Every day this week I will be highlighting a favorite travel experience from 2010 with something I call the Lopers Awards. Today I want to share with you two of my favorite travel experiences from the year.
I love anything to do with the water, from swimming to boating I will gladly do anything on, in or around the water. It’s not a complete shock then that two of my favorite experiences this year had to do with water.
Whitewater Adventure in Morocco
Prior to our trip, I found a company through Twitter called Splash Morocco offering unique half-day whitewater tubing excursions in the Ourika Valley, not far from Marrakech. I have been tubing and I have been whitewater rafting, but never combined the two and was incredibly curious how this would work out.
The Ourika Valley lies in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and was a very easy 30-45 drive from the center of Marrakech. The company has leased part of a building near the river launch site which offers a safe, clean area to change and keep your belongings while on the river. After we donned our wet suits and life jackets (all provided as part of the tour price) we finally went down to the river.
Our guide, Andy was very patient with us as he gave us some tips and techniques for our morning on the river. Turns out I was right, whitewater tubing is just that. You sit in a tube, with your butt in the middle, and you use special gloves to help you steer. Basically, your legs and hands are the only way to navigate down the river.
Andy wasn’t kidding about the whitewater either, it was a class three at the time. Needless to say, going through such rough waters on your ass is a little intimidating, but we were there to have fun and didn’t worry about the potential for tailbone bruising.
I have no idea how long we were on the river, maybe an hour, maybe more – who knows. What I do know is that we had an amazing experience. It was just the three of us, and Andy stopped often to make sure we could catch up and that we were ok. We both tumbled and had several spills, but no permanent injuries, other than my pride as I wiped out in front of a family doing their laundry.
The tubing trip was a lot of fun but it was also a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech and enjoy some of the natural beauty of Morocco.
Mexican Riviera Cenote Snorkeling
In August I returned to the Yucatan where I had a unique opportunity to explore the strange realm of the cenotes. After a plunge into a lagoon at the base of the cenote, we all donned our snorkel gear and prepared to enter another world. I’ve snorkeled in a lot of areas around the world, but nothing was quite like this experience. First of all, the cenote is deceptively swift. The current leads to the ocean and carries swimmers along at a pretty fast rate. This is actually perfect for snorkelers as you don’t have to do anything except course correct once in a while.
Unlike complex coral reefs with their vibrant fish and lots of marine activity, the cenote, like the Riviera Maya itself, is more laid back. The first thing I noticed were all of the mangrove roots. I had seen these trees before, but never underwater and was mesmerized by the thorny roots jutting into the water.
As we slowly made our way down the faux river, I began to notice crabs and fish darting around looking for food. Above our heads was a rich foliage that created a dome over the cenote, making the sensation of being in another world even more palpable. Floating downstream also produced another unintended consequence – introspection.
Unlike other activities designed to force the participant to achieve a Zen moment (which they rarely do) floating down the cenote automatically creates a quiet, peaceful environment in which to ponder the universe. It was a marvelous experience and it only reinforced my firm belief in the importance of ecotourism and why we must save these natural treasures.
A few yards from the finish point, I looked down for a last time to observe the world below. As the rays of light dappled across my back, the effect was mesmerizing. Below me on the floor of the cenote was my shadow, surrounded by the sunlight twinkling in the water. I moved my arms up and down and was delighted to see that like a kid falling into a snowbank, I had created my own water angel there in the cenote. It was one of those perfect moments that happen on trips that can never be planned, but are always treasured.
I hated to leave the cenote, even though the promise of a cold beer and grilled meats was seriously tempting. I stood there, waist deep in the water, memorizing the scene and enjoying my own personal moment of utter contentment.
These experiences could not be more divergent, an adrenalin rush versus quiet moments of introspection, but both were unexpectedly unique and entirely memorable.