Monday, February 25, 2008

An Ordeal Called Tulum

Every year when The Boys come down to visit, we try to take a small trip someplace. Something to break up the monotony of the beach everyday. We try to choose someplace new, someplace we have not been before. Or at least have not visited for years. One year it was Isla Holbox, another Majahual and last year Playa del Carmen. This year our destination was the ruins and beaches of Tulum. B and I, amazingly for being so close, have never visited these ruins. I was really looking forward to it.

We were up early on Friday morning. Way early. We had to catch the 6:30 AM ferry off the island. It was so early that the moon was still visible in the sky over Cancun.

There are two ferries, although only one is ever in operation. One is always in dry dock being worked on in some form or another.

It was horribly windy Friday morning. The cover blew off this not-in-operation souvenir stand, sending little shell keychains everywhere. Nobody seemed to be concerned about it. We finally picked up the wayward shells and fixed the cover ourselves.

I was a little concerned about it being so windy. I knew it was going to be rough and choppy out in the middle of the bay. And, of course as usual, I got pulled out of line to be placed in the front row. I never stay in the car. From the driver's seat you can't see the deck of the boat. It looks like your car is on top of the water with nothing underneath you. Scary stuff to me.

As it turned out, I was right. Just watch this little video. I am the little red car on the left. Notice the wayward broom too!

It took a little over two hours to drive down to Tulum from Cancun. I didn't know it at the time, but there are three exits for Tulum. The first one will take you to the entrance to the ruins, the second to the beaches and the third is downtown itself. We took the first exit and were almost immediately dumped at the entrance to the parking lot.

After paying 40 pesos to park, we grabbed our day bags and headed for the entrance to the ruins. Or what we thought was the entrance. We were actually in this giant complex built to extort every peso possible out of the tourists before actually getting to the ruins.

It was horrible. People everywhere. I don't know why I was surprised. This is high season after all. I guess from everything I have heard about this place, I was expecting to just drive up, park and peacefully walk into the ruins. I was flabbergasted by the slickness of it all. One of the most interesting places to visit on the Mayan Riviera had been turned into a giant tourist trap. What a shame. The bathrooms were located inside this mall like building.

I had a chance to wonder around and see what was what while I waited for the members of our little troup to all take a turn at the bathroom. My attention was immediately caught by one of my favorite tourist items.

I can't tell you how many times I have seen people carrying these around in the Cancun airport. What are people going to do with these? Certainly nobody actually wears them. Maybe they take them home and put them next to the starfish that is most likely stinking up their luggage. Maybe they hang them on their walls like some hunting trophy. Who knows. I remember one flight where some obnoxious guy was giving the flight attendant a hard time about whether or not he could wear one of these during the flight. Of course the answer was no. He was told to stow it overhead. He whined that it would not fit. "Of course it will", the flight attendant told him. Whereupon she snatched it off his head, folded it in half and stuffed it into the overhead rack. The people all around applauded! Too funny.

This picture illustrates the "Buyer Beware" philosophy of souvenir purchasing. Enlarge this picture and tell me why you should not buy one of these hats.

Hats not your thing? How about one of these beauties? Genuine imitation Mayan art at its' best. I wonder if anybody ever really buys this stuff? Somebody must or they would not have it so prominently displayed. Please, if you have one of these hanging over your living room couch, don't tell me.

Once again outside and what do we see but this guy.

I'm not sure what he is supposed to be. Some kind of cross cultural thing. Complete with a Mexican Hairless Dog. This dog, although found in Mexico for the past 3,500 years or so, was sacred to the Aztecs, not the Mayans. Remember, we are at a great Mayan ruin site here. He had this pile of feather headdresses and, for a fee, you could put one on and pose with him for a picture. Thus making you some kind of genuine cross cultural thing also. As I watched people don these things, I couldn't help but wonder how many people before them had worn the same head piece. Made my scalp itch just thinking about it!

There was also some guy walking around carrying a four foot long lizard of some kind. It was actually quite stunning. Again, for a fee, you could either hold it for a picture or just stand next to him. He was making a killing.

It was really hot Friday. Before doing anything else, we stopped at one of the many tables placed around and took stock. We had not seen the actual entrance to the ruins yet. Somehow I was put in charge of finding it. I roamed around and found some ticket booths. For the sum of two dollars each, we could ride this little tram thing to the entrance.

Of course, we were free to walk to the entrance also. But there was no indication whatsoever of how far away the entrance was. Walk along the side of a dusty dirt road for how long in the hot Mexican sun? No thanks. We chose to pay the money and get on board. As it turns out, it was no more than a quarter mile down the road. They had the view to the road blocked off so there was no way of knowing this before paying your money for the tram. Slick.

