Feathered Aspen

Curiosity and Good Will: Tulum


On Friday, we had another breakfast of fruit and gathered at the yoga palapa.  All four of us did our own versions of yoga, Lu crawling around and exploring the shrine, Lily imitating moves of ours and then improvising some of her own (downward dog with one leg extended seems to be her go-to), and Joshua and I running through modified sun salutations. The more I do, the more I want to know everything about yoga.  Strangely, it might be the non-exercise part of yoga that is most compelling to me.  Or maybe that makes perfect sense.

We packed up our gear for the day and headed into Akumal, stopping at the fruteria and mercado for some pan dulce, nuts, and fruit.  From there, we walked past the main beach and up a few kilometers to Yal-Ku.  Yal-Ku is a semi-freshwater lagoon filled with fish and other sea creatures.  The entry free is a bit steep, but the grounds are beautifully kept and there are lovely bronze statues punctuating the paths through the jungle and the rocky shore of the lagoon.  With palapas and wooden staircases descending into the water, it was pretty idyllic.

That being said, it was not the greatest spot for young children.  For the five and over age group, it would be perfect, a total water playground, but for the three and under age group, less so.  Lily enjoyed tagging along as Joshua and I took turns snorkeling, but after a couple forays, she grew frustrated and cranky.

Joshua and I took a couple more turns discovering schools of brightly colored fish and swimming through the cool water.  In between, we tried to entertain the girls in the sculpture garden as best we could, but both of them grew increasingly frustrated.  Finally, we left.

The walk back was hot and humid, but the manicured lawns of the private residences along the beach drive offered tons of fallen flowers to pick up and enjoy.  I tucked a perfect hibiscus behind my ear, and felt very tahitian 😉

Back near the public beach access, we found a spot in the shade and let Lily lie down on a towel, she had been complaining of being tired earlier, which should have been a huge warning sign, but more on that later.

Taking turns jumping into the water, both Joshua and I had good luck snorkeling.  I saw a large, beautiful sea turtle combing the ocean floor and then combing up for air about 10 feet away from me, and Joshua went out and saw three sea turtles (and a sting ray).

On the beach, however, Lily was melting down further, and Lu was no happy camper either.  We decided to call it a day and head back to Organic Yoga.

Finally, after a walk from the beach to the carretera, a ride in el collectivo and a ultra-baby-wearing slog, we arrived in our palapa which thankfully, had air conditioning.  We quickly showered off the sweat, sunscreen, and bug juice, and then laid Lily down in bed.  She fell fast asleep, completely tuckered out.

While I showered, Joshua took care of Lu and made dinner.  We ate, occasionally checking in on Lily and growing more and more concerned and remorseful.

It was pretty clear that after five days of no nap, lots of sun, heat, and bug bites, our eldest was completely done in.  All day long, I had been frustrated with her constant whining, numerous freak-outs, and timidity, but this was a major reality check.  Laying in bed, hot and flushed, a little sunburned and with tons of mosquito bites was a three year old.  Just three.  And while the whining and melt downs are not pleasant, I feel responsible for not having really listened to her, because she was telling me that it was too much, and all I heard was the whine in her voice.

Poor girl.  Joshua and I talked.  It is too much.  At the beginning of this trip, as we were in the airplane and I had a moment to write in my journal, I wrote out my intentions for the trip, and the first one was that Lily would have a good time.  I wanted to show her the magic of traveling, and I wanted this experience to draw out her urge to explore, her curiosity.  But sadly, five days in, she was a dehydrated, exhausted mess.  That night, she woke up in tears and pain, and we gave her some Tylenol and a bottle of water, hoping that a night of rest and taking it easy the next day would do the trick.

So yesterday, we had a slow morning.  We made avocado toast and ate a whole papaya for breakfast.  We packed up and swung in the hammock.  Lily was feeling much better, so we did a little yoga as a family again.

When we were all ready to leave, we begged a ride from the Organic Yoga proprietor, Leon, and he was more than happy to oblige.  From there, we hitched a collectivo and then met the next AirBnB owner at the bus station in Tulum.

Florencia ushered us to a taxi, and we then had a short ride to our next home away from home.

Upon arriving, we took in our clean, modern, studio apartment.  While there is no AC (yikes), it is bug free inside and it’s an easier space with the girls.  I’m not worried Lu is going to scoot up to a scorpion and Lily won’t have to be shower mates with the lizards.

