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Costa Turisma

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This last segment of my trip was very short – just three full days – and I debated whether it was even worth writing a post about it.  But given my compulsive tendencies, how could I not.  I’ll try to keep this appropriately short, at least by comparison to the others…

Ruins at Tulum

I got to Tulum – a small town on the Costa Maya about 1.5 hours drive south of Cancun – on Wednesday evening, and had Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to spend in the area.  I’d already decided that I’d forego the biggest tourist attraction – Chichen Itza – since from what I’d read, taking a day tour there guarantees you’ll see the site swarming with tourists.  The preferable way to see it is to stay overnight in one of the nearby towns the night before, and then get there early, before the busloads of drunk Americans show up from Cancun and surrounds.  Not that everything else I ended up seeing wasn’t crawling with tourists… I’ll have to see it next time.

My three days were each quite different in form, and ran the gambit for how one can get around Tulum.  After sleeping in on Thursday, I rented a bike from one of the hotels down the road and peddled a half hour into town.  I searched for a restaurant that looked tourist-safe (read: would not give me food poisoning), and concluded after 10 minutes that the first restaurant I’d seen – an Italian restaurant on the main intersection – was my safest bet.  Sure enough, a minute after I walked in, a tour bus unloaded about 80 people onto the premises.  I ended up joining the buffet line they’d prepared, and ate with a group of friends from Idaho.  Painfully stereotypical Americans.  I heard the word “tortilla” pronounced with American Ls on several occasions.  One of them complained that she really just wanted some McDonald’s french fries; another agreed and said that the potatoes they’d eaten in Mexico weren’t salty enough, while another whined that the portions of french fries were too small.  I wanted to slap someone.

Pyramid at Coba

After lunch I biked out to the Tulum ruins – some of the only Mayan ruins on the coast – and then spent some time sitting and reading on a beach just south of there.  At that point the sun was on its way down (I’m still re-adjusting to the short northern hemisphere days), so I biked home and spent the rest of the evening reading and eating.  I’d gotten sick of my Inca history textbook, so I borrowed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from the hotel bookshelf and have been engrossed ever since.

I’d arranged my Friday and Saturday activities on Thursday morning, with the help of the hotel concierge, and at 9:30am on Friday a taxi showed up to take me to the ruins at Coba.  Coba is about a half hour drive from Tulum, a relatively extensive site and one of the few where humans can still climb on (most of) the remains.  The highlight is climbing the main pyramid at Coba – 42 meters tall, the tallest on the Yucatan peninsula – from which you can see endlessly, since the whole peninsula is low and flat.  Aside from climbing the main attraction, I spent two hours exploring around the site, again with the help of a rented bicycle.  Aside from the pyramids, the most interesting features were the carved stone monoliths, each housed in their own little hut.

Cenote Dos Ojos

The plan at that point had been to visit some of the nearby cenotes: caves filled with fresh water, an unusual and unique snorkeling/diving opportunity.  However, it was nearly lunch time, and from what I’d heard the cenotes near Coba were nothing special (murky, dark).  Instead, I had the taxi driver take me back into Tulum for lunch – my treat for the two of us – after which we went out to Cenote Dos Ojos, lauded as the best cenote in the area.  It lived up to expectations: crystal clear waters with fish, sunlight, stalactites, and stalagmites.  It was much more comfortable snorkeling in fresh water than in the ocean, and although the fish were unremarkable, navigating the convoluted cave formations more than made up for it.

Since I’d spent Thursday getting around by bicycle and Friday by taxi, Saturday was spent in my last available form of transportation: an organized tour.  I’d arranged for a trip out to Sian Ka’an, a biosphere preserve just south of Tulum.  At 8:30am I was packed and ready for a full day of not thinking and not negotiating in Spanish – time to just sit back and be carted around a slice of paradise.

Sian Ka’an Paradise

I got exactly what I’d hoped for, with one small hitch.  The small tour group – myself, one guide, and two couples – was entirely French speaking.  No Spanish, but not much English either.  To my surprise, out in Sian Ka’an, almost every tourist seemed to be French.  There were moments where I thought I might be in French Polynesia instead of Mexico.  To be sure, I had a fantastic day – after arriving in Punta Allen, the main pueblo of Sian Ka’an, the six of us took a high-speed motorboat trip out into the lagoon and saw sea turtles, dolphins, and frigate birds.  After our jaunt, the boat pulled up offshore and we snorkeled in the perfectly clear, turquoise waters, around a small reef that was rife with interesting fish and flora.  Truly amazing – although not as diverse as the Galapagos, this reef was much more colorful and objectively beautiful.  Afterward, adrift out in some very shallow waters along an uninhabited strip of coast, the six of us lounged and swam about, taking in the storybook paradise-like surroundings.  Far and away, it was the most picturesque tropical wonderland I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.  Throw in the 98% French, and I almost entirely forgot where I was.

After we got back to Punta Allen and rejoined reality, we took our time with a nice, big buffet lunch and a stroll around town.  On the way back to Tulum we pulled over at Cesiak – the Sian Ka’an Ecological Center – and watched the sun set from their rooftop balcony.  Overall a truly idyllic day.  Per the guide’s recommendation, I topped it off with dinner at a chic little restaurant down the road from my hotel – Pura Corazon – and enjoyed their live music performance along with a tasty blue cocktail and some fish.

Americans in their natural habitat

And that was the end of my time in Mexico – short but sweet.  The next morning I got up, packed, read on the beach (I’ve taken my copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with me, I can’t put it down), had lunch, and went to the airport.  Home by Sunday night and at work on Monday morning.  It’s been a wonderful, exciting, and very multi-faceted trip.  And I’m glad I got to end it on a relaxing note.

Per usual, my casual observations:

I have had more or less the following, charming but rather annoying conversation, in Spanish, with taxi drivers, guides, hotel concierge, you name it, on one two many occasions:

“So where is your girlfriend?”
“I don’t have one.  I’m here by myself.”
“Ah that’s a shame.  Next time you should bring your girlfriend!”
“Yeah I’ll do that.”
“Have you ever been on a vacation with a girlfriend before?”
“No… maybe next time.”
“You should date a Mexican woman.  Mexican women love foreigners.  And they’re pretty sexy, hey?”
“Hahah, yeah they sure are…” [awkward]

At some point the conversation usually turns to their wives and children, at which point it becomes obvious that, even though they’re only a few years older than me, each one got married and started having children around age 18 or 19.

Prices in this part of Mexico are, unsurprisingly, hyper-inflated to match the American tourist market.  A typical meal cost me at least $10 US equivalent.  Tours were similarly expensive.  Admittedly, I stuck primarily to the well-beaten tourist track (a.k.a. not in the heart of the town of Tulum itself), for food safety reasons, so I was asking for wallet trouble.

Along that note, though – the entire Costa Maya (everything from Cancun down to Sian Ka’an) has been hyper-developed into one endless tourist enclave.  The whole thing felt manufactured.  I’d thought that going to Tulum would give me a less touristy experience, but the truth is that Tulum is just a different tourist experience: Cancun is for Americans who want to drink all night and hook up, whereas the farther south you go, the more you find other nationalities (i.e. French) and tourists who are looking more to read and relax rather than revel.  Still tourists nonetheless, though.

Until my next trip – thanks for reading!


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