Is This Heaven? No it’s Akumal
Have you read Child’s Play? You might want to read it before this. After a few hours reading, drawing and playing on the playground with kids at the Akumal Library, I jump into Anne’s car with her and about eleven kids to take to their homes. Anne makes multiple trips and stops at each child’s house in order to drop them at the front door. The houses range from a decent small apartment building to a rickety shack. Anne prepares me for one – as we pull up she says, “This one will break your heart.” True to her word, it’s a wooden and metal shack about the size of my fairly large bedroom at home. Still, she makes the point that the kids, and their parents, don’t seem to feel very poor. They have what they need and know no other life. Anne has asked me where I’m staying. “Oh,” I say, “I forgot about that. I‘m not quite sure yet.” It turns out Anne has two jobs. She oversees the Akumal Library as well as working for a reservations agency. She picks up her cell phone which, I soon come to realize, is a bit magical as she seems to know everybody. She calls the Vista Del Mar Hotel, (now known as the Del Sol Beachfront) just down the street and, lo and behold, I now have two nights reserved in a room overlooking the beach for about $60 per night. I drive through the minefield of potholes into the resort area. It’s obvious that this is where expats and tourists stay. Akumal doesn’t have the huge resort areas of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, but its houses and condos are a far cry from some of the shacks I’ve seen in town. When I pull up to the hotel, I’m happy. It’s perfect; small and very colorful. I check into my fairly small room which has everything I need (except coffee. Really, a coffee maker and no coffee is simply a tease). And the view is spectacular. If my room were any closer to the beach I’d need my fins to get to the bathroom. In an effort wash away the airplane, sweat and sleep deprivation, I take a quick shower and head off down the street to La Buena Vida Restaurant. It’s been recommended by Anne as she knows the owners (of course she does). She says the food is great, the atmosphere is beautiful and, best of all, it’s about 300 meters down the road from my hotel. As I walk in, it takes my breath away. The sun has set and the lighting is a mix of dim yellow and blue lights mixed with candlelight. At the bar, your seating choices are a chair, a shellacked piece of wood, or a swing. I hop onto the swing and order a margarita. Once served, I’m seated at a wooden table with plastic chairs, literally five steps from the ocean. I should mention that the entire floor of this place is beach. Yup sand. I sit down, take my shoes off, sip my margarita and breathe. If this isn’t heaven, it’s mighty close. After perusing the menu, I decide on the Tic iKn Xic fish, a Mayan specialty. I listen to the conversation of a group at a nearby table. They’re obviously divers (there are lots of them here) who seem to have taken their dive master out for dinner and he’s full of stories to entertain them.
Before long, my meal arrives and I’m not disappointed. The fish is covered in a beautiful red sauce and is accompanied by rice and refried black beans. I’ve finished the first margarita which I found to be exceedingly strong so, of course, I order a second. This place would be incredibly romantic if there were a really good-looking (or not so good-looking as candle-light can do wonders) man with me. After, I don’t know how long, I’ve cleaned my plate, drunk my two margaritas and paid la cuenta (trying to dazzle you with my Spanish). I stumble back to my hotel room. I am drunkity-drunk-drunk. I haven’t slept in, well, I’m way too tired to figure that out, so I do a little writing. (Yeh, sorry for any grammatical errors, but isn’t that mostly how Hemingway wrote?)
I wake up this morning to the sounds of traffic. I roll over and attempt to get back to sleep to no avail. I’m simply irritated that I seem to be at a hotel which sounds as if it’s on the edge of a major highway during rush hour. As I slowly begin to remember where I am, I realize that it’s not traffic at all; it’s the ocean waves crashing. It’s rush hour in the Caribbean Sea! I pop in the car, stop at 7-11 (yes, I know I’m in Mexico and should have something traditional, but I desperately need coffee. And if the people I see in there are any indication, 7-11 might just be a traditional Mexican breakfast), and head over to visit the Mayans’ stuff (remember the vote?) at Tulum. Tulum is a popular ancient Mayan site about twenty-five minutes from Akumal. I pull in, passing by the guy who stops my car as if he’s the police, asks me to roll down my window, and offers me free parking if I rent snorkel equipment from him. I’m irritated, yet politely turn him down. I pull into the main parking lot, pay my $4, and begin the ten minute walk to the entrance of Tulum. I decide to hire a guide as, if you’re going to walk around the ruins in the scorching sun, you should know what you’re looking at. I meet Martin, a guide at the entrance and he shows me the guide pricing sheet. I can’t afford the $57 for a private tour and we agree to try to recruit some people. After a bit of time, we find a group of five people from Pennsylvania which brings us to the price of approximately $16. Before long, the six of us, along with Martin, head off for a trip through Mayan history. Martin shows us the Tree of Life at the entrance and explains that you’ll find these at the entrance of all historic sites in Mexico. Its branches reach straight up as if reaching towards heaven. He also shows us an amazing tree which has leaves that, when they die, seem very much like sandpaper. They use them for sanding, as well as polishing limestone. There’s a great reason to snag yourself a guide right there; I never would have known or gotten to feel this leaf if Martin hadn’t pointed it out.
We continue on exploring this “New Mayan” archaeological site. Martin explains that the original Mayans existed for thousands of years before Christ (perhaps an overestimate). In around 800 AD the Toltecs came in and intermingled and the neighborhood went to hell in a hand basket. Suddenly there were sacrifices and a lot of violence (Rebecca, one of the Pennsylvanians provides the soundtrack to the story by throwing in an occasional “dun-dun-dun!” at the most dramatic parts of the stories). They even built a building for the sacrifices. Heck, to listen to Martin, they probably even brought Common Core to the schools (that was for the American readers). After an hour, Martin turns us loose and we head over to the beach area for a quick swim before thunder forces us out (I’m pretty sure the New Mayans would have taken it as a sign from the Gods of Thunder that we should be sacrificed). I stop for a quick lunch and a cold drink of coconut milk, fresh out of the coconut, before heading back to the hotel to take my third shower in less than twenty-four hours (uh, it’s a bit humid here) and drive on over to the library to see the kids. Tomorrow – Artists and Environmentalists