“I wish I was born Mexican.” — Morrissey
Kore Tulum, aka ZenSerenity Wellness Resort, in Tulum, Mexico.
I’d never been this far south in Mexico. Not that I’ve widely traveled the country, but I’ve gone a few places, seen a few things. When I was 21, I first crossed the border into Tijuana on a Friday night for carnitas and Dos Equis. Twenty-some years later, pieces of that night still flash bright and vivid in my mind.
We hummed down Mexican federal highway 307 from Cancun to Tulum, the sun high in the sky. My guy and I had hopped a non-stop flight out of Detroit — after the plane had been de-iced in the frigid December morning — and landed less than four hours later in this surreal green movie set, the air heavier and hotter than we’d experienced in months.
After 90 minutes in a spacious van with both the AC and radio cranked, we rolled into the town of Tulum, which is located at the very southern end of the Riviera Maya. I noted our resort was only 4 kilometers from the pueblo, and watched as locals and tourists alike biked and walked through town.
Our driver, confused by the resort’s name change from ZenSerenity Wellness Resort to Kore Tulum, delivered us to our all-inclusive, adults-only accommodations. With little fan fare or fuss (wait, where’s my champagne and cool towel?), we checked in, circled our room, changed into our suits and headed toward the water. We sunk gratefully into chaise lounges to catch the last of the day’s light.
¡Feliz Año Nuevo!
Kore Tulum rests placidly above the rocks of the Caribbean. With only 94 rooms, the hotel’s grounds were quiet when we arrived — little did we know it would stay that way all week, with few people at the pool and in the restaurant and bar.
Arriving the afternoon of New Years Eve meant a fancy celebration for the resort’s guests. Tables were arranged around the pool, and lights were strung from the palms. The table tops glittered with crystal and silver signaling a feast to come.
The Brut was pretty dreadful going down when the evening began. But, the dinner conversation was fascinating thanks to a Romanian immigrant physician working on a Native Canadian reservation, and the staff was stealthy when it came to refilling our glasses. By evening’s end the Brut was as delicious as the night’s balmy winds blowing in from the sea.
After a meal of French onion soup, a salad of mixed greens with odd, tropical fruit, beef Wellington, and lemon tarts, Mayan dancers took the stage and tossed fire and guttural tribal chants into the dark.
The night blurred and buzzed as midnight loomed. Languages from across the globe mixed with the music. A couple began waltzing near the stage, an unexpected delight. Gold and white balloons danced on shiny ribbons in the ocean breeze.
It was nearly the new year, and we joined in with the others putting on silly hats and tiaras and blowing into our noisemakers. The host counted down the seconds to 2015 in Spanish, and the small crowd erupted into “Happy New Year!” in various languages.
In the moments that followed, my guy and I kissed and murmured sweetness and love into each other’s ears. We winged our wishes for 2015 into the wind along with the balloons, dreamily watching the glittering ribbons sail away.
Despite the late night, we woke early, ready to have the sun warm our skin and lull us into mid-morning naps. Stepping out into the day, I welcomed the humidity and pushed sunglasses on.
It was good to be in the Riviera Maya.
A breakfast of lattes, mountains of fresh fruit, pastries, mimosas, Mexican and American fare, and green smoothies awaited us at the buffet. We slipped into seats on the patio, the morning air tipping toward hot. The wait staff spoke as little English as we did Spanish, but we received everything we asked for, including fresh, hot tortillas. The food and drink were sublime.
Bellies full and eyelids heavy from the previous evening’s party, my guy and I made our way to chaise lounges near the pool. Towels were located and drinks delivered. Our view across the resort’s infinity pool was of the Caribbean Ocean, waves cresting tall and crazy blue.
Red flags flew all week, keeping us out of the water. Down by the ocean’s edge, the wind was so strong it sent tiny bullets of sand to pelt our skin and infiltrate our drinks. Up by the pool, the wind lifted fine sprays of water from the pool to cool us as we lay under the sultry sun.
We dozed and read our way through the morning and into afternoon. Somewhere around noon we visited the lunch buffet, which had turned over from pancakes and huevos rancheros to enchiladas and seafood.
Guests around the pool were few, and many spoke in hushed voices in languages we had to listen to closely to identify. A couple guests smoked. European men, some with taut muscles and some most definitely not, wore tiny bathing suits.
As the afternoon grew warmer, my guy and I dipped in and out of the pool, or spent stretches of time at the pool’s edge reading and sipping mojitos.
Late in the afternoon, with the sun sinking behind a row of palms and thatched roofs, a shirtless man with dark, smooth skin walked by. He wore loose cotton pants, beads around his neck, and hair in dreadlocks, and led a trailing group of guests holding yoga mats to the palapa near the water. Our heads turned to watch, but other than that we didn’t move.
Yoga and meditation sessions are ubiquitous in Tulum, and the resort was no exception. In the mornings, guests gathered for 30 minutes of meditation, followed by 60 minutes of yoga. A late-afternoon yoga session was offered as well.
Having practiced yoga for more than a decade, I packed my gear thinking I would catch a class. But, suffice it to say, I meditated horizontally and perfected a still, tranquil shavasana in my chaise lounge day after day. I’m sure the sessions offered by the resort were lovely, but I don’t know that to be a fact.
