Sunday, 4 May 2014

Semana Santa on the Caribbean Coast

With another needle jabbed into Naomi’s the arm, we left Valladolid for the last time, headed south east to the town of Tulum. Tulum is always popular, evidenced by the huge number of hotels, hostels, cabanas and campsites. Its proximity to a good beach and a decent archaeological site put it on most people itinerary when travelling Mexico, however with Semana Santa in full swing it was busier than normal. I should have known what was to come by the number of cars on the road, but it was still a shock when we got to the coast and started looking for somewhere to park.

In Mexico, no section beach can be privately owned, even the beaches in front of waterfront hotels must be open to the public, and anyone can walk along them, or choose to drop the towel and spend the day wherever they choose. It was this which we were relying on when it came to finding somewhere to park on the coast north of Tulum. Our intention had been to park on a quiet road near the beach, and spend our days walking along the beach until we found an isolated patch to relax. Sadly, on this section of coast this is completely impossible.

The section of Caribbean coastline between Tulum in Playa del Carmen is undoubtedly beautiful, but the only way to see it is via one of the private resort which dot the coastline. The coast has not been ruined by the high rise resorts found further north, but what is there cannot be enjoyed without paying for the privilege. There are no public roads between the 307 and the sea, the only way to get access to the beaches is by driving down one of the roads which lead to the resorts. The only exception to this is at the town of Akumal, and so naturally this is where we first headed. What we found was a full car-park, with a queue of people waiting to turn around and head back to the highway; sadly this experience was repeated again further up the coast, until finally we landed at Paa Mul.

As with most things in the area, Paa Mul is twice as expensive as almost every other campsite in Mexico, but with the cheaper campsites further south all full, we had little alternative but to shell out. For 400 pesos/night a campsite in Mexico should have free beer and a tuxedo clad butler for each guest, neither of which were provided by Paa Mul. Thankfully what it lacked in amenities, it made up for in location, and for three days we enjoyed our own slice of tropical paradise. Paa Mul is centred around a nice beach, backed by a restaurant, dive shop, swimming pool, and small hotel. As was to be expected it was full of people enjoying their holiday with the rest of the country as company, and what would normally have been a relaxing backdrop, felt more like a cross between a kindergarten and a Butlins resort.

Thankfully Paa Mul has another beach, which is far enough away from the main part of the resort to put-off almost every other guest from visiting.

What I want from a beach is white sand, clear blue sea, palm trees, and complete solitude; I’d take bets that many other guests at Paa Mul like exactly the same thing, but what differentiated us from them is that we were willing to walk/cycle the two miles needed to get there. Two miles is not a great distance, but thankfully it was sufficiently far to mean that Naomi, Boris and me had the beach almost entirely to ourselves while we were at Paa Mul. It was a great way to see the Caribbean coast of Mexico without the backdrop of high-rise condos, and it was a relief to see out the last few days of Semana Santa in peace.

As we were preparing to leave Paa Mul, we did what we always do and filled up our fresh water tank so that we could have water at the taps and showers in Jim whilst we stay at any boondocking sites that we may find in the next few days. With Jim’s tank nearly empty after more than a week without filling, we waited whilst we took more than 400 litres of water from the Paa Mul taps. Most people, Mexicans included, will tell you not to drink the tap water in Mexico; this is partly because it is not sanitised to the standard you’d find in America or Europe, but also because the pipes are often rusty steel, or poorly sealed plastic and further contaminate the water.

To date, we’ve wholeheartedly ignored this advice, and have relied on the Seagull water filter fitted to Jim to make the tap water safe to drink. Prior to this point the filter has given us great tasting water, and neither Naomi nor I have been ill. Sadly our run of luck ran out at Paa Mul, and even after filtering the water it still tasted undrinkably bad. I suspect that for one reason or another, sea water was getting into the water supply, and without a marine type water-maker, we had no chance of making the water palatable.

With no alternative water supply, we left the water in the tank, and for the first time on our trip, had to resort to drinking bottled water. Thankfully bottled water in Mexico is extremely cheap, and the next few days were not an exercise in water conservation. Mexicans buying bottled water are not looking for spring water bottled by nubile virgins in an untouched cloud forest, they are just looking for something which won’t give them the trots. Consequently, most bottled water available is simply purified tap water, and a 20 litre bottle costs a little over £3. For £3 in London you couldn’t buy a bottle of alpine spring water ten times smaller.

With a tank full of undrinkable saline water we left Paa Mul, headed back south towards Tulum.

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