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It’s hard to imagine a better 40th birthday present than the one Annik Nayler shared with her husband (and Undersun founder) James Grage.
Annik enjoys traveling and craves new adventures. She also likes the type of vacation where you relax by the water, eat delicious food, and drink cocktails – who doesn’t? On top of that, if she can manage to get some workouts in without it interfering with the fun and relaxation, all the better.
Annik turned 40 this past October (2020), and her and James were able to celebrate the milestone birthday with a Mexican vacation that checked all of the above boxes – lounging at the beach with margaritas at a resort near Cancun, checking out the famous Mayan ruins on the Yucatán Peninsula, and getting in plenty of great beach workout with bands courtesy of Undersun resistance bands.
“It was a lot of fun,” Annik says, looking back on the week-long trip. “We really needed a break just to hit the reset button and enjoy each other. We’d been going non-stop for 8 or 9 months with work, moving into a new house, and dealing with everything happening with Covid-19. We relaxed, we worked out, we explored, we ate amazing food. It was cool, and
it was well needed.”
It was a slight departure from the couples’ 2019 trek to Machu Picchu in Peru, which was hardly relaxing. Yet the two trips had a few things in common, namely history and training.
“I’d been to Mexico so many times, but never to any of the Mayan ruins on the Yucatán, and it was killing me,” says James. “The one I really wanted to see was Coba, but when looking into it I realized that Chichen Itza is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Machu Picchu is one of the Seven Wonders, too, so I’m thinking, ‘If we go to Chichen Itza, we’ll have worked out with Undersun bands at two of the Seven Wonders of the World. It would be cool to make it a goal to take the bands to all seven!’”
Despite a delay on the front-end of the trip due to Hurricane Delta, and then getting held up for three days coming back because Annik didn’t have her American permanent resident card (she’s originally from Canada), the two did in fact make it to Chichen Itza, along with a number of other historical Mayan landmarks. Below are their firsthand accounts of Annik’s 40th birthday Mayan vacation.
Starting off Easy with Some R&R and Delicious Food
Relaxation came before adventure on this particular trip. James and Annik spent the first few days at a small resort in Punta Maroma, near Cancun. They trained a little, chilled out a lot… and ate traditional Mayan cuisine.
James: It was super quiet there, which is a quality we appreciate in a resort. We’re not the types that want to party on vacation. We want to chill out and decompress. We spent time under the shade of palm trees on the beach. Every morning we’d take our bands and do workouts on the beach, and then spend the rest of the day relaxing, reading, drinking margaritas, and eating ceviche.
Annik: We ate a lot of chips and guacamole, too. The food didn’t compare to Peru, but it was always fresh and had a lot of flavor. We ate a lot of traditional cuisine. It was mostly Mayan food, not Mexican. I actually wouldn’t have known the difference between Mayan and Mexican if you didn’t tell me, but all of it was great.
James: They eat a lot of pumpkin seed. They grind it up and make sort of a paste out of it, almost like hummus, and serve it with chips. It has a really unique taste, but it was awesome. I loved the food. It’s similar to Mexican, just a little different. For example, they had one thing that was like an enchilada, but instead of being stuffed with cheese and red sauce, it was stuffed with the pumpkin seeds and other ingredients.
Visiting the Ruins in Tulum
Anxious to start exploring the Mayan ruins, James and Annik headed first to Tulum – one of the first places (if not the first place) the Spaniards encountered the Mayans in the Spanish conquest of Yucatán of the 1500s. Tulum is a stunning combination of centuries-old pyramids and castles, picturesque cliffs, and beautiful beaches.
James: If you wanted to build a modern-day mansion somewhere, where would it be? On a cliff overlooking the ocean. That’s Tulum. It’s amazing. They picked prime real estate, for sure.
In Tulum, we rode through the Mayan jungle in the mud on ATVs; we did a ziplining tour up in the trees, with rope bridges between the ziplines so you were never on the ground during it; and then we went to what’s supposedly one of the largest cenotes [a natural pit or sinkhole] in all of the Yucatán.
We walked down these stairs into the cavern and put on our snorkeling gear. The water is very clear with an aqua luminescence – it’s all the minerals in the soil that reflect the light. It looks very “Avatar-like.” You start thinking about it from a time perspective… the limestone that hangs down grows anywhere from a quarter inch to an inch every hundred years. Some of it in there is 40 feet tall, so do the math: It’s potentially hundreds of thousands of years old. What’s crazy is that 20,000 years ago all those caverns flooded, and they were underwater for all that time, so it’s like you’re swimming back in time. Pretty incredible.
Annik isn’t big on snorkeling or fish in general, especially in a dark cave. But I’ll give her credit, she did it and had fun exploring that cavern.
Annik: That part was crazy, dude. It took a while for James to talk me into getting in the water. The water was cold, it was dark, there were bats and s— in there!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually open to stuff, but you try to get me into water, it’s like “no.” I’m not Aguawoman! I like my feet to be on the ground at all times. But I did it and patted myself on the back afterwards. I’m glad I did it. Just the history of the cenotes was incredible.
Coba and Chichen Itza Back-to-Back
The next day was a long one, but it was well worth it. James and Annik visited both the ancient Mayan city Coba and the famous ruins of Chichen Itza.
James: I really wanted to see Coba. It was a bigger city, pretty spread out. In order to see it all, they have these trails that go through the jungle with bicycles you can rent. That alone was fun – riding through the jungle on a bike, monkeys swinging in the trees talking to us. You’d go around the corner and a big pyramid or temple would reveal itself. It was a really unique experience.
