The beaches of Tulum
Fish Tacos, Papaya shakes
Peso (10.70 pesos to 1 $USD)
The evacution from Hurricane Emily; coming back to Tulum and seeing all the locals gathered with luggage and possesions and hopping aboard any vehicle that would take them south to avoid the Hurricane; our own late night taxi cab ride evacuation; how much the beach areas have developed since I was last here in 1985; the talcum powder beaches and warm, crystal clear waters are still incredible; first immersion into Spanish is awkward; the costs of goods and services is very similar to USA costs; missing the ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza; Peter and Therese getting very sick; the pool at the hotel in Chetumal.
Our trip started with a brisk bus ride from the Cancun airport to Playa Del Carmen. In retrospect, traveling west to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, would have been the best plan to pursue. However, arriving in this coastal town south of Cancun did have an invigorating appeal - La Playa (the beach). Playa has changed dramatically since I was first here in 1984. It is reported as the fastest growing city in Mexico. During my first visit, there was only a dirt road leading into the town, which comprised of one main street with a few restaurantes. Playa was known more as the port to catch the ferry to Cozumal. Today, tourist activity goes twenty blocks up a cobblestone walkway and 5 blocks deep. In the evening, with streets now filled with bars, shops, many restaurantes and even a Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors ice cream parlor, turistas fill the city. Yes, this former small fishing village is now a resort destination filled with excitement. The one aspect that has not change is La Playa. The warm, azure blue waters and white, talcum powder-like beach are still the main attraction. We spent three rather hectic days in Playa. Por Supresto (Of Course), we made time for the beach, but most of our time was filled with finding accommodations which fit our budget, organizing our luggage to meet the demands of long term travel and daily in town travel, getting used to the heat and humidity and a day at the Mayan Palace.
Our next stop was Tulum. The beach of Tulum, 3 km. from town, is lined with approximately 40 cabana operations of varying prices and conditions. We made a decision to stay in town at a cabana with free shuttle service to the beach and breakfast. Everyone agreed that serious beach time, a stroll through the ruins of Tulum and a snorkeling adventure in Xel-Ha were all needed. I favor the beach of Tulum over Playa. The water is clearer, the beach is broader, fewer people, and numerous small restaurants make this beach very pleasant. After our first three days of the trip, we finally spent the entire day at the beach (and I have the red legs, nose and shoulders to prove it). The next day we went to Xel-ha to expose the kids to their first snorkeling experience. Again, Xel-ha has changed dramatically in 20 years. Xel-ha is a beautiful cove with still, crystal clear water used by pirate’s ions ago. With an abundance of fish and some small coral heads, this is a great place to learn how to snorkel. During my first visit, we had to walk in from the main road. If we arrived before 11am, the place was vacant. After 11am, 5 tour buses would come from Cancun. Today, we arrive around 10am and I see approximately 60 tour buses and a ticket area resembling the San Diego Zoo. This once tranquil cove has been transformed into a theme park, complete with walking trails, diving platforms, life guards, inner tube rides and 7 restaurants. The fish population has declined, but the snorkeling was still good. Peter and Paul would not get out of the water. After a full day of snorkeling, we decided to go back home and head for the ruins of Tulum in the morning.
As we returned from Xel-ha to Tulum, a grayish cast of clouds surrounded this small pueblo. Locals were lined up on the west side of the street with luggage in hand looking for any mode of transportation out of Tulum. The news stated that the eye of category 5 Hurricane Emily was on a trajectory to hit Tulum the next day. Our trip to the ruins and the rest of the Maya Riviera was going to be cut short. It was a very eerie evening with numerous discussions of where and how to go. Utilizing Therese's excellent Spanish, which really has been our salvation in Mexico, we released that there was only one bus left with seats on it leaving Tulum at 3:30pm THE NEXT DAY – THE DAY EMILY WAS SCHEDULED TO HIT. We also heard that a curfew was going to start at noon. Transportation out of the town us becoming scarce and I envisioned that the morning would bring a level of chaos and panic greater than present. Added to this was were to go - Merida to the Northwest or Chetumal to the south. Chetumal was 250km. to the south and on the coast. The forecast was Hurricane Emily would miss this town, but hurricanes have been known to change course abruptly. Merida was a traveler’s hangout, but was inland and still appeared to be in the path of Emily. From Merida, the only option would be to go south upon arrival. There were people who were going to stay in Tulum and they felt comfortable in their solid brick houses. There were even three crazy men who run the Weary Traveler who proclaimed they were going to the ruins, which sit on the beach, and stay there as the hurricane went through. As the night progressed, we did release we needed to get out of Tulum. With water bottles filled, dinner in our stomachs and bags packed, we left Tulum at 10pm via a USD$120 taxi cab to Chetumal with Roger, our driver.
We arrived in Chetumal around 1am and immediately fell to sleep. I was awoken at 5:30 to lightening, thunder and rain. In my stupor, I thought the hurricane had started and ran down to the reception area to watch the news. My kids are still laughing when I asked to see the "newzie", instead of "reportes". I have no idea where that came from. However, in my very broken Spanish I was able to decipher that Chetumal was safe and should only receive small amounts of rain. Later this morning, the second episode of our first week would force us to change course. Peter and Paul began to vomit. While Paul's vomiting subsided, Peter's became worse and later that day he started to run a fever. To add fuel to the fire, Therese and I started to vomit and have diarrhea. At one point, watching us must have been comical. Envision three people with diarrhea bumping into each other in a desperate attempt to get to the one toilet before eruption would occur. We started monitoring Peter's temperature and at 6pm he hit 103. Not only was our concern over Peter, but in 8 hours Hurricane Emily was scheduled to hit the Yucatan coast. We put Peter in the shower and gave him another round of aspirin. His fever subsided to 101, but we did not feel secure. Around 9pm, a girl from the hotel who spoke English asked if we wanted to go to the Clinica Medico before the storm arrived. Therese and Peter left. I stayed up until 4am, not knowing where they were and what was going on. The hour of Hurricane Emily had come and gone without any change in the weather (The next day we learned that the eye of the storm went over Xel-ha and that 65,000 people in Cancun were evacuated into several hotels. We have not heard about the extent of the damage.). I finally feel asleep and awoke to Paul watching ESPN deportes. We finally received a call that Peter and Therese were at Hospital Moreles - Urgencia. I envisioned the worse. When Paul and I arrived, the news was that Therese needed antibiotics and was receiving electrolytes and that Peter had contracted Salmonella and Amoebic Dysentery. At first I was puzzled, because I really though we were watching what we ate and drank and I keep going over in my mind everything we touched or ate to conclude a source of the bacteria. Paul and I watched as both Peter and Therese played revolving toilet. I was better, but very weak with occasional diarrhea. Peter received intravenous antibiotics and saline. Peter and Therese came back to our hotel approximately 24 hours after they left. The last day of our first week and Peter's birthday were spent recuperating.