On Traveling to Mexico (ALONE!) for 8 Days – Part 2

Finally finding some time and motivation to write this second update. Sorry for the delay. I hadn’t even noticed it’s been nearly a month until a kind reader commented asking where this next post was! The good news is I am starting off this Mexico continuation post with what was my best day in Mexico! I am really excited by how many people were into the first Mexico post. I had actually shortened it considerably thinking no one would care. So this one may be a bit longer as a result. Thanks to everyone who read along the first time and waited patiently for this update! If you didn’t read it yet, my first post about my Mexico trip is here.

Day Four

This was my favorite day in Mexico so is bound to be the longest entry here (and made me decide to make a part 3). I actually have almost no photos from day four because I was too busy having so much fun to remember to take them. I decided to spend my fourth day alone in Mexico at Xcacel beach. My host Dan informed me that it was close enough to walk to so I could get my Fitbit steps in (more on that soon…) and that it was more of a locals beach so wouldn’t be too obnoxiously touristy or crowded. It was only 30°C or 86°F but the humidity was out of control and it felt hot as hell so I put on my tiniest clothes, packed a small beach bag, DEET’d up for the mosquitos since I’d be walking part of the way on a jungle path (Important note: You are NOT allowed to wear insect repellants etc into the cenotes as it is damaging), and headed south on the highway. I guess it isn’t really common for people to walk super long distances in that part of Mexico because tons of people (taxis, truckers, families in cars, Americans traveling) tried to stop and give me a ride just like when I walked to Dos Ojos Cenote.

Eventually after about a half mile walking on the side of the highway I found a local dirt path Dan had told me I could walk safely up until I hit Xcacel. This was one of the most memorable moments of the trip. Not because of anything fun that happened, but because I was TERRIFIED. Incase you missed the first post on Mexico, I heard some news that made me terrified of jaguars any time I was traveling alone (even though the realistic chances of running into one were slim to none). I spent the first minute or so walking down the road finding myself very aware that although there was a highway ten feet to my left, if anything were to happen no one was going to know about it. This was another moment during my solo vacation where I really longed for a travel partner but I didn’t have one, so instead I started recording a video on my iPhone of me talking to myself and presumably whoever would find my remains if anything went wrong. Turns out, I uploaded the video and you can go ahead and watch me talk to myself like a lunatic here (Warning: I drop an F bomb):

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I actually never watched that back until today, and it’s pretty silly but I’m glad I took it, even if I did because I was scared at the time. I made it about a half mile down the jungle dirt road before I opted to go back and walk in the middle section of the high way instead, partially because I was so scared Fitbit let me know my heart rate was at 180, and partially because I saw a cautionary sign I couldn’t completely make out that I thought may be warning me about predators (it wasn’t, Predio means property in Spanish, it was actually telling me it was private property and to scram- thanks to Danno for assistance translating it after the fact). I felt a lot more safe and comfortable once back on the highway. And then I saw this:

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Cool snake skin found on the highway between Xcacel and Dos Ojos.

I was pretty nervous after seeing the snake skin, but this is actually one of my favorite photos from the trip. It’s pretty indicative of my general nature, “Here’s this thing I find terrifying, let me take a photo of it!” Shortly after this shot I finally made it to Xcacel!

Some background: Xcacel is a protected turtle sanctuary beach. It costs somewhere between 10-30 pesos for entry  ($0.66-2.00) and proceeds go towards turtle protection. The sand is pure white and the water is turquoise and completely clear. I’ve been to the Bahamas, which I suppose must be similar, but I don’t remember ever seeing anything as beautiful as Xcacel beach. There’s a cenote at Xcacel that I didn’t go to and from what I understand there is snorkeling on the north end of the beach but I didn’t partake in that either.

