Oh Mexico!! It is - the end of the world!
I don't know of any other country,
Where a man does breathe so freely.
Table song of Mayans
Finally, after three months of impatient waiting, I arrived at Cancun to join my wife, which was already there. Next destination-Tulum. Cancun was not the peak of our interest, and it wasn't reasonable to ruin our health with an "all inclusive" program - plus there were no decent beaches with deep sea without constant supervision of lifeguards that we knew of. That is why we picked Tulum. Actually, we picked a quaint hotel on a long strip of land along the sea a couple of kilometers south of Tulum.
Even though we were aware that the calendar of Mayan people, populating the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Quintana Ro, Yucatan and others, was ending at December 21st 2012 only because, according to the beliefs of these people, there was a new era to follow, we wanted to see firsthand how the notion about the end of the world was getting treated. We got curious how some of us, two legged creatures, could buy into something this nonsensical. To tell you the truth, December 21st could've actually brought forth the real end of the world if the bloody plans of a ruthless dictator, born 133 years ago, came to fruition.
We all know that in this world the ugliest misrepresentations of various realistic theories can be taken at a full value by many ignorant people. For example, the epic theory of evolution, developed by Charles Darwin, often gets interpreted by ignorant people as a theory of origins of humans from monkeys. Darwin was a very serious scientist and clearly understood that all humans couldn't have developed from monkeys, and originated from various domestic animals. Besides, why disrespect innocent monkeys like that? The same happened with the end of the world, apparently predicted in the Mayan calendar. We also wanted to know how the locals treated these fables, related to this event. These ideas were reiterated and discussed by us while we moved from Cancun to Tulum in a span of two hours on an early evening on the 20th of December 2012. We were driving in the land of Mayas - down Rivera Maya into the world populated by the peoples of Maya.
Having plenty of time to discuss primal human qualities, we came to a conclusion, that nothing irritates and frustrates people more than encountering situations that prove the fallibility of their worldview, instilled in them since early childhood, as well as into older age. When this happens, they resist the obvious and the proved, while some become aggressive and fervently deny the facts, becoming a laughing stock for more educated public. I am saying this because there are a lot of people that are unwilling to get to know Mexico more closely, coming to unjustified conclusions like danger awaiting them around every corner. When you explain to these people that there are much more dangers during "all inclusive" hotels with their reckless dietary conditions and self-destructive consumptions of mass quantities of low grade alcoholic beverages, these people become enraged without having any basis for doing so. They deprive themselves of a joy of discovery and replace it with periodical trips to the bar stand.
By the way, against the bleak prognosis of the witches, politicians, soothsayers, psychics, and other ignorant or crafty individuals, the end of the world never occurred. There was no stir among the tourists, and only backpackers in Tulum were having heated discussions about something. The Mayans themselves were only perplexed in relation to this notion, and the "end of the world" turned out to be very hot and dry. So...it never happened...Looks like there was a slight change in plans.
By that time, we were slowly moving towards Tulum through the state of Quintana Roo, and the palm trees growing along the wide freeway were affectionately waving after us with their curly manes. A southern December evening was coming very rapidly. Various birds were singing their songs here and there, getting ready to go to sleep in their nests; the nighttime bugs were singing along with them, just getting to start their tumultuous night. The car windows were down, and we counted like mileposts Playa del Carmen, park Xcaret, park Xel-Ha, Puerto Aventura, and numerous hotels, resorts, and places of entertainment. We passed familiar to us tour agencies specializing in tours to senotes, underground river rafts, kayaking, and canopy-tours. Their owners are our friends - Americans from Mexico, Italians from Uruguay, Swiss and French people. In order to enjoy all of those attractions, you have to have a huge amount of time and money...
Finally, we enter Tulum and head straight to our hotel, which is getting lost among myriads of other identical hotels along the shoreline of a biosphere preserve of Sian-Ka'an. The line of these small hotels forms a cozy settlement, stretching almost 35 kilometers, completely isolated from bustle and noise, which are so common for monsters of tour industry like Cancun or Playa del Carmen. By the way, the shore of the latter really reminds of a Langerone beach in Odessa in the early 70's, although the mats on Playa del Carmen are not laid like layers in waffles, but the density of beachgoers per square foot is pretty much the same.
