All the Shades of Water: Bacalar and Tulum

Somehow, we managed to find tickets on a bus that went directly from Xpujil to Bacalar…and the ride was a mere two and a half hours.  From the highway, we started to catch glimpses of the unearthly shades of Laguna Bacalar peeking through the trees.  The bus dropped us off in town, where we hailed a very friendly fixed price taxi out to our hostel, which was a couple kilometers south of town, right along the shore of the lake.  It is impossible not to fall in love with Lake Bacalar at first sight.  Locals call it the seven color lake, and you could spend days just staring out over the water, trying to find every nuance of those colors.  Its surreal shades bewitch the senses, and the laid back atmosphere of the community only adds to the sensation that you have stepped straight out of time and into paradise.

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After sorting ourselves out in our tent and making a run to town for food supplies, we were ready for our first encounter with the lake itself.  Buying our waterproof camera was completely worth it for this time alone!  There are shallow reed beds just a one minute swim out from shore and that is where we headed.  The floor was a very squishy white layer of calcium-rich ancient coral that has been ground to a fine powder over the millennia.  This is part of what gives the water its amazing colors.  As we swam and walked further and further out into the water, we realized this was not like the typical experience, where the water looks a bright shade, but as you swim in it up close, it just looks clear.  No.  Even with our faces submerged in the center of the lake, we could still see the rich hues.  It was, for lack of better words, magical.  The following evening, we got to see it turn yet more electric shades when a major storm rolled through the area.

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Nearby, we discovered there was a very inexpensive cenote that we could go swimming in, so we donned our swimsuits and ambled up the road to Cenote Azul, where we found cheap goggles on sale to aid in our underwater adventures.  We spent most of the morning chasing the shy fish and swimming out over the center, where the water was so deep, it looked like there was no bottom at all.  By noon, we were all tired out and got out just in time to avoid the herd of local tourists that descended upon the place as we left.

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With our food supplies running low, we made one last dash into town for the abundant vegetables at the tiendas along the back streets, and also made arrangements for our bus to our next destination.  We spent the last two days at Bacalar lazing about the hostel, talking to other travelers, eating, and attempting surgery on the addled plumbing.  There was time to befriend the wild iguana whose lair entrance was right in front of our tent, swim with the tiny fish that lived in the shallows of the lake, and of course, watch the ways that light and clouds played over the incessantly teal expanse of water before us.  But soon enough, it was time to head on, to our final destination in Mexico…

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My parents had their honeymoon in Tulum back in 1982, and it seemed the perfect way to end this portion of the trip…a way of coming full circle, seeing as we were now about 13 months into our own epic honeymoon.  We spent our first afternoon just wandering along the pure white sands of the beach, and going through a bit of shock to be somewhere with glitzy five star hotels and resorts after months of backpacker villages, hippie trails, and the occasional rural area that saw no other tourists at all.  You know you are solidly back in first world territory when you pass a Starbucks on the way to the Mayan ruins!  Which is exactly what we did, bright and early the next morning.  Tailing this and that tour group as we walked through the entrance, we got a sketch of the history and layout of the grounds.  We also realized that iguanas have been encouraged to breed in the archaeological area, because they were everywhere!

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As we were starting to investigate the ruins themselves, a sudden squall blew up, making dramatic clouds roil around, framing the ruins.  Being in no hurry, we waited out the rain sitting under a little grove of palms that kept us mostly dry.  Capering around the structures, this time we focused less on the serious history and architecture and just enjoyed the moment, especially trying to recreate some of the photos my parents had taken all those years ago.

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We eventually made our way down to the famed waterfront temples and the beach that is tucked right below the ruins themselves.  The sky was starting to clear, so we were treated to some of the bright teal water views that make the beaches here famous.  We also met another friendly iguana perched on the rocks and dipped our toes in, wading out to some interesting spots between the giant boulders on the beach.  After lingering a while there, we finally climbed back up to the ruins, made a final circuit, and headed out to go find a late lunch and take a nice siesta.

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The next day, there was an incident that sort of changed all the rest of our plans for our time in Tulum.  While riding bikes along the side of the road, I accidentally hit a cone as we were trying to pass a police checkpoint…and fell right into a moving van!  Luckily, I’m pretty sturdy, because I escaped the debacle with only nasty sprains to my left shoulder, elbow, and wrist.  We fashioned my sarong into a sling, and I stocked up on IcyHot and Ibuprofen from the local supermarket.  Nevertheless, it didn’t keep us from enjoying several nice walks on the beach, a delicious coconut, and a (vegan!) pizza.

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On our last night in Tulum, our hostel hosted an evening barbecue, where they provided the rice, salad, and other side dishes…and guests just had to buy and bring their own meat to throw on the grill.  We chatted the night away with the old hippies who were visiting Tulum for the fortieth year in a row, and they recommended all kinds of interesting music and books to us.  The next morning, we bid our goodbyes to the lovely hostel owners, made a last quick dash to the beach, and purged our packs of any items that we could not take on the plane or no longer needed.

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Only a few minutes later, we were on the direct bus to the Cancun airport, leaving behind our arc of adventure from Panama to Tulum and headed onto the final chapter of our long journey…the USA’s West Coast.

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