Reinventing Our Lives - Mari Pintkowski Series January '09

By: Mari Pintkowski (this is adapted from Mari’s book Embarking on the Mariposa Trail)

We both loved the work we did; I was an early childhood education teacher and consultant, and Lou was a contractor and home-maintenance specialist. We felt the skills we developed during our lifetime would help us when we reinvented our lives. We had researched buying property and retiring outside of the US from many different angles for some years, anticipating the day when we would be free from our jobs.

Everybody, at one time in their lives, shares a dream similar to ours: to wander off from home just long enough to become intruders in a mysterious paradise. Our vision would develop into more than a fleeting moment.

The community of our dreams had to be on the coast, have adequate and affordable health care, welcome foreign investment and have a peaceful, democratic government. We were looking for a place that could offer the ambiance we were used to in Vail, but with a lower cost of living than we had been accustomed to. We had not reached retirement age, and knew we needed to find a way to make an income to sustain us, at least until our retirement kicked in. We had spent many enjoyable vacations on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and decided to begin our search for that perfect piece of property in the state of Quintana Roo, bordering the Caribbean Sea.

The Riviera Maya, as this area is better known, has blossomed since our first visit in 1991, and Playa del Carmen is now the fastest growing city in Latin America. Because development sparks high prices in the real estate market, we knew our search for property would have to begin farther south.

Our investigative journey commenced as we drove south out of the Cancun airport. I settled into my role as navigator and slyly mentioned to Lou, “Could these butterflies really be guiding us toward our dream spot?” He smiled and confidently drove past Playa del Carmen on the well-maintained, paved highway.

We passed the Tulum ruins, the central commercial area of Tulum; and just as we were driving out of town, I spotted a sign that said, “Zona Maya” that intrigued me. We later found out this is a pueblo (village) within a pueblo. Many of the local Mayans still live in this area in thatched-roof palapas (one or two room huts) and maintain their ancient language and customs. It wouldn’t be long before concrete structures began to replace the wobbly little huts.

As we approached the last tope (speed bump), the road narrowed as we meandered south away from Tulum. (NOW in 2009, the road has been widened much of the way south). This stretch of road was lined with low scrub jungle and palm trees that hid the treasure of the blue Caribbean only two miles east. On the other side of the highway, we could only imagine what was hidden in the thick jungle that was once inhabited by thousands of Mayans. It was hard to believe that less than 75 years ago during the Caste War, when the Mayans fought against the Spaniards for inhumane treatment, no white man was safe on this treacherous stretch of land. As we drove along we could see and occasional palapa sliding slowly into the tangles of vines, and rough handmade signs indicating that cenotes (fresh water sink holes), lagoons and small Mayan ruin sites were well-hidden.

Nature surrounded us and we half expected to see a cocodrilo (crocodile) crawl out of mangroves and saunter across the road. We wondered just how long it would take before the Cancun to Tulum corridor we had just driven through would be overtaken with hotels and tourist attractions.

We arrived in the capital city of Chetumal in three hours. After a brief tour of the waterfront, we quickly realized this was not an area of the state we would want to settle in and call home, so we scouted out the fastest road leading toward the multi-hued Caribbean. The two-lane highway to the coast was being widened and paved, and electric lines were being installed. Not a flicker of a mariposa (butterfly) wing could be seen as we maneuvered the dusty stretch of highway. The signs of progress were clearly evident in the Yucatan’s southernmost reaches. We had entered the Costa Maya.

We had read that the Mexican government has recognized the mistakes that were made in the development of both Cancun and the Riviera Maya and were determined to keep the Costa Maya as pristine as possible. They believed that the success of the northern part of the coastline can be repeated in the south by using low-impact eco and adventure tourism development that complements, rather than competes, with the state’s larger resorts. The weather had become humid and punishing, and my sticky underarms and sweat-dampened legs were a clue that we were now deeper in the tropics than we were at the start of our journey.

A sea of mariposas was leading us along the coast road from Majahual north into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, on a road so potholed that travel was painfully slow.

“Hey Lou, I just read in my guide book that Sian Ka’an means “where the sky is born” in ancient Maya. We are actually traveling in the southernmost part of the same preserve we had investigated in Punta Allen, south of Tulum’s gorgeous beaches, on one of our previous visits.”

There are more than a million acres in this reserve. It is hard to believe you can actually buy land and build a home or hotel here, even though these “Se Vende” (for sale) signs indicate otherwise. Just like in the northern part of the reserve, little can be seen beyond the thick jungle growth that lines the road as you travel by car. I stuck my head out of the window in hopes to get a glimpse of one of the many animals calling this land home. Although the cries of the birds were evident, I could see nothing beyond the sheltering palm trees.

We were beginning to realize that the more rugged the path, the more treasured were the attractions. In order to appreciate this natural habitat that sheltered more than one hundred mammals, countless reptiles, sea life and of course our favorite, the mariposa, you need to park the car and board a boat to travel into the lagoons or on foot with a guide. For today, we had a different mission in mind.

To read the rest of the story: order Mari Pintkowski’s book, Embarking on the Mariposa Trail on Mari and her husband, Lou, now operate their own B&B, 15 min.inland from the beaches of Tulum.

moe jan 09