Making the first move is always a bit scary, whether you're travelling or trying to meet your future wife, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. After ten days of being on holiday in Playa del Carmen, which we spent getting over jet lag, learning to dive and trying to acclimatise to the tropical fug, we finally decided to hit the road for the first bit of real travelling on this trip.
As this was our first step into the unknown for a very long time, we took it very slowly, particularly as Peta's bout of swimmer's ear is really getting on her nerves (though it's now under attack from some Mexican antibiotic ear drops, so its days are numbered). Just down the coast from Playa is the town of Tulum, which is home to some famous Mayan ruins perched right there on the shore, so we thought we'd give ourselves an easy checklist for the day: get out of Playa, get to Tulum, find somewhere to stay and pat ourselves on the back, leaving the ruins themselves for the following day.
I'm not doing that well at acclimatising to the thick blanket of tropical air that smothers this part of the world, so while tossing and turning in damp sheets last night, I got myself in a bit of a nervous twitch about leaving the cocoon of our Playa hotel, even though deep down I knew there was nothing to worry about. In the event the hardest thing about getting started was packing everything up again after a week and a half of slouching in our room, but we managed to get it together and checked out of the hotel at a reasonable hour, before taking a slow stroll down Avenue Quinta towards the bus station, weighed down by full packs and scorching sunshine.
By this point we'd simply started ignoring the touts, who'd been getting on our nerves for a good week or so; some of them had started turning a bit nasty, I felt, which is rarely a good trait in successful salesmen, and indeed, they hadn't been remotely successful, because our reactions had morphed from politely saying 'No gracias, no quiero comprar un sombrero' ('No thanks, I don't want to buy a sombrero') to us glaring at them as they tried to claim that hey, they'd already met us and didn't we remember them (they hadn't and we didn't) and would we like a ferry ticket to Cozumel (no, we wouldn't) and why were we ignoring them (so we stopped ignoring them and told the muppets where they could stick it).
So it was a relief to turn into Calle 2 and up to the colectivo stand, away from the imbeciles on main street. We'd decided to go local and try getting a shared taxi instead of the bus, as this is how the locals tend to get around. Colectivos are the spiritual cousins of Indonesia's bemos and West Africa's bush taxis; they are small minibuses that wait around until they fill up with passengers, and then they head off to their destination, dropping people off as they go and picking more people up en route. In Indonesia the bemos are an exercise in wide-eyed madness, with the ticket boys screaming out the destination at anyone and everyone as passengers pile on top of each other, while the driving skills make your eyes pop out on stalks, and not just from the G-forces. The West African bush taxi, on the other hand, can take hours to fill up, and may only make it a few minutes into the journey before the first tyre blows, followed by the second, and eventually followed by the whole thing careering off the road altogether.
Mexican colectivos, though, are amazingly civilised (or they are in the Yucatán, anyway). Instead of sharing our minibus with the world and his wife and his chicken and his goat, we enjoyed an air-conditioned ride in a smoothly running, almost new vehicle, with one person per comfortable seat, gentle opera on the music system and an almost instant departure: we simply walked up to the colectivo stand, said 'Tulum' when the man looked at us, and followed his finger when he pointed out two empty seats in an almost full minibus. During the 45-minute journey a few people yelled out when they reached their stop – colectivos will stop anywhere, you just have to shout – and then the driver slammed on the brakes as hard as he could, throwing everyone into the back of the seat in front, but that was about as adventurous as the driving got. Sure, the journey from Playa to Tulum is a simple straight line down the highway, so perhaps it isn't the best route for the driver to show off his video-game skills, but I was still impressed at how safe it all felt. We will, no doubt, look back on this journey with dewey-eyed fondness once we've been through the ringer of Latin American chicken-bus journeys, but for now it's a rather civilised thumbs up.
We arrived in Tulum to find that the hotel we'd earmarked in the guidebook had moved a few blocks along the road, and after a rather hot and sticky walk we also found out that they were full, but there were plenty of other hotels along the main road in Tulum, so we picked another from the book that was nearby, found a nice little room for 500 pesos a night (about £25) and dumped our bags. 'Mission accomplished,' we thought, and settled down to do pretty much nothing for the rest of the day, while Peta's ears healed up and I silently celebrated leaping over the first psychological barrier of our trip. It might only be a short 45-minute journey, but we have demonstrated that we can independently move from one place to another, and that's essentially all you need to do if you want to travel from Mexico to Brazil in a year – you just have to keep doing it.
So that's one small step in the bag; only another hundred or so to go, though first we've got some Mayan ruins to explore...