Tulum, Mexico….the magic of the Mayan heritage, the turquoise water, the mango and papaya, the limey ceviche, the salt, the sand, the clear cool cenotes, the mojitos, the sunrise…..all things I expected on this trip. I think I’m going to dream about that ceviche every day until I’m back here again.
When my friend Jenny proposed the idea of Tulum for a few days before Christmas, I jumped at the chance. 2016 was a challenging year, and I had decided I was going to make it better by traveling as often as I could. Shared custody of my sweet Wilson around Christmas makes me sad when I don’t have him those days leading up to Christmas, so it seemed an ideal time to have a little getaway. We only had a few days to spend away…we commenced to finding a good spot to stay. I typically stay in air Bnb rental houses or apartments - an amazing local experience, but this time a “retreat” of sorts seemed in order. After perusing the internet (how DID people travel before the internet) for hours on end, we came up with what seemed like an ideal spot… Amansala Eco Chic Resort…. beachfront, a bit rustic, and lots of yoga and meditation and all those groovy things one likes to do in a place like Tulum.
We arrived into a bustling Cancun airport, made our way to our prepaid transport and began the 80 minute ride to Tulum. Mexico is such an interesting place; all at once messy and dirty and gorgeous and warm and friendly. The Mexican people are some of the loveliest funniest kindest people I have ever met. The car ride was the last air conditioning we would experience for a few days, although it wasn’t really necessary as Tulum is blessed with strong ocean breezes that provide relief from the hot sun.
We were greeted at the door by two old yellow labs and a tiny dog named Noodles. I had never really seen “beach dogs” before, but their antics provided great entertainment as they would burrow their bodies into the cool sand for relief from the heat. We were escorted to our rooms- mine on the 2nd floor, Jenny’s on the 3rd…with thatched roof balconies overlooking the ever changing colorful surf. I love that feeling of arriving in a new place and wanting to do everything immediately; not wanting to waste a second, yet also wanting to get into that deep place of relaxation away from the hustle and chaos and stimulation of the real world. I had an easier time than usual of “disconnecting” because my cell service was spotty at best. Thank you AT&T.
Amansala is hard to desribe; it’s rustic yet luxurious all at once. The rooms are dimly lit, mosquito nets covering the bed, stucco walls and floors, open air shower, complete simplicity. There is no phone or tv….why would you need it? If you needed anything from the front desk, you simply wrote your request on a sheet of paper in the main restaurant/ spa reception area. There is coffee waiting at 6 am…there is sunrise at 7. Meditation at 7, yoga at 8:30. My spirit is rejuvenated in ways I couldn’t imagine. The package I bought included two massages - one a Mayan healing rejuvenateion treatment….this was an experience I can barely wrap words around.
When we booked the package, there were several options; one was “bikini bootcamp” (single men should make the trek here for this one…….) it lasted a week, so it wasn’t an option for us. We only had four days. The program consists of several hours a day of workouts, both gentle and tough, yoga, meditation, nutrition advice, healthy meals and excursions to some of the local attractions like the Mayan ruins and the grand cenote. We didn’t have to do all the grueling exercise…we could pick and choose what we wanted in an “ala carte” fashion and balance it with mojitos and gentle walks on the beach. So - bikini bootcamp - I was picturing twenty somethings with rock hard bodies juxtaposed with my nearly 50 year old mildly chubby self….fortunately, this wasn’t the case. This was a group of badass women, traveling alone, all ages, all shapes and sizes, from all over the world. There was one guy (smart man!), Craig, who quickly became “one of the girls” and probably heard more than he wanted to about the inner workings of the female mind. I am again amazed at the strength and beauty and courage of women. Women of our mother’s generation wouldn’t have dreamed of setting out on a trip alone - one girl coined it her yearly “alone moon”. I love that. These women were mostly single, no children, careers of all types. But there were some of us previously married, divorced, kids, etc. - all confident in the fact they we are enough. We are “enough” to go on an adventure alone. I had this experience in Paris earlier this year, and I think I will perpetually take solo vacations moving forward. I love traveling with friends and loved ones, but there is something almost spiritual about going on a journey by yourself.
There are so many things I could write about this trip, but there were at least two experiences (maybe three) that were magical. The first involved a sweat lodge. You hear the stories of people in the desert dying in sweat lodges, but I was pretty sure this would be safe given the fact that one of our hosts at Amansala said it was the best experience of all that they offer to their guests. We wore our bathing suits, as instructed….and later (AFTER the experience), Jenny mentioned that my bathing suit bottoms were on inside out the entire time; lol; this is so typical of me. I’m just not always quite put together right. I digress. We entered the small stone hut with a fire pit in the center. There was a Mayan woman around 60 years old leading the group, and Goyo, a sturdy Mexican man, hauling in the flaming red hot stones to lay in the fire pit one by one. Every time he entered with one, we welcomed it with a chant that sounded like “aho”. We went around the room one by one saying why we were there, and the ceremony began. As the room gradually heated up, we were walked through a series of chants in Spanish and songs in Spanish (or maybe even Mayan). She would sing them, we would repeat them. I’m pretty sure I only got one of seventeen words right, but it seemed more about the sound than the meaning. Sometimes she would translate them. She would take a long reed, dip it in a bucket of water and throw it on the hot stones to transform the room into a sweaty steamy experience. She then passed a pot of gooey honey around the room and told us to rub it all over our entire bodies. Honey plus steam equals delightfully soft skin. ( Honey on your bathing suit left on your floor in your room equals ants. Just sayin’. )
She told us we would be asked to sing a song alone; a scary prospect for a non singer like myself. I mean, REALLY a non singer. I would love to be a singer, but my voice just doesn’t seem to follow through for me. A couple of the people made up songs, and I wracked my brain to come up with a song; harder than you think in the spur of the moment. Silent Night crossed my mind, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” came to mind, but the only word I could think of was - you guessed it - hallelujah; didn’t seem like enough. The Beatles’ song Blackbird is what ultimately sprang forth and even though it was off tune and shaky, it felt kind of good to just belt it out. The acoustics in the stone hut were amazing. There was a small beautiful woman that began to sing and it was like an angel was in the room. I was confident she must be a professional singer; I mean, she sounded like Whitney Houston meets Norah Jones. Spectacularly beautiful. I think that was my first experience with the spontaneous joy - letting my own voice loose, followed by hers literally shaking the stone walls. The sweating and chanting and singing brought about a deep relaxation, and we left feeling grateful and connected.
