Cancún Conference

» 17 May 2005 » In Talks, Travel »

Last week I was at the PHP|Tropics conference in Cancún, Mexico presenting two talks, one on regular expressions in PHP and the other on the new version of PHP-GTK. The conference was held at the Moon Palace, a sprawling resort located not far from the city. Some of its highlights are worth mentioning: free drinks, 6 restaurants and snacks around the clock, an enormous swimming pool with swim-up bars, jacuzzi in the room, a variety of tours and activities and much more. My only complaint would be that the place was so big that it took a good 10-15 minutes to walk from the lobby to the to the room and back. The conference itself went very well – kudos to Marco again. The talks were interesting and informative, and it was great to sit by the pool afterwards and discuss everything from PHP to traveling around the world to British comedy series and so on.
Since I am always up for extracurricular activities, I wanted to get out of the resort and do something different, specifically zip-lining. So, Derick, Ilia, and I signed up for an adventure tour from AllTourNative to Chikin-Ha, a Maya village about an hour’s drive south from the Moon Palace. We were up bright and early that morning, when Ricardo, our tour guide for the day, picked us up at the hotel. He already had a few other people in the van, but they were staying in Cancún. We took off for Chikin-Ha, with Maya native music playing in the background, and Ricardo gave us an introduction to what our tour would involve as well as insights into Maya language, culture, and customs. He explained that in Maya “chi” means “mouth”, “kin” is sun and “ha” is water, so Chikin-Ha means “water that comes from the mouth of the sun”.
The drive seemed quick. Once we got there, we jumped on the provided mountain bikes and rode a couple of miles inland to where the village was. The first activity of the day was zip-lining, which I couldn’t wait for, although there was just a bit of anxiety about what it would feel like jumping off into the air. We strapped into harnesses and Ricardo explained how to brake properly so that you don’t overshoot and end up hitting the bumper on the other end like a sack of potatoes. Naturally, being gentlemen, we let the women go first :-). Then I stepped onto the platform and leaped off. The feeling was great – slicing through the air, feeling the wind in your face, and knowing that you are that much closer to flying. This zip-line was not very steep or long, so when it was over with, I felt charged up and ready for the next one, not a bit of apprehension remaining.
After everyone was done with their first line, we walked up a bit to the second one, which was a bit steeper and longer. We had no problems with it and Ricardo, who went last, showed how you can jump off and travel upside down for a bit before flipping yourself upright and braking. Then he led us to a tower from which the final zip-line was strung. It was about 60-70 feet tall and had pretty steep staircase. We had to clip ourselves onto a metal cable just in case we took a wrong step. We climbed in a single file and reached the top platform. Stepping onto it I could see the tree tops stretching to the horizon and the zip-line cable running far away and down to the other platform which seemed very small indeed at this point. The last two lines we were not more than 10-15 feet high and with water below them. This seemed like the real thing. When it was my turn, Ricardo unclipped my safety line, attached the harness to the zip-line and said, “Have fun”. And so I did. Taking a big jump, arms and legs spread, and feeling a great rush all the way to the other end, about 20 seconds in all. I stepped down to free the way for others and knew that this was an experience I would want to repeat.
The next activity was snorkeling in the cenotes – water-filled sinkholes. Ricardo said that Maya people consider cenotes somewhat sacred places, and that we would need to have a ceremony where shaman’s grandson would ask the spirits to allow us to enter cenotes and protect us while we were there. The ceremony was inside an old cenote which was almost dry. We walked into the darkness, and took a seat on a low bench. It was incredibly quiet, so we just sat with our eyes closed and waited, breathing in the earthy smell that was around us. The shaman’s grandson appeared shortly, a cup full of coals in hand. He crushed a bit of what looked like amber or petrified tree sap and put it into the cup, producing billowing white smoke. The ceremony was not long, and it was fascinating to watch him pray in rapid staccato Maya language and ask the superworld and infraworld gods for blessing first, then walk to the four cardinal points and pray to the cenote spirits, and finally go in front of us one by one, saying a short prayer, all while blowing onto the cup with coals and letting the aromatic smoke cover us.
Appropriately blessed, we left and descended into another cenote, this one with water. Ricardo gave out snorkeling equipment and off we went. The water was cool and very plesant, and visibility was not bad for an underground cave. It seemed shallow from the surface, but in fact the cenotes may extend 40 to 70 meters deep, so they are suitable for scuba diving as well. In fact, the whole cenotes system of the region extends more than 70 km. We swam for a while, and then dived through a couple of underwater channels. This was a very refreshing activity, especially for the hot day. Afterwards, went to another cenote and swam on the inner tubes, directly under the third zip-line, so we could see other groups flying above us while we ourselves basked in the sun.
After swimming we were supposed to eat, but Ricardo said we had some time, so who wanted to do another zip-line jump? Everyone, of course! Harnesses on, we climbed the tower again, and this time tried to jump off and turn upside down. I almost managed to do this properly, but next time it should be no problem.
The meal was provided for us in the hut, buffet style, with soup, chicken and beef en mole, rice, and hand-made tortillas. For drinks there was tamarind and jamaica water, which I liked best. Jamaica water is made from petals of the hibiscus flower, by boiling them and adding a bit of sugar so it achieves a nice red color and taste. Finished with the meal, we went to pick up our photos, which were taken just at the end of the third zip-line. Mine didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, because I was twisting a bit during the jump and ended up with my back to the camera. But no worries, the important thing was the jump itself.
This was it for the day, so we piled into the van and headed back to civilization. Ricardo dropped us off at the Moon Palace and we thanked him for being a great tour guide. Throughout the day his good humor, energy, and infectious enthusiasm were unbounded and our adventure was that much better for it. He went above and beyond his duties by getting us another zip-line jump and also promising to email us the photos, even though it’s not really allowed. I would highly recommend AllTourNative tours – ours was well organized, informative, exciting, and safe. By all means, take one if you are ever in Cancún and make sure to ask for Ricardo. You will have a great time.

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