Monday, March 8, 2010

Never Stop Seeing Paradise

Perpetually living as an expatriate, scribing meanderings of my drifting self in handmade journals and emails to friends. Expatriate writing usually describes the oddities within the newness that surrounds us. Eyes wide and mind open, with 4 corners of the earth so accessible, we journey through the labyrinth of narrow roads and incomprehensible languages. These journeys may take us on a trip through ruins of sublime European architecture, or the dusty roads of remote villages in exotic lands. My current journey takes me to a town that draws tourists in because simply put, it resembles a piece of heaven you visit in moments of solace, a place where I feel I am living the vacation everyone dreams of, even while working 40 hours a week and getting paid very little.

As an expat in this the Caribbean Pueblo of Tulum, I happily gave up a secure, predictable salary in Canada to live here. My compensation for giving up the conventional approach to life, is the heavenly landscape before me, which I am blessed to visually capture a piece of everyday. Waking up early to hitch a ride to the beach and teach yoga or taking the “Collectivo” and travelling to cities nearby where I can make a bit more money to sustain my simple life in paradise. All for the great fortune of being able to sit by the sea, when I have free time, and creatively express myself inspired by the sound of the crashing waves upon the shore.

Most folks come so they can sleep in “Eco Chic” cabañas where the sound of the echoing waves lay you to sleep. I can no longer afford to live so close to the sea, as that is a tourist enclave, so I fall asleep to the resonance of the sweet noises of a busy tourist town. I am set off to a meditative dream state, by the distant lullaby of the Mariachis wandering while busking in the streets. They create a cacophonous melody with the Cuban band that plays 10 in the morning until 10 at night entertaining tourists as they sit down for a late meal of Mexican beer, tortillas and frijoles. The lead vocals being the homegrown roosters that walk freely through the streets seemingly unaware that their farmland is a paved road with streetlights. Their cock-a-doodle-doo sounds more like a Quiquiriquíííííííí in Latin America. They are as much a part of my lullaby as they are my wakeup call.

The alarm for those living in town is a fusion of sounds. Roosters cocking, men cycling on three wheel bikes honking horns and selling fresh breads, while others selling sweet, warm atole, a masa based sweet drink accompanied with tamales. The oil and water trucks with their catchy slogans competing for air space so those that are in need, run out barefoot chasing the trucks down.

If you are lucky, in the morning you may have a chance encounter with the young women from a small rural village, where she grows chaia, (a local veggie that looks like spinach and tastes a bit like chard) handmade tortillas, and fruits both fresh and candied, crystallized with sugar. She sells a bag of 6 tomatoes for 10 pesos, less than a dollar. Her cart filled with fresh, cheap, local produce, and babies in tow. She is happy to go home with a cart of only smiling babies. .

At the crack of dawn I awake with the charming sounds of this small, seaside pueblo, and in a typical day I run along n side many others to catch a “collectivo” and the bright colors of Mexico begin to paint my day. The shop keepers still take a chance on the idea that I am a perpetual tourist in this town, rather than living and working here. “Amiga, What you like, we have, low price Amiga.” I am tempted by the shining silver, colorful ceramics and textiles and heavenly hammocks but I am rushing off to work. I run off to catch the “Collectivo” and I squeeze in with the men, women and children. This tiny van is filled with 17 passengers, infused with music from the local radio station. We squeeze in together; a beautiful child sits close to me and runs her hand through my short hair, offering me lychees, while informing her family that I am a “Gringa”.

Tulum is a young town, only a few years older than me as it maintains its youthful spirit at the tender age of just 35 years. Life in Tulum, to the vacationer, may seem as if a town was created so that we vacationers have a place to lie our weary heads. You may come here to be kissed by the sun and effortlessly you are brought to life by the powerful energy of the sea, while treating yourself to the some of the finest international cuisine. Although the later may be true, a Caribbean town born to serve one industry, that of tourism, there is a strong sense of community amongst the locals that live here. A plethora of lifestyles, languages, cultures, talents and reasons for moving here create the community here. We are workers living off tourism, filling a role we once sought comfort from. We are composed of North, Central and South Americans, Europeans all trying to find a way to make life in this piece paradise feasible.

The first time I visited Tulum, 7 years ago, I was drawn in by its alluring white sand beaches, turquoise green waters and vibrant aura of gypsy spirits wandering both the beach and pueblo selling jewels, songs, poetry, and dance. My soul was enveloped by the creative energy and wildness that seemed to bring out the most uninhibited side of all those around me. At that point I never imagined myself calling this piece of heaven home, as in the eye of a vacationer, it is simply a place to free yourself from winter, seeking refuge in warmth, and return to your life at home sun kissed and renewed.

The fact is, this town was created to serve the tourist, and although it may very well be a strip of highway lined with shops on either side, there is a culture that is evolving in this tiny town. One where folks from around the globe meet, all with one common goal in mind, seeking solace in a place that welcomes anyone and rarely lets go of those that find their niche here. A place overpopulated with yoga teachers, musicians, painters, dancers, gypsies, restaurant owners, scuba divers, and handicraft makers.

As a vacationer we rarely wonder what lies beneath this perfectly idyllic corner of the earth some seek refuge in. I took a chance on the façade I thought was created for the weary traveler.