Tulum

Finally, Monday rolled around and we headed off to pick up our post and leave Valladolid for good. After much internet research, it didn’t appear that there was much to do on the east coast for the most part. This seems the destination of choice if you want to pay a lot of money for a tour on a diving trip, or you just want to stay inside a fancy resort. Everything is expensive and everything is busy. It was with this in mind that we skipped both Playa del Carmen and Cancun. On Hanno and Kikki’s recommendation we broke up the drive to Tulum by stopping at Cenote Choj Ha. It was worth the detour, a beautiful cenote of which for most of the time, we were the sole occupants.

As ever you walk to a fairly non-descript looking hole and descend down into several flights of steps to reach the water. 

The cenote was beautifully refreshing and we had a good swim around with the resident catfish.

After a refreshing swim, we returned to our hot camper and hot cats. While we could have stayed the night there, after sitting around for so long we waned to keep moving. Time to go to Tulum, we were about to hit the Caribbean sea.

Normally, this would be a good thing. Unfortunately for us, our multiple delays meant that we would hit the coast in sargassum season. This red seaweed washes in to shore by the ton, turning  the beaches from a tropical paradise of blue sea and white sand into a smelly quagmire of weed. I had heard about this, but had never seen it before. 

When we arrived that afternoon we drove in through the main road in the town, past truck upon truck of covid testing booths for all the incoming tourists. We headed down the coast, there was a statue I wanted to see and it looked like we might be able to camp on the beach to the south of the town. The reality here was that the road fairly small, in a horrific condition and absolutely gridlocked. We crawled past nice looking bars and boutique shops, smelling nothing but rotting seaweed despite the many street food stands. There was a large queue to see the statue and Lee was not impressed by being here. 

While it may sound stupid, I read an article many years ago about reasons to go to Tulum and have wanted to go ever since, while never thinking I actually would. This was probably when it was little less touristy than it is right now. The industry has exploded on this coast. As a friend recently told me, Playa del Carmen has expanded 200% in the last year, making it on of the most rapidly growing cities. So while I enjoyed my moment of actually reaching somewhere I had never imagined I would, Lee negotiated the small quarries in the road with a sticky accelerator cable and construction traffic all around. While I wanted to stay, he wanted to leave. The compromise was that we both agreed this was not a suitable place for the cats to be and that any potential beach camping spot would take a very long time to reach at this rate. We turned around, I snapped a hasty picture of my statue and we went in search of another spot.

On the recommendation of a campsite owner, we headed further up the coast towards Playa Paraiso where we were told there was camping. We squeezed under the height restriction for the national park and headed for the spot. The good thing about this was we would be very close to the ruins in the morning, meaning we could go and see them early, before leaving for Bacalar. It was at this point, a day or so before seeing each other again for the first time in a while, Jaro gave up on us and headed towards the border. I guess we had kept him waiting a while.

Back in the national park, we continued up the coast looking for the campspot. We arrived at the one marked, to be told it was closed by one of the three guys on the entrance to the car park. We asked if we could stay in the carpark and after firstly declining, then conferring, they let us in. We were pretty happy with the spot, safe for the cats and close to what we wanted. We left the camper and headed to the beach in search of a cocktail. 

The beach itself was covered. Both with the seaweed and the workers trying to remove it. We sat at a little beach bar nearby and watched. The seaweed stretched as far as the eye could see. People all long the shoreline dragged it into piles, while other loaded it into wheelbarrows or trailers on the back of ATVs. It was then dumped on the already sizeable mound of seaweed at the back of the beach.

We watched barrow load by barrow load, it seemed to make very little difference to the overall amount on the beach. The smell was not pleasant. It was hard to imagine the beach in its normal glory and it was clear why this has such an effect on tourism. I was happy to be enjoying a cocktail rather than shovelling mounds of rotting seaweed in the afternoon sun.

After finishing a litre of Pina Colada, we headed back to Ruby to check on everything, before deciding to go on a little walk. We wandered through the resort we hadn’t paid for and I can see the appeal. It was a beautiful place, cabanas nestled right next to the beach in a jungle of green leaves, less that a few minutes walk to see the ocean. We kept going to the beach bar. It was a lovely looking place, and we stopped to enjoy a beer. When the menu got brought over we couldn’t help but ordering some rather interesting looking food. Tulum is somewhere that I think you need to be able to spend money to enjoy. We certainly enjoyed our evening, the food was lovely, the beer good and the view first class. It was a nice treat.

I had imagined a quiet night. The road near the car park is small and a dead end. The car park itself was basically empty. This was not meant to be. The main problem being the heat. It was so hot we couldn’t sleep, despite our multiple fans. Then in the early hours of the morning a giant lorry arrived to cart away some of the seaweed. I was almost glad for the morning, not being able to sleep due to heat is something that I think is particularly horrible. 

At least we were only five minutes on a bike from the ruins. Supposedly they opened at 8, so we cycled down. Then we found out they open at 9 instead and that we had to leave the car park by 10 to avoid being charged. The sticking point was Aimee, who appeared to have wandered off. Normally we grab her and stick her on her lead in the morning if we know we will be leaving, but she hadn’t put in an appearance. We spent an hour wandering around trying to find her, before cycling back to the ruins. Despite the fact we arrived only 10 minutes after they opened, we were horrified to see a queue stretching back from the doors. One coach load of people had already been deposited. As we watched another coach arrived and out piled the tourists. While we heard they are supposed to be nice, we also have seen a lot of nice ruins and we know that this sight is small. Not fancying it anymore, we decided to find the cat instead. 

Another hour we searched. Still no cat. We told the guy on the gate that we wanted to leave but we couldn’t find our cat. He shrugged and told us to talk to his boss. 

“Where is your boss?” I asked him.

He gave another non committal gesture and waved at the general beach. “He’s inside.” 

How helpful.

We decided to ignore that and just wait until someone tried to get rid of us. We sat in the shade and resigned ourselves to waiting. Every now and again one of us would wander around having another look. We found several other cats that weren’t ours and Lizzy lay conveniently close by. Finding Aimee was fruitless however. We sat back at the van, where Lee glanced up at the roof. He muttered an expletive, then said to me.

“Come and look at this!”

I looked up to the roof rack and saw, lying behind a kayak paddle, our cat. She stared at us unconcerned. She had clearly been here the whole time. I suppose we only had ourselves to blame there. We hastily packed away and headed for the exit. Luckily the unhelpful guy on the door who didn’t care about helping us also didn’t care about charging us. The security guard waved as we passed. 

“Did you find your cat??”

He looked concerned like we might have given up and decided to leave her behind. Tempting as it sometimes is, we reassured him she was on board before leaving. Ruby roared out of the entrance and headed back through the town towards the highway. Around 3 hours away was the small town of Bacalar, on the shores of a large lagoon and only a matter of minutes away from the border to Belize. We left the touristy coast behind us and headed south. 

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