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Tulum: between a rock and a hard place

Back-to-back ruins

sunny 33 °C


Tulum is considered by some to be a vortex - a mystical, magical blend of age-old ruins and New Age hippies. After two days here, we are starting to feel "the vibe". Actually, we have to drive everywhere to feel anything remotely New-Agey, but more on that in a minute.

First, a quick break from our regular program to introduce you to our Mexican version of road food.


You know when you're on a road trip - part of you wants to drive 3 kilometres off the highway in search of a great diner. The other part of you just wants to eat up the miles, and since you a) haven't researched "great diners" before you left and b) haven't packed a lunch, you pull into the next rest stop and choose (pick one) - Subway, McDonald's, Tim Horton's.

In Mexico, we have OXXO. They are ubiquitous, often right next door to Pemex, the national gas station. They carry coffee and coffee products, slushies, a wide variety of processed food, and sandwiches that (this is true), have a one-week expiry date. Steve has developed a great fondness for these food-like products - white bread, 1 slice oily ham, 1 slice processed cheese. My lunch is a small package of fig cookies. There are eight to a package, and I have been known to eat six in one sitting. If we are in the car for one of our marathon drives, you can bet we will be making an OXXO stop.
Our VW is not the only thing that will need a tune-up once we're home again.

Back to Tulum. We are in Tulum for one week - we've rented an apartment through Air B&B, situated in a Mexican neighbourhood, which so far has had fireworks, live music until 4 a.m, drumming sessions, roosters, and all the other attendant noises we are almost immune to by now. I thought someone got shot yesterday, but it appears to be a gun designed to go off every 10 minutes or so - we're not sure why. It sets off the dogs each time. They bark for 6 or 7 minutes and then, just when they've calmed down again, another shot is fired, and so it goes. Our building is owned by an American, and managed by a young Mexican couple with two kids and another one almost on the way (I'd say she has about a month to go) , who live on-site. Our apartment is HUGE , we can cook, and we have a back deck, it is situated in town (which is about 3 km. from the beach), it is not as pristinely clean as it could be ( pregnant, tired manager), and it's noisy. But...we are paying $50 a night - which is at least $100 a night cheaper than anywhere on the beach, and fits into our budget. I think this is true for most of the Caribbean side - Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, etc. - they are pricey for long-term travellers like us.


More on all of what Tulum has to offer in the next blog - this time I want to concentrate on the ruins in the area. I will try to inject a little colour into what promises to be a collection of monochromatic photos. We spent our first two days here visiting the local archealogical sites - we're saving beach time for the rest of our stay. The photo above was taken at the Tulum Ruins - which has a splendid setting on a cliff overlooking the sea. Located just outside town, very affordable, (about $5 entry fee), and not too crowded - this was a pleasure to spend a couple of hours in. The entrance is lined with dozens of vendors, but they are restricted to being outside the gates. While there are a lot of European and Asian visitors, the vendors seems to gear their products to the North American market. On our way out, we could have stopped for Haagen-Daz ice cream, a Subway sandwich, or an Edmonton Oilers poncho.


There were plenty of people at this site, but it never felt congested. All of the structures are roped off, so there is no climbing of stairs, which in the 32 degree heat, I was quietly thankful for.


This plaque reminds us that while 2012 has come and gone without incident, we are not yet out of the woods.


This beach was accessible to visitors, and there were plenty of swimmers; we chose a shady spot to cool off instead.


The next day, we drove out to Cobá - an archealogical site about 45 minutes out of town. This site is set deep in the jungle, and where Tulum is all open and breezy, Cobá feels like a movie set, complete with tangled vines, swooping birds and a murky lagoon. There is this weird mix of Lost City with Portland, OR - bike lanes come to 1000 AD.


There are bikes to rent and bike "taxis" for hire, as the site is laid out over several kilometres. The shady paths are called "sacbé", or stone-paved - they are smooth and white and inviting, by whatever means of transportation.


Cobá's ruins are on a grand scale - buildings are enormous, grounds are really spread-out, and there are pyramids. There are stelae everywhere - they are very worn, but outlines remain. This one bears the date 730 AD, and a helpful modern drawing accompanies it to give you an idea of the original.


Then, we turned a corner, and the Nohoch Mul pyramid appeared - a near-vertical climb of 42 metres, (116 steps), the second-tallest Maya structure in the Yucatan. I am not afraid of heights, but my stomach did a flip. "No way," I said. Stephen picked up the gauntlet.


I sat in the shade with a group of very expressive French tourists who had all survived the climb and were now in animated conversation about their accomplishments. As I watched Stephen crabwalk the ascent, between you and me, I was imagining a bad end, and wondering if I could drive the car back to Canada by myself. The steps are shiny, worn and uneven (as they would be), and there is nothing but a single rope in the centre to guide climbers up and down. I tried to imagine this in Canada, if we had ruins. There would be waivers, there would be helmets, and there would be harnesses to that single rope.

Stephen stopped midway, and again at the top, as vertigo overtook for a bit. I lost him for a while - he was taking photos of the jungle, and trying to collect his nerve for the hardest part - the descent. Stephen took this photo of the view from the top. Luckily for him, he was preceded by two young women who went down step by step on their bums - the safest and calmest way to manage.


I took this photo of the victory lap (last step)


After all that, it was time for a reward - a swim in Zacil-Ha - one of the many cenotes in the area. This one is above-ground, but with an underground room to swim into. No little fish this time - just delightfully cool, clear water. That's me in the middle of the pool.


And ledges to jump from. That would be Stephen, fueled by his climbing success


See you in a couple of days when we get back from the beach.

Posted by millerburr 19:50 Archived in Mexico

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Thanks for that. I re-lived my Tulum experience through your photos. I recall the slanted wall with the big ring at the top was created for some type of game. I admire Stephen for his courage. I remember climbing down the ruins to be quite overwhelming.

by Jonelle Knowles

I don't believe those are regulation climbing shoes, Stephen!

by Margy

Great pics and descriptions, Stephen you look like a pro jumper man!

by dave

Yes, Dave, you are correct. Unfortunately, Ginny was unable to capture the creative entry. It was something to behold.


by Stephen

Your posts help me follow your adventures, to relive my own time in Mexico, and to learn more about a country that I care about.

I hope you enjoy the Tulum beaches!

by Patrick Ward

Seems like those ham and cheese sandwiches that Stephen has been consuming have given him a burst of energy for that monumental climb he made! Relieved to hear Ginny doesn't have to drive home by herself, though! Your pictures of Tulum brought back fond memories ... thanks for that!

by Heather

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