El Cruce: A Race Of Heart
I am not sure if I will ever have another trip like the one I took to Quintana Roo, Mexico in May of 2019. Nothing could have prepared me for that experience. Nada. And as a person who will spin a yarn to the nearest warm body, I felt the need to share with you the full truth. I believe it is one of the qualities my reader’s appreciate most about me (and any Letter Kenny fans out there can high five me later for that quote and the fact that my name is Katie). My travel guides, blogs, and social media posts are an honest, raw capture. I find this approach refreshing in an ocean of filters and camouflaged personalities. Now…at the risk of getting too far into this guide without using a water-based pun: let’s dive in.
The last time I spent any length of time in Mexico was when I was 8 or 9 years old. Suffice to say, I don’t remember too much about the vacation except for the fact that a crab wandered into our rental house and I delighted in counting the lizards ambling along the walls. So when an email dropped into my inbox with an opportunity to wanderlust in the sand and surf of the Caribbean, I pretty much packed my bags that night. Here is where the truth telling part comes in: this trip evolved into much much more than I had initially planned. It started with the email, fleshing out dates, discussing work logistics. And then someone in my life who was close to my heart became a +1 on the itinerary. With this addition came some advanced math. Add four extra days. Subtract initial hotel accommodations. Multiply by two open water race entries. Carry the plane tickets and divide by “dream destination race & work vacation.” But here are a little more of those hard truths: life happened in between the trip’s inception and the week before departure. La vida pasa. I broke some teeth in a cycling accident, contracted mono, completed an IRONMAN, and felt myself slipping into chaos. And at the precipice of it all, I looked over the edge and realized the person I was trying to make the jump with had let go of my hand long ago. But the show always must go on, and onwards to Mexico I went.
The humidity wasted no time invading every crevice and curl on my body when I stepped off that plane. I felt like a deer in the headlights being funneled down warm hallways and into the cream-colored customs area of the airport. The people standing in line with me were very clearly there to have a GREAT time in Cancun. Bright clothing and even brighter gleams in their eyes. It made me feel like maybe I too was about to embark on an adventure. Spoiler alert: I was correct. My +1 was waiting for me outside. That was our life. We existed together only in travel. So with two duffles in hand and a head of the hair that was slowly growing into its own zip code, I walked over to the shuttles.
TRAVEL TIP: The taxis and shuttles in Cancun pretty much charge a blanket cost of around $30 USD to get from the airport to the Hotel Zone (the section on Cancun separated by the ocean and the laguna where you can find the majority of accommodations for tourists). Sometimes more. You have a few options to avoid paying out the a** to go around 7 miles:
Book a shuttle in advance. There are so many services that make the trek back and forth between the hotel zone and the airport. If you book in advance, you can at least guarantee it won’t be MORE than $30. I’d start by Googling “cancun airport shuttle” and go from there.
Take the bus! The local busses are fast, efficient, and cheap. If you are someone who doesn’t need to travel in style (or doesn’t mind sitting in the 85F humidity, the Cancun public busses run a circuit from the airport all the way to inner Cancun at almost all hours of the day. Have some pesos ready to go and godspeed. You will be in for the ride of your life ;).
Haggle. This is always my preferred style. I perfected the art when I lived in India in 2013. And when you can speak the local language and/or crack a questionable joke, you are on the right track. I got our air conditioned, 8-person shuttle van to transport the two of us for $20 USD.
This chapter is 100% dedicated to Cancun’s greatest hotel: The Ritz Carlton . If you think back to when I was doing advanced math trying to add 4 days to my original travel plans, you should know that I was in QUITE THE BIND finding a place to stay semi-last minute. The marketing executive for The Ritz Carlton Cancun and ALL of the amazing hotel staff really took care of me. At hotels like this, it means a lot when the staff goes out of their way to help. Approaching the front entrance was a really cool experience. The state of Quintana Roo is tropical, to say the least. And the Ritz did a great job of preserving that secluded jungle feeling when you are on their property. The building itself is very old world, big money architecture. Childhood Katie was ready to count her some lizards.
My favorite parts of the Ritz Carlton Cancun were the pools, the beach views, & the spa. What can I say, I am a water baby that loves a good massage. Solo sigue nadando. Here are some highlights to incorporate into your travel stay!
Swim in those pools until you cannot swim any longer. There is a larger pool that is surrounded by an endless fortress of lounge chairs. The pool staff can assist you with towels, water, and sunscreen. PSA: YOU MUST USE SUNSCREEN IN CANCUN. It has a UV index rating of 10! That means you can burn being outside without protection in as little as 15-20min. Bring. That. Sunscreen. Friends. And if you forget, The Ritz Carlton’s got your back (get it?!!?). Additionally, the hotel has a poolside bar/food area that is open for the larger part of the day. On select days there are also fun, free activities for the family. I was really sad that I didn’t have time to paint a ceramic unicorn. I’ll be back…
When booking rooms here, I highly suggest you get an ocean front room. The balcony view was captivating. Something I found quirky and endearing about the balcony was that you needed to keep the sliding glass door shut if you had the AC on in the room. Otherwise, in a matter of minutes all the surfaces in the room would be moist and the mirrors fogged up. LIVIN THAT HUMIDITY LIFE. Sadly, the ocean conditions while we were there were a little tumultuous directly outside the Ritz. Exercise caution if you would like to swim. Check in with the lifeguard at the beach and ask him/her to highlight the areas that are not safe.
