We had several days on the beach with Lexie and Liam in a hotel near Tulum, about an hour South of Playa del Carmen. They went snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding, and because Liam wanted to stay on brand, he took Lexie jet skiing.
Tulum is a town of 45,000 people which feels a step down in intensity from Playa del Carmen and has a peculiar and somehow attractive mix of standard small town Mexican street life and shops and restaurants catering to tourists, much of it spread on either side of the main highway. There are some beachside Mayan ruins just North of the town and the spot is a popular place for Instagram Influencers to visit so as to be able to document the perfect (and completely unreal) lives they are pursuing. You can see that this area appeals to a somewhat younger crowd, folks who want something local and a little scrappier but still having access to good coffee, good local food and Wi-Fi (that pretty much describes us, except for the younger part.)
We were told by a restaurateur that Tulum is about as far south as Americans and Canadians come and, as he predicted, we didn’t see or hear many of them in our travels closer to the border with Belize.
Our hotel was right on the beach so that we could access the water and go for walks with ease. There were some Russian guests at the hotel, looking swarthy and prosperous – I immediately assumed they were oligarchs and when not suntanning on the beach were laundering money made in illicit arms, oil and gas or human trafficking operations, probably converting it into crypto currency on the dark web. In actual fact they were polite and reserved and we exchanged respectful greetings.
A crew of hotel folks raking the beach and looking for stones to remove – we need our beaches clear and pristine (seaweed has been an issue in the Caribbean of late, large blooms of Sargassum, likely because of excess nutrients provided by agricultural and human runoff.)
The manager had arrived as a one year old here 30 plus years ago with his parents in a RV that they had driven from Utah. They were into skydiving and skiing and his dad had gotten an order for 30,000 Velcro wallets (he had been making a few on the side in his garage) which he was able to spin into a business that he subsequently sold. They liked to scuba dive and spent several years the area, including diving in the myriad of cenotes. One thing led to another and Josh’s parents built a small hotel, originally a spot for diving, fishing and exploring denotes. It is now a full on hotel. His parents were mostly retired and he liked to invest in cryptocurrency. I love hearing this kind of story – the world we live in is an amazing, variegated place. You couldn’t have made this up.
The beach vacation – now so much part of our consciousness that we take it for granted – is a peculiar cultural artifact. That you would take considerable time and effort to get to a place far away so that you could spend a lot of time in the blazing sun while doing nothing seems odd when you think about it. And, for those of you in colder climes, the fact that you get into a flying metal tube in the middle of February and be lying on a tropical beach within 24 hours of departure, making your winter that much more bearable, is nothing short of fantastic. Fur trappers in 19th Century Northern Alberta mostly had to put up with the winter they were dealt, though I suppose access to lots of rye whiskey helped.
The idea of a beach vacation started in Britain in the early 1700s, prior to this the ocean and the seaside were seen as dangerous, isolated places. The English upper class started going to spas that were located by the seaside and then began to see the seaside as itself somewhere healthy to be. In the mid 1700s, the upper class would ride in “rolling bathing machines” – covered wagons – into the water so as to be able to bathe without exposing themselves to public view. What a great name for a conveyance! What would the modern day version be -something on tracks, with GPS, air conditioning and a really good sound system? Elon Musk may be working on one. As late as the 1930s in Britain police were arresting folks for bathing in clothing that was too revealing or too close to the opposite sex.
The love of nature, closely embedded in the romantic movement, made getting away to places of natural beauty, particularly as Britain industrialized, developing its “dark satanic mills” which made cities dirty and unhealthy, an attractive goal. The Romantic poets (Shelley, Wordsworth and others) looked to nature for inspiration and as a kind of ideal and this raised folks’ awareness of nature’s beauty (and fragility), not unlike the environmental movement today.
Things developed steadily in the 1800s with the expansion of the railway which made getting to the seaside easier for even working class folks, and the construction of towns dedicated to holidays (e.g. Blackpool, Brighton).
The French came up with the bikini in the 1950s, which was a scandal in itself – the Pope called it sinful – but, as is now evident, it gained wide acceptance in sunnier climes and pretty much eliminated the desire to have sexually segregated swimming areas. More modest cultures – much of South Asia, the Middle East and some of Africa – continue to find the way folks in the West expose themselves beachside somewhat loose, promiscuous and decadent. Women (and these edicts typically restrain only women) should be modest, chaste, demure.
I thought you would like to hear the results of a careful study your diarist is undertaking on speed bumps in Mexico, whose results he hopes to publish in a peer reviewed journal once the data is in. Like 40 degree below zero winters in Winnipeg or young children, these cannot be avoided here and often demand your attention when you least can offer it.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of speed bumps, each with a couple of variants. Any can be signed or unsigned, and signage when it occurs can be well in advance of the bump or right at it, or can be a “false flag” – a sign with no bump present. The latter can be especially confusing when driving at night, which I try and avoid.
The first and most common speed bump is a additional layer of asphalt laid in a half round shape with a 5 – 6” radius. This type is often unsigned, shows up randomly, even on tollways and will give your shocks and springs a solid work out if you are not able to slow down in time to meet it. These are especially popular in Chiapas – I ran over dozens of them during my drive from the highlands to the coast and they felt there like a political statement. “You have taken advantage of us for too long, we will make you pay.” We got slowed up by one on our drive south of Tulum on a deserted stretch of road… as I rapidly downshifted several locals came running out of a nearby lean to proffering snacks and drinks for purchase. That is taking service to a new level.
An unusual variant of this first type of bump is a very thick piece of rope laid across the road…this is not as effective as the asphalt bump and I think truck drivers might risk having it picked up by their tires and tangled on an axle.
The second type is a double line of semi spherical, 6” in radius metal objects embedded in the pavement with the convex side up. You experience these most often in towns and cities on major thoroughfares, often with no signage or notice. If you do pass over them at speed, they provide a shiatsu-like massage to your tires but not a lot more. Sometimes these have been driven over so much that either some of the metal hemispheres have collapsed or they have been torn out of the road surface. In this case, you steer your wheels to the areas closest to the surrounding road surface so as to minimize the bump.
The third and final type is most challenging if you do not see it in time to downshift. It is a 6 – 8 foot slab of concrete with inclines on either side leading to a flat top, which is raised 1 – 2.5 feet above the roadbed, like a feature in a skatepark. Not slowing down for these would result in launching the car like a stunt driver in the Fast and Furious franchise, with disastrous results. Fortunately, everyone takes these seriously and locals know where they are, signed or not, so when you see vehicles ahead of you slowing down, you know to do the same.