An all-time top film quote is one nearly everyone can remember. As most were glued watching Robert Duvall roar in Apocalypse Now on a war-ravaged Vietnam beach, he stood thrilled: aviator shades, cavalry chapeau, dog tags draping his bare chest, marine fatigues tucked inside spit-shined combat boots delivering, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Seconds later Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore inhaled a robust breath, absorbing whatever foul odor he could from the immediate firefight; Coppola’s cameras panned toward Kilgore’s battalion who were surfing on what Vietnam’s intermediate swells then and still today offer.
Exactly 3:48 a.m. last Monday morning we were jolted awake by the disturbance coming from a diesel big rig warming its gurgling motor before leaving thirteen minutes later at 4:01. Enough putrid fumes crept into our space through an open bathroom window, we sissy, very unmilitary types gagged, gasping for fresh air. Took about an hour to fall back asleep, but only for a short snooze, when power tools began grinding and drilling steel continuously during the next twelve hours — dawn till dusk. This living nightmare sounded far worse than fingernails screeching across a school chalkboard. That commotion penetrated my upper incisors, in the manner a dentist appointment gone awry can make us squirm probing around sensitive nerves. The twelve-foot cement wall which we thought created seclusion for our own private outdoor ginormous soaking tub with rainshower, surrounded by bird-of-paradise actually butted up against a dirt lot with several mechanics fixing disabled Mexican 18-wheelers.
Sorry to burst the bubble of anyone planning future Yucatán trips, those eager to write down where our Avalon slab in Tulum was. Unfortunately, those pesky grease monkeys on the opposite side of our sanctuary weren’t busy causing mayhem when I posted Semi expatriados.
In case there are any questions which some might have regarding Tulum itself, I shall answer these inquiries.
That evening we’d gone for a stroll while noshing along Avenida Tulum. Leisurely pace you know, overjoyed to have escaped that long day’s ongoing racket. On Tulum’s main thoroughfare a building painted this hideous green caught my attention; signage uniquely Mexican, hand-painted using equally abrasive analogous colors. Stepping closer I noticed this mysterious establishment’s pinkish-raspberry sequin curtains, an inviting billow to and fro, fluttering along as well a black tulle liner. I was a big glitter freak way back when; our twelve-year-old daughter is partial to most anything sparkly.
You’re much more clever than I. If you were walking with us, it wouldn’t have been necessary for me to poke inside, (see it’s your fault) my curiosity might’ve ceased hearing someone else’s wise warning, “Jehr, don’t go in there.” Little did I know our innocent daughter was inches right behind me. Pulling this enchanting curtain aside, the first thing I saw was how pitch-black it looked in there, except one ugly, raw compact fluorescent lamp drooping above a dilapidated makeshift bar. In the span of nothing flat, my glance retreated to its entrance. Slouched on two dingy plastic chairs were a pair of bored stiff, chubby strumpets outfitted in spandex tube tops — rhinestone booty shorts (both garments sizes too small) — candy colored eyeshadow — chipped polish, alongside unkempt feet wearing dollar store flip flops. It all came together much too late; I turned away only to bump against my daughter, who unbeknownst pour moi was underfoot. How should you respond to a twelve-year-old girl who knew precisely what she saw? I realized this at that humiliating moment watching her grinning mischievously, yet nervously asking, “Poppi, what was that place?”
Glossy travel magazines want tourists to believe Tulum is an idyllic yoga retreat — yeah, maybe fifteen or twenty years ago. Gerard Saint D’Angelo refuses to duplicate “boom shakalaka” as we previously nicked that lyrical reference days ago making a point about our fast exit from Playa del Carmen.
Founded in 1540, Valladolid is a colonial Yucatán small town situated between Tulum and Mérida. Valladolid is on the down-low; local gossip brags Sylvester Stallone, referred here as “Rocco” visited last weekend, along with Tobey Maguire three weeks ago, locals simply call him “Spider-Man,” both movie stars visited Cenote Zaci. Mexico just can’t seem to get data straight, their cenote count fluctuates vastly, some report six thousand, other websites say thirty thousand. Cenote Zaci is minutes away by foot from our magnífico Hotel Casa San Roque; a hidden six-room gem that would surprise most anyone who didn’t know what was beyond its unassuming facade. Manuel, the soft-spoken proprietor told us this hotel, prior to renovations and construction, was his grandmother’s home.
