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Here’s a snapshot of what I do on the reg.
Wake up at about 5.30am and walk the beach. Sometimes get caught sneaking through private property to reach the beach. It’s hard to sweet talk your way out of things when you don’t speak the language. But not impossible. Tip to the wise, smiling goes a long way. Watch the sunrise. Never tire of the sky. Everyday it’s something different. Sometimes sherberty and sweet, big fluffy clouds and a neon sun poking its head out. Sometimes so stormy and oh so moody, a tropical storm brewing out at sea. Always beautiful and intoxicating.
(Not intoxicating: tons of plastic on the beach and being swept in and out with the lapping waves. I despair. Really. It makes me so sad and so helpless and stupid. How can the human race be so irresponsible?! I’ve tried picking it up but it’s never ending and there’s no actual bins anywhere… an impossible and thankless tasks that leads to more despair. So I’ve devised the “one giant handful until the bin” routine, where I pick up as much as I can in my one free hand (the other usually with my key, thongs and phone) until I can pick up no more, and then find a bin. Repeat usually twice there and back. Something is better than nothing.)
Get home. Potter about, rearraging things in my 2m by 2m room. I haven’t described that yet. Hmm. Ok. Let’s go.
2 metres cubed-ish. Cement floor, rendered walls, thatched roof. One door. No fly screen. Two big windows with fly screen. One little window with fly screen. Curtains that don’t give any illusion of privacy, especially as the wind picks up for the ever more frequent tropical storms and the curtains billow allowing me to see everything outside (my two big windows are on the two big sides that face out to the public) and everyone outside, in. (And at the moment there’s a lot of building and plumbing as they’re extending the palapa fleet. And restaurant customers coming and going. To the back toilets, cos the restaurant toilets are out due to the new construction)
Anyway…One twin bed, comfy and two pillows, comfy. Plus, the addition of my pillow and sleeping bag. This ensures that I a) have a couchy like shelf for netflixing and b) to get the damn things out of the way.
One metre of bamboo strung up with 6 hangers. A little shelf.
One desk under (but perpendicular) to the front window. Barely fits macbookpro on but does. Just. Easier just to lie in bed with computer.
Mosquito net. More to field the dropping of lizard poo than the insects, I’m pretty sure.
One light and one ceiling fan.
Outside theres a plastic bench seat. I imagine it’s for sitting on. Maybe reading. But it’s too hot outside. I like to sit and read on my bed, under the fan. Or in town at the café, Don Cafeto’s with three whole industrial fans up in my face. Aw yeah.
I pay for my room (us10) and the use (shared) of two toilets and two showers. Everything is salt water.
I also get drinking water, a bike, a discount at the attached restaurant (healthy organic by day/ thai by night), and the use of a “kitchen” a rather exaggerated term for a room with a sink, some glasses and a dozen spoons. Still. It’s provided me with somewhere to unpack my junk and settle for a bit. Which is nice, cos backpacking is kinda exhausting, especially when you have to force a yoga mat, sleeping bag and pillow into your luggage every damn day.
I have taken it upon myself to ride the 7/8kms into town at least once per day. I do this usually as soon as I’m back from the beach. I do this to get laundry done, eat, get coffee, go to the supermarket for a tiny relief from their air conditioning or to fetch breakfast from Don Cafeto, the café/restaurant that fast became my regular breakfast joint for the simple fact it does the best value for money/good tasting black coffee in town. And I’ve looked. It’s strong and comes in a big mug and they only charge 20 pesos for it. And you can get milk on the side, if you want it and when you work out how to say “on the side” in Spanish. It also offers generous breakfasts: mayan, american, european and mexican; plus hotcakes, granola, toast. I’ve tried them all. And they serve the more savoury dishes with a bowl of hot (spicy) fresh salsa and a bowl full of pickled carrots and garlic and such. I don’t know what it is exactly, but it’s delicious. And the staff are bloody lovely too.
After I polish off my breakfast and second coffee and finish the latest chapter on my kindle app on my phone (I’m a total convert to the kindle lifestyle. I don’t have to carry a book around now. Just my phone. Whoa!), I’ll usually walk around for a bit, graciously saying “no, gracias” to all the invitations to go inside shops and buy hammocks. And then I’ll get on my bike, head to the supermarket (for that sweet AC hit, and usually a muffin or something. They’re like 60 cents) and then head home in the searing heat, with sweat and sunscreen dripping down every possible surface of me, basically gushing out of all my pores. Despite being so very warm and so very moist, I will take my scarf and extend it out so it shades my arms and chest and create a nice little cocoon for capturing yet more heat. But I like to think it will stop me from a premature death from skin cancer. Let’s see how that pans out.
