When you walk in Tulum, you become accustomed to meeting bones.
There are full fledged skeletons sitting on park benches, skulls with sunglasses and jaunty caps on shop shelves, brightly colored ceramic skulls with smiling teeth and bulging eyes. It is February and Halloween has long since been packed away in warehouses.
In Mexico and other warm climates, death is never packed away. It is on display and in your face as you sip coffee, have a pina colada on the beach, drive in a taxi to a tantalizing tourist adventure.
I sit next to this fellow and have a conversation about the best beer in town.
He tells me he misses drinking,going fishing, his wife and kids.
He tells me he doesn’t have much advice, but his all time best advice is that ” people hang themselves in their own nooses.”
I ask him, gently, what noose caught him?
He turns and smiles at me with good teeth, and says, ” You got an hour? ”
Tides are capricious.
Some places on this beach you find no nasty presents from high tide. There is white sand, pools of trapped sea water, an occasional shell. Other places you find a narrow strip of seaweed, like Christmas tinsel on a living room floor. In the worst places you find piles of seaweed drying in the sun, an obstacle to beachcombers and an offense to noses.
Early morning, hotels hire men with shovels and rakes to move the unwanted seaweed and beach debris. Sometimes they cart it away in wheelbarrows, dig holes and bury it, cover it up with sand, or,best yet, haul it off in a wagon pulled by a tractor.
Each morning there is a new batch to be disposed of.
Even in paradise there are menial chores that wash up on our beaches. For every happy tourist, in a beach chair, there are two or three locals working behind the scene to make the place postcard perfect.
It doesn’t take more than a whiff to know that shoveling seaweed is a job waiting for Mike Rowe to put on his television show..
This is a job that makes me appreciate roofing, concrete work, painting, digging swimming pools, having to assign student grades and facing an overflowing class of maniac eighth graders.
Today, I’ve met a job worse than most of those I have had to do.
Cats are everywhere in Tulum, Mexico.
These gatos sleep during the day and hunt at night. Even when asleep they can wake instantly, move into a predatory stance, run up a tree trunk to safety amid sea grape leaves. They are used to people, allow themselves to be stroked, take food offerings when they can get them. They have no collars, no tags.
Cats have perfected the art of being asleep and awake at the same time, the art of living in the moment that humans at Yoga Shala work to achieve on their mats, doing deep breathing exercises, twisting their limbs into pretzels, listening to the voice of a guru who is where they want to be.
Studying cats is my plan of the day.
The ability to take cat naps is worth all the study I can give it.
The sea changes like a model’s face.
One moment it is smooth as glass all the way to the horizon, the meeting of water and sky straight as a pencil line drawn by laying a ruler down. The horizon is so straight that you believe the world is flat like old explorers believed and imagine their fear as superstitious sailors neared the edge of their world, as they knew it.
On good days, the water is turquoise, clear, and you can see white sand twenty feet underneath blue waves.
Palm trees move in the wind like a sea of jungle ants scavenging on the jungle floor. Leaves in the canopy move all directions and it is difficult to see what direction the wind comes until you look at the slant of the tree trunks.
It is no lucky accident Mayan royalty built their retreat here but they had no idea it would become a tourist zone for foreigners looking for paradise outside their own urban concrete and steel jungles.
The Mayan’s couldn’t totally duplicate, in their culture ,the richness of what they saw around them, but they could and did pay homage to the God’s that led them here.
There is water wherever you look, but it tastes salty and won’t take away your thirst.
Water falls from the sky, but, on land flatter than a tabletop, it doesn’t run into rivers and down into the sea. Water seeps into the ground and collects in cenotes, underground caverns with stalactites and stalagmites, blue blue water, fish and turtles. There are rumors that ancient Mayans dropped their sacrifices into these cenotes weighted with heavy stones.
This history doesn’t deter us tourists from donning brightly colored snorkels and masks, showering, slipping into the cool waters, following rope lines into underground caverns lit from underneath with lights, over thirty feet deep.
This particular Gran Cenote is written up in guide books as having colorful fish, but, for the record – the fish are small, not in a multitude, and not at all colorful.
