Monday, December 10, 2012

Searching for Paradise

There are some beautiful coastlines on this here planet, therefore with a bit of spare time it should be easy to discover your own pristine slice of paradise. At least, that was my pre-travel presumption. But sadly, after extensive research, I have discovered that it’s just not that simple. Maybe it once was - a couple of hundred years ago, before the world’s tourism industry went into overdrive. Now, it’s a lot easier to find a would-be paradise. That is, it would be paradise, if it wouldn’t be for all the tourists, plastic bottles and beach front development. From the amount of people who still ‘vacation’ in these resorts, I understand there is a certain amount of enjoyment to be derived at such destinations. But for me, coming from the land of a thousand deserted beaches, I find it difficult to look past the thousand lounge chairs to find the peace I am craving.

This slightly disheartening search for solitude has been an underlying narrative of my travels, as I hop from hot-spot to hot-spot, hope slowly fading. From the famous Thai islands, to Vietnam’s Halong Bay; the Spanish Costa Brava, to the Mexican Riviera, everywhere I imagined deserted beaches would await me, I found hordes of tourists instead. Funny that, being that I myself am just another tourist, looking for the same escape as everybody else! After a number of subsequent let downs, I am learning to accept the facts of tourist life (with gritted teeth) and have lowered my expectations. Until I’m game enough to sail my own boat around the world I guess my search for a deserted island will remain largely unfulfilled. However I can’t help continuing this quest for perfection, and have discovered some possible solutions, which I’ll impart to you today in the hope it will help you on your own journey.

The main point to note is this - if you’ve heard of it, chances are so has everybody else. If you’re anything like me, when you can’t be bothered with a copious amount of research, travel is based upon what you know. Going to Thailand? Head to Leonardo’s ‘The Beach’. Hawaii? It’s the famous long board, luau fantasy in Waikiki. Caribbean getaway? Bermuda, Bahama, Come on Pretty Mama… Hmm, just me, that one? Ok then. The problem is, almost without fail, these are the overrated, overpopulated places, where a fantastical experience drinking and dancing with the locals or finding inner peace on your own idyllic beach just ain’t gonna happen. Basically, if you have any previously formed romantic notions of a place, as most probably portrayed in the movies, media and a few friend’s travel stories, try to avoid my mistakes and remember that these notions are just that – age old fantasies that have since become tourist nightmares. A better idea is to choose some where you have never heard of. Look at the map, pick a place that looks relatively small and take your chances. Well, maybe give it just a quick google before locking it in. Either way, you’re in for an adventure, and hopefully a nice surprise.
My second and most important point to consider is multiple transfers. More often than not, if you are flying in to your holiday destination, you will be arriving at a gringo saturated hub. A safe getaway method is simply to evacuate as quickly as you can via another form of transport. A lot of tourists don’t have the time to go too far a field – why waste two days of your week’s holiday sitting on a bus? However, if you are serious about finding your own paradise, trust me - those two days will pay off when you are spending the other five by yourself, away from the frozen margarita hordes. Whether you take a bus, a boat, a taxi, a train or even a small plane if you’re feeling affluent, just get thee away from the main tourist centre. But here’s the clincher. You can’t just take one bus, that’s where everyone else who wants to get off the beaten path will be. Make the extra effort, take one extra bus down the coast, a second boat to a smaller island and you will be thanking me later.

So far this theory has helped me to find more seclusion and local life in Thailand, Spain and Samoa, and I was keen to test the theory out further. In need of a relaxing beach week post fast and furious road trip, we hunted around for a chilled out sanctuary. Copious ideas aside, it came down to money, and getting to Cancun in Mexico was the quickest and cheapest option. I sensed this wasn’t ideal, having most definitely heard of Cancun, most often in connection with the infamous Spring Break shenanigans. Needless to say, we bussed straight from the airport to supposedly more low key Playa del Carmen, where I was horrified to find millions of tourists, blaring music, enormous hotels dwarfing the beach front, McDonalds, Starbucks and really, not much of Mexico. What on earth was Cancun like this if this was the case here? Thank goodness we had only booked one night en route to the low key spot our Mexican based friend (and gorgeous, fabulous blogger) Renee had recommended.

The next day our second bus rolled down the coast into Tulum. The town was small and non-descript and definitely more Mexican. So far, so good. We hopped in a taxi, and twenty minutes of bumpy concrete road later, pulled into Paradise. Thank god. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly the real Mexico, but it was a bungalow right on a beautiful beach with just a few other lounge chairs in sight. Even though Tulum had been developed to accommodate tourists like it’s distant northern  cousins, it was done in a much more sedate fashion, happily leaving the beaches charms to speak for themselves. Although hotels lined the beach, they were of the ten occupancy, thatched bungalow style, which had the tendency to blend into the palm trees when you squinted your eyes just right. A bike ride along the coast to one of the few cafes or shops was an experience in island style crab dodging. And good luck finding somewhere to have a rave on the beach at night – a sincere lack of lights and music kept the tranquil star-gazing spirit alive. We had found what we were looking for, and spent lazy days wandering between the beach and our island style “pent house” not doing much at all.

The amusing epilogue is that we ended up back in Cancun after all. Apparently, you can’t fly to Cuba from Tulum. And so it all continues in the circle of – touristic - life. But this time, when we arrive in Havana, despite most online recommendations, we are heading for a guest house far away from the ‘main’ centre. I’m sure I’ll be cursing myself when it takes hours to get there from the airport. I’ll let you know how that works out. 

1 comment:

Glenn Gordon said...

Hey Fiona, I met your dad when in Morocco in 1971 when he and I were both on our little tramp, and here you are on your own. Bill and I bcame good friends. A few weeks later, as planned, I caught up with him in Israel at his kibbutz. He has the photos. We have been Christmas carding every year since. I've whined to him about American culture and foreign policy for 42 ouch years now. I am happy you've recovered from chronic fatigue bc I've struggled with it for oh 20 years. Debilitating isn't a strong enough word for it.
I love yr blog. Best to you.
Glenn Gordon, Racine, Wisconsin,USA,