Seat 17/C. I took a deep breath and exhaled with a slight smirk on my face as we finally landed at the Cancun International Airport. Little did I know what the next few days would have in store for me. Being my first solo trip, I didn’t have much planned for the days ahead except for starfishing on the beach to work on my “white dress” and attempt to eat my weight in pastor tacos and temales. After clearing customs and adding another stamp to the passport, I grabbed my backpacks and made my way to the final destination; Playa del Carmen.
Shortly after arriving in town I found myself wandering on the famous Quinta Avenida also known as 5th street. Quinta Avenida reaches over 20 blocks and is well-known for its tasteful restaurants and eclectic outdoor bars. After walking roughly 15 blocks around town, I made it to the hostel and was ready for a stiff drink. Luckily for me there was a rooftop bar and I was just in time for happy hour. I raised my glass and cheered with my new friends as we said farewell to another beautiful day while watching the sun slowly fade behind the cityscape.
It’s 7:30 in the morning and I find myself wide awake while my body clearly said otherwise. After a few minutes of staring into the black abyss (my dorm had no windows and was pitch black unless the light was on) I decided to attempt to climb out of my bunk and try my best not to wake any of my roommates. For those of you that have stayed in hostels, trying to be quiet in the wee hours is a bit difficult without managing to wake at least one person up; especially if you’re on the top bunk. Just when I thought I had made it successfully down the ladder, SMASH! Of course, the A/C remote had been left on one of the steps and smashed on the floor. Needless to say I ran out of the room before anyone could consciously see what was happening. I made my way downstairs to the kitchen as was instantly greeted by the hostel’s chef and was brought a delicious veggie omelet and blazing hot tea. Sometimes breakfast just tastes better when it’s free or when a beautiful Argentinian man cooks it for you.
The sun is at its highest and I wandered to the center of town known as Fundadores Park. While sitting on the steps leading into the plaza, I watched as five men climb to the top of a 30 meter pole that overlooks the entire park. One man sits atop of the pole playing the drum and flute while the other four men swing from ropes as if they were flying. Danza de los Voladores is a Mayan ceremony that was initially created asking the gods to end a severe drought and to appease them in hopes to bring back the rain. It was the perfect place to pass the time people watching and to enjoy local fresh fruit from street vendors.
Later that evening I wandered up to the rooftop with a handful of tamales that I couldn’t wait to eat and laid out on the hammock overlooking the busy street below me. As the bar got busier, I had wandered over to the bar and met Toni and some other friends that I had met earlier. It’s amazing the conversations you can have between a group of people who used to be strangers only a few hours ago who now have become your friends. Listening to people’s stories and how far and long they’ve travelled and what their purpose in this life is will never cease to amaze me.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! It’s 7:45am and I have 15 minutes to get to the dive shop. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my pack and bolted down the stairs. Just as I thought I was going to make it on time, the front door is locked. Nobody was in the lobby or even awake at this time so I looked around for any sort of keys and of course didn’t have any luck. I highly considered hopping out of the second story window, but knowing me that wouldn’t end very well. A few minutes later I found the chef and he was able to unlock the front door for me. I don’t think I’ve run fast since I ran the 400 meter dash during high school. Luckily for me, the dive shop was only a few blocks away and still somehow managed to make it on time.
Dive Chac Mool and Ponderosa cenotes.
Sinking slowly beneath the surface, the light from the sun became dim the father we dove in. I followed the near but distant bubbles ahead of me as we went in single file. Just after we reached the ledge I turned on my torch and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing right in front of me. The cavern literally took my breath away and my pressure gauge would be sure to prove it. Imagine caverns with centuries old stalagmites and stalactites as tall as buildings with fossils hidden within them. Looking above you to the roots of trees plunging underneath the earth’s surface connecting to one another over many decades. Surfacing in a room with a small beam of light gleaming over the still growing formations and listening to the echoes of mystical creatures that still reside within it. I’ve never experienced anything like Chac Mool or Ponderosa and was instantly hooked.
By the end of my third day in Playa, Tulum was calling my name. I packed my backpack the following morning and hitched a ride to Tulum Town. After an hour and a half drive I hopped off the collectivo in the center of town. One of the thrills of traveling on your own is not having any idea of where you’re going or when. You have complete freedom and no obligations.
