Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Memories now better than reality

My friends tell me that unless I revisit Cancun and Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula, I never will believe the changes that have come to this region of Mexico since the early 1960s.

I never plan to return and prefer to recall it always as it was in its pioneer years.

I loved exploring the ruins all over Mexico and Central America and did so on many occasions. On one trip to Guatemala, I visited Tikal. When the archaeologists wouldn't speak with me, I climbed 100 feet to the top of a temple on a knotted rope.

On a trip to ruins outside of Merida, Mexico, another couple and I spent the night inside the ruins.

On a journey to the Yucatan, I hired a Jeep driver to take me to see the ruins at Tulum. My driver was armed with a shotgun to protect me against wild jungle animals, and my guide carried a machete that he used to slash off vegetation that overgrew the trail. Tulum was totally deserted with the exception of our party of three. The grandeur of the Mayan ruins was mine to absorb in utter seclusion from the world.

The entire day had been a rewarding one. In addition to visiting a fabulous temple high on the cliff overlooking the sea, I came upon a wall imprinted with tiny painted red hands.

These red hands appear infrequently at various Mayan ruins, and there is no satisfactory explanation for them. Some archaeologists believe that they were imprinted in the stone as a signature of some of the builders.

The afternoon ended with a swim from the beach at the base of the ruin.

Tulum will always remain with me as it was on that thrilling day four decades ago.

I am told that the ruins of Tulum are now a major attraction on what marketing professionals call the “Mayan Riviera.” Buses bring tourists by the thousands on a four-lane divided highway from the metropolis of Cancun, which was just a few fishing shacks in the late 1950s.

Some of the ruins themselves are roped off to prevent intrusion. But even more startling to me is that the immediate area surrounding the ruins now has restaurants, souvenir shops, and even automated money machines.

I have no regrets at never seeing the rapid development that has turned the region into one of the most popular tourist trips offered by tour agents.

The grandeur of the Mayan ruins remains, and my only regret is that hoards of visitors have completely altered the atmosphere.

Millie Benson is a Blade columnist.

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