How I lost 16 days to Tulum in Mexico by following the music.

I’d just spent 3 nights in Tulum. The Turkish guy I travelled down with (a post about him coming soon…) had decided to head back to Cancun to Kukulkan hostel – I was planning on heading south so this was goodbye for now. We have a chat reflecting on our time here outside the bus station as we waited for his coach to arrive. After 3 days, neither of us had expected Tulum to be what we assumed it would be – it was a lot louder, busier then we had heard. The beach was a good taxi ride away and the main town didn’t have the vibe that we were expecting. I was planning to spend a couple more nights here and he tells me that this is the first time I could discover whether this first impression I have of Tulum was correct or whether it changes the longer I stay and give it a chance. We say our goodbyes and I leave the station to head back to my hostel.

This is a scatter-brain account of what happened next.

I was walking back along the main street when I hear some live music playing out of a restaurant – it was a small reggae band that sounded pretty good so I think fuck it, lets have a drink here and chill for a bit to hear the music. After they play their final song, I walk out the restaurant and plan to once again head back to my hostel – but again, I hear more great music down the road. This time I find this French DJ, Déni Shain at a venue called Curendero, playing hip-hop and funk edits (after hearing nothing but salsa and reggaeton for the past two months, this was a fucking godsend).

A couple of the songs I Shazamed from Déni Shain’s set

I’m sitting alone with a beer, enjoying the music as it gets better throughout the night and waiting for the crowd to turn up when this guy invites me over to his table. I’m still in backpacker mode so I accept his offer not thinking anything more about it. We have a good conversation about the usual shit, how long have we been in Tulum, how long had we been travelling etc. etc. when I realise that he’s trying to pick me up. I get across that I’m not gay but he’s still happy to chat, especially when trying to convince me of the legitimacy of his belief in astrology. He then pulls out his phone and opens up Grinder.

I’m gonna find someone to get laid tonight” he says confidently. We chat for another 10 minutes then I head to the toilet then grab a beer. When I get back, there’s a dressed up guy sitting at the table. “Oh hey man, is this your mate?” 

“Yeah. Well I just found him on Grinder”. 

“What? …but you were only on it 30 minutes ago”. 

“Yeah. Here he is.”

“What the fuck? Is that how quick that app is?!”

The conversation continues between the three of us and soon they’re talking to each other in Spanish. I’m in too deep now to not find out what they’re talking about having just met so I ask him what they were just saying to each other.

“I just asked if he likes top or bottom. And he said it depends.”

“What? Is that how quick you guys work?!”

“Yeah man, fuck the bullshit, we know why we’re here.”

“Man, I wish I was gay if that’s how easy it is to get laid.”

The bar is picking up now and the music continues. There is another bar across the road with live music playing so again, I follow the music and head there – the place is completely empty aside from this 6 piece funk band playing incredible music. Throughout the night, I cross the street between the two bars and have an incredible night, chatting to the DJ, the staff and speaking to the locals. My first impressions of Tulum are already starting to be broken.

Curandero in Tulum, Mexico

Curandero – one of my favourite venues for live music and DJs in Tulum, Mexico

The next day I’m hungover, but I head out again that evening to a bar with some people I’d been chilling with at the hostel. The DJ from the previous night Déni Shain is there, and I converse with him about how much I enjoyed last nights set and what his plans out here were. He’s staying for the week, playing at different venues across Tulum (the next one at the bar we’re sitting at) so I make plans to head here again later in the week.

That night I head to Batey, a mojito bar that has a converted VW Beetle outside it with a sugar-cane press they use to put in their mojitos.

Batey in Tulum, Mexico

Batey with it’s converted VW Beetle housing a sugar cane press in the back. Source: Facebook

Of course, there is a live act playing here as well, and it’s the second time I’ve heard this voice after walking the streets of Tulum. Her name is Sariela Camargo and virtually every local I talk to knows of her. She has an incredibly soulful and passionate voice and I grew to know her after bumping into her another three of four times in the following couple of weeks, following her voice that you hear echo across the main street of Tulum almost on a nightly basis. On one occasion, I was walking just outside the entrance of one of the hostels I was staying at, deeper into the heart of the streets of Tulum, only to hear her voice AGAIN playing at a restaurant across the street. I grab a beer and enjoy the last time I see her perform.

