Before Spring Break

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Tulum, Mexico

Boarding the ADO bus we traversed north another 200kms stopping at a few small towns on route. It was a fairly dry and dusty setting whereby at each bus stop we jumped out to stretch our legs and eyeball the local women carrying woven baskets of fresh empanadas or tortillas filled with spicy chicken, chili, guacamole, tomato and cheese. It sure looked more appetising then the Snickers I was munching on. After a few hours the sun fell and we bumbled along in the inky blue sky before approaching the small town of Tulum. A few signs in English hinting at some atmospheric restaurants, a couple of bars, then some hostels and of course, a couple of Argentinians playing their gypsy music. Yes we had arrived at the bohemian beach resort for those that didn’t like beach resorts or the spring break crowd.

Tulum town was smack bang right on the highway where the beach was a further 5 minute drive. Tourism had apparently pushed the population to around 30,000 people, but as we walked the main road in efforts to find our hostel, it still seemed to take on the same blueprint of many Latin American pueblos. The main drag was lined with shops, street-food vendors including the largest shwarma style meat we had ever laid our eyes on, hotels and restaurants. Outside one of the first hostels catering to backpackers, “The Wandering Backpacker” red plastic chairs and tables spilled out onto the road alfresco style as loads of travelers from all walks of life downed a few ‘Sol’ cervezas and chomped down on tacos whilst grooving to a local funk band. Although it was dark, the place seemed to have a friendly and relaxed vibe to it.

We finally found our hostel “Rancho Tranquilo” where our little hut style room was surrounded by a quiet and secluded garden. We were sharing the hostel with a bunch of American retirees that over the following days seemed to do very little other then hang out on the same table in their Hawaiian shirts and grey pony tails talking about how they had to escape Florida Keys at this time of year because it was just too busy. Murray seemed to believe that they might have been Vietnam Vets but I think they were there for the free pancakes each morning and the topless women at the beach.

We had heard that Tulum beach was good. Apparently number three on LPs worlds best beaches for 2013. So after our free breakfast, we flagged down a cab to take as the 5kms to the beach. “What beach?” the taxi driver exclaimed after rattling off a list with only one sticking in our minds….Paradise beach. With a name like that it must have been good right? So off we went, cruising down the main road passing all the hippies that chose to ride bikes in the scorching sun. Tearing up the coast line we could grab glimpses of sea and sand in between a few “eco hostels” that the 10kms of coast line had become famous for. Paying the 60 pesos we walked through the Paradise Resort gates to one of the most spectacular stretches of white powdery sand and turquoise blue water. It was literally glowing, lighting up the beautiful people that lay on the white beach pads listening to chill-out music, sipping their cocktails and oiling up their g-strings.

Although the scene of Europeans in their florescent green man-kinis, sparkling white diamanty swimsuits or those that just preferred tassels was grotesquely over the top, it couldn’t spoil the beauty of this magnificent playa. Running straight into the water, this was clearly paradise.
And here we sat for the next three days with the only exercise walking a km up the stunning white stretch of sand to a local beach bar restaurant to grab some delicious fish tacos filled with spicy tomato and onion, guacamole and sour cream downed with a few Sols. Further away from the Eurovision Song Contest, the scene was filled with local families playing soccer, munching on corn chips and salsa and just having a fabulous time with the biggest smiles all round. A couple of banana boats bumbled past in the distance and fisherman pattered out in their brightly coloured boats, but all in all, it was laid back and the strenuous border crossing a few days before just melted away.

The other draw card to visiting Tulum other then the natural wonder of the coast line was to see the Tulum Mayan Ruins. We were late to rise that morning and by the time we had approached the entrance in our taxi it was midday, the sun was scorching, the line was 300mtrs long and a group of teenagers decided to pick up a roaming iguana to which one of the pubic boys was subsequently bitten on the hand. “That will team him” I thought but also thinking that he would probably end up with some horrendous infection due to the septic nature of the lizard bite. As he showed his grandparents that must have been educating them for the day, they took a peek and shrugged unfazed. “Give it a week” I thought. It will probably spoil the family cruise back home.

We finally got out tickets and entered through one of the five main gates. The Mayan city was built late in the thirteenth century as a seaport, trading mainly in turquoise and jade. As well as being the only Mayan city built on the coast, Tulum was one of the few protected by a wall. Made of limestone, the 784 metre wall enclosed the site on three sides and was around seven meters thick to preserve the seaport. The grounds were filled with gently-rolling hills where grey stone outcroppings, which were once buildings, doted the sun-baked landscape. The most prominent among the remaining structures was the Castillo, or castle, which was perched on the edge of a 12 metre limestone cliff overlooking the Caribbean coast. We were in the mix of a few hundred tourists and a handful of iguanas that fought or slept on the rocks. Below the cliff face you could trot down to the beach and swim in a fairly secluded little bay. The site, although not incredibly intricate in design, was impressive based solely on the surrounding location.

Our next stop was further north to Playa del Carmen. We were approaching spring break territory and we weren’t sure how extreme it was going to get. Saying farewell to Tulum we could unequivocally say that this was the best beach we had seen in the last 7.5mths of travel. It just couldn’t get any better..or could it?

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