An eighteen day loop in a small region on the Yucatan Peninsula: water, ruins, tacos, sweat. It's a very easy and remarkably safe area to travel in. So many people worried about us going to Mexico, but the chances of dying by Cartel are slim to none. We walked darkened streets, took busses, meandered jungle paths, and consumed loads of street food without incident. The Mexican people we encountered, bus drivers, shop owners, random people on the street that helped us with directions, were some of the nicest people I have ever met. And it wasn't until we got to Tulum that we experienced unwanted male attention. Even then it was just one time from a pick up truck of older teenagers driving by. Just that one time! I prepared Maya how to react and told her it would probably happen a lot. Happy to say I was wrong about that.
You really have to wade through the masses of tourists to find some "real" Tulum. On the main drag there's tons of hipster trendy places to eat, where the tacos are 150 pesos a plate, out at the beach it's even more. But walk one block back and you can easily find where the locals are having the same food for 35 pesos a plate.
Another place the tourists don't seem to find in Tulum in the Zocolo, the town square which is the social hub of every Latin American town. Our favorite routine is to have a snack from a vendor and sit in the square, chat, and people watch like everyone else. In Tulum it's like there was a force field around the Zocolo as only once did we see other tourists hanging around. It wasn't like that anywhere else we went, it was a shame others were missing out. We had a funny experience in the Zocolo a few nights ago. We arrived with our cones of coffee ice cream, not really paying attention to the bible thumper preaching through a loud speaker to a smattering of folks. Things got interesting when a traditional Mayan dance group showed up and began playing instruments and performing a very hypnotic and ancient sounding dance with music. Full body paint, complicated feather headpieces, instruments I've never seen before, and a story in the Mayan language accompanying the performance. I thought it was cheesy at first but they were really really good and honestly they transported me back in time, it was weird. Anyway, all the folks in the square, mostly locals, very quickly lost interest in the Evangelical and wandered over to watch the historical reenactment. Ten minutes later, the evangelicals hoisted their amplifier up on their shoulders, which was as now very loudly playing modern Christian music, walked over to the dance area and tried to divert the attention back to them. Hands held up in praise, singing and swaying.....it was the ultimate street battle of the religions. Christians vs. Indiginous in the modern age. The Evangelicals successfully ruined the traditional Mayan performance by drowning out their voices with their blaring Christian music and eventually the Mayans packed up and left. We observed the situation through a historical lense and analyzed the cultural significance but its just as likely that we witnessed a simple turf battle for money as both groups passed the hat for donations.
I should briefly mention that we did visit the Tulum ruins and beach and pretty much did not care for it. We got to the ruins by bike, an easy 15 minute ride from our hotel. We did beat the crowds but when we left the line was two hundred people long with entire platoons of people joining the cue. We paid 70 pesos to get in pretty much so I could take the iconic picture of the ruins on the cliff overlooking the sea.
The beach is Tulum is pretty much blocked off by hotels, restaurants, and resorts. You usually have to buy something or be a guest to pass through. We opted to go the one (that I know of) public access area, Santa Fe Park, just south of the ruins but before the T junction. I think we hit the beach on a not so great day. The sea was rough, the water and shoreline swamped with seaweed, and it was windy. The heat was relentless and there was no shade. I put sunscreen on every ten minutes and wrapped up in my sarong, waiting for my sun kissed beach baby to decide when to leave. Thankfully, by 11:30 she'd had enough and was ready to hit the road back to the hotel. That was our Tulum ruins and beach day and I wouldn't do it again. Ugh.
Here's a few other things we noticed about our little journey in this corner of Mexico:
You can buy bus tickets in advance and reserve your exact seats but in reality no one sits in their assigned seats. So if you want a choice window seat up front be the first in line to board. Maya would board the bus first and get our seats while I stowed the backpacks under the bus.
Always carry your own toilet paper (but never put it in the toilet, like all Latin American countries we've been to it goes in the trash) because there often isn't any and expect to pay about 30 cents to use the bathroom. Sometimes the attendant gives you tp, sometimes it's in the stall, other times there is one common roll dispenser by the sinks and you take what you think you'll need before you go in. It's better than Nicaragua though, where you also have to bring in a scoop of water from a trough to achieve a flush. And for whatever reason there usually isn't a plastic toilet seat, just the porcelain. I have no idea why.
Obey the siesta. There's a reason it's after lunch during the hottest part of the day.
F**k the damn yoga outfit I brought. Why would I want to excercise and sweat even more than I already am?? When I had downtime the only thing I wanted to do was lie down in my air conditioned hotel room. I would have gladly traded the space in my backpack for a longsleeved swim shirt. I'm not doing yoga every day, but I am swimming every day in blazing hot low land Mexican sun.
There are tons of places where your can get a dorm bed for $13 a night where you share the sleeping space and a bathroom with up to 10 others, there's no AC, and maybe only cold water. I've done that a gajillion times in my life, but like all the other family trips we've taken, I don't want to do it with the family. I don't even want to do it anymore myself. And I want AC. Hopefully I haven't made Maya too soft! We have cheaped out in other areas though like only eating street food or the cheapest restaurants and using public transportation.
Next to Peru, Mexican food is the best we have had in all the years of Latin American travel! Pork is the king of meats here so my consumption of that is at a life long high, but the way the food is prepared and the blending of flavor is really unique. It makes it seem like all the other places in Latin America we've been the staple has been black beans and rice with chicken and plantains. We were a little tired of that combo and very pleasantly surprised that we aren't getting that here in Mexico. The best places to eat are in people's homes where some have 2 table "restaurants" and have a speciality that they only cook up for lunch or dinner time. These spots have had the best traditional food, it's like someone's mom is cooking for you.
Traveling with Maya is a joy. Ever since the first trip to Costa Rica in 2009 she has worn the crown for best over all traveler attitude. Sure, she gets a little cranky/moody, spends too much time on her phone in the hotel, and I have to drag her teenage behind out of bed every morning to get the day started...like the adolescent that she is. At home and on the road she is amiable, funny, observant, brave, even keeled, always willing to try new things, and a daredevil at every opportunity. She's one of the best people I have ever known, but she really doesn't see these things about herself. I was probably 30 years old before I really allowed my dad's love and admiration for me to sink in, and he had to be in the last stages of dying for me to finally do it. I pray it doesn't take Maya that long or to that extreme to embrace her own positive qualities and truly see what I see I her every single day. It's hard to let them make their own way. I studied up on how to form a strong attachment to my kids, they taught me about unconditional love, patience, selflessness, and service.....but I didnt prepare myself for the letting go part. I didn't expect that I would be painfully learning about how to release them and I had no clue how hard it would be for me....like a hatchet to the heart I sometimes think. Like most things in my life I only know how to hold on, sometimes for dear life and despite unintended consequences. As they hurtle through their teenage years I am very slowly (reluctantly) beginning to see that the Universe has another lesson to teach me through my children, this one about letting go and trusting that they have their own higher power which isn't me anymore. Back when they were babies is was so "easy" to just love them. Now, I have to love them fiercely but simultaneously let them go and trust that's it's all gonna work out. Please remind me of this next time I freak out about what my teenagers are doing or not doing, ok?
Thanks Sean, for the inspiration.