This was followed by some lovely white wine and delicious simple Mexican tacos and an early night in bed. The next morning I had committed to a yoga class. Many of the “boot campers” had decided not to do the yoga that day as Darlene, the teacher, had announced she was doing a special type of class which consisted of 108 Sun Salutations. The Sun Salutation is a series of several moves done without stopping, a “flow”. Honestly, three or four of them feel like enough. So, the thought of 108 in a row without stopping did seem rather challenging. I love a good challenge, however, and she assured us that the process and the end result would be amazing. She wasn’t kidding. First, the room was upstairs in the main building of Amansala with panoramic windows overlooking the gorgeous turquoise sea with the sun on the horizon. The windows were all open, the sound of the ocean was loud and peaceful and the breeze strong. It was a warm morning, and I could feel myself start to sweat (which, according to what I learned at the sweat lodge, means you are praying….sweat is a form of prayer). Being the sweaty person that I am, I took comfort in this; I’m pretty much constantly praying!
She started her playlist for the series, and I knew immediately that I would love it. Some of the most beautiful music ever. It’s on my Spotify playlist if anyone wants to follow it - Saturday Sunset Session. There were only four of us taking the class, and as we began to move through the poses, I could feel my body and mind fighting with me that I would never make it through 108. We did 8 sets of 12 - each set focused on a different chakra and concentration on this chakra. There was something about the repetitive moves coupled with thesweating and music….it all just flowed effortlessly at some point. About halfway through I had to turn my mat over; so much sweat that my hands couldn’t connect with the mat anymore - slip sliding away. I began to let go, my body took over and went through the motions with less effort and certainly less thought. As one song transitioned to the next, my mind also let go. I stopped thinking. I was just in the moment (how often does THAT happen anymore?), moving, sweating, and letting go. I began to feel a swelling in my heart, I felt a connection to the others in the room, and something I can’t call anything other than spontaneous joy. My mouth just started smiling. I took in the view, felt the power of my breath and my body, and was so grateful to be in that place at that moment. Darlene was right - a transformative experience. We all talked about it afterward - we all felt it. As we went downstairs for that beautiful breakfast of papaya and yogurt and homemade granola and chilaquiles, I couldn’t stop talking about it to the others. I imagine they thought I was drunk or stoned or something - my smile just wouldn’t stop. In my mind, I committed to doing this series on a regular basis at home, and I will. Spontaneous Joy. It is a feeling I will never forget.
The third experience involved massages two days in a row. Such luxury. (it was part of the package) A Mayan healing treatment involving abdominal massage and full body massage by a Mayan “shaman”…whatever that means. The guy, Israel, definitely had a spiritual vibe to him. His English was broken…continually asking me “how you feel”?. Lol. I felt pretty good. He worked wonders on my neck, which, since my surgery, has been my favorite area of focus in a massage. He seemed to radiate joy too - you know how sometimes you can just feel another person’s spirit? It was like that. He was obviously a healer, and I felt healed after he worked his magic. I felt light and happy and laughed easily afterwards. Again. Spontaneous Joy. As I walked back to outdoor bar area on the beach at Amansala, I just couldn’t stop giggling.
There were beach walks and ocean swims and delicious food (ceviche and guacamole every meal!) and laughter with friends old and new. There was the staff holiday party where we watched the Mexican children swat at a large Piñata while singing and laughing. There was the smell and sound of the surf from my screen door every night. There was exploration of the surrounding area, a rainy run on my last morning where I saw so many more things I wanted to do, but had run out of time. There were lush green palms and plants and sand and beauty everywhere I looked - in the natural world and in the people. There were Facebook accounts and phone numbers exchanged; connections made and photos exchanged.
I returned to Atlanta the next day feeling rejuvenated and relaxed and peaceful; ready to take on the busy holiday season and end of year work demands. I’ve taken several “long weekend” trips this year -I highly recommend them. Sometimes it seems like too much work or effort, but I swear these trips have just made me better - made me better at my job, at my life, and with coping with all of the change that 2016 brought. I don’t know if I will ever have another year like this one (with regard to travel), but I am extremely grateful for the ability to travel; the ability to grow and learn more every day about what I want and need from this one short life that I’ve been given. I know one thing for sure - I will always choose travel over material possessions; the travel experience stays forever and leaves a permanent mark on your soul.