to the Tulum beach
Saturday, February 18 2017
location: Casa Sofia Hotel, downtown Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
We got out of bed at some comfortable hour and then made our way to the breakfast area, which was pretty much near reception across the pool-filled courtyard. I don't know if it was Gretchen's influence or what, but they had usable soymilk available for those (such as Gretchen) who wanted it. When Gretchen was done with it, she comingled it with the regular dairy options in hopes someone else would see it and make that choice. And when someone did, she let out an unexpected squeal for which I then had to demand an explanation. (Similar squeals when Gretchen is reading her smartphone can be safely ignored.)
Later Gretchen and I went up to the Cafe Sofia roof, where astroturf and chairs have been arranged to make for an acceptable outdoor tropical experience. More interesting, though, than sunning ourselves was checking out the surrounding neighborhood. Initially, we were mostly interested in the rooftop habitat of a neighboring pit bull, who, after being riled up by human friend of his who had just passed, barked down on us us from above. The pit bull wasn't there at this hour; evidently he spends time down in the residence below. But we could see his dog house (which was next to a big-screen CRT stored beneath a tarp; it seems people don't want to live with — and still can't bear throwing away — their CRTs, even in third world countries). There was also scattered trash, much of it organized by the winds, and of course the rebar stubs for theoretical future columns supporting a fantasized future floor.
Checkout is leisurely at Casa Sofia, though perhaps no more so than other similar hotels. We could spend some time up on that roof reading or watching the world of Tulum go by. Tulum is a real Mexican city, not a simulacrum of something intended to be experienced by Americans. From the Casa Sofia rooftop, we could see offleash neighborhood dogs sunning themselves on the sidewalk (or edge of the road), interact with humans, and then go back to sunning themselves. At some point, a pair of people went past on a motor scooter, the woman in back supporting what appeared to be a 20 foot javelin of copper pipe on her shoulder. It looked like a happy place to live. The strong sun and verdant sprigs of palms and other plants can fool even the most third-world-averse to thinking so, especially less than 24 hours after departing a dormant world covered in crusty snow.
As we were checking out of Casa Sofia, we ran across a plump Australian woman who was just setting out with her motor scooter. She saw my Obama teeshirt and volunteered that it made her sad, and so then we chatted about Trump and about motor scooters. Gretchen, who is fearless about nearly everything (she's even jumped from an airplane) hadn't even considered a motor scooter as a possible form of transportation, but the Australian woman insisted it was easy and reasonably safe. As we headed off with out backpacks, Gretchen noted, "Of course the Australian is going to be using a motor scooter." For people from the land of the Crocodile Hunter, having an arm in a sling for the last four weeks of the vacation is a feature, not a bug.
Our first destination was a dusty bike rental place, where Gretchen negotiated bikes for both of us for the rest of the week. They were both junky one-speeds with Ashtabula cranks and coaster brakes, but at least they had baskets. I should note that in Mexico it is rare to see anyone, even Americans, wearing helmets as they tool about on their bikes. Certainly no helmets came with our bikes.
We rode our bikes out to route 15, which is the road down to the part of the beach we'd be staying on. But before going there, we stopped for lunch at a café called Co.ConAmour, which was situated mostly outdoors in a courtyard. As we were locking up our bikes, one of the young women who works there was arriving with her three dogs, which included a big pit bull, a black labrador, and another black dog whose hair was so long he'd been shaved (except for a dorsal stripe and his head). The lab had the chewed-up remnants of a conch that he kept bringing for me to throw, though of course I couldn't throw it far or I'd hit somebody or it would end up in a salad.
Though we were part of a light lunch crowd, the food (even the Negro Modelo I'd ordered, which simply had to be taken from a refrigerator) took an incredibly long time to get to us. If we'd had an appointment we'd needed to get to, we would've been irate. Fortunately, we actually needed to kill time, because we wouldn't be allowed to check into our beach cabin until 3:00pm. When the food finally arrived, it actually was pretty good, though I had to eat some to remember that I don't really like ceviche (at least the vegan version).
What followed was a three mile bike ride to the Mayatulum Resort on the Tulum beach. It was during this phase of the afternoon that we discovered how crappy our bikes were. Gretchen's squeaked annoyingly and seemed to figh her, and one of my pedals was cracked, causing some fraction of my energy to go into making it yawn open and then close up again. Part of the problem was that we were fighting a stiff breeze coming in from the ocean. And it certainly didn't help that we were wearing backpacks, which exacerabated the pressure of the bike seats against the various bones (I want to say ischia) in our lower pelvises. Fortunately, there was a paved path just for bicycles going most of the way.
