Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

January 7-14th 2012

You can see all the photos here

Boston was warmish when we departed around 10 in the morning, 40 degrees or so, but with sullen gray skies.  We flew through Miami, Kate and I in First Class, Brie and Will in Coach, a situation that lead to a certain amount of complaining on the kids part that we didn't have to listen too once they headed to the back of the plane.  We had a rather long layover (more complaining), then flew the short leg to Cancun international airport, arriving around 4 pm.  A twenty slipped to one of the baggage helpers resulted in being whisked through customs (have to love the Caribbean, where tips actually matter).  We hooked up with Matt, Cindy and Lulu Garber at the hotel van and drove to the El Taj, the beachfront Condo in Playa Del Carmen we were staying in with Janet and Bill Garber (Matt, Cindy and Lulu were staying nearby, same complex, different building).  Bill and Janet arrived a couple of hours later.
It was dark by the time we arrived, so the beachfront was only visible by the light of palm trees wrapped with strips of tiny white lights at what turned out to be the Indigo Beach Club (which was built into the El Taj, but for reasons unknown, was not part of the complex proper).  The center of the complex (which is roughly V shaped, with the mouth of the V facing the ocean) certain looked inviting with the pool and Jacuzzi Jet seats.  The condo was very nice as well, with a large living area, a small kitchen, and three bedrooms, all of which had balconies with chairs and tables. 

Above the rooms was an upper patio with a thatch roof covered sitting area, a Jacuzzi, a Grill and a refrigerator (which ended up stocked with beer for most of the week).  We spent several evenings with Will grilling food for everyone, while the rest of us sat around enjoying the balmy weather, which ranged from around 70 in the evenings to 85 during the day, and drinking beer. 

Below, everyone enjoying the upper patio on day 2, with the full moon larger than life overhead
Needless to say, the view during the day was spectacular, with the turquoise and aquamarine waters that make the Caribbean so beautiful a spectacular backdrop for breakfasting, reading, running, or pretty much any activity you wanted to participate in.  Below left, the El Taj, below right, the view from the lower patio (where we typically ate breakfast), and below that a panoramic view of the beach from the upper patio.

Right, breakfast on the lower patio.  Above, lunch at Club Indigo on the beach.  Below... on the beach!
There were some dinners out, of course.  The best place by far was Yaxche, a Mayan restaurant where they prepare food the way it was done back during the peak of the Mayan civilization, with recipes retrieved from chiseled stone tables that were the equivalent of restaurant menus we have today.  Right.  But the food was excellent and they had a "Mayan Margarita" that was dark green and tasted almost but not completely unlike a margarita (I had about five of them).  At the recommendation of almost everyone local we ran into, we also tried  a place which featured theoretically great tacos (which we didn't have) and traditional Mexican dishes (meaning "things you won't find in a Mexican restaurant in the US) (which we did have).

Kate shows how impressed she is with the native Mexican dish "Molcagete," while the rest of us try Elanarre and Alambre (which were also pretty weird)
Activities ... assuming you do not count shopping as an activity, but an occupation... included a number of memorable outings.  Our first was a snorkeling tour arranged by Phantom Divers, who were recommended by the El Taj and were very good (so much so I used them later for a scuba trip).  We went Monday, which as it turned out, was the roughest seas of the entire trip.  Bill, for someone rapidly approaching his centennial, did an impressive job of forging through the waves, climbing the ladder as the ship bounced up and down in the six foot swells, and getting in his seat, with Janet not far behind.  I had a hard time getting in without staggering around.  We took a half hour boat ride down the coast, with water spray that looked like something from a big budget special effects movie soaking us to the skin.  The snorkel area was, fortunately, protected a bit by the reef.  Below, starting at the top and going clockwise, Brie with a spiny sea star, Will, Bill and Janet, Brie getting soaked by a wave on the trip back, an underwater shot, Matt and Will, Kate.
The second activity was a combined trip to Tulum (ancient Mayan ruins) and Xeh-La.  Kate and I did that same trip 23 years ago in 1989 (you can see the photos here).  Things have changed a bit since then, particularly Xeh-La, which has gone from a snorkeling oddity (it use to have a layer of fresh water on top of salt water; now it's so heavily used, it's all mixed together) to a full fledge theme park.  Top two pictures are Tulum; the rest are Xeh-La.
The final activity for the trip (unless you count Brie and Will's visit to The Blue Parrot Beach club Friday night) was a Dave-only scuba trip on Friday, doing two dives, one 70 foot and one 40 foot.  It wasn't quite as spectacular as the reef dive in Belize, but it was still spectacular.  The guide from Phantom Divers had a decent underwater camera, and as there were only a four of us, spent most of his time taking pictures. 
We returned home on January 14th, my birthday, arriving to find close-to-zero temperatures, and the next day Brie and Kate came down with an intestinal bug that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy just to rub salt in the wound.  But we did get the doggies back home, which helped.