When Alexis visited Tulum last week, we both had one spot at the top of our list. Hartwood. This restaurant is notorious for it's strict waiting list, and for it's stellar food in the jungle setting. The NYTimes had a complimentary write up in their travel section a few years ago, and everyone I talked to before showing up here said the same thing - you'll have to go there! I had started to wonder though, was it hype? Was the draw the fact that it's impossible to just walk in? That you have to show up at 3pm and wait for hours at the bar until a table opens up? Local residents all seemed to scoff at the exclusivity of the place and suggested that there were far better options scattered all over town and the beach. This town has no shortage of really good jungle-chic-fusion restaurants with kitschy decor, that's for sure.
We decided to give it a half-hearted shot one evening and took a taxi down to the end of the beach. Hartwood was like the kingdom of Oz, emerald gates of palm and a small person with a long list forbidding us to enter. And this is as far as we got...
The bench at the edge of the restaurant, in a sad semi-waiting purgatory, next to the street, wedged against a large tree. This is what happens when you show up after 3pm and expect to get a table. After the hostess told us that she had no more spots for the night, no we couldn't even sit at the bar, and no there would not be any cancellations, Alexis convinced some one to let us sit in the corner and order some drinks. We watched as food was delivered in steaming incense infused pots, drinks were put on the tables, people laughed and chatted while unwrapping banana leaves full of delicious surprises. It didn't look that magical, to be honest.
Later on we found this article titled "waiting like an idiot at the Hartwood?" which really struck a chord. Lesson learned here? Perhaps the food at Hartwood truly is out of this world. Maybe those purifying detox vodka martinis are the best thing you've ever tasted. I'd just rather not stand around waiting to find out.
Scattered throughout Mexico are the "Pueblo Magicos" (magic towns). These are small towns that have a magical element to them - beauty, history, unique architectural features...The purpose of designating these towns as a Pueblo Magico is to draw attention to the places that a person might not think to visit if they didn't know much about Mexico. Basically, it's the board of tourism's attempt to point out that there is much more to this country than just the beaches. Although it's true that the beaches are really lovely, you certainly miss a lot of what makes Mexico such a special place if you don't go further inland than Cancun (really, don't go to Cancun ever. It's awful).
We found the Pueblo Magico of Bacalar on accident, sort of. This town is about two hours South of Tulum, and we would never have driven through it except that we needed to do a visa-run to Belize to renew the TIP (temporary import permit) on the Subaru. When you drive down from the US there are a lot of regulations around taking your car into Mexico. One of these is that you're issued a 6-month TIP. So if you want to keep your car here past the TIP expiration date, you'll need to renew it by leaving the country, and re-entering (therefore, getting a new TIP).
Since we're just three hours from the Belize border, and we were almost six months into our trip (we're now past the six-month mark, which feels surreal and I don't want to think about that too much), we took the opportunity to renew the TIP. We both assumed that this would just be a write-off day, a day to run this boring errand and that would be it. But the day before we took off, our landlord recommended that we stop at La Playita restaurant in Bacalar on our trip back. So we made a mental note of that as we set out early the next morning.
We were lucky to breeze through the paperwork at the border and had an entire day left to explore. So we headed over to Bacalar to find breakfast. When we arrived my first though was that this town really was magical. It's small, and beautiful, and there's a very cool Spanish fort (with a moat!) in the center of town. Not to diminish the fact that any non-Mayan ancient structures are clearly a sign of invasion, but still, it's cool to see history in all of it's forms. The town is set on an inlet, with waters that are the incredible aqua color that you'll see in Tulum, and just as warm. It's small, and charming, and quiet - so quiet! There were a few people walking around, but hardly any traffic. I realize now, when people speak of the old Tulum in a nostalgic way, before it was "discovered" (and gosh, I hate that phrase "discovered" because of all the travel-snobery it implies, but it seems to fit in this situation), this is what they might have been looking at. This is really rad, tiny town on a perfect body of water with a set of ruins and a bunch of excellent little cafes. Bacalar seemed too good to have never heard of it. I know that in five years this place will probably resemble the bustle of Tulum. But it was nice to spend a day in the tranquility of this pueblo magico.
Last week my dear friend Kim was in town! She's currently traveling through Mexico, and ended up spending about a week in Tulum. Having a friend in town was a total treat, we planned out some pretty cool activities and were motivated to stay out past our usual bedtime of 10pm. One thing that I like about Tulum is that it's a bit more snoozy than a lot of the other places we've visited in Mexico. Meaning that the disco is typically not blasting all night long (except the other night it was, and the night before that). But you can find some pretty relaxed places that serve a decent mohito at a very Mexi-chic local, where you don't feel like you're missing too much if you're not into the late night scene.
We decided that the goal of our Saturday was: have many adventures. We totally accomplished our goal, starting out at Sian Ka'an biosphere where we started out by walking through the Mayan ruins of Muyil, then out through the jungle to a boat that would take us over an inlet lake to a 300 year old canal dug by the Mayans where we could float down stream sitting inside our life jacket. Did you know this is a thing? Sitting inside your life jacket. Legs through the armholes. So you're floating down a aqua blue Mayan canal fully upright. We thought it was genius and dubbed it "diap-ing." As in, wearing a life vest as a diaper.
Because floating down an ancient hand-dug Mayan canal is a decent way to spend a Saturday, we figured, why not just keep going with this theme? So after a quick lunch of tacos at a nearby restaurant, we continued on to Dos Ojos cenote. I'd been wanting to check this one out since we arrived in Tulum, and lived up to every expectation. Dos Ojos is part of the Sac Aktun cenote system, and it's truly an incredible site. Words can't really suffice, and it's tough to get the right photo in a cave. So I might need to go back again to commit this to memory. There is a whole beautiful world underground, and we are so fortunate to be here, experiencing it when we can.