Just before we arrived at Mayatulum, the road passes so close to the beach that there is no forest or buildings blocking the view, and the beach essentially begins at the side of the road. The beach here is essentially public, and it's where fishermen (both using rods and nets) do their thing, occasionally offering semi-expected windfalls to the local pelicans and terns.
At check-in at Mayatulum, there was very little in the way of orientation. We were never told where to get hot drinks or what the morning breakfast situation was. We were told the WiFi password and given a key, and then turned loose on the grounds. Mayatulum is a complex of mostly stand-alone cabins. They're round in shape and have tidy peaked thatched roofs. Our cabin was C, and featured a main circular room with two beds in the middle (each beneath a mosquito net hanging from the ceiling). There were also two side-pods (making our cabin resemble some sort of simple molecule from the air). One contained a bathroom, shower, and dual sinks and the other was a semicircular porch. Gretchen had picked Mayatulum because it is a yoga resort, meaning our soap and shampoo and other products would be less-likely to contain the sort of fragrances and chemicals that she (and, by osmosis, I) find so objectionable. It also meant we'd be less likely to see offensive food options in the dining hall, though the resort was certainly not vegan. This also meant that there was no big-screen teevee in our room. There wasn't even a refrigerator. This meant there wouldn't be any annoying electromechanical hums in the night, though the nearby ocean was so loud that such a sound would've been hard to hear in any case.
Gretchen immediately headed for the beach and took a swim. I grabbed a magazine and headed to the beach. At Mayatulum, there were plenty of places to lie around (sum in the sun and some not), though there were only a few people. I stayed in the shade of a thatched mushroom-like structure, since I'd yet to apply any sunscreen. For whatever reason, the Mayatulum beach was clotted with a large amount of decaying seaweed that had blown ashore, particularly around the jetty of natural rock protruding out from the beach near the center of the resort. I walked over there to explore those rocks (there wasn't much to see) and the smell was overpowering.
Though we'd been told we might have to come to the main building to pick up a WiFi signal, I found a usable signal everywhere in the cabin except in the are immediately around the toilet (a place I spend a fair amount of time even when not in Mexico). I think the reinforced concrete of the cabin's lower walls acted as something of a faraday cage, and he walls were particularly close together near the toilet. As for our cellphones (which also required a WiFi signal given our non-international cellular plans), they only barely worked in a few places in the cabin, though they worked great out on the porch.
We eventually went to Restaurare, Gretchen's favorite Tulum restaurant, which turned out to be almost directly across Route 15 (on the "jungle side" as opposed to the "beach side"). Restaurare is fully outdoors and fully vegan, situated on a ramshackled plank-and-stone floor among the trees between several buildings that appear to have no ongoing use. There are mosquitoes on the jungle side of the Route 15, and these mosquitoes potentially carry the Zika virus. For this reason, Restaurare keeps smudge pots burning almost constantly, and they offer all-natural insect repellant to diners. Unlike every other insect repellant I've used, te fragrance of this one does not destroy the appetite. It seems to be made mostly of clove oil.
Intrigued, I ordered the locally-sourced Akumal "Indian [sic] Pale Ale." It wasn't terrible, but in the United States it would've been considered mediocre at best. We ordered the lettuce "tacos" (lettuce is offered as the "taco" and a very rich pumpkin-seed-concoction is provided as a filling), and they were much better than expected. My main course was the salbutes, a veganized Mayan classic involving a deep-fried taco, black beans, a secret Mayan onion concoction, and an even more secret faux-meat stew. It was messy and greasy and delicious. Our waiter was a tall, somewhat goofy-seeming gentleman who didn't seem like he was a local. We thought maybe he was Dutch or Danish. Later we would learn he is from Argentina and that is just passing through Mexico on his way to Europe.
After dinner, Gretchen and I walked south down the beach to check out a few of the other resorts. When Gretchen had been here a year ago, she hadn't been staying in any of the beach resorts but could use their facilities just by acting like she belonged there (white privilege works at least as well in Mexico as it does in the United States). By checking out the other resorts tonight, we could see what things we might want to take advantage of. For example, only a couple hundred feet down the beach one of the resorts had a pool and a hot tub, things Mayatulum lacks.
We also went north up the beach almost to the public area I'd mentioned earlier. A local woman and her kids frolicked in the seaweed-choked water while a man (perhaps the father of the family) repeatedly cast a net into the water. Far out on the rocks, even on rocks that were separated from the land by the occasional wave, there were a fair number of people with bright flashlights. Had this been the United States, they would've been drunk teenagers. But they weren't behaving like drunk teenagers, so I suspected they were probably fishing.
At Restaurare tonight there was a table with an international mix of people sitting around it. One of the guys was wearing a hat that read "Make America Gay Again."
Gretchen borrowed it so she could pose wearing it with me for this selfie.
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