It was sometime around Christmas and you were leaving the cold behind for something warmer. A journey down to Tulum, Mexico seemed to be the best choice. You didn't have anyone to leave behind and frankly didn't care if anyone missed you that Christmas. So away you went on your lonesome. But you knew this is the best way to really see the world.
Upon your arrival, a car was ready and facilitated your quick escape from the confines of the airport. Every couple of kilometers, which you subconsciously switched to using upon arrival, you notice the wooden towers in the middle of the Highway 307's central berm. Though it was clear to you after the first what these structures were.
These were the watch towers along the highway. Places for men to stand and scan the colorful pieces of metal flowing past them like shepherds watching their flock stream by to pasture. Perhaps looking for one sheep in particular that would turn out to be this week's most wanted. Though unlike caring shepherds, these men stood imposing in nature, while their bunkers and towers were laughable in construction. For what good would the wood do against supersonic metal if they really found who they were looking for.
At one tower, you find yourself at a checkpoint. The tan or blue armored local police stretched their lines across all four lanes to check each car as it passed. Each man held some unidentifiable submachine gun which sparked in your mind a thought they may be Vietnam War era. They did not look happy to be there as drove up, but you knew these men would not be a problem for you.
Reaching the front of the line, they take a cursory glance into your car. They see your Hawaiian shirt and the camera that sits in the passenger seat. The man looks at you and you know he doesn't really care about your presence. Without a word, you're waved onward. Then accelerating slowly from the checkpoint, you carry on.
When the car is finally parked, you take up the bottle of rum you bought from the airport. Taking a long drink, the phased reality that comes from excessive consumption finds its way into your mind again. You know sometimes it shows you new sight, and sometimes it reveals deep sadness. But it's a flexible thing and you're not worried about those problems you left behind to go on your trip.
Retrieving your backpack and duffle bag from the backseat, you cross the street to enter the resort you'll be staying in. It spikes your mind that you've visited similar places in the past. They're often small and possess little to no security. It was far from the all inclusive situation that spawns in the tourist bubbles of these places. As such, it would provide access to real people if you chose to pursue that end. Overall, it was more of a collection of cottages with a restaurant nearby than a resort.
Speaking with the woman at the counter, you're handed the keys to your room. So, you walk through the resort to find the matching lock. When you do, there's a bicycle sitting outside with a sign. It explains this bike is intended for you and the key to its lock is in the room.
Settling in, you find yourself lacking excitement. After exploring the entire compound, there was nothing that sparked your interest beyond a fractured mural of a face. If wasn't for the bright colors of it, it would have made you feel uneasy. Moving on, you noted the bar was expensive, the beach was almost empty, and there wasn't anyone around you'd particularly like to talk to. As such, you resolve to venture out into the towns and beaches nearby. For the first night, however, you spend your time on the beach near your cottage with a glass of rapidly melting ice and your airport rum.
The following day, you find yourself walking down the same beach you staked out the night before. You simply just follow the twists and turns of the hard rocks nestled against the buildings that stole domination of this terrain.
'We are the true architects of this new world,' you think.
There were other people spread everywhere across the beaches as you walked them. Though not like the crowded, sunbathing, people packed ones you were used to. Instead, these people were engaged in activity. Swimming, soccer, and similar activates instead of sitting on a towel avoiding the ocean the sunbathers allegedly came to see.
You were fairly sure most of them were the locals. They did not strike you as being of the well off variety either. Rather these men and women appeared to be the average person here. Living day to day off the money that could scrounged from tourism and whatever other jobs came by. It strikes you as a sad place to be in life, but these people are smiling.
Despite their origins, you were intrigued by the uniqueness of the individuals arrayed in front of you. In various states of preparedness for the ocean expanding out to the horizon, they each possessed something that separated them from their fellows. Attached to some were bathing suits of all designs, while others waded into the light blue waters in apparently whatever they had. It seemed to you these accoutrements were as varied as the clothing of the birds that flew above them all.