Anything you book at the Ritz’s spa is worth it, trust me. I had an 80 minute stress relief massage (something I needed desperately. More on this later). I loved all the oils, all the robes, all the mineral pools and cups of herbal tea. In the waiting room for spa patrons, you are also provided a spread of fruit, nuts, and macaroons. MACAROONS?!! Yes please. I suggest checking the hotel’s offers page for rotating discounts and packages with rooms and spa treatments. Linked here. I met some boisterous ladies in the women’s changing area and they were raving about their treatments as well. They TOO got the stress relief massage. Ladies choice.
Transformative. One word. That is how I choose to see my adventure in Cancun. There were wonderful moments at the hotel (and ALL thanks to the facilities, staff, and top-notch service provided by the Ritz). And there were some of the darkest moments I have ever experienced in my adult life. Even now as I am through it, typing out these words for the world to see, I feel shivers traveling up and down my spine. Without divulging secrets and information that isn’t mine to share, I will say this: Remember that precipice I mentioned earlier? I had to jump. And not only did I jump alone, there was nothing at the bottom but HARD TRUTHS. After a 2019 filled with rich experiences, complex struggles, and more learning lessons than I was prepared for, my +1 and I cracked open the casing we had built around us. We both held the hammer. It makes me sad that our transformation had to come on this international adventure, surrounded by beauty but sunk in the quicksand of our past. And because my life is truly one giant TV dramcom (drama-comedy), we BOTH had open water races looming mere days ahead. Sorry to curse but…that shit was rough. This is all I am ready to share on the topic for now. I felt it was doing my article, my experiences, and myself a disservice to leave it out. It shaped the trip, and most importantly it shaped ME.
I came to Cancun to LIVE. And there is no other way I know how to live than to swimswam in some ocean. I try to be as on-brand with mermaid life as possible. Let me tell you why you need to sign up for El Cruce, an unforgettable open water event that will stay with you for a lifetime. Warm, crystal clear water. 10/10 race venue. Just the right amount of adventure. And lastly, a community of athletes from all walks of life, in all shapes and sizes. I am not going to do a full race report for this event, but I will hit some highlights should you decide to take the plunge (sorry, I had to include my second water-based pun before the article was over!)
There were three distances offered for the May 2019 race schedule: 1 mile, 2.4 mile, and 10k. The shorter distances were offered on the Saturday and the 10k race on the Sunday. Packet pick up was the day before your respective race day. Very simple and straight forward (make sure you bring extra pesos to pay for the one time fee if you are not a member of a masters swim organizations). You race entry fee includes a meal the night before your race (ours was at the Hard Rock Cafe in the hotel zone in Cancun) and breakfast directly following the completion of the race. I loved the energy of all the swimmers as we waited in line for the ferry shuttle that took us over to Isla Mujeres (an island off the coast of Cancun where the 1 mile and 2.4 mile races were held). If you sign up for the 10k you will only have to take the ferry BACK from Isla Mujeres as the swim course is literally traversing the distance of ocean between Cancun and the island. Awards are given to the top three finishers male and female. My swim course (2.4 mile) was beautiful and challenging. There was a significant current to swim into for at least 1.2 miles and at times I honestly didn’t know if I had the strength to keep moving forward! But nowadays, it takes a lot to shake my eye off the finish line. I did a freakin’ IRONMAN with mono. I wasn’t going to let a little current stop me.
PRO TIP: To prepare for this race make sure you do some open water swims without a wetsuit AND be very confident in your sighting abilities. Although the water is so clear that you can see the bottom for almost 100% of your swim, the distances between course buoys is vast. The water temp was very warm so neoprene anything was not an option. IMPORTANT: YOU ARE REQUIRED TO BRING YOUR OWN SWIM BUOY AND WEAR IT. I did not know this because I didn’t do my research so thankfully the guys at Restube rented me one of their remaining THREE buoys. You are not allowed to race without one. What a bummer that would have been!
My trip was far from over when I rose out of that ocean and blinked into the sunlight on the shores of Isla Mujeres. My +1 and I parted ways the very next day and off to Playa Del Carmen I fled. I had more adventure to seek, friendships to build with a group of 7 amazing women (who are now all dear friends of mine), and reflecting to do. And somewhere in that small beachy town I found peace and a place to process my transformation. Cancun was a cacophony of bold and intense sensations. Bright, spicy, loud, exhilarating, and at times strange. Heartbreak, open water racing, tropical luxury, and little Katie’s favorite: so many lizards. Yeah….this trip was wild. But as I like to say, I am wild so take a walk on my side. La vida loca.