We spent Christmas break a few years ago at Cozumel. We stayed in another of those all-expenses-paid resorts that offered a fine, white sand beach, several different restaurant options with good food, and a menu of different activities. We decided to try two of the activities — one of which was disastrous and one of which was wonderful.
I’ll talk about the disastrous one first. Richard and I decided to try scuba diving because Cozumel has some excellent diving sites.
We boarded a boat, and on the ride out we received instruction on how to clear our masks, how to equalize pressure in our ears, and other basics. When we got to the first dive point and went down, I obviously failed to equalize pressure because my ears immediately seemed to plug. Never having been scuba diving before, however, I didn’t know anything odd had happened.
I enjoyed the scuba diving when I was underwater. After you overcome the initial panicky feeling of being so far below the surface, it is very peaceful to drift along, watching brilliantly colored sea creatures swim past.
When we came back up to the boat and I took off my mask, the instructor noticed that my nose was bleeding. I shrugged it off as part of the scuba experience, and we went down again. On the ride back to the resort, however, I couldn’t get my ears to unplug, and the sensation — like having my ears stuffed with wet, heavy cotton balls — was very unpleasant. The next morning I visited the resort doctor, who told me that I had blown out all of the blood vessels in both ears (which caused the bloody nose) and blood had pooled behind both eardrums. He prescribed antibiotics and warned that the plane ride back would be uncomfortable — which it was. Although I enjoyed the underwater part of scuba diving, it is something I won’t be trying again.
The wonderful part was a day trip that Richard, Russell, and I took to Chichen Itza and a few other places on the mainland. I like antiquities, and Chichen Itza is right up my alley. Although resorts can be very relaxing, it is fun to get out and see a bit of the countryside. We boarded a bus one morning and had a full day of adventure.
Our first stop was an underground pool. The pool was a limestone pit at the bottom of a cave, lit by shafts of brilliant sunshine. You could climb to a landing and leap into the pit for a swim, which the boys promptly did. I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day in wet shorts, so I gave it a pass.
After a stop at a touristy place with a floor show for lunch we rolled into Chichen Itza. It is an extraordinary place. At one time one of the centers of Mayan civilization, it still impresses through the glimpses of a long-distant civilization that can be discerned on pieces of crumbling stone. The complex is large and includes temples, an observatory, sacrificial platforms, and playing grounds. The stonework is intricately carved and, from the remnants of paint left after centuries of sun and weather, was once colorfully decorated. We roamed the grounds under blue skies, marveling at the structures and wondering what had happened to the culture that built them.
When the shadows grew longer we boarded the bus once more for the long drive home. Twilight fell and we made one final stop, at a town whose name I have forgotten, with a green, heavily treed town square framed by brick buildings and a twin-spired church. In the middle of the square was a fine fountain. As we disembarked and moved into the square, which was full of townspeople enjoying the evening, we quickly came to notice that we were like Gulliver in the land of Lilliput. The natives all seemed to be five feet tall or shorter, and Richard and Russell towered above the crowds as they walked through the square. It brought home clearly that we were guests in a faraway land.