No one interacted with you directly, however. You're unsure of the exact reason, but this did not worry you. It was likely the camera slung around your shoulder, or maybe it that these people did not care for your appearance along their beach. Regardless you walked and watched all the animals, human and otherwise, taking action in and around the bright water.
Here you did not see the cartel sentimentality or the near perfect people posing for endless photos. Instead, here were just normal people. Speaking a different language than your own, yes, but still just people. It reminded you of the animals you heard about in Africa flocking to the water in height of day to enjoy the respite the water could provide. It was what you would describe as normal, but you knew was not the true norm. Regardless, here existed, at least for a moment, the place in between the worlds of Mexico. It was neither violent nor opulent. Here was a glimpse into the world that everyone claims they fight for. The world of the normal of man. Yet as soon as the guides are lifted, they strike out for that lurking world which we experience every day.
Finding this, you turn to walk back to your cottage passing again all the creatures you had seen as you make your way to your appointed territory. Through dinner and sometime afterward you find yourself following the rut you started to dig the night before: sitting along the beach with your rum. However, this time your contemplations were interrupted with the sounds of an engine running hot came from the costal road that was visible from your vantage point.
Scanning the pockmarked concrete, the source finally came from around a bend leading from the nearby town. It was a dark blue truck with police markings whose lights were streaking the world it passed with alternating visions of blue and red. These lights illuminated the police officers holding themselves in the truck's bed.
They were clearly equipped for action and wore heavy, dark blue ballistic vests emblazoned in stark white text reading 'POLIC'A'. In the hands that weren't holding onto the hurtling truck, were what appeared to me to be M4 rifles of some description. Each was basic without modern optics, but the message was clear: these were meant for business.
As you watch, the truck continues its path down the road ignoring each speed bump causing the men gathered in the back to bounce. Despite the armor and weapons, these men did not scare you. Nor did the idea of could possibly have garnered so much heavy attention. The issue was not in front of you, and so, neither was the problem. You found yourself merely as an observer. Your body a mere tool to assess all that is physical around you. Soon the truck continues around another bend and leaves the world in front of you back in darkness.
The next morning at breakfast, you ask one of the locals working in the resort's restaurant what they thought the police were out for in such heavy equipment. At first, he tells you nothing with some explanation of training or the otherwise. However, when you scoff and raise an eyebrow the tall man in front of you seems to decide that's not the whole truth.
'In the past, when Pablo Escobar was makin' runs, smuggling craft would pass this area,' your new acquaintance tells you. 'Either they be far out in the ocean or hiding in the clouds. But they would still get caught sometimes.'
You nod an ascentment taking a sip from your morning drink. Your acquaintance seems to get the message and continues.
'Sometimes, the crews would abandon their shipments to the ocean if they thought the policia were going to snatch them. Then shipments would just end up on the coast for people to grab.'
According to your acquaintance, this had happened before when they were originally building the resort. While small parts of the abandoned packages were usually the only things that made it to shore, this time an entire pallet of cocaine had survived the wraith of the ocean.
'When the policia finally showed up, people had already torn through the whole thing,' he says.
Here a lull found itself into the dialog as the day neared noon. At this point, your acquaintance removes an Altoids tin from his pocket, opening it in front of you. Inside sits two peculiar items: A V shaped pipe, and small bottle of a brownish powder.
You again raise an eyebrow in question and your acquaintance quickly explains the concept. What sits in its tin before you is a bottle of powdered Aztec tobacco and an applicator pipe. Demonstrating the system's use, your acquaintance pours a small amount of the powdered tobacco onto his hand's webbing between the thumb and the index finger. Then, taking the pipe in the other hand, he loads the now loose powder into the upper end of the V pipe. Finally, placing one end of the V into his mouth and the other into his nose, he blows hard out of his mouth and into the pipe. After a brief recovery, he offers you the same. You agree without hesitation. After cleaning the ends and your acquaintance helping you load the pipe, you blow into it.
