We spent the last week of March on the Caribbean side of Mexico. Mainly hiding. It was Spring Break in the US and Semana Santa (Easter week) in Mexico. Everyone was on vacation. Eh. Vree. One. But I suppose we’re everyone too.
We initially stopped in Tulum.
Tulum is famous for having one of the best-preserved and only Mayan cities on the ocean. It also has spectacular beaches, often ranking in Mexico’s — and sometimes the world’s — top ten. Unfortunately, while we were there, those beaches were covered with mounds of seaweed. Like two to three feet tall mounds.
It was also blustery. And touristy. Any sense of calm we hoped to inspire from a tranquil beach was eradicated as soon as we exited our van. After an expensive lunch at an inexpensive-looking hotel, and a quick walk down Tulum’s main drag, we decided to search for another beach.
We wanted, nay, probably needed, a spot between the major tourist destinations (from North to South, Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Akumal). We figured we’d visit a few spots, choose the best. We visited one: Playa Xpu-Ha, just north of Akumal and south of Playa Del Carmen. The line of cars from the highway to the parking lot near the beach was a half mile long. We parked at the end and marched to the beach.
As we neared, the thump da thump da thump of house music from various clubs and restaurants could be heard. As could laughter. And the occasional scream from some crazed toddler. The sound of chaos really. But we marched on. Steadfast and determined. Yet increasingly aware of our (presumably) lack of options.
We ventured through a series of disorganized parking lots, sectioned off by ropes in various sizes and states of decrepitude. Then, in the back of the last lot, we saw it: the last open spot. Then we saw the French family that’d we traveled with a couple weeks prior (our kids love their kids). We took that as an omen. We sprinted back to the van.
Like many, if not most, of the campgrounds we’ve crashed at in Mexico, this one has seen better days. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it was just designed with exposed wires jutting from outlets, half- to non-functioning water faucets, and the flair of a geriatric hoarder.
The bathroom was the worst I’ve seen outside of India. I’m not even sure I’d call it a bathroom, just a filthy room where water either goes down or comes out of holes and where mosquitos flutter the good wing and do the bad thing.
The beach, like Tulum, was covered in seaweed. A British family told us it’s the worst they’ve witnessed in their twenty-plus years vacationing in the Riviera Maya. Workers from the clubs spent the mornings raking and wheelbarrowing the seaweed off the beach. A feeble effort. More returned, like an army of angry slime attacking the shore, every hour. (The picture above is just after they cleaned.)
The wind also howled five of the seven days we camped. That two day reprieve, which also fortuitously brought less tourists and seaweed, made this stop worth it, despite all the first world problems described above. It’s pretty amazing how simple and beautiful life can be on a pretty beach. We mostly just sat on that beach, gazing into the ocean horizon, occasionally glancing back to ensure our kids hadn’t drowned.
The Easter Bunny, as we learned, doesn’t hide eggs in Mexico when it’s raining. Instead, He (do you capitalize this one?) hides pesos in vans and writes notes that those pesos can be spent on candy in the minimart near the beach.
We’ve met some interesting folks on this trip. Fellow travelers. Fascinating locals. Miguel was the latter.
Miguel is a fisherman. The purest I’ve met. He lives in an abandoned RV in the back of the parking lot. He fishes three times per day, every day. I’m not sure whether for fun or for money or for both — I resisted the temptation to ask; that’s a much too American question — though I doubt the distinction is important to him.
To fish, Miguel perches on a pile of seaweed, decked in Patagonia gear and with his neon blue fly rod on his waist behind him like a sword in a sheath. He watches for a particular kind of fish. I can’t remember the name. He called them surfers. When he spots them, he leaps off his pile, sprints into the shallows, and begins whipping the waves. It’s mesmerizing.
I often wish I had the passion, the conviction, of someone like Miguel. That my vocation and occupation would sow together seamlessly. That no worldly affliction, whether internally or externally imposed, would bother me, prevent my passion. Be a little more like Miguel in other words.