Stories From Paradise

Why I Still Love Tulum

beachIt is easy to get down on Tulum lately: almost over hip, expensive and developing so fast that I sometimes imagine the natural places groaning under the pressure. Having opened a new business here just 4 months ago – Tribal Yoga and Acuatic Tulum Diving and Lofts – I feel a need to stop and smell the flowers or the sea and remind myself why I still love it here. Or ask myself if I still do.

So the other afternoon, sitting at Burrito Amor sipping cappuccino while I waited on my oh-so-hip kale, cabbage and almond salad, I watched a dreadlocked man ride his bike past me while he gleefully patted an enormous standard poodle sitting in an oversized hand made basket mounted on the handle bars. I casually remembered what was so special about Tulum: the people. Granted, we are a weird lot. But Tulum has always attracted a special sort of independent spirit. Like the gentleman I saw yesterday riding his bike down the highway with a wide screen TV tied onto the frame. When I saw him, I shook my head until I noticed myself on my bike in a pink leopard recycled plastic top, computer and yoga mat strung across my back, a white fedora on my head and 3 oversized sunflowers in the basket riding in the opposite direction. “Takes one to know one,” I mumbled as I passed two other guys wrapping a bungee cord around a bike they had placed in the basket of a front-end loader.

In many places until recently there were few creature comforts like electricity, refrigeration or fist world plumbing. There is still a huge income and technology gap. But it has molded a certain type of “I don’t give a shit” person. Even now, with 5 star hotels and spas with plunge pools and herbal scrub treatments, there is an energy here that can rip you up and spit you out, no matter how rich, prepared or determined you are to stay.

But those who do stay are generally worth getting to know. Take my boyfriend, Alex Alvarez. He co-owns our business and is a humble, funny guy who has been here for almost 25 years. When you see him you might ask yourself, “do I really want to trust my life to this guy?” as he sells you the idea of diving into subterranean rivers and caves. But, unassuming as he is, he is one of the best divers in Mexico and recently discovered a young woman’s cranium in an underground cave from 13,000 years ago. He and his buddies routinely spend 4 to 6 hours underwater at about 60 meters deep with “re-breathers” to recycle oxygen. All this to map and photograph bones from prehistoric animals like woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. You can stumble upon him in our shop, Acuatic Tulum.

Then there is Charlie, of Charlie’s Bar on Avenida Tulum. With his ZZTop style beard he will non-chalantly serve you coffee or a slow made margarita where he hand presses the limes and gently taps salt on the rim. When he finishes making your drink, he may go home to stoke the fire and preside over a Mayan Sweat Lodge or other ancient ritual ceremony. And if you let your eyes wander the perimeter of the restaurant you will notice he is an amazing sculptor and woodworker.

My friend Lina runs a Mexican cooking school out of her house called Lina’s Mexican Kitchen. She taught me to make chile relleno and coconut flan a month ago. Fabulous doesn’t even begin to describe it. take just a moment and she will describe the magic of Mexican food and it’s origins. She has been here about 18 years and can tell you about each of the myriad Mexican chiles and how to cook them. If you are lucky, she might show you.

The list goes on. And it doesn’t get less unexpected or less interesting. Take a moment to sit on the avenue and talk to someone. Better yet, listen. You might meet one of the banda original at an authentically cool place with live music, incredible live music at that. The other night at Zama’s I swore that the violinist was from a Symphony Orchestra. Guess what? He was. He cashed it all in with the Serbian Symphony and came to play and hang on the beach. He plays with Camillo, another Tulum wonder, at Zama’s many nights.

Too, about 2 years ago Tulum had a mural movement, or more an invasion of muralists. There are some amazing murals on streets you barely know exist, next to tar paper shacks and mini supers and women selling “freshly killed chickens”. So, take a walk on the back roads and look around. You might even find the artist close by at a cafe.

I love that Tulum is for dogs, literally. Just about everyone is dog lover and it brings out the best in people. We have groups dedicated to dog rescues and links with cities like New York and San Francisco because of it. I sent one to the US and have 5 here. And I am not the “weird dog lady”, not even close. Just about every day someone rescues a dog that needs love. It is inspiring.

Of course, there is yoga. Just about everyone here practices yoga or wants to. Whether it is acro yoga or vinyasa or kundalini or hatha or any variation, it gives the place a more tolerant feel. You are as likely to see someone jump into a handstand to walk the beach as you are to see a jogger.

Although I can hear the natural places groaning under the weight of hipster capitalism and development, you can still get to untouched places in Tulum. I recently visited a place I have known for 10 years and I saw it untouched. Actually, I saw it improved. The increased revenues generated by true ecotourism had been used to upgrade walkways, clean and repair the toilets, install trash and recycle containers and actually empty and maintain them. We were almost alone on a Sunday morning at this lesser-known archaeological site with not a beer can or plastic bag in sight. The water was clear in the lagoons and the healthy mangroves were full of orchards, bromeliads, termites, birds and fish. It was still heaven on earth and reminded me that we can do the development thing right. We just need to listen to more of these true pioneers who know and value the difference. So, as I was leaving the grocery store, wondering about a group of campers set up in the parking lot less than 3 km from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, I had to say, I still love Tulum.