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Yucatán, Can you? You can! (I did)

by Taylor Swope January 30, 2018

Three weeks ago I left the country for the first time in almost twelve years. As someone who once loved living in France so much I almost married a French guy so I could stay out of America forever, this is crazy to me.

Don’t think I was sitting at home that whole time, scared of the world. Quite the contrary. I was driving all over America in my Little Hippie van, setting up Little Hippie shops at music festivals and other shows, exploring every corner of our beautiful country on my days in between. I went EVERYWHERE in the continental US, and I had a great time doing it for a long time.

And then, after a while, I started to get sick of going to so many of the same places over and over, and I realized that every time I went to the same place again, like say Bonnaroo 15 times in a row, I was keeping myself from going somewhere new.

So I stopped working festivals after the 2016 season, and I retired my van to California a couple years before that, where I occasionally still use it to visit friends and do little road trips out there.

Last month, as New York was in the grips of a miserably deep freeze, my friend Layla tempted me to meet her in Mexico, one sunny Instagram post at a time. At Little Hippie we were just wrapping up a holiday season that was as busy as it was cold in my city, and I was ready for a break from both the weather and the business. It’s absurdly cheap to fly to Cancun, and since I had enough miles to cover both flights, I soon found myself making low budget travel plans, looking for spots where I could relax, explore a little, and work on my book.

Here’s the story of that trip, with some Yucatán travel tips, local recommendations and a few things to avoid in Mexico too. This is a long one, more of a story than a travel blog post, so here are some quick links if you’d like to skip ahead to one of the locations I visited.

~ CANCUN ~ ISLA HOLBOX ~ AKUMALVALLADOLID ~ TULUM ~ PLAYA DEL CARMEN ~

For reference: The exchange rate during my trip was about 17 pesos to $1.

Cancun

Luckily this is not a hostel we stayed in.

I met up with Layla in Cancun at the Agavero Hostel which she had picked ahead of my decision to join. At $12/night, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was centrally located, and clean enough, and the included breakfast was really good.

No exact address was provided, and the directions to find it from the bus stop were as specific as “Walk past the big grocery store, then walk past the traffic circle, and finally turn right at the newspaper.” It took some effort, especially with no cell service, but eventually I found it.

The hostel was cute, and so was the guy running it, even if he was perhaps a bit too transparent about how exhausted he was by being there 24/7. Layla arrived shortly after me, we went out to find some fish tacos nearby, walked around a bit, and settled in to the hostel courtyard to socialize with other guests.

In the morning we made our way back to the bus stop to head to our first destination, Isla Holbox (pronounced Whole-bosh). I hesitate to recommend this island, because it’s easy to see it’s at risk of being ruined. Originally just a fishing community with an infrastructure built for 5,000, it’s now resting delicately in that balance of tourism being good for the local economy and tourism destroying the local ecology. If you go there, be nice to this island! It’s really special!

Mexican buses

But first, a side note about Mexican buses. Mexico has a great bus system that will get you anywhere you want to go affordably. The ADO buses are the best with both first class and second class (only first class will show up in search results on their website), and then there are more second class buses like Mayab and Orient. As far as I know they are all air conditioned. The first class busses stop less and have bathrooms on them and cost a little more. If you’re traveling with your turkeys, I think you have to take one of the second class buses. Otherwise, I can’t think of much difference it makes so long as the bus is going where you want to go.

There are lots of other ways to get around Mexico, and we eventually used all of them, except rental cars which I hear are generally expensive there.

Isla Holbox

The trip to Isla Holbox starts with a three hour bus ride to Chiquilá, a small fishing town on the north side of the Yucatán peninsula, and ends with a quick ferry ride from there to Holbox.
Disembarking from the ferry, we realized we weren’t quite sure where to go. We had booked a place through Airbnb and once again had no exact address. This, it turns out, is very common in Mexico. Not all streets are marked, many of them aren’t actually, so even if you have an address it may not be all that helpful. There is a map of the island that greets visitors upon arrival at the small ferry terminal, but guess what, no street names on it!

