Tulum Mexico history
A singular visual scheme defines the precariousness of Tulum: abandoned yards, old tires, trash, a few chickens or dogs running around, and the smell of excrement. Blue, red, pink, purple, violet garments hang from clotheslines in the yards lending movement and structure to these apparently disordered scenes. Most of the homes consist of one room with a couple of hammocks, a fridge, a television, and a bed for the parents. The homes are often made of cardboard and plywood, of found debris. In the mornings and in late afternoons, people walk through their neighborhood on their way to work, to supermercado Willis, or to attend service at one of the many evangelical temples. They look into each other’s yards and salute friends and family. Women cook outdoors and use their washing machines installed in the yards. As we walk around with a camera, conveying the intent to photograph, we become one more element of this visual scheme. While the photographs capture moments of the interaction between the photographer and the subjects, the open flow of our writing purposely conveys the experience of walking around town engaging people in conversation. While the text does not explain, interpret, or draw ethnographic knowledge from the photographs, the photographs do not illustrate the text. We abstain from using captions to underscore the collective memory embedded in the narratives and the force inherent to the presents captured by the photographs.1
Until the mid-1970s, Tulum was a small, quiet town. On the Caribbean side of Mexico, close to Mayan ruins, few cabanas lined its broad, white beach, and these buildings drew mainly archaeologists. Targeted for tourist expansion, Tulum has become the head of a newly founded municipality and, now with a population of 20, 000, is programmed to grow to 250, 000 in the next decade. Over the years, it has seen spurts of growth: first, eco-chic small hotels along the beach; more recently the Aldea Zama, an artificial city that will allow those inside to commune with nature. The infrastructure needed to absorb this growth remains to be built. The planned exclusive city of Aldea Zama, El Corazón de Tulum in the promotional pamphlets, already has an infrastructure laid out, which includes a street called La Quinta Avenida reserved for luxury stores. On the other side of town, the Infonabit (the government-sponsored lending system for worker’s housing) has already traced the streets out for building pigeonhole apartments. The expectation of growth is visually manifest in the large, empty parking lot outside the recently inaugurated Chedrauri, a chain of megastores known for its disregard for the ecologically fragile terrain where many of the stores have been built. Four gas stations have been added. The population growth of Quintana Roo, the state where Tulum is located, has been fueled by immigration. It is said that thousands have been seduced (when not forced by riot police or paramilitaries) into fleeing from lands that belonged to their communities, often in the form of ejidos (communal lands distributed by the state). To date, the men and women who told us their stories have never returned to their rural homes in Tabasco, Veracruz, and Chiapas. They recalled these places with love and nostalgia. Women spoke of how they cried in the dark, terrified in their solitude, when they first arrived in Tulum. Others recalled the displacement from Cancun, first to Playa del Carmen and later to Tulum—places where they could swim at endless, deserted beaches and listen to the flocks of parrots in the forest—beaches from which they are now barred. Those are the lucky ones who have avoided alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide. The index of suicide in Quintana Roo is the highest in Mexico. And yet people smiled when they talked to us.