The first thing you feel is pain, as with everything it seems. The sensation is as if not only your nose, but the entire nasal cavity you had blown into was burning with fire ants. However, as this recedes it feels like your mind is falling backwards through your body. It was an amazing sensation and quickly flattened out into a satisfying nicotine high. Your acquaintance, likely realizing you were all right by this point, asks if you want to do another.
Later that day, you find yourself riding your bike, rather wobbly, down the same costal road you had watched the police truck head down the night before. As you peddle down the street towards the nearby town, you have ample time to gage your surroundings. Around you an odd mix ranging from open to the sky bars, natural tropical plants, and the occasional dingy corporate establishment like a supermarket or condo cropped up from the living green walls that hugged the road tightly.
What struck you most was the variety of coloring. Some buildings were dark concrete, while others appeared to be constructed of sand stone brick and painted a variety of colors. All standing out in sharp contrast to the deep green of the jungle plants that sat just beyond.
It was like the people you had seen on the beach, in all their variety, had become the buildings that stood around you. But still, like the people, no matter the physical state of each, decrepit or stable, all seemed to be functional and adept enough at its purpose.
Reaching the town, you finally found your desired destination: a 7-11 just outside of town your tobacco toting acquaintance had told you about. He was a helpful individual you note to yourself and ponder the difficulties of finding more people to talk to. Entering, you find a familiar layout and head to the glass paned fridges in the back.
It surprises you when you notice a special deal, similar to soda specials in the United States, was advertised for beer. In fact, this particular special offered three quart sized Miller High Life cans for what you would later realize was the equivalent of only about $2.30 in US Dollars. With the cans cradled in your arms, you walk to the register and place them on the counter in front of a small, rather large man with a dejected look about him.
While you wait, this clerk rings up your collection of cans and says something to you in Spanish. You know enough of what he said to reply with an affirmative, 'Si,' and hand him the number of multicolored Peso bills specified. With a simple, 'Gracias,' you set back out to your bike and place the beers into the basket fixed to the front handle bars. With beers bouncing along, you ride back to the resort.
Returning to your room, you dig your phone out of the safe and glance through the messages that had accumulated. Reading though them, you finally realize today is Christmas Eve. Yet, here you were alone, slogging through your third quart of Miller High Life.
It was something you had experience before. The lack of inspiration and the lack of drive to reach out to the people that were around you. Sitting on your bed you think about how this is a new place. You are not defined by anything, but that which you bring to this new sandy table. Here was a chance to reach beyond the binds you normally burden yourself. Here was a place that would ultimately not remember your intervention whether good or bad. This was an opportunity unprecedented. And in this thought, you find resolve.
Stepping outside, you think of the people and the buildings sitting in their uniqueness as you look out to the rapidly darkening expanse over the ocean. The things you've seen have shown with color and they all sat unperturbed by those around them. Yet you were going to stand here, to sit in the sadness and terror of your own mind, but that was no longer your plan.
Walking to the entrance of the resort, you find a blackboard illuminated by a pair of spotlights behind the empty reception counter. In English and Spanish, it lists the events going on in the town and the nearby clubs for the holiday. As you scan the options, one appeals to you above all the rest. At an open to the air club you passed on your way to the 7-11, a Christmas bash is scheduled to start at 8:30 PM.
Paying the meager cover charge and stepping into the club you take in the sights. It's setup like an amphitheater with the ocean taking the place of a backstage to the East. At the top where you're standing near the bar and the entrance, three sides slode down from to the dancefloor below. In the slopes are inset tables that cradle people watching the crowded dancefloor, the illuminated DJ stage, or the ocean out beyond.
On the dance floor, you spot the variety you've come to know from this place. Here were people of all places dressed in everything from Hawaiian shirts to small sequence dresses. The crowds float and pulse with the music that blasts from the massive speakers laid out throughout the compound. Each one sends forward the Euro Rave beat to crash into the thralls of people that gyrate through the dancefloor.
