Beyond Tulum

February 24, 2017
Frank sprung from bed about 5:30 so we did not miss the sun rise. I was slower to leave the comforts of the covers, but I do love a good sun rise over the sea so I wearily moved about and joined him on the patio. We sat in the darkness about 30 minutes and the sky didn't brighten one bit. Frank turned to Google, and it said the sun would wake about 6:30. We had terrible coffee, terrible empanadas and a decent blueberry muffin while we waited. We also met a friend, a red tabby. She wasn't the least bit interested in food, just our company. She stayed close by the rest of our stay. Seven o'clock had struck, and finally, there was a glimmer of light.

Funny thing about being in the central time zone with eastern standard time, it allows the sun a snooze button. Longest sun rise ever. Fortunately, it was worth the wait! Look at that amber glow.

We packed up our snorkel gear and headed out for a day of adventure. GPS predicted a 2.5 hour drive from Tulum to Mahahual, it seemed over-estimated, but it didn't lie. Even with Frank's heavy size 15 on the pedal. There are a few towns in between, but not much else.

The turn off for Mahahual is clearly marked from Highway 307, and the road condition is fantastic the entire way so other than the distance, it's an easy drive. A light house welcomes those who arrive to Mahahual by car or cruise ship.

A half mile or so in the distance you can spot the Costa Maya port. That's right, this sleepy town grows by leaps and bounds from the daily influx of cruise passengers. Day travelers and off the beaten path trekkers co-exist here. A portion of the Malecon is only open to foot traffic, many likely never see what's beyond it. That's the part that had us intrigued.

The Malecon opens to traffic a bit down the road, golf carts are the main mode of transport in the area. The beach is narrow, the water is clear and the reef is so close you feel like you can reach out and touch it. Hotels and dive shops line the west side of the road. Leaving the beach for lazy days under the cover of palm trees or palapas. I couldn't help but wonder if this was always the case or if it was a result of Hurricane Dean, which destroyed much of the village in 2007. It's been fully rebuilt since then, I suspect building on the west side off the road offers a great deal of protection compared to the vulnerability of beachfront.

Further down, it gets quieter as the paved road turns to dirt. It's layered with pot holes and only wide enough for one vehicle in spots. Frank received a recommendation for a beach club that was 10 KM past town. Unfortunately, the name escapes me. As soon as, we thought we had gone too far, we spotted it on the right. We parked and went inside, it looked lovely and the ocean breeze was delightful. However, it was closed. They were serving breakfast buffet for hotel guests. We must have been too early. He was also told about a public beach further up the road, so we sought after that. We never found what we were looking for, but we stopped along the way to check out beachfront properties. Those that weren't maintained by homeowner or business were completely littered in plastic and trash. It crushed my heart to see something so beautiful, destroyed by man. It would take an army to clean the beaches. I'm betting there isn't enough resources or it's simply too costly to remove all of the rubbish that washes up on shore. I should have been astonished by the beauty, but I was ashamed and angry.

We pressed on, I thought we'd make it Xcalak. A remote village practically on the border of Belize. We were so close, but the gas light illuminated. I was doubtful we'd find another Pemex other than the one we passed before approaching the Mahahual lighthouse. The sea remained shallow with reef right up to the shore so it wasn't quite what we were after. We turned back and had one last look at Mahahual. I suggested to Frank that we check out Bacalar, known for the Lake of Seven Colors since we had come all this way. He was on board, we set our sights in that direction after filling up with gas. With the conversion, it was about $40 US. Far more expensive, these days, since the government stopped subsidizing the prices.

An hour later, we were in Bacalar. It rests on the shores of the inland Laguna de Bacalar which is about 25 miles north of the border town, and capital city, Chetumal. The lake is fed by cenotes with a limestone bottom, it casts the most amazing shades of blue. You can easily get lost in its beautiful tranquil glow. We were starved when we arrived, so the first order of business was lunch. A quick search on tripadvisor turned up El Manati Bacalar as the most popular spot to grab a bite. We were two blocks away - Perfecto! A galleria and market take up much of the space, a few tables a scattered in the rear garden. The scent of fruit sweetens the air as it's grown all around you. I missed that it was mostly a breakfast spot, but we had no trouble finding items on the menu. Chilaquiles are always an easy sell with me and Frank settled on the BLT. My choice was a bit better than his. The coffee and juice were the real winners, though.

After lunch, we tried to find somewhere to view the lake. There really isn't any open spaces, various businesses sell tours, but some where too high pressure, while others were impossible to coordinate. We couldn't nail down a boat tour, and we didn't want to pay the premium for an all day pass. Just when we were about to give up, Frank found a spot on outskirts of town that had a family living on site. A young girl collected the 5 pesos to enter and offered a two hour boat tour. The tour was longer than I wanted, but we drove down to the water to see what the lake offered. Swings hung from the trees, and little nooks were available to whoever grabbed them first. We were the only tourists. There were many families that had been picnicking for the day. There was no sand to ease into the water, just gravel. Frank tore up his feet walking to the swing. We didn't stay long, just long enough for the photo opportunity and I went just far enough out to say I was in it. Of course, the sun hid behind the clouds leaving the lake deep blue in color, rather than the shades of turquoise I was desperate to capture.

Frank was still trying to find a good vantage point, but I threw in the towel and suggested we head back. He agreed, but made one last attempt by turning off the highway to follow the signs toward Buena Vista.

The view improved, but it wasn't quite what I had hoped. Then, Frank found another way to the water. And finally, we came upon a rundown park, maybe abandoned? There was a rickety dock, broken slides and seaside cabanas. I'm sure during it's prime this was a happening spot. I found it a little eerie, but the view was indeed good.

We made it back to Tulum in good time, we were able to catch the sunset. We didn't get to snorkel and we didn't find our beach, but we did have an adventure. Cheers to that!

We cozied up to watch the pastel skies and snacked on guacamole while we panned restaurant reviews searching for a place in Tulum to try for dinner.

Frank chose the Kitchen Table. Deviled avocados swayed him! The restaurant is located in the jungle near the ruins so we thought it best to cover ourselves in bug spray to ward off the mosquitoes. It was a wise choice. I felt them flutter around my ankles while seated. Don't let that dissuade you, the restaurant is something special. It's completely integrated into the jungle surrounding with minimal ecological impact. They operate on solar, hence, the low lighting. Ingredients are fresh and local. They also specialize in craft cocktails, and they maintain a pretty good spirit list. I enjoy cocktails using mezcal and this one didn't disappoint. Frank opted for the mezcal straight. The Deviled Avocado made the trip worthwhile, it was delicious. We followed it with entrees of Octopus and Tuna. Solid meal, all around.

The Kitchen Table reminded me of what I love about Tulum. It packed a big city punch, but it was rustic and simplistic. Tulum might be the Yucatan's smallest big city. It's grown over time, but it has maintained it's charm. It's not Starbucks, malls and highrise condos. Like Playa del Carmen has become. It keeps a slower pace and it's stayed rooted in Mayan and Mexican culture. It's a real gem.

I was a little sad to leave in the morning, but I knew Xpu-ha awaits!

Adios, Tulum! It's been fun.


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