We exited the tram and walked the short distance down a path to the entrance. I sat on a rock in the shade while B got tickets to get in. What a cluster f**k that was! No orderly line at the window (yes, just one was open for all these people!), people jostling each other and lots of dirty looks and yelling at people trying to cut in what line there was. It was just so much fun.

With our entrance tickets now in hand, we headed for the actual entrance, which was through a hole in the wall built to keep the non-paying tourists out. They were trying to pass off this wall as still being part of the original wall that was built to protect the city. Except maybe they should have done a better job of hiding the electrical wiring when they built it. Would have made it just a touch more believeable.

Being the good tourists that we are, we stopped and read all the rules before actually going in. Things like stay off the buildings, stay on the paved paths and no smoking. I don't think most people bother to read them. What do you think?

I was greatly disappointed by this site. All the pictures I have seen of it must have been taken years ago. It looked nothing like the pictures. These ruins were in horrible condition. I doubt that the last few hurricanes that have passed through here and over them have helped any. Still, this is a significant Mayan site and worth whatever hassle is involved to see them. Just don't expect a lot.

Years ago, before it became a tourist trap, you could actually swim in this little bay. Nowdays it has been quite sensibly roped off and people are not allowed on it. One of the reasons being that it is a turtle nesting area. I applaud the Mexican government for finally recognizing this and for trying to protect the area for future generations of turtles to use.

More ruins.

Remember that Tulum is a harbor city. It is built on a cliff overlooking this beautiful expanse of Caribbean water. They have built a staircase down to the water where you can actually take a break from the hot sun and frolic in the water.

With hundreds of other tourists.

We had planned on swimming here but decided to give it a miss. The main reason being all the crowds and the other the staircase itself. I don't do well with stairs and knew I would suffer all day if I tried to climb back up.

This is a view looking back at the main temple. The largest building still standing.

Here you can plainly see how thrilled I am to be here with all of these people, carrying my heavy back pack, which we could have left in the car had we known we were not going to swim. Plus I was hot, sweaty and grumpy. And I was not happy to be posing for some stupid tourist shot in front of the pretty water. But my friend wanted a picture and I am nothing if not a good friend. So I struck the pose. I just didn't have to smile if I didn't want to though.

John over at (see sidebar) in San Miguel has a Boston Terrier named Rosie. Cute little thing and a good example of the breed. I think this was some form of mutant terrier this woman was holding on her lap. I'm sure she loves it to pieces, but it sure was ugly.

I guess she had not read THE RULES sign either. We almost said something to her but decided against it. Had she put the cigarette out, she probably would have tossed it on the ground. Then I would have had to pick it up and shove it up her ass and I just didn't want to bother in that heat. (nor did I have any desire to get anywhere near her ass)

More ruins.

I am so impressed with my new camera. The picture below is a zoom in taken from the same place I was standing when I took the above picture. I am so happy.

Look closely at this picture. It is not just a rock wall. I took this picture especially for Max, CancunCanuck's son.

Back at tourist trap central, we spotted this little shrine under the shade of a tree. It was totally unexpected.

Hanging from a limb right next to it was this skelton thing. I don't know what one had to do with the other. I didn't try to figure it out. I just enjoyed it for what it was.

This was not at the ruins but I loved this homemade wall near one of the beach hotels. It is old coconuts that somebody has drilled holes in and inserted a piece of rebar. I thought it was clever and interesting. And a great use for coconuts past their prime.

We left the ruins and drove down the second road to the beach area. You come to a fork in the road and have to either go left or right. We chose right. This leads to the more expensive, newer hotels built along the beach. The road in places is literally right on the beach and the water is just right there. Evidence of hurricane damage from last fall was still to be seen. I call these hurricane palms.

We decided to have a lunch at a place called Zamas. The food was ok but nothing to exclaim about. Until the bill comes that is! Outrageous beach prices. Sometimes doing the tourist thing on a retirement pension can get expensive. We had sent a text to our friend Rose while we were waiting for our food. We knew she was somewhere in Tulum for a friend's wedding. We told her where we were. Imagine our surprise when we looked up and there she was, not five minutes later! She was at the hotel right next door! Small world. She knows Tulum fairly well and told us where to go for the best beaches. In fact, that hurricane palm picture was taken at the beach she sent us to. (ooooh, another artsy shot coming up!)

I loved this beach. A wide expanse of soft white sand stretching far and long in both directions. Lots of places to lie in the sun. People were even lying on the seats of these boats. And the best part. It was not crowded! After having just endured the ordeal of the crowds at the ruins, this was a welcome relief.
The reef runs just aways off shore so the water in front of this beach is relatively calm and clean. Probably no sharks either. They would have to find a break in these sharp rocks to get into the little bay area here. I think I would probably swim here.