At home, (or at any point of the day in different lighting conditions and bodily configurations) I will note an increasing number of freckles. The freckles have increased exponentially, while my tan is maybe only two shades darker. Which, is a good thing I guess. Maybe the scarf is doing the job I think it is.
I will lay under my fan in my room, reading or planning yoga classes, or avoiding booking my onward travel because it involves being precise in times and dates. Or I will watch tv shows on my computer. I’ve been through a lot of shows. Sometimes secretly I think I could take half of every year off just to watch TV. Hmmm.
Once the sweat dies down, I’ll lather myself in sunscreen and walk along the beach again. Watch kite surfing. Pelcians soaring and diving for fish. Tourists swimming and laughing and honeymooning. Dogs. Kids selling friendship braclets. Friggin’ turtles hatching and making their way into the world! Whoa. And, of course, more billions of trash. Again. Still.
I usually teach yoga from 5 til 6.30. I usually get smothered in mosquito bites and sweat. So after class, I’ll shower and immediately break into a sweat and then I’ll ride back into town to find the tamale stand I like. I don’t have to “find” them. They have a permanent corner. The dude there knows me. He’s nice. And patient with my Spanish. I’ve tried all his tamales now. They’re 15 pesos each. And come with spicy sauce.
On the nights I don’t get a tamale or two, I’ll get tacos or tortas or tostadas. All the food starting with T. It’s all really good. I’ve also tried the vegan place, the raw food place, the burger joint… there’s no shortage of food. The challenge is to eat without mozzie bites. I usually fail in this. Usually cos I fail in remembering the bug spray.
By now the sun has set and I am forced to ride home in the dark with my phone torch on. Which works well enough. It’s just the other dick weeds on the path with no lighting that come up RIGHT AT THE LAST MINUTE that fuck with me. I don’t listen to any music or podcasts at night, but it’s not like you can really hear people walking in the dark when you’ve got the wind whilstling in your ears. So I’ll usually grumble under my breath something like “fucking shit fuck cunt. I almost fell into the bog there, buckaroo, where’s YOUR goddamn light, asshole. Everyone has a fuckin’ phone, sunny Jim”. I’m not making any friends on my rides home.
Arrive home, sweaty again. Or still, whatevs. Never escape the sweat. Grow tired of the beach bunglow lifestyle and crave (in a very non yogic fashion) oodles of air con.
Brush my teeth in the briney water. Floss. That’s the most surprising thing about this whole trip. I’m flossing pretty much every day. My dentists would be proud. I then take some time to set up my curtains. I weigh spots down with water bottles. I add my sarong and my scarf to the mix for a little more modesty coverage, hoping that folks can’t see in. Cos it’s too damn hot to sleep in PJs. Even keeping undies on is a challenge. And then I’ll fall asleep watching yet more TV. Rick and Morty or Gravity Falls. Cartoons are my go-to sleep crack.
Repeat. I’m getting kinda tired of being here. And I keep seeing creatures on the bike path now. First a giant fury spider. Then I saw a smaller alive version of that spider in the toilets at home… And second a beautiful, but dangerous looking snake. And there’s the crabs and the mozzies and the lizards and dragonflies and the things. All the things. Yikes. It’s lucky I’m not too squeamish… Even so, maybe tomorrow I’ll get around to booking my onwards travel.
(side note, this is about a week and a half old. I’m teaching like 6 times a week now. I’ll write about that and put it up sooner or later. Later being more likely)
My daily routine has swiftly become wake up at the crack of dawn and head to the beach. It’s a 20 minute bike ride, at a gentle pace, about 5kms, with only one teensy tiny incline. It’s so quiet just before dawn. Hardly any people around. It’s like I have the world to myself. Especially when I reach the beach and I do. I have a long stretch of sand, seaweed and gently lapping waves all to myself. It’s humbling and soothing. And slightly scary, given no one knows where I am or why or for how long. I could get pirated away and poof, just like that, my existence vanishes… But I don’t let those thoughts invade too often. Mostly I bob in the ocean, do some handstands, float on my back, wish I would pause the sun and/or prevent skin cancer somehow or other so I could stay there forever. Time does stop. At least mentally. I’m unable to tell how much time I spend in there. Maybe 3 minutes. Maybe 30. Just me and then slowly, trickling in, more people. The early risers, the fitness freaks doing their squats and lunges, the triathlon trainers, the hotel employees gathering up seaweed on the shoreline.
