Wednesday, 23 June 2010

How I fell in love with Mexico (and a dolphin or two)...

WITH its powdery white beaches, natural attractions and colourful history it’s no wonder families are heading down Mexico way...
IT was like a scene out of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet -- me and him in an azure blue lagoon. And now, even though we’d only just met, he was leaning in for a kiss.
I squeezed my eyes shut, felt the water swirl around me as he came closer, then his skin on mine. It was smooth, wet and rubbery. The kiss was quick but so tickly it made me giggle.

Then, with a flick of his tail, he was off, surging across the lagoon, the memory of our brief encounter already forgotten.
But I knew I’d always remember this - my first dolphin kiss.
‘Wow that was amazing,’ I spluttered to my husband Alexio. He was too busy to reply, holding onto our 11-month-old baby Anais, while our six-year-old son Deme puckered up for a watery kiss with another of the dolphins.
We were in Xel-Ha, the world’s largest natural aquarium, just outside Playa del Carmen in the Mexican Riviera Maya. This was a family day out with a difference.
Not only could we snorkel in the lagoon, float down the lazy river, marvel at over 100 species of tropical fish and birds, but we could get up right up close and personal to parrots, iguana and dolphins. I’d always dreamed of swimming with these intelligent creatures, and had gone to Florida before in search of a dolphin adventure.
But we’d always been refused because our baby was under a year, and one of us would have to miss out to look after her.
So we’d vowed to wait until we could do this as a family. Mexico was the perfect choice.
Now, nestled between us in her life-jacket, Anais was giggling as dolphins kissed, splashed and jumped over our heads.
‘Can I ride on the back of one?’ our little boy asked.
I looked at the trainer, who told him how to move his hands to beckon a dolphin. Then, Deme was shown where to place his hands – and, on the blow of a whistle, was taken on the ride of his life around the lagoon.
‘Look I’m Dolphin boy!’ he shrieked as the graceful mammal sliced through the water with my son clinging not-so-gracefully to his back. It was a picture perfect moment on the second day of our holiday.
But by then we’d already fallen for Mexico, with its powdery white beaches, rich heritage, and family-friendly attitude.
From the moment we’d arrived after a 10-hour flight, we’d had our every whim catered for – and then some. We were staying at the five star Azul Hotel & Beach resort by Karisma, a stunning boutique hotel I’d normally associate with couples on a honeymoon.

