In my life before kids, I might have traveled to a seaside resort in Mexico to relax, troll for shells, and enjoy a sense of calm. There would be a lot of sitting around staring at scenery, reading, and languishing over meals completed without disruptions. Nobody would jump up from the table and dash off into the darkness to chase something, whine for ice cream, or spill lemonade all over themselves five minutes after we sat down.
These days, my husband and I travel with our two kids, Russell, 5, and Rachel, 1. Recently, we trekked to the Mayan Riviera, a nice place if you like soft white beaches, warm clear water, and fresh seafood every night.
These days, my husband and I travel with our two kids, Russell, 5, and Rachel, 1.
On the drive from the airport to our rented condo, we asked our driver to stop at a supermarket, in hopes of picking up supplies for ten days. But the driver could only make a quick stop, and my husband was unable to find much of what was on my list. “They didn’t have milk?” I asked, incredulous, as the van sped away. Later we learned that milk is just packaged differently in Mexico. As a mother of small children, I find it difficult to enjoy paradise without milk, diapers, and juice for the kids and wine, cheese, and crackers for myself. Having no milk was definitely cause for concern.
We were cheered by the condo’s location, just steps from the Caribbean. But there were signs that it was not top notch. The sliding door screen fell off when we opened it, and there wasn’t a drop of soap in the house—nor were there napkins, paper towels, or trash bags.
We were cheered by the condo’s location, just steps from the Caribbean.
Over the first few days, our son developed a croupy cough, our daughter spiked a fever, and gale-force winds threatened to pitch coconuts through our picture windows. Soon I realized I hadn’t eaten any fruits or vegetables in days and was trying to convince myself that margaritas counted for both. So, armed with my list, I set out on foot, in heat that could melt glass, for a store on the outskirts of town.
I kept my eyes peeled for a sliver of shade, all the while clinging to the dream of an air-conditioned store. I thought I was almost there, when I reached a dead end and had to turn around. On my way back, I was shocked to see several iguanas more than a foot long crawling beside the road. These horrid creatures were everywhere, popping out of gutters, dangling from tree limbs, and meditating in the middle of streets. Fearing I’d get lost in a land of giant lizards, I’d decided to give up for the day and try again mañana, when I spotted a smoothie shop. In the window hung a small sign that said, “Grocery.”
Iguanas were everywhere, popping out of gutters, dangling from tree limbs, and meditating in the middle of streets.
After paying $30.00US for tortillas, bread, butter, stale cheese, rotten guavas, deadly hot salsa, tomatillos, avocados, and jalapeños, I gloated over my shopping prowess. Now we could make quesadillas AND grilled cheese sandwiches AND have chips and salsa. My blistering feet met the condo’s cold marble tile with glee. Even the refrigerator looked more content with a couple of things on the shelves.
Puerto Aventuras’ main attraction is the Dolphin Discovery. For $150.00US, we signed up for a basic water mammal encounter. We stood in the water while a dolphin swam back and forth in front of us. Then we each got to kiss and hug the dolphin, who was, frankly, a bit slimy. We were then forced to watch a video of our experience cut to the tune of La Macarena, available for only $50.00US. I hadn’t been hustled this much since Disneyland. While it was not the back-to-nature experience I had hoped for, we can all now say we’ve kissed a dolphin.
At Aktun Chen, an eco-park deep in the Mayan jungle, we viewed spider monkeys, wild boar, and toucans.
At nearby Aktun Chen, an eco-park deep in the Mayan jungle, we rode over a narrow, bumpy road in a doorless van to view spider monkeys, wild boar, and toucans. Then we went on a snorkeling tour through an underground cave filled with icy spring water. Dramatic stalagmites and stalactites jutted out and catfish darted among the crystallized rock. The experience was nothing less than awesome.
We went on a snorkeling tour through an underground cave filled with icy spring water.
The days stretched out, promising nothing but sand and sea, salty foods and sunshine, spontaneous swims and ethereal underwater adventures. But let’s face it: relaxing on a Caribbean vacation with young children is an oxymoron. Whether it was the heat or wind or vast amounts of water, who knows? Rachel wanted nothing but to sit on the couch watching Barney, while Russell found it hilarious to keep running off and disappearing into the hot flowery jungle, the pool, or the ocean.
Relaxing on a Caribbean vacation with young children is an oxymoron.
Russell immersed himself in the sweetness of boogie boarding, swimming, and snorkeling… until he caught sight of a stingray. My screaming son nearly drowned me as I carried him back to shore.
It wasn’t long until what was left of our bliss was obliterated. In the early hours of our last day, Russell fell off the bed and lacerated the area below his left eyebrow. A local doctor gave our son the first stitches of his life, there on the couch of our vacation rental in paradise.
Later that day, we saw the 1000-year-old ruins at Tulum. This ancient Mayan city once hosted kings and was a major trade center of the Caribbean. The 100-degree heat nearly did us in, but it was worth it to watch traditional Mayan performers swing like hawks from a tall pole. Our kids, however, preferred to squat and stare at the hundreds of huge iguanas waddling around the ruins.
The 100-degree heat nearly did us in, but it was worth it to watch traditional Mayan performers swing like hawks from a tall pole.
By the time we returned to Cancun airport, I’d had enough of sun, sea, and salty food. I would miss Mexico, but I’d also bask in the abundance of every American supermarket I ever entered again. No matter where we are, my kids will still exhaust and infuriate me, and sometimes all it takes is a trip to paradise to realize how good we have it at home.
Candace Kearns Read is a writer, story analyst, and professor of English for Metropolitan State College of Denver. She is the creator of The Movie of Your Life: Shaping True Story into Screenplay.