Batey was well-known throughout Tulum Town. It was a bright and eclectic mojito bar with energetic live music and attracted people from around the world. Half the bar would be dancing around the stage and between the tables enjoying themselves and enjoying life. While the room was packed, my roommates and I were able to find a table that an older gentleman was sitting at and asked if we could join him. He was happy to have us and we shared stories over a bottle of wine and beers. All of us were having a great time and I wanted to capture the night’s events. I went to reach for my phone inside of my bag and I soon realized that it wasn’t there. At first I thought that I had just misplaced it but then realized that someone had walked off with it. During your travels, you hear stories of people getting their items stolen all the time but never really think it’ll actually happen to you until the moment it does. A year ago if this had happened to me, I would have been furious but just goes to show what almost a year of personal growth will do for you. I accepted the fact that I had lost my phone, ID’s, cards and 300 pesos and let it go. I hoped that whoever had found my bag that the belongings inside found them well since they may have needed it more than I did. It reminds you to stay humble when things don’t always seem to go as planned. There wasn’t anything that I could do and I still had enough money to get through the rest of my trip and my passport to get me home, that’s all that mattered. I was eternally grateful to Cessa, Skyla and Riley for their help in trying to recover my belongings. Even when things don’t go your way or how you expect them, always look on the brighter side, I promise it’ll be worth it.
It’s around noon the next day and I found myself lying on a hammock in the courtyard of the hostel reading a book that I had picked up earlier. I was starting to feel a bit defeated about last night’s events when randomly “Can I Kick It” by A Tribe Called Quest plays over the speakers. While shaking my head and smiling, “Kyle, you son of a bitch.” In those moments, I instantly felt a calm rush pulse through me. It felt as if this was his way of letting me know that everything was going to be okay and that it will work out for the best. For those of you that don’t know me personally, a good friend of mine had passed away a couple of months prior and this was the song that I played during his celebration of life. As soon as the song came on, I knew it was him.
A few hours later, I was sprawled out on one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen. Soft white sand, bright turquoise water, smells of salt in the air, it’ll make you never want to leave. Traveling artisans walked by in pursuit to sell their handmade jewelry, kids played in the sand with their families and sailors sailed away in the distance. I could see why Tulum was calling and I’m happy I answered.
One of the main reasons why travelers come to Tulum, it to see the ruins. So naturally, I had to see them for myself. Walking through the park, I realized that I should have gotten up earlier to beat the crowds and heat. The ruins were beautiful and would recommend anyone visiting Tulum to see them. I got a good laugh when I went to go take a photo of a cool lizard that I had seen. When I had kneeled down to take the photo, RIP! Surly my pants had ripped. Not only had they ripped, but right under my left butt cheek and it wasn’t small either. Luckily, I had a bathing suit underneath my clothes, so I didn’t care too much. I’m sure anyone walking behind me got a kick out of it too. C’est la vie, right?
For the remaining days of my time in Mexico, I decided to go back to Playa. When I arrived back into town, I would meet up with my friend Toni and walk around town until we found a spot on the pier or beach and talk about life. We must have sat on the beach for hours each day getting to know each other, our backgrounds, where we want to go and what we want out of life. It amazes me when people are brought into your life to teach you lessons or open your mind to new ways of thinking. Over the course of a couple of days, he and I had become good friends and someone I hope to run into again in the future.
As my trip came closer to an end, so did my funds. During my last full day in town, I had enough money to get some street food for dinner that night. Toni had learned about the events of my time in Tulum and treated me to tacos that night. Later that evening, mother nature had oh so graciously called for me. I seriously contemplated whether or not eating or buying tampons was more important. It was almost midnight and I walked several blocks down to the pharmacy and bought what was left of my dignity that night. I had a good laugh about it later. Luckily for me, the hostel had a free breakfast the next morning and I had probably eaten my bodyweight in toast, fruit and yogurt.
The last few hours of my trip where coming to a close end and I decided to meet up with Toni and say goodbye before I left town. As we were walking around town, I had glanced down at my feet and some how found 50 pesos on the ground. Believe me, I don’t think my stomach could have been any happier to find those pesos. I looked around to see if anyone had dropped it and nobody was close by. I picked it up and we went to the nearest OXXO and bought two coffees and a chocolate bar. Best 50 pesos I’ve spent. It amazes me when the universe places things on your path for you to find and help you.
We walked to the bus station and sat on the ground by the terminal as he finished the bracelet that he had made me and placed it on my wrist. “Something to remember me by.” It wasn’t before too long that my bus had been called. My bus was boarding and I grabbed my backpacks as he walked me to the bus and said that we would see each other again soon and hugged me goodbye. The past seven days were some of the best days I had experienced. It had been an unforgettable week filled with amazing adventures and wonderful people who I had met along the way. Thankful for the lessons I had learned and the personal growth Mexico had given me.
Curled up in my seat in the terminal, all I could thinking about is how much I wanted to eat and my headache didn’t help much. An hour and a half passed by and we finally boarded the plane. Naturally I went and looked at the brochure in my seatback pocket and found out that they offered free beverages and snacks. I’ve never asked for so many bags of pretzels in my life. I’m sure the stewardess thought I was hoarding them in my bag, but little did she know, I ate every single one of them.
Until next time Mexico, I will be seeing you again very soon.