Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Richard Perry - Majajual Mexico
CUPS Trip Report

Where: Majajual Mexico
When: 05/30/2000 - 06/06/2000
By: Richard Perry

Type: Land based
Accomodations: Maya Ha
Dive operator: Don Higby

Blame it on Rodale's Scuba Diving, or on Father Time and my rapidly approaching 50th birthday. Maybe it was a sense of panic about the pace of developement along the Mexican Caribbean coast and the detrimental effects it seems to be having on the adjacent reef system. Or maybe it was just the unfathomable yet irresistable lure of Mexico's Costa Maya and the quiet dignity of it's inhabitants.

To quote the bard Buffet "Indecision may or may not be my problem."

Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, I heard and heeded the call (I never try too hard to resist going diving) to visit this remote area of Mexico's Quintana Roo and the fabled Chinchorro Banks, and the following is an account of the magic trip.

If your priority on a dive vacation is getting a t-shirt from the Hard Rock Cafe, or riding jet skis and go karts, you can stop reading here... this is not your average vacation, and the Planet Hollywood crowd will find it boring.

So, intrepid adventurer, our destination is the tiny, (often described as 'funky') fishing village of Majahual, a scant 30 miles North of the Belize border. I first read about Maya Ha Resort and the Chinchorro Banks in Rodale's Scuba Diving, and was intrigued. Although leary of 'all inclusive' resorts, two factors overcame my reluctance.

First, the descriptions of 'the last unspoiled reef in the Caribbean', and the chance to see it in it's pristine state started me twitching (a source of constant amusement for my wife). The Nature Conservancy called "the most biologically diverse reef of the Mexican Caribbean." Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock, authors of Secret Sea, labeled it "...a Caribbean we didn't know still existed."

Second, Maya Ha is virtually the only game in town. Aside from a few beachfront bars, and small restaurants within a seven kilometer radius, dining opportunities are limited. As I said, this area is remote.

Getting there...

For all of this remoteness (is that a word?) getting to Majahual is relatively painless, but by the time you add flying time, you'll put in a full day of travel.

A commuter hop on Mexicana from Cancun is rumored to be starting soon, but for now you'll have to settle for the 4 hour drive from Cancun to reach Majahual. The resort offers van service from Cancun for $50/pp each way which, for most visitors is the way to go.

The alternative is renting a car and driving youself, but you will most likely be paying rent on a car that remains parked for the duration of your stay at Maya Ha.

Most of the drive is on the modern well paved Highway 307. The portion from Cancun to Playa del Carmen is a four lane devided highway, with the remainder to Majahual being two lanes.

The lush jungle stretch South of Tulum to Fillipe Carillo Puerto will make you think that you're never going to see a town again, but is home to a virtual 'gauntlet of butterflies'. Some travellers have reported having to stop because the butterflies swarm so thickly. If you're driving, you want to fill up the tank in Fillipe Carillo Puerto because it's the last gas station that you will see.

You want to take it slow in the small villages like Limones, we had to stop for a pig and her young to cross the highway, and grazing goats and horses are common. Once you reach the coast at Majahual, expect about 10km of paved, but potholed road, and another 3km of rutted beach road to the resort.

The Resort...

Maya Ha Resort sits comfortably nestled between the jungle and the beach, behind a walled enclosure.

The impressive reception office and gift shop frame the entrance to the lushly landscaped grounds featuring stone paved pathways throughout.

Mayan influences are the rule for the architecture of each of the buildings.

The most impressive of all is the common building, styled after a Mayan pyramid, housing the restaurant, bar, and observation deck.

Inside you will find a comfortable dining area, lounge area, tour desk, and a small, but growing library. The second floor houses the bar, including a great sound system, pool table, telescope, and games.

12 of the Maya Ha's 18 rooms feature and ocean view, complete with a fresh sea breeze. The rooms are clean, roomy, well designed and feature a private porch.

An on-site generator provides power during non-daylight hours, with battery power for everything but the a/c (we never turned it on) during the day. A reverse osmosis water treatment system provides safe drinking water throughout the facility.

For non-divers and days when bad weather prohibits diving, the resort in conjunction with Coati Tours offers several tour packages including visits to Mayan ruins at Kohunlich or Chacchoben, ocean, lake, or river kayak trips, cenote dives and jungle treks.

The Diving...

I know, this is what you really want to know about. To tell the truth, I was skeptical about the claims that I heard.