We put Lily down for a nap right away, and I went in search of a lavanderia with a huge bag of clothes on one of our cruiser bikes that comes gratis with the apartment rental (praise hands).  After a bit of searching, I did find a lavanderia, and man.  If only lavanderias were this cheap and plentiful in Denver.  I would never do laundry again. For a huge bag of all of our clothes, I paid 118 pesos (about 7 dollars) to have them washed and folded (praise hands, praise hands).

Back at the studio, we entertained Lu while Lily slept.  Yeah, cuz the girl never takes naps.  Can anyone say energizer bunny?  At least she’s pretty good at independently playing!

When Lily woke up, we loaded up the bikes and rode down to the beach.  We had a moment that would have been embarrassing if we were being filmed and on the Amazing Race, but luckily only our children saw us bickering quietly about food and money and where to acquire and spend the former and the latter.  Am I right?  Does anyone else think What Would an Amazing Racer Do when their traveling? WWARD? No? Just me?

So we ended up at this waaaayyyy too cool little vegan hipster joint owned by a blue haired white girl from LA (I know this because she was there).  While she was discussing the design of her menu with a guy in a topknot and skinny jeans and so much cool he wasn’t even sweating, the four of us caved.  We had been using natural bug juice up until this point.  You know.  Like citronella and cedar and eucalyptus. Like $30 bug juice from Natural Grocers.  But then we were in the middle of the jungle and there was OFF! on the tables and even the too cool vegans were slathering it on like, hey, I’m an animal rights activist/armchair vegan unless it comes to mosquitos, and then I’m like, those f***ers have got to die, and we were like, wow, it’s so disheartening how much better this stuff works than the natural stuff, and maybe we should go to the super market on our way home and stock up on DEET.

Anyway.  We doused ourselves in DEET and it was amazing.  Not a single bug bite.  I mean, I guess Silent Spring wasn’t kidding.  Even the little lizards and geckos kept their distance.

The menu, as it were, was a work in progress, delivered in a sweet little scroll tied with hemp.  The prices were slightly staggering (which always puts me in a GREAT mood), but we had already caved once, so we decided to order anyway.

The food was amazing.  I had coconut ceviche with thinly sliced sweet potato chips and some fire-hot but amazing sauces.  Joshua ordered Tacos with something amazing inside (I’m not sure what).  It was super, super good, but super, super not kid friendly.  Both Lily and Lu were in tears from the heat.

From there, we biked up the beach to some public access.  Unfortunately, the entire Riviera is having some serious seaweed problems, and a lot of the resorts and spas along the beachfront are dredging the seaweed from their patch of shoreline over to the public areas.  Drying seaweed smells a lot like burning rubber, and it a lot makes me want to barf.  It’s not so fun to go diving in the waves with an algal bloom in the water.  Lily sat on the beach, looking totally forlorn and dismayed by the experience.  Lu cried because nursing in the sand is easier said than done (and painful :(), and Joshua and I looked at each other, feeling overwhelmed and a bit defeated.

We biked back, stopping at the super market on the way that looks suspiciously like a Walmart.  We stocked up on some fruits and vegetables and then headed home.  From the gate to the door of the studio I was attacked by a new and vicious breed of mosquito, and by the time we got inside, I was covered in a dozen new and very angry welts.  Luckily, the rest of the family was spared.  I’m the sacrifice.

Once inside, we showered off and Joshua started making pico de gallo.  Friends, this is where doing the Whole30 would be dirt cheap.  Here, fruits and veggies and whole foods in general are super inexpensive.  Everything else is only slightly cheaper than the US.

There’s a TV in the studio, and in an effort to make vacation a bit more relaxing for our eldest, we gave her a special fruity drink and handed her the remote.  I must say, it was the most chill she was all day.

Last night, we turned on all the fans and left all the windows open (there are screens, thankfully).  Joshua set his alarm for an early morning run, and when he came back, I went out too.  As a part of our effort to make this trip more enjoyable for the littles, we have decided to cut down on the amount of walking.  We’re trying to address Lily’s whines immediately and with more empathy, and we’re being even more purposeful about spending our day in a way that she would enjoy.