We figured it couldn’t be too hard to find anything on this small island so we started walking down the main street, and sure enough, a few blocks later, we saw a sign pointing to the right for Marvin Suites. About twenty paces later, we’d arrived at our residence for the next three days.

Marvin Suites was perfect for our needs. We booked a room with three beds, the third of which would be occupied by our friend, Taylor (trust me, we had no shortage of fun introducing ourselves as Taylor and Taylor over the week that followed – this was a bit that had considerably more effect in a foreign country than it would have had at home). Taylor had planned to meet us in Cancun and travel to Holbox with us, but he accidentally fell in love for a few days in Puerto Vallarta and postponed his flight to us to maximize his snuggling time.

Our room had a little kitchenette, which we’d chosen intentionally, but we ended up mostly using the outside kitchen in the common area courtyard. We loved Marvin Suites, and Marvin himself was a great host. The rest of his staff were delightful too, and we had a really nice stay there, making ourselves some great meals and enjoying the out of the way location.

Mexico is loud

Which brings me to another side note. Mexico is NOT quiet. Like not even a little bit. Scooters, cars, chainsaws, leaf blowers, dogs, cats, humans, everything you can think of is making noise everywhere all the time. Plus the music. There is always music playing. Everywhere. So first of all, get over it. And second, when you do find somewhere sort of quiet, enjoy it!

Marvin’s was just quiet enough, and at about $90 USD/night split three ways, quite affordable. A block off the main street and a few blocks from the town square, it was still only a five-minute walk to the beach because that’s how small that island is. The streets are unpaved and aside from a few work trucks here and there, cars are not allowed on the island. There are however golf carts and bikes and scooters everywhere, and though for the most part you can wander everywhere without much care, you should keep an eye out when crossing the street.

After our three days at Marvin’s Layla had to return to the mainland for a tattoo appointment on Isla Mujeras, so Taylor and I relocated to a different Airbnb out of both of our worst nightmares.

Whatever you do, DO NOT stay at Cabañas Kabash. At least, not if you want water in your toilet or water at all in the morning. Luckily, Airbnb refunded the night ($75), but it was a challenging (and loud) evening. Taylor dealt with it by going out all night partying with locals, and I dealt with it by hiding in the bed I was sure hadn’t been washed doing some writing when I should have just gone out with him.

Courtyard of Holbox Dream Hotel
The view from our room at Holbox Dream.

After that experience Taylor and I were ready for an upgrade in accommodations, so he booked us a night at the nearby Holbox Dream, an adorable little complex on the beach where we had sat at sunset the night before, drinking tequila and toasting the 15th anniversary of LittleHippie.com. I’m not much of a drinker in general, and I was especially not in a party mood on this trip, so Taylor (the other one) had to talk Taylor (this one) in to drinking the tequila in the first place, but it did seem like an occasion worth at least one shot of tequila, and when we saw a deal for Holbox Dream pop up on Hotels.com ($150/night), both Taylors jumped right on it.

The only problem was when we checked in, we discovered that in our excitement to relocate, Taylor had booked the following night which could not be changed (the pitfalls of 3rd party travel apps), which we cheerfully solved by turning it in to a two-night stay.

Holbox Dream was in fact a dream, and we spent the next two nights blissfully sleeping with the windows open as wind off the ocean rustled the palapa roofs and the tall bamboos in the courtyard that reached our second story balcony.

January is not warm in Mexico

Which leads me to my next side note: Do not expect beach weather in the Yucatán in January. It was either stormy or rainy the entire two weeks I was there. While there was a particular charm to this weather, and it did make schlepping luggage around on public transportation considerably less sweaty than it would have been in the usual sweltering Yucatán heat, I had to give up my hopes of going home with a tan as soon as I got there in order to avoid daily heartbreak when each morning I awoke to see that once again, this would not be a day that I would spend lying in sand and frolicking in warm turquoise waters.