Dive magazines tend (in my humble opinion) to glamorize reports about dive destinations. Ever seen a truly negative article about a dive site?

I am happy to report that Chinchorro Reef lives up to everything I read about it.

The Maya Ha dive operation is headed up by Don Higby, formerly of Plantation Beach Resort, Cayos Cochinos, Honduras.

Don's operation includes two Pro jet-drive boats, one 48' and one 42'. We dove from the 48' boat each day, and it's a gem of a boat. We never had more than 9 divers on any day, so everyone had ample room to stretch out for the 1-1½ hour ride from the resort to the reef.

The reef is truly beautiful. If you like coral and sponges, this is Nirvana. While the fish life is abundant and varied, the reef is the real star of Chinchorro.

Barrel sponges grow as shallow as 20'-30' and are magnificent at greater depths reaching over 6' tall! Forests of Sea rod and Gorgonia abound.

Windy conditions had reduced visibilty to about 50', but I was so enchanted with the reefs, it hardly mattered.

Dives typically include a tour of the reef with the divemaster for about 30 minutes, then exploring on your own in the vicinity of the dive boat for the remainder of the dive. (Cozumel regulars rejoice... you can dive your computer!)

We had days with virtually no current, making for great critter hunting and one day of roller coaster drift diving, a little of something for everyone.

Fish and invertibrate life included Barracuca, Nassau grouper, Queen anglefish, Spotted drum, and Nurse sharks, not to mention some exceptional Lobster!

The Caribbean had a special gift in store for your reporter on the last day of diving.... Dolphins! As soon as we submerged on the first dive of the day, we heard the clicks and whistles, and sure enough, a pod of six appeared overhead to greet the visitors.

My only hope is that this reef can remain as pristine and undamaged as it is today. With the increase of diver traffic that is a certainty in the future, this will be difficult, but a mooring system is a badly needed first step toward preservation of this treasure.

You don't want to wait until the impending cruise ship dock at Majahual is complete to visit this area... it won't last forever!

The Soul of Maya Ha...

As impressive as the physical facility is (some have described it as 'over the top'), that is just one layer of the appeal of Maya Ha.

Maya Ha has a soul, and it's name is Daniel (pictured with Maya Ha Manager Todd), cleverly disguised most of the time as the resident chef for the resort. Beyond his impressive talent in that capacity, Daniel is steeped in his rich Mayan ancestry, and gladly shares his love and lore of all things Mayan.

One afternoon, resort owner John Shobe invited the guests to the fourth floor observation deck atop the restaurant/bar/common building to view the sunset. As we stepped outside we were greeted by the sounds of a traditional Maya drum rhythms echoing across the jungle canopy.

Upon reaching the deck, we found Daniel, drumming the sun toward the horizon. Guest of the resort joined in on maracas, claves and tone blocks as we watched the sun slowly sink behind the jungle canopy. What a finish to a great day in the Caribbean!

But the best was yet to come. On our last day of diving, Daniel was on the beach to greet the dive boat when we ancored at the resort. "Would you like to join us in the sweat lodge?" While hesitant at first, I quickly decided that it might be interesting.

The resort has built a concrete recreation of the traditional Mayan sweat lodge near the pool deck. Staff member Andres and Daniel had a small bonfire going for several hours to heat the rocks for the sweat. The tea was prepared. We grabbed a towel and headed to the lodge.

Daniel instructed us on the proper way to enter the lodge, moving in a clockwise direction around the center pit. Once we were seated around the perimeter of the lodge, Mayan chant music began playing, and Daniel brought in eight glowing hot rocks (each about the size of a Honeydew melon) and deposited them in the center pit of the lodge.

He then closed the blanket over the doorway, and began the expanation of the history and traditons of the sweat lodge. The eight rocks correspond the the eight cardinal points of the compass. As Daniel began pouring water over the stones, steam laced with eucalyptus, and other natural herbs began to billow inside the lodge.

Over the next 45 minutes (I think..... didn't wear a watch) Daniel continued to add water, invited us to share our thought or prayers, and guided us through a series of energy sharing activities as the sweat and impurities poured from our bodies. He also explained the corresponding sweat lodge rituals practiced by American Indians in North America (even though there is no evidence of any contact with the Mayan peoples).

The experience was truly magical (as was the dip in the pool afterward). Dinner was a little later than usual that evening, but oddly, no one seemed to notice or care!

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