In our family, the thirteenth birthday is an important milestone. We marked our Hannah’s thirteenth with an all-out unforgettable mother-daughter Cozumel getaway.
Before sunrise, after a quick breakfast of eggs and bacon on an English muffin, we piled into the Old Warrior (our RV) and headed for the Guadalajara airport. Excitedly, everyone hopped out to see us off while Papa went to park.
In Mexican laid-back style, the friendly workers at Aeromexico were unfazed by our arrival at less than an hour before departure.
Our nursing baby Jeriah, Hannah and I proceeded to security. This would be the very first time I had ever left our children. Brent and the children came to the check point where we said our goodbyes. We caught a glimpse of an ever-so-rare Krispy Kreme in the airport; I slipped them each some donut-designated pesos. With each hug, I gave a stack of four notes, one for each day I would be gone (these would be accompanied by small gifts hidden back at the villa).
After passing through security, we grabbed a couple of coconut waters and boarded the plane.
As the plane climbed steeply into the air, Hannah and I caught a glimpse of Brent and seven children waving their goodbyes from the top floor of the parking garage.
The seats on our nearly new Boeing 737-800 were comfortable, with ample leg room and personal monitors on every seat back with an impressive array of media options. Baby enjoyed 101 Dalmatians, even without earphones. Drinks (we chose coconut waters) and granola bars were served before landing in Mexico City.
The Mexico City airport was pleasantly well-ordered. We ate our PB & J packed lunch, gave over our inheritance for some airport drinks, and Skyped the children. Hilariously, they had just arrived home from the airport (it’s no easy task to travel with a pile of children). We soon boarded our connecting flight for Cancun.
The flight from Mexico City to Cancun went smoothly. Baby contentedly nursed, played with his sock rattles, and napped. I enjoyed watching Hannah take in the view from her window seat. Although she has flown many times, she was as excited as a first-timer enamored with the puffy white clouds.
We landed in Cancun, exhausted but excited. Brent called and gave us the bus schedule; he’s that kind of man. Hannah and I grabbed our bags and walked outside to the bus station and purchased tickets for a bus departing in ten minutes. I had not specified any seat request, so we regretfully proceeded to the back row, forward of the insufficiently ventilated restroom. Poorly operating AC contributed to the reek. Ack.
Fifteen minutes into the trip, we managed to hijack the seats of some departing passengers. This was a marked improvement, save for the child across the aisle with a persistent, hacking cough.
After about an hour, we arrived in the familiar, comforting turf of Playa del Carmen. We had spent so much time going back and forth from Playa to Cozumel since she was little, it felt like home.
Hannah was a trooper; she grabbed our bags from underneath, and piled them into the stroller.
I held my baby/laptop/camera load, and we made our way down the hill toward the ferry ticket booth. The salty smell of sea and sand welcomed us.
Unfortunately, the acrid odor of a refueling ferry was not as welcoming. We gingerly took our seats while the waterjet randomly bobbed on the waves.
The ferry busted through the waves at an evil speed as passengers gripped seats with white knuckles. Hannah changed shades of green; I faked being fine for her sake. I held the baby with one hand, kept my eyes forward and blindly scavenged through my purse for a bottle of infant VICKS. I handed her the jar and I kept the lid. We inhaled the menthol, attempting to prevent losing our lunch. Thankfully, it worked.
On the ferry pier of our beloved Cozumel, we sat for ten minutes to regain our bearings. We’d made it! All we wanted to do was find our room and go to bed. There is just something so special about being back in a place you love and knowing exactly where you are.
Although we had enjoyed their excellent breakfast buffet before, this was the first time we had stayed overnight at Casa Mexicana. It turned out to be the absolute best place we could have stayed.
I should have hired a taxi, but we both thought it would be fun to walk the five blocks to the hotel. We walked beside the strikingly bathtub-clear water and watched the colorful fish.
We enjoyed our very favorite beef tacos on whole wheat tortillas from Rock n´ Java. After a warm bath and some girl talk, we crashed onto our thick comfy mattress and slept until the dreaded-but-needed wake up call. With only three too-short days and two nights on our Cozumel getaway, we wanted to make the most of it.
After our amazing breakfast buffet, I hired a taxi, and we were off for the most memorable part of
We knew we loved Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park and had great memories of bringing the children when they were younger. I purchased the best package which would give Hannah an entire hour with a dolphin. She would learn to be a trainer and to play with and ride the dolphin.
The moment was everything and more than we could have dreamed of. This animal-loving young teen was in her glory; I had so much fun watching her.
Here are my thoughts on dolphins in captivity at Cozumel’s Dolphin Discovery.
Since we were visiting during low season there were no crowds. Hannah enjoyed one-on-one time splashing with the dolphin. She never flinched as the large dolphin jumped into the air at her command. It was a bit daunting from my perspective, but she absolutely thrilled to have the dolphin rush at her feet and glide her through the Caribbean.
Her favorite by far was getting a ride on the dolphin. This was an unforgettable birthday of birthdays.
After spending over an hour learning and interacting with the dolphin, she was invited into the manatee pen, a large area fenced off of the Caribbean. In the waist-high water, she rubbed the manatee’s elephant-like belly and fed him heads of lettuce. A 1000 lb. manatee eats about 150 pounds of food daily–just goes to show that a vegan diet won’t necessarily make you thin.
