I stumbled across a marked-up essay from 1997 as I was cleaning out a dusty and over-filled cabinet. Sitting on my floor, papers littered all around me, I was transfixed as I re-read it to myself.
The assignment was simple- “Write a descriptive essay.”
While the topic was open-ended, it was clear to me (even at 16 years old) that I was going to submit a memory from my travels. It was then that I took my first tentative steps into the world of travel writing.
Sure, the writing is a little rough around the edges, and it’s a bit verbose (for which I was appropriately penalized by the teacher), but I still managed to get 95/100. A solid A. Frankly, I could learn a thing or two about descriptions from my younger self. Adjectives like “great!” or “exciting!”… begone!
And, in case you wonder… all of the details are true. If you’re curious about this magical place that I describe, scroll down to the bottom and I’ll share.
I hope you enjoy…
My family and I were driving the desolate highway that connects the ancient Mayan sea port of Tulum to the popular vacation resort of Cancun, Mexico, when we stumbled upon a place unlike any other. Following a fulfilling, yet tiring day exploring Tulum, we were in desperate need of refreshment and were instinctively drawn to a magical place.
A portal open to us as we passed through a secluded entrance, surrounded by lush palm trees draped in wispy Spanish moss — an unusual combination, but fitting for the exotic locale. As we continued down a bumpy cobblestone path, a sparkling silver gate opened to welcome us. We parked and hobbled out of our cramped car to take in the scene around us.
Distant twinkling music penetrated the serene silence of the small village that materialized. Off to our left, a small harbor with tiny catamaran’s dotting the smooth water beckoned. Sparkling white lights glittered in the twilight and reflected off the bay, making it seem like there were millions of stars bobbling on the water’s surface. Straight ahead of us was a lone hotel with palm trees embellished with illuminated bulbs swaying in the breeze.
As we entered the empty, sophisticated lobby of the hotel, I felt a refreshing breeze brush over my body. Looking at my surroundings, I noticed that something very practical was missing from this unique hotel. There were no walls! There was a ceiling, but the entire lobby was exposed to the outside!
We walked through the open-air lobby, peeled off our shoes and strolled to the beach. A warm, comfortable breeze ruffled my already damp and salt-ridden hair. The sand sparkled with an iridescence that reminded me of crushed pearls and as I walked, I sunk a little. A delightful sinking, how I imagine walking on a cloud would be like.
The ocean moved little, and the slight breeze caused faint zigzag patters to scratch the surface of the otherwise smooth sea. The sky was clear, and the cool glow of the violet moon fit the scene perfectly. It was bewitching.
The sea was so smooth and the stars shined so brightly that there were two sets: the actual stars and their reflection on the water. With the moon full and vibrant, I could tell that, in sunlight, the water was a pristine aquamarine. But at that moment I never wanted to see this place in daylight. It was perfect just the way it was.
After a short walk on the beach, we came upon a dimly lit path adorned with smoldering tiki lanterns, which led to a quaint and relaxed restaurant. Along the path were small, intimate tables which held diners obviously enjoying their meal. Never before had I seen such an ideal location for dining.
Dark wicker chairs and tables, damp to the touch from the mist of the sea, sat atop slabs of weathered wood that served as the floor. The meal was leisurely served with soft candlelight, and the food was elegantly delectable. If this was not enough to impress, then the vast array of exotic animals surely would. Monkeys darted amongst the various tables visiting guests while parrots babbled on knobby planks of wood.
After dinner, we graciously thanked our waiter for the meal, attentive service, and most importantly, the ideal ambiance. As we walked back down the beach toward the hotel and our car, a meteor shower streamed dazzling balls of fire down from above. Marking the end of an amazing evening in a most unique place.
For the curious, this story took place in Puerto Aventuras, part of the now-trendy Maya Riviera. Back then, the early ’90s, it was still relatively undiscovered and untouched by tourism. It truly was a magical place.
We owe this memory to some man named “Rico”, who suggested we go Puerto Aventuras to find this secluded restaurant on the water. “Tell them Rico sent you,” he said. And we did. Just his very name — “Rico” — evoked such reverence with the staff that we were treated like family for the night. It was then I tried Kahlua-drenched ice cream for the very first time. My world has never been the same.
To the best of my knowledge, the hotel mentioned is the Omni, which has been a fixture there since 1988. The restaurant, along with the menagerie of monkey and parrots, is long gone. Perhaps it was leveled to make room for another resort as the town’s popularity took off… or maybe it was a mirage all along.