Saturday, January 16, 2010

Balancing Preservation and Progress – What the story of Tulum, Mexico should have the North Country asking.

Happy 2010 to everyone! My husband and I spent the holidays in Tulum, Mexico, on an adventure designed to slow us down, get us away from technology and provide ample space for our thoughts to wander.

Five years ago I quite literally ran into Tulum, on a vacation to the Yucatan peninsula. My traveling companion and I decided to venture south of Playa Del Carmen, where we were staying, on a dirt road riddled with potholes –- because we were thrill seekers with a rental car. After a 15-mile drive that took over an hour, we found a sleepy beach town, Tulum. At the time there were a few small hotels perched above a turquoise beach and a handful of shops selling crafts, food and wares and Mayan ruins, which you could tour during the day, and the only electricity came from generators.

This was the perfect place for a quiet holiday with my husband. For weeks prior to our departure I imagined the desolate roads and crashing waves.

During our drive south from the airport I realized a lot can happen in five years. The road beneath us hummed quietly, a sign of fresh pavement. Landscaped entrances to resort hotels lined both sides of the road, now four lanes. As we approached Tulum I noticed the hotels became less frequent, but the road kept its width, the pavement continued under our tires and power lines followed us to town.

Tulum had changed. Over the first few days of our trip so did our expectations as we adjusted to a very different holiday adventure. The development in Tulum has been received by local Mayans, resident ex-pats and visitors with mixed reviews. Some people embrace the change completely citing the tremendous economic benefit, increased connectivity and opportunity it brings. Other people we met while traveling expressed deep concern about the environmental impact of such rapid growth, the potential loss of local culture and the change in the dynamics between local residents and travelers.

In the waning days of my trip I began to think about the universal questions this experience raises about cultural and environmental preservation and sustainable economic development in face of opportunity. I could wax poetic about my opinion but that is hardly the point of this blog entry. The point and the source of my curiosity is about who is asking these questions in our regions, who would like to be asking questions and how do we ensure a healthy balance of progress and preservation.

If you are interested in learning more about Tulum check out this New York Times article, "36 Hours in Tulum, Mexico" .