Continuing our adventures in Mexico...

On our first full day in Tulum, we caught an inexpensive collectivo from the main street through town to the Maya ruins and beach nearby. This is the number one tourist destination in Tulum, and it is well worth a visit.  Although you can take a private taxi for just a bit more ($50 MX, or about $4 US), collectivos run every few minutes and cost just $40 MX for the two of us (approximately $3.20 US).  Just ask them to take you to the"ruinas" since many of the drivers don't speak English.
Be forewarned, however; the collectivo dropped us on the main road about a quarter-mile from the entrance to the park, so we had to hike in the rest of the way.  A taxi will presumably take you right up to the entrance.
We'd been warned to get to the ruins early as the tour buses would start to arrive around 10 am, but unfortunately, we arrived right about that time.  And one of the most striking things about the entire day was how many people there were, everywhere.  After getting used to visiting Maya ruins and national parks in Belize, where we sometimes had the place to ourselves, or were among just a handful of others, this was a real shock!  Since these ruins are just south of Cancun and Playa del Carmen -- and with end of the Mayan calendar just days away -- it seemed that everyone and his brother, aunt, and cousin wanted to see the ruins and the gorgeous Tulum beaches on this day.  I recognized a lot of French being spoken in particular, but there were certainly people from all over the world visiting the well-manicured site overlooking the beach on dramatic cliffs.  We heard almost no English being spoken in the park.
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So many people!
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Certain parts of the ruins were roped off to keep tourists on paths -- different from Belize
When we glimpsed the beautiful turquoise water and wide white-sand beach for the first time, it took my breath.  All the hype I'd heard about Tulum's beaches was justified.
A closer look...
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Ahhhhh...gorgeous!
The ruins were nice, though not as dramatic as some we'd already seen, like Lamanai.  And unlike in Belize, quite a few of the structures were roped off and could not be climbed on.  A little disappointing, but I guess this site gets so many visitors, they have to be really careful to preserve the structures.  This reminded me much more of a well-manicured park in the US than one in Belize, where pretty much anything goes.
From one of the structures high on the beach-side cliff, there was a staircase allowing people access to the sandy beach below.  This was definitely the most crowded beach we'd seen in a long, long time.  We didn't bother going down; we planned to hit the less-crowded beach after leaving the ruins.
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Tourists everywhere!
This guy didn't mind the crowds one bit from his sunbathing post.
Your intrepid reporter...
These cliffs were so beautiful and rugged.
One more shot of the crazy gorgeous view.  Barry did a great job with the photos today!
Once we'd seen the entire site, it was time to leave the worst of the crowds behind.  
We walked down the road south of the ruins for quite a bit and finally found a public access to the beach.
Now this is a beach!  Super wide, with incredibly soft, white sand for walking, and stunning blue water.  Enchanting!  And the best part?  Not many people at all.  They were all back on the little beach below the ruins.  Ha!
It was still a little too early for the numerous beach bars and clubs to be open, so we eventually cut back to the road to start walking to a restaurant for lunch. 
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View from the road -- stunning
This proved to be a long -- and very warm -- walk (though quite a few taxis offered us a ride along the way).  We'll share our eventual destination in a future post.  Stay tuned!
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We were glad to finally get to this sign and see exactly where we were!
 
We've been having some very blustery East to Northeast winds lately, bringing massive quantities of sea grass, seaweed, and with it, plastic trash, up to the beach.  The beach in front of our condo is wedged between two sea walls, so the seaweed collects and can't escape.  Other owners here have told us that the weather conditions in January support this build-up more than in other months.  In the very shallow waters along the coastline, the organic material then starts decomposing and smelling mighty rank -- or, as Paisley thinks, mighty sweet. There's the occasional dead fish or discarded fish head mixed into the muck, adding to the fragrance that makes it irresistible to a dog.  She is drawn to it like a magnet, much to our displeasure.

The maintenance guys here have done their best in raking up what they can get to, and we have picked up several garbage bags of plastic trash ourselves, but it's hard to make a dent in such a large load; and more floats in every day.  Finally, the Grand Caribe staff brought out the heavy artillery to assist in the never-ending clean-up -- the front-end loader.  
A lot of the sea weed is floating in the shallow water rather than washed up on the beach, so when the tractor ventured in to try to retrieve more of the flotsam, a slight problem occurred.
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Stuck in the muck!
Now it was time to bring out the backhoe to pull the tractor out!
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Success!
After the rescue, the front-end loader took off, so there is still quite a bit of sea grass and seaweed down at the end of the beach he didn't get to clean up.  We will have to keep Paisley away from that.

On a different subject, here's a photo of a Lineated Woodpecker Barry snapped this morning.  Such a beautiful bird!  
 
Today we started on something we'd been wanting to do since before we moved to Ambergris Caye -- beach cleanup.  There have been some excellent organized efforts at trash cleanup here in the past with large teams of people, but we missed the last beach cleanup and didn't want to wait around for the next one.  Plenty of trash builds up between organized cleanups, so there is almost always work to be done.

For a variety of reasons, lots of (mostly) plastic trash washes up on the otherwise lovely beaches here.  I suspect some of it is dumped way out at sea by cruise ships and floats in, some is trash from neighboring countries that due to sea currents washes up here, and some is certainly dropped by people walking or riding bicycles on the beach, a very common form of transportation here on the island.  

There is no recycling on Ambergris Caye yet, unfortunately, and not nearly enough trash bins once you get outside San Pedro Town itself.  On a positive note, since glass beer and soda bottles are for-deposit, those DO get returned and do not end up on the beach, at least not for long.  There are plenty of enterprising locals who pick them up quickly to turn in for cash when they do get discarded.  So at least the trash that washes up on the beach is mostly lightweight and easy to haul away.

The beaches in front of resorts and condominium projects along the sea are raked clean of sea grass and have trash picked up daily by workers, but beaches in front of undeveloped properties are not cared for, and as a result, trash accumulates.  There are several stretches of beach just north of Chico Caribe that we see every time we ride our bikes or run north, and it makes us sad to see all the trash marring their beauty, so we decided to start working on them.  Once we make one pass through all three stretches, it will be much easier to keep trash picked up in the future.
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Hazile keeps our beach in tip-top shape here at Chico Caribe
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Here's the beach he cleans up and rakes nearly every day
Today we started on the furthest north and longest stretch of beach we plan to make part of our informal "adopt-a-beach" project.  You can see from the "before" photos some of the plastic trash mixed into the sea grass before we began.  And there are a lot of smaller bits you can't see in the photo.
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The stretch of beach we worked on today -- before the cleanup
It didn't take long to pick up the plastic on most of this rather long stretch, and it looked much better when we were finished.  In fact, we ran out of trash bags before we ran out of trash, and had to leave a small area at the south end of the beach unfinished, but we'll get back to it another day.  It doesn't take much bending over these days to get my fifty year-old back to barking, so this activity is best done in short bursts.
And the "after" shot:
Fortunately, a small effort can make a big difference, especially in a country like Belize, which has many fewer people and resources to go around than the United States.  We are so happy to be here and perhaps to help make the place we've fallen in love with just a little bit better than when we found it.
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This stretch of beach could use adopting too. It's just north of the White Sands Dive Shop and Journey's End.