A Multigenerational Trip to Mexico
One house. Ten travelers. Three generations. How this extended family (ages 2 to 82) spent a week together in a Mexican villa and lived to tell the tale.
Andy noticed the tension and suggested he and I go for a walk to Casa cenote, a freshwater-filled sinkhole about five minutes away. I've always been the easily rattled sibling; he's Mr. Chill. Just being around him made me feel better about Mom and Jordan's being upset. It didn't hurt that, at the cenote, the water was crystal clear and we spotted dozens of birds in the dense trees: yellow-breasted great kiskadees, ospreys, and graceful great white egrets.
That night, Mom and I sat down to rework the itinerary. We axed Coba, a Mayan ruin about 30 miles northwest of Tulum; it would have been tough for Jordan, who uses a cane, and for the two youngest kids. We also agreed to skip Xcaret and Xel-Ha, two popular eco-parks—too expensive and touristy—and replaced them with low-key half-day trips that Mom (and anyone else) was free to opt out of. We also resolved that, because driving at night was no fun, we'd eat big lunches out and smaller dinners at home, the way Mexicans do. And then we hugged.
Per the revised plan, we spent the next day at Akumal, a nearby town with sarong shops, cute cafés, and a waveless beach where the kids dug an enormous water-filled hole in the sand and called it "Cenote Josie y Max." While snorkeling, Jonathan and I caught sight of a giant green sea turtle, and I felt that shiver of romance you get when you're wearing flippers, holding hands with your beloved, and seeing something completely thrilling. When it was time for lunch, we set out for town in shifts so we could keep our prime position on the Akumal beach, under a tree.
Our one huge jaunt was the following day: an excursion with a Mayan ecotourism co-op, Community Tours Sian Ka'an, to the nearby 1.3-million-acre Sian Ka'an biosphere, the second-largest UNESCO protected marine area in Mexico. The guides, Antonio and Ladualina, took us to Muyil, a cluster of Mayan ruins in the jungle. Muyil was a major stop on the ancient Maya's maritime trade route, dating from 300 B.C., which makes it older than more famous sites such as Chichén Itzá and Tulum. And unlike those other sites, Muyil provides the opportunity to get right up next to the biggest structures. (Although a small sign warns against climbing the ruins, it's common for guides to look the other way.) Josie needed little prompting and scampered to the top of the roughly 50-foot El Castillo pyramid like a tree monkey. Maxine, always the more cautious sister, stayed earthbound, holding Grandma's hand.
As the tour continued, Antonio told us some of his grandfather's stories about the Maya and taught the girls how to bellow "Ko'one'ex!" (Pronounced coh-nesh, it's Mayan for "Let's go!") An hour's hike through the jungle brought us to a pale-blue lagoon, where we boarded a motorboat and headed for a narrow canal, a 1,000-year-old passage hacked out of the saw grass and mangroves. There, we strapped on life jackets upside down (with our legs through the armholes), a trick Antonio showed us for adding buoyancy, and bobbed down the stream. We looked silly but had a great time—even wary Maxine.
It was a very long day—eight hours—but the kids were enraptured. Not everyone fared so well: After negotiating the uneven, root-strewn jungle ground, Jordan's feet were bleeding. In the end, we were relieved we'd left Shirley at home with Neal and Andy, despite assurances from Community Tours that she would have enjoyed the trek. The three of them spent the day playing on the beach instead.
We splintered further the next morning. Jordan relaxed with crossword puzzles by the pool, while Shirley and Carol made sand castles on the beach, Andy and Neal napped, and Betsy, Jonathan, Josie, Maxine, and I went to explore the ruins at Tulum. All of us but Jordan, who was still recuperating, met up later at Tulum's El Paraíso beach, a masterpiece of sugar-soft sand and postcard views. That evening, we gathered outside our villa under a pitch-black sky sparkling with stars. While the rest of us searched overhead for familiar reference points, Jonathan fired up his iPhone's Starmap application and began pointing out constellations.
In spite of all our successful outings, by the end of the trip I was having trouble sleeping, worrying about my failings as the sole vacation planner. I knew Mom was annoyed at Jonathan for his inability to relinquish control in the kitchen, and Betsy was frustrated that I hadn't built enough shopping time into the schedule. I kicked myself for not encouraging her to hit the boutiques when we were in Akumal. In the morning, exhausted, I confided in Mom, who told me to chill out. "You're not responsible for everyone's feelings," she said simply. "And you can't fulfill everyone's needs all the time." I wished she'd reminded me of that earlier.