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back in mexico

Once I hit the highway in Belize it is not long before I find myself cycling past a sudden rash of casinos and tax free shopping zones and then crossing yet another border back into Mexico. There have been quite a few border crossing in the last two weeks but this is not a particularly inspiring or interesting one.

I cycle into Chetumal to find an ATM and get some much needed cash before turning around and heading up the coast forty kilometres to Balacar, a tranquil village on the shores of a lagoon of such breath-taking beauty that I can’t drag myself away for a day or two.

Bacalar is a pretty nice place to laze around for a day or two.

I camp on the edge of the lagoon and watch the sky fill with light at dawn.

While I am quite happy to be back in Mexico I have mixed feelings about the Yucatan Peninsula with its massive relentless tourist machine and the prospect of lots of straight flat freeways to traverse.

I find highway riding quite demoralising but there isn't any alternative in many parts of the Yucatan. Signage in Mexico is a little inconsistent, you may note, if you study the photo carefully.

There are, however, a few options to escape both the tourist machine and the highway.

My first attempt sees me riding a hundred and twenty kilometres down a sandy dead end road on a mosquito infested windy section of coast to a tiny fishing village in a futile bid to find someone to ferry me across a sizeable stretch of water to Punta Allen where I could continue riding north towards Tulum. Nobody evinces any enthusiasm for assisting me to make this crossing and, after a lunch of very good fresh fish, I have to turn around and ride back a hundred and twenty kilometres to the highway.

I am not always very realistic in my hopes. I rode around a hundred and twenty kilometres on a windy sandy dead end road, through mosquito infested mangroves, to this little fishing village on the off chance that I would find someone with a boat willing to ferry me across the mouths of a couple of sizable lagoons to Punta Allen. I had to ride back the way I came but I did have a very nice fresh fish for lunch.

My second attempt on unpaved road is a more realistic proposition based on sounder information. I ride through the Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve to where the water crossing to Punta Allen takes a matter of minutes rather than hours and find someone happy to ferry me across to the other side for the modest sum of 10 pesos.

Once I'd retraced my steps and pedalled along about eighty kilometres of soulless tarmac, I ride through the Sian Ka'an Nature Reserve on dirt again. After 50 kilometres or so the road emerges from jungle and heads straight across the mangroves ending at a pier where a couple of men waiting for a tourist group are happy enougt to whizz me across the water to Punta Allen for only 10 pesos in a little dinghy.

The short boat ride sees me across the lagoon to sleepy village of Punta Allen where I spend most of the day hanging out with a French Canadian/Argentinian couple at their makeshift outdoor coffee bar. Pierre, the coffee man, does the hard sell pretty hard but he really does make a good cup of coffee.

Towards evening I set off to find myself a bit of beach to camp on along the stretch of coast between Punta Allen and Tulum. This coast is part of a protected wilderness area - a fact belied by the number of villas on the beach front but something tells me far worse is to come closer to Cancun.

My mixed feelings about Cancun, which is only on my itinerary as a stepping stone to Cuba, mean that I’m not really in a huge rush to get there. A friend in Mexico City has a piece of land in the jungle close to the coast between Tulum and Playa de Carmen, near the small village of Chimuyal, and so, even though there is a plenty of light left in the day, I turn off the highway to search it out.

Almost as soon as I turn off the coast the pace slows down. Grant’s place in the jungle has nothing on it but a thatched shelter and forest abounding with birds and intriguing wildlife.

Amazing - a pair of giant stick insects mating on the netting of the palapa.

A cenote small enough to escape the tourist machine.

An underground cenote on the edge of Chimuyal small enough to have escaped the notice of the tourist machine.

Returning to coast in the morning, I decide to check out Xcacel Beach, a nesting sanctuary for two endangered species of giant sea turtle, that remains – for the moment – a pristine and undeveloped beach, perhaps a unique phenomenon on this strip of coast between Tulum and Cancun.

Caribbean magic... white sand, blue waters, this beach, only 100 kilometres from Cancun, has escaped development so far because it is a nesting sanctuary for two endangered species of sea turtle. However, there are plans afoot that may put this sanctuary in danger. Please click on the link at the bottom of this post to find out more and register a voice of protest again any tourist development on this beach.

Caribbean blue - what can I say?

I spent the day at Xcacel lying, on fine white sand, under a found makeshift shade shelter watching the light change on the water.

There is another tiny cenote at Xcacel...

...filled with limpid water and hundreds of tiny fish.

After lazing the day away at Xcacel, I get on my bike and head north wondering where on earth I am going to find a place to camp in amongst the huge villas, resorts and adventure parks lining the coast. As dusk gathers, at each likely looking exit to the freeway I check out the options for camping without any success until, finally, turning down a gravel track which runs a couple of kilometres to the beach, I ask a man standing near some modest cabins if I can camp there for the night. Without saying a word he simply opens the gate and beckons me in, helps me set up my tent, shows me where I can have a shower and presents me with mangos and other good things to eat.

In the morning there is nothing for it but to ride to Cancun.

I arrive mid-afternoon, hot and irritable after a day on the freeway. I am going to stay with Hector and Vera, from Warm Showers, the cycle hospitality network. Vera, it turns out, is a dancer who performs on the hotel strip and so after a shower and a change of clothes I am suddenly transported into the heart of the tourist machine and I find is an astonishingly different world to the one that I have been inhabiting.

Cancun: the hotel strip - the beach is still beautiful... but...

I find myself backstage at one of these resorts with a bunch of girls getting ready for a show - a nostalgic experience for me, taking me back to my days as a performer...

...and costume fabricator in Sydney.

Vera doing her thing.

It's clearly...

...all about the skirts.

Colour and movement: the crowd at the Cancun Palace lap up a bit of indigenous flavour.

Silver Sands would like to be a more sophisticated resort... all designer touches, infinity pools and a la carte restuarants,...

... cocktail dresses and cocktails...

...although the tastefulness does slip a little here and there.

If I was an anthropologist, I would come back to these places, these resorts, and spend some time here as a participant observer to try to understand what it is all about.

I am not much inspired to explore Cancun so I hole-up at Hector and Vera’s place, resting, washing, mending, fixing, organising.

On the bike in Cancun. (Photo: Hector)

*To find out more about the threat to the Xcacel Turtle Sanctuary click here.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Melda | June 23, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    On almost every one of your posts, I find myself looking up *something* – a place, a word or a bird. Today it was “cenote”. Thank you for expanding my horizons. :)

    Oh – and the big question: was the show a chance to wear your black dress? (assuming you still have it with you…)

  2. anna | June 24, 2010 at 3:04 am | Permalink

    ah, no, the black dress is not currently with me…and i’m not actually sure of its precise fate…

    i wore a borrowed pair of white capri shorts to the show – cancun beach style…

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