Tuesday, February 08, 2011

leaving the yucatan

One last lovely evening in Paa Mul with Mike and Véro. The girls, Alice, Frances and Soline were joined by Natalia and Gloria and they worked hard on a choreography all afternoon and then on the posters advertising their show. After dinner, the parents of the other girls appeared at the palapa for the performance, a surprisingly good interpretation of Tonight's going to be a good night. My crazy hay fever allergies from last year have kicked in again, making life without medication unbearable. Aargh!

In the morning, we pulled off one last homework session as we waited for our amazing hosts to wake up then we collected our stuff and jumped into Mike and Véro's car for the drive down the coast to Tulum. We all hung out together for lunch and a perfect afternoon on the beach. It was really sad to say goodbye. Hopefully, they're in Honduras having a great time by now.

Tulum is simply spectacular. White sand, pale turquoise waters, the kind of gentle swells anyone would feel confident wading into. There are no high rises here, only an endless string of pretty, thatched palapas — some rustic, some regal — all seriously expensive. Our tackily named hotel, OM, offers us a lovely room filled with windows on the second floor of a palapa with our own little balcony overlooking the sea. We shopped around a little before finding it. The bad news from the border makes hotelkeepers very keen to please, dropping prices at the hint of a second or third night. The town of Tulum is miles away, as is any sense that this place belongs in Mexico. But it is paradise. The hotels are so comfortable, on and off the beach, as to make any kind of movement out of the zone practically unthinkable. Each resort (most of them called things like "Boutique" and "Eco-Chic") has its collection of chaise longues or upholstered mattresses set up in a string of shade and a team of waiters ready to bring you a margarita or a Pacifico at the smallest signal. The crowd is young, international and wealthy (except for the family of hippies which we find sleepinig on a pile of blankets beside some overturned boats each morning — right before their session of naked yoga!). The other entertainment is watching the kitesurfers performing crazy aerial acrobatics as they rip along in the waves.

A few hours after saying goodbye to Mike and Véro, we head up the beach to see if Nicky and Gus have arrived. Two very urban looking figures dressed in black emerge from the shoreline. The kids run over for hugs and kisses. We settle into a groove of mellow hanging out at each others' hotels, cocktails and reading in the shade. Nicky finds an old school friend at her hotel, Lucy and her husband Eazy. Our first evening together is all about tequila, followed by a night of cold sweats & painful stomach spasms. It seems Reactine and alcohol do not mix. As I spend my days recovering from my crappy nights, Gus puts the kids through their paces in Beach Olympics or lovely Lucy invents game after game to entertain the girls. We decide to head back to Puerto Morelos for a day of fishing and snorkelling before moving on to Mérida to show Gus some Mexican city life before we part ways.

On our way to the Tulum bus station our cab driver, a sweet Mayan man, takes one look at the long line of cabs waiting for a fare and proposes a very reasonably priced cab ride all the way to Puerto Morelos. On our way, he chats to us about the changes he's seen in Tulum in the last twenty years. I ask him about why we saw no Mexican families on the beach yesterday, even though it was a Sunday."If they're not guests at one of hotels they're not allowed on the beach. There are a couple of other beaches further south where you'll find Mexican families." We make a note for the unlikely event that we ever come back. Wil and I felt relieved to be back in Puerto Morelos which has gained in authenticity after a few days in pricey Tulum. It's all relative. Some Mexican life is better than no Mexican life. We find ourselves a couple of rooms at the Hotel Inglaterra and head up the beach for a stroll. We aim for the pier at two to buy ourselves a fish to bring to La Playita, a restaurant up the beach that charges a nominal fee per kilo to cook your fish and bring it to your table with rice, salad and tortillas, but it turns out the Fisheries has decided that the fishermen are not allowed to fish today. We go to La Playita anyway, figuring that if there is fresh fish to be found it will be here. We are welcomed with open arms and a big silver-toothed smile. We pick through the cooler and find a massive, shiny-eyed grouper that is more than big enough for all of us and polish it off with some yummy guacamole and pico de gallo.

Later on we walk up the beach looking for Paco to make a snorkelling date for the next day. We find him near the one and only place on the Puerto Morelos beach with shade — a serious lack which some enterprising person could make a fortune addressing. We chat to him about what we'd like. He goes off and comes back with the captain, Carmen ("El Papá - La Leyenda" says his t-shirt) and his son and first mate, Angel. We make a date at seven the next morning at the pier.

