought as I climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep.
What a sunrise. I must say I am not a happy camper if I see the sun rise at home, but I sure do love them on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. We took a short stroll on the beach and then headed to Silvia's for breakfast. Silvia's is wonderful - it was also about the only place open while we were there. Conchita's and Terra Maya's restaurants were closed. Silvia's is an open-air restaurant built onto her house, the food is fresh and the atmosphere is quaint and friendly. If you happen to need gas while you are in Xcalak, Silvia's is where you can get a siphoned refill. We explored around Xcalak, stopped and did some shopping for groceries before heading back to Casa Carolina. The streets are all dirt here and there is still no electricity except for solar panels. The kids still play barefoot in the streets. And twice a week the delivery truck comes through, but you aren't ever sure exactly when. With our snacks and cervezas in tow we headed back. We had cocktails with Bob and Caroline and Dani, Suzanne and Steve showed up. What great folks. Nightlife in Xcalak consists of small get togethers and watching the stars. This particular evening we were lucky enough to see the space station blaze through the early evening sky. We then headed to Coco's for dinner. Early to bed cause tomorrow we head to Ambergris Caye. Victor, our captain and guide, is to be by at 7 to get our passports.
Up with the sunrise, another gorgeous day in paradise. The wind is very strong and there are a few rain clouds but nothing that will hamper our adventure. Victor arrived at 7 and collected our passports and entry fees promising to return to take us to Ambergris Caye. Bob and Caroline had made all the arrangements with Victor while we were enjoying ourselves the day before. Victor, like many locals in Xcalak, is a fisherman who is trying to cope with the changing times and environment by expanding his skills to encompass the new demands of tourism. Victor was wonderful and he enlightened us about the fauna and flora all along the way. From the dock at Casa Carolina we motored along the shore inside the Mesoamerican reef where the waters are calm. At the Opening to Chetumal Bay we wandered through lush mango trees and into the bay, approaching Ambergris Caye's San Pedro from the backside. We left about 8:30 and arrived around 10 am. We arranged to meet Victor back at the boat at 3. We stopped at customs, it took just moments and we were off to explore San Pedro. It is very different from Xcalak and very diverse, more like a Caribbean island. We spent the entire time wandering the streets and the beach and stopping here and there for bites to eat and of course a cerveza or two. It was fun for Kate and Charles too cause they live in Akumal and this was a get away for them. By 3 we were back at our boat and home a little before 5. We relaxed, showered and then headed to dinner at Silvia's. Mike claimed he had the best fish of his life there and I had lobster, which was great.
Next morning we awoke to yet another beautiful sunrise. We took our time getting ready; Kate walked along the beach and gathered sponges. Mike lay in the hammock. I took pictures of every inch of Casa Carolina, from the beach, our balcony and from their rooftop. The panoramic view from the roof is breath-taking you can see the coral reef offshore, endless miles of shoreline complete with palm trees and the immense jungle across the dirt road. Unfortunately it was time to leave Xcalak. We will all be back. On the way through town we found out the Governor had just arrived. The town was all decked out and everyone was there. Silvia put up a tent and colorful banners. Everything looked so festive yet quaint. I know Silvia was proud to be serving the Governor.
Before heading back to Akumal we decided to take a side trip and have lunch at Hotel Laguna Bacalar. What a spectacular view - all the hues of the water. This hotel is a blast from the past; it is like something out of the 50's, full of character. Mike said he felt like he could have been in Catskills in the 50's or on the set of Dirty Dancing. Well worth the trip. The food was quite good, too. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to take a dip. It was getting late and we had to get checked into Las Iguanas in Akumal where we spent the next week of our trip. On the way we stopped to buy some baked goods from the kids at the topes - topes are speed bumps all along the main highway. When folks slow down the children come and try to sell you things. If you travel down this highway be aware of the unusual street signs. The jungle is thick on both sides of the road and folks mark where they want the bus to stop at the path to their village by hanging a pail or tire, any number of things.
The word is out about this best kept secret. I would recommend planning your trip soon. For more information on Xcalak or Casa Carolina please visit the following websites: www.bill-in-tulsa.com or www.xcalak.tv or www.casacarolina.net
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