Thursday, February 24, 2005

Where I Went On Holiday - Playa Del Carmen, Part 7

[Originally posted on]

Day 4 Continued (5? Who can tell? Where's my watch? Did I bring a watch?)

So, the tour was great. Winding through Playacar was a little scary, as I have a phobia for gigantic All-Inclusives (though if they are your preferred accomodation in paradise I won't begrudge you; I won't begrudge you anything as long as you're not standing on my ear while you're doing it).

We return to Playa, and check into Hotel Posada Freud. Now, I have to tell you, I thought La Tortuga was gorgeous -- I didn't even get around to describing the rooftop jacuzzi or what happens when you jacuzzi au naturelle with a big glass of rum and a bigger cigar. Hmmm, I don't think I will, actually.

But if you stay at La Tortuga, I think I would recommend forgoing the charms of the spa jets and get an interior room; their pool is beautiful, and any room that doesn't open on 10th is going to be a LOT quieter. I was awakened the morning after Stupor Bowl Sunday at 4:01 AM by a crowd of about 50 people right outside the window, howling and banging on the garbage cans. Hmm, that part I didn't like so much.

So when we saw the room at Posada Freud, which hung right over the street, and realized that the kind of annoying blooz-bar we had been trying to avoid was right underneath us, we were trepid. The room was lovely, and that worrisome balcony was huge, with a scrumptious hammock, which I immediately used to erase about two and a half hours, but would it be noisy?

It was. The bar featured a dreadful series of musicians starting with some inept Bob Dylan karaoke and working up to a grand finale of a U2 cover band, not inept but I don't like U2 much, so it was a problem. We were all set to get pissy and annoyed, when we remembered -- hey, we're in Mexico. And what do you know, but at some point -- not THAT late -- they stopped playing and we slept like babes, and in the morning we discovered -- the sunrise! We missed it at La Tortuga, as we faced the wrong direction there (shoulda slept in the jacooze).

At 5:50, Avenida Quinta is absolutely dead quiet, and the sun is just turning into an orange-red fireball, and the whole world is silent and glowing. Wow. At 5:53, a guy shows up at one of the shops in a little truck, and the street starts waking up, but it's still so peaceful and calm; no hint that there were knee-walking tequila gobblers under our window just a few hours before.

I'm starting to realize that no matter how good this gets, it's about to get better right around the corner. And if I go back to Playa, I think I'm staying at the Posada Freud again. Balcony room.

We ate, and lazed around on the balcony, and wandered around the town a little, and started thinking about our next journey. We were torn; rent a car, or take a cab? We decided on a cab, even though it's expensive as hell to get to the hotel strip on the Boca Paila, it's not as psychically expensive as driving on that highway. Eventually, but not today, my friend, not today.

I discovered a magic trick, whereby you can make a cab driver disappear instantly in thin air: go up to a group of them, and say "Tulum?", and as they all start opening doors and nodding their heads yes, yes, I will take you, no I will take you, then add "Boca Paila?". Instant ghost town. Where did everybody go? Our bags, which had already partly been loaded into one cab, were back at our feet, and were left alone with one brave soldier, the only cabbie on Calle 10 willing to haul us down the Boca Paila Road.

Our hotel there was Tierras Del Sol, which is way, way down at the end of the hotel strip in Tulum, almost to the entrance to Sian Ka'an -- kilometer 10. Our cabbie lied and said he knew where it was. I had a map from the hotel website but he wouldn't look at it, nor would he quote a price; he waved the standard rate sheet at me, which said "Tulum 435 pesos", and said something about figuring out the rest when we got there. It's very difficult for a non-Spanish speaker to explain to a non-English speaker that "km 10" means 10 km from the ruins, not 10 km from the highway junction or 10 km from the Tulum road junction with the Boca Paila road. I'm not sure I can even explain it to myself.