You find yourself not quite ready to dive into the sea of people you had found, so you stick to the top edges and shimmy your way to the bar at the top of Southern slope. Reaching the bar and exchanging a small number of pesos for a variety of drink tickets, you order the first thing that comes to my mind: a shot of tequila and a beer. In hindsight, you're fairly certain the bartender thought you intended to mix the two in the cup he hands you; a drink which you're later told is called a Coronarita. Rather, you pick up the cup, note that it's at the very least a double shot, and down the entire contents.
Quickly following it with beer, you overhear the bartender chuckling and saying, 'You go man.'
Saying thanks, you bring your beer to one of the inset tables and try to make conversation with the people you find there.
'So where's someone like you from?' she says turning her head to face you.
'America. Though I find myself traveling a lot,' you reply.
'Me too! I'm from Russia, but I've been traveling a lot recently. Going to be a world tour when I'm done.'
'Hhm. Must be an expensive endeavor.'
'It's not as bad as you would think. And I've got the funds to spare right now, what are you up to down here?'
'Mainly just drinking and wandering around. ' When it really comes down to it that is.'
After a few more minutes of talking, the conversation lulls, and you return to the music. Though as soon as her focus leaves you, a rather large man from the group finds his way to stand next to you.
You were prepared for trouble, but he opens with a simple explanation, 'Just so you know, her boyfriend is coming back soon.'
Nodding thanks, you step down to the safety of the dancefloor. Too bad you think to yourself.
Finally finding yourself among the throngs of people moving back and forth in mass, you begin flowing through the crowd. Stopping to dance and talk occasionally, you finish your beer and make your way to get two more before returning to continue the exploration of the human ant hill.
With more than a few drinks gone by, you make your way to the center of the crowd and you watch as a very European man pulls a small blue item from his pocket. He brings it up to his nose, takes a sharp and quick pull from the contents, and closes the cap to continue his dance. Curious, you approach.
'What is that?'
'It's called a Popper. ' You sound American. Are you American?'
'They're very popular in Europe.'
'Never heard of it before, sounds like a good time though.'
'Definitely,' the European says holding the blue plastic container out to you, 'You want to try?'
Nodding you grab the Popper from his outstretched hand. Removing the top, you look inside and see what appears to be a foggy viscous liquid. Moving it toward your nose, you could immediately detect the pungent scent the liquid was giving off. It was somewhere between smelling salts, bathroom cleaner, and alcohol.
Placing your nose over the hole in the plastic, you take a sharp and quick snort like you saw the European do earlier. You immediately notice that something feels odd, and very quickly afterward your mind begins to swim. Taking a swig of your remaining beer, you smile and hand back the Popper to the European. He asks you if you liked it and before you could continue the conversation you were both pushed in opposite directions into the crowd.
In your new place among the dancing and raving people of the dancefloor you stop and look around. The lights play over the faces of the people around you and reveal glittering things hanging from all sorts of appendages. They sparkle back at you, the people and jewelry, so you look into the sky and to the palm trees that hang between. The trees too were painted in colorful lights of unique and constantly twisting patterns. You end up staring at that sky for a long while taking in each detail even as it changes before your eyes.
Then a shout breaks you from your trace. It startles you and you're not immediately about to figure out what was being said due to the music that continues to blaze around you. After a chance glance at your watch, you finally realize what they were saying. All around you people shout, 'Merry Christmas', 'Feliz Navidad', or some other collection of sounds in their native tongue.
It brings all the people, and all that you had witnessed, together. Mexico was a place of cartel activity. It was a place of opulent riches. And it was a place of disparity. Yet, looking around you see all these people gathered around you for one event, despite the world that threatened to collapse around them.
The men with tattoos and allegiances, the groups wearing ridiculously expensive clothing, and the people that appear to be wearing whatever they felt would suffice. They all were standing together shouting the same thing, in different words, to be heard over the still blasting Euro Beats.