Trip That Stirred Memories

by Lydia Linton Pontius (Feb. 2016)

We took a wonderful vacation that brought back several memories of how the Riviera Maya used to be. We flew into Barbados and boarded a sailing yacht for St. Lucia, Grenada and the Grenadines.  I immediately felt at peace and loved being surrounded by the friendliest people, dazzling vistas and pristine places. At first I thought, I have never felt this way about a place before. But when I started to recall my first trip through the Akumal arch and riding down horribly bumpy dirt roads in Tulum, seeing vistas that few had experienced, I realized I had felt this before. And it saddened me that much of that feeling is gone, replaced by tourism and all that brings.

I feel the Grenadines will be able to survive because of their location. It will be a place where, if you go by yacht, you can still find deserted beaches and beautiful coral reefs teeming with turtles. But it too is progressing. As I sat on an uninhabited, small island in Tobago Cay, I was using my phone to take some photos when, all of a sudden, emails downloaded, texts appeared and I realized I had 5 bars on my 4G! Proof, I was told, that there is a lot of money wrapped up in the yachts anchored off shore and it is also a way the people on the smaller islands can do business.

From Tobago Cay we sailed to Mayreau and at night, during our sail, I was enthralled by the stars. When you take away lights, they shine and the moon was only a smiling sliver, so they twinkled so brightly. The glow of the highway lights along 307 has diminished the effect slightly along the Riviera Maya, but years ago I remember how much brighter stars shone. I also recalled sitting in Xcalak over 10 years ago and the sky was full of twinkling stars as the space station soared over us, clear as anything. Xcalak is one of the few spots where time has stood still along the over-developing coastline. You can still see the incredible night show there.

The third island in the Grenadines that we visited was Bequia. Such a gorgeous island with the warmest people, ready to welcome you and share their stories and history with songs from their past. Here we visited an amazing man, Mr Orton King, at Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary who, as a youngster, hunted turtles and now has dedicated his life to protecting them, healing those he can and educating young people by explaining how important the survival of these turtles are to the big picture. It reminded me of the passion that some of the first volunteers and staff had in working to try to save Akumal's turtles. And I found myself thinking about the stories I had heard of Ms. Quattlebaum and how she single-handedly worked to help all the turtles she could. This gentleman is indeed her kindred spirit.

What really struck me was how clean the beaches were. I am always saddened by the amount of debris that washes up on the beaches along the Caribbean coast of Mexico. You find a private area of beach to walk and it is always littered by debris washing up from all corners of the world. We saw none of that on the shorelines and I wondered how is it that the world's garbage misses these beaches? I am sure there is an explanation but it was a sight for sore eyes.

We wandered around Grenada and a gentleman started to walk beside us, talking about the history and culture of his island with such pride. It didn't take long to realize he was indeed an enterprising gentleman who was now our tour guide, but when I asked about price he said he would leave that entirely up to our discretion. He guided us through his home city and took us to wonderful sights, introducing us to his friends and neighbors and taking us to their stalls to buy the freshest spices. His manner was what I enjoyed: the way he had a passion about his home and a joy in sharing it. The way he warmly greeted us, there was never a feeling of pressure or hustling, which are common practices in many tourist destinations nowadays.

After our days of sailing we spent four additional days in Barbados renting a very small cottage on the beach on the West Coast. Barbados is more like the current Riviera Maya—people in a hurry and the discrepancy of wealth between the haves and have-nots. Just down the road from our humble cinder-block cottage live Rhianna and Simon Cowell and sits Sandy Lane, one of the most expensive resorts in the world. And we, like hundreds of others, traveled frequently by these places in overcrowded, minibuses, many in desperate need of repair. This was a visual reminder that with tourism dollars comes a price.

Mike and I were enjoying dinner just down the beach from our place, in the small Italian restaurant Il Tiempo when, all of a sudden, the lights went out. There was a blackout along the coast, and the owners and staff were most apologetic but we just smiled and remembered a time, not all that long ago, when that was a common occurrence and part of the charm of life in our beloved Akumal and surrounding areas.

Another similarity is that there are no addresses. Instead, houses have names and if you can't find what you are looking for, you simply stop and ask the first person you find. But beware; their directions are not always as easy to decipher as they wave you in the general direction. No worries! To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination."

What I realized is when you live in or visit regularly a place, you often don't notice the changes. In S.C. we live in one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. and we know the Riviera Maya's growth rate is off the charts. That is why it is so important to travel. It helps to keep things in perspective and stir memories and feelings in a nostalgic way. Change is inevitable and memories are precious!

Lydia Linton Pontius sunset Barbados

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