Breakfast wore off, so we paused for burgers and a salad, and refreshed with a dip in the large pool.
We also enjoyed a short sea lion show. Hannah remembered doing that when she was younger. The childhood memory enhanced the fun of re-living the adventure again. Of course, no sea lion show could be complete without a kiss.
We grabbed drinks, and then swam with baby Jeriah in the crystal clear sea. We saw beautifully colored fish even without our gear. We made up our minds that we would return the following day to snorkel.
The only downer was that baby Jeriah was acting unwell. He had started coughing and acting clingy. I blamed the sick lady on the plane and the hacking kid on the bus. He kept smiling, though.
Around 5 pm, we caught a taxi and headed back to our room. The hotel staff surprised Hannah by having her room fully decorated. It was the icing on her cake. Balloons, pink and purple pompoms, and ribbons hung from the ceiling.
Between a sick baby, a perfectly clean and decorated room, the delightfully cold a.c. and the thick mattresses, we crashed hard. Baby and I enjoyed a warm bath, and we both slept like the proverbial babies.
Around 3 am, however, I awoke to a fevered baby. This was definitely NOT in the plan. I suddenly hated short trips and remembered all the advantages we normally enjoy by traveling sloooowly.
I was able to nurse baby through the night, and by morning his fever had broken. Hannah and I headed to our very favorite, Jeanie’s By the Sea. I first brought Hannah here after her 9th birthday. She was there again following birthday number 10 and again during the Christmas of her 11th year. How fitting it was for us to return and celebrate together her coming of age.
We were greeted with hugs and loud ”welcomes” from the staff who had remembered us from Jeanie’s By the Sea. We were soon enjoying waffles and eggs and fresh squeezed juice. With an extra snuggly baby laid on my chest, Hannah and I waxed nostalgic as we watched yellow and black volunteer fish and brilliant blue angelfish dance in the clear Caribbean sea.
After breakfast we went shopping at Chedraui. Nothing really had changed. Some of the workers recognized us. A few came and gave hugs and asked about the family. Long-term travel means that more than one place on the globe that feels like home.
It was then that the reality of my beautiful baby girl’s age washed ashore on me. We shopped for a new suit for her–in the LADIES section! We also grabbed a swim suit for little sister, along with a few trinkets for the children at home. We stuffed diapers in the cart and a couple of sports drinks to avoid the tourist squeeze at Chakanaab.
Having spent such a big chunk of our lives in Cozumel, it was tremendously satisfying to know our way around. We knew just where to go to get a taxi and negotiate the best price.
We signed up for the all-you-can-eat-all-day plan, a tad pricey but the only way to go if you are visiting the park. We then headed directly to the best snorkeling beach with water as clear as glass.
Baby was still not himself but was acting well enough with no fever. I plunked him into a green turtle floaty, strapped on the underwater camera and off we went.
In our travels, we have seen wild animals that get too attached to people. Raccoons or bears can become a danger and nuisance in national parks, for example, if people begin to feed them. However, I had never heard of fish becoming attached to people’s attention or food. Have you?!?
We crossed over the slippery, uneven rocks that separated the children’s beach from the deeper snorkeling area. Greeting us was a very pushy blue angelfish that scared the living daylights out of me. The fish circled us, swam into our faces, put its nose on my camera lens and invaded our space while we invaded his.
Later on it became a bit of joke. Having never seen such a friendly fish, however, I was picturing imaginary scenes out of what could become fish horror tales. When the fish started weaving back and forth among baby’s toes and kissing them, I screamed. This evoked a cry from baby and brought the magical moment to a whimpering end. Plus, his turtle floatie was a disaster. Every time he moved at all the inflated turtle would just about completely flip.
We decided to each take turns snorkeling while the other stayed in the shallows with baby. In retrospect, we wished we had gone to our usual, more private snorkel spots. The blue fish accompanied us during our snorkel excursion like a Disney movie scene. We saw sea urchins, angel fish, living coral and several small brightly-colored fish. I still need to develop my underwater shots to see if we captured any treasures.
After some exploring and walking by the cenote (a natural freshwater sinkhole) within Chankanaab, we taxied to the main square for a little shopping. Hannah found herself a cute sarong and a few souvenirs for her siblings.
We stopped for lemonade and discussed the meaning of life.
We then freshened up and took a familiar stroll along the cobblestone boardwalk to our very favorite Rock N’ Java. The server shift that had not seen us earlier greeted us like returning prodigal daughters. After hugs, laughter, and a few tears, we ate a simple meal–just my girl and me (and the nursling).
Back at the hotel, we packed up, enjoyed a soak in the tub, and collapsed into those wonderful beds. Before sun-up we were checking out of the hotel and walking along the shore to catch a ferry.
What an incredible trip. After the ferry, bus ride, and two flights, the Inion welcoming committee met us in Guadalajara. Papa had the children all dressed in matching outfits, girls’ hair pulled back and the children holding little cards. Such an incredible man he is.
We topped off the birthday celebration with a family supper at Hannah’s favorite Sirloin Stockade where we ate piles of salmon, sushi, roast beef and a huge variety of vegetables.
How grateful I am to be the mama of this precious, soft-spoken, hardworking, baby-loving, servant-hearted, fun, imaginative, and adventurous 13 year-old.
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