Discovering an alternative reality in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
The first order of business as I arrived was to find a good bike to see me through the first couple weeks in Mexico. I found Best Bike Rentals very close to my Airbnb and tried my luck with one of their mountain style bikes.
Luckily for me, the owner of the shop, Ian, was tinkering around with a bike getting it ready for a customer. After a bit of negotiation, we settled on a rusted red Benotto bike that was sitting behind the plethora of beach cruisers with baskets. The Benotto had a basket on it as well; getting it removed was part of the deal. I had brought lights and a lock from home, and after a few minutes of oiling and tuning, it was ready to go.
“Are there any off-roading trails in Playa?” I asked Ian. “Not a lot” he said.
I didn’t let this put me off, I knew that bike paths were to be found in the most unusual places. I had a lot of ground to cover, and very little time to waste.
After scanning Google Maps for a decent bike trail, I decided to stop playing with my phone and just get on with riding, maybe I would discover something that I had not read or heard about.
The next morning, I ventured off towards the western edge of Playa. Endless rows of new housing and private development adorned the roads, and just as I was about to give up, a path appeared in the distance.
This was the closest I could find to an off-roading track in a beach town, I thought. Of course there was Punta Venado Bike Park where you could pay a $100 to rent a bike and ride on technical trails 15 kms away, but that was for another day. For now, I convinced myself, that the best things in life are free.
As I made my way through the trail, I felt every bump and rock due to the bike’s lack of suspension. It was still a fun ride, and the trail led to more paths in the forest that was shaken up by a recent hurricane.
It was a great ride, and the path was presumably cleared for construction trucks hauling material for new residential buildings in the area. What were people up to living right next to forest land? I had to find out.
Eco-Living in a Rainforest
When I found out about Sacbe Eco-Community on the north-western edge of Playa Del Carmen, it sounded like a utopian dream, and somewhat like a cult.
It was an entire neighborhood developed right in the middle of the forest; they had strict design guidelines for construction and homes had to be built with sustainable materials. Plastic was more or less banned, and it was a self-sustained living community thriving inside this natural environment.
Land was not cheap by local standards, a square-meter starting at $170–250 US dollars. The community had private security, cave systems, art studios, saunas and temples where weekly temascal ceremonies were performed.
A Temascal ceremony is an ancient Mexican sweat lodge where a Shaman cleanses your spirit with natural herbs while you sit inside a mud sauna, taking in the heat from steam produced by molten rocks. It is believed to promote good health and help you release inner fears and emotions.
As I was getting ready to jump into the Cenoté, I was called-out to by an old bearded man wearing a white robe and beads around his neck. He introduced himself as Oscar, the community priest. He was visibly upset.
I was really confused when I saw him near the pool but he felt that I should’ve checked in with him before entering the cavern. I explained that I had no clue where he lived and barely found my way to the cenoté. He loosened up immediately and welcomed me warmly, “This is your earth, enjoy its purity.”
He explained that some tourists in the past had come inside the community and brought in alcohol, drugs and even had sex in the premises. This was strictly against the community guidelines and disturbed the sanctity of the place.
I understood where he was coming from and he said “Even I love smoking Pot, but there is a way. One can’t just keep taking from the earth, giving is very important.”
He gave me his blessing with a hug and guided me to a the crystal clear water, free of organic material and dirt. “Just enjoy your time, Akash.”
After having a relaxed dip in the flooded cavern, I made my way to the village temple to pay a visit. I was fortunate to have found this heavenly oasis in the middle of a tourist town, a fact that became apparent the moment I got on the the main road. The peace of being surrounded by natural forest was immediately disturbed by the overwhelming noise on the highway. This was a memory to be cherished, and a sanctuary to be sought.