Tag Archives: nature

Rio Secreto : Playa del Carmen Mexico

There are numerous activities to enjoy while in Playa del Carmen. It has essentially been turned into a tourist playground of Mexico. Swimming, snorkeling, diving, ruins – you name it you can find a way to do it within close vicinity.

Where does Rio Secreto Operate?

Rio Secreto is situated directly across the street from the massive eco-park Xcarat. Whereas Xcarat has transformed into a massive waterpark, Rio Secreto retains more of its natural charm. We found Rio Secreto to be a great balance between campy fun, and authentic experience.

With that being said, Xcarat is a completely awesome experience, and I highly recommend it. I have been there many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, it will be far more crowded and developed – though still loads of fun.

Benches at Rio Secreto

Rio Secreto Entry Sign

You can find it at:

Puerto Juárez, Km. 283.5, Carretera Federal Libre Chetumal, Ejido Sur, 77712 Playa del Carmen, Q.R., Mexico

Ticket Booth at Rio Secreto

It’s hours and prices can differ by the season, and so you should check for you specific times at: www.riosecreto.com. However, it always operates at least:

Sunday – Monday: 9AM – 2PM

While we can’t say that Rio Secreto falls into the category of budget travel activities – it is still certainly on the cheaper side for the region. If you can, try to arrange for your own transportation to cut costs.

Parking lot of Rio Secreto

A Recent Discovery

Rio Secreto speaks to the mystery of Riviera Maya. It was only discovered in 2006 when a landowner was chasing after a lizard and accidentally discovered the opening to a cave. What he discovered was a vast underground river and cenote complex.

Researchers and explorers then entered the caves and began mapping what would turn out to be an immense system. It was quickly developed into an ecological preserve and attraction. Tourists are able to visit about 10% (don’t worry, it’s huge!) of the cave complex, while the other 90% is preserved. All proceeds go towards further protection and understanding of the cenotes and underground rivers.

I’m In! So What Is Rio Secreto?

Rio Secreto is Spanish for “Secret River”, and it is exactly that. The whole of the Yucatan is made of very porous limestone and has no surface rivers. However, it is filled with thousands of cenotes, which are sinkholes that open to underground rivers.

In the native Mexica cultures, most notably the Maya and Aztec, the cenotes were the openings to the underworld – Xibalba. And here, you get to enter the underworld and explore the flooded rooms and rivers beneath the surface.

The Experience

Our experience was pretty awesome. We were in Playa del Carmen for a family wedding, and we went with my parents, aunts, and uncles. It begins with the standard tourist fare type stuff. We checked in, had a video introduction that went over the basic history of the place, and then we were divided up into small groups for our guide.

Our Guide Starting the Tour

A roughly twenty minute bus ride deep into the jungle brought us to the main entrance to the caves where we were then given the run down.

Rio Secreto Bus

First thing, no sunscreen or lotion of any kind. This is important for the ecology of the river system. Lotions introduce chemicals to the environment and can damage the cave formations. Plus, you’re underground – so it’s totally unnecessary.

To ensure there are issues regarding this, you have to take a quick shower to rid your body of any chemicals and oils. The shower is water taken directly from the river which also gives you a quick feel for the temperature. It’s cold.

Equipment

No worries though, you are provided with a wetsuit. The water is around 72F, so it’s certainly chilly. And the tour lasts about an hour and half underground so you will most likely want it. If you have your own wetsuit, you might as well bring it. My aunt had one, and doubled up, which allowed her to stay quite warm.

As for us, we were still chilled at the end. Our issue lies in the fact that we’re both pretty thin. Because of this, the wetsuits didn’t fit perfectly and allowed for cold water to get in. But, it still works.

You are also provided with water shoes – a must. And of course, a helmet with lights – another must. If you wish, you can also take a walking stick. I did not, but was one of the only ones who did not. If you are not comfortable with your balance, you should take the stick. However, it can be very nice to traverse the caves without carrying anything.

You can put all your stuff in a locker, and all of this comes complimentary with your tour ticket. So you don’t need to worry about paying extra for storage or gear.

Changing Rooms

A Mayan Ritual For Safety

Once we were fitted, we were led into the jungle and brought to the first stop. A local man, who spoke Mayan (Nahuatl) gave us a traditional Mayan blessing. The blessing is meant to provide safety for those who enter the underworld.

