After Mexico City I jumped to the coast. Originally I thought I would start in Oaxaca and work my way up to the peninsula, but once I cut Belize (budgetary reasons) and learned a friend would be in the Playa del Carmen area I changed my mind and flew to Cancun. The airport bus landed me in Playa for two nights – an okay experience that doesn’t merit its own post – from which I took a collectivo to Tulum to meet up with Karim.
All I knew from him was that he’d found a “gem” of a place on the beach near the ruins where we could camp. I looked up as much as I could about where this Pancho Villa Bar and Campground place was, which only seemed to exist on a Facebook page, and based on the Facebook map and his vague description set out to find it. Turns out the bar is only a year old and the campsite less than half a year, which explains its seeming nonexistence; the first tourist post at the ruins didn’t even know about it, but the second one proved more helpful with the advice to turn at Playa Maya. I actually found it easily, although by the time I got there I was sweating so much you’d think it poured rain on my walk, and secured a tent at a bargain price for three nights.
The campsite was a gem. It was right behind the bar on the beach, so every day we could walk out to the ocean whenever we wanted. Along with multiple plots where you could pitch your own tent or sleep in one of the ones for rent, there was a hammock area where we hung out for daytime naps and nighttime chats, a kitchen of sorts (if you don’t mind cooking over an open fire), and a bar/reception/hangout area where the activities happened and the guys who ran the place spent most of their time. That’s where I learned how to shoot a slingshot and make a dreamcatcher, which is now hanging in this area amid the collection that Juan made.
Juan, the owner of this campsite, has traveled the world learning things. He built every structure on this site, wove every dreamcatcher decorating the hangout area, carved every decoration including the totem pole at the beach bar entrance, and made his vision of this place a reality. He plans to do it again on an island next year. He is one of those people that you meet only in places like this, where good vibes matter and time does not. “Manana” was his favorite word. I stayed up late talking with Juan about travel and life in a mixture of English, German and Spanish. He taught me how to make the dreamcatcher, his new nickname for me, and I drove his stick-shift Jeep down to a friend’s place on the Zona Hoteleria for conversation over beers and tacos and an impromptu soccer game on the beach. He took me in and I promised I would return one day.
Everyone who worked at the place accepted me into their friendship, despite my inability to converse in Spanish. Owing to their good English, we still were able to have conversations ranging in topic from sculpture in ancient Rome to typical Mexican humor. I passed hours sipping beers shooting the shit with these guys, and if it wasn’t for the sand flies that decided I was the tastiest thing since pastor tacos I probably would have stayed longer. The sheer quantity of bites earned me the name Crocodile Woman, so after my fourth night I decided it was time to leave.
I have come across these chill types of places around the world – Nicaragua, Colombia, Laos – and have always moved on before I felt ready, having to be somewhere else. This time I didn’t have that need, I had all the time in the world. I was curious to see how long I would actually stay in a place like this. When I first arrived, I thought I might stay for weeks and just disconnect. In the end I lasted four days. I have openly blamed the oppressive heat and hungry bugs, but inside I just knew it was time. And the fact that I could come to that decision just by feeling instead of by schedule is what this trip is all about.
Pancho Villa was an important place for me. A place where I finally felt like I’m into this new chapter, and where I let the logistical traveler go. The people and the place came together at the right time for me, and from then one I knew I would be in the mentality I hoped for when I left again. As of writing this it’s been a week since my departure from Tulum, and I can say that it’s going well so far. And I sincerely believe I have the Pancho Villa campsite to thank for that.