Tulum, Quintana Roo, MX

IMG_1290All good things eventually come to an end.  So too, my wonderful reunion with daughter Kristina.  And I got to meet (and know) the man in her life—James:  Good looking young fella, smart, talented and even funny (an all-around nice guy).  Not that my opinion counts for much these days, but I definitely approve. Their next stop is Belize, and in fact they are already there soaking up the sun and surf.  Photo:  The photo on the left shows Steve on his hostel-provided bicycle, in front of a local taco shop specializing in Tacos de Pescado.  After downing two huge Cuba Libre’s I felt and looked like someone convicted of a DUI.  Is that a look of fear on my face?  (Click on image to enlarge).

We decided to finish up our stay together with a four-day visit to Tulum, Quintana Roo, on the Caribbean side of the Yucatan peninsula.  It’s a relatively short bus ride from Merida to Tulum, approximately four hours by ADO Primero (First Class).  Upon arrival we grabbed a local taxi to our lodging for the next three nights; El Lobo Inn Hostal was conveniently located on the main highway just across from the famous seaside Ruinas de Tulum.  The price was right—CHEAP (approximately $11 USD/pp).

Tulum-Sian Ka'an with IPI

Tulum – Sian Ka’an

(Click on image to enlarge)

A quick philosophical point:  There are many ways to travel, and I’m not here to judge one over another.  My travel philosophy is to live simple, live cheap and live free (happy).  Partly this is due to financial necessity, and partly it’s a conscious decision.  Staying in hostels, and eating locally, instead of hotels and resorts is a clear case in point.  I like that it’s CHEAP (really CHEAP); I like the people I meet and the experiences I have.  Hotels and resorts can be isolating, they can isolate you from the local community, as well as its people, and they can even isolate you from the other guests.  A hostel (not hostile) environment forces you to engage socially, and requires that you provide your own food (either cooking on the premises, or searching out inexpensive local eateries).  A simple breakfast is usually included in the price.  Most travelers seem to fall into one of two broad categories:  The Tourist, The Traveler.  One isn’t necessarily better than the other—I’ve been both, but I prefer being The Traveler.  Simply stated I think tourists often remain isolated and aloof, and travelers make a real effort to fully immerse themselves in their environment:  Its locales, people, languages and food.  For me it’s the difference between observing and experiencing. Before retiring I was often a tourist—escaping the corporate grind for only a week or ten days I wanted to be isolated and pampered.  Now that I am retired I much prefer the experience, and I now have the luxury of time—I can actually linger in places that I like (for days, weeks, months and even years if I so choose).  Few people have that option in today’s fast paced world, I understand that totally—been there, done that (as they say).  So I’m not putting down The Tourist, I’m just saying that I personally prefer being The Traveler.  And staying at hostels I’m in the company of other travelers: Mostly young (25 to 35 years old), well-educated, adventuresome and on a strict budget like me.

Ruinas de Tulum with IPI

Ruinas de Tulum

(Click on image to enlarge)

Perched atop the seaside cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Ocean are the Ruins of Tulum, purportedly the only Maya ruins so situated.  What a view the ancients had—wow.  I wish that I could have visited these unique ruins 50, 30 or even 10 years ago before the tourist bomb exploded.  Now tourist buses arrive every few minutes to disgorge their occupants, and like millions of ants they crawl over the landscape.  It makes photography virtually impossible, and even finding a secluded moment and place to enjoy the wonder is problematic.  Ropes, chains, and signs restrict everything (for good reason), and no photo seems to escape the aesthetic desecration.  Not my cup of tea, I much prefer the unbeaten path and the road less traveled.  But it is what it is.  For a more authentic experience I found the jungle-shrouded ruins at Palenque and Yaxchilan in Chiapas much more enjoyable, and even the smaller ruins on the Ruta Puuc and Uxmal had more charm.

Ruinas de Tulum 2 with IPI

Ruinas de Tulum

(Click on image to enlarge)

Tulum with IPI

But the location is beautiful, and these photos will attest to the fact that the coastline and sandy beaches of the Maya Riviera are spectacular.  Tourism is a two-edged sword, on the one hand it helps to boost the local economy, but at the same time it exacts a heavy toll on the tourist site itself.  I think governments worldwide are becoming more progressive, and are making a real effort to preserve these world treasures for future generations, but it’s disheartening to witness the damage already done.  The photo to the left will give you some idea of what the entire area used to look like, before the hotels, resorts, restaurants and tourists.  To the ancient Maya it must have seemed like heaven.

(Click on image to enlarge)

When the first Spaniards arrived upon these shores they must have been enthralled with the pure physical beauty of the land.  That they then felt compelled to loot the land and people of their riches is a sad footnote in history, but the Spaniards certainly weren’t alone in that regard.  Man’s so-called progress has always been deeply rooted in conquest and commerce—it still is.  The Maya Riviera remains a hot tourist destination, and whether you come to it as a short-term tourist or long-term traveler it is a destination worthy of your attention.

Jungle Retreat with IPI

Jungle/Beach Retreat – Tulum

(Click on image to enlarge)

In the Zona de Hotales the above sight is not uncommon.  You can stay in luxury hotels and resorts for hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars per night, or sleep unmolested right off the beach in your own simple jungle hideaway.  Which hamburger chain advertises:  Have it your way?  You decide what kind of experience you would like to have, and then plan accordingly.  We traveled by taxi to Zona de Hotales for our final dinner together as a group. First Class restaurants abound, and the only difficult thing is picking one.  We chose Ziggy’s after getting a personal recommendation, and we weren’t disappointed.  Pricey, but we expected that—and planned accordingly (just like I recommended above).  This was our last night together and we made the most of it—in the morning we would go our separate ways:  Kristina & James were off to Belize, and Joel and I were to return to Merida to begin planning our trip to Cuba.  Our two-week visit with the kids had finally come to an end (much too soon), and it was time to wish each other a teary adios.

The Gang at Ziggy's with IPI

Left to right:  Steve, Kristina, James & Joel

Ziggy’s in Tulum, Quintana Roo, MX

(Click on image to enlarge)

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