Instead, on my fourth day in Mexico I finally made friends (cue choir of angels)! I first met Sammuel and Melania who approached me on the beach. Sammuel was the first to approach and was hilarious with an inappropriate sense of humor much like mine, so we hit it off right away. Melania was shy initially but is as kind as she is beautiful and I was amused and impressed to learn that she does Crossfit (I am not a Crossfit person but didn’t know it was popular in other countries). Melania said her English wasn’t very good so we practiced our languages with one another, but her English turned out to be much better than my Spanish. Sammuel convinced me to chill out and go in the beautiful water (I am used to Philadelphia where no one can be trusted and so I didn’t want to leave my things on the beach alone), and I am so grateful he did. It was as warm as bath water and my fear of the ocean was quelled by my ability to see anything around me in the water. Later, another group came to the beach and a polite guy approached and asked if I minded if he played music. I of course didn’t.

This was the most magical moment in Mexico. They turned on their music and immediately began playing “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service. For those of you who live under rocks, The Postal Service was a side project of Ben Gibbard’s (Death Cab For Cutie), featuring Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley) that came out in 2001. I can’t recall when exactly I discovered them but I know that I really began to love them in 2002-2003 during my freshman year of college. I remember spending time with all my closest college friends on the roof of our apartment building listening and singing along to their music while drinking whatever it was we could get our underage hands on. The Postal Service was a staple in my life during some of my most formative adult years and they hold a really special place in my heart, so hearing them on a beach in Mexico during what was sure to be another pretty transformative moment in my life was pretty awesome and full circle.

OK sorry, back to Mexico. The people playing The Postal Service were Joseph, who ran 4,654km (or 2,891.86 miles) from Montreal to Tuxtla Gutiérrez (!!!!) and Berenice, a fellow scientist who moved from La Rioja, España to Playa Del Carmen. Everyone on the beach that day was beyond friendly, and they also spoke stellar English so I was really spoiled. I had hoped to meet up with Joseph and Berenice later during my trip but found out too late that in order to download the app WhatsApp to contact them I would need cell service to confirm my phone number, and I didn’t have cell service until days later when I left Mexico. Fortunately, I stayed with Sammuel and Melania and while I would have never foreseen myself getting into a car with strangers in a different country without cell service, I found them trustworthy enough to tag along and go to dinner with them, one of my best decisions in Mexico.

For dinner, Sammuel and Melania took me to a popular local restaurant, El Camello. There was a long line and I was sure I’d die of heat stroke or dehydration before we were seated but fortunately it only took a few minutes and before I knew it we had (extraordinarily cheap!) beers in hand. I trusted their judgement and we all shared an enormous plate of mixed seafood ceviche. This was one of the freshest, most delicious things I have ever eaten. And it was insanely cheap (180 pesos or $12)! If I haven’t said it already, you can eat/drink like a king in Mexico while spending almost no money.

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Gigantic ceviche at El Camello

While at dinner, Sammuel and Melania’s friend Amel came to eat with us and no surprise he was as friendly and funny as the rest of the gang. We had a great time at dinner and I became everyone’s Facebook friend so I could keep in touch while I was in Mexico. They invited me to go salsa dancing but I was apprehensive about staying out too late on my own and ended up going home. I regret this now, as I didn’t know Melania was leaving the next day to go back home and I wouldn’t see her or Sammuel again. Amel drove me to the collectivo and we decided to try to hang out again before I left (spoiler alert, I spent my last night in Mexico with Amel and it was great).

The rest of the night was lowkey as I was exhausted from the heat and excitement. I had really been convinced by this point that I wasn’t going to meet anyone in Mexico, but I was so glad to be proven wrong and I can truly say that everyone I met who lived in Mexico was incredibly generous and friendly.

Day Five 

I tried to meet up with my new friends but Amel had work (he is one of the main doctors in Tulum! Pretty cool!) and Melania and Sammuel were traveling to take Melania home so they were unavailable. I was on my own again, at least for now. I forget now who suggested it but I went to Akumal alone for the day. Akumal is only a little further than Xcacel, but after the walking adventure the day before I opted to take the collectivo this time.

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I almost missed this shot because it was driving off, but this was one of my favorite collectivos in Tulum!

