Mexico - Friday 10 December 1999
Early rise, I take the 7:15 am bus. I want to head to the ruins first, while it's still quiet there. Then, I'll go to Tulum to see if I can find Andrea.
The bus takes about an hour. There are more tourists on it going to the ruins. However, the bus doesn't stop at the ruins but at the bus station. Maybe we could have gotten off at the ruins, but nobody asked, and now we're here.
So, I decide to have breakfast first. There's a nice restaurant on the north side of the road, with red tablecloths in the sun. I sit there, but the waitress tells me they're not open. Very strange. Across the street, I can have breakfast. I get pretty good coffee and a kind of toasted sandwich with cheese, ham, and salad. I eat only half of it; I'm not really hungry.
I return to the bus station, to see if I can still go to the ruins by bus. I walk around a bit indecisively, and suddenly she's in front of me: Andrea!! I can hardly believe it at first. She's just here, even before I really went to look for her. I barely know what to say.
It turns out she's about to leave. She's traveling with a woman from Switzerland, Sandra. They haven't slept much the past two nights and are now going to Xpu-Ha, a tropical paradise between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. She asks if I'd like to come there! On a piece of a napkin, she draws a map for directions.
Because it's a bit vague, I ask for her email address just to be sure. I don't want to make the same mistake again. I'll first go to the ruins. I'm relieved. Whatever happens this afternoon, at least I've found her. I'll see what happens next.
When I get off the bus, I also see a girl I've been seeing since Playa del Carmen. I ask her if she knows where the entrance is, but she also has no idea. We chat. Her name is Ina, and she's (also) from Germany. She's much younger than Andrea, but very kind. We decide to explore the ruins together.
It's now 10:30 am, very hot, and extremely crowded. I've never seen any Maya ruins this crowded. The remains are quite beautiful, but as the guides write, significantly damaged. Many inscriptions are quite hard to see.
For safety, I brought only my disposable camera. You never know if I'll go swimming alone or something. I very frugally take a few photos; the camera is almost full.
Ina and I go swimming together. The Tulum ruins are beautifully situated by the sea. You can swim at a beach within the ruins' walls, but we swim a little further. Close by, we find a beautiful spot where almost nobody is. There are some "cabeñas," small wooden huts that can be rented as beachfront hotel rooms.
We talk extensively about traveling. This is her first long solo trip. She's only just begun a few days ago. She had started a study, if I understand correctly, mechanical engineering, but she found it absolutely boring. She does like mathematics and physics. She's thinking of studying computer engineering in the spring.
I find her very special. Very young but independent and self-aware. I give her some ideas about what she can do in the coming weeks; she's not sure yet where she wants to go. I tell her about Mérida and San Cristobal, and about the Maya ruins I've seen. We discuss the differences between the Maya and the Incas. She might also want to go to Peru.
Now I'm wiser; I ask for her email address straight away. She promises to email me about how the rest of her trip goes.
I go to Andrea's 'paradise.' The bus almost drops me off at the wrong place. Xei-Ha looks very similar to Xpu-Ha. Fortunately, I figure it out in time.
Xpu-Ha turns out to be an extensive area along the coast of a few kilometers. Xpu-Ha itself is an "ecopark," with wildlife and plenty of entertainment. I have to go to "X-7." I discover that parts of Xpu-Ha are numbered, starting at X-1. So, I have to walk quite a distance, in the blazing sun. It's okay as long as the directions are accurate.
On X-7, there's no signposted. At the beginning, there's a small house where a simple Mexican family lives. The woman tells me to keep going until the end; that's where the beach is.
At the beach, there's everything for tourists: a small hotel, caravans, a small campsite, a few separate huts, a bar, and a restaurant. But nobody knows Andrea and/or Sandra. I try to explain to the campsite manager with hands and feet who I'm looking for. He thinks he knows them, "Is she blond and has a baby?" Nope.
The American I meet by the mobile homes suggests I should go to the restaurant all the way to the back left; maybe they're there. I indeed find Andrea there.
I slump into a chair (tired from walking and searching), get a bottle of cola, and admire the little paradise. It's indeed very beautiful. The beach is almost deserted. The water here is even bluer than in Playa del Carmen. Their cabana is very spacious. They have a direct view of the sea. I'm very jealous. Andrea doesn't know the word "jalous," so I say that I'm very happy for her.
We sit for a while on the sand, talking about the same things as Wednesday on the bus: the purpose of traveling. Of course, traveling gives you freedom and a different view of yourself. She's right that work and a career don't make you happy. But on the other hand: traveling is also escaping from reality. I think she doesn't yet know what she wants in life. Do I know what I want in my life?
She's going back to Germany in two months. She doesn't know what she'll do then. Maybe saving money alone again to continue traveling. She lets it depend on what crosses her path. If she gets a good job offer or something else attractive, she might go for it. That can be anywhere; her friends also live everywhere in Germany. It's the ultimate freedom, but also indecisiveness. Then it seems better to know what you want, and have a little less freedom.
We walk through the surf in the direction of the Ecopark. I feel that we understand each other but that there's also distance. Our worlds are so different. Our paths crossed on Wednesday and today, but soon we'll say goodbye and probably never see each other again. But I feel that it's okay now.
I delay the farewell and stay for dinner. Andrea is a vegetarian and very critical. The Italian cook at the bar is willing to make something for her. He doesn't have pasta anymore, but Andrea convinces him to specially get it for her.
An Israeli guy joins us. I think his name is Jim; his mother is British, and his father is American. He's bald, has only a goatee. He's nice but actually only wants to talk about the places he's been. When you're traveling alone, you don't always click with everyone you meet; that's obvious.
It's time to leave. I need to make sure I can stop a bus. I want to be back in time to see my group. I've already missed dinner, but I want to celebrate the last evening with them, raise a glass one more time.
Andrea and Sandra walk with me to the road. Cars keep rushing by, but no bus. Only two going the other way, so I assume one will come eventually.
I promise Andrea that I'll send the photos by email. She's very happy about that. We look at the stars. We see a shooting star, very beautiful. I bid her a fond farewell.
When a bus finally arrives, I have to say goodbye very quickly. A kiss, a hug. I almost take her flashlight with me. I have to run to catch the bus that stopped a little further away. Tired but satisfied, I collapse into a seat, staring into the darkness.
Back at the hotel, I find a note from Gail. The group is waiting for me in the city. They're not in the Tequila Bar; I can't immediately find the other bar. I walk around and have to ask a few times where it is. It takes me more effort to find my own group than it did this morning to find Andrea! Funny...
Wolfgang wins the bet they had among themselves. He thought I would find Andrea, the others didn't. Gert is clearly impressed when I tell him how it went. Liz reacts somewhat childishly, pretending she only wants to know if we kissed. But they're all happy for me, even though not much actually happened.
Everyone writes a message in my diary, very special.
They were quite worried, wondering if I might have accidentally taken the bus to San Cristobal.
Tired, satisfied, but also a little confused, I fall asleep.