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Published: March 1st 2009
Tulum is much smaller than Playa del Carmen, with only one main street - about 10 blocks long or so - of restaurants and vendors. The vendors still try to get you to come into their shop, but they are not as agressive as the ones in Playa, which is quite a relief. We spent a lot of time walking around the rest of the town, which at first glance seems to be quite poor. However, because the standard of living here is different than we are accustomed to, I have learned not to judge what I see in the same way as at home. It seems like there are fewer middle class homes (at least, what we would think of as "middle class"). There is a real mix - big fancy resorts, casitas (small houses) and haciendas (big houses) right next to one-room concrete or stick wall and thatched roof huts. These huts are the traditional living arrangements of the Mayan people. Now, they still live in these types of houses, although some now live in cinder-block or concrete houses - but still small and one-room, and often still with the thatched roofs. Kids play happily in dirt yards, with
the bigger ones looking after the smaller ones. You don't see the kids with lots of toys either...they run and play, and they are well cared for and dressed nicely, but few toys. Not a bad thing, I think, as our kids often have more than they need. Family is very important here, and everyone loves the little ones. Many folks on the streets are friendly to us, and we chat with the odd person, just as we would at home, but with the added challenge of my very bad spanish!
Another observation we had was that every house and hut has a television set. We have seen people in their one room through an open door sitting in plastic chairs, but they have a t.v. We have seen places with no furniture at all - a baby sitting on the floor, and the women standing leaning up against the wall - watching their little t.v. This isn't a judgement - simply an observation. And really, it isn't much different than at home!
At night, loud music pours out of many of the homes and cars....these folks really like their loud music. And the smells - foods and
sewer smells, mixed in with exhaust from the traffic, and wood smoke from the road-side barbeques and cooking fires in the yards of the Mayans. What really is striking though, is the mounds of rubble everywhere. Broken concrete, piles of rocks, plastic bottles and wrappers from food....it all lies around by the side of the road, in people's yards, just everywhere. Sidewalks are broken, missing some of the cobblestones, or just with pieces of concrete broken and never replaced, so you always have to look down at where you are walking or risk tripping or twisting an ankle. We noticed this not just in Tulum, but everywhere in Mexico. The other thing that we have noticed is that they don't seem to have "good" or "poor' neighborhoods like you find in Canadian and American cities. Instead, the broken concrete and wood huts are right next to and mixed in with the nicer haciendas. Except, of course, in the really touristy places like Cancun and Playa. It all makes for a facinating experience.
There is a lot of natural beauty here too, which is why we came. Of course, we went to see the Tulum ruins, which, although smaller and
less impressive than the others we have visited, are beautiful with their ocean view. We went with, and spent the rest of the day with a nice young couple we met at our hotel. The beaches, are unlike any other we have seen. Soft, powder white sand that never gets hot, even under the blistering mid-day sun (the sand is composed of crushed coral from the reef washed up over thousands of years). The Caribean sea is multiple shades of blues, turquises, and greens, and the sky seems more blue than anywhere else. Look up and you see many unfamiliar and beautiful species of colorful birds. Look into the water, and there are just as many strange and wonderful kinds of fish, water plants, corals, and other ocean life. Listen, and you can hear the palm trees sway in the ocean breezes. For us, the key to enjoying Mexico is to find the places away from the vendors, away from the tourists (yes, like us), and away from the sounds and smells of the cities and towns. Hop a collectivo (a kind of shared taxi arrangement - vans that pick up people along the road and drop them wherever they
are going along the route) or take a bus or taxi, and you can go lots of great places.
Because Carnival is going on all over Mexico, Tulum is celebrating as well. They set up at a small fairgrounds, and it is much like any small-town fair with food stalls, rides for the kids, and vendor tents selling everything from clothing to kitchen stuff. They had a big stage where the 'entertainment' happens - which seems to consist of various groups of local people from kids to elders dressing up in costumes and dancing around on stage to really loud music. Nothing opens until after 7 pm, and the music and dancing starts happening at about 9 at night (yes, even little kids and babies are there that late at night). We went twice, to eat and to watch and just take in the whole experience, but after a couple of hours we tired of the noise. Our hosts at our B&B are horrified that we actually ate there, and think we must have stomachs of steel. I don't think that we take any more chances here than at any other fair, but I know that some people do
get really sick in Mexico. Cleanliness sometimes has a whole different meaning here. Maybe we are just lucky. We have had some wonderful food - the best from street vendors and small family-run hole-in-the-wall places. Each place has their own version of the salsas that are always on the table and served with the food, and all are tasty. Various stages of heat, but all really yummy. Maybe the hot peppers and tequila kill the germs....😊 Our time here passes all too quickly.
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