Not to worry though, there were plenty of other ways we entertained ourselves, and the water was warm enough to get in a few times when it was obvious our experiences would be improved by a swim. Also, there was that one time we had to swim, if we didn’t want to spend the night on the wrong side of a sandbar with a rapidly encroaching tide.

Which is to say that you should definitely rent bikes (about 35 pesos/hour) and head out to the farther reaches of the island, and when you reach the point where you can’t bike any further, ditch your bikes and walk on the sandbars until you run out of sandbar.

Layla did this our first day there, returning to our “suite” at Marvin’s full of joy and enthusiasm, proclaiming she had just seen more birds than she’d ever seen in her life, and from the looks of the videos she showed me on her phone, she had indeed.

Taylor and I followed her advice the next day, and though we didn’t see as many as she did, we shared a really long walk that both of us really, really needed. After swimming across a channel whether we liked it or not (we liked it) to get back to town and swimming again at the the little pier in town (by choice) where everyone gathers to watch the sunset like it’s the best show in town, we shared an amazing grilled seafood platter at a restaurant called Viva Zapata where I ended up eating four times that week.

With zero agenda for my two week trip past that first destination, I was tempted to spend my entire time in Holbox, but I figured it would be a shame not to see more of Mexico, so Taylor and I made plans to meet Layla in Tulum the next weekend and left on the ferry to head there via Valladolid, a little city in the middle of the Yucatán neither of us knew anything about.

And boy were we glad we did!

But first, some more Isla Holbox tips:

Good luck with the internet. It’s intermittent at best, and while every hotel and nearly every restaurant offers free signal, the island itself is suffering from a serious lack thereof. The best signal I found was at Café Basico, With it’s central location, it was an easy spot to stand outside of and check in on your texts while roaming around town. Plus you can sit at a table there for hours and drink endless refills of Café Americano, which I blissfully did one day while it poured rain. Even when traveling, I still have to work at least a few hours a day, because that’s what life is like when you own a business, and I love finding spots like Café Basico where I can catch up on emails and whatnot.

Picture by Layla.

There’s lots to see off the island too and plenty of boat tours available. We took one that lasted a few hours for 350 pesos/each and took us to to see some pelicans on one island, a cenote on another, some dolphins in between, and finally some flamingos on the way back. It was alright. It might have been better on a warmer day. I don’t know, I was a little bored by it. I much preferred our bike/walk/swim adventure.

There are lots of places to stay on the island ranging from the worst (I can attest) to very posh (I wish I could attest). Other than the three places we experienced, I can’t give much more lodging advice, but from what everyone says, the hostel of choice is Tribu. Taylor met one Brit who was staying there, which led to us to joining another dozen Brits for crappy tacos at Taco Queto (don’t recommend) which happened to be next to the crappy Airbnb we were in that night. After dinner Taylor and I went back to the hostel with them to drink in the garden there (in other words, they drank, and I watched until I got bored). Over the next couple days, every time I walked by Tribu, it always sounded like there was a good time happening there. Seemed like they always had a chalkboard sign out front announcing another activity like art night or salsa class or yoga.

So yoga. Yoga is advertised all over the island but no one seems to actually offer classes, and everyone will refer you to the Hotel Amité which is located right by that little pier I mentioned. I got up early one morning to go to a class there, which was held on the second floor breezy deck above the breakfast room. I was glad I did it, but I do a lot of yoga, and aside from the setting there wasn’t anything remarkable about it. It was 200 pesos and there were four other people in the class.

Lastly, the bioluminescence. Every night we said how much we wanted to go see them, but we never did. To do so you have to get out to one of the points of the island, braving the dark and the mosquitoes. The weather was just stormy enough every night for us to never motivate to make the trip. Lame, I know. Please go there and see this phenomenon for me!