Now I finally understand why people get hung up on captivating towns like San Miguel De Allende or so many other treasured spots throughout Mexico, particularly Americans who desire plush retirements on fixed incomes.
High cheekbones are prominent here; skin complexion is radiant, burnished a healthy reddish-brown. Many older women wear traditional, brilliant floral hand embroidered white dresses, over white cotton lace slips, exposing enough lacing to hint this style is additional ornamentation; sashes compliment slender bodies, fuller figures use plum colored wraps diagonally swathing their chest and back. Like everywhere else around the world, most men are neither here, nor there. Valladolid’s senior gentlemen may sport straw cowboy sombreros, middle-aged men advertise Slipknot to Bardahl on baseball caps, but a larger quantity than I haven’t seen since forever slick hair using pomade; pompadours never became unfashionable here.
Mayan height was the first shock for our daughter in Valladolid, within minutes upon arrival she announced to us, “I’m the tallest person here!” My family and I seem to gravitate toward unusual destinations, yet draw attention the moment we get there, which can be awkward at first arriving any foreign environment. Now and again I’ll become invisible walking with my head lowered, avoiding any eye contact, this downward view staring at toes can be revealing, similar to faces telling their stories. Alien as these Mayans are to us, the same I’d guess goes for them too, my wife specifically, a long-legged blue-eyed blonde.
This was indeed the perfect choice to regroup from Tulum’s utter disappointment. I’ve seen no cathouse — heart-wrenching town blind beggar yes. Valladolid’s square is embellished by Cathedral of San Gervasio, this week featuring Catholicism’s brightest canonized pop star — Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
Valladolid’s morning mercado happens to be once again blocks from Hotel Casa San Roque, there’s something for everyone there. Famiglia di Schiavo functions best drinking fresh-squeezed juice first thing. Chaya, Mayan spinach blended with lime certainly can replace caffeine, this leafy green is known as food of the gods. Carnitas aka Cochinita Pibil is served in three variations: on sliced Mexican pan or pibihua, tiny handmade corn based oblong firm buns, lastly, stuffed inside warm rolled tortillas, each option sprinkled with pickled minced onions which were marinated that morning using sour oranges — absolutely scrumptious, perhaps tastier than Rome’s renowned porchetta panini.
The Hotel Casa San Roque pool and garden area is teeming with lush vegetation: avocado, lime, orange, alongside other fruit trees I’ve never even seen before, and might not again after checking out. Iguanas — adorable prehistoric leftovers, they’ll camouflage themselves on Roque’s stone walls; observing them scurry vertically is as much entertainment anyone really needs between cool dunks every so often in ninety degree heat.
An old-world bedouin lifestyle must’ve been addicting; when the mood no longer strikes your fancy, saddle up. I’ve seen backpackers with burdensome gear having a circumference that easily exceeds many redwoods growing on Mount Tamalpais. The secret to travel for all intents and purposes is packing bare bones; getting around, unpacking and repacking, following unexpected predicaments will require no effort whatsoever. Having an appearance that shouts, “hey we’re on safari” isn’t in fact necessary; you’ve seen ‘em at airports, other fabrics dry quickly besides Patagonia’s Dual Point Alpine Pant. Rollerboards are an indisputable drag trying to navigate across any stone road surface with skinny, irregular sidewalks. One weekend satchel without wheels, having two comfortable handles can replace three pieces of luggage if belongings were edited properly at home. Shoulder bags should be seriously reconsidered, here’s why: they’re plopped inside trunks of filthy cabs, sidewalks that are tinkled, shat and spat upon, airplane cargo holds, et cetera, then rub grime against our clean, carefully selected wardrobe.
Many of you angels would be excellent travel companions we’d welcome to experience the tastes, sights, smells and (better) sounds Mexico provides. For instance, this morning sipping juice we happened upon a young cobbler who produces leather sandals with Goodyear tire soles. I’m not sure what kept us lingering there the longest — that leather stall’s honest aroma? an open wood fire barbecuing chicken next door? Mexican love songs swooning from his boombox equipped with built-in party lights? or this vendor’s infectious Mayan smile?