In the blessing, we were taught how to say good day, or rather “good sun” in Mayan. I forget what it is now, sadly. But the meaning is important to the Mayans, as the sun was an important deity.

The man then burned sap from a local tree that gave off a sweet fragrance and signaled that we had been blessed. Now, we were ready to enter Xibalba.

Entering the Caves

A short walk further into the jungle, and we arrived at what appeared to be a small depression in the ground. However, once stepping into the hole, it becomes apparent that the cave is much more than it appears.

The path winds down until it meets a slowly flowing body of water. Stalactites and stalagmites stretch down and up respectively and create an enticing invitation to the wonders within. Our guide, instructed us to turn on our headlights and enter the water.

Into Xibalba

Our guide expertly took us into the caves and gave a thorough tour. He explained the hydrology and ecology of the region as well as it’s historical importance.

An interesting, yet important thing he showed us was our impact on the environment. By simply being there, we did contaminate the region. This was demonstrated by rubbing our noses to get naturally occurring oils from our skin, and touching the water. Immediately, the limestone particles repelled away from where we touched, and altering the chemical makeup of the cave system.

It was explained that we would only interact with a small portion – less than 10% – of the cave system. The money brought in from the tourism, would help protect the greater water system and further fund research and conservation. An unfortunate price to pay to protect the system.

As we swam, floated, and waded through the caves, a photography took many pictures. We did not get any though, as the price is expensive. Unfortunately, this means that we couldn’t get any pictures while in the caves themselves.

Rio Secreto

Courtesy: The Mayan Gate

A highlight of our cave experience was a moment of zen. We were instructed to lay back in the water, staring at the ceiling, in a circle. All the lights were then extinguished and we were left in complete darkness, with nothing but the sound of the water. We laid here here for several minutes before coming back to ourselves.

Back to the Surface for Food and Drink

At this point, we were all getting pretty cold. It was time to make our way back out. We exited via the way we came in, and the warmth of the jungle air was welcome. Upon exiting, we were given a taste of the local liquor, an anise flavored liquor to warm our bodies and spirits.

Rio Secreto Liquor

After changing back into our clothes, we then proceeded on to a complimentary lunch. It was nothing special, but better than I was expecting. Rice, beans, chicken, soup, tortillas, and a few sides were offered. While not amazing, it was hearty and satisfactory – and the hot sauce was certainly hot.

Buffet at Rio Secreto
Soup and Pasta

Once finished with our food, we pilled back into our van, and proceeded back to the entrance.  All in all, a great excursion. We would certainly recommend this for anyone in the region looking for a little adventure, history, or nature. It’s great for adults, families, and kids. And while not budget, it is certainly a cheaper alternative to the more expensive options in region.

~K~

Victorian Greenhouse

Jevremovac Botanical Garden Belgrade

We enjoy gardens and parks (here’s a post we did a while back about some of the local ones we enjoy around San Jose). In general, they’re a nice place to just go for a stroll – so when we explored Google maps to check out what was around us and found Jevremovac Botanical Garden we decided to give it a go.

Belgrade Botanical Garden Entrance

Finding the Jevremovac Botanical Garden

After a little research we also found that these gardens are allegedly actually one of the most visited natural monuments in Serbia despite not showing up on any “Things to do in Belgrade” type lists we found.

With little time in Serbia you probably won’t get to it but for a longer visit, it’s a nice place to go wander around. We were there over a month. In general, and this is the vibe we get from Belgrade as a whole – we found the area to be peaceful and pleasant.

Walking into the garden
Serbia

A Lovely Space of Green

Altogether the park contains over 2,500 plant species spread over 12 acres. Some have labels to help you identify them.

Plant description
Spring

There are benches throughout certain areas of the park to take in the scenery and sounds of birds.

Park bench

Now, I’m sure the garden may appear different at different times of year, but also keep in mind that it’s not open year-round (info at the bottom).

RoseFlower

Anyway, you can wander about and enjoy the general park/forest garden, but there are also a few specific places within Jevremovac worth mentioning:

The Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden in Jevremovac

We really enjoy the aesthetic of Japanese Gardens. Of course, as far as I can recall we’ve only been to two others – the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Jose and the Japanese Garden on Margaret Island in Budapest (both impressive).

