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Has Tulum sold its soul?

Tulum is attracting a new breed of visitor. Those who can’t party in Bali, Goa or Ibiza, due to travel restrictions. There is growing outrage here, says Sarah Bladen.

Throw in corruption and greed and sadly this eco-haven is disintegrating…

Tulum has a magical energy about it – that’s what everyone says when they experience it. This is partly because the Caribbean town sits on a powerful energy vortex. Mexican scientists believe that sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid hit the earth where present day Tulum is, wiping out the dinosaurs and boosting the earth’s electromagnetic field. With these potent ley lines, no wonder the Mayans created such thriving mystical communities here while Europe was stuck in the dark ages.

Fast forward thousands of years and Tulum has since attracted millions of free-spirited hippies from all over the world. It’s easy to fall in love with the lush jungle, white sandy beaches housing Mayan ruins. Tulum is no longer a sleepy utopia, but if you cycle around it, you’ll probably pass one of the inspirational signposts reading: You are your only limitBe Here Now and Follow That Dream. And thanks to its friendly vibe, you’re likely to bump into someone you know in town and catch up with them in a quirky café or a taco bar. 

But this spiritual hub – revered for its healers, full moon meditations and peyote ceremonies, has undergone serious transformation. Beneath its beautiful image, there is an alarming rate of greenwashing going on. Eco resorts are being powered by diesel generators, sewage is being dumped in the sea and human waste has been detected in the cenotes. The truth is Tulum doesn’t have an adequate infrastructure to deal with the onslaught of visitors. Throw in corruption and greed and sadly this eco-haven is disintegrating.

At the same time, Tulum is attracting a new breed of visitor. Those who can’t party in Bali, Goa or Ibiza, due to travel restrictions. Instead, they have ended up on our shores because Tulum’s party scene is going strong. This crowd are happy to spend over $150 per night to fund their thrill-seeking escapism at a secret jungle party, regardless of the impact on the environment and wellbeing of the residents.

Inevitably, as the demand for drugs rises so does cartel related violence. Last October, a man was found dead in a pool of blood in the bathroom of the popular I Scream bar off the beach road. Since then, more than a dozen shootings have happened many of which aren’t reported in the mainstream media. 

Over the last four days, there were three shootings in the tourist neighbourhood in town. Terrifyingly, a female Spanish tourist ended up with a bullet in her face. The main strip is now being referred to as La Calle de Terror. 

‘Yesterday night we were having some drinks at Ki’bok bar when we heard gun shots,’ says 29-year-old Arianna, a remote worker from San Diego. ‘People started screaming and everyone dopped to the ground. It was petrifying. Bar staff ushered everyone into a storage room near the toilets. Later we heard police sirens and once the commotion died down an hour later, we were told it was safe to leave.’

Against this backdrop of shootings, a 36-year-old Salvadorian mother-of-two, Victoria Salazar, was arrested inside an Oxxo supermarket. Video footage shows her waving around an empty water carton and according to a witness inside the store her behaviour was odd but not threatening. Even so, the police were called. They handcuffed her, pushed her to the ground until she could no longer breathe, echoing George Floyd’s fate. The autopsy showed a police officer had broken her neck.  

There is growing outrage here – people want answers and justice. The local community are deeply disturbed by this brutal murder, which also confirms that women are not safe out on the streets of Tulum. Also, it begs the question: is this tragedy merely symbolic of this beach town’s demise? Will Tulum end up like Acapulco?  

Besides saving the coral reef, we desperately need to rescue the soul of Tulum. The two are interconnected. If we destroy the environment, we are also destroying ourselves. And history has shown us that violence only begets violence and hate only produces more hate. So, while love is still the answer, how do we bridge the gap? 

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Sarah Bladen

Sarah Bladen is the former editor of OK! Middle East and the co-author of Practical Zen for Health, Wealth and Mindfulness. Sarah’s work has appeared in The Independent, CNN Travel, Women’s Health and Yoga Magazine. A meditation teacher, holistic coach and relational life therapist, Sarah is passionate about wellbeing within relationships.

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