Afterward, I filled up on breakfast (fresh-cut pineapple, papaya, home-made granola, yoghurt, Mayan honey and eggs with spicy salsa – yes, I ate it all!) before the 10-mile roundtrip bike ride to the Tulum ruins. I biked back early with Erin, showered and got ready for my massage with Maria Luisa, which was heaven.
Lunch followed, and then I didn't have anything to do for the next couple of hours but read on the beach. After such peace, I was punished by the bikini butt class with Ian, followed by yoga. My quads felt like jelly and I was famished at dinner, which was grilled fish with veggies and a cooked apple dessert that tasted like apple pie filling.
I woke up again with the sunrise around 5:30 a.m. and chose not to go on the morning walk. Instead, I relaxed on the beach until it was time for morning yoga. Our teacher, half British-half Venezuelan, was superb – not to mention she could easily have been one of the models pictured on the website.
We changed into our bathing suits and headed off in a van to the cenotes – vast underground rivers of pure rainwater that flow through submerged caves. We snorkeled in the underwater caverns, which were incredible. There were lots of silvery fish that brushed up against me and little birds, who nestled in the cavern's crevasses and flew overhead. Then we went into town and I bought an amber rosary and a fossil ring.
I was starving by the time we came back and lunch was the best meal yet: grilled fish with spinach and pumpkin seeds. I had my second massage with Maria Luisa and lay on one of the swinging beds on the beach, contemplating how I could smuggle her back to New York while the other girls were learning African dance.
Sydney and I decided to go to the dining room early and bumped into Melissa's mom, who told us how Melissa had founded Amansala. Over dinner, Melissa herself filled in the rest of the blanks.
Amansala, she said, is from two Sanskrit words meaning "peace" and "water." Devastated by 9/11, Melissa poured her energy into volunteering. Eventually burnt out, she wanted to leave the city and start something fresh. It would be a spa, she decided, at one of her favorite places in the world: Tulum.
Melissa spent all her money ($50,000) in building the beach cabanas and renovating a desolate stretch of beach huts. When there were still workers to be paid after she'd spent her last dime, tensions were tight. Until someone signed up for Bikini Bootcamp online.
Turns out just two people by chance came to stay in her only renovated hut, but slowly through word of mouth, her dream became a reality. "'Build it and they will come,' but boy, was I worried!" Melissa laughed.
Once Bikini Bootcamp was a success, Melissa set her sights on another prize – Casa Magna, the beachfront mansion of the infamous Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar. The huge property had been left abandoned for nine years and while many attempts had been made to take it over, all had failed thus far.
Determined, Melissa found a man whose job it was to (futilely) sweep the abandoned property every day. When she asked him how he was paid, he told her, "Check." She offered him $20 if he showed her his check the next time he received one. He did, and on that check was a telephone number, which Melissa called.