Trouble in Paradise as Industrial Tourism Denies Beach Access on Yucatan Peninsula

beach from Tulum ruins

Puerto Aventuras  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Wade, chill, you’re on vacation, dude, calmate! Sorry, that’s just not me, and, mi companeros y companeras, there’s big trouble in paradise.

Driving from Cancun to Puerto Morelosnot San Morelos to Puerto Aventuras to Tuluum along Mexican highway 305 from the minute one heads south we saw one outlandish Las Vegas style grand arch or entryway after another at countless resorts and gated communities towards the east and the Caribbean. What we did not see was any entry to the beach. That seemed strange.

We looked it up. As one authority after another stated: “The Mexican Constitution decrees all beaches to be publicly-accessible federal property and, as such, people have right of access to them anytime. There are some legal exceptions to the access rule, most notably, beaches classed or reserved for military use.”

We first took a peek at San Morelos, formerly a small fishing village hardly 30 kilometers south of Cancun. There was public access several places and though we saw many signs that this community was being “discovered,” the town was still approachable. In our small pueblo of Puerto Aventuras, the only access to the water was through a resort of the same name with a gate and guard in front. We asked our host where we could get to the water, and he said 20 kilometers down the road at Akumul. We did manage to get to the beach there, but it was on the sneak after bogarting our way past the private parking and the beach side condos where we found a small pocket park and finally just walked through a condo-plex to get there. Could we have gotten away with it if we were locals, no way! In Tulum, we asked a small restaurant where we were having sopa de mariscos how could we get to the beach, and he told us we could buy lunch at one of the restaurants, and they would let us in. After I told the waiter, but “We’re having lunch with you,” he just shrugged and smiled.

Azumal Beach on Yucatan

Turns out this is an area of huge contention, though largely hidden from the industrial tourism purveyors and those they serve. Tamar Diane Wilson in her book, The Economic Life of Mexican Beach Vendors, pulls no punches, calling it “socio-spatial apartheid.” Writing about Cancun itself she says the only way a native would see the water was “from a bus window, a kitchen, an unkempt hotel room, or the prism of some other subservient role.”

With some pride we found that some of our neighbors, even in Puerto Aventuras, had been part of beach protests in recent years. An EL UNIVERSAL article in October 2014 reported that:

“Local and federal lawmakers of the PRD requested the intervention of the Human Rights Commission in Quintana Roo and at national level, so that they issue an order to the authorities to demand that concessionaires at private businesses stop the illegal blockades that prevent residents of Cancun and Riviera Maya from enjoying the public beaches.

The councilor of the municipality of Solidaridad, Laura Beristain, also mentioned the recent blockade of access to Punta Esmeralda beach in Playa del Carmen or the protests of residents of Akumal and Puerto Aventuras in Riviera Maya due to the closure of access Public to the beaches.

Sadly, we have to report that more than two years later, the beaches are still blocked and this “socio-spatial apartheid” is still in full force and preventing Mexicans who live on the Peninsula from enjoying the natural resource and pleasure of these beautiful beaches that are their patrimony, while the law itself and their constitutional rights are being ignored with impunity.

Azumal Beach on Yucatan

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Craig, Zach, and Ed’s Unique View of Vietnam

P1010004Bangkok I hate the Bangkok international airport.  It’s an overpriced mall with planes in the parking lot.  A cup of coffee can cost $3 to $4 bucks USD, and I’m stuck here for 8 hours on the cheap route from Hanoi to Delhi, so making the best of it.  Leaving a new country after an Organizers’ Forum trip it has become something of a tradition for me to list out the random notes about what made the country unique and special to answer the question my dad, Ed Rathke, used to ask me when I would see him after one of these trips and he would start the conversation by asking what I thought “he would most want to know” about the country.  My dad passed away a little me than two years ago, but his question never leaves me in the notes I scribble on these journeys.  Craig Robbins in Philadelphia and Zach Polett in Little Rock used to tell me that these were their favorite blogs, so to keep it light rather than tinged with the maudlin and morbid, we’ll answer my dad’s question by making it a “popular demand” blog from Craig and Zach.

  • The plane fares might be pricey, but once you are there Vietnam is way cheap.  Tell me the last time you could get a decent beer for a buck at a restaurant?  We bought beer at the Circle K next to the hotel in Ho Chi Minh City for about 70 cents.  I bought the popular Hanoi beer obviously in Hanoi on the street for 14 dong or about 75 cents in the tourist district.  In the hood I bet it’s 50 cents or less a beer.  It’s not the 99 cent six-pack special I remember for Jax beer over at the Times-Saver on Paris Avenue 40 years ago, but it’s damn close.  A special note for Rick Hall in Nairobi:  a Jameson’s on Ngo Huyen was about $1.25, book your ticket now. Continue reading
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