Only this was an all-inclusive luxury hotel for families with beach cabanas, hammocks and a kids club. All I’d ever known about Mexico before were family outings to Nando’s and bad Country & Western movies where the Mexican was always the baddy.
The long-haul flight had put me off a little, but it wasn’t as stressful as I’d imagined. Our son, Deme, loves to fly but I was worried about our baby stuck in a cabin for 10 hours. But thanks to First Choice’s baby bassinet she slept most of the way, meaning I could too. Within an hour of arriving at our hotel, I’d had a refreshing welcome cocktail and was having every ache and pain erased from my tired body with a massage on the beach.
Hearing the waves lap the sand beneath me while coconut oil was kneaded into my grateful muscles was the most sublime start to a holiday. Now I’d kissed a dolphin and began a love affair with this beautiful country.
It wasn’t just that the beach outside our luxurious bungalow rivalled the Maldives, or that the sun sparkled off the Caribbean Sea as we sat eating our delicious – and huge - breakfast. It wasn’t even the impeccable service, or brilliant kids' club, which meant I lost my son for eight hours after 9am every day.
I can’t even say it was that I only had to look up from my wonderfully trashy book and the beach butler had an iced drink by my side and a bottle of sun oil ready for my bronzing body.
No, Mexico has it all - history, culture, fantastically friendly people and, of course, guacamole.
‘Let’s go and explore,’ Alexio said after we’d turned a gently golden colour on day three. It was hard to prise myself away from the beach cabana or wrestle Deme from the kids club. But there was too much on offer within half an hour’s drive of our hotel.
We could venture to Xcaret an ecological theme park where after a day of swimming in the underground rivers, we’d watch the spectacular night show, where 200 performers tell the colourful history of Mexico through song and dance.
I wanted to visit the Mayan ruins and temple of Tulum, which is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Or, if we were up for a much bigger adventure, I was desperate to travel to Mexico City and Veracruz, where film director Baz Luhrmann shot his contemporary sex-and-guns adaptation of Romeo +Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
But Deme and his dad – a qualified Scuba diver – won the coin toss and we set off to Cozumel, the biggest island in Mexico, just a ferry ride away from Playa. While Anais and I joined in the hustle and bustle of the tax-free shoppers, my son and husband explored Palancar, the world’s second largest coral reef.
‘It was just like in Finding Nemo,’ Deme smiled when we met up. ‘I saw lots of little Nemos and a bright blue Dory.’ With his head swimming with the thought of seeing so many tropical fish, we headed back to our hotel for a full-on authentic Mexican dinner.
‘This is much tastier than Nando’s,’ Deme said, licking his lips after finishing his second chicken fajita. He spent the next day at the kids club showing off his vast knowledge of Nemo and making guacamole. ‘Try this,’ he said, rushing up to me and Alexio at our beach cabana. He’d made an entire plate full and had served it up with mini corn tortillas. ‘Absolutely delicious,’ I grinned, savouring the spicy avocado dip as the sea breeze whipped my hair. Full from our son’s tasty snack, Alexio and I focused on our day’s work – getting a suntan.
We’d hired Betty, a babysitter from the hotel, to entertain Anais so we had the afternoon to lather on the suncream and listen to the sound of the sea caressing the shore.
‘I’ve booked you and Deme a surprise,’ Alexio announced at the end of the afternoon. We were having a chocolate massage on the beach.
‘Can I eat some?’ our son begged as the masseuse smothered him with chocolate scented oil. ‘No,’ I laughed, relaxing. I deserved another massage. I’d spent a hard day tanning and deciding which cocktail to ask the beach butler for.
Every day was difficult after that. Should we lay by the pool or the sea? Book a table at the popular Oriental restaurant or have a barbecue on the beach? Would I get panda eyes watching Deme playing volleyball on the sand, or was it better to use the sunhat so kindly left on my bed by the hotel?
More difficult still was the desire to do nothing while we knew so many shopping bargains, natural attractions – a jungle trek with monkeys swinging from the trees – and ancient Aztec relics were so near. Finally we decided to just chill. ‘It gives us the perfect excuse for another holiday,’ Alexio said. So while I lay watching my children play in the sand, against a backdrop of cyan sky, I began making a list.
Of all the wonderful things we’re going to see when we return to Mexico next year. As we left the hotel at the end of our fabulous stay, Anais blew a kiss and shook her hand in the air. ‘Look,’ said Deme, ‘She’s doing a Mexican Wave.’
Getting there
Azul Hotel & Beach Resort, Riviera Maya.
hether you’re a couple looking for a laid-back bolthole or a family after quiet luxury, the Azul Beach Hotel ticks all the boxes. Here, the beach butler means you’ll never have to lift a finger for snacks, drinks or sun cream. And, evening drinks at the Tequila Lounge’s ice bar gives new meaning to ‘cool’. But, families are sorted too.
There’s an all-important play area, activities, hand crafts and, if you’ve got tots, the hotel’s got bits and bobs like cribs and bottle sterilisers available.
First Choice offers seven night holidays in Mexico staying all-inclusive at the 4 SUN plus Azul Hotel & Beach Resort from £1110 per adult and £726 for the first child and £953 for the second child, based on two adults and two children sharing, departing from Bristol on 28 August 2010.
For more information or to book this holiday please visit or call 0871 200 4455. Price includes return flights, accommodation, resort transfers and all relevant taxes and supplements. Prices are subject to availability.

1 comment:

  1. Is that your hubby in the picture? I think I've gone a bit faint ....lovely to meet you earlier, your blog is fab. You've been memed over chez moi