But off we set, and got another lesson in 307 driving. Those lane markers are just suggestions, you know. We like to think we in the USA live in the "land of the free" but you haven't tasted ANYTHING of real freedom until you've decided to pull out in the face of an oncoming overloaded semi in order to get around a destroyed 1981 Chrysler Le Baron with no doors, trunk, or hood that's going 18 MPH on the shoulder. And hoping you'll clear the old guy on the bicycle on your way back over, so the huge bus can have the center (i.e., oncoming) lane for a turn.

We made it, though, and successfully shouted and gesticulated our desire to turn down the Tulum road, and hit the Boca Paila. As the road got worse and worse, our cabbie was obviously thinking we were idiots, and lost, and his car was going to become a 22nd-century Maya ruin in the jungle. The road crew had been back, destroyed the road even more; it was now bi-level, with the southbound "lane" a good foot higher in elevation than the northbound, and was chopped up into human-head sized chunks besides. If you go slow, this isn't much of a problem, until the yahoos in their jeep convoys heading for the fishing camps or Punta Allen roar past at 40 MPH; we were more than satisfied to be making 15. And all that construction meant of course thick clouds of dust, coating every leaf. If you made the mistake of trying to clear it with the wiper-washer fluid, you made limestone mud on the windshield. That's the same stuff they mortared the Maya pyramids together with, I think -- dust and wiper fluid. Our cabbie was far too polite to swear out loud, but I think he probably had a few thoughts to confess the next time he was in church.

But then, the road got a little better, and we passed some nice-looking places that didn't seem like wilderness at all -- Ana y Jose, Las Ranitas, Amansala -- and then finally, Tierras del Sol. We paid off our cabbie with what I hope was a generous settlement, and made our way into the jungle.

At the top of the rise, a vision appeared, a god, naked but for a pair of swim trunks "Hola, Steven!" It was Carlos, our host. The naked but for etc. part was put there in the name of my wife, who seemed oddly unable to speak properly. I'm a ladies' man myself, but even I could tell that this Carlos fellow was kind of hunky, in a Enrique Eglesias kind of way. While she stood there going "huh huh, huh huh", I grabbed her hand and followed Carlos to our new digs.

The guidebook called the owners of Tierras del Sol "laid-back" which is like calling Yao Ming "fairly tall" or Bill Gates "well-off". This was not going to be like staying at the Four Seasons. Our cabana was right on the beach -- not NEAR the beach, not JUST ACROSS THE ROAD from the beach, not WITHIN VIEW of the beach, but ON the beach; you stepped off the deck onto the sand -- this is a distinction which tends to escape realtors and hotel advertisers in some places I could mention. The first thing we noticed was the door. Not only did it not lock, it didn't latch; there was a good quarter inch clearance there. Carlos says, "I need to fix, or maybe you can put something?" We wedged some cardboard in there, and it was fine. Stayed that way the whole time.

And there are people all over the world staying in places with ultra-secure doors made to ultra-high tolerances who are enjoying themselves one hell of a lot less than we did. Laid back charm. In spades.

The room was cute, and the deck, which looked out to the main strand just feet away, featured a couple of comfy deck chairs, a hammock chair, and the best hammock I've ever touched -- absolutely immense, the size of Minnesota, with a tight weave. I'm pretty sure I spent many hours in the thing but honestly my memory is weak on this point, as I tended to become unconscious just sitting down in the thing.

If that wasn't enough, we could move even closer and sit under one of the palapas provided for that purpose. Which we did, for the entirety of day, er, well, a couple of them. Didn't move the whole day, and why would you want to?

The beach was as nice as Mamita's, but deserted. The room was lovely, completely rustic, with adobe and stick walls, a busted shutter over a glassless window, the aforementioned door, and two dim low-voltage light bulbs that only worked in the evenings through morning.

The only real drawback, if you chose to see it that way, was that we were a fair distance from anything at all. That first night, we were too tired to go off in search of food, so we looked at Carlos with big sad eyes and he made us the best ham sandwiches we've ever had.

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