Unlike in the United States or Cancun, in Tulum there is nobody on the beach to show parental obsession about the clients not going into the sea deeper than the knee level, and no one to hover over your own body and tell you that swimming in the sea is dangerous, improper, or against the law. There is one theme here - total freedom! You can swim where you want to - Belize or Colombia - and no one will tell you a single word. Everything is allowed here - laying out on the white sand until bursting into flames, or swimming in a warm sea until dissolving, or speeding through the waves on a board, following a kite. There are no "free" meals 24/7, but there is an endless sea, a warm breeze, constantly refreshing your face, and amazing ancient Mayan ruins towering over the waters and guarded by numerous iguanas.
Along the sea there is a stretch of cozy shops, cafes, and restaurants, located right on the sand, and where you can go in right in your bathing suit-most appropriate attire in this location. If you want, you can have a delicious meal in any of these restaurants, and very exquisitely. Even in winter you can open a balcony door and fall asleep to a sound of the waves, and a soothing rustle of slim leaves of long-legged palm trees.
Here you can feed pelicans landing on a shore after darting into the sea after their favorite meals, right off our hands, and also watch them soar in the sky either in a flock, or by themselves. The sun, slowly hiding behind the palms, is an unforgettable sight. Its last rays are piercing through lacy leaves, creating wonderful designs in the sand, and only brightly lit clouds are basking in its warmth.
Modern Tulum is a mecca for backpackers of different nationalities. Many rent bicycles and use them as transportation for long distances, and some bring their dogs of various sizes along. They sleep in cheap hostels, get together in groups of 6-14 people, and enjoy their lives. We didn't notice any negative effects from these get-togethers - no garbage dumping, conflicts, or territory markings - everything was very civilized.
It is known that Tulum is an ancient Mayan city; its ruins attract attention of many tourists. Here are the only in the world Mayan palaces, erected in a very close proximity to the sea, a city wall, and the ruins inside and outside of that wall. Mayan nobility, as it was expected, lived in the territory surrounded by the city wall, and the rest of the people - outside of it. Tulum has reached its flourishing in XIII-XV AC with a population of 1000-1300 citizens and was a Mayan stronghold 72 more years after the Spanish invasion, after which its population was wiped out by European diseases, imported by the Spaniards from the Old World. Tulum was first mentioned by Juan Diaz, a member of the expedition of Juan de Grijalva in 1518. It is curious to note that the city structure of ancient Tulum reminds that of an ancient city of Tula, which is in a state of Hidalgo, erected by a completely different group of Indians - Toltecs. It is clear that the architectural minds of both peoples were stirred by the same ideas. Tulum is a home to the well preserved Temple of Frescas and a Temple of the Descending God. Tourists scurry back and forth down sturdy wooden stairs that lead from the Temple of Frescas right to the beach. This is a structured beach in a sense that there is a rescue post here, which consists of two built guys and a loudspeaker, which blasts music to keep those guys awake and ready for battle.
As usual, we couldn't spend more than one day in one place - we were drawn to the south, to the legendary Laguna Bakalar, on a high shore of which, in a city with the same name, stands the fort San Felipe - an outpost of a Spanish resistance to British pirates in XVIII and organized attacks by Mayan groups. This fort, which has a rectangular shape, was built in 1733 by the order of fieldmarshall of Yucatan Antonio de Figueroa y Silva after yet another ransacking of his people by the British pirates, and has proven its purpose many times afterwards. The city of Bakalar is a part of "Magical Cities of Mexico" registry since 2006. Besides historical value, Laguna Bakalar also has a natural value, by being a body of water sitting on top of the same coral riffs, which can be found in the Caribbean Sea. Due to the fact that these riffs move around by layers across the sandy bottom, and the depth of the Laguna fluctuates, it has a very interesting coloration, which has earned this lagoon its name - "Laguna of Seven Colors." Well, maybe not seven, but we could definitely count four. Of course, we also have evidence of that. By the way, this is a freshwater lagoon.
