Escape From Grand Velas!

by Sarah on January 18, 2011

By Day 4, I was itching to get out of camp.  I was beginning to lose touch with reality.  Because a 5 star resort is not reality.  At least for me it’s not.  Breathtakingly beautiful and scenic it is.  And I’m talking about the people as well as the surroundings.  There was not an employee there that wasn’t at least an 8 on a scale of 10.  Everyone and everything was stunning.

Besides, I had to take a break.  There’s only so much food blog information you can take in one sitting.  I needed a moment to digest it.  And I was dying to see the area surrounding the resort.

But at last I found Jose, a resort employee, who helped me find a taxi driver for the day.  Named Juan.  Nice guy.  We had over an hour to spend in the car together, and thankfully, he spoke enough English for us to chat.  Juan is originally from Chiapas, where his extended family still lives.  He moved to the Cancun area with friends to find work as a driver.  He is now married–and then told me he had six children (the guy looks about 25)–I nearly fell on the floor–then he laughed and said, no, he really only has two children.  A six-year-old boy and a two-year-old daughter.  Damn crazy sense of humor.   He showed me his neighborhood, not too far from the resort areas.  A block of modest concrete apartments, some painted bright colors, some fallen into disrepair.  The complete opposite of where I was staying, and then I felt kind of bad.

I told him I was hoping to get some lunch.  I wanted some real food.  Tacos, normal stuff.  Like, where he eats.  He looked at me like I was crazy, having just left the lap of luxury with all-you-can-eat resort food.  I had to explain to him that it really wasn’t that good.  That it lacked something.   Love?  Soul?  It was hotel food.  So he took me to a little taco shack on the side of the road.  He says he has lunch here too sometimes.  I offered to buy him lunch and he refused–instead he took me to lunch.

This girl was busy making tortillas when I arrived.  She was so pretty and of course didn’t speak any English.  I wonder how many tortillas she pats out every day?  Speaking of, do you know just how fantastic freshly made tortillas are?  No, not the ones made at Chevy’s in the machine, either.  Real ones.  Corn ones.  The ones that are patted out in someone’s hand.  Imagine the best tortilla you’ve ever had.  Then multiply that by 30.  There you go.

She stopped to get Juan and me some food, while the girl at the cash register sat with her cigarettes and soap opera on the tiny television.  There were several items lined up in pottery bowls to choose from.  Sliced flank steak, fish, a few kinds of chicken, ceviche.  I asked about al pastor–my favorite–but Juan said that in that part of Mexico, al pastor is typically eaten at night, not for lunch.  He recommended the shrimp.

There were a couple little juicy shrimp in each of those fried doughy pockets.  I thought to myself “breaded shrimp in a taco?  That’s very…. bready.  How odd”.  I put on some fresh cucumber salsa and some lime.  And then took a bite.  And then smiled.  And then decided that it wasn’t too bready at all.  The little disc of bread held 2-3 succulent little shrimps and they exploded with flavor.

I also chose some of the region’s chicken mole.  It was an orangey-red mole sauce, much different than the dark brownish-red stuff I’m used to getting in California.  It lacked that familiar chocolate flavor but instead was bright and tangy.  I garnished it with marinated onions and radishes.   My two tacos on handmade tortillas?  Two bucks.

There were several condiments available, lined up on the counter in stone molcajetes:  Fresh tomato and cucumber salsa, pico de gallo, marinated onions, radishes, limes, green and red hot sauces.  There were also some fiery looking dried red chiles that I was too scared to try.

Satisfactorily re-fueled, we got back on the road and headed to Tulum.  It took about an hour to get there, past more large and grand resorts and tourist attractions. Juan took me to the park where the ruins are.  I don’t think he realized I wanted to go to the actual town of Tulum also–because he directed me several times to where people sold souvenirs.  Ah, well.  So I bought a blanket.

