I have discovered the first place in Mexico that I really don't like, and its name is Tulum Pueblo. It's important not to confuse Tulum Pueblo – a drawn-out town along the main coastal highway of the state of Quintana Roo – with the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum Ruinas or the area of hotels along Tulum Beach, as the three different Tulums are quite separate from each other and are only connected by taxi rides. We came to the area for the coastal ruins, which are spectacular, and we thought Tulum Pueblo would make a decent base, as it has more affordable hotels and restaurants than Tulum Beach.
Things started well. We arrived and found a hotel, and Peta took a siesta to help rest her swimmer's ear while I pottered around and did a little writing. The hotel, L'Hotelito on the main drag, was charming, and our room had powerful but silent fans, mosquito nets and pretty decor overlooking a green and lush courtyard, and I started to relax after our early start from Playa del Carmen. Sure, there were some strange noises coming from the main road, where cars kept driving up and down with blaring loudspeakers that sounded eerily like the off-world adverts in Blade Runner, and when an almighty thunderstorm clapped itself into constant and insistent rain just after the sun went down, it did start to feel slightly off-kilter, just like Philip K Dick's dystopian novel that inspired the film... but hey, even when we discovered two sets of earplugs in the complimentary toiletries kit and a big bag of weed in the bedside drawer, we didn't suspect anything untoward was up. Why would you?
So we went out for an evening stroll, where we watched the locals playing football and basketball before settling in for an Italian meal on the main drag. We made friends with a white-haired German on the next table called Johannes, who looked uncannily like Rutger Hauer, and later on in the evening a seriously stoned and drunk American strolled by, sloshing a glass of beer in his hand as he locked eyes on Johannes and declared that he looked exactly like a picture of an Italian film star on the hotel wall behind us, before slouching off down the road into his own personal oblivion. The fact that the American had the same pinched face as JF Sebastian, the Blade Runner character who has premature ageing due to Methuselah Syndrome, was surely just a coincidence, but these constant flashbacks to Ridley Scott's finest were starting getting strange.
The restaurant kindly plied us with complimentary tequila after the meal, which fuelled more pleasant conversation with Johannes, and by ten o'clock we were starting to fade, so we bade him goodnight and headed off into the night, where the bars along the main drag were just starting to turn up their music, even though they didn't have any customers yet. It all looked a bit forlorn, to be honest, not unlike the futuristic netherworld of Los Angeles, 2019.
Half an hour after putting out the lights, all hell broke loose in our room. The noise of the bars from the main drag had been fairly loud when we turned in, so we finally understood what the earplugs were for, but it wasn't too bad until the band in the club right next door plugged in and started playing the loudest set of exuberant salsa music you've ever heard. Peta and I literally had to shout to each other to be heard, and the set continued without taking a breath until 3am, at which point the noise from another club at the end of the block took over and continued to pound until 5am. That's when the behemoth trucks that pound the coastal highway started up, shaking the hotel walls as they roared past into the dawn light. Peta managed to get some sleep; I, however, stayed awake through every single beat, and I'm still shaking. My earplugs didn't stand a chance; the repetitive ding, ding, ding of the inevitable cow bell went on for hours, drilling into my mind and wiring my eyes wide open until the dawn broke. If androids dream of electric sheep, I figured, then they were a darn sight luckier than I'd been, having to put up with the endless industrial strength of the neighbours just the other side of what felt like a very thin wall. The club, it turned out, was called Curandero, and it peddles 'live music and DJ beats every week' in 'one of the hottest spots after the sun goes down', according to the Tulum Living website. It also has 'open wall windows' that keep 'the dance floor cool while party goers dance the night away'; perhaps that's why it felt like we were trying to sleep in the middle of a nightclub, because effectively, we were.
Bad Italian Coffee
The next morning the Italian owners of the hotel managed to serve lukewarm and astonishingly insipid coffee without the hint of a smile – a sure sign that these citizens of a country obsessed with quality coffee had given up hope of ever leading a normal life with such a wretched noise next door every weekend – so we checked out and wandered away from the main road to find a quieter hotel that we hoped would withstand the aural armageddon that was apparently going to be repeated on Sunday night. We dumped our bags and turned back to our original plan for the day, to visit the comparatively wonderful Tulum Ruinas.
After enjoying the atmospherics of the coastal Mayan ruins, we grabbed lunch on the main road, where the wide-eyed American from the night before had set up shop with his dog, where he was trying to persuade visiting tourists to buy him a beer, or failing that, to give him some money because apparently his dog was ill and he couldn't afford to buy him any antibiotics (though the dog was, of course, fine, it had just been trained to lie down and look docile). His feeble patter didn't work on the pasty collection of white people in the restaurant, who seemed to mainly consist of twenty-something Australian girls who were smothered in huge and frightening tattoos that they would absolutely loathe in ten years' time. We didn't hang around long enough to see if it worked on anyone; instead we left him to keep on supping at his ceramic mug of moonshine, or whatever it was that he sipped in the tell-tale style of the alcoholic.
(On the subject of tattoos, I've been amazed at the number and size of tattoos on the westerners that I've seen in this part of Mexico. Every now and then you see a tattoo that's not too bad, but the vast majority look like they've been done by people practising to be tattoo artists, and with some way to go until they graduate. It's a bit unnerving, to be honest, seeing this bizarre desire to turn oneself into a complete tit; it reminded me of the depressing westerners I saw in Thailand, and that is not a good thing, believe me.)
Tears of a Clown
After another wet and humid night that felt like armageddon had come – made much more bearable by the new hotel we were in, which was a lot quieter and more pleasant – we booked a ticket on the midday bus for our next destination, Valladolid, and settled into a restaurant on the main drag for a Mexican omelette and a coffee. And it was here that something happened that sums up Tulum Pueblo perfectly.
There we were, minding our own business, when an American woman, who must have been about sixty, wandered along the street wearing clown make-up and dragging along a dog who was also dolled up in weird face paint. She interrupted our meal to introduce herself as a clown with a mariachi dog, and would we like to hear the dog sing for us? I just raised my eyebrows and looked down at my omelette with a sigh, but she locked eyes with Peta and started telling us depressingly lame jokes with the dejected air of someone who is going through the motions to an audience who doesn't care (which was pretty much spot on). Eventually we pointed out that no, we didn't fancy any more jokes thank you, and when she asked whether we'd be interested in seeing the dog sing and, oh, by the way, whether we could perhaps come up with five or ten pesos for her performance, we said we'd rather not hear that, thank you, and I coughed up ten pesos just to get some peace (I didn't have five pesos, or it would have been less). She said thank you and moved along, dragging the dog behind her in her search for more tourists to trap.
Tulum: it's where screwed-up white people go to beg for pesos from other white people, and that's about as appealing as it sounds. Never mind, the guidebooks describe Valladolid as having 'quiet streets and pastel walls'; I'll take that over dystopia any day.