We spent a little bit of time here on the beach and then checked out some of the palapa roofed "cabins" that were for rent. These are basically stick dwellings with concrete thrown on the walls inside. They are one room, most without electricity or running water. They have one or two small beds and space to hang hammocks. There is a communal toilet and shower area. Cost for one night? Try $75 per night! Yikes. They must think they are sitting on a gold mine. I wish I had thought to take a picture of them.
We had planned on stopping in Playa del Carmen at Babes for some Thai noodles but decided to give it a miss and run for the border, that is to say, the ferry. There was one leaving at 6:30 PM and the next and last one to the island was at 9:00 PM. We made it in time and got loaded on with no problems. Except, of course, I was put in the front row again!
I guess I would never return to the ruins. Been there, done that, didn't buy the T-shirt. I would recommend you see them though if you are in the area. The grounds and views are incredible. I will definately be going back to the beach area though for a few days or nights. Probably someplace a little cheaper. Or, if I have to spend that kind of money, someplace a bit more comfortable. I have a car and can just drive to the beach area each day. If that happens, I'll be sure to let you know!


wayne said...

Buyer Beware answer: the black hat is falling apart. Notice where the sequins are starting to fall off. The rest will be totally unraveled by the time it gets to its' new home.

Anonymous said...

Oh my! I don't know where to begin..... I'm still trying to comprehend the whole skeleton thing hanging from the tree. Maybe is there so you can ask questions about it and they can charge you a fee just for answering them. Don't cha think? I loved your pictures though specially the "grumpy" one. Thanks for sharing.


Island Nana said...

My first post on your blog Wayne. We'll be returning to Isla March 5 -18. If you do go back to Tulum, try Posada Luna del Sur a great budget place in "downtown" Tulum. Then you can get up early and see the ruins without the hordes - they're beautiful then.

Anonymous said...

Check this out to see what the ruins at Tulum were like in1993. There are a few photos in my trip report. You actually did drive down a sleepy road and park and enter the ruins. Or in my case walk the road from the bus drop off on the main road now the highway. No Disney like entrance back then.{34FC38AD-1ECF-4486-8DDB-D2DD79F2FBF5}
The ruins already took on the tourist aspect when I next revisited them in 1996.

Steve Cotton said...

Great story. Great photographs. I am impressed with the zoom. I forget if you said what optical power it is. X10? The great thing about your zoom is that it maintains clarity of the zoomed pictures. Mine tend to disintegrate.

You give hope to we soon-to-be-retired folk.

wayne said...

Velvet, it wouldn't surprise me if this were true! They charge for everything at this place.

Island Nana, welcome to the comments section! If you are going to give such good advice, keep coming back!

Steve, it's only 6x optical. I never use the digital zoom. Pictures are too grainy and the pixels too large.

Jackie, once again you have outdone yourself. Hard to believe that 5th Ave once looked like that! Thank you for sharing this with me and my readers.

John W said...

Wayne--Rosie confirms that the woman is indeed holding a Boston Terrier, although she tells me it's a specimen of execrable bloodlines. "I wouldn't have any truck with a dog like that," she sniffs.

She is sympathetic to the poor thing's plight, however. That dog is clearly overheated. Flat-faced dogs don't have long airways, so they can't easily cool themselves by panting--the only mechanism they have for eliminating excess heat. Rosie thinks the owner should be locked in a sauna for six hours with no water bowl, "So she gets the idea."

Billie said...

Wayne, I wanted to cry reading your account of Tulum today. We first went there in about 1982-84. There was a small dusty parking lot, maybe 50 cars and 2 or 3 buses. This was directly at the point of entry. Oh, and there were just a few little tents with people selling water, snacks, hats etc. but not much in the way of tourist trinkets. The site was magnificent and at that point you could still climb on the ruins. Of course we went back several times between then and 1995 and you could see the changes were coming fast. I don't think I'll go to Tulum when we come to Quintana Roo and the Yucatan. I don't want to spoil my memories.

jeanie said...

Wayne, How much did you have to pay to take the photo of the ugly woman with the ugly dog?

CancunCanuck said...

Wayne- Great, honest report and FABULOUS pics! Max loved the iguana, thanks so much. You look just sooo happy to be there in your pic, lol!

chicadedios25 said...

The shrines they put up as a memorial to loved ones like we do with crosses here in the southern united states....the skeleton? Sounds like a leftover from dia de los meurtos that someone forgot they tied to the tree...or who knows witchcraft was prevelant in the region I lived in. Love reading your blog.