A day sightseeing at the Tulum ruins marred yet made interesting by the tourist hordes
On rare occasions, a sight-seeing trip is transformed when the primary object of attention is eclipsed by some other, more intriguing phenomenon. Our trip to the Tulum ruins was just such an event. Rather than channelling the spirit the of the ancient Maya, we found ourselves up close and personal with another sort of tribe: the modern package tourist.
On the day of our visit, this ancient walled city was playing host to an invasion. The first warning sign was the number of coaches in the car park, bussing in daytrippers from Cancun. Inside the Tulum ruins, they were everywhere: huddled in gangs, lobster-necked and clutching water. They followed their guides around listlessly, only coming to life to incessantly snap-snap-snap with their cameras and phones.
Needless to say, our historical pretensions were quickly cast aside. Instead, we began to whisper nature-documentary commentaries in hushed Attenborough tones. ‘These fascinating, herd-like beings are characterised by extreme curiosity, but also caution. As they approach the rope, they use their ever-present appendage, the camera phone, to assess danger. The species has evolved with a mistrust of instinct and memory. They prefer instead to rely on technology to decide and document their every move.”
Notably, the wooden staircase from the ruins down to the beach was a clusterfuck. Tourists thronged the platform, taking endless photos of the sea or the ruins behind. Perhaps one of the great mysteries of our civilization to future historians will be why we believed that any scenic image is embellished by the presence of our apishly grinning faces.
The presence of several iguanas beneath the wooden staircase stirred up considerable excitement. Keen photographers blocked the thoroughfare to shove their lenses into the gap. Others looked on in shades of envy and bemusement.
Meanwhile, the sighting of iguanas on a prominent rock beside the staircase sparked scenes of near frenzy, as the herd lined up to take their shots. The iguana, to its credit, maintained a dignified look of disdain throughout the proceedings.
Elsewhere, a family posed on a prime photographic precipice above the sea. Their faces were plastered with happy-holiday grins before that deity of modern narcissism: the selfie stick.
But here’s my picture of the day. Anton caught this man’s look of bone-deep fatigue. He clutched his Lonely Planet -that bible of the fearful tourist stranded far from home – for dear life.
From a few angles, the desolate shore-line of this historical site could still be glimpsed, unblighted by the masses. An information board overlooking the shore imagined the tentative first contact between civilisations as Spanish ships first glimpsed Tulum from afar. I took the liberty of speculating on what the Mayans who once inhabited this mysterious place might have made of the fate of their beloved city.
Perhaps this is the final humiliation of the jewel of any great civilization? Conquest not by the powerful and dangerous, but by the soft-bellied holiday maker.
Look on my works ye mighty and take a selfie.