I arrived hot and sweaty in Tulum with two bags hanging from my front and back. Dismounting the bus and stepping out into the hot sun and sandy streets, I immediately felt more at ease. I was ready to leave Playa del Carmen. While beautiful, it was overrun with spring breakers and vacationing families, somewhat lacking in authenticity. Immediately I could see that Tulum was different, more relaxed. Tulum of course is a very popular vacation destination, but it manages to retain some of that old hippie charm for which it once was known. The local community is also more outwardly present in the town. As I walked towards the the Airbnb, I received a few big smiles from travelers I passed. The streets were quieter and more rugged, the people moved slower yet with more intention. I exhaled.
First things first — I jumped on a bike and rode to the beach. The beach in Tulum is about a 20 minute bike ride from the town center (where I was staying). Riding down the path along the road, surrounded by foliage, it is beautiful while still littered with retreat centers like the “Pyramid of Postivie Thinking,” places for wealthy Americans to come and drown their egos in yoga and raw food diets. I took a left at the fork in the road. The beach is beautiful, the water a vivid blue. I lay on the sand and read. “Gringa!” a man asked me where I was from and tried to sell me an empanada.
The next day I took a right at the fork in the road. There is where the beach front hotels are, the street coated with spas, bars, healthy eateries touting smoothies and salads, shops selling expensive yoga attire. It is funky and interesting but somewhat contrived. Still it whispers the old history of the town.
I called this post reliving Tulum because I have been to Tulum before, during a significant period in my life. I stay in an Eco-hotel on the beach with my family the summer I turned 16. This was a turning point for me in more ways than one. Age 15 was arguably the worst year of my life. I existed within a black hole that took all of my strength to climb out of. By that summer I was starting to reach the light at the end of the blackest tunnel and could finally breathe easier. I had finished my last year at traditional high school, opting to drop out and continue in a different path the next fall. I traveled to Tanzania with my mom and celebrated my 16th birthday there, marking a turning point in teenage life. In Mexico, two Argentinian girls stopped to ask our family if we wanted to buy any jewelry they were selling. We chatted and found out they were traveling around the continent in an RV. This freedom inspired me. I desired to feel more open, more at peace, more connected, rather than to continue drowning as I had been. I had also always had a deep love for travel, and became determined that one day I would go on a similar adventure. Returning to Tulum now, on that adventure that I had dreamed up many years ago, I visited the patch of beach where the hotel is that we stayed at those many years ago. I came full circle with that aching part of myself. I am not healed, I am not whole, but I am beginning to forgive myself.
I entered the beach through the hotel I had stayed at many years ago and parked my bike without issue. I stood at the edge of the ocean and looked out, allowing those raw memories that I spend so much energy suppressing to occupy space. I walked a ways down the ocean edge, passing hotel after hotel with vacationers reclining on beds on the sand. After a ways I put my bag on the sand and jumped into the water, the waves rougher than they had been the previous day. I got out and dried off in the sun as I ate a mango. I stretched out and looked out across the infinite ocean. Somewhere in that sun there was peace.