Overall, Holbox reminded us a lot of Burning Man, not just for the sand streets filled with happy people on bikes and tons of art, but also for the element of choose your own adventure. It’s so easy to walk out your door, follow the sound of some music, and find something great going on at the source of it, or maybe nothing at all, just a few people sitting around, like sometimes you find at the loudest Burning Man camps. You can carry your drinks with you from bar to bar and everyone’s friendly. Funny enough, the one place in Mexico I ran in to someone I knew from Brooklyn was at a coffee shop on Holbox one morning, and of course, he was a guy I’d met through the Burning Man community. And like Burning Man, you can leave all the din behind and bike out to deep playa.

And now, on to Valladolid

There’s one bus a day that leaves Chiquilá for Valladolid, and it’s at 4:45 pm, so Taylor and I had a leisurely day checking out, getting independent breakfasts, and making our way to the ferry. The bus ride was a couple hours, landing us in Valladolid after dark. We booked a cute little room in a hotel with great reviews not far from the bus station for about $35/night which would have been a quick walk had we not walked in the opposite direction for a while first.

Hotel Quinta Marciala

Checking in to Hotel Quinta Marciala, our host gave us a map and a TON of recommendations, starting with a place to get sopes (fried corn dough with a spread of refried beans and the usual stuff you’d find in a taco, but flat) that was basically somebody’s house. We weren’t sure if we’d found the spot until they noticed us across the street and turned the lights on. It was definitely the riskiest meal I ate during my two weeks in Mexico, but it was delicious, super cheap, and we were both perfectly well afterwards.

From there we wandered to the central square, Parque La Mestiza, where we declared ourselves officially in love with Valladolid. At one end is a huge simple white church, San Servacio, and the square is surrounded by stores selling traditional Mexican wares, not unlike just about everywhere else in Mexico. The primary difference here is that Valladolid is where most of this apparel is made by women in their homes as they tend to their children and make their family meals. I learned all this because, of course, nothing interests me more than women who make apparel.

My happy place

Taylor and I roamed some more until we found our hotelier’s second food recommendation, Mr Taco, for al pastor tacos. Mr Taco’s knows what’s up for sure, and we both ended up ordering a second round of tacos. We made our way back to the hotel, and called it an early night, both of us with goals for the morning.

I wanted to explore the streets surrounding the central square to see if I could find any dressmakers. While Taylor and I were walking the wrong direction the night before, we had passed several small workshops where things were being sewn. At 9:45 am I was a bit early, so I visited the church we’d only been able to see from the outside the night before. Inside I was struck by its grandeur and its starkness, I saw a few women praying, and I re-emerged in to the morning on the street.

Check back on our site soon for more of these adorable handmade dresses for your Little Hippie girls!

I spent the next couple hours exploring the area, talking with some shop owners in my limited Spanish. I’d been sure to look up a few key phrases on Google Translate before leaving the hotel WiFi in the morning, which in a city where very limited English is spoken, was necessary to communicate what I needed. I had a blast that morning, and by the end of it I’d met someone who offered to introduce me to some women who make these dresses. I bought a handful to bring home, so I could get a sense of which styles people like best, and I’m thinking I should go back and have some made for Little Hippie with my artwork. Embroidered Grateful Dead Owl Dress, anyone?!

That experience was my favorite part of the trip. On the side of the streets, in between shops, women in brightly colored traditional clothing were perched over piles of produce, making sopes and slicing up fruit . I bought a bag of perfectly ripe mango, eating it as I happily roamed. It was the one place in Mexico where I felt like I got to really see, feel, taste and hear Mexico.

Photo by Taylor (the other Taylor)

Meanwhile, Taylor (the other one) had gone off on an exploration of his own, first a walking tour of another old square in the city with another old church and then a bike ride (rented from the hotel for 15 pesos/hour) to the Cenote Zaci which he gushed about for hours after. It was far better, he said, than Tulum’s Gran Cenote which we visited a few days later. I so wish I’d been able to go there too!

