From Bacalar, we took a van to Mahahual. It was not very far and we had to spend half of the distance standing because the driver had picked up extra passengers on the way. That’s just how things were in Mexico and no one seemed to mind the mild chaos too much. It was similar to the chaos which most communal societies have.
We checked into a hotel that was a bit outside the centro. The receptionist offered us snorkelling trips and more but we had thought of checking out the diving here. Mahahual is home to the Meso-American Barrier Reef system which is the second largest in the world after the famous one in Australia. It runs along the Caribbean coast of Mexico and a lot of famous dive locations are dotted on the coast. We chose Mahahual on impulse. I saw fewer number of dive shops online and assumed it would not be all that touristy. And clearly, it wasn’t. We walked along the half empty roads to the centro and talked to one of the dive shops that I had shortlisted. The girl who was about to shut the shop explained how it worked and what the prices were and we thanked her, telling her that we’d get back to her if we wanted to dive.
We headed to the beach which was witnessing it’s annual Sargassum season. A part of the beach had been cleared out where some people tried to swim or paddle boats. We walked the length of the beach and arrived at another shop towards the end of it. It seemed closed to we went to enquire in the shop next doors. This is where we met Norma, a Spanish woman who had been living in Mahahual for a while. She was a dive instructor at the shop next doors and ran this shop as well which sold beach stuff. A big part of how I decide dive shops is the conversations I have with the people I meet there. Norma turned the tables in favour of Mahahual Dive Center despite the previous dive shop being cheaper. I booked my Advanced course and Parul booked her Discover Scuba (yet again 😛). Parul even bought a flashy pink one-piece which was bold for her style. Once again, Norma did a brilliant job at convincing her of how amazing she was looking in it (I clearly suck at sales 😑).
The next morning started a little later than I am used to for dives. When we reached the dive shop, we found it open and bustling. Parul went for her usual drills for DSD with Norma. They went to the shallow part of the beach for it. I met up with Auden, my Canadian instructor who would be teaching me advanced skills, and she told me about the course structure and what all we would be covering. Jorge, the shop owner, was there; and so was Carlos, the proprietor of our hotel who was doing his rescue diving course. All in all, this place felt very homely. There was no formal feeling of being in a shop.
We were joined by a French family for our first round of dives. They were a well travelled bunch who lived in South Africa. The man was a bush wildlife photographer and the woman was a HIV doctor. The son was a well behaved teen who was enthusiastic about the water. They had some amazing stories to share and told us about this once when they were diving in Cuba and one of their equipment started leaking air. The instructor simply patched it with a duct-tape underwater and resumed the dive as usual 😂 We also found out about Jorge’s amazing underwater photography skills!
Norma and Jorge were so surprised and impressed at Parul’s calmness underwater that they took it upon themselves to teach her how to swim. There was a small pool behind the dive center and they gave her a few lessons there. To my utter surprise, they did manage to teach Parul how to swim in the three days that I was taking my lessons! Parul had been making considerable progress since Cambodia but I guess she needs patient teachers (who doesn’t!) and I clearly am not one of them 😄 Norma and Jorge patiently worked with her and she got confident enough to swim short distances. It was up to us now to lengthen the distance slowly and steadily.
Meanwhile, Auden worked on my diving skills. The first dive had, to put it politely, crashed my confidence. I had thought I was good with buoyancy but apparently I was just good at fiddling with the air quantity in the BCD. This had increased my air consumption as well which I had wrongly attributed to my breathing. Turns out that I breathe alright and over the course the consumption actually improved ✌️ We did various skills like buoyancy control, learning to use the dive computer, navigating underwater and identifying fishes 😆 It was much fun and extremely educative. Turns out that the only way to get better at diving is to dive more and more. Who would have thought 😛 Now we need to get Parul a certificate and start doing diving holidays. Simple enough, eh?
