Sunday, 28 February 2016

Where Time Stands Still

Back in the 90s my favourite way of figuring out where to go on holiday was to find the places that Lonely Planet guidebooks said were remote, infrequently visited and hard to access.  That is how I found Xcalak.

Xcalak is a tiny Mexican outpost in the state of Quintana Roo, a fly fisherman's cast from the Belize
The End of the Road
border, a six hour journey from party-til-you-drop Cancun, and worlds away from the condos of Playa del Carmen and Tulum's boho-chic beachfront.  There's no wind-surfing or parasailing or jet skis in evidence in this town of 375 souls, and the nearest supermarket is a two-hour drive away.  For the few local buses that provide service this far south, Xcalak is literally the end of the road.  The bus stop is the beach.

We come here every few years, to remind ourselves that there are still places where time stands still.  Very little changes between our visits.  There are still the same deep, axel-shattering potholes in the  dirt road that must be navigated to get from the village to Sin Duda, a guesthouse we stay at 8 kilometres north of town.  Water and electricity are precious commodities in this part of the world, captured fastidiously in rain barrels and sun panels on the roof.

Manuel and Marie's Grocery Truck
Family-owned grocery trucks arrive at the door every couple of days, clunking through and around the ruts.  The vendors sell exactly what they've always sold--mouthwatering local Manchego cheese, oranges, avocados, pineapples, cilantro, peppers, and other produce that grows in the region.

Geckos and cicadas still lull us to sleep-- and occasionally startle us wide awake in the dark of night.  Boa constrictors and iridescent scorpions are fairly frequent visitors. It's this rhythm of the jungle  that has lured a handful of adventurous northerners to settle and build small haciendas in the area, catering to those of us who want to go far from the madding crowd.

 The Meso-American reef is right on Xcalak's doorstep...a natural wonder that spans more than one
Just North of Xcalak
thousand kilometers along the coastlines of four countries:  Mexico, Belize, Guatamala and Honduras.  The reef near Xcalak is a place to observe a relatively healthy reef system, that still contains an abundance of species, from parrot fish, trumpet fish, porcupine fish and barracudas, to rays, nurse sharks, eels, lobster and the dreaded invading lion fish.  There's even a moray eel living on the same coral head where we first saw a much smaller eel back in 2002. Is it the same one?  Quite possibly!  The locals have named him Al and he is a lot bigger than he used to be!

There is such comfort in coming to a place that isn't trying to become the next big thing. For now, Mexicans and the foreigners who live there value tranquility. This is what home means to them.  And for brief, joyous periods of time every few years, I am a part of that.

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