I cannot recall the last time my head hit the pillow at 9:30pm. Nothing is more luxurious to me than that. Well, waking up in the middle of the night with a cool breeze sweeping through my room and the crash of waves heard in the distance is equally lucullan, I must admit.
I just spent five gloriously relaxing days in Tulum, Mexico to celebrate Abigail and her bachelorette weekend. I have known Abigail since the halcyon days at the College of Charleston back in 1995 and both she and Claire have championed me into coming back into the fold of the deep South by buying a home in Charleston. I have been looking forward to spending quality time with two of my oldest friends for many months and to get to know the other ladies in the bridal group. I guess I need to address why in the Sam Hell I am a bridesmaid. Well, that’s just what Abby wanted so Chris Millspaugh (another one of her oldest guy friends) and I were asked to be a part and I am honored, and happy to throw a kink in staid wedding traditions.
Nick and Abby welcome us with beer, naturally.
Nick and Abby welcome us with beer, naturally.
Now that she is getting married we had to celebrate in a big way and I am very appreciative that she chose Tulum over some wild weekend in some other popular hen party destination.
Claire, Abigail and I met at the chaotic Cancun airport where we rented our cars post haste and then bobbled down the 307 on the coast of the Playa de Carmen towards Tulum, about a two hour drive. I have never traveled with these two dames before (amazingly) but I had no doubt all would be fine as we are equally head strong. When the Budget rental chap brought around two cars that were on empty, telling us that is all he had it was if the Indian Goddess Kali erupted from both of them. The agent quickly saw the fire he had conjured up in both of them and quickly appeared with at least one car with a full tank. I just sat back and watched him fumble against two hot headed and incredible lawyers.
I have been hearing about Tulum for several years now as it is the fashionable new spot for New York’s hippest and earthiest. Sure enough as soon as we arrived in the small, dusty town I started seeing Ray-Ban’s, Ooops – I erased the name of the shoe (?) - check its' spelling. and Tom’s shoes in every direction. But it was a good thing. It is nice to see New Yorkers actually relax. Nobody was an iPhone zombie.
We arrived at Tita Tulum around 4pm and check-in consisted of some random man giving us a key to cabana 2 (El Jaguar!). We didn’t even look at the room before we had thrown shoes into the sand, yanked off socks and ran to the beach to behold the splendor. And splendor it was - palm trees as far as the eye could see, thatched roof cabanas peeking out here and there and in front of us the pantone perfection of azure blue.
We met up with Abigail’s brother Nick and his hysterical girlfriend Lisa, both living in New York, grabbed beer, and left unpacking for another time. They had arrived the day before and had kindly booked a table at Zammas for dinner.
We watched the sunset and then headed by car to the restaurant near the top of the trendy Tulum beach. I have never been anywhere quite like Tulum. Once you turn onto a main road there must be 50-60 hotels next to each other, each with only 8-10 rooms, some tent lodges, some luxury and most just quaint eco lodges. We sat outside and ordered drinks pronto. Abigail was excited to order a whole fish but the waiter said it was too late. “Mañana,” he deadpanned. ‘Mañana’ would be our favorite word during our stay.
After dinner we were all a bit weary after a day of travel so we drove back to Tita and passed out. Vacation mode was in effect.
I woke up at 6am, threw on a caftan and stumbled to the beach where I sat on the sand and saluted the sun as it crept up over the ocean. Kids were already out playing and dogs were waking and going on morning expeditions. My favorite part of the morning was watching a svelte Latino hippy jog past in his shorts and in a trance. All of a sudden he looked to his right and saw the sun rising and stopped and began jumping up in down, hands raised in the air, welcoming Apollo to Tulum. He was truly happy, excited and honored to be a part of such a ceremony and I was equally touched to watch.
After an hour I decided to get some work done before starting my day so I packed computer and phone and headed to the Tita restaurant (also the lobby, also check in, also hang out) and plugged in and got to work for another hour until Claire joined me for breakfast. The rest of the crew had booked a Scuba adventure that morning so we were on our own. (I tried to book with them but the diver kept asking me for a .24 cent deposit and I was leery, so I decided to see how their’s was before booking).
We then took a long stroll up the beach and checked out some of the other lodges dotting the beach. We fell in love with Shambala with its' all white buildings and giant painting of Ganesh on one wall. Their yoga studio was all glass and looked out over the beach. We would be coming back that evening. When the heat became too much we stopped at Posada Margherita for amazing watermelon, mint and basil fresh juices before heading back on the street side to see the front of the properties and to check out some of the shops.
For lunch we went next door to Coqui Coqui. This is the epicenter of coolness in Tulum, constantly featured in Vogue, Departures and others, we were excited to be located next door to see the action. Claire and I sat outside on a huge divan and watched all the skinny girls and guys smoke cigarettes and sporting their Tom Ford shades while drinking gallons of wine. Yep, chic happens! We had yet another seriously fresh and fantastic meal of ceviche and tacos. It was one of those lunches I will remember forever for it’s beauty, simplicity and our hipster, mulletted, harem pant wearing waiter.
