Dispatches From Mexico City: The Mayan Riviera – Part 1
It’s hard to believe that in the three years I’ve lived in Mexico I never got behind the wheel of a car. But that all changed a few weeks ago.
After a pretty crazy few months I decided I needed a break and booked myself a “working vacation” in Playa Del Carmen. I have a friend that lives there who agreed to let me stay with her and show me around the area.
Coming from Mexico City, the first thing you notice after exiting the plane in Cancun is the humidity. Mexico City is dry and temperate this time of year, so stepping into the heavy air of the Mayan Riviera is like stepping into a hot shower. On my first evening there we went out for dinner and drinks, where I tried mole for the first time. It was a week of firsts.
The next day I got the opportunity to drive us up the coast to a small beach called Xpu Ha. I was told that driving in this area can be perilous. Speed limits function more as suggestions than hard and fast rules, and turn signals are used almost exclusively by tourists. But I relished the opportunity to push down the gas pedal on foreign soil as we sped our way to the beach. There, the whiteness of my Canadian skin was only surpassed by the white sands of Xpu Ha. We spent the day swimming in the ocean and drinking beer in the sun.
That evening we discovered that a punk band was visiting from Spain and we ventured out into the night to see the show.
The dress code called for black – a style not often seen in the beach towns of Mexico. So we clad ourselves in black jeans and t-shirts, which was far too much for the climate. The venue itself was an artists’ oasis in the middle of the touristy Playa. The walls covered with random ephemera: skeletons, paintings, Day of the Dead decorations, and all manner of trinkets, chotskies, and curios. Finding the places in cities and towns where the freaks and weirdos (and I use those terms affectionately) hang out has always been one of the great pleasures in my life, and it was nice to see that this popular tourist destination was no different.
The next day we set out to swim in my first Cenote. The plan was to take the free highways up to Valladolid, a “Pueblo Magico” or Magic Town in the Yucatan Peninsula. Avoiding the toll roads would mean a longer trip, but it also meant we would get to see more of the Mexican scenery. The toll roads are broad swaths of well-kept blacktop that, while very efficient at getting travellers from Point A to Point B, are the opposite of scenic. About halfway to our destination the skies opened up and the rain started to fall. Usually, I was told, the rain only lasted for a short period of time before the sun came out and dried everything. But this was an unusual rain that continued to fall for the rest of our journey.
We arrived in Valladolid expecting to see Day of the Dead celebrations, but were disappointed to find out we missed them by about a week. Apparently the locals gather to celebrate publicly the week prior to November 1st and 2nd, and spend the actual day with their families. As we explored the small and its beautiful center square the rain continued to fall as the sun sank below the horizon. Night comes early to these small towns, it seemed. And we realized that making the trek back in the rainy night was a likely a bad idea and decided to reserve ourselves a hotel room.
Now we were stuck for the night in a strange town with nothing to do, no toothbrushes, change of clothes, or proper walking shoes. That’s when we found the cantina.
Tequila, Por Favor
We bellied up to the bar and ordered our first round of tequila. In the corner a small group of people played traditional Mexican folk songs as the rest of the patrons sang along. A few hours later my companion and I stumbled out into the streets on a search for food. In a scene that’s true of vacationers from across time, we followed the music and discovered a lively band playing Cuban music at a restaurant that offered delicious vegan options. We danced, made friends with French tourists, and ate our fill before making our way back to the hotel.
The next day we woke up, groggy and heavy-headed but happy. After a quick discussion of what our next move should be, we decided to make the hour long drive to Chichen Itza, the ruins of an ancient Mayan city.
Now, I’ve been to the pyramids outside of Mexico City and they’re definitely impressive. But there’s something about seeing the pyramids and structures of an ancient civilization tucked into a forest that makes it feel like you’re stepping into the past. Despite the throngs of tourists wandering about, the setting made it easier to imagine what life there was like 1,000 years ago. Despite our slight hangovers, dirty clothes, and the unforgiving sun, this was a highlight of my week-long vacation.
In the following days I would swim in some of the nicest waters I’d ever seen, encounter ancient pirate ruins, and eat award-winning tacos. But I’ll have to save that for my next post.
Ty Trumbull, from his base in Mexico City, covers the entrepreneur’s journey, M&A and business continuity for ChannelE2E. On the occasional Tuesday or so, he offers views about his adopted hometown — his personal Dispatches from Mexico City. Oh, but sometimes he pops up in his home nation of Canada.