We thought about visiting one in Vancouver, but it was closed the day we planned to visit. This one was a little smaller than the other two but also very pretty.

Jevremovac
Japanese Garden

Not far from it there’s also this little bamboo area you can walk through which is neat.

Bamboo forest

Jevremovac Botanical Garden Greenhouse

Victorian Greenhouse
Outside the greenhouse

The greenhouse on the property was built in Victorian-style – which we enjoyed – in 1892. It was reconstructed again in 1970, 2005, and 2014, and contains over 1,000 species.

Greenhouse

Inside there are all kinds of different intriguing plants, succulents, and cacti.

Succulents
Jevremovac Botanical Garden
Cute Succulents
Succulents garden
Pretty flower
OrchidsWater drops

When we first made it to the greenhouse we saw a couple cats and fortunately had cat treats with us. So we sat and enjoyed the company of one of them – the other one was scared.

Kyle feeding catCute cat

Old Oak

There is also a 150-year-old oak tree inside which is a natural monument itself. (Sorry, don’t have a pic of it.)

Now for a little history: the garden was created in 1874 by the Ministry of Education of Serbia. The first manager (Josif Pancic) is said to be the “father of Serbian botany”. So this place is pretty significant in Serbia in terms of plants. About a decade after its creation, King Jevrem Obrenovic donated the garden to the Great School in Belgrade. He named it Jevremovac in honor of his grandfather.

Plan Your Visit:

Cost: 250 Serbian Dinar (~$2/person)
Address: Takovska 43, Beograd, Serbia
Hours: 9am-7pm May 1 – Nov 1
Note: Keep in mind that this attraction is only open from May through November

Cute flower

~B~

Hike in Java, Indonesia

That Time We Climbed the Wrong Mountain on Java – Menoreh Hill

How do you climb the wrong mountain (or hill)? I will tell you. We only recently discovered just where we went! If you are curious because you’d like to do the same (not climb the wrong mountain, but do the same hike) we think we went right here. After a quick search, I managed to find one person who did the same hike as us and their photo had a link to these coordinates.

An Itch To Climb

Kyle had really been set on the idea of climbing Mount Merapi while we were on Java, but unfortunately we found it to be unrealistic due to a mix of cost, time, difficulty, and danger.

Okay, only I was worried about difficulty and danger but I read a TripAdvisor review where someone said that their legs were jello for days after the hike and Mount Merapi is an active volcano!

We had hoped that it was something we could do without a guide so we wouldn’t have to pay, but after listening to a few horror stories from our hosts about others who had given this a try, we decided it wasn’t a good idea. Still, we were really in the mood for doing some kind of hike.

Morning Before Menoreh Hill

Deciding On An Easier Mountain

After a little research, I decided Kendil Mountain / Kendil Rock would be a good place for us to go. The actual hike I was looking at did not seem too difficult and I even had a second hike just past it – Suroloyo Peak – planned for afterwards if that one went well. Our hosts at the homestay recommended that we take a guide but we just wanted to do some independent exploring, and for us this takes away some of the fun because we no longer have freedom to go at our own pace, do little side explorations, etc.

Plus, obviously, guides cost money and we already spent a lot of our activity budget on Borobudur. There also didn’t seem to be any specific major risks associated with doing these hikes solo like there was with Mt Merapi so we asked for directions, hopped on a motorbike, and off we went.

Getting Read to Ride Out

Getting Lost on Backroads

Well, the first problem was that Kyle could not hear me shouting directions at him from the back of the motorbike. He took a few wrong turns and we got a little lost. We got a bit off the path. We stopped to ask a couple random people we encountered for directions but it didn’t quite work out due to language barriers.

The maps didn’t seem to completely match up with what we thought we were looking at and Kyle and I had different ideas about which direction we should go. Kyle is more stubborn than me and he was driving so I eventually conceded and allowed him to just take us wherever he seemed to feel like going. He took us on what he thought – though I wasn’t quite sure about it – was the right path. But then we came to a closed road on this path. We asked the two men guarding the road for directions but their English was extremely limited.