Sariela Carmego performing. Source: YouTube

At DayTripper hostel (one of the four I stay at during my time in Tulum), I meet two girls from America, Jazsalyn and Becka. They had planned to leave Tulum by this point but decided to stay for another week to paint a couple of murals on the wall at the hostel.

Jaz and Becka at DayTripper Hostel in Tulum, Mexico

A work in progress from Becka and Jaz at DayTripper Hostel, Tulum, Mexico. Source: Instagram

Jaz meets a friend of hers in Tulum and we head to the art residency he’s staying at by the beach. This was the first time I find out about the Tulum Art Club which run projects across Mexico, painting amazing pieces on the walls of the local towns (some of which I came across in Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox) – he tells us about an event he’s heading to, a short drive down from his residency at a place called Casa Jaguar that night. I recall that Déni Shain also told me he was playing that night so we head down and this is the first I experience the vibrant house scene in Tulum. The place is rocking, with live art being painted at the back of the venue, and awesome deep house music being played at the front. 

 One of the tracks I Shazamed that night at Casa Jaguar in Tulum, Mexico

I head to a second house night which takes place at the incredible location of Papaya Playa Project right on the beach every Saturday and soon I find myself heading out every evening, arriving back in my hostel at 4-5am, waking up in the afternoon, having lunch, and then waiting for the evening to arrive to head out again.

One memorable night was for Déni Shain’s leaving party (he was heading back to Europe) – it was the third or fourth time I go to watch him play and each time seems to get better. I’d seen him play to packed venues and empty bars and each time his energy, enthusiasm and passion is palpable. The music is always on point, playing everything from funk, house, hip-hop and afro-beats. We switch venues at 2am to an empty (and closed) bar which by 3am is rocking. The night ends with Déni Shain dancing on the speakers.

A recent set from Déni Shain

It was only towards the end of my two weeks in Tulum that I thought I’d better check out the other things that people visit Tulum for, notably the ruins and also see one of the many cenotes that surround the town.

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[Download image for VR]

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Visiting the Mayan Tulum ruins on the beach [Download image for VR]

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Grand Cenote in Tulum, Mexico [Download image for VR]

My time in Tulum came to a peak when finding out about a 24-hour full moon party taking place at a cenote nearby. Scheduled to start at 2pm, the event is hit by heavy rain and so we head there to catch a Mayan ceremony which takes place at sunset. At around 1am, the whole crew from DayTripper hostel has arrived and I end up taking a 12-hour trip with a Canadian girl I’d met the day previously.

Cenote Jaguar before the 24-hour full moon party kicked off that night

One moment I will never forget was sitting at the edge of the dock staring into the shimmering blackness of the cenote, when the music suddenly stopped as the sun began to rise. Minutes later, I find a crowd gathering behind me and suddenly a guy jumps right over my head and into the cenote below. Others soon follow and throughout the morning I sit in the same spot, seemingly for hours, watching as the forest looked as though it was alive, pulsating as if it was breathing around the cenote, with the water below looking like an endlessly rippling and flowing oil painting as people swam through it.

When I reflect on what the Turkish guy told me about my impressions of a place after the initial 3 days, and again after the following 16 and what changed in that time, it seems obvious to me that I can’t build a proper impression of a place after a 3-day visit. After a week or so, I really began to feel at home in Tulum, recognising the same faces around town, knowing the places/hostels to go to bump into the same people, heading to the same bars and chatting to the now familiar bar staff, getting to know more of the locals – even simple things like heading to the same places for breakfast each morning… that feeling of  familiarity and belonging is a strong one, and one that is dangerous to chase if you’ve got a scheduled time that you’re planning to travel for.

I’ve met so many people who tell me they get stuck in a place, spending months on-end in a town or city that they end up falling for and I’m finding it easier to understand why. I found myself really wanting to stay in places like Isla Holbox or Tulum for weeks or months on-end but worry that I’m wasting time when there are so many other places on my trip that I’ve yet to experience.

So I ended up trying to stay in Tulum until I got sick of the place. But it’s hard to get sick of a place that you love.

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  1. posted by
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    Sep 10, 2016 Reply

    […] my 16 nights spent in Tulum, I had to get my ass south and was recommended by many backpackers that before I hit Belize, I […]

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