Once I finally get out of the water, I dry off on my sarong on the white, sticky sand. I put on my audio book or some music and plan a yoga class. I’m a yoga teacher now. At least for a month. That’s wild. I mean, I’ve been qualified to teach for ages, but I’ve not followed it up as I should have. And now, here we are. Mexico, no less.
The whole thing came about because my mother, bless her little cotton socks, loves to ferret around on the internet for information. In particular, information on where I am and what I might be doing. So she looked up Tulum and found it’s yoga-rich offerings and sent me a link to one place that offers a teacher exchange. I sent an email to them, slightly exaggerating my experience as a teacher. (Actually quite a bit. Not outright lying, but embellishing the truth like a motherfucker) At first, I didn’t hear back. Cool. No worries. I’ll go to Belize.
Then, on one of my bike rides into the fancy playa part of town, I was stopping at boutiques and icecream shops and dropping my jaw at the prices… and one of the places just so happened to be the very same yoga shala as the link Ma sent. So I asked if it was the place where they do teacher exchange and told the lovely girl behind the sales desk that I sent an email. A day or two lapsed and then I had an email. One of their teachers was sick and could I cover a class. And then we could maybe talk about the exchange possibility.
With like 16 hours notice (8 of those I would presumably sleep for) I went into overdrive. I hadn’t taught a full 60 minute class all by myself, let alone a 90 minute Power Vinyasa class. WTF was I gonna do. I mean, luckily I have been practising 90 minutes at a time and while I’m not really a “power vinyasa” person, I do love to work up a sweat, so I figured I’d just do what I normally do and hope to pass it off… Meanwhile, stealing playlists and sequences from anywhere I thought I could. I say stealing, which is very anti-yoga, so let me rephrase it as “repurposing” or some shit. Trying to embed sequences into my very non-retentive memory for the morrow.
The morrow I used to shave my increasingly hairy legs and underarms and to make sure all the dirt was out of my toenails… It’s embarassing to be a vain yogi, but probably more embarassing to be hairy and dirty when you’re trying to make a good impression and get a job, no? I also put in contacts, cos I can’t do yoga with glasses on and while that’s fine when I’m practising, it’s probably worthwhile to be able to see the class. Check their alignment, guage their grimaces etc…
I rode into the shala, nervous as fuck, going through the sequences in my head over and over. Trying to steady my breath and calm the fuck down. Was there going to be a stereo? (I’d packed my little blue tooth speaker in case not.) Was there going to be mats? Should I have brought mine? Was it air conditioned? Where was the actual shala? (I mean I knew where the boutique was, but not the actual class room.) Was I meant to teach in Spanish? Fuuuuck
I arrived and there was already a student there! Damn. And two more just behind me. There was a bloody stage for the teacher. More and more people kept arriving. And then one of them introduced me and I recognised her name and face from the teacher profile section of the website. Shiiiiittt. She was here to judge me. Uh-oh.
Eventually, when there were about a dozen or so students, I nervously began. And managed to keep it all moving for 90 minutes. And only fucked it up a little. And everyone thanked me, some even complimented me. And on the way out, I got some cold hard pesos for my time. Boom!
As it happens, Yoga Shala Tulum heard good things about my class and they have a teacher going on leave for the rest of September. So here I am, my first professional yoga teacher gig, in Mexico. I am spending a few days compiling playlists and sequences and peak poses and boning up on my anatomy and yogic philosophy and working out what kinda teacher I am. So far, I’m just copying the classes I like to take. But sooner or later I’ll find my own “voice”. Pretty bloody happy that I have the opportunity to do it here. I’ll be 50m from the beach, access to a bike, kitchen, as many yoga classes as I can take… The only downside is that because I will be here, I won’t see as much of Central America as planned. Alas, you cannot win them all. Even so, this teaching gig feels like a small victory. I am able to see if I’m suited to teaching yoga, like full time, where there are virtually no consequences. No one knows me. So if I suck, I just go back to practising. Todo Bien.