But being that Chichen Itza is the more famous of the ruins and is one of the Seven Wonders, we wanted to squeeze that in, so we did the two in one day.
Chichen Itza was awesome. Because the hurricane had just rolled through, we were actually supposed to go to Mexico on Annik’s birthday earlier in the month, but we had to cancel and rebook. The upside was that when we flew back after the storm had cleared, everything was empty. Chichen Itza normally has thousands of people visiting at a time, but when we got there, the place was empty. It was basically just us. We got to experience Chichen Itza in a unique way that most people don’t get to.
It’s an impressive site. Chichen Itza has one of the most famous Mayan ball courts [for playing the ancient game of Pok-A-Tok] – the Great Ball Court [pictured below with Annik standing at one end]. You see the ball courts at other ruins, and they’re the size of tennis courts. This one’s at least the size of a football field. It was impressive.
I have no idea how they played this game, because supposedly they were only allowed to use their hips and thighs to move the ball. It was like a cross between soccer and basketball, only with no feet and no hands. And the ball was made from a tree, out of some sort of natural resin, and they say it weighed anywhere from 4 to 8 pounds. Think about that: Take a 4-pound medicine ball and try to get it through a hoop that’s up to 20 feet high, using only your hips and thighs! Sounds like an impossible game. The guys who played it were like Olympians back then. That was the Super Bowl.
The Perfect Blend of Vacation and Fitness
After visiting the three Mayan ruins, James and Annik squeezed in a visit to the Spanish colonial town of Valladolid. Other than that, the trip went back to more of a typical relaxing Mexican vacation. But it remained an active one, with band workouts and beach runs seamlessly incorporated into the itinerary.
James: We worked out with the bands every day, took them everywhere we went. We worked out in Tulum, and in Chichen Itza. At the beach, we’d anchor the bands to a palm tree or to some natural wooden post sticking out of the ground. We got some really good workouts there. Annik ran every day. She was a beast. She would run four miles on the beach, then go workout with bands.
We never felt guilty about experiencing all the food and drinking all the margaritas, because we were getting great workouts in and doing it in a way that wasn’t intrusive. You know how when you go to a resort that has a gym? As soon as you step into the gym, it doesn’t feel like you’re on vacation anymore; you’re at just another gym. But taking your workout to the beach, you’ve got the waves crashing and palm trees rustling – that’s a workout where you still feel like you’re on vacation.
When you have the bands with you, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you can literally work out there. It almost doesn’t matter where you’re at. I challenge anyone to come up with a place where you can’t work out with bands.
Annik: I dare you to workout with bands in church on a Sunday.
James: I worked out at a Starbuck’s one Saturday morning. I got the craziest looks. I did it on purpose, of course. I went in, grabbed my coffee, sat down at the table, pulled out my bands, and did a biceps/triceps workout, right next to everyone getting in line. The looks I was getting were priceless. [laughs] There’s literally no place you can’t work out.
In Mexico, not only were we able to get our workouts in, but we weren’t missing out on anything. We weren’t sacrificing any vacation time or experiences just for the sake of working out. You can do both at the same time.
It’s not just a convenience and a portability thing – it’s the experience. You’re exercising in this cool, enhanced way. And it makes it so memorable. We didn’t just go to Chichen Itza and check out the ball court and the pyramids; we also got a workout there. That’s pretty cool, pretty memorable.
Annik Nayler: Badass at 40
It’s easy to get caught up in the beaches, the food, the margaritas, the historic Mayan ruins, the gorgeous training backdrops. But let’s not forget the occasion behind the vacation: Annik turning 40. For many women (and men as well), this is a scary birthday, a humbling age. How about for Annik?
Annik: Nah. Turning 40 has never really bothered me. I don’t feel 40, I don’t feel like I look 40. I definitely don’t act 40. It’s just a number. For me, I don’t stress about that stuff.
I’ve been so hard on my body since I was young, being very active and doing sports. So yeah, I do occasionally feel my age, but the bands have been a blessing for me, because lifting heavy dumbbells in the gym does beat your body up. I try not to slow down, but I’m definitely aware of the speed I’m going. I have to be honest with myself, because now I have to nurse certain parts of my body. I’ve been running a lot lately, but that may be short-lived, we’ll see.
James: Let me just say, Annik slowing down – that’s horses–t. She still goes all-out. Some people run on the beach slow and casually, like an episode of Baywatch. Annik, no. She looks like the Terminator out there. She’s dressed in black and it looks like she’s training for the Navy SEALs. She’s finding people at the beach who are running, letting them get far ahead of her, and then chasing them down. That whole “I’m 40, I’m slowing down…” – that’s a crock of s–t.
I think training with the bands allows her to keep that kind of intensity without abusing her joints like free weights do. When she says “taking it easy,” she means smarter. But the intensity is still there. I would also say at 40, she’s in better shape than she was when I met her at 27.
Annik: Mama’s still got it! [laughs]
James: It’s not just about working out, though. The key to being successful with health and fitness is being inspired. When I find someone who trains hard and trains with purpose, they’re inspired in some way. Whatever their story, whatever their situation, there’s something that’s inspiring them and driving them. And to go on a trip like this, to go relax, see cool places, and work out there, it recharges the battery and makes you feel inspired. That’s my message from this trip: Get out there and get inspired.