A Land of Contrast

In his travels, many an adventurer has called his newfound land a place of contrast. Beautiful rolling hills contrasted with the impoverished people who inhabit them. Or: disco clubs built among the ruins of ancient civilization. Here in Tulúm, we know we’re a land of contrast. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that Tulúm is not only a land of contrast, but it is also a place unlike any other.

My parents moved to Tulúm with all their earthly possessions and their two young children in 1993. Many of you may know the story. For those who don’t, I’ll cut to the chase. From the day my mom unpacked her microwave and discovered that our newly-purchased property had neither outlets nor electricity (let alone a weatherproof wall or flushing toilet), this American family was forever changed.

17 years later we are still changing and adapting, though we almost always can plug our cell phones into some slightly rusty outlet. Of course, our wind and solar energy still does not support microwaves. But I guess that’s the small sacrifice we have to make.

This blog is the illegitimate child of my mother’s growing interest in hip technology and this college student’s hopeful deseo to one day be a writer. Coming from someone who grew up naked with the boa constrictors and the possums, it’s quite impressive that I ever emerged from the jungle. Of course, we all grow up someday, no matter when and where we decide to do so.

And Tulúm has definitely been growing up. 25,000 inhabitants. A university. Just last year we became a municipio. Tulúm Pueblo can now officially be called Tulúm City if you like (it doesn’t quite roll right off the tip of my tongue, but then, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks). There’s to be an airport, a downtown, even a Costco. For some of us who ascribe to the rustic chic aesthetic that ruled Tulúm for the last 50 years, the thought of Tulúm transforming into any of its mature counterparts (Cancún, Hawai’i, and Costa Rica come to mind) is horrific. Fortunately for us, the threat of swine flu (we still have not had a reported case) and the death of the U.S. economy has slowed the destruction, ahem, progress, of this humble town.

Tulúm was a Mayan village—the rapid introduction of Coca-Cola and PlayStation has overwhelmed it. The desire for evolution and economic gain has pushed its people to exploit its natural resources—the vast pearly beaches and lush overgrown jungles. How do you tell someone who wants to sell her property to 7-Eleven so she can buy her son an iPhone that there’s a better way? It is difficult to explain that preserving the land and its creatures will yield more profit over time than selling to a big corporation today will. If you won the lottery, would you take the big payout right away or get your fortune in installments over the next 20 years?

There is, however, hope. Organizations like CESiaK and Taller Cero hold onto that hope. The former takes tourists on eco-friendly tours of the local wildlife preserve, while teaching them what they can do to maintain that virgin land. The latter provides the children of Tulúm with art lessons—and uses their talents to promote the protection of sea turtles and the concept of reducing, reusing, and recycling. Additionally, there are many members of the hotel association who would like to keep electricity, products marked made in china, and the Hilton Hotels chain, off the beach. In fighting for this we hope to keep the turtles, the fish, and yes, even some of the mosquitoes, around for centuries to come.

You don’t have to agree with me. There are many beautiful places on our vast earth that can offer you air conditioning and a view of the surf. But where else can you wake up to the sound of the ocean because the waves are lapping at your door? The price of paradise is conservation. And the ZAMAS family is dedicated to conservation, because we can’t bear to end this love affair with our Tulúm yet. For us, happiness is an encounter, an encounter with pure beauty. We hope you feel the same way.

Chelsea McGettigan