Tulum is odd. It’s not Mexico. It’s not a beach town. It’s not what I expected, but (surprise!) I didn’t really know what to expect…
Tulum is small. A main street dividing the roughly six blocks of town into the north and the south. At first glance – which for me was getting off a bus at midnight, all dull eyed and tired and sun struck from a day of snorkelling on Isla Mujeres and then getting drunk on 1 ltr cocktails in Cancun – it’s a tourist town. Burger joints and vegan restaurants. In Mexico! Pfft (but also, yay)
After I managed to track down my hostel and have a freezing night of sleep (quick side story – I got into the dorm room and the AC was blasting. A nice, refreshing change from the 87 percent humidity and heat of the great outdoors. However, after laying still for 15 minutes, I took up the foetal position to keep my body heat. After sleeping for maybe an hour, maybe 3 maybe only 3 minutes, I’m not sure, I woke up and had to double over my singular bedsheet. Another doze later, I woke up colder than before and took the bloody pillow slip off and put that over me. Eventually I looked at my phone and realised I had about 5 hours til the sun rose, so I got off my cold arse, climbed from my top bunk and got my sleeping bag out of my pack. This sleeping bag has been the subject of ridicule throughout my travels and I was so hecking pleased I had it and justified its existence. With it, I slept warmly. As is should be.) I wondered around the town and discovered that it’s full of Mexicans AND full of Tourists. And there’s a whole ‘nother section of it, 5kms from this section of it. It’s more like two towns, separated by some jungle.
First, there’s Tulum. The town. The place with the bus station, the supermarkets, the schools and hospital and banks. It’s in from the coast, about 5 kms and to stay here, in a hostel (private room, aircon, private bathroom) is about US$35/night.
You can shop for mexican handicrafts or beachwear or pinatas. You can eat street food or in western style restaurants (with prices to match). You can find fresh produce markets and laundry services and convenience stores and ATMs and bike rentals and tour services and massage parlours and street art and hair salons and yoga studios and salsa lessons and hotels and hostels aplenty.
Then there’s Tulum, the fancy town. It’s on the beach. It’s all private beach front bungalows and bespoke boutiques and green smoothie bars. You can stay there from anywhere between $50 a night on special in the off-season, all the way up to $6000 a night. That’s no typo. I looked at a place and for the low, low cost of six THOUSAND American greenback dollars, you can have a private beachfront bungalow with all the trimmings. I really wish I had that much dough to chuck around. But that’s pretty much my budget for the rest of the year…
I came across this fancy part of town quite by accident. The first day I thought I could walk to the beach. I didn’t know the way, but there are two roads, so you know, good chance I’d get there. I did, but I went south (not figuratively) to fancy town. And as I was trying to enter one of these gated beachside resorts I was told that there was only paying spots and the minimum service was MX$500. At this point, I was heat incarnate. I wore a sweat mustache, beard, vest, basically all over sweat wetsuit. It was a 5km walk in not much shade and as the bikes whizzed by me, I regretted being the tightarse I am and not forking out the MX$100 for the convenience of having wind in my hair at the very least… All that aside, back to The Playa Papaya Project. I accepted my $500 fate and walked in. Met by lovely staff, all uniformed in beige (tip to anyone coming: That’s the best colour for mexico cos it doesn’t show dirt like either black nor white. Beige, in any other time or place is unacceptable. But invest for Mexico) and ready to help me out. The amazing lady who helped me told me in fact that the beach is free for everyone and I could stay for as long as I wanted. I walked up the beach, smiling at all the little cordened off areas for TURTLE NESTS! And then eventually decided to commit to an overpriced cocktail at PPP.
I was sat on comfy waterproof seating, in front of the DJ booth and got my fancy ass pineapple cocktail (not freepoured like the rest of mexico, could barely taste the booze. For shame, Tulum!) and then stripped to my bikini and got into the caribbean sea. Holy dooly, it’s a – goddamn – mazing. Warm. A little too warm. But stunning aquamarine and turquoise and super fine white sand that is almost clay like and very sticky. The best part was that upon existing the water, there were swings to swing on and dry-off on. And hammocks to lay in and read. And if you wanted to fork out, there were cabanas – double lounge chairs under a canopy – with service. Order your nachos or burger and bottle of wine and it’s delivered to your bedside table. Wowee.
PPP is only the beginning of fancy town. You can ride your bike another 10kms or so (that’s as far as I have ventured yet) and continue to see fancy beach stuff.
Yesterday I had THE BEST ICECREAM I’VE EVER DAMNWELL HAD. Two flavours – get them in and around your face – Mexican Chocolate & Cinnamon and Cardamom. Sweet and cold and spicy with a little bit of crunch. All served in a waffle CUP so you can eat your cup after everything. I’m kinda in love.