It pained both of us to leave Valladolid. In retrospect, we really wish we’d planned to stay at least another night. We both felt like there was a lot more to discover there, and it’s also a good jumping off point for a day trip to Chitchen Itza or the otherworldly sounding pink lagoon at Rio Lagartos, Las Calaradas.

Just a couple of traveling turkeys

It’s also worth pointing out that there is an art museum in Valladolid that has rave reviews on Trip Advisor, La Casa de los Venados, a private collection in the home of the collectors. I would definitely have gone there if we’d had the time.

Our plan was to take a 2pm bus to Coba, visit the ruins for an hour or two, and then get ourselves from there to Tulum. We had to take a second class bus, because those are the only ones that stop in Coba, which is when we learned how to travel with turkeys. The rest all go straight to Tulum. As we were approaching Coba, Taylor noticed his watch jumped an hour ahead and it dawned on us that our already crunched for time plan had failed to account for the time zone change. Because we’d also forgotten about it when we got to Valladolid the night before. Whoops.

So we stayed on the bus and got all the way to Tulum for 44 pesos each (normally 134 pesos on first class direct).

Tulum

Arriving in Tulum around five, we hopped in a taxi that probably overcharged us to go the 1.5km (100 pesos) to the Lucky Traveler Hostel, which Layla had already checked in to the day before. She had chosen it because at $35/day the “world’s first all inclusive hostel” sounded like a great deal. Well, there might have been plenty of Travelers getting lucky at that hostel, but I knew right away when I walked in that I was going to be an unlucky traveler for a couple of days. My mood sank immediately.

These two are a lot better at being fun than I am.

Layla was already well in to the open bar by the time we arrived, and I was not interested in trying to catch up, so I sulked off with my computer and started searching for another place to stay. And this is the frustrating conclusion I came up with: everywhere in Tulum, no matter how much you spend you’re taking a gamble. There’s so much development happening there so fast that your chances of not being directly next to incessant construction noise are just as low in the nicest hotel as in the worst. That plus a tendency for accommodations to not live up to their online listings, and you just don’t know what you’re going to get.

Mexico not so comfy

And this brings me to my next side note: Mexico is not comfortable. Forget about memory foam. Forget it ever existed. This is a country where most people sleep in hammocks. Just be glad you got a bed. The smartest decision I made on the whole trip is a decision I made before I even left. I packed two Little Hippie fleece blankets. I swear – and I am not just saying this because I sell these blankets – those blankets saved my trip. First of all, they’re lightweight and they can be smooshed in a backpack, so they’re easy to pack and carry. They kept me warm, cozy and protected me from beds that sceeved me out. I brought one small one and one large one, and never once minded folding them up and packing them in my bag. I didn’t sit in one comfortable chair the whole time I was there either, but I can’t offer any solution for that.

So I gave up on trying to find an alternate spot in Tulum, and I toughed it out at the Lucky Traveler for a couple of nights. To the Lucky Traveler’s credit, they do have good WiFi and, after a week without much of it, I was quite happy to keep right on sulking with my computer through night one while Taylor (the other one) jumped on board Layla’s party train, eventually leaving the “Shots, shots, shots!” beer pong situation in the hostel bar to go out in town where he not so accidentally fell in not quite love again with a local, and so there was no Taylor on my bottom bunk that night.

On Saturday I took a bike out for the day (all inclusive!) with my best friend, my computer. I went to the Tulum ruins, swam in the ocean there, and eventually found a spot away from the ruins to sit and write a while which was a really lovely way to spend a couple of hours. Not to be too you know, little hippie about it or anything, but there was an energy there I found really calming. Maybe it was just the warmth from the rocks underneath my fleece blanket.


