Tulum: The Montauk of Mexico
A trip to Mexico was written in my stars, it seems. Just when I had paid off the last trip on my credit card and was finally ready to pull the trigger on purchasing a king size bed, I got the phone call. Picture me, cruising down the 405 from LA to Anaheim for the day's work, a tab still open on my computer for a potential escape in Baja California (hopefully more on that in the next few months), playing Kenny Chesney's "Beer in Mexico" throughout the daydream-drive. Ashley, calling that evening to suggest we meet her brother in Tulum over the weekend. Flights, more affordable than expected, at $320 roundtrip. And the name of the hotel where we are to meet Kyle? Casa Violeta. Sealed the deal.
Our Friday's schedules don't quite match up, so Ashley and I book separate red eyes and plan to meet in Cancun airport upon arrival around 6 a.m. Saturday. (It worked out.)
We hop in the awaiting van and begin the drive to Tulum, during which we pass resort after resort along the highway whose imposing entrances appear to be inspired by Lord Farquaad's castle. We continue for an hour-and-a-half through two failed attempts to buy a bottle of tequila for the weekend (turns out we arrived in Mexico too early to purchase liquor?!), and turn off the highway onto a narrow, gently winding road beneath dense jungle coverage pierced with brilliant sun streaks. Lodging, boutiques, and restaurants come to reveal themselves, politely tucked among, within and below the natural vegetation so that the road stretches out ahead in pure jungle tunnel vision. One of these lush abodes is ours: the open-air, Neverland-esque treehouse that is Ahau Tulum, where we'll spend the first night before moving a few coconut tree groves south to meet Kyle the next day. The craftsman at Ahau is evident from the moment you step (bare)foot on the wide-tiered, shallow staircase - a pacific greeting in multi-tonal hues of local wood. We kick off our flip-flops at the rack outside reception, and might as well have left them there for the duration of our stay.
It's only 9 a.m. and our room won't be ready for a few hours, but we can and do sleep on the beach daybeds all morning. There's a strong steady ocean breeze and the sea is choppy - erratic strands of waves all the way to the horizon, which makes for tricky swimming but excellent napping. Come 1 p.m., we have sufficiently burned, our pineapples adorned with chili-salted melon eyes and piña colada brains arrive, and our room is ready. In place of hotel corridors you'll find sandy paths of the finest white sand you could ask for. The beach trail leads forty sandy steps to a foot bath outside our cabana which leads to three steps up to our thatched-roof deck complete with a rope chair and a hammock, which leads to the locally-crafted bungalow interior.
We had read how the best spot to view the sunset was from the water tower on property, so just before dusk we carefully ascend a series of vertical ladders to an exclusive circle of hippies exuding a very much "members only" vibe by way of their lack of any indication that we existed in this 10'x15' shared space. Rebuffed, we crawl down, but not before relishing the view of endless mangroves and complete lack of development as far as the eye can see west.
It's hard to recall the exact order of activities from the weekend - and not just because we stayed on one very unbothered speed the whole time. Ashley's phone was stuck on CST for no reason, plus the following day was Daylight Savings in the US, but Cancun doesn't recognize Daylight Savings, or maybe they did but back in February, while it takes effect throughout the rest of Mexico in April? Anyway, you can understand the confusion. Time passes in delicious ambiguity when there's a steady rhythm of sun, sea, and sand. I fling my arms overhead in one swift motion, reclining back on the day bed, wondering whether the bartender put one or two shots in my drink. I quickly lose interest in that train of thought; it's time to gather our duffle bags and meet Kyle at Casa Violeta, and before long the three of us are roaming barefoot in the gravel from shack to shack in search of a praised shaman.
It's during this outing that I learn the contradiction of Tulum: chic and rustic, the Montauk of Mexico. Aforementioned shacks, some barely more than three walls loosely assembled, house $350 caftans and Brooklyn's newest jewelry designers. Ashley has her eyes on a perfume before the shop keeper mentions the line is based out of Los Angeles, and that we could buy it for less once we're back in LA. The elusive shaman is nowhere to be found, and thus our mission goes unmet. We stop at a bodega to buy tequila and...you can't purchase liquor on Sundays after 2 p.m. Never did I imagine it would be this difficult to buy tequila in Mexico, so consider yourself warned.
Our room at Casa Violeta is the round palapa above the open-air yoga platform. Yoga, massages, and Mayan clay wraps are the name of the game down here. (And cenotes and ruins). We don't make it to any. The beach was too tempting and the trip was too short (okay, and Yaan Wellness is too expensive!). We did, however, politely decline the yoga instructor's invitation to join his disciples each time we passed with our mimosas in hand. And we ate. With "it" restaurants popping up and $14 cocktails up and down the strand, it's not quite a bargain paradise, but every morsel was delicious. Gitano's chorizo tacos. Posada Margarita's burrata salad. Every single spicy margarita. Even the Pacifico tasted better (can, lime). There is a plethora of lights-strung, sandy bottomed, beneath-the-palm-tree restaurants...and shrimp tacos. And I applaud the well-organized recycling system at most locales - they could teach Panama a thing or two (in case you can't tell, I'm still scarred by the amount of trash floating around and stuffed beneath stilted houses in Bocas del Toro). And though I do wish I could unsee the staff of Gitano dropping a scorpion into a bottle of tequila and egging each other to take a swing, considering I witnessed this exercise in machismo en route to the restaurant's open-air, completely-exposed-to-creatures bathroom, it certainly was memorable.
As with all weekend trips, departure time came way too soon. After paying what Ashley declared was "market rate for a limousine in New York City" for a cab back to the airport (to be fair, the private van from the airport to Tulum was $125 to reserve in advance, so I assumed it would be the same for a cab in the reverse, but when the cab driver responded "pesos or dollars" to my quote of $125, I too began to feel I aimed too high), we were back at Cancun airport. With nonstop flights from LA on Delta and a myriad of more affordable options with layovers, I have a feeling we'll check out the cenotes on the most certain next time. After all, we still have a shaman to find.