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Hogging the shade in Tulum

sunny 31 °C


The beach at Tulum is just as advertised - water fans out from the palest turquoise to the deepest marine blue. The pale beige (it's not white) sand really is the texture of baking soda. Waves roll in gently, colourful boats bob by the shore - at first glance, this is someone's marketing dream.

But... there is the not insignificant matter of finding shade. You have two options. You pay $15-$20 a day for an umbrella and lounge chairs at the exclusive El Paraiso Beach Club, plus the cost of lunch and drinks (even water), as all outside food and beverages are prohibited. Or... you join the Mexicans - park on the adjoining road, walk in to the beach and stake out a spot. Naturally, everyone wants shade, but the palm trees in the background belong to the beach club - the lone palm tree in the foreground (the one we have come to think of as "our tree") is one of the few spots for shade. It is prime real estate.

The chair you see in this photo? That is one of our chairs. No idea who the man is - he was just sleeping peacefully when I arrived. By today - our third day at the beach - we have our strategy honed. We arrive before 10:00 am - just the joggers are out then. I run down the beach to grab that spot before anyone else can get to it, while Steve finishes parking the car, "tipping" the police officer, and struggles to join me, carrying our cooler and his chair. Once we are settled in, we position ourselves advantageously, so as to move with the shade, and not get boxed in by interlopers. I feel for all the world like my Aunt Edie, who could clear the food court at Granville Island Market, just by virtue of wanting that empty table. Seriously, though, we can't afford $50 a day to go to the beach, and we scoured Tulum to buy a beach umbrella (there are none to be found).

Anyway, decorum in Mexico and in Canada have two different meanings. Back home, we maintain personal space - here it is a free-for-all, once the crowds start arriving. People move right in, as they should, and it becomes a little party. I even rubbed sunscreen on the bald head of a very amusing Italian who was trying to talk to us in our mash-up of Italian and Spanish. The people-watching is just fantastic. Selfie-sticks are a dime a dozen and these two young women must have taken two dozen photos - peace signs, duck lips and all.


"Our tree" is a magnet for photo ops - it swoops low and curves back up, so it is irresistible to climb up, hang off and pose beside. We figure we must be in at least two hundred holiday photos by now.


There are no shortage of beautiful bodies on the beach, a number of topless women, and a whole lot more women wearing shoelaces for bottoms. Stephen looks with discretion, and I look with the detached interest of someone who has not been 20 years old for a very long time. Beauty is beauty.

We had a very funny thing happen yesterday. We had just pulled out our sandwiches, and were eating our lunch when the Corona Girls arrived. Four glorious creatures in Corona bikinis - posing and arching their backs and playing to the camera - about four feet from where poor Steve was busily chewing away on his sandwich, not knowing where to look. We had a good laugh at ourselves - and needless to say - there are no photos!

One phenomenon this year is the amount of sea grass that is in the water and deposited up on shore. Apparently this only happens once every 10 or 15 years - normally the beach and water are pristine. The beach resort next door has their employees working non-stop - wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow hauled away each day - only to have fresh sea grass reappear the next morning. Aside from that, which really isn't a problem, the swimming is fantastic - sandy bottom, lovely bouncy waves without currents or undertows, and a perfect temperature - warm, yet cool at the same time - very refreshing.


If you look carefully at the horizon on this photo, you can see a wavebreak. This is a reef about 400 metres offshore, and apparently the snorkelling on either side of the break is great. Boats go out on a regular basis. We had some very entertaining folks from Summerland beside us today - they arrived late last night, and the men, still in that adrenaline-fueled holiday state, actually swam all the way out to the reef, snorkelled around for a good while, then swam back and stood around, drinking copious amounts of beer.

One thing almost everyone does say about Tulum is that "it's not Cancun." Not to cast aspersions on Cancun (we've never been), but apparently it is crazed with spring break revellers in March, and the tone here is way more laid-back. Good to know - I never enjoyed spring break, even when I was that age. I'd hate it now.

Water sports are the thing here, of course - cenotes, ocean swimming, snorkelling, boating, fishing and kite-surfing. It was really windy two days ago, and we had a lot of fun watching these two just flying along the water. Everything active and water-based reminds me of our boys, as in "The boys would love to try that", or "Wish the boys (and Alanna) were here to try this."


So that is Tulum, the beach, as we have experienced it so far. Tulum is a bit different, in that it is not all contained in one place. The town is about 3 km. from the beach - imagine the letter H. The town is on the left side of the letter, the bar in the middle of the letter is the road leading to the beach, and the beach is on the right side of the letter. We drive along the bar, and turn left - that leads to a few resorts and the public beach. If you drive along the bar and turn right, you will drive along the Zona Hotelera. If we were just here for a brief holiday, that is likely where we would stay, as we would be able to walk everywhere and have the beach at our fingertips. There would be no unsightly jostling for shade. This part of Tulum is very attractive, has loads of interesting restaurants and shops - yoga studios, hand-made soaps, asymetrical linen skirts, that sort of thing. Hotels vary from very luxurious to basic, but even the basic hotels are pricey, so this time around, we just get to look.


The town of Tulum is not especially pretty - it is small, with the highway intersecting it, but it has a certain charm. The streets named astrologically - Sagitario, Orion, Saturno - and the street art is quite outstanding. I want to research Mexican street art more when I get home (along with all the many other things I want to find out more about). It enhances the landscape so much and in the Yucatan, there are a lot of Maya symbols. I think about the fuss on Gabriola over our painted telephone poles, and it makes me feel a bit sad.


No idea about these two - these are so familiar - the animal heads on the human bodies. Does anyone have any ideas - not of this artist, but of the artistic concept?

Lots more to report on Tulum - we have booked another three days here - this will be our last ocean swim until Gabriola in June. I'll be back in a couple of days with stories about the dear people we have met here.

Posted by millerburr 15:07 Archived in Mexico

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Hi Ginny! Love Tulum. What an experience!!!! We swam sans suit! Ummm, a few years ago! Love it all!


by Carol Martin

Lovely post, lovely writing and more great pics. The blog has been excellent to date, I really look forward to it. Cheers Dave and Laureen x

by Dave

We are having the same problemo here on the Galapagos. No shade just warm water to swim!

by Sheila Swanson

I have to agree with you about the street art; it is amazing! I am intrigued by the fish heads but have nothing to offer by way of explanation.

by Heather

I think that guy with the fish head is my X husband

by nancy jarrell

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