So, where exactly are the ruins?  “Follow this road about 1/4 mile, you’ll see it”.  OK……  I needn’t have worried though.  I stopped and talked to a man at the information booth, who made me exercise my high school Spanish when he learned I was from California.  We laughed at my mangled sentences, and tried to sell me some snorkeling lessons…I politely declined and he pointed me in the right direction.  I followed the arrow sign toward the ancient city.

As I walked down the empty road, I did finally encounter other people–some foreign tourists like me, other travelers from Mexico.  Some may have been locals, just there for the beach.

And there was this guy…..can you see him?

I can’t believe how many iguanas were out there.  I’d never seen an iguana in the wild before.  They look like small dinosaurs.

After the long walk to the ticket booth, you’ve got another hike to get to the area where the Mayan settlement is.  It’s a beautiful walk through the jungle.  I think I must’ve looked like a fool with my gob hanging open, because I was just astounded at the plant life, sounds of monkeys, giant lizards and deeply tanned and lizard-like Europeans.  I guess the news about skin cancer hasn’t made it to Germany yet.

Gorgeous.  I am so easily astounded at geological differences in other parts of the world.  I mean, logically, I KNOW it’s different, but when I actually SEE it–I’m just amazed.  I am also a dork.  Obviously I don’t get off the farm much.

These trees reminded me of the trees in The Wizard of Oz, the ones that threw the apples at Dorothy and the Scarecrow…..something about the roots maybe.  They appeared ready to pull up and walk away at any moment.

Finally you reach a big stone wall with a tiny little arched doorway (Did you know that the word “Tulum” is the Yucatan Mayan word for ‘wall’?)….you walk through and you’re greeted with this:

Unbelievable.  These photos are just barely edited by the way, I may have cropped them a little, but the sky was really that blue and the water really that gorgeous turquoise-y hue.  It looks like paradise.

I was imagining what an advertisement for these homes might look like:  “Cozy 3 room stone cottage, all the modern amenities of a 1300 AD home.  Located within the walled village.  Beachfront property.”

The photos I’ve posted are miraculously tourist-free, but it was crowded—and people from all over.  I heard  people speaking in Spanish, French, German and English.  Most of them were taking pictures of the iguanas.  Many were on guided tours.

The picture below reminds me of a movie publicity still from the 30’s or 40’s.

You can read more about the ancient walled city here and here.  I can certainly understand why the Mayans picked this beautiful spot to build their fortress city.  The beach is also popular–many were there for picnics and there were also snorkeling excursions going on.

<Tangent Alert!>

Tulum is in the state of Quintana Roo.  Quintana Roo is the name of Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne’s daughter.  Joan Didion is from Sacramento.  Me:  3 degrees of separation from Tulum.

Me:  I am a nerd.

<End Tangent.>

Notice how tiny the buildings and doorways are–the people must have been quite small.  I felt downright gigantic compared to the buildings.

It’s astounding how much detail carved into the buildings–and also that it still exists at all.

I had a wonderful day traipsing around the walled city.  I never made it to the town of Tulum, nor the town of Playa del Carmen, but it was nice to have a little adventure of my own.  It almost felt a little sad to be going back to the resort…..

Till I saw it…and I was bowled over by it’s grandeur all over again.

It really is pretty impressive, isn’t it.


I feel pretty lucky really–I had a wonderful little learning vacation.  I got to meet what a fellow camper called “my tribe”–which feels accurate.  There are really others out there that take photos of their lunches.  Who discuss with intense fervor which Asian market to buy pig’s blood or purple yams.  People who pore over photographs of radishes.  People who EAT.  People who TASTE, then try to figure out what’s in there.  There were a few professionals, a few former food pros, many amateurs and home cooks.  There were many who followed special diets, many more who were into healthy living.  Most with totally different perspectives than I.  Many quirky and fun personalities.  All good people.  All cut from the same cloth as I.  Yep, they’re my tribe, all right.


If you are curious about what other campers have to say, please follow these links and keep reading!

Food Blogger Camp (Website)

Food Blogger Camp Photos (Flickr)

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