The entire experience of diving in Mahahual was a relaxing and pleasurable one. The dive center and everyone there made things interesting and exciting. Right from Jorge with his jokes, Auden with her comforting instructions, the captain and his laid back attitude (and love for Gorillaz!); it all seemed to fit in extremely well. I was glad that we dove here and I got my Advanced here rather than elsewhere. It was such a stark difference in experience from the Open Waters in Koh Tao.
Over the three days in Mahahual, when we were not diving or swimming, we would eat some tacos and fresh seafood. We walked around the short distances and got amused watching the town come alive when a cruise ship docked there. Otherwise, the town was mostly calm and quiet with a fraction of the shops open and entertaining clients. After the dives we shifted to a hostel near the centro for another day and chilled out about town. Though few in options, Mahahual had it’s share of eateries and places to hang out. We would have stayed longer had the accommodation been cheaper but unfortunately our budget prodded us to move on.
The American Sweetheart
A couple of buses drove us northward to Tulum. This was one of those towns that had been recommended by everyone whom we had told that we were going to Mexico. And over the time we had formed an opinion of Tulum in our mind - touristy. It did turn out to be touristy, heavily so.
We walked from the bus station to the AirBnB we had booked in a quaint neighbourhood. The place was nice and ample for our needs. It also had two furry denizens who were amusing. Bob, the dog, hated being patronized, looked at us with suspicion every time we left the room and barked at us for any number of reasons. The cat was a clingy one that wanted to be rubbed and loved and ran into the room the moment we unlocked the door 😂
We spent our days working indoors. The heat was daunting and the comfort of the room was somnolent. I got hooked to Civ6, ranted on the philosophy of slow living, completed editing pending pictures from Europe. It was quite a fruitful time spent there. After all the continuously active travel, this was a much needed respite.
We also went to check out the Tulum ruins one of the days. The ticket counter had more tourists than we had seen in any Mexican archaeological site as yet. We walked around the ruins and pretty though they were, they did not seemed justified as archaeological sites. They reminded me of the Goa forts sitting on the cliff overlooking the vast ocean. The hordes of tourists all around made it less charming than the vacant Goa forts as well. There was beach access from the archaeological zone as well (!) which finally explained to me why so many of the tourists were walking around half naked. Plus there were so many iguanas! Initially we had mistook them for mere monitor lizards but some online searching had corrected us. Oh and we also saw a raccoon 😆 We clicked a lot of pictures, mostly of the wildlife since the ruins were not as impressive 😛
After the Zona Archeologica we went to check out the Paraiso Beach that we had heard so much about. It was nice and pretty but really not as wow as people had told us. I guess Clear Water Bay has raised our expectations immensely 😄 Since it was too hot, we cut our time on the beach short that afternoon and returned another evening. We bummed on the beach and watched the sun set behind us (Tulum faces east). The bright moon and the gentle waves were a happy experience. The number of conversations Parul and I have had on such occasions escapes me. There was something about mind control in reference to diving which faintly comes back to me.
On some evening we went out eating and drinking in the tourist center of the town, an occasional splurge that we permitted ourselves. Mostly we would cook in the kitchen that was provided with the AirBnB and treated ourselves to some good tequila in the room.
Tulum was touristy but it had it’s charms. For me, the street art was fantastic. It was a pleasure to go hunting for empanadas in the middle of the day and watch the walls lined with artistic expressions.
Being touristy had also brought together various cuisines. Our favourite remained Mexican but we were starting to like the Argentinian empanadas a lot.
There were cenotes around Tulum as well but we could not find an affordable way to go check them out. Apparently renting a car and driving around is the thing to do in Yucatan but it’s not a budget activity. Also, I am quite apprehensive of renting cars in a foreign land and do it on an absolutely need to basis. Public transportation was either lacking in the city or limited to locals.
After a few fruitful days spent working, chilling at the beach and drinking good tequila, we decided to move on. We were relaxed enough to take on the next destination and Yucatan still held the promise of beauty that Bacalar had introduced us to.