We finally worked our way to the Caribbean coast of Mexico! But before dipping our toes in the clear blue waters, we stopped at Cenote Suytun near Valladolid. It was conveniently located in route, next to a hotel that allowed camping in the parking lot. We found the cenote just outside the restaurant, but it didn’t allow swimming. We didn’t discover the second cenote (the one that would look like the photos we saw) until the following day. A tour bus unloaded and we watched a group of people walk down a small trail….so we followed them, and there was the second cenote. We took a peek into the cavern to see several bus loads of people swimming (more like jostling for position) in the cold water, wearing bright red life jackets. Everything was echoing, quite loud, and reminiscent of a busy public pool. We took a pass, it just seemed like a bit of bedlam we could do without.
Thankfully the hotel had a nice pool, and lovely hammocks in which to relax. This is where I practiced my Anne Geddes photography on a sleeping Indigo. We also met a nice German couple Sebastian and Tara here. They’d been staying at this location for a while, finalizing a purchase of land. They plan on developing something from scratch, with a place for overlanders to come and stay. When Okan and I think of where we might live more permanently one day, we always talk about including a space where overlanders can come. Perhaps that’s just one more of the side-effects of Overland traveling 🙂
We headed off to the coast where Okan’s daughter Carmen, and her boyfriend Michael were going to join us for a visit. We didn’t want to see the area, then repeat everything when they arrived, so we decided to book a trip to Cuba from Cancun. But while waiting for our trip to Cuba, we changed our minds again and decided to check out the area before they arrived to scope our options. I was imagining arriving at a crappy campground, cenote, or beach, and standing there with an impatient toddler, a young lady who’s not super keen on camping, her boyfriend with whom we haven’t spent a great deal of time, trying to sort out what to do next. Although I’ve been with Okan for almost a decade now, I still get pretty anxious when around the extended family trying to make sure everyone is happy. The potential stress was much more than I was willing to endure, and decided that repeating some activities was worth while.
We ended up almost living at Camping Cancun, a nice campsite west of Cancun, and very far away from the beaches. But we enjoyed the pool, the nice facilities, and the company of the owners Paul and Christina. We were able to unhook the camper here, and head into town for some errands. We also tried out Uber, only to discover that Uber is really an underground operation here, and you have to sit in the front seat with the driver, and at police stops pretend you and the driver are friends. The drivers also won’t always pick you up at locations lots of taxi’s would, like outside mall entrances. You have to walk to a back road to be more discreet.
Christina and Paul talked to us about how to handle Mexican Police stops here. It appears the police have to pay up the line to keep the best policing shifts or areas. To move up from street cop to driving a car or motorcycle, you have to line the pockets of your supervisor, as he must line the pockets of his supervisor and so on. Paul is a Canadian…who after 8 years in Mexico still doesn’t speak Spanish…and intentionally so. He calls Christina on his mobile and hands it to the officer who has stopped him, then takes the phone back and asks Christina much he should pay. That is their system. We still prefer to wait it out, which works fine if you have time and are not quick to get angry.
We actually got to practice just after talking about it. We always seem to get pulled over when the camper is not on the truck, and coming back from the Mall we were stopped on a side road. We were told we didn’t have the proper papers, but of course we knew we did. Then the officer tried saying our import sticker was not valid for this particular state in Mexico. Laughable because the sticker is good for all of Mexico, and Quintano Roo is actually one of the states that no Temporary Import Permit (TIP) is required! But instead of saying any of that, we just kept pointing the sticker, and saying we didn’t understand, and then said our boy was hungry. He shook his head and let us go after 30 minutes of this ridiculous back and forth conversation.
We headed down the beach to Cavelands, the refuge of a man we affectionately call the crazy Dutchman, Don Renzo. He has a beautiful piece of property with a Cenote, teepees, and casitas (little bungalows) scattered across the property. He pointed to the camping spot near the teepee we could use, just past the women who were doing some cleansing ritual in the spiritual caves that are also on his property. He said if we were into that kind of thing, we could probably join them. The long skirted, pierced, and dreadlocked women smiled sweetly and ended their ritual shortly after we settled in. I was curious about their ritual, but the smell of the plume of smoke left behind let me know some of the ingredients they used.
I apparently decided to take a flash back to the 80s, as there can be no other explanation for the purple and teal ensemble with yes, even a headband! Next to our spiritual neighbors, I felt like I was definitely in the wrong classroom, or clique, just like in high school. We had our own private tiny Cenote right next to our campsite, but it looked a little too scary for us to climb down and get in.