From there I biked the whole length of beach road where the nice hotels are. You know, where the grownups stay. I wanted to play grownup for a little while too, and I also really wanted a good coffee (not the easiest thing to find in Mexico), so I went to a place called The Mezzanine where for 90 pesos I got the most delicious latte I’ve had in a while, and I sat at a table in a very uncomfortable fancy chair inside a glass wall for an hour or maybe even two, writing and watching the waves roll.

I didn’t feel like spending 500 pesos on lunch, so left when I got hungry and biked in to town where I found some tacos al pastor spot on one of the last corners of the main street where I got four delicious tacos for the whopping sum of 32 pesos total.

Since I really didn’t want to go back to the hostel until I absolutely had to, I rode to the other end of the strip and spent the next couple hours writing at a coffee shop called Art Club listening to five young American DJ/producer types run their mouth about girls and their Instagram accounts and what the girls would wear to their parties and on and on. I really liked the coffee shop, but those guys are exactly why I needed a break from Brooklyn, and Tulum did not make me feel very far from home.

I got back to the hostel right as it was getting dark in time for mediocre dinner (all inclusive!), just as Taylor and Layla were getting ready to tuck themselves in to bed for the night. They’d managed to remove the glitter from their faces I’d seen at breakfast where cereal was served with no bowls (not so all inclusive), but recovery from the night before was off the table for both of them.

Some travelers at Lucky Traveler are luckier than others.

Since there was now a Taylor in my bottom bunk whom I did not want to disturb, I spent that evening wrapped up in one of my fleece blankets on one of many couches in the giant common area palapa with, you guessed it, my computer. We’d had a great day together. Seemed only fitting to spend the night together too.

Eventually the couch zone was invaded by travelers looking for somewhere to be lucky, and I retired to my top bunk, only to have the bed next to us occupied by a couple of very lucky travelers. Like they were so lucky that they were lucky ALL NIGHT LONG and still seemingly very lucky when I woke up in the morning. Yay for earplugs.

Taylor, Layla and I had breakfast together, mutually concluding that there were some shortcomings to this Lucky Traveler situation, namely that the six-and-a-half-foot member of our party did not fit in his bottom bunk.

So while my computer and I moved up the Mayan Riviera to Akumal, they bailed on their reservations for the night and booked themselves a really nice brand new hotel with almost comfortable beds… Right next to a construction site.

Akumal

A friend had told me to go to Akumal and swim with the sea turtles, so I went to Akumal to swim with the sea turtles. Unfortunately, so did everyone else.

Akumal is a tiny town about 45 minutes north of Tulum. It’s easy to get there via collectivo. What’s a collectivo? It’s a white van that drives up and down the highway giving people rides for much cheaper than a taxi. You stand on the side of the highway, flag one down, and tell them where you’re going, give them some money, and hope you don’t have to share your seat. It’s 35 pesos to get from Tulum to Akumal in a collectivo.

The town of Akumal is on the west side (inland) of the highway and the beach village is on the east (oceanfront, of course). By beach village I mean a strip of multi million dollar condos and resorts. By town, I mean five blocks of shacks, mini-supers, fruterias, and more of those taquerias that are basically someone’s house, at the end of which the pavement turns promptly to dirt road heading in to the jungle.

Akumal Natura Love

I stayed at Akumal Natura Glamping, which is located .4 km down that dirt road. To get there I had to first climb and descend the pedestrian overpass in order to safely cross the highway and then walk up a hill, where first I passed the local taxi stand. They offered to take me to my lodging for 50 pesos, but I felt like walking, so I schlepped my little rolly suitcase up the hill and down the dirt road using my phone’s flashlight for that last part.

Akumal Natura was exactly what I needed at that point in the trip. I was ready for some nature, and it provided plenty. The woman at the front desk was very welcoming and once she got me settled in to my tent (about $87/night with a very simple breakfast), I took the small trail down to their onsite cenote and went for a private swim with lots of little nibbler fish. It was a welcome change from the very crowded cenote Taylor, Layla and I had biked to in Tulum earlier in the day before parting ways. I liked it there so much I immediately extended my stay from two to three nights.

