It’s sad to leave La Via Laktea and its perfect beach, but we are all ready to enjoy the comforts of home and our flight back to Washington D.C. leaves tomorrow. We carefully arrange our bags for the return trip, taking care to pack the delicate souvenirs. The car needs a clean out. it has various Mexican snacks ground into the back seat, dozens of empty water bottle, damp swim gear and parts of kids’ toys everywhere. Our plan for the day is to visit Xcaret, a theme-park between Tulum and Cancun about 2 hours north.
Our first stop is Pemex, the nationalized gas company of Mexico. It’s famous for ripping tourists off. Google ‘Pemex rip-off’ and read the stories. The main scam is that they zero out the total before you can check it and charge you a higher amount. We haven’t yet been scammed. Not that we know of, anyway.
Outside of Tulum, we pull in to Pemex . The tank is pretty low. They fill about $10 worth of gas and the pump stops as if the tank is full. But that can’t be right. We needed almost 3/4 of a tank. Puzzled, we turn on the car and the fuel gauge hasn’t moved much, if at all. The two attendants look at our dashboard, walk around the car a few times and bounce the back end of the car hard up and down. He shows me the amount I owe so far, resets the pump to zero and puts the spigot back in. It works, now. They seem pleased that they solved the problem, whatever it was.
When I pay, I hand him what I think is a 500, but he shows me a 50. Did he switch it? I dunno, probably. Was the whole thing about the broken fuel gauge a scam too? I dunno, maybe. Did we ever get ripped off elsewhere and didn’t know it? Most likely, yes. But it doesn’t sting if you don’t know you were scammed. We shrug at our misfortune, at worst we lost $50. Shit happens.
Up the coast is an easy drive and the kids are excited about Xcaret. It’s heavily advertised and they’ve already formed high expectations. From the backseat, they excitedly chatter to each other; “It’s Disneyland but it’s in the jungle!” and “It’s hidden worlds but it’s like Kings Dominion.” We’ve seen some pretty bad theme-parks, so how bad could it be?
In short, Xcaret isn’t bad, but we probably won’t go again. Our biggest disappointment is that there aren’t any rides. There are a few ‘rides’ but they are terrible. Xcaret is primarily a zoo with some very cool, unusual animals like black jaguars, manatees and bats. But the butterfly exhibit has no butterflies. Another thing Xcaret does well is theatrical performances, which they do throughout the day, including a fun two-hour extravaganza at the end. And then there are a whole bunch of cost-extra activities mostly to do with scuba or underwater stuff. It’s about $240US just to get in the park for a family of four.
We pay $400US (in addition to the entrance fee) to swim with the Dolphins. It’s a very cold day in the Yucatan, about 65F, and we are already chilled from the boring, long 40-minute ‘snorkel experience’. Trish and I did a dolphin encounter many years ago in Cozumel, and it was fun. Lily does really well, considering she’s battled a fear of fish the whole trip. She has one screaming panic attack, but manages to touch the dolphin once. “It feels like rubber” she says. It does feel like rubber.
Emma has a grand time. Afterward, we look at the cute pictures of her with the Dolphin. But they want over $200 US for the family picture package! It’s just too much and we sadly pass on the ridiculously priced offer. Lunch is another $90, and it’s pretty good, but way more than we wanted to spend. In general, Xcaret is very clean, the service is excellent and it’s an attractively designed and styled park. It just pricey and lacks depth.
Did we get ripped off? I dunno. The girls liked it. At night, sitting in the breezy open theater, the temperature goes down another 10 degrees. We all huddle together for warmth in the 55F ocean wind. Emma and Trish particularly like the performance – a celebration of Mexico with lots of dance. Mexicans made up most of the audience, and they enjoy it too.
On the drive back we put on the heat in the car. That’s something we didn’t expect in the Yucatan! At the check-in counter for the Cancun Airport Courtyard Marriott, our final night hotel, some guests demand space heaters for their cold rooms. (They don’t keep space heaters in Cancun. Duh.) The next morning, we leave a lot of extra time for the car rental return and new airport security process but everything goes smoothly all the way home.
Home! Travel is twice as good when you love the home you return to. We order Domino’s pizza. Emma and Lily giddily open presents from Santa. I activate the new credit cards. Both our cars have dead batteries (something we don’t discover till the next morning) and it’s too late at night to get our akita, Monty, from the Puppy Hotel. But everything is in order. The kids eagerly put their little souvenirs in school bags for tomorrow.
The Mexico guidebooks go on the high bookshelf, kept for nostalgia. Time to plan the next trip: Italy.