Don was quite a talker, and self-professed drinker. He said to watch out for the multitude of mosquitos, but that the mosquitos didn’t bother him, because he was full of alcohol and he figured they didn’t like that so much…or perhaps he just didn’t feel them anymore? He was looking to sell his property, as he figured his liver didn’t have much time left, and he wanted to simplify his life. So, if you are interested…give Don a call! He was quite a character and we really enjoyed his conversation when he would visit us at the campsite.
We packed up and headed onto the next place as Don’s place, although very lovely, was too far away from the sea to walk there. Per his recommendation we headed to Tortuga Beach, a refuge for the sea turtles and a pristine beach with a cenote off to one side.
Oh what a beauty this place was! The Cenote is nestled within the mangroves at the far end of the cove, and Indigo and Okan took the plunge. In case you are wondering what they are sitting on, ropes are generally strung across cenotes so people can sit and relax, and for the non-swimmers it definitely helps to not drown, especially when the cold water takes away your breath. Then we headed off to the beach itself and we lucked out with a calm ocean and minimal winds.
Shade was scarce and we set up a lean-to against the sand hill, and stared at the turquoise water. It was here that we started taking these photos of Indigo facing the ocean. One day I will have dozens of them to make a collage. There is always some point at which Indigo stands and stares at the water before getting in, his version of smelling the roses in a land with no rose bushes.
We moved on to our absolute favourite campsite of all of our travels…Chamico’s. It’s a restaurant with a large area of beach and palms right along the water, where you can park your vehicle. Nothing could top the view we had from our camper door.
The evenings were gorgeous, the sand white, and because of the reef off the coast, lots of coral for Indigo to collect!
But I must say, as beautiful as our beach was, that was how bad the bathrooms were, and is probably the only reason this place is not jam packed all the time. Crappy little dark sheds, with doors that don’t close completely, no lights, paper, or seats, that require a bucket from the big barrel of water outside to flush. Not the most fun place to take a toddler in the middle of the night (or any time really!) when he’s gotta go. But we loved it this place regardless.
We read that the fancy hotel across the bay from Chamico’s, (a $600/night fancy place…we inquired!), had wifi that could reach our lovely Chamico’s campsite. We stopped by their restaurant and ordered french fries and some drinks and asked for the password, while trying to not look like password thieves. Indigo could sense we were in a place that required good manners, and was on his best behaviour. They had two lovely pools (one allowed kids, one for adults only), nice decks, hammocks and palapas in the pristine white sand along the bay. We paid $45 for that password…I mean, meal!! That’s about 9 nights of camping!! It made sitting in our campsite even nicer, to look across the water and know we were enjoying the same bay, sand, sea, and view…for $595 per night less! No bathroom is ever worth $595!
Even Okan put his feet up here 🙂
We then headed down to Tulum because we heard wonderful things about the area. But the street was lined with boutique places, that would not fit our camper. Mostly for backpackers or at the other extreme, people with lots of money to spend. We just kept driving and ended up on the narrow road that went into the national park. We made it all the way to Punte Allen at the end of the Peninsula, and found another setup like Chamico’s called Cabañas Costa del Sol Sian Kaan. The bathrooms were nicer, it was quiet and we slept very well. This could have quickly become our new favourite place, had it not been for one problem.
Along the beach, sargassum seaweed was everywhere! In high piles on the sand for 5 feet before reaching the water, then a foot deep in the water for maybe another 20 feet out into the water. You would not be able to get to the turquoise water beyond without going through the stinky muck. And boy did it stink because the old seaweed rots on the beach. Unlike the resort area of Tulum, at the national park, no one rakes up the seaweed every day. On the drive down we could smell the rotting seaweed everywhere, not very pleasant.
I knew folks spent a lot of money coming to this area, and I’d never heard anyone talk of it seaweed and it’s smell….so I got to googling about it. Appears that in 2014 the sargassum started appearing on the coastline, huge swaths of it. Upsetting the tourist industry greatly. The national guard was even called in to bulldoze and bury it. But it still keeps coming. There is even a system set up to see where it is off shore, and deal with it when it reaches land. There is a lot of work involved to keep this on the down-low by the tourist industry, and lots of daily raking and cleaning by the resort staff, because it’s definitely a detractor for beach goers.
On the drive back, we noticed a very large sign stating “No Fishing” on a bridge, where about a dozen people were ….well, fishing. So we stopped to see what could make people so blatantly ignore the sign.
The water was full of fish. An easy meal I’d say for the fisherman, and worth the risk of a fine I imagine.
Feeling like we knew the area pretty well now, we took off on our trip to Cuba, feeling prepared to show Carmen and Michael a good time when they arrived.