Cliché-hunting on the Mayan Riviera

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December 26th 2007
Published: January 8th 2008
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La Danza del Volador, Tulum IILa Danza del Volador, Tulum IILa Danza del Volador, Tulum II

This is a traditional performance which had ritual significance for ancient indigenous groups. Four men, attached to the pole by ropes, spin from the top to the ground, completing the descent in 13 rotations. A fifth man remains seated at the top of the pole, accompanying the performance of the [i]voladores[/i], or 'flying men', on a drum and a flute.
I'd been having a week of shattered myths. First, I’d learnt that it’s never tequila that has the worm, but mescal. Then, after a visit to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, I discovered that the trumpet is not, in fact, a traditional mariachi instrument. Cooped up in a hotel in the Santa Fe neighbourhood I had come across little evidence of the clichéd Mexican male - the office workers and Sunday strollers of this relatively affluent district revealed a dapper dress sense and a penchant for pink. And where were all those macho moustaches? Mexican men seemed to be pursuing a campaign of upper lip liberation. I was beginning to doubt that the Mexican Hat Dance actually involves hats (it does) or that ‘La Bamba’ originated in Mexico (it did). Would any of my received preconceptions of Mexico prove true?

Stepping off the bus some 68 km south of Cancún, I saw Playa del Carmen’s Quinta Avenida was just as I had imagined: a pedestrianised tourist strip without the brazen tower blocks of the more northerly resort, but with just a sufficient number of international restaurant chains present to provide a reassuring familiarity for the average gringo. Bargain your way down the street and you can become the proud owner of a poncho, hammock, straw sombrero and a mariachi suit.

The Mayan Riviera was as exotic as it sounds - the sea as turquoise as any travel agent’s brochure would have you believe, and the beachside ruins at Tulum as impressive as the hyperbolic postcard your co-worker sent implied.

Plunging through the twilight fug of festive revellers and roving mariachis (complete with trumpets, so as not to disappoint us tourists) we sought out a tranquil spot in which to celebrate Nochebuena *. Pursued by the omnipresent odour of tortilla, we steered towards the beach. At a table outside a small tequilería three men were holding each other up and regaling a bottle of tequila (no worm) with a maudlin serenade. THIS was the Mexico promised me by glorious CinemaScope!

And the moustaches… all the hip boys in Playa are cultivating the mildly hirsute look occasionally sported by Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. Hardly Pancho Villa proportions, but when the macho is rapidly being replaced by the metrosexual, it’s all a girl can hope for.

* Christmas Eve

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Happy ChristmasHappy Christmas
Happy Christmas

Nochebuena, Playa del Carmen

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