Updated: Jun 4
3 of 40 Birthday Experiences! March 2023 - we headed to Central America with a group of friends to celebrate Allie's Birthday!
We stayed at the Occidental at Xcaret - a resort in Playa del Carmen, along the Yucatán Peninsula's Riviera Maya strip of the Caribbean shoreline.
Details and links:
The hotel is spread out quite a ways - and has a central area (get a room there if you can!) with a river, restaurants, trails, lots of animals, ruins, and a beach, a gym, and plenty of swimming areas.
A short walk to Xcaret! theme park. One the first day we did the historical areas, ruins, and the butterfly garden and aviary. The aviary was amazing - the rescue efforts that the park does for tropical birds is very cool to see - and it was huge! We went back on the third day for the Pre-Hispanic (Maya Historic) underground river float which was very fun and took a good two hours. We purchased add on passes to our hotel stay.
The second day was the highlight! We got a private tour for our group to Chichén Itzà - and saw one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. It is a pre-columbian city built by the Maya people between 750 and 900 CE. It was abandoned prior to the Spanish coming to conquer Central/South America - so it was able to stay intact due to being already hidden by the jungle. While the city holds many amazing ruins - the most well known is the Temple of Kukulcán, which is a mesoamerical step-pyramid to honor the deity Kukulcán. The temple mimics the chirping sound of the quetzal bird when humans clap their hands while standing around it. Other structures include the temple of the warriors, a Pok-A-Tok stadium, and sacrificial stones. The Maya people that left the city headed to the coast to build the ruins near Tulum.
We also made it to the Town of Yaxunah - ruins where we were allowed to explore more. It is filled with the Maya ruins of a town that beloned to the municipality of Yaxcabà. The town was complete with a community center for music and art, and a botanical garden. It is hard to find much online about this town but it is believed that it was abandoned when townsfolk moved to the large cities like Chichén Itzà. It was amazing to see the layout and try to imagine how this wonderful community lived hundreds of years ago before the conquerers came.
Next up was a visit to the Cenote Xcajum in Dzitas. Cenotes are amazing places - 50-60 meters deep in parts and filled with fish and cold water. They were considered places of life and death. I found varying views of cenotes depending on their importance and location - from a portal to the watery underworld to a place of sacrifice (of important objects and people) to the rain gods. Now a eco-tourism park run by the Maya people full of shops, delicious food, and limited swimming.
Finally a quick stop in the Valladolid square. A town steeped in sad history and beauty. It was named after the capital of Span at the time and established by the nephew of one of the Spanish Conquistadors. It was original built on a lagoon but the humidity and mosquitos drove for a new location and the town was relocated... right on top a current Maya town called Zací - dismantling the Maya buildings to create the colonial town. There were a number of revolts over the years from the 1500's all the way to mid-1800's, during Yucatán's Castle War.
What started as 40 from august to august has expanded to the start of 2023 to August 2024. Due to other people planning things that we want to join… before August 2023. This is the celebration of “omg Kassie survived 40 years - we never thought it would happen.” Maybe the next 40, I’ll be more careful so it won’t be so surprising. 40 “experiences” have to be #1 unique, #2 require the day and night in the location to count, #3 that’s it.
Originally from Iowa (Kassie) and Kansas (Rick), we met in Kansas in 2005 and immediately found that we had so much in common - including our desire to someday see the world. We now live in NYC and quickly started catching up on travel after our first (just us) international trip to Iceland in 2015. We decided to start making videos for us and our family/friends to track our travels. Kassie is in Marketing, an Author (see her poetry + author videos), and Puppet Creator. Rick is an Engineer and Script Writer (see our current and coming puppet movies!)
YouTube Site: https://www.youtube.com/@KassieAndRick-ExploreManyPaths
Kassie's Author Site: https://www.kassiejrunyan.com/
Joint Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/explore_many_paths
Kassie's Magazine: https://www.opendoorpoetrymagazine.com/