Our week in paradise

You may be aware of what a tough winter we have had – and are still having- in New York.  Okay, Detroit and a few other cities might be able to top us, but suffice it to say it has just been very cold, and there has been lots of snow.

Don had a birthday that needed celebrating and we needed a break, so there we just were in lovely Cozumel, Mexico.

SPOILER ALERT:  Do not read this if you have just finished shoveling your driveway for the 35th time this winter, or if you are constantly checking your fingers for frostbite.

But if you are strong enough to take it, let me describe our stay at the Intercontinental El Presidente. For starters, it was uncrowded and gorgeous.

Can you stand to see our room and our view?

If you’ve gotten this far, let me tell you about our average day…

7 – 9 AM.  We arise and walk down to the very civilized adult pool.  No children, no screaming.  We started getting there early because we figured there would be fierce competition for the good chaises.  Being from New York, we were calculating how to get an edge over the crowds, of course.

Imagine our surprise for the last week to find that we were very often the only people at this gorgeous pool.  Then imagine our delight.  This pool will haunt my dreams…

10 – 10:30  Roll over and toast the other side

12 – 2   Summon the snack bar staff to deliver some form of lunch

2:30  Roll over and toast the other side

3 – 4:30  Try different spots around the pools to alternately cool down or soak in some more vitamin D.

4:30 ish   Go try the ocean side and watch the big cruise liners and the sunset.  Be glad we are not on the big cruise liners.

6:00 on  Maybe have dinner, or maybe not, depending on how late we had lunch.  One exception – Don’s birthday dinner at the fancy restaurant here – Alfredo’s of Rome, of course.  Actually very nice with a surprise birthday cake for the boy.

We ventured in Cozumel proper one day for lunch, carefully selecting a day when no cruise ships were in the harbor to disgorge t-shirt starved tourists, eager to trade for trinkets with the natives.  Do those people actually know what islands they are on after a while?  Don’t they all look the same?  Guess that’s why one needs a t-shirt that says “Cozumel” on it.  Loved the kitchen crucifix at our restaurant.

We roused ourselves for one major field trip, and that was an all-day excursion to the ruins of Chichen Itza.

The first shock was the fact that this amazing Mayan ruin is not controlled in a way that keeps over 500 vendors from crowding almost every part of the grounds.  I can’t imagine how these poor people – all selling lots of of the same stuff, much of which is made in China – can possibly make a living.

So the area – which is huge – has a certain carnival atmosphere.  But the temple and the other buildings in the area we saw were nevertheless quite impressive.

You will have to consult Wikipedia for details, for our guide Felipe, though charming, was not so much interested in the facts about the ruins, though we did learn some Mayan words and heard some Mexican philosophy.

But we got the gist.  The pyramid, partly reconstructed, is an amazing testament to the Mayans’ understanding of astronomy and their sophisticated knowledge of mathematics.  Only they and the Indians originally had the concept of zero, which made all the difference. It allowed them to devise -and build in physical form – a calendar that incorporated every nuance of the solar and lunar year.  Like Stonehenge and Newgrange, it was built to showcase the winter and summer solstices, and the Mayans did it in dramatic form.  On those days, the light come down the stairs in a way that creates a body for the snakes whose heads are at the foot of the pyramid.  Must be spectacular.

The other memorable part is the playing ground, evidently the largest and best preserved mesoamerican ball court.  The game played there sounds like a version of soccer, though with a much heavier ball made out of layers of rubber and weighing 6 – 8 pounds.  Imagine getting that through the stone circles on either side of the court.  First team to score won – and that couldn’t have been easy.

But it seems the prize was worth it, though I would have been tempted to throw the game.  The captain of the winning team had the honor of being decapitated, as his blood was worthy to be offered to the gods in sacrifice.

We also saw the warriors’ temple and beautiful carvings, along with other buildings under renovation.  You can no longer go inside any of the ruins, so heavy use of imagination is required to block out all the tourists and vendors and insert your own sense of Mayan mystery into the whole affair.  But I’m very glad we saw it.

As part of our tour, we ate in a local restaurant, which has a very civilized hammock section to recover from the all-you-can-eat buffet and the gift shop.

As a final stop, we then had an hour at one of the many sinkholes in the area.  Judging by this one, called a cenote in Spanish, they are gorgeous swimming holes, which were enthusiastically used by many of the tourists.

We returned to Cozumel later that evening by ferry, and settled back in to our routine – see above. And we followed it over and over!

So now we are back in New York, where it is 10 degrees and 6 – 12 inches of snow are expected Sunday night.  Sigh…

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