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Tunnel Vision

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

I was wrestling with my trailer’s plumbing when my cell phone rang. I listened for a second, figured the PVC fix could wait, mentally cleared my schedule and was soon on an Aeromexico flight to Cancun. Never having been to mainland Mexico, I jumped at the chance to visit the Yucatan Peninsula, with its endless white-sand beaches that bind the Caribbean Sea, rich Mayan history, opulent resort hotels and fiesta mentality. I was there, however, primarily for the peninsula’s unique adventures. Of course, RVers who make the overland journey — perhaps by caravan with Tracks to Adventure — to this lush combination of jungle and sea may encounter all the adventure they can handle on the trip south. So Cancun’s low-energy endeavors — margarita sipping, beach lounging, souvenir shopping, cuisine sampling and Mayan-ruins exploring — may nicely round out a Cancun visit. I, on the other hand, had to shoehorn the area’s adventures into a short stay. On day one, after visiting Isla Mujeres, an island about 20 minutes east of Cancun by motorboat, I figured the rest of the trip would be anti-climactic.

How could I top my visit to Garrafón, Mexico’s reef park, since I had managed to squeeze in three sporting activities within about an hour? An undemanding walk around the southern part of the island provided one gorgeous vista after another, the aqua water of the Caribbean studded with cruise ships and various recreational craft, the land creeping with exotic vines and iguanas. Atop a bluff at Mexico’s easternmost boundary, a colorful modern sculpture garden sits in counterpoint to the small Mayan ruin that hints at the island’s life before tourists. But since I was proud to be a tourist, one wearing a bathing suit and slathered in the reef-friendly suntan lotion Garrafon provides visitors to the park, I took scant notice of the fact that we stood only about 90 miles from Cuba, and that various cultural currents had swept across this windy bluff. I wanted action. I hadn’t abandoned leaky pipes just to gaze. Within minutes, I had my first adventure.

After stepping into the kind of harness mountaineers wear, I climbed up a rickety series of steps and platforms that cat burglars could easily negotiate. A very efficient park employee then secured my harness to the braided-steel cable that shot downward at a shallow angle to another less-than-stable-looking platform a couple hundred yards away. Below the cable, dense green jungle loomed. The idea, I learned in sign language from the park employee, was to hold onto the line that connected me to the runner on top of the cable with my left hand; with my right, I was to grasp the straps of the “brake” — a piece of wood with a groove in it that the cable kind of fit into. If I didn’t like how fast I was skimming above the forest, I was to pull down on the brake, creating friction and, thus, slowing me down enough to reach the second platform at something less than exit velocity.

I nodded, shoved off, listened to the high-pitched hum as I zipped down the line and wondered how often the wooden brakes burst into flames. I laughed the whole time, however, and the next leg — the one that races over the coral reef to a platform marooned in the middle of that gorgeous aqua water — made me wonder why I don’t live in Cancun. The last leg, the one that returns zip-liners to terra firma, is negotiated without a brake. I have no idea why. Snorkeling in warm water along a reef populated by schools of black-and-yellow sergeant fish was next. It was a pleasant activity, and one that almost everyone can easily experience, especially since participants must wear a life vest. But I cut the snorkeling short, since the boat would be heading for the mainland soon, and I still wanted to try Sea Trek.

With what seemed like an old-style “diving bell” slipped over my head — an air pocket allows participants to breathe naturally, so long as they remain upright, thereby preventing water from rushing in — a guide helped me descend a ladder into the surging sea. I walked on the bottom, bounced up and down like a spaceman and watched hundreds of fish feed within inches of my face. A lazy float on an underground river the next day — at the amazing Xcaret environmental park on the Riviera Maya south of Cancun — was a soft adventure that everyone even half comfortable in the water should experience. I floated with visitors from two years old to 80. The next day’s high-octane activities were not for everyone, however. Only people who truly relish life’s possibilities — and who are not afraid of heights — should sign on
with Mayan Eco Adventure.

After visiting Ek’ Balam, a recently excavated Mayan archaeological site, and climbing its steep-as-you-please “Acropolis” pyramid, I couldn’t wait to descend into one of the Yucatan’s famous cenotes, or sinkholes. Of course, this being an adventure trip through the Yucatan, the descent would be by repel, something I had only experienced once 10 years before. But, what the heck, I figured — gravity does all the work. The van ride in was rough, the mountain-bike trail was exciting and the zip line was exhilarating fun, but I was ready for the underworld. After a trial run on the first cenote, La Esperanza — meaning The Hope — during which I reassured myself that trusting my life to an aluminum friction device and a nylon rope could result in something other than death and, worse, humiliation, I decided to give the ominous nearby 4 Halcones cenote a try.

I could explain what descending into that small opening in the earth felt like, and detail how excited I was to discover the wonders that fill that copious cavern. And, of course, I could gloat. But doing so would deprive any fellow adventurers of my eureka moments. Suffice to say that the repel — and the unbelievable ascent — make my top-10 list of life experiences. Besides, I have some plumbing to finish.

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