RE-POST from January 2021…………It is another Google photos moment when you get those pics from this time of the year so many years ago. And so it was two days ago when I received collages of our whereabouts in January 2015. It was this weekend 6years ago, we made our first trip to Mexico. I found some interesting research on the African diaspora in Mexico which suggested there was a small number of the population identify themselves as part of the African diaspora mostly in Veracruz, Costa Chica Guerrero, Costa Chica Oaxaca and some smaller cities in northern Mexico. There are varying accounts as to the most likely ways the diaspora migrated to the area with some accounts involving the relocation of blacks from North America and other Central American countries. In any case, we had decided toward the end of 2014, we were ready for some rest and recreation and once we came across a great deal on tickets and accommodations, we were going to Mexico!

It was the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 2015 that we visited the Hacienda Tres Rios Resort on the Maya Riviera on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. All packed and ready the night before, we left town the following day after work with our oldest two children and a third “bun in the oven”. This was a 3 day, 4-night vacation. Our itinerary had us laying over in Mexico City from Atlanta and then onward to Cancun. Navigating the airport in Mexico City on a layover felt like following directions on a busy street in New York City before the pandemic. It was clearly one of the most populous cities in the world. Yet another short flight and we were in Cancun that evening and with prearranged transportation we arrived safely at the resort in approximately a 30 minutes. Late that evening at the resort, we checked into our suite and retired for the night. The next morning, we were up early to explore the grounds.

The Hacienda Tres Rios has guided nature walks through the mangrove forests on resort grounds covering more than 325acres. This eco park surrounded by white sand beaches had a variety of birds, sea life and lizards throughout the property. It also had cenotes which are natural sinkholes formed by collapsed limestone exposing underground water. These underground rivers flow into the Caribbean Sea. No sooner had we arrived that we booked our snorkeling and kayaking activities while spending the day at the pools and delving into authentic Mexican cuisine at one of the restaurants at the resort appropriately named El Alebrije.

Alebrijes are brightly colored sculptures of fantasy or mythical creatures native to Mexican folk art. This form of art originated in the 20th century in Mexico City. The sculptures were originally made by artist, Pedro Linares using wood and has evolved over time to paper mache adaptations most famously in the Oaxaca valley area.  El Alebrije restaurant carries authentic Mexican cuisine and true to its name had wooden sculpted décor on chairs and walls with art of the Jalisco, Puebla, and Michoacan, three states which represent unique culinary history, architectural and artistic inclinations. Of note, Michocan is the largest grower of avocado in the world. Guacamole anyone? Meals were served buffet style for lunch and a la carte options for breakfast and dinner. When not dining at El Alebrije, we enjoyed a poolside lunch at the pizzeria (Il Forno) and the Hacienda Grill with dinner at the Asian fusion Kotori restaurant.

Reservations at the resort included  activities such as guided kayak tours in the cenotes and snorkeling. There were daily gym classes, pool aerobic lessons, Spanish classes and access to the kid’s club where children could engage in arts, crafts, and learn about the local environment. The first two days we spent kayaking, snorkeling and at the pools and beaches while I took lessons to brush up on my Spanish.

On the third day of our vacation with the help of the concierge, we booked a trip to Xcaret archeological zone for a lesson in nature, wildlife, and history. This area is one of many pre-Hispanic settlements with the earliest evidence of human settlements dating back to the late Pre-Classic period (0-250 A.D). It is located across the peninsula opposite the island of Cozumel and became the port of embarkation for pilgrims who crossed over to the island to visit the shrine of the Maya goddess, Ixchel.

As we leisurely walked through the park, we observed flamingos, monkeys, leopards and jaguars and more exotic mammals like the tapir. This curiosity, is the largest land mammal in the Mexican and Central American rainforest. There were several shows included in park admission and we were able to observe the horse exhibition, a Mexican sport in which charros and adelitas (male and female jockeys) ride Aztec horses, the Papantla Flyers (ritual ceremony where five men tied to a pole fly around in spiral descent) and the Mayan Pre-Hispanic Dances.

In between showtimes, we visited the botanical gardens at Xcaret. Walking through the gardens one will notice a change in vegetation. At the entrance to the gardens is a semi-evergreen forest which becomes a garden full of palms and swamp fern. This section follows a cenote which leads to the Caribbean Sea with coastal rocks and as you approach the open sea there are several mangroves. The bay waters had different fish, sea turtles and aquatic life. There was a man-made beach at the end of the walk with hammocks for lazing and inflatable tubes/chairs as well.

Back at Hacienda Tres Rios that evening we started packing our bags to catch our morning flight back home. We realized our trip was short but were grateful we for the time taken on another adventure and we looked forward to a chance to visit again. Our second trip to Mexico was one we could not have planned at a better time. Four years after our first trip and two more kids, we would return to Mexico as a family of six!

It was nice to see a part of our vacation follow us home in the form of paper mache art. The penguin below on the right was made by our daughter, Mbongta. It is neither colorful nor dramatic as an albrije but it is a nice skill to practice paper mache art all the same!

Paper Mache Art Credit: Mystic Museum of Art
Paper Mache Penguin Credit: Mbongta Awantang

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