In a historical museum, located right in the fort, you can familiarize yourself with a history of conquest of these areas. It so happened that the Spaniards, scrounging for gold across the present Mexico, did not find any precious metal in this area, and did not try to make local Mayans happy with their presence. Besides that, they didn't have enough fortitude to go through the dense impassable forests of the present state of Chiapas, and that's why the territory of Yucatan has many untouched well preserved colossal historical treasures, belonging to Mayans. However, the diseases brought here from Europe have replaced a sword and a dagger - entire population was wiped out.
These places are also connected in one way or the other with names of Juan de Grijalva, Hernan Cortez, and Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba. It is amazing, how many places the conquistadores managed to visit and loot: north, center, west...It is curious to note that in Mexico the names of conquerors are honored so highly, that they are given to geographical objects, and museums preserve everything related to these people. Sometimes fates of the explorers were so twisted that they couldn't have been made up even in the minds of the best of writers. For example, a fate of Gonzalo Guerrero - a sailor that survived a shipwreck in a location of present Campeche, and which became head of a local Indian tribe due to his extensive knowledge and perfect use of Mayan language.
But let's get moving...Passing a row of more picturesque hotels, stretching along Laguna Bakalar, we headed towards a capital of a state of Quintana Roo, a city of Chetumal. The highway was desolate, which was very unlike densely packed pre-Christmas roads in Cancun, Acapulco, or Puerto Vallarta. Average Mexicans, earning not more than $500-$700 a month manage to take their families on vacation two or three times a year, without even taking expenses into consideration. In those vacation days Mexican children have so my joy and fun that it lasts well into the next holiday season. In a Mayan language, Chetumal means "a place where a red tree grows." A large city with a population of more than 150,000 people is located on a western shore of a bay with the same name near the fall of a Rio Hondo into it. The Port of Chetumal has an important purpose for trade with a neighboring Belize and countries of the Caribbean pool. The Mayan state of Chetumal successfully fought off several attempts at conquest by the Spaniards until it finally surrendered in the end of 16th century. The city was officially marked as a Mexican port of Payo Obispo in 1898, and in 1936 its name was changed to Chetumal. The economy of the city reflects its close proximity to Belize, on which territory close to Mexican border a Zone of Free Trade - Corozal Free Zone is located. Chetumal is a location for interesting museums, a university, a central music school and a Youth Symphony orchestra. This is where it is important to note that Mexicans pay a lot of attention to music education, and every decently sized city has its own symphony orchestra, subsidized by a government of the state. In general, in these orchestras you can meet musicians from former USSR, and a symphony orchestra of Acapulco consists of 70% expats from a former Soviet State, especially from Yerevan, since the conductor was studying there at some point, and upon his return to Acapulco brought back many musicians not only from Armenia, but also from Moscow and other cities. They were all very happy about this turn of fate.
But now, it's time to return to Tulum. To be next to the sea and never try fried Mexican fish is a sacrilege. No one prepares fish quite like Mexicans. We settled in a little roadside restaurant on the way back. We filled ourselves with a large bowl of guacamole and ground black beans with cheese while waiting for our fish. The fish has arrived, and it was extremely fresh (we were present during its sacrifice), coated in deliciously flavorful garlic sauce. There were several kinds of salsa of various strengths, and some jalapeno peppers. I have managed to try it - it was nothing special, only melted my spoon a little...We still remember this amazing fish and will treasure these memories for a long time...until our next trip to Mexico.
A couple of years ago in Ostia we ate in a restaurant of a fancy hotel located on a shore of a Tyrrhenian sea, and we had a really well prepared fish. But it pales in comparison with the fish that we ate in a simple roadside eatery between Chetumal and Tulum, of a state of Quintana Roo. We are not food connoisseurs, but somehow our impressions of this trip were separated into "before the Fish" and "after the Fish". And "after the Fish" there were tapings at a Dolphinarium, swimming in senotes and lagoons, meeting with interesting people, and visiting famous parks and an aquarium. But we will talk about it some other time.
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