Road To Menoreh Hill

Well, Kyle thought we must be in the right place and that we should just hike up from there! I said something along the lines of, “Are you serious?! This is nowhere near the mountain we are supposed to be climbing! Even if we could somehow find the way, which I highly doubt we could, it would take a very long time to hike all the way to Kendil from here and there is no way we could make it to Suryolo Peak!” And he said something like, “This’ll take us there.”

Beginning the Trek

Fine. So we parked the bike near these men and began to head up straight but the men pointed us to the right. We asked them again and they seemed to be telling us this was the right direction (only I knew better). We thought about motorbiking up this road but it would have been very dangerous because it was ridiculously steep.

That actually would have been terrifying. Even walking up I felt worried about falling backwards. As we began our ascension, I hesitated because Kyle would be mad at the implications of such an assumption, as he often is in when I ask something like this, but I asked anyway: “You have the key for the motorbike, right? You didn’t leave it in the bike.. right…?” Kyle: “Of course n- oh, whoops!”

Forgot The Key

Well Kyle went and grabbed the key which he left in the ignition and we began up this road. Slowly it became more and more interesting.


Road Up Towards Menoreh Hill

We saw butterflies fluttering all over and examined large colorful beetles. We stopped to look at interesting plants and flowers.

Perhaps a big cat

There were a couple pretty big spiders – you can’t tell from the photo, but this spider was as big as our hands.

Huge Spider Hanging In The Trees

There were also some mosquitos. We had some lengthy discussions about our (mostly my) concerns about dengue, Zika, and malaria on the way up. We kind of felt like we were going exploring a jungle (we kind of were?) so it seemed warranted.

bamboo
Green Path Java

As we climbed higher, we found some pretty great views looking off the side of the mountain. It was also pretty hot. I believe it was somewhere around 100 degrees so we got a little sweaty!

Pretty Hike Yogya
Plaque Commemorating Borobodur Region

Hidden Mountain Villages

Through our climb we encountered a variety of paths – including road, stone, dirt, stairs, stone steps, mud, etc. We didn’t really know where we were going. Reality: I didn’t think I knew where we were going and Kyle thought we were headed toward our original destination and I’m only mentioning this because I found it extremely frustrating during our hike that he maintained this idea.

But we were on the right path to a peak for a while. Eventually, though, as we do, we got off the trail to the place-we-ended-up-going-but-to-which-we-didn’t-know-we-were-going-and-hadn’t-intended-to-go-as-we-didn’t-really-know-about-it.

Though once there, we thought we thought we knew about it because of the name but it wasn’t the same place we were thinking of anyway. Anyway, at some point we reached a more level area which appeared to be inhabited and weren’t really sure where to go.

Living Area
Small Village Near Menoreh Hill

Is This The Right Trail?

We ended up going on this dirt path and were kind of just exploring. But were also hoping the path would lead up to a peak. We took lots of turns and forks and took pictures on our phone and camera which we hoped would be helpful if we got lost.

We Went Down The Wrong Path

I also took lead navigation for a while because I feel a strength of mine is my hyperawareness of my surroundings which allows me to better watch out for looming spider webs in front of us and gaps in land on the ground. I was pretty convinced a giant spider was going to get us.

Continuing Down The Wrong Path

The path got extremely narrow at times but I don’t have any photos to show it well, though, probably because those places were not the best to go around taking photos! At times, I also said things like “Kyle, I don’t think this is a well-traveled path.

I really don’t think this is even a hiking trail! I think animals made some of these paths!” Still, we were both pushing to go just a little further, taking different paths in hopes we’d eventually see that a path that was leading to a peak.

Yogy Quote 02Small stream

Sprinkles Coming Down

After it began to sprinkle, though, it was time to turn around as I was getting worried that we would slip on these narrow muddy paths. This entire way was devoid of people, aside from a person near a single path we found somewhere in the middle which led to someone’s home. We saw they had constructed pipes to their house that went along the mountain and found it pretty interesting.

We navigated our way back to the area from which we found this path and found a man. Either we asked him something or he just looked at us and pointed. I don’t really remember, but anyway, we then began our way up this cobbled road. We encountered a few friendly roosters and as we made our way we up, we saw a sign! A sign! It read: “Menoreh Hill.”

