[:en]Our first impression of Tulum was colored by our dive instructor, Nathan. Being his home city he was naturally a bit biased, and said it was gorgeous, that we would want to stay there for a very long time. He reinforced this belief by examples of other people: his best friend was an english girl that was doing much the same trip as we were. She loved Tulum so much that she got stuck there…eight years ago.
As a result we had very high expectations.
Its interesting to me how each person sees the world so differently. We view the world from our own unique lenses. Some of these we are born with, which stem from our personalities and innate likes and dislikes. Most we acquire based on our experiences. We construct our “normal” or comfortable based on our own small bubble of daily life. And whether we want to admit it or not, we are constantly comparing what we see to what we know.
Even if we can determine that a place is a very nice, cosmopolitan place for that country, compare it to home and it doesn’t add up…you have to put another lens on to appreciate it, a “Mexico” or second world lens.
Tulum, though very lively and active for a small city in Mexico, was not the charming metropolis we had been informed. The first day I could not tell if the city had a shabby charm, or was just disgustingly dirty. All the walls were peeling and covered in soot and grime. Looking at the trash people left, a deep sadness came over me, similar to when you see a beautiful beach littered with plastic bags and bottles. My lenses were confused. For Mexico, it was a very active city. People were out and about and doing things, as supposed to deserted and bleak streets we had seen previously. So the atmosphere was great. But the trash was so heartbreaking. I’ve been to very poor places before, where people have nothing, but they value it. They keep it immaculately clean. In Tulum, clearly occupied houses where families were going about their daily lives had mounds of trash piling in their front yards. On the block where we stayed it reminded me of a sick version of the Christmas tree light competition we have in a cul de sac sack back home. This time, it was who had the most elaborate and expansive collections of tin cans and candy wrappers.
The city is a very simple design, and the main areas are easy to navigate after a day or two. Most of the bustling shops are arranged around one Main Street, with smaller streets radiating to either side. This road then connects in an L shape to the long highway that takes you down to the beach and the hotel zone. The only challenging part is the smaller residential streets, where there are dead ends, walls where there should be streets, and absolutely no street signs.
We arrived via bus and grabbed a cab since our bags were a bit much to be lugging around the city. The driver quoted us 25 pesos. We were going to crash on the floor of our friend Temi’s Airbnb rental,  she gave us very detailed instructions to find the place. The key was, apparently, a lavenderia (laundry). find the laundry, find the house.
The house was only about 10 blocks from the main road, but as we entered the residential thicket, even our cabby got lost. He had to get out 3 times to ask for directions, but finally got us there…needless to say we tipped him.
As we got out of the cab a la casa de naranja greeted us, a bright facade on an otherwise dull street. Its vibrant orange walls were bordered by a cute white picket fence, with two bikes parked next to the door. Idealic, and very unrepresentative of the interior. A small one bedroom, it worked perfectly for our purposes. However there was an almost comical propensity for the floor to be covered in dirt no matter how many times we swept.
We were near the end of the cul de sac, just two doors down from a 12 foot wall that enclosed our street from the rest of the city. In the corner of wall was an arch, which cut across a small lavanderia. This gateway was key, everyone used it to go to and from the street to everything else. Like Temi said, only half exaggerating, the “laundry is key, it’s life or death!”
Though not the mesmerizing city we had been told, we had a great time with Temi, our friend from the UK. We met her and her husband in Holbox, an island of the north coast of Mexico. After traveling with them for a week we went our separate ways, but Temi invited us to crash at the house she had rented in Tulum. By then her husband, Ed had gone back to London. Though we missed Ed we got some quality bonding time with Temi. Extremely witty and intelligent, she is absolutely hilarious. A fellow coffee and chocolate addict, we got along very well. We decided to rent bikes, a must if you want to get around. The bikes there are very cheap and more common than cars. The three of us fell into a beautiful routine of relaxed mornings with homemade breakfast and coffee, and then a 20 min bike ride out to the beaches. After soaking up the sun we went back into town, usually eating a late lunch at a place called Rincon. Extremely cheap $3-5 dollar lunch, with a lot of variety for Mexico.
The beaches there are some of the most breathtaking Oscar and I have ever seen. Covered in white sands and crystal clear waters, it was easy to spend a whole week there. Right along the beaches is another very long, narrow road, bordered by dense vegetation. To either side the entrances to luxurious hotels and restaurants popped up. The prices were triple than in the city, the main reason we biked back to eat lunch. The hotel zone was the biggest contrast for me. In the same city, but separated by a long highway, was this ideal hotel paradise, and a grimy third world city. The tourists that stayed in the hotel zone rarely, if ever, ventured out of their bubble of beach paradise. Their experience of the country will just be their hotel, and they’ll never get out and see how people live 20 min from them. It’s like going to a Disneyland resort and thinking that that is how all Americans live. It’s a gorgeous place, and definitely worth visiting, but there is such a disparity between the two zones. Two different lives, two sides of one coin.