Akumal Natura provided bikes too (seems nearly everywhere does there), and the next day, after an 8am yoga class (also included), a few hours of work on their delightfully reliable WiFi, and another swim in the private cenote, I went for a long bike ride to explore the beach area and see if I could find a sea turtle to swim with. All of those condos lining the Akumal coastline are brand new and beautiful with great architecture and lots of colors, so I can’t say I didn’t like it, but I didn’t like it, you know what I mean?

As for the turtles, I was excited that I saw one on my swim (I had basic pool goggles with me simply because I already own them and didn’t see any need to rent snorkel gear), but I was really sad for the turtles. They’re already endangered and their feeding ground has been completely overrun by tourists. The government has put in a lot of regulations and a lot of buoys to limit swimming with them, but honestly, I didn’t feel like any of us needed to be there at all. I wanted them to be left alone.

Go to Akumal, leave the turtles alone, and call this guy instead.

My second day there I got maybe the best massage of my life by a Mayan medicine man. After two hours of treatment that included aromatherapy, cranial-sacral work, the exploration of muscles I didn’t even know I had, some things done to my coccyx that I’m too shy to describe, and a full belly rub, ending finally with sound bowls all over my body, he welcomed me back to planet earth. He was not kidding! Best $60 I’ve ever spent, plus tip (obvi!).

Later that day I returned to the beach, this time on foot as I wanted to stretch out with a walk rather than ride a bike. It’s close enough that either is pretty easy. On the way back I found a mini-super that was decidedly better than the other mini-supers and I bought some bread, cheese, some kind of cured meat, and some Mayan chocolate. Along with the fruit and olives I already had back at my room, I was calling this dinner. At Akumal Natura there is a decent, albeit simple, restaurant on site, but by then I was ready to eat something that someone else didn’t have to make for me.

I’m really grateful I had that time there. It provided a balance to the rest of my trip that I’d been hoping to find, and I got a ton of writing done late every night in my tent, ensconced in the mosquito netting surrounding my not quite comfortable king-size bed.

I hear Akumal has a good lagoon for snorkeling, Yal-Ku, but I didn’t go there.

Moon Swing Fleece Blanket

Playa del Carmen

Akumal, doesn’t have a bus station so to get to the Cancun airport you either have to go back to Tulum and catch the bus from there or go to Playa Del Carmen. I chose the latter since it was on the way, and I have a life long rule about never going backwards.

Layla met back up with me for the night and we shared a private room with a kitchenette and beds for four in a spot we found on Hostelworld called Hotel Colorado for 820 pesos. We LOVED Hotel Colorado. We did not, however, love Playa Del Carmen which has been developed massively since I was there twelve years ago for my sister’s bachelorette party. It was already not awesome back then.

The beach (what’s left of it) is lined with massage tables and people trying to get you on them. The water was murky and full of seaweed, the ferry to Cozumel was as loud as all the drunk Americans taking advantage of their all inclusive hotels’ beachfront bars, and I started to feel like I was ready to leave Mexico.

I went back to the hotel where I found Layla who had arrived while I was out looking for some peaceful sand in which to read (good luck). We joked about what we were getting excited to return to back home, unlumpy pillows at the top of both of our lists.

We went out for a wander and were delighted to find performances in the town square, which even though were staged for the benefit of tourists were still really cool. From there, we made our way to a Thai restaurant I had spotted earlier in the day. I was all set on tacos by then.

We had a great dinner at Po Thai Solidaridad, but neither of us felt like going out, so at 9pm we went home like a couple of old ladies. We got caught in a downpour on our way, running the last five blocks ducking between palapa awnings of bars and taquerias that actually looked like fun in the hostel zone compared to the flashy ones in the fancy zone where everywhere you go someone is shouting at you, calling you “lady,” and trying to sell you something. We’d both had our fill on these sales pitches, even if we were ready to be old ladies for the night.