At the point in the day when the sun no longer touched our skin, we made our way back to our tiled, dim room, and drew a bath in the spacious tub. My guy soaked and I stood under the rain water shower. After, we lay in the king-size bed, talking lazily, sipping drinks from the mini bar, and watching bad subtitled TV. Eventually, we drifted off into another nap.
Later, I tamed my humidity-crazed hair and changed into summer clothes that if I were home wouldn’t be seen for another 4 or 5 months. We walked in the dark to the bar to connect to the wi-fi, check messages, and drink more mojitos. After a round or two of drinks, we took the stone path to the resort’s only restaurant.
The restaurant rotated menus each night. We ate piles of pasta, Mexican food, and Chinese, followed by desserts of chocolate cake, crème brûlée, fruit, and ice cream.
After dinner, my guy and I sat under the stars looking at the moon. Each night we were at the resort, the moon grew rounder and fuller until it was a glowing white globe low over the sea, lighting the water.
The winds continued to sweep across the resort. Eventually, we found our way back to our room and slipped beneath crisp, white sheets. The ceiling fan spun above us, and we slept soundly, slept in a way that was never possible in real life.
This is more or less how we spent the week, rising to the sun, spending each moment we could outside, sleeping deeply, and waking again without the sound of an alarm to do it all over again.
Ruinas, pueblo, and playa
We left the resort a couple of times. One morning, humidity high and the sun tucked beneath the clouds, we set out to walk to the Mayan ruins. Four kilometers from the resort, we followed a narrow road scattered with boutique hotels and businesses catering to tourists. Half way to the ruins, we took a path down to the ocean and walked the remainder of the way with the Caribbean at our right, the wind still raging.
Not heeding the advice to arrive early or late to the ruins, the ancient grounds were engulfed with tourists. Large groups surrounded guides, languages mixed. Iguanas hid in plain sight, still except for blinking eyes. Having been to the ruins before, we skipped the guide and wandered slowly among the crumbling limestone city.
The following morning, this time with the sun flaming, we planned to ride bikes in to the pueblo in Tulum proper. But, the resort’s bikes were reserved or already out with guests. So, we again walked 4 kilometers.
This time, we hiked our way along a smooth, flat bike path. The sun grew in intensity that morning and by the time we arrived in town we were sweaty and unable to cool down in the open-air shops, sans air conditioning.
My guy and I meandered among the Mexican textiles and intricate Talavera pottery. We admired the native arts. Dogs lay on the sidewalks, too hot to move or to seek attention. Locals and tourists ate piles of rice and tamales at outdoor cafes.
We moved slowly past yoga studios and hostels. Back packers and hippies drifted by on the sidewalks. I admired their commitment to see the world with their belongings strapped to their backs. I eyed dreadlocks and tattoos, wondered why I didn’t hit the road when I was much, much younger.
We finally found icy Cokes in glass bottles and Doritos, as well as a shaded yellow-painted bench next to a bike rack. The two of us clinked our Cokes and were happy for the sunny morning, the found shade, a mild breeze, and the cold sugary drinks.
After buying a few trinkets, there was a short search for a taxi. Not having to walk the 4 kilometers back to the resort in the searing sun was a relief, and we happily handed over $8 along with a generous tip to the smiling driver who apologized for his “no bueno English.”
One morning we woke and walked the bike path to the Papaya Playa Project (PPP), which is touted as “a communal playground offering a raw, white canvas for a community seeking reconnection with nature and within themselves.”
To get to the beach, we stepped among palm trees and well-fed cats keeping watch over their territory. The raked, white gravel led us to an open-air bar and restaurant. Seating was perched above the water and made from stone and concrete and littered with pillows fashioned with brightly-colored Mexican fabrics and textiles.
Sargassum washed up on the white sand. With the beach nearly to ourselves, my guy and I stretched out on what looked to be a futon mattress and ate trail mix while watching the kite surfers take on the turbulent ocean.
With the sun ablaze and the wind whipping, I rested in a place that might have come close to nirvana. The stillness of mind and body combined with the sun and sea was a panacea so soothing, so perfect. The following morning we returned to Papaya Playa to catch a little more of the magic.
On our last night under the Mexican moon, my guy and I headed back to PPP, wandering the bike path in the dark. Even with the moonlight, Mexico is very dark. Minus American-style street lighting, I hit the flash light app on my phone to guide us to the beach.
We took seats at one of the beach-side tables. I sipped the biggest vodka tonic I’d ever been served, and felt the last of the winds craze my hair and cool my bare shoulders. We leaned into each other, a bittersweet feeling lapping at our collective conscious as the pull of family and work tugged at our heads and hearts.
Hideaway or home?
The next morning, as the plane lifted from the tarmac, I thought to myself that Mexico must surely have been a homeland for me in a former life. Otherwise, why would I feel so blue and homesick for a place I’ve supposedly never lived?
Another trip across the border, and again I didn’t see enough or learn enough. I vacationed rather than traveled.
But Mexico’s sun and sea gives so much when it comes to much-needed rest and stillness. I wondered would I ever truly venture into the country, come to know its people, learn its language? Or would I continue to seek refuge from winter and from life in resorts along the Mexican coastline?
I suppose I’ll have to return to find out.