Once back we chilled on the beach and later went back to Shambala Petit Hotel for a serene yoga class. With all the windows open and palm trees growing through the studio and through the roof we zenned out over the ocean watching little kiddies run around naked in the waves, dogs trail their owners and clouds passing by. That is the way yoga should be done!
After class we met up with the rest of our group and they were a little peeved over their unorganized dive, even though they ended up having a great time. Claire and I spotted a dive sign next to Tita so I went over there and knocked on a hut. A tall and handsome guy came out and said he would be happy to take me cave diving the following day. I left him a deposit and we decided to rendezvous at 11:30am the next morning. His name was Joaquin and I was a happy diver.
That night Abby and Nick’s cousins Courtney and Brodie arrived and our gang was complete. We headed to a spot called La Zebra for dinner where we had a riotous evening. Once again Abigail tried to order a whole fish and once again she was denied. I finally popped a gasket and calmly told Manuel that, ‘Mañana’ was not an option and a fish was to be delivered to Abby tonight. He sighed explaining it would take 50 whole minutes, we said that is the perfect amount of time for cocktails and ceviche. He relented and cracked a smile. He knew we had him. The rest of the night he was known as, ‘Mañana Manuel’ and he cracked up too many times to count. After getting rather sauced we headed back to Tita and Claire and I passed out at 10pm and the rest of the crew went to Hartwood to book our table for the following night.
This morning I woke up at 6:30. Slept in! Again I saluted the morning sun, worked a tiny bit (it is the weekend after all) and we all rallied and went to breakfast at another yoga lodge to check out their scene. I love how you can stay at one little lodge and just bounce around all the rest for breakfast, lunch, dinner and yoga.
At 11:45 Joaquin came to find me on the beach and we headed out on our adventure. He is from Argentina and has been in Tulum for a year and a half with his girlfriend. She runs the front desk at a private yoga retreat and he takes people diving daily. They live in a hut on the beach half the size of my bedroom and are happy as can be. How refreshing.
The entire dive trip seemed straight out of a Wes Anderson movie to me. Joaquin is tall, skinny, monotone and very funny. He looked at me after we got in the van and said, “So we have another guest, he is German.” Then he shrugged, turned on the ignition and barreled out of the parking lot. Sure enough at the dive center there was a very eager looking German waiting for us. I could only imagine how this would pan out.
We got our dive gear organized and headed to the first cenote (underwater river systems found in this area) near the ocean that is half salt water and half fresh water and located amidst the mangroves. It was surreal. We strapped on our gear and headed in. As soon as we plunged in the German’s mask fogged up. He spit and spit and spit in it and kept complaining how he didn’t have enough spit to defog the mask. At one point Joaquin looked at him and deadpanned, “Man you are going to dry out.” I thought I was going to pop my wet suit I laughed so hard. But the German continued until the mask was a mini spittoon. The dive was beautiful and very therapeutic. Gazing up at the mangrove roots with the sun dancing between them, illuminating small schools of fish and several big tarpon. I always forget what a joy being underwater can be, just observing, not talking, just hearing your breath and soaking in the surreal surroundings.
Our next dive was at Grand Cenote and it was a serious cave dive. Joaquin mapped out or dive and showed us a map as to where we would be going, Cenote dos Ojos or ‘The Two Eyes’ was the name of the area we would be exploring. It was a hard trek with a tank on your back and very steep steps down to the cave but we made it, plunged in and luckily for us the German had coughed up enough crud to keep his mask fog free. We descended into a truly magical place. I felt as if I had entered Neptune’s palace. Stalactites, stalagmites, ‘soda straws’ as Joaquin called the smaller points hanging from the ceiling were everywhere. We turned on our flashlights to enter the cave and as would only happen to the poor German, his flashlight failed. So I had to follow him to light his way as Joaquin was in front with a super sized light. I bubbled out a sigh and carried on.
About ten minutes in, Joaquin pointed up and we ascended into what I would soon discover was a bat cave. Once I was oriented I heard hundreds of squeaky balls and had fatherly thoughts of Fergus and his favorite loud toy. Then I saw one bat swan dive down and then I realized there were hundreds. How exciting! I shone my light on one and watched him preen, fidget, squeak and then fly away, righting himself from dangling upside down.
There was a small hole in the top of the cave where they would dart in and out and we all just floated on our backs and watched in delight as the little darlings would twirl about doing whatever bats do. The German fidgeted with his camera most of the time.
The next opening was the other ‘eye’ of our adventure and it was where all of the snorkelers come to take a gander from above. I thought I had entered Neptune’s disco as all of them were above us twirling their flashlights into the dark trying to catch a glimpse of something extraordinary. I did have to have a moment as I spaced out on one big bootyed girl who I don’t think had ever touched water before. Her entire body was rattling around like a Maraca and witnessing her jiggle was worth paying for. Hooter’s should invest in a water tank!