A sign-menoreh hillRooster in the mountains

Up To Menoreh Hill

That was a name I knew. It turns out, the whole thing is not as straightforward as you’d think, though. The map our hosts had provided with showed something called the Menoreh Hills (plural) but it appeared far on the map and I when I had looked into it online it also looked like it was an unrealistically far distance for us to go to which is why we had nixed the idea of going there.

So this couldn’t be that, right? We could see our place from the top of the hill and weren’t far at all. I had also researched other hikes in the area and come across Menoreh Hill (singular), but everyone’s photos involved going and standing/sitting on this tall platform which you could reach via ladder (like this one, though this blog states Menoreh Hills plural, also). This advertised tour for a Menoreh Hill trek also does not resemble the trail we took. We definitely did not go to Kendill Rock or Suryolo Peak either.

So Confusing

After some further research, expanding now to social media, I did find a couple other people (again, pretty sure locals) on Instagram who did get to this same place and they tagged their photos #menorehhills. (The other person I found through a quick google search- from which I got the coordinates in the intro, was from another site.) For this hashtag I found a variety of different views, a few which displayed photos from the path we took and some which clearly did not.

My conclusion is that there are a bunch of Menoreh Hills. I mean Menoreh Hills is plural, but what then, is the Menoreh Hill or do they just call each of them Menoreh Hill? From our past hikes we are used to different peaks and hikes being given different names even if they are a part of the same mountain range which is part of what made it confusing for us. Also, when I try typing in Menoreh Hill or Menoreh Hills on Googlemaps, I’m not given anything.

A Beautiful Overlook

Anyway, we continued up and came to this area which appeared to have a couple houses. This made us question if we were in the right place. We walked around and encountered a very sweet and friendly dog. It looked like it wanted to play with us.

Friendly Dog At Menoreh Hill Village
Kyle

We also saw a young boy and then we heard a family inside their house as we looked around. Soon we found another sign leading up.

House in the mountains
Village Near Menoreh HillSign To Menoreh Hill
Climbing Through Chili Pepper PlantationMuddy stairs

We climbed up some final muddy stairs and reached the top and I have to say, I ended up being quite happy with this alternative route we took.

Yogy Quote 01

Amazing

The view was amazing. I think I may even have preferred to do this hike had I only known. Who knew our essentially random wanderings would lead up to this?

Overlooking Menoreh Hill
Overlook Picture

We took some time to just stay there and really enjoy our view. We were the only ones around and there was a little hut for us to sit in which I enjoyed until I saw a big spider weaving around the wood pole next to me. I also noticed one sitting on the backpack. How long was it there??

Shelter At Top Of Menoreh Hill

We pointed out various landmarks visible beneath the light fog and enjoyed some snacks. We had a nice view of Amanjiwo Resorts throughout most of our hike. At somewhere between $600 and $1600/night, the hotel was out of our price range (lol!) but it does look pretty impressive.

It offers a number of suites, including one which offers you your own private pool and garden! There are some other nice hotels there, too, though, including one inside the Borobudur area – Manohara – where we had meals a couple times.

Overlooking Yogyakarta
Our AirBNB Is Down There Somewhere

We rested our legs while watching as the dark clouds rolled closer.

Looking At Borobodur
Clouds rolling inGetting Dirty

Leaving Before The Storm

I said to Kyle, “We need to get going or we are going to be slipping and sliding down those stairs until we are both a muddy mess!” He agreed and we took just a couple more minutes to enjoy our view before heading down.

Muddy path

It began sprinkling just as we finished our way down the muddy stairs and it rained on and off on our way back. It did make us more cautious on the way down as a whole, though but it was also quite lovely!

Bright Orange Flowers
Briana Overlooking Menoreh HIll

Kyle also picked up a couple more snacks for himself on the way back. (I did not partake.)

Roadside Chili PeppersI Ate The Chili Pepper

We saw very few people through the entire hike, and didn’t see any other hikers. Aside from the man who pointed us in the right direction and the boy with the dog, we saw some people working on a building to the right of the trail at the very beginning of our journey and then a woman hauling up groceries. On our way down we saw a woman and her child.

Once we made our way back to the motorbike we hopped back on, headed back, and then we each took a shower! Later we realized we were able to see the peak and platform from our place. While it started out a bit rocky, this turned out to be one of our favorite hikes we’ve done!

~B~