The rain was the best ever and we sat on our covered balcony watching the lightning and loving the thunder and recapping our trip. I asked her what she’d recommend and what she wouldn’t.

“Holbox, for sure!” she said. Yup, agreed.

“And don’t stay eight days in Tulum,” she offered, which I didn’t do, but she did.

So that was that. Two weeks in the Yucatán, done. Layla went to bed and I went back outside to do some more writing, and in the morning I took a quick walk to the ADO bus station and rode in air conditioned comfort to the airport.

Solo, nomadic, and ready to write

I love this book.

It’s a strange thing to be a woman at the end of her 30’s with the freedom and flexibility to be traveling solo. There simply aren’t that many of me out there, and it’s not always easy to predict what I’m going to like or dislike. More nature, less parties seems to be my recent trend for sure, but it’s still fun to meet people. It’s just that the people I want to meet are hard to find because they are so few and far between. As Kristen Newman explains so well in her book that I’ve now read three times, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, if you go somewhere nice it will be filled with older couples, but hanging out in hostels is a bit of a drag past a certain age.

When I was young and living in France, I wasn’t in to the hostel scene then either. I did a little backpacking around Europe, but I didn’t love that style of travel, which has much to do with why I became a vanlifer, long before #vanlife came around. I like having my space, my own bed, my clothes put away somewhere, my books on a shelf. It’s just the way I am. I also have to work everywhere I go. I get to go lots of places because I created a job for myself where that would be possible, but it means I don’t have the option of actual vacations. Honestly, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself on a traditional vacation anyway. That is also just the way I am. So I need a good balance between exploring and being settled enough to still be productive.

Airbnb is a pretty awesome compromise, and I love being an Airbnb host too, back in Brooklyn where I’ve been welcoming strangers in to my home for four years. It’s nice to have somewhere to cook your own food and feel a little bit at home in a strange land. I don’t know what the ultimate solution is yet for getting out in the world, working nomadically, and finding people with whom you’d like to spend time while you’re there, but I’m sure there are others trying to find that mix too. I do know that it’s important to find a balance between roughing it and self-indulgence, at least, if you’re trying to stay away from home for any real length of time.

Holbox sandbars beats Brooklyn in January!

On the one hand I felt the isolation of my demographic differences from most travelers, but I was looking for some isolation too. I wanted to be alone. I had a goal. I was there to write, and write I most certainly did. This story isn’t what I wrote there though. I did that  on my way home and in the days after. For what I wrote while actually in Mexico, you’ll have to wait til I finish the book!

On the other hand, did I have an overall awesome and totally improvised trip to the Yucatán? Yes, yes I most certainly did that too. And so can you!




Taylor Swope
Taylor Swope

Author

As the creative founder of Little Hippie, Taylor specializes in illustration, licensed merchandising & experiential design, being both an expert in the art of the counter culture and a figure in it. Taylor’s artwork has become iconic in its own right, and many of her images are now being riffed on by other artists as part of the ever evolving Grateful Dead lexicon. With over twelve years experience as an apparel licensee with the Grateful Dead, Taylor is well familiar with the ins and outs of licensing contracts, merchandising deals and artist agreements. Not only does she have the ability to create imagery that is at once classic and timely, but she can manage your entire project. A strong leader with a highly capable team behind her, she is always ready to take on new opportunities to grow Little Hippie. Having moved frequently as a child, Taylor developed a love early on for new places paired with an amazing ability to keep in touch with people from everywhere. After graduating at 20 years old with a BA in French & English from Skidmore College in 1999, Taylor spent much of her early adult life on the road traveling to countless concerts and music festivals to promote her business and sell the products she designs. She now splits her time between Brooklyn, the Connecticut shoreline and Northern California. In her free time you can usually find her somewhere outdoors swimming, running, yoga-ing, and riding things down hills or otherwise playing on this big bright blue ball spinning freely in space.



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