This is what resort development looks like in Tulum.
I hardly can imagine less environmental impact in a resort area. A few palapa roofs peek through the jungle, that’s all.
How is this possible? How did such a desirable stretch of Caribbean coastline avoid construction of mega resorts? This abandoned power tower tells the tale. Built some 20-30 years ago, it was intended to carry high tension lines along the coastline. But although the towers were built, the lines were never strung. Local residents talk about how disagreements between the government, developers and drug kingpins caused the project to be abandoned. True or not, failure to run power down the coast has protected the area south of Tulum from the ravages of resort builders.
Residents and visitors alike learn to live with limited power. Our host at Jade, Juan, installed this wind generator to provide a small amount of electricity. He uses it to power a handful of extremely low wattage bulbs strung along pathways and inside palapas. We appreciated being able to recharge our laptop computers and cellphones. If you look closely at the first image above, you can just make out three other wind generators erected by Juan’s neighbors.
Wind and solar power often isn’t enough for a hotel. Larger places installed diesel generators in order to provide their guests with the bright lights of the city. Not as green as the alternatives, the cost of running them nevertheless severely limits the amount of power consumed by visitors. Notice how this generator is backed up with a bank of batteries, so it doesn’t have to run continuously. Note also the row of worn-out batteries on the floor to the right. They’re highly toxic and will require careful recycling.
The beach south of Tulum lacks other utilities, like water mains. Most water is trucked in using tankers. Visitors have to learn to conserve.
Sewage is handled similarly. “Honey wagons” are a common sight along the beach road, plying their unpleasant trade, pumping out holding tanks. Residents embrace green living enthusiastically. Some places compost organic refuse. Handmade signs warn motorists to avoid running over the crabs that for reasons known only to themselves, insist on scuttling across the road.
Not everyone understands how to properly protect the environment. These men are raking up (unsightly) kelp that washed up onto the beach. That wrack provides shelter and food for tiny creatures that are integral parts of the plant and animal community.
People who live here tell us their fear that someday, CFE (the electric