Monday, March 14, 2011

Go fly a kite!

Vince and I decided several months ago that we wanted to learn to fly enormous kites and surf the waves while drinking large amounts of sea water, and so we signed up for 9 hours of kite surfing lessons with a small outfit in Tulum. That first day, we were wearing our suits (I was wearing stylish board shorts over my suit - when in Rome...) and sunscreen, plus short life vests covered with straps and hooks and clips, harnesses (also covered with straps, hooks, clips) hard helmets (safety first - I noticed that none of the instructors had to wear these helmets, and they looked far cooler than we did) and sun glasses. Never put a toe in the water that first day, but stood in the powdery white sand and learned all over again how to fly a kite. Now, Vince had purchased a small "trainer kite" on craigslist (or ebay - no matter, it was, the type of phenomenal deal that only Vince finds), and we thought we had the basics of kiting down pat. Now, dear reader - I imagine you each flew the sort of kites in childhood that I did (though I bet you didn't make them with leftover tissue paper and balsa wood scraps that your mom found in the basement on Dickson, and I bet you didn't tie scraps of your old dress fabric to the tail - the do-it-yourself thing is something of a sickness in our clan). But your kite was probably diamond shaped and had a long tail, and you probably held a roll of string and flew it easily in the vacant lot down the street. These were not those kites. The ones we used were 13 square METERS and we worked our way up to controlling them with 4 25 meter lines attached to a single bar that you tip and slide this way and that to catch the wind and maintain a certain position in relation to the wind direction and the way you want to travel. Of course, we began with 8 meter lines and worked our way up 25. Our instructor, Julien is a 27 year old fellow from Cannes with a girlfriend in North Carolina. He learned to kitesurf in the Mediterranean, and his goal is to open a kite boarding school on the Outer Banks. ( Nice guy with infinite patience.
By the end of the first 3 hour lesson, we were pretty adept at controlling the kite, holding it in the wind in certain positions, and manipulating the bar. The most important thing to do, which is completely counter-intuitive, is to LET GO of the kite when it begins to fall - it will then catch the wind and you can start to wiggle it back up where it needs to go. In order to let go, you slide the bar away from you up the center lines. POOSH! POOSH! Julien would call out in his cute French accent. POOSH! then, when I wouldn't or didn't, LETGOELETGOLETGO
We finished in time for a late-ish lunch and for some bizarre reason, decided to go back to town to eat. We had wonderful ceviche Iand guacamole) at El Camello, then returned to the beach to tour the Tulum ruins.
The ancient town of Tulum ("wall" in Mayan)had its heyday from 1200s-1500s, and was a major trading/shipping town. It is unique among the Mayan ruins, in that it is situated on a cliff above the beautiful Caribbean sea - most ruins (if not all of the remaining ones) are inland. The walls were reportedly once painted bright blues, reds and yellows. It was abandoned about 75 years after the conquistadores arrived.
Because of our late and leisurely lunch, we arrived at the ruins after 4:30 and were not allowed entrance (it closes at 5p), so we peeked through an iron gate in the wall at all of the dull plan-ahead types within, then drove back down the jungle road to an abandoned resort.
What? abandoned resort? In such a paradise? Yep - there are all sorts of closed restaurants and hotels, and other various businesses, which are closed, shuttered, dead. The Kite guys told us that these businesses didn't pay the bribes they needed to pay in order to stay in business, so were put out of business. Hmmmm. So we parked on the side of the road, left tires on the road, right tires in the jungle. Short walk through the sand, past the little cabanas, and the still functioning happy hour bar, and played in the Caribbean as the sun set. We were just below the cliffs on which the ruins perched and tried to imagine what it was like to approach from the sea 500 years ago.
That close to the equator, it seems that when it decides to get dark, it does so quickly. We hopped out of the ocean, dried off, and slipped back through the resort to the car. We passed the happy hour bar, with it's thatched roof and tree stump seats, the happy music from the tinny sound system.
By the time we reached the car, it was DARK. I mean DARK. When we looked into the jungle on either side of the road, we couldn't see that far in - it's dense, low-growing jungle of palms, other trees and stuff. Rocky soil. I thought I'd see loads of parrots in the jungle, but didn't see a single one in the week we were there. No monkeys or jaguars, either, though I hear monkeys are plentiful in certain parts of the jungle, and jaguars can be found. I was glad not to find one.
We went back to the Mariposa (butterfly) and showered for dinner. (don't rinse your mouth while in the shower! remember?)
Where to eat, where to eat.
I actually can't remember where we ate the second night, but I forgot to talk about our typical evening stroll through town -
The tourist district is mostly on one road, but is well mixed with local business. This main drag is wall-to-wall shops and small restaurants, with the occasional hostel thrown in. There are many souvenir places, but also mom and pop groceries, convenience stores, produce stands and the occasional mechanic shop. We heard salsa music from the second floor of a couple of places - lessons and social dancing. The saddest place I saw was someone's dream of a hot disco - pounding music, bright colored walls, mirrors, a bar. Never a soul in it - every time we passed it, the proprietor was sitting dejectedly by himself, back against the wall. Poor guy - probably spent his whole life dreaming of this successful disco for tourists.
We walked for quite some time, looking at hammocks, hats, and other various touristy things. I really wanted a hammock or two to bring back, and we priced and priced - they were always ready to bargain. I'm not bold enough to be a good bargainer - I really sissied out and let Vince do the bargaining. I eventually did pick up 2 nice hammocks: a white and bluish purple one for me, and a multicolored one for the friends who were taking care of Max. We bought them from a guy named Victor - a Mayan from Yucatan, who loves to teach people about the Mayan culture. About 40% of the population in that part of the peninsula are Mayan - they speak their own language (in addition to Spanish, usually) and live in smaller Mayan communities. They sleep in hammocks and live in very modest small homes with thatched roofs. (we drove out in the country a few day later and visited the small community of EkBalam, so saw this first hand). There are certain of their dishes that are very popular, such as puerco pibil (Johnny Depp in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" - check it out. Robert Rodriguez has a pibil cooking demonstration at the end - and you don't have to shoot the chef (inside joke - watch the film)). Victor was great, and so I bought the hammocks from him because the price was decent, and because he was great - a very good salesman. Of course, Vince bought his hammocks directly from the Mayan ladies in EkBalam for less money, but that's ok.

We stopped on our walk and picked up a small amount of libation, complete with limes, then headed back to the room. Our 2nd lesson was scheduled for 9am the next day. Early for a vacation, but we were all about carpe diem, and such. Windows open, balmy breeze blowing, birds cackling in the trees, and off to sleep.
Tomorrow: more kitesurfing, food-shopping in Mexico, PLUS driving in Mexico (or rather, ME driving in Mexico)! Bet you can't wait!

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