Playa was apparently not unlike what Tulum is today.
I've only been up there 4 times since I've been here, mostly on shopping trips for items you can get in a city but not in a hippy town. It feels almost like dread going up to Playa, perhaps out of sadness in seeing something wither and sour under the slick glare of real estate development and the greasy palms of gov't with no guile or vision. What has been wrought from a fishing village in the last 15 years is a bright, loud homogenized party city, like a more laid back version of Cancun: pretty, but one-dimensional.
Playa is now safe for even the most pedestrian of tourists looking to "let loose" on their two-week reprieve from the salt mines. The "Mexican" flavor of the place continues to be diluted at an almost perceptible, exponential rate...block by block. The expat population -from everywhere- now appears to be that version of entitled bourgeoisie I find so distasteful, or those who came for the good life once upon a time, only to see it slip through their fingers like the fine white sand on the beach. The blur and beat of construction, commerce and corruption run full steam ahead up the coastline.
The last straw for me was seeing a multi-level shopping mall (Alegria) they're erecting directly on the attractive pedestrian zone (5th Avenue) already wallowed in 40 blocks of souvenir shops hawking Chinese and Mexican chintz interspersed between an overabundance of homogenized bars and restaurants. Herds of the loud, drunk and clueless swerve up and down 5th avenue having their "Mexican" tropical holiday. The tourists and the locals often appear to be doing some version of the same thing.
I had a look at the real estate market during these trips and was rather astonished that the prices were proportionally equivalent to those where I am from in the states - San Francisco. I've now met enough people from Playa who have watched it grow over the years and they sigh at what it has become. There are no more smiles when talking about what Playa is, only when speaking of what she was (I'm sure there are many real estate entities that would beg to differ as promoting certain fictions are in their own interest).
I think that in spite of it still being attractive and growing, those in the know are leaving Playa, getting out while they can. The time to invest in Playa was 10 years ago. Somehow though, I sense that boom will bust when Playa absorbs the last remnants of the real Playa into its larger fiction. Ironically, half the shoreline appears to have been taken away by Caribe - I think she's probably as disappointed with what's been done to Playa as myself.
Akumal is about 20 minutes North of Tulum and is known for being both a launching point for diving and as a haven for turtle observation and conservation. I've been up a few times to swim in the main bay and a lagoon with the turtles and tropical fish. It's a great experience to have that I find to be peaceful, carefree and satisfying. The turtles and fish move slowly, purposefully about their lives and still seem tolerant of people coming from all over the world to share their space. If you're very careful, there's a small spot where you can stand up at the mouth of the bay where the waves break on the reef. You are now standing 1000 feet offshore with the breakers behind you and the beach and hotels are what feel like a world away. A perspective corrector that's great fun.
(Wonder how my bag is doing)
After sharing their world, I've had lunch in a couple different restaurants and the dull roar of American English hits you abruptly head-on after a very satisfying encounter with nature. The gossipy chit chat of retirees, divers and tourists is difficult to elude. I have yet to see a Mexican who works in the beach area genuinely smile, perhaps because they all now live in Akumal Pueblo across the highway to make room for those with money, those consumed with filling up time and space with blathering nonsense in their appropriated version of paradise. I understand there is now some controversy afoot about indigenous beach access that was supposed to have been a given along with their agreement to move across the highway. Apparently it's not happening and thus, conflict.
Oddly, I try to not let on that I speak English... I've been sucked into "conversations" which I haven't wanted to have...a natural buzz kill.
"Yes, the weather is nice."
"No, I don't spend my time watching TV...I haven't heard of that "reality" show."
"I can't think of a good reason to invest in Akumal real estate."
Good food. Dissatisfaction with the figurative lay of the landscape. I usually leave quickly after lunch to return to mi pueblo.
I may as well be in Florida.
"Take what you like and leave the rest" as the saying goes.
There are probably as many versions of the good life and of paradise as there are people in the world.
Most of them seem to involve a preoccupation with something you don't have or some place else you want to be. Others are about having a sense of different possibilities and opportunities, and about charting your own course and making and having something of your own.
Put in these essentialized and reductive terms, I can't help but notice that most of these dreams are possibly less in touch with the moment and being grateful for what you have within it. We are always wanting more.
Playa and Akumal are places where there is - or was - a convergence of similar dreams. Nothing wrong with that and I certainly have my own rendering of a dream.
Sadly though, when there are a lot of humans with similar notions that congregate with similar visions, and you add a bit of big money, avarice and corruption all grasping at a piece of paradise, the process or dynamic somehow always seems to tarnish the best intended dreams.
I've been thinking of what might happen to my favorite, irreverent, hippy town paradise.
More on that later.