2 min readOct 5, 2014


Scenes from Caribbean Mexico

I pedal to Tulum in the evening, the shadows of leaves gliding over my rusted bicycle as the sun falls through the jungle. The Maya built this city at the edge of the Yucatan before they’d ever heard of steel or Spain, and here it remains, empty and green. It is a national park now.

A squarish temple stands within its crumbling walls, on a windy bluff above the Caribbean. It is pitted and blotched and perfectly Mayan, flanked by balding palms and low stonework of uncertain purpose. The sea is shallow behind it, sparkling cyan as it recedes into blue, blushing under tropical clouds turning over in the evening light. This is the first sight to greet me in Tulum, and I gape at it for several minutes.

The largest ruin in Tulum is another box temple, but this one sits above a huge set of stone steps, Chichén Itzá-style. Two empty platforms lay like shoulders at either side, granting the structure a hulking humanoid form. Toppled blocks lie in front, behind an ancient gaptoothed stone fence strung with no-entry rope. The entire complex is spotless, run with green lawns and manicured shrubs. Mexicans want to protect their heritage, and rightly so. But I wish there weren’t so many ropes and water sprinklers.

I walk among the ruins as long as I can until tired-looking staff in mismatched polos and ball caps corral me to the exit. I leave after one implores, Amigo, por favor. The best light of the day, immediately post-dawn or pre-sunset, occurs while no visitor can legally observe it inside the ruins. I’ve read about people sneaking in for sunrise via the sea cliffs, but am hesitant to break Mexican law. For several reasons.

I unlock my bike and creak down the coast a few miles. I spend the remaining daylight on a rock above a wild stretch of beach, wind in my face and Bob Dylan in my ears. This is preferable to sweating inland. I try to hang my travel hammock, and the sun sets and the moon rises as I idly fuck with it. No branches in the spindly coastal scrub can support it, and the wind is so strong that the hammock snaps full, like a sail, or stands straight out when I hold one end. I feel isolated and Crusoe-esque in its incessant woosh. The beach is deserted. When I leave, the dark ocean is silver between the shadows of drifting clouds, the full moon striking the surface in pools of ghostly moonshine. Tulum’s night guard stands alone under a floodlight as I ride home on the empty road. Another night, I see flashlights at the bluff temple from an adjacent beach, and wonder where he is.