Friday, April 25, 2008

Akumal: Paradise Paved


By the time I decided to spend my birthday weekend in Akumal on the Mexican Caribbean coast, I had already overcome the shock of paradise having been paved and pillaged. I have been living in Mérida for almost a year. In September 2007 Pablo and I went to the Caribbean Coast to celebrate his birthday. I had not been to the Caribbean in 20 years. On that trip we stayed in Tulum, but we did take a spin through Akumal late one afternoon. We drove the four lane superMexicanhighway* approximately 20 kilometers north. That was shocking. I felt like I was seeing the area for the first time, so much had been cleared and built up. When we got to the turnoff for Akumal, Pablo started to turn left. Left!? There is no left! Well, there WAS no left turn when I used to live there. There is now a sizable pueblo on the west side of the highway, complete with bull ring. As we slowly drove into Akumal’s beach areas, I was in shock, I think. The best way to explain it is this: we took over 200 photos that weekend, but not one in or near Akumal. The beach road to Yalku Lagoon was nearly unrecognizable: so many houses, condos; even restaurants and stores. I was able to pick out Dick Blanchard’s garage where I first lived, and Nan Haff’s servant quarters where I lived later, and a few other spots, but we confined that first visit to mostly a wide-eyed open-mouthed drive through. We briefly walked along the beach in Akumal Bay, and then quietly drove back to Tulum. Ah, but that was in September!

(*a superMexicanhighway shall be defined as a very gringo-looking freshly paved high speed four lane highway with dangerous unpredictable turnarounds, unapproachable entrances, unannounced “topes”(speed bumps) and numerous lunatics on a leming drive…..)

On April 11, 2008, Pablo and I headed to the Caribbean coast again. I had done some advance planning by contacting old friends in the area before departure. Nancy and Miguel graciously offered us hammock space in their fabulous castle on the beach in Tankah, 7 kilometers north of Tulum. We used to dive with manatee in the cenote in Tankah. The cenote is just a short walk from our friends’ house so we enjoyed a snorkel in the lagoon. It was beautiful there; much different from the narrow dirt road through the jungle Tankah of the 80’s, but not destroyed in any way. So far. Except of course for the disappearance of the manatee.

Then we went to Akumal. We visited with Gonzalo at the Akumal Dive Shop. He now is Don Gonzalo the sole owner of the shop, and of other divine luxuries. He graciously accepted us and after introducing me to the staff as the first instructor to work there when the dive shop opened, he gave me run of the house. I gave Pablo a resort dive course and we took tanks into the bay for an hour and a half. Putting that tank on my bare back and walking into the warm clear waters of the Caribbean revitalized me. I felt like I had never left Akumal. Until we came up from the dive and there were 30 boats in the bay, where once there were 3. It didn’t matter, we saw lots of life on the dive: two rays, three turtles, at least two huge barracuda, and several schools of fish, so numerous they create a giant circle around you watching you watch them, everyone suspended in time and space. Wow was it great to be back in the waters I loved so much.

Upon our return from the dive, the staff told us that Gonzalo invited us out on a sail on his 36’ catamaran for the afternoon. We ate fish and drank a beer to celebrate the dive and get ready to go sailing. Gonzalo had invited some other folks out on the boat, plus Captain Angel and his crew Porfirio. We drank beers and danced and chatted our way to an isolated beach at Xcaret, where we lay anchor and swam to the beach. Upon our return, Angel and crew had prepared delicious fresh ceviche, salsa and guacamole. We drank in more beer and sun and headed back toward Akumal. It was an excellent excursion.

Now, of course, we want to go to Akumal and dive every weekend. That is not possible and we will probably not get away for a month or two, but we will go back. Having overcome the shock of progress several months ago, it made the recent weekend trip a most pleasurable one. They have paved quite a bit of paradise, but they have not ruined it. The people and atmosphere at Akumal always have and always will hold a special place in my heart. If I have to have birthdays, Lord, let them all be like this one!

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