So today, we did our research and decided to find a beach club with pool.  While the words “beach club” reallllly don’t float my boat, apparently that’s how you do it in this neck of the woods.  I think of it like a coffee house.  You want a nice place to do some studying with good ambiance, and so you pay for a cuppa (and I also happen to love coffee, so not a bad deal, right?).  In Tulum (maybe everywhere?) you want a nice beach and maybe some shade and yeah, I’ll take the freshwater shower too, and so we pay for a margarita (also not a bad deal, right?).  It definitely feels like bought time, but with the right amount of shade, a hammock, and a little booze, I guess it’ll work for us.

Soooo, we went in search of Playa del Cielo, a beach club that’s supposed to be kid-friendly and have a pool, because my friends, Lily wants a pool.  Pretty sure her favorite day so far is the day we got here and swam in that pool in the not-so-great hotel in Cancun (I say not-so-great because we were on the third floor and their elevator had broken, so by the time you got to the room you were pouring with sweat.

We biked the couple of kilometers down to the main road that has beach clubs, restaurants, and resorts on one side and shops and cafes on the other.  We bike another few kilometers until we saw the small wooden sign for Playa del Cielo and….  It was closed 😦 😦 😦  Parent fail: 30.

We asked a nice man where we might find another pool and then we went on a 40 minute goose hunt (or chase or whatever), but to our knowledge no place called “Mestizo” exists.  And if it does, I have concerns about its name, but I guess that’s another matter entirely.

Anywho.  We gave up and went to La Zebra, a place we had read about that we knew had a playground, Lily’s second request.  By the time we arrived, we were all dripping and not looking so lovely, but nevertheless, we found a patch a shade with a little table and ordered a couple of Coronas and some empanadas and chips with guac.

Lily and I went to check out the wooden playground and the hammocks, and Joshua stayed with Lu, playing in the sand with the little sand toys we had picked up on our way.

While we were playing, two little boys ran over and introduced themselves to Lily, and she was smitten, just over the moon, at little kid contact.  So even though the beach was kind of crummy and the seaweed was really bad, Lily had a good time, and that was the point.

We biked back to the studio for a nap, and afterwards, we took the bikes to Tulum center for dinner.  On our way into the center (which is about 2 km from the beach), we encountered a pretty stellar playground.  We decided to stop and play, and a couple of little girls came up and introduced themselves to Lily (Parent Win: 2ish).

When the mosquitos started coming out, we left for dinner, and it was AMAZING.  I had tacos de pastor and I’m not sure what Joshua had, but we topped it of with aguas naturales melon for Lily, a mojito for myself, and a Dos equis for Joshua.  I tell you.  Nothing like pork and cheap booze to lift your spirits.


This morning when we stopped to buy beach toys, Lu’s eyes lit up when she saw a mini pail and tool set.  When Joshua picked it up, she quickly snatched it out of his hand and refused to let go for the next hour.  It was pretty hilarious how clearly she knew it was hers and hers alone.

In the same vein, and completely unrelated to travel, Lu has picked up a few words in the past week and a half:  Mama and Dada are clearer and more purposeful than ever, she also says Hi and Owie.  She also shakes her head “no” which is juuuuust about the cutest thing.

I loved watching Lily share her beach toys with the kids at the beach club playground.  She was so generous without prompting from me.  Like, “here you go!”  For those of you who know how much she can struggle with sharing, you’ll know what a victory that was!

I love biking here.  The girls love it, and the ocean breeze makes the heat bearable.

The food.  I’m so serious when I say that pork and booze completely changed my whole outlook on this vacation.

Lavanderia!!! Gotta love those clean, folded clothes.  Lily came with me to retrieve them this morning, and we saw a bunch of stray kitties on the way.  She was very concerned about them, and we talked about why they were stray and where they might sleep.  Now her “magic-nation” narratives involve a lot of motherless, sisterless, street-living kitties.  That’s my girl.  She’s got a flair for the macabre.

Playgrounds!  Guys.  I have this idea.  Ok.  So MEXICO has this idea, and I happen to think it’s BRILLIANT.  Exercise equipment for adults at playgrounds!!!  Isn’t that a fabulous idea?  Get people off their iPhones and on a spinmaster5000 (or whatever)!  You can totally watch your kids play and work out at.the.same.time.  Call me a weirdo, but I’m serious.  US, get on this.