On this morning tour buses out front of the attraction are already unloaded, overweight men and women parading in swimming attire to the pools, Mayan descendants renting them towels and equipment.
There are a few scuba divers who can swim far underwater in the caverns, holding underwater lights, that swim farther than we can and see what the rest of us can only imagine.,
When they surface, they look exhilerated,
Places where the insides of the Earth open up have always attracted the curious.
I don’t see dead bodies but my shivers remind me there is much more we don’t see, than what we do.
You never know who you will meet on your morning walk.
This burro is grazing by the side of the road, and, moments earlier, posed for a photo with a young man and his girl friend, who then snapped this photo of Scott in reciprocity. The burro decides he isn’t pleased with us and kicks his hind hooves, warning me to stay the proper distance away.
He is a sturdy burro and in Nicaragua he would be hooked to a cart pulling sand and cement bags to a construction job.
Where you are born in this world makes a difference. You can overcome a bad birthplace, but, if I were a donkey, I would be perfectly pleased calling Tulum, Mexico home.
People call this boy an ass, but he has his world by the tail.
Today, the exchange rate is nineteen pesos to a dollar.
Along the Hotel Zone strip, ATM’s, when they are working, dispense pesos or dollars. If you need money, you walk, bike, or drive to a little pitched roof shack on the main road not far from the Hemingway Eco Cottages.
At the bottom of the front barred window in the shack is a little slot through which the girl behind the window pushes me a small cardboard box just big enough for my dollars. I push the box back through the slot to her and wait. Inside, she has a calculator, a money box, a chair, papers and a pen balanced on her right ear. She counts out pesos, puts them in the cardboard box along with a printed receipt on top of the money, and slides the box back out to me.
The U.S. dollar is strong today so the exchange rate is nineteen to one. The weakest currency is the Canadian dollar. The strongest currencies are the British pound and the Euro. In this money game, the more pesos I get for my dollars, the cheaper vacation I get.
When the girl in the booth sees me, I get a bright smile from her.
I always leave her a tip and she hasn’t made one mistake.
Is handling money all day and not getting to keep any the same as walking in the desert with a canteen and not being able to drink
Sales receipts are prosaic.
On most there are times and dates, food ordered and its price, balances due and how the bill was paid. There is a spot for taxes and gratuities. There can be series of numbers indicating stock numbers of merchandise, re-order times, discounts, adjustments, credits.
On this restaurant receipt, at the bottom, is the phrase, ” Keep Tulum weird. ”
This is weird for a number of reasons. Weird, according to the Oxford dictionary, should really be spelled wierd to follow the rule – i before e except after c. Wierd has been spelled wrong so many years that both spellings are acceptable.Weird is also pronounced – wird, so we have a screwy English language where how a word sounds is not how it is spelled.
“Have a good day” is often at the bottom of sales tickets
” We appreciate your business is sometimes at the bottom of sales receipts.
In Tulum,” Keep Tulum Weird ” is totally acceptable.
The creator of this receipt is probably a seventy year old hippie living an an airstream trailer in a fenced off lot on the beach bought in the fifties for several thousand dollars. He would sell but can’t move because his cat, Mister T, likes to nap on an old couch under the airstream awning, on top of a Pittsburg Pirates World Series Blanket.
For all its weirdness, Tulum is becoming very comfortable.
There is color here.
The beach is a blinding white slightly curving belt of sand holding the blue sea and green jungle loosely around the waist. The sky is a blue un-fenced playground for white soft clouds sailing like yachts. Sunlight is intense and filters through the rustling leaves of a green canopy. Shops, bars and restaurants wear colorful pinks,turquoise, yellow, magenta, red. Bright birds pause on dark brown wood fences. Tourists wear straw hats,purple sarongs,black thongs.
Food is colorful too. For breakfast there is white pineapple,orange and green cantaloupe,green apples,red papaya ,pinkish watermelon. Eggs are deep yellow and brown bread is baked locally.
Stiff brown coffee, the color of Mayan skin, tops off one’s morning meal.
Somehow, this breakfast looks and tastes better than a McDonald’s egg McMuffin.
Somehow,if you aren’t a prisoner, you shouldn’t be eating prison food.