Doh! The Chetumal Holiday Inn room service pancakes are made with cinnamon. The kids leave them uneaten. Feeding the girls, particularly Emma, can be difficult on the road. Our Spanish isn’t good enough and we don’t know the customs. Some of it is just careless. Pasta “naturalemente” should not have come with garlic and herbs.
Chetumal is the capital of Quintana Roo, and a port city aspiring to enjoy the benefits of Mayan coast tourism. They’ve built a cruise ship dock, cleaned up some of the grittier areas near the water and added a fantastic museum – Museo de la Culturo Maya.
We see a lot of museums and we really admire the ones that are small, but well conceived. The museum of Mayan culture is one of them. The exhibits are kid friendly, the information is quickly digestible and the space is attractively designed. They’ve done this one well.
It doesn’t merely show a bunch of labeled Mayan artifacts and art, it explains and compares the different styles of art. There is a fantastic clear glass floor with a replica mayan city you can ‘fly’ over and the ‘underworld’ room had the girls very engaged. They run about the museum, revisiting parts they liked. The only shortcoming is several of the interactive computer kiosks are broken.
Noon bells ring, and we get on the road to Tulum, our final destination today. We would like to stop and eat somewhere at Lake Balakar, a cenote fed ‘lake’ in southern Quintana Roo. It’s supposed to be gorgous, and we have dreams of a beautiful lakeside lunch.
The views look gorgeous at first. But the one restaurant we pass is jammed with tourists and the only access to the lake is a crowded public pier. The central part of the lake doesn’t look as attractive as the light blue edges we saw at first. Maybe we didn’t give it enough of a chance, but we continue past Lake Balakar and get back up to speed on the highway.
20 years ago, when Trish was last in Tulum, it was a backpacker paradise. Cheap beer, beach-side palapas, and a quiet town. As the numerous speed bumps signal that we have arrived, the scene is very different. Gift shops and bars are everywhere. The roads are filled with cars only – no pedicabs. A ‘Subway’ shop offers sandwiches for anyone inexplicably homesick for cheap lunch meat and sweet white bread.
I tried to make reservations for Tulum a month ago, but they all said they were booked or seemed very expensive. I didn’t make any, mostly because we wanted to keep our itinerary open, but also because I was confident we walk-up and get a cheaper room. (For the record, that has worked very well for us elsewhere on this trip.) In Tulum, however, it seems they weren’t bluffing.
We check out Zamas, a place recommended, by one guide book. They have no room, but we stay to eat the lunch. The waiter is nice enough, but the food service is a disaster. They serve our appetizers twice, including stuff we didn’t order. My whole grilled snapper is still raw inside. It takes forever to get the check. They are obviously overwhelmed. On the bright side, the girls get a fun rock climb along the crashing ocean waves and a good (but expensive) ice cream cone.
It’s the Saturday after New Years, and the final night for the many people that came here for the Christmas break. Lots of places have rooms starting Sunday evening, after the heavy crowd has gone back for work on Monday morning. There are about 10 miles of beack front properties along the soft sand of the Tulum beach, and we start close to the top. Trish hops out, runs to reception, and returns breathless with negative results.
We try at least fifteen places, although is seems like double that. Darkness is falling, and we begin to think we will have to take a nasty room in town for one night until the crowds clear. And then the Creekmore luck strikes! A luxury cabana place, run by a couple from Mexico City has a cancellation. We can get a large room for around $200 – far more than we planned, but the going rate and worth every penny.
The beach at this place is amazing, and nearly empty. We run out for the last few moments of daylight and Lily jumps and skips in the surf. At night, we talk a walk along the moonlit beach to a restaurant ¼ mile away. They say the kitchen is out of nearly everything after the hordes have eaten, but we want simple food anyway. There’s no AC, but we don’t need it. The beds are comfy and we can hear the crashing ocean waves a few hundred feet away.