Here's a question: if one lives on a tropical island, where do they go to "get away from it all”? Yes, it seems like an unforgivably rhetorical question. Nonetheless, this past November, we were curious to find out where other islanders like to go for a quick change of scenery, so we asked some friends on Isla Mujeres for their input. At the top of the list? Tulum. Ah, yes. A name we had heard uttered many times before by urban-dwelling and bohemian friends, alike. The beloved mecca of the eco-friendly faithful.

We were only too happy to put Tulum to the test, ourselves, and chose an eco-hotel on a stretch of beach near the Sian Kaan nature preserve. As for our eco-dwelling? Sublime. A veritable palapa palace. Our roomy bungalow featured a peaked roof that gave the space a luxurious, airy feel. Screened, slatted windows, a large ceiling fan and the ever-present ocean breeze kept the room naturally cool and comfortable. The hotel’s bar and open-air restaurant were a mere twenty feet away. The ocean lapped invitingly at our front door. Very quickly, the fabled Tulum Effect took hold. And as for the satisfying blur that ensued?  We walked.  Swam.  Talked.  Snorkled.  Ate.  Read.  Slept.  Hammocked.  We even helped out some baby sea turtles...

Catch & Release

One evening, as we were eating pizza at a neighboring beach resort, our waitress rushed up to the table, her eyes wide with excitement.

Baby sea turtles!” she reported breathlessly.  “They’ve hatched and lost their way and are trying to cross the road instead of going back into the ocean!”

As if on fire, the restaurant quickly emptied, patrons spilling down the steps to the beach, flashlights swinging in haphazard arcs.

“Spread out, they’re already near the road!” the restaurant owner yelled as he hurried past. He was already moving towards the water, lugging a metal bucket full of tiny, squirming turtles.

I looked down at the sand.  It undulated in the dim light, alive with the jumbled bodies of the confused turtles. As I bent to gently pick one up, I was awed by the sensation of its fluttering body between my hands. Its flippers beat the air indignantly, almost wing-like.

We pulled out our collapsible lanterns and scrambled in all directions, sometimes on all fours, gathering up the little turtles as carefully as we could.  Their miniature flippers whirled like pint-sized turbines as they scooted across the beach with surprising speed as they formed a swell of wriggling bodies that roiled across the sand.  After we gathered them, we brought them out into the water, wading out as far out as we could before releasing them into the waves.

“Kill the lights!” One man shouted back towards the restaurant, which glowed from within like a gigantic lantern, “They think it’s the moon!”

Tor began to walk farther into the surf with his lantern hovering close to the water.  Gradually, the platoon of tiny turtles we had just released into the waves began to swim toward its glow. He continued to walk slowly, chest-deep in the tide, his lantern skimming the surface as he guided them out to sea.  I stood and watched them as they darted and dove, rising on the crest of the waves as they fought to make headway.  It seemed as if they were making progress.  We could only hope.

We slogged repeatedly back and forth through the surf, our clothes drenched with seawater, buckets of baby turtles in tow.  Finally, the restaurant owner stopped moving and stood on the sand bar, hands on his hips, his apron flapping loosely in the breeze.

“I think that’s it,” he said, as we scoured the beach, scanning for holdouts.  “We did what we could; they’re all out to sea. Hopefully some will make it...”

A quick sweep with flashlights proved that no baby turtles remained on land.

Gracias! Buen trabajo,” the restaurant owner said to each of us as our little group of impromptu rescuers began to disband.

We walked slowly down the beach to our hotel.  The sound of waves filtered through the grove of coconut trees in front of our bungalow. From our porch, we could see into the nearly deserted beach bar next door. Our favorite waiters, Johan and Refugio were clowning around, practicing bottle-twirling tricks in the amber glow of the lamplight. Tor settled into a chair and put up his feet, not bothering to wipe off the sand.

I lay down in the hammock, the palm fronds above me parting in the breeze to reveal a glittering field of stars. My thoughts returned to the baby sea turtles, embarking on their journey. Once dangerously off-course, they were now swimming with determination through the ocean. Pushing out fearlessly into the unknown.

Vaya con dios, I thought, as I recalled the sight of their flippers disappearing into the surf.  Godspeed.