Tulum was one of the most highly recommended places in Mexico owing to its white sand beaches and picturesque oceanside ruins. I enjoyed both as well, although they each had their own negatives too. The beach was great for an afternoon swim, but unfortunately was overrun with seaweed during my time there, which clouded its typically turquoise color. The ruins were beautiful, but by 11 am they were brutally hot and overcrowded with tour groups.
My real highlight of Tulum was the cenotes. There are plenty of these natural sinkholes around the peninsula, but Tulum was the only place I went diving in them. The first day Karim and I snorkeled in one and discovered the appeal of its crystal clear water and fascinating cavern formation. We also saw how much more the divers were able to explore. So we checked out a couple of dive shops in town and decided to go for it when we found one that would let me dive in two too (Karim is advanced certified but I am not certified, so finding one that would let me do two cenote dives was tough since technically it’s not allowed).
We started in Casa Cenote, where they take all introductory and refresher divers since it’s always possible to surface in case anything goes wrong. We barely got any lessons before the dive started, something that was fine for me having done this a couple of times already but surprising given how Discover Scuba dives are supposed to go. The point of this dive was to test our buoyancy control; cavern diving requires a much more controlled, even dive style than open water does because there are rock formations above, next to, and below us. The first moment we went into a cavern I had to check myself mentally. “Oh right,” I thought, “this is what we’re doing, diving in a cave, with solid rock around me.” Luckily my next thought was, “This is so freaking cool!”
Our guide judged that we all did well enough on our first dive so he took us to Gran Cenote. This time we would really be in the caverns. Air was never too far away, but most of the dive we were surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites and frequently had to use flashlights to light the way. It was awesome. There’s something so uniquely cool about exploring caves in water. It’s another world down there. It’s not about reefs and wildlife like open water diving is, it’s about natural architecture under the earth’s surface. When we got back on land we were all stoked about what we’d just done, and I personally vowed to return once I’m certified to do more dives like this.
The next day Karim dove in El Pit, a huge deep cenote where advanced and cave certified divers can go down to 40 meters. Visibility is 100 meters and light rays that penetrate the water looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. One day I will go back and do this.
I’m all packed. Same Gregory Deva 60L backpack, same Fjallraven Totepack No.1, same packing cubes and system – I fell back into old habits pretty quickly. I’ve made a few adjustments here and there based upon my experience from last year, but despite saying that I was going to bring less I think that I am actually straddling the line between reduced packing and over packing. Here’s why.
I have two weeks in San Francisco first. This has led to a fairly blasé attitude about the shirts I am bringing. I have a third cube of clothing that is “for SF” and that I say I will get rid of when I leave, but just like the “for Rio” bag last year I have a feeling some of it will stay with me longer. I also threw in an extra of everything again, knowing that I technically have the space to fit it. And, since I have pretty much zero attachment to anything I’m bringing with me, the fact that I don’t mind ditching things along the way has contributed to the extra stuff – I admit it’s a bit backwards but thinking “I’ll just throw it out if I don’t want it anymore” resulted in more stuff sneaking in. Plus with the warm climate I’m going to they’re all small tank tops that don’t take up much room. So with that, I admitted defeat to myself and packed up everything.
But I still don’t count the “for SF” cube as being part of my 6-months-worth of clothing. So here is what I’m bringing for the trip, minus the supposed “for SF” stuff.
Doesn’t look too bad right? 4 tanks and 4 tshirts, 2 long sleeves, 1 inbetweener, 1 cardigan, 1 dress, 1 jeans, 1 black yoga-type pants (hopefully to be replaced ASAP), 1 shorts, 1 set of sleeping stuff (shorts and tank), 9 socks and underwear, 4 bra types, 1 bathing suit (but top and bottom are reversible so it’s like having 4), 1 sneakers, 1 Toms, 1 Tevas (bringing the Tevas back), 2 hats, 1 gloves, 1 buff, and 1 scarf (not pictured, had to dig it out of a box).
One thing that is also more concrete this time is the notion that I will get things I need along the way. Like new pants. Last time I got thin loose pants in Vietnam that ended up being a great addition – mostly for hot weather temple days when I had to be covered up – and I’m hoping I’ll find something similar this time. They would replace the black yoga-type pants that I do not want to bring but packed anyway since I need some alternative to jeans. Picking up clothing and accessories that I needed was also a great excuse to get souvenirs.
Other things that are not pictured here are the same practical items I had last time – medical kit, hygiene stuff, collapsible 1L water bottle, sleep sheet, etc. If you’re really curious just let me know and I can list those out too, but it’s pretty much everything you’d expect.
My electronics haven’t changed either: Canon G16, GoPro, Lenovo laptop, iPhone 4S. They all worked so well why would I change anything? I did not end up getting the external hard drive like I said I would, I just couldn’t justify the price, so I’ll go with Google Drive again. It works fine, as long as I can get enough of an internet connection to upload. Plus now I know my camera’s memory card has enough space for over 6,000 photos. I did bring a back-up 4GB SD card again, but this time loaded it up with movies I forgot I had on my external hard drive at home. Since I am out of Sopranos (anyone want to send me seasons 4-6?) I need something else to entertain me when I don’t feel like reading. For music I am bringing my shuffle again, but I have tripled the amount of songs in my iTunes library. Just because the shuffle can only hold 150 songs doesn’t mean I only have to have 150 songs with me. This way whenever I plug in my shuffle it will randomly select a new batch of songs to load so I’ll have at least some change of music. I plan on doing that about once a month.
I did get travel insurance again: Explorer level through World Nomads. Now if something happens to me in the caves in Mexico or on a flight to the Corn Islands I will be protected. Better to be safe than sorry. All my important Google Docs have been updated and I made sure to scan in my license this time so if it gets stolen at a club again I will have some proof I can drive. Major oversight on my part last time.
So with all the logistics taken care of, I’m all set and ready to go. You’d think I’d be jumping up and down in excitement, but for some reason I’m pretty relaxed about all of this. Maybe because it’s become so routine for me now there’s no reason to stress. Or maybe it’s just not real yet, and I need to get on that plane before it sinks in. Or maybe the distraction of seeing everyone in SF first is pushing the international trip to the back of my mind. Whatever the reason, at least I’m not freaking out about anything. And now I can just enjoy my last weekend in the beautiful countryside of Vermont.