In fancy town, you can’t get street food or hospitals or schools or banks. You can get ATMs on the side of the road. You can get dresses for US$500 and teensy tiny note books for US$15. You can get cold pressed juices. You can get the “best tacos in the galaxy” or the “best pizza in the world”. You can get lobster and israeli and italian and authentic spanish food. You can get yoga and mezcal sweat lodges. And you can feel your wallet get lighter every pedal further in.
Seeing as I’m splurging on a private room, I can do yoga for free rather than paying US$15 per lesson. While I wish I was able to afford my own private beach bungalow, I’m happy to stay in cheap town and subsist on my hostel provided breakfast (delicious omlette &/or toast &/or pancakes &/or cereal &/or coffee) and eat delicious MX$15 tamales and ride my bike to the beach (stopping at the supermarket for a few cold beers on the way). And that’s about all I can ask for at the moment.
This morning I woke up at 3am and it was pissing down, in that tropical thunderstorm way. Huge drops splattering on the concrete outside my door. Splooshing into the pool, rippling out only for a fraction of a microsecond before the next drop falls.
I woke up at 5.30 and it had stopped. I debated whether to get up or not. And in the end, the little voice in my head that has started to say “you’re here, you may as well” won and I did indeed get up. I put on swimmers and packed some water and sunscreen and insect repellant and a map, as if I was gonna be gone for hours. You never know. Better than being sunburnt, dehydrated and covered in mozzie bites. I unchained my bike (she’s – I’ve called her Elise – a blue, one gear, back-pedal-brake, basketed number) and headed out.
Though dark, Tulum was beginning to whir into life. There were people walking to their jobs (I imagine) or already squeezing oranges for upcoming breakfasts. There were cars and trucks on the highway buzzing off to whereever they needed to go. But this activity was subdued, especially compared to the day. And once I turned down the beach road, there was only me and one other dude on his bike. He managed to pull out just ahead of me. And then slowly curved his way to and fro along the bike path, making it impossible for me to overtake him. He had headphones in and didn’t even know I was there. So I slowed and actually became thankful for the company and the direction. It was dark and to have someone basically guide the way was great.
Yesterday I had walked the 5kms to the beach. I accessed a private beach and was told the minimum spend was MX$500. I managed to NOT pay that and instead just had a stupidly overpriced cocktail and sat in the private bungalow area reading, swimming, swinging on one of the two swings and listening to the DJ spin sweet smooth summer tunes. It was lovely. But overpriced and gated, with locks, so I was sure I wouldn’t be able to get in at 6am.
Instead I turned left and headed to the public beach area, not knowing what to look for, but after a 5 minute pedal, I got to a place where I could hitch Elise up and walk down to the beach. By this point the clouds were pastel pinks and blues and purples and the birds were starting to coast the breeze.
The beach was a long stretch of sand and seaweed and boats tethered both ashore and in the water. Behind, jungle and private hotel cabanas and little palm-fronded huts not yet open, but ready to sell snorkelling, surfing, SUP tours when the time came.
There was all but half a dozen people along the probs 2km walk. And the sunrise was fucking spectacular. At first pastel, then sherbety and finally a blazing neon orange and pink affair, with giant sun rays bursting up through the clouds. The sun never managed to break over the massive clouds and once over the horizon, the colours then faded back to the pastels. Over the course of an hour, it was impossible to tear my eyes away, except to watch the birds flock in formation overhead. Or to realise that that thing in the distance was the temple at the Tulum ruins. Unfortunately unreachable by foot – only by water, and I’d read the currents were too dangerous to swim to – but pretty wonderful to come across unknowingly. Those Mayans sure did know how to celebrate a sun god.
So now, back at the hostel, vegemite toast in my tummy, I’m trying to work out what to do. I’ve booked another four nights here and it’s so bloody beautiful and with a bike it’s just lovely to bustle around, a little wind in my hair, the promise of snorkelling and ruins and beach cocktails on a swing so very tempting to just stay here. Maybe see if I can teach yoga at some fancy resort.
The thing I’ve found with this trip is that I’m not sure what I’m doing. And while normally that’s totally my M.O., right now, it’s more annoying than anything. I want to do something. But I don’t want to be on the road every bloody day. I want to stay here. But I’m in central america and want to see the rest of it. I want to help turtles and sloths and see a jaguar and a volcano. I want to write. I want to just practise yoga and lay around reading and swimming and watching Rick and Morty and getting up early for the sunrise. Hmmm. At least 4 more days of that and then I’ll see…