10 weeks in Tulum, then a quick U.S. trip

After more than 10 weeks in Tulum, a death in the family brought me home to the U.S. That’s hardly enough time away to be in culture shock upon a return. However, a few realities were especially stark to me during my visit. I was in the Washington, D.C. area for about four days.

Some observations that made me feel some emotions:

The Rush

Everyone is in a rush. Or a race. People running while loaded down with baggage. Women teetering on heels while attempting to run. People texting and checking email while driving – I saw this in nearly every single car I looked into. (Although, Mexicans text and drive, too.) Their expressions said they were determined and driven to get wherever they had to get. And many people were rude. Just plain rude. Bumping into my backpack – jostling me. People cutting in lines, and cutting each other off in heavy traffic. No apologies uttered, no regretful hand waves. It’s as if these rushed people wore invisible leashes and whatever or whomever was pulling the other end had them hypnotized to meet their goal of ‘making it’.

I felt disconnected from The Rush.

Tap Water & Sanitary Plumbing

Tap water you could drink, if needed. What a treat! Plumbing that accepts toilet paper instead of putting it into a trash can. What luxury! Water and sanitation are gifts. It’s one thing to visit a foreign country with less sanitation than the U.S. – and it’s another to live in a foreign country for more than a week or two at a time while on vacation.

I felt grateful for those luxuries, which I took for granted while growing up as an American.

Trash Collection

Most places around D.C. are highly manicured. No litter in the suburban and rural neighborhoods I saw. Even American inner-cities like Detroit and Cleveland still have regular trash service. Generally, garbage does not lay around for days and days on end baking in the sun, like in Mexico, with trash pickup on an irregular schedule. In the U.S., there are no overflowing trash cans with street dogs ripping into their contents to feed their grumbling bellies, as is the case here in Tulum. Trash service is another luxury I used to take for granted.

FullSizeRender(143)I felt sad for the neighbors as I walked up the street on my return to Tulum.

The Cars

My family got stuck in Beltway traffic. Without oil, gas and automotive industries, the American economy would collapse. This isn’t a new belief I hold, but this stark reality came crashing at me as I saw several never-ending lanes of cars. I haven’t had a car in three months. The average working American couldn’t survive without a car, and most families have at least two. Cars are a huge expense. What I used to pay for a car each month can cover my rent and food expenses in Tulum. Not even kidding. Not to mention the more important issue – the price the planet pays for too many cars.

I felt confident in my decision to go car-free, following initial doubts over public transportation. (This will be a separate blog post someday.)

Starbucks Acid

The regular brewed coffee I had on a layover in Houston was bitter (dad was right), overpriced and unpleasantly acid-forming. It really was not that enjoyable after I’ve been on a very different diet in the tropics. I did drink all of a grande medium brew that one time – with lots of milk and sweetener.

I felt like having an espresso and water instead at an Italian-run cafe.


I actually smiled getting off the colectivo from Playa del Carmen, and I giggled walking down my street with the dogs and the trash. I could also see the sun and the sky and hear music and smell tortillas. Those are just as much a part of the scene. In a word, I felt – good.

Even though I’ve been in Tulum for only two-and-a-half months, I have not worked in an office environment since March. In a way, I’ve been half-way disconnected since then. This may be why these observations were so stark to me – and how I can feel truly disconnected in such a short amount of time.

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