We made our way back through the mysterious passages back to the first cave where we all floated up in silence and just took everything in. I think even Joaquin finds religion in those cave dives even though he goes there almost daily. I can see why the Mayans were so attracted to them eons ago.
After the second dive we were famished so Joaquin drove us back to the dive shop and we wandered into dusty little Tulum’s city center and ordered quesadilla’s off the street. I had a pollo and a zucchini flower one. Those little Mamacita’s with neon eye shadow took my taste palate to another level. Get it girls! When I got back to Tita I gave Joaquin a hand shake and a hug and we parted ways. He mentioned he is trying to get to Zanzibar to teach diving there; I wish him the very best of luck.
I regrouped with the crew and didn’t have much time to change before it was time for our big night out. We booked at Hartwood across the street and it is the hippest place to dine. We arrived at 6pm and the place was already poppin. We were seated and the drinks began flowing. Lisa had brought a bag of ‘Pecker Whistles’, something to embarrass the bride to be, and doled them out to all of us. She tried to give one to the hostess but she declined, “Oh I have plenty!” she said with a laugh.
Tonight’s meal ranks up there as one of the best in memory. Everything is cooked on a wood burning fire that roars nearly 24/7. Abby saw a whole fish on the menu and was hell bent on having another so she ordered that with her cousin Courtney. I ordered slow cooked rabbit empanadas and a lentil salad with mango that was sensational. Every order was special and we took turns fawning over each plate. Claire and I were the only smart ones to order dessert and the coconut ice cream and coconut cake drizzled in Mayan honey will be conjured up in our Charleston kitchens this summer for sure.
After dinner we went back to Tita for drinks in the room before heading to a full moon party at a hippy camp called Esperanza. Claire passed on the ordeal but the rest of us soldiered down the beach, the moon’s silver glow our guide (I have never in my life been anywhere with such a bright moon! Moon shadows? My new favorite thing). We heard drums so approached a small hut. Now to back up, we had been told by several people that the Pirate Party for the full moon was going to be THE party. We saw fliers for it and even Joaquin said he may stop by. Well, we entered the hut to find six half dressed dudes banging on drums and shouting at each other. No welcome, no passing of the bottle, nobody got up. Awkward! We danced around a bit and Nick banged a beer bottle on the table to add to the percussion but nobody moved, so one by one we just trailed off back to the beach in complete hysterics. What just happened we will never know but that wasn’t what we had in mind.
We laughed all the way to the next bar where we ordered Margaritas (and a Margarita pizza by accident) and recapped our bizarre encounter before heading back to Tita, some of us giving that full moon a run for it’s money, others taking pictures in abandoned boats. After such a big day I retired but the rest of the crew stayed on the beach for a late night cocktail and moon lovers dip. I did rejoin briefly as I found a huge black crab in the shower and promptly escorted him into a water pitcher and took him back to his home on the beach.
It never fails the the day before one leaves a vacation one is most relaxed and in tune with the place.
Today was utter perfection. I really slept in and rolled out of bed at 7am. I glided out to the beach for my now routine sun salutation and watched the kids running up and down the beach.
The rest of the group rallied and we headed to Casa Banana for breakfast. My fruit plate and bread and jam were delicious but it took quite some time for it to arrive. I never understand wait staff who don’t write things down. There were seven of us and you could tell our waitress couldn’t keep track, especially when we added and subtracted items from our meal (Pineapple Juice!). After about 20 minutes she brought out four plates of food and with a very pleased expression she said, “So are we missing anything?”. Poor thing - “Only a few marbles”, I wanted to say. We all busted out laughing as she missed quite a lot. But it all finally arrived.
After breakfast we said goodbye to Brodie who was flying back to the States and Claire, Abby and I drove out to the Mayan Ruins. What a treat! Not only were they fascinating to see but the iguanas lounging (and loving!) all over the park were an added bonus. But the real magic was the glittering beach below the ruins. I can’t imagine how it must have been when this was a busy port and mini metropolis. I can think of no better place to spend the day. We came prepared with bathing suits and towels so we trotted down the steep stairs to the beach and ran in the waves with abandon.
On the drive home we stopped at Anna y Jose for lunch where I ordered my first silly cocktail of the week, a massive bowl of Daiquiri. The girls ordered ceviche and I had gorgeous grouper.
The rest of the day was a blur on the beach. Another first of the week- I totally passed out, drooling and all - total bliss. I am sure the bowl of booze had something to do with it.
For the last supper we headed to Casa Jaguar where we had some seriously sensual food and drink. Too bad their septic tank needed to be emptied. Peew! And the lack of breeze brought out the bugs so on my very last night after being bug free I got three juicy bites. But it was all worth it to experience that darling little spot on our last night.
This morning I had my last sunrise on the beach and Claire and I drove out at 8am. We made a pit stop at Mateo’s for a quick breakfast. Wow! We certainly went out with a bang. They brought a bowl of fruit big enough for the town of Tulum and our egg and bacon burrito wraps were worth missing our plane for. But we didn’t! Our tummys full of happiness, we puttered back to Cancun to catch our flights back to work, back to cold, back to another world.