Travel

Get away from the crowds and ex­plore the cul­tural side of Mex­ico.

Friday - - Contents -

Iam float­ing on my back, star­ing up at a cav­ernous ceil­ing from which hang dozens of mes­meris­ing vines. Be­low me lies me­tres of the purest wa­ter I have ever had the plea­sure of swim­ming in. It feels beau­ti­ful and eerie at the same time – a feel­ing ex­ac­er­bated by the fact that I’m aware it’s a venue that may once have been used for an­cient sacrificial rit­u­als. It’s cer­tainly a one-off ex­pe­ri­ence, but then I am in some­thing of an in­ter­est­ing place: a cenote.

Un­der­ground sink­holes with pools that con­nect to a se­ries of river sys­tems, most of the world’s cenotes are found in Mex­ico, which boasts more than 6,000 of them. They pro­vided the wa­ter for Mex­ico’s an­cient in­hab­i­tants, the Mayans, who also be­lieved th­ese mys­ti­cal places rep­re­sented the en­trance to the un­der­world and some­times used them for spir­i­tual cer­e­monies.

Fast-for­ward to the present day and I’ve got more hum­drum con­cerns in mind. With ru­moured heal­ing properties, I’m hop­ing that a dip in the cenote’s clear wa­ter will do won­ders for my skin.

Still, hang­ing out un­der­ground in Mex­ico came as some­thing of a

sur­prise, I must con­fess. When I first headed to the Yu­catán Penin­sula, I had lit­tle more in mind than sun­bathing on a nice square of the 138km stretch of white sandy beach that lies south of Cancún, known as the Riviera Maya.

But do­ing only that would, I quickly dis­cov­ered, be do­ing this beau­ti­ful part of the world a great dis­ser­vice. The Yu­catán Penin­sula of­fers sun, sand and gor­geously turquoise sea, sure – but it also of­fers a great deal more: an­cient ru­ins, jun­gles and la­goon, not to men­tion those cenotes. Then there’s the golf, scuba-div­ing, de­li­cious food… you get the pic­ture.

Of course, not ev­ery­body is aware of the coun­try’s won­ders. For many peo­ple, the word ‘Mex­ico’ brings other im­ages to mind. Like hur­ri­cane crises and fe­ro­cious gang wars. MTV hasn’t done it many favours ei­ther, with its Spring Break cov­er­age, fea­tur­ing hoards of overex­cited Amer­i­can teens be­hav­ing badly at the crowded beach re­sorts of its neon de facto cap­i­tal Cancún.

Safe to say all this feels a mil­lion miles away if you head out of Cancún to the many other splen­dours of the peace­ful Yu­catán Penin­sula, where hon­ey­moon­ers min­gle happily with fam­i­lies, back­pack­ers and cul­ture­vul­tures (when I say min­gle, I mean not closely – one of the bless­ings of the Mayan Riviera is that it never feels crowded). While you do have to fly into Cancún – it’s an in­ter-con­ti­nen­tal hub that han­dles ar­rivals from all over Europe and the Amer­i­cas – you can be sip­ping a cool drink over­look­ing the warm wa­ters of the Caribbean within a cou­ple of hours of touch­ing down.

A sea­side refuge

I stayed at the Viceroy Riviera Maya, just out­side Playa del Car­men, which is a 45-minute drive from the air­port. A sea­side refuge that ex­tends deep into the prim­i­tive Maya trop­i­cal for­est, the lux­u­ri­ous re­sort com­prises a se­ries of thatched vil­las, each equipped with its own pri­vate plunge pool set into an over­sized pa­tio area.

Hang­ing out in the villa felt like a spa break in it­self, but once I’d wrenched my­self away from my

Prep time: 10 mins Cook­ing time: 2 mins

400g tuna loin 4 tbsp black se­same seeds 4 tbsp white se­same seeds 1/2 tsp ground cin­na­mon 2-3 tbsp olive oil For mango salad, mix to­gether: 1 large mango, sliced and finely cubed 1 tbsp chopped co­rian­der 1 small red bell pep­per, finely cubed 1 tbsp finely chopped mint 1 red chilli, finely chopped 1 lemon, juiced 2 tbsp olive oil

1Slice

tuna into 4 long fil­lets and sea­son with salt and pep­per. 2Mix

to­gether black and white se­same seeds with ground cin­na­mon in tray or shal­low dish. 3Place

tuna fil­let on se­same seed mix and pat it gen­tly to en­sure seeds form an even coat­ing. Turn fish to coat other side. Re­peat un­til all fil­lets are coated.

4Heat

oil in fry­ing pan and place fil­lets care­fully in pan. Cook fil­lets for no more than 2 min­utes for rare. If you like tuna well done, let it cook for a lit­tle longer.

5Serve

tuna warm with a gen­er­ous por­tion of mango salad.

The Viceroy Riviera Maya is a lux­ury sea­side re­sort com­pris­ing a se­ries of thatched vil­las, each equipped with its own pri­vate plunge pool

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