Monday, June 30, 2014

Cozumel Memories

I've been digging through the archives! So many pictures and memories! And I promised you travel adventures, so here it is...

The Trip That Started It All ~ Cozumel, Mexico ~ March 2009

(That may be a bit of an unfair title since our first international trip together (the one that planted the seeds of a passion for missions in our hearts) was a summer missions trip to France with a group from our college, but this was our first international trip as a married couple and included so many other firsts: Our first all-inclusive resort stay, our first SCUBA experience, etc. And it was on this trip when the adventure bug bit us both -- in a big way!)

In the late winter of early 2009, my frugal, brilliant husband was looking for a warm destination. The Iowa winter had been long and brutal, and we were dying to relax in the sunshine! He did quite a bit of research, and ended up finding a great deal on Orbitz where he was able to package our flights and our all-inclusive resort stay for a significant discount! (He's a keeper!)

When the day before our flight arrived, we packed up the car and headed to Des Moines. We spent the night before our early-morning flight at the Hampton Inn in Des Moines. We chose the Hampton because they had a continental breakfast, an airport shuttle, and we could park our car there until we got back! In my journal I recorded, "The desk manager was a card, so he and Austin got along great, and the room was very luxurious and comfortable - an excellent start to our long-awaited vacation."

The next morning, our requested 3:30am wake-up call did its job, and we caught the shuttle to the airport. Once there, we retrieved our boarding passes, checked our baggage, and sailed through security. Then we both slept most of the way to Atlanta.

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image credits, clockwise starting at the top left: image 1, image 2, image 3, image 4, image 5

Once there we made our way to our next gate, then decided to do lunch at the airport version of TGIFridays. I love eating in airports because it is the most wonderful excuse to people watch! The Atlanta airport - reportedly the busiest airport in the world - boasts some pretty interesting characters, too.

It is always hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that there are literally billions of people all over the world living out their life stories simultaneously, and nowhere is that more apparent than in a bustling airport. I think too often we find ourselves operating in a “Truman Show” mentality, as though ours is the only play on the stage and everyone who passes through it are just extras and stage technicians - there for our benefit.

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Image credits: image 1, image 2

Anyway - back to Atlanta - after lunch we trundled ourselves back to our gate and waited for our boarding call.

When we booked the trip, we did not realize we would be traveling during spring break season, and the throng of already-intoxicated college students at the Cancun gate made us pretty nervous. There did not seem to be any rowdy patrons at our gate, or on our plane as we boarded, so that put our minds at ease.

We were delayed by almost 30 minutes in Atlanta, so we hit the ground in Cozumel nearly simultaneously with two or three other large planes - which made for quite a mess in their small customs area. We snaked our way through a line that filled the large room and extended out the doors to the tarmac for nearly two hours.

Once we cleared customs and retrieved our check bags, we stood in another security line, which, once cleared, popped us out into the beautiful Mexican sunshine!

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When we reached the resort, the Melia Cozumel, we entered the gorgeous lobby area that was 1000x more beautiful than the pictures on the Internet. We stepped into the lobby through automatic sliding doors and directly in front of us, through another pair of doors, we could see a gorgeous swimming pool - complete with royal blue lounge chairs, a swim-up bar and towel stand, and steps down to the breathtakingly beautiful beach - perfect white sand and startlingly clear turquoise water.

We tore ourselves away from the view long enough to check in. At the front desk we were welcomed with stemmed glasses of jamaica water, presented with room keys, maps, activities schedules, all-inclusive wrist bands, and cuisine/entertainment schedules. A quick and friendly porter whisked our luggage onto his cart and led the way to the elevators. In his broken English and our broken Spanish we learned that the elevators were new, and that he had been hauling toursits’ luggage up and down the Melia’s stairways for thirty seven years!

He was the first of many incredible and obliging staff members that we met during our stay! Throughout our time there, we had the same server for most dinners, and by day two he had our drink orders down so that we never had to ask, and the housekeeping staff kept our room immaculate - cleaning twice a day - and our mini-fridge stocked with complimentary sodas and bottles of water!

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The Melia is located far enough away from downtown Cozumel so as not to be negatively affected by traffic noise or the late-night party scene, but close enough to be a cheap taxi ride in to enjoy any of the touristy attractions on offer.

The activities staff were all the perfect combination of engaging without being intrusive and overbearing if you just wanted to sunbathe instead of participate in whatever was going on! And there was always something going on! From beach volleyball tournaments to sand sculpture contests to dance lessons to water aerobics, there was something for everyone. And it was a true all-inclusive so whenever we got hungry or thirsty, there were several different choices available!

On the first day, on the shuttle from the airport, we met a group of students from Hampton University in Virginia who had chosen Cozumel and the Melia as their spring break destination. We spent most of our resort time, and a couple of days in town with them, and had a great time making memories (as you can see in the pictures below)!

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Most of our days were spent either hanging around the beach and the resort or strolling and shopping in downtown Cozumel, but one thing both Austin and I had always wanted to do was SCUBA dive, and Cozumel has some of the most incredible diving in the world.

We asked at the hotel's activities desk, and they were able to set us up with a "Discovery SCUBA" trip which was fantastic! "Discovery SCUBA" is a dive for people who have either never been diving before or who have no diving certification. Since we met both of those criteria, it was perfect for us! (Although, if we were on this trip now, we would probably shop around more and book independent from the hotel because the concierge is usually not the best deal.)

Our dive trip was with Dive With Martin, and since neither of us had ever been diving before, we went with an instructor and only two other divers. The took us to the Palancar Reef, which we found out later is one of the most incredible reef dives in the world. The instructors gave us a short tutorial on the boat ride out, and then we hopped out of the boat and began our very first descent.

After a brief panic on my part at the top, we both were able to descend without too much trouble and commenced with one of the most magical experiences we had ever had! SCUBA is an incredible sport, and little did we know that this dive would be the beginning of something wonderful!

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When we surfaced after our second dive - after seeing the beautiful reef and all of the life it housed, including some of the beautiful sea turtles Cozumel is famous for, we were both very clear about our opinion of the sport: We LOVED it! We would definitely be doing that again!

Our fun and funny dive guides got us back to the dock, and along the way regaled us with stories of other dives and divers in the area. It was a wonderful first SCUBA experience, and one that would set the tone for the rest of our diving adventures! We were thoroughly impressed with Dive With Martin, and would use them again if we were diving in Cozumel!

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The group from Hampton University had to leave the day before we did, so we spent our final resort day, just the two of us, bumming around. I finished reading a book by the pool, we played some beach volleyball, I'm sure there were other activities that day, but the biggest thing I remember is that it was the only day that we did not apply sunscreen. At all.

I remember that because by the end of the day we were incredibly sunburned. (See the above collage, bottom right. We snapped that selfie in the Cozumel airport waiting for our departure flight.) We were both so sunburned that during our overnight layover at a hotel in Cincinnati, OH, we took advantage of the two double beds and each slept alone so as not to bump one another in the middle of the night!

But the pain was worth it to have some incredible color when we got home and went back to work! There's nothing like looking like a beach bum in the middle of early-spring Iowa!

So, that was our trip! Little did we know that before the year was out we would be starting on an adventure that would take us to a total of 15 countries by way of 38 different flights and have us sleeping in 58 different beds. But that's another story for another time!

Thanks for stopping by! Hope you have a great Monday!


To see the original blog post from 2009, click here!

To see a list of ALL of our travel stories, in chronological order, click here!

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