Yesterday's winner of Tace Baker's Bluffing is Murder: FChurch! Email mailing address to edithmaxwellauthor "at" gmail "dot com"
HALLIE EPHRON: Maybe you've been to Mexico. We have, many times, as tourists. My daughter Molly quit her job in August and moved to Felipe Carrillo Puerto in the Yucatan where she's: "1) learning what what it means to trade Brooklyn for the Maya jungle 2) helping out at a nonprofit language school 3) learning spanish in order to eat, and 4) blogging about it on MuchasDonas. She's learning what it's like to live there.
Ever since we dragged Molly to Puerto Rico at 9 months old, she's been an avid traveler, brave bold and up for new experiences. She's also turned into a wonderful writer.
She writes about Mexico: "not as a look-at-me-I-live-here-I-know-everything-about-Mexico kind of way. Ok, it will be a tiny bit like that but let’s say it’s more like after-three-months-I’ve-got-a-new-perspective-and-feel-like-sharing."
From Molly on Tulum:
Tulum has three main tourist areas. There’s the original-original Tulum, the grand-colorful ancient Maya city, now ruins but still spectacular though overrun by German tourists.
There’s the beach, which has both the public section near the ruins and the Zona Hotelera, flanked by shoulder-to-shoulder “eco-chic” hotels.
And there’s the commercial center, basically a strip along a small highway where both sides are lined with restaurants full of tourists and shops selling beautiful embroidered blouses, painted porcelain, and embossed leather bags.
There’s a bus station is in the middle of the commercial center, and this is where I usually arrive.
The thing I notice most when I get off the bus from Carillo is that the Mexico I’ve grown used to—where Mexicans live, work, go to church, buy groceries—seems to have disappeared. I am suddenly among small herds of Americans and Europeans wearing yoga outfits, beach coverups, or earthtone hippy gear, everyone gliding in a sun-kissed haze between the mojito bar and the falafel shop. It’s like landing on yoga Mars.
There are Mexicans walking among the tourists, but the majority seem to be working in the shops and restaurants. I notice that many of the tourists don’t attempt Spanish and the shopkeepers don’t expect them to. If you want, you can buy everything in dollars.
But the really crazy thing to me is that if I walk along the main drag and then wander off onto a side street, it’s zip back to Mexico. Turn a corner and the tourists are gone. It’s like falling out the back of a movie set.
Most of what I’ve seen in the back streets—especially on the away-from-the-beach side of the highway–looks a lot like my town. There are women selling squash and spices in the shade of doorways. There are bicycle garages, tortillerias, mini-supers, and popsicle shops. Laundry hangs in the front yards or on the rooftops and in the middle of the day there is the normal mid-day hush when everything closes.
As I wander, I think about that the fact that even 30 years ago, the main street would have looked like the back streets. It was only in the 1970s that the Mexican government started putting money into developing the Riviera Maya, exploding Cancun from a 100-person Maya village to its current Spring Break self. Once Cancun blew up, the party headed south, transforming Playa del Carmen to Coco Bongo land and then eventually made its way to Tulum.
Tulum is famous for its ancient Maya ruins, preserved by government money. But if you want to catch a glimpse of another Tulum that might not be there for too much longer—where actual Maya people live and don’t dance with headdresses—there are a few things that I’d recommend:
- The public beach. It’s amazing and is actually what’s in the picture at the top of this post. On the public beach you get tourists but also lots of jolly Mexican families enjoying the day. If you enter next to the Mezzanine (one of the restaurants mentioned in the article, which does have a good happy hour), go left another two minutes, and you can sit outside and enjoy fresh fried fish, ceviche and a beer with your toes in the sand.
- I cannot strongly enough suggest that you try the big red taco joint that’s in the middle of the main strip. Get the tacos al pastor—the roast pork carved off of a gyro-like wheel. Eat this with habanero salsa and pineapple. Be prepared to cry from happiness.
- Buy something from a guy on a tricycle. This could be fruit (I recently saw a guy selling mame, which looks like an almond shape coconut with papaya-colored flesh), horchata, or a popsicle.
- If you speak any Spanish at all, get in a conversation with a Mexican because he or she is likely to be lovely. No matter how obnoxious tourists can be, Mexicans tend to remain incredibly nice in a way that baffles me, being someone that passive-aggressively kicks people’s heels when I walk through Times Square.
One more thing. If you’re going to stay in one of the eco-chic resorts, if you can, choose one that’s actually ecologically friendly with solar power and compost toilets. A little secret: the others run on gas generators.
HALLIE: Please, share your travel adventures? Have you managed to get past touristed areas and happily "fallen out the back of a movie set?" And you can follow Molly's Blog MuchasDonas -- this Friday she'll be posting her next adventure.