On our way back from La Zebra, I found a ring of keys in the road.  I pulled over at the next business to drop them off, thinking anyone looking for them would go to the nearest establishment, and funnily enough, the guy behind the counter at the diving center knew whose keys they were!  We stopped and chatted for a few minutes, and he filled up our water bottles.  It was such a friendly exchange, and he was so sweet to the girls.  And even though he spoke perfect English, he humored me and conversed only in Spanish with me! Which is definitely a first.  Usually once people hear me bumbling in Spanish, they switch to English is theirs is slightly better :(:(:(

Running.  You know, steps are good n all, but running just does it for me.  Like, 30 minutes, you know?  Just you, the path, no kids, and 1000 mosquitos.

The chance to be here with my family and to experience all of it together, the good and the bad.

Pitaya.  Out of curiosity, I bought a pitaya at the fruteria.  It’s also called a pink dragon fruit, and it was incredible.  The inside is a white flesh with small black seeds interspersed throughout.  It reminds me of kiwi (probably because of the look and crunch of the little seeds) but has a milder, sweeter taste.  I plan to have one every day from here on out.

My kindle.  I’ve been able to read almost a book and a half in the time that we’ve been here, just in the moments before bed or while nursing Lu.


Y’all, I had a low point this morning.  We had just picked up the beach toys and Lily was melting down over something, and we were all sweaty, and I was dreading the burned-rubber stench of seaweed and feeling sad that the water is thick scratchy seaweed, and sort of just generally thinking oh my god we have 12 days left and what have we done with all of Joshua’s time off and all this money and have we made a horrible mistake and are the girls happy and am I a shitty mom…

You get the picture.  So I voiced my concerns to Joshua.  I usually have this attitude that I WILL enjoy this!  Dammit!  When it comes to the grittier side of traveling, but I just sort of felt pushed over the edge, you know?  It really devastates me to see Lily so sensitive and timid and well, unhappy.

So we talked, and we decided: 1) spend more money (this means more taxis, less walking in the heat, more stuff that Lily will really enjoy) we’ve been spending about $50 a day and we think upping it to $75 will take the edge off and not break the bank 2) scrap Valladoid.  We had planned on going into Valladoid to see Chichen Itza and a bit of the interior of Yucatan, but it’s supposed to be even hotter, and we’re not sure that ruins are really going to be a 3 year old’s cup of tea. 3) Find a place with a pool for those three nights instead.  We’re thinking Playa del Carmen. 4) Listen to Lily.  Really listen to her.  Try not to get irritated and try to meet her needs quickly so that she has the reassurance and comfort she needs to handle new experiences. 5) Next time don’t be quite so stingy.  If $20 more a night gets you a pool DO IT.

So after that talk and then our spontaneous bike ride through Tulum center, I was feeling so much better.  On that bike ride, I felt like I was reclaiming that part of traveling I love where there’s not really anywhere you have to be, so you just explore and find little gems around every corner.  And you know what?  Lily and Lu loved it too 🙂

So there you have it.  The struggles are much in the same vein as they were a post or two ago.  Traveling with kids means less of that spontaneity and devoted relaxation, but even in navigating this morning’s low point, I feel like there are so many lessons to unpack, and I love that Joshua and I are in this together, trying to problem solve and be the best parents we can be.

So to end, an intention:

I am a loving, caring, and adventurous mother.  I want to be playful and attentive.  I want to model curiosity and good will.

Author: Ellie

Wife, Mom, Adventurer...

4 thoughts on “Curiosity and Good Will: Tulum

  1. Sounds like lovely challenging times and you are making the best of it. I’m on my way back from my retreat which was lovely and challenging as well. Sending light and love. Mom

  2. Ah my dears. Traveling with children is different but I love your intentionality. You’re building great memories for your family–thank you for sharing with the rest of us! Much love,

  3. Kyle read something once that basically said that no matter how bad a vacation is, your brain will store it with “novel and exciting” memories. I called his bluff once while we were traveling cheap and dirty, hot and sweaty, but he was right–I look back fondly on the memories now! I bet Lily will too. 🙂 I haven’t picked out Lu’s bday present yet–if you want to treat yo’ self to a more drinks or a pool, and that could def be her present. Happy bday Lu!! Oh and My cousin, Kyle is in Tulum right now. Crazy coincidence. He’s kylepeters1 on Instagram. I have no other way of contacting him and don’t know the extent of his travel plans, but it might be cool for y’all to at least check out his photos.

  4. Hey, you know? 🙂 Have fun, enjoy. You’ll look back on this time as magical, trust me. Much love.

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