Maya Have More?
I have been back for a week plus change and Mexico Land already seems like a thousand years past. I can only offer you my most sincere apologies for not having written sooner but it has honestly taken me this long to go five minutes without weeping uncontrollably into my keyboard. Post holiday blues aside, I shall do my best to revisit those sand-filled, water damaged pages of my notebook in which my memories of the Maya reside.
First though, we should talk travel. Atlanta airport is a strange place, much in the same way that all airports are strange and not really places; it is, at best an intermediate ground that - whilst technically in the US - feels more like it belongs to the amalgamous restaurant and bar chains, harangued parents and vaguely area-specific merchandise that call it home. All of this isn’t to say that I don’t like Atlanta, as I’m sure I could find things to like about that place. It’s just that although I was briefly under their customs charter for but a wafer, I don’t consider myself as having been to Atlanta, since - as we have already ascertained - airports are not places.
Despite all my gringo winging, our route via the unvisited city was thoroughly worth it to reach that most fabled of lands. Unfortunately, Cancun is not really Mexico in the same way that airports are not Atlanta. Imagine a sweltering, hybrid child of Vegas and Blackpool and you’ll be part way there to visiting this purgatory state. It is its own place: hotel resorts, casinos, souvenir shops, hotel resorts, derelict shopping malls, plastic dolphins and hotel resorts. All of this may be accessed either by minibus (vans, retrofitted with benches and hand rails), white car banditry (taxis), or actual buses (actually saunas on wheels).
I shall be the first here to admit that I am possessing of a certain propensity toward exaggeration [as much for my own enjoyment as for yours, dear reader] but on this occasion, all of the above is true and I very nearly collapsed in a mumbling, sweat-riddled pile of hot mush in the midst of rush hour traffic. It is also true that Cancun beach is a most enjoyable place to spend a beer-soaked afternoon, provided you are a fan of sun, clear water and sand in places you didn’t even know you had, which I am. The surf was rad, the service radder and we bought hats. Rad ones.
Wishing to explore and discover Mexico for reals, we headed down the coast on our second day to Tulum. If you’ve ever seen one of those movies with Keira Knightly, Johnny Depp and Mr. Bloom, that’s the kind of territory we’re into now: Banana trees, cenotes (read, subterranean sweet water caves, riddled with nice bats), lagoons the like of which you visit in your most idyllic Caribbean dreams (I’m lusting for you, Kaan Luum) and Los Angeles. Well, if you head to the beach strip that is - home to a good few good tiny galleries, some of the more luxurious hipster hotels and even fancier glamping joints - and Hartwood, wherein you may devour the sea in its entirety, which I highly recommend you do.
We opted to stay in downtown Tulum proper, which suited our more East-End credentials down to a tea. The beach might be before you with the jungle close behind but Calle Centauro and its little sister back streets have you covered for some real rough & ready diamonds when it comes to authentic Mexican fare - fresh tacos, stuffed peppers, cacao chicken - lively bars and even livelier music at Batey in the evening. What with the daytime heat, humidity and dust of this particular neighbourhood, it would be far too easy to while away the hours at a secluded courtyard poolside. At some point though, the mosquitos are going to win and you’ll be forced to get in the fucking pool and there must be worse places to be. This is usually the point at which some beautiful monster suggests beers in the cafe around the corner or - if its finally that time of day - mojitos in the cafe round the corner. Again though, there really must be worse places to be and more often that not, there is a car parked inside the cafe and the cafe has become a bar and an Argentinian man in a top hat is singing the blues and everything is all very, very good.
The Mexicans are also quite good at pyramids. Chichen Itza is about a two and a half hour air conditioned bus ride from Tulum along the Yucatán Peninsula and…how can I put this in the least hyperbolic of terms? It will utterly alter your perception of time itself. The place is old, like 600AD old and must have been banger town in its heyday. As if playing sacrificial ball on a grandiose scale wasn’t enough (there was almost certainly some unique use of a categorically massive cenote to the north of their most castle-like pyramid) they also developed some pretty rad acoustic technology. My theory that this technology - resulting in a particularly strange bird-like echo when clapping in standing ovation fashion in front of said massive structures - predated the discovery of and in fact coincidentally led to the crowning of the resplendent quetzal as the sacred bird of Maya…this theory did not sit particularly well with The Lady Of Skulls Plural. I am reticent to be a cynic and evermore so after visiting this most ancient of cities and feeling those years echo around us. It is a singular experience, naturally unlike no other and should be on your most capitalised of lists.
Eventually, we were driven with whips (it’s the only reason I can think of that would have made us leave), north along the coast to Playa Del Carmen. Seeing the intermediate between Tulum and Cancun is interesting if only because that’s exactly what it appears to be and you can see the passage of time and money as it makes its blanching, irreversible path southward. Playa is a very convenient place to be without being quite a gauche as Cancun; there are some big, glitzy Western outlets - that Tulum has thus far staved off in favour of the more rustic and authentic - and we emerged from the undergrowth and graced these with guilty relish, if only for the relief of their class A AC systems. At the same time, there are still a few cool local haunts and far fewer casinos here which was a relief after having been somewhere so apposite to that whole developmental blemish while in Tulum.
Inti Beach Club was most likely modelled on the original plans for heaven on earth, before some mogul got their mitts on it and cranked the moneys. You can absolutely eat grilled octopus - most likely caught by someone’s nephew with a speargun not fifteen minutes ago - washed down with very, very good beer for less than the price of a cheap date. They also give you a free beach, complete with the sea and everything and it’s brought to you while you sit/lie/sleep there, all to the tune of extremely inoffensive salsa.
Whimsy being what it is, we then went and bought snorkelling gear and took the ferry to Cozumel in order that we might visit all the fish and pirates and turtles. All three were easily accessed by boat from the island docks when we arrived and our tour culminated in a crystalline bay toward one end of the island, surrounded by shallow basking starfish, giant ray and the bluest of skies. It is this place that I visit again and again in my mind cinema during all my waking hours. This is impressive, seeing as how all that was before the tequila-fuelled boat trip back to the docks, hospitable courtyard dinner and star-lit ride back to Playa mainland.
Our final day out there, we made our way back to Cancun before immediately skipping town on another ferry to Isla De Mujeres. According to ancient scrolls, the island was once inhabited only by women. I’m not quite sure how the logistics of that worked but - unless these women in question were in fact nuns [and even then] - I assume that a steady population would have necessitated frequent and perilous trips from Cancun via the Mayan equivalent of a coracle. I’m also certain that any such trip would have been worth it as the people here appear to have long ago realised that all bars must back onto a beach and that everything must be amazing.
In all honesty, it was all as simple as that and far too hot to even consider complicating matters. Instead of worrying over how to make matters worse, we didn’t. We swam, ate, drank, danced and laughed our way through paradise and we may have done it all in that most wondrous of orders.
Farewell is a lonely sound.
JD - TACOCAT