Akumal is another turtle sanctuary beach, but a much more crowded and tourist-y location. I brought my own snorkel but if you don’t have one you can rent snorkeling or scuba gear. They also have a lot of group tours that will take you out to see the sea turtles, but I opted to explore alone. My first order of business was to eat more fish tacos and drink a beer. If this trip taught me anything it’s that I actually don’t enjoy drinking by myself, but it was super hot and I was on vacation so I felt a beer was in order. I had my lunch at Lol-Ha, and it was one of my pricier meals of the trip but still ended up being very cheap, and I highly recommend the fish tacos. After some confusion about how to get one while walking in circles like a n00b, I rented a locker from the restaurant and went to try to see some turtles.

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View from my fish taco lunch at Akumal

My spirits had certainly been raised after I finally met friends on day four, but this morale was quickly squashed during my day alone in Akumal. Much like my day at Dos Ojos Cenote, I found that snorkeling and doing things alone was really sad and unexciting. I don’t know if this is a ME thing and I am just overly co-dependent and boring or if this is a thing most people feel during their first time alone in a very new place. I kept alternating between trying to be a more independent fun person and force myself to enjoy it and trying to make eye contact with other tourists and make conversation. The other people there were primarily families and couples who didn’t seem to want to be bothered or be friendly and I ended up meeting no one.

I told myself that I was in a beautiful place and had to at least try to have fun so I forced myself to stay in the water for a minimum of one hour. During this hour, I discovered that the turtles were primarily only in the areas you could get to with tours, or further out in the swimming area where the waves were more rough. I also realized that even if a turtle did come within the public swimming area, it was so quickly swarmed that it didn’t last long (which made me question if I wanted to bother them at all because I felt bad for them). I tried to go deeper for a little while but the realization that if I happened to drown no one was going to notice until much later made me too anxious to stay for long. I ended up awkwardly floating around alone in the bath-like water and approximating how many minutes had passed while seeing no turtles, and once again wishing I had brought a travel buddy. I guess the positive side to my awkward lonely floating was that I tried to get in some deep introspective thinking on why I was so bored alone and how to fix it. The downside was I came to no real conclusion and mostly did a lot of loud deep sighing.

After my allotted hour (which I shockingly timed pretty well without a watch), I sat on the beach and tried to read for a while then took a collectivo back to Dos Ojos. There were some kids on the bus with me who had to be high school age and spoke Spanish too quickly for me to decipher, but I understood enough to know they were making fun of me, which definitely did not help my already super lonely and sad mood. I took a much needed nap followed by another shower cry at my hotel then headed into Tulum for dinner.

If you know me, you know I am obsessed with pizza. So I of course had to make sure to have some while in Mexico. I had been given some suggestions but ended up being so hungry I went to the first place I found, Papaya Pizza. This was another highlight of my trip, not just because I got to eat pizza, but because the owner was super friendly and we had great conversation. Sidenote: They also have vegan pizza for any vegan friends who visit Tulum! The owner is an artist who has art hanging around the (outdoor) restaurant, adding to the already beautiful and calming atmosphere. We talked about our art and lives and it was one of the best meals of my trip, both because of the delicious food and the lovely company.

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The universe giving me signs about my future (or just some of the decor at Papaya Pizza).

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Art by the owner of Papaya Pizza.

My dinner definitely lifted my spirits and reminded me that I was not completely alone in Mexico, I just had to find the right people there. I spent the rest of the night in bed watching Orange is the New Black Season 2, because sometimes you just need a piece of home even when in Mexico.

Click here to read part 3!


Links from post:

  1. On Traveling to Mexico (ALONE!) for 8 Days – Part 1
  2. Xcacel Beach Trip Advisor information
  3. Video of me talking to myself walking to Xcacel
  4. The Postal Service official website
  5. Such Great Heights by The Postal Service 
  6. El Camello (restaurant in Tulum)
  7. Akumal
  8. Lol-Ha (restaurant in Akumal)
  9. Papaya Pizza 
  10. On Traveling to Mexico (ALONE!) for 8 days Part III
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About tamarahala

Tamara is currently living in Petaluma, CA as an intern at Green String Institute! She is a mixed media artist, student aerialist, and former neuroscientist.

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