a soul's full at almaplena
i was only supposed to be in playa del carmen for two days. but i’m not very good with ‘supposed to,’ and what started as a simple pass-through on my way to somewhere else ended up being something entirely different. i guess that’s the whole point of this journey.
i’ve just wrapped up my first month of four in mexico on a discovery of the country, discovery of myself, immersion in spanish, and avoidance of winter and donald t****. the first week of my trip i spent celebrating new year’s eve in puerto vallarta with a group of friends, after which i flew to cancun to check out the bpm festival in playa del carmen. for those not in the know, the bpm festival is a large-scale house music festival on the beaches of playa each year, which brings a crowd of tank-top wearing, fluorescent sunglass-toting audiophiles who like to peaceably twirl to electronic music from the early afternoon into the early morning. i had two nights confirmed, a media pass, and a friend meeting me there. it was going to be a quick experience before i hopped the bus and headed north to merida. but just two days before i arrived, i got a message from an old friend in london. we had met (briefly, drunkenly) two years ago in malaysia and ended up sharing a boozy night dancing in a dive bar, only to become friends on facebook and then (theoretically) never see each other again. but the universe has its own agenda, and it turned out alex and his friend, steve, were going to be in playa for the music festival. we noncommittally agreed to meet up “at some point” to catch up, though it was more likely that we wouldn’t.
but sure enough, our first day there the three of us met for some tequilas at my favorite beach hangout, lido. a heady combo of tequila and cigarette smoke forged new friendships and paved a road for me, away from my original plan and into something completely unexpected. our second day of reacquaintance, alex and steve invited me to tag along on their road trip, though i think don julio did more of the asking. but after a sober morning assurance that they did, in fact, want me to come, we loaded up the car and set off from the beaches of playa del carmen down to the belize border to check out the beach community, mahahual.
mahahual manages to retain its sleepy, bohemian atmosphere, so long as you don’t look to the left along the shoreline, where you’re bound to see an eyesore of a cruise ship, thanks to a dock that was built in the early 2000s. but looking to the right reveals pale turquoise water, sugary white sand, palm trees, and a row of shady, palapa-covered beach bars. the block behind the beach is flanked with a series of budget hotels and hostels decked with street murals.
we checked into almaplena resort & beach club, an eco-friendly beach resort with just eight rooms directly on the beach. all rooms have terraces or balconies that overlook the ocean, and are literally steps to the water. the resort is the only construction around for miles, shrouded in jungle and fringed in palm trees and cocaine-colored sand. the late afternoon swirled in a haze of don julio and white wine as we crashed into the ocean, lounged under palapas, napped in our mosquito-canopied beds, played cards as the sun went down, and feasted on ceviche and fresh pasta. the moon rose full and strong casting a sheen over the wind-swept ocean, as we sat on the beach wrapped in towels drinking wine and chatting with a free-spirited couple from mexico city, as is bound to happen when you're on a road trip in backpacker country.
my sides ached from laughter, my face twisted in a permanent smile, i wasn’t sure why tears were streaming rapidly down my face (though i’m betting don julio, once again, had something to do with that). it's not usual that i connect so quickly and intensely with people, but i felt as if i had met my counterparts - my brothers, my protectors, my wonderful, wonderful friends. i never imagined two years ago, drunk and dancing underneath the petronas towers in kuala lumpur, that i’d be sitting on a secluded mexican beach with that same stranger, having made two beautiful friends that i’m sure i'll have for the rest of my life.
almaplena translates literally to full soul. and yes, that’s the exact amount of cheese that you’d expect from a bohemian beach resort buried in the jungle of southern mexico. but this has always been the beauty and power of mexico for me. every single time, without fail. she continues to surprise me, open my heart, fill my soul, and take me exactly where i need to be.