We pile into the lancha, which thankfully has some shade. The sea is bumpy. Once we get beyond the reef, the swells open up and the real rocking begins. It wasn't long before Henri and I were keeping a close eye on the horizon. I always liked wind turbines but the fact that the one near Puerto Morelos is visible above the swells makes me even more partial to it. Carmen gets Angel to throw in the anchor and then hacks up a handful of sardines, cutting some up especially fine and throwing them into the water to attract the fish. I am sneaking quick backward glimpses at what Carmen is doing, not wanting to unsettle my stomach any more than I have to. Henri asks, in a desperate bid to calm his lurching insides, about getting into the water for a swim, "No,' Carmen says, 'there are sharks now." He pulls out some heavy round reels, baits the hooks and hands them out. Wil pulls up a snapper, Steve pulls up another fish, Angus a third. The rocking is unbearable. I apologize to Carmen about having to cut the fishing portion of our outing short as Henri's Special K goes overboard. The wind turbine is my new best friend.

We head back to the reef for some snorkelling. Angel hands out the equipment and jumps in the water with us. We see tiny electric blue fish, triggerfish, a massive grouper, a two-foot long pencil-shaped fish with the face of a seahorse, clouds of yellow fish coasting in the tide, "Traffic" Alice comments. The highlight for me was swimming above a huge sea turtle booting it along the sea floor. When we got back to the pier Carmen filleted the fish, cut it up into bite-sized pieces and turned it into the freshest, yummiest ceviche.

We left the next morning, first taking a coléctivo to the colonia and another into Cancún to catch the bus. On the bus, the boring landscape of the Yucatán flashes past. Empty, flat as a pancake and low scrub. A couple of movies later we pulled in to lovely Mérida — a colonial charmer with a relaxed caribbean feel. So many of the buildings are crumbling pastel beauties and derelict shells. Either the town is going through some tough financial times or the downtown is suffering the same plight as many American city centres. We walk through the colourful market — shrimp galore, chickens on hooks, chests opened up to reveal a hanging string of yolks waiting for shells; a skinny man in an oversized, cream sombrero sharpening knives on a large stone that he turns with his sandaled foot.

We have dinner at Alberto's Continental Patio, a gem of a place, originally a colonial home that has been a restaurant for over 50 years. We walk through a dark portico with incredible tile floors into a lovely, shady patio. The place is littered with antiques, dozens of tables ready to receive clients that never appear. Rusty, ornate bits of metal hang around the fountain in the centre of the patio, wooden saints people the walls. When we finish our yummy Lebanese meal Alberto rises from his desk in the back to greet us as his sister sneaks peeks at us through an ornate screen shielding the kitchen from the patio. If I were planning a wedding, this place would get my vote. He kindly gives us a tour of the building, turning the lights on and off as we enter and leave the grand rooms. More empty tables laid, deep shelves in the back rooms chockablock with treasures. "I'm selling it off slowly', he said. 'Everything has an end." His sentences in perfect English are punctuated by the chesty cough of a lifelong smoker.

The next morning we walk Nicky and Gus to the bus station and say a sad goodbye. Our time together flew by. We wander around the other side of town looking for a toy store to replace the girls' Barbies which stayed behind in Paa Mul. We finally find one and, as the girls are choosing, I sit outside watching the world go by. I see a couple in their sixties dressed to the nines, man in white pants and shoes, red shirt and fedora, the woman in a red satin dress and four-inch crimson heels. I wonder where they're headed on this sleepy Sunday. We head back to the hotel to collect our stuff and head to the zocalo to kill some time before our departure. We are drawn to a little park near the hotel by the sound of live music. There are stands set up, tables and chairs full of people facing a concrete platform a couple of feet off the ground. A band decked out in red and white is playing salsa as fifty plus couples crowd the platform and dance to their heart's content. Around the platform are plaques commemorating over 40 years of Sunday music. On the edge of the platform, strutting their stuff, is the couple from the street.

At five-thirty, we get on a bus headed for Puebla. A seventeen hour marathon back to find the van.

1 comment:

ajm said...

I feel like I have missed SO MUCH of your journey, just because I happen to be busy with assignments, and in love (yes, it's true), and not read your blog for a week or two. Nice to catch up, and still find you roaming the beach, eating well, and creating community where ever you go. love, a xo