FEATURE

I Married a Non-Traveler

To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we invited readers to pitch us ideas, and we sent five of them on assignment. This writer took her husband to Mexico for a relaxing vacation with a side of adventure.

By Dana Lucero, Tuesday, May 20, 2008, 12:00 AM

BJ and Dana with Norma, the Spanish instructor, at Posada Dos Ceibas in Tulúm

About the author
Dana Lucero, 32, manages public involvement for light-rail projects in the Portland, Ore., area. Her husband, BJ Moghadam, 33, is a government-affairs rep for an energy utility. "I once said to my husband, 'You know that air that widely traveled people have? I want that.' BJ says he wants it, too, but while my goal is to see and do new things, his is to relax. My travel résumé is modest, but I've had those hysterical, scary, stirring moments. BJ doesn't know what he's saying 'nah' to. So I've made a five-step plan to open his eyes."

***

Go someplace that'll appeal to both of you
When BJ hears "vacation," he sees himself on a beach, holding a cocktail, with no must-sees or must-dos. Tour schedules and crowds give him shivers. But I want to go new places. I crave that palpable aura of history, that evidence of human art and invention. I needed a destination we'd both find fulfilling. I brainstorm, research, and talk to family and friends. With its gorgeous beaches and ample activities, Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula floats to the top. I begin putting together a 10-day itinerary.

Slow down the pace
I have a hunch that Cancún will align with BJ's notion of a getaway. The trip from the airport will be quick and painless, and the amenities and activities (like golf) will be familiar and accessible. Relaxation will commence sooner rather than later.

Our first three nights are at the Ambiance Villas, on the postcard-worthy beach of Kin Ha. The night we arrive, we sit at the palapa-roofed restaurant and alternate between deep sighs of contentment and rounds of belly laughter. Knowing we're 20 paces from what tomorrow will surely be that impossible Caribbean blue is deeply satisfying.

The next morning, we make our way to the open-air breakfast spot. When we see the Caribbean, we gawk like children. And then we hit the beach.

Golf, motorized water sports, massages.... The BJ-friendly activities I planned fade away like my cubicle pallor. I anticipated a slow pace, but I've never seen BJ voluntarily pass up a round of golf. He's content, so I'm content. We'll explore later.

Give him a mission
BJ and I retained remnants of high-school Spanish, and two Christmases ago, he bought us lessons on CD. The unopened box turned as dusty as our Spanish skills. Before our trip, I broached the idea of language classes in Mexico. He consented, and in the subsequent weeks, he even unpacked the CDs and put the files on his iPod so he could brush up at the gym.

I discovered The Pink Iguana Language School on the Internet. Its semi-intensive program (two hours a day for five days, either at our hotel or at the base in Tulúm) seemed right for us.

So three days into our trip—tanner, fatter, and with looser shoulders—we rent a car and drive 80 miles south. After a lunch of fish tacos, we meet Norma, our instructor. The first lesson takes place that day at a little house in Tulúm. By the end of the two hours, we're laughing and joshing like old friends. (Some of my Spanish is evidently rather blue.)

We arrange for the rest of our lessons to be at our hotel. Posada Dos Ceibas is exactly what we both wanted. Eight cabanas dot the intimate beachfront property. Each morning, we wake to the toots and whistles of birds, then meander over to a breakfast of eggs, beans, and fresh bread. And then it's time for a lesson. Norma is a wonderful storyteller, a welcome interjection between conjugation lessons. In five days, our comprehension surprises us all. We're equipped to shop, inquire, and befriend in Spanish.

Ease into new experiences
My pre-trip research turned up a multitude of guided, nature-based activities, but we opt to explore the area on our own, in keeping with BJ's preference for no schedules and no crowds.

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is just a few kilometers from Posada Dos Ceibas. The enormous reserve includes lagoons, mangroves, dunes, archaeological ruins, and exotic wildlife. For several hours, we poke around the reserve's beaches and scenic spots along the jungled stretch of road from Tulúm to Punta Allen. We top the hot afternoon off with icy margaritas and crunchy tacos at the Centro Ecológico Sian Ka'an, where, if you are so inclined, you can book half- or full-day tours.

On our one cloudy day, we visit the Mayan ruins at Tulúm. The walled site sits on a bluff above the sea, and the stone buildings date from the 1500s and earlier. Our hotel's staff advises us to go early, before the tourist buses arrive—this is enough to get BJ to commit to an 8 a.m. excursion. We make our way along the low stone wall and through a narrow entrance into the guarded portion of the ancient city. Signs tell the story of what once was a fort and sacred site along an important trade route. We wander, and admire, and take far too many pictures.

The last item on my must-do list is a trip to one of the cenotes—deep natural wells or freshwater cave systems found throughout the Yucatán. If you're like us and prefer to go it alone, many of them are easily accessible from major roads. We visit Gran Cenote and snorkel amid colossal stalagmites, stalactites, and tiny fish. We watch with envy as scuba divers sink deeper into the dark and mysterious cave. We kick ourselves for not buying an underwater camera. The still, fresh water is a nice change from the Caribbean, if such a thing is possible.

Meet halfway
As our time in Mexico comes to a close, we're both very aware that by not traveling more often all these years, we've been missing out. We both know we'll be back—if not to this spot, most certainly to this state of being.

Personally, the biggest lesson that I learn is that while it was easy to think that BJ was the reason we failed to travel, I need to own up to my role. I thought relaxation-themed travel was only for the lazy or unimaginative, and I was certain that I'd be dissatisfied lying around on a beach or lolling in a hammock. But I surrender. On this trip I relished doing nothing almost as much as I loved exploring the Yucatán. Ultimately, we highly recommend both!

Lodging

Ambiance Villas
Blvd. Kukulkan, Km 8.5, Zona Hotelera, Cancún, 011-52/998-891-5400, ambiancevillas.com, from $110

Posada Dos Ceibas
Km 10, Carretera Tulúm-Boca Paila, Tulúm, 011-52/984-877-6024, dosceibas.com, from $60

Activities

The Pink Iguana Language School
011-52/984-124-0034, thepinkiguana.com, five-day course $260

Centro Ecológico Sian Ka'an
Carretera Federal 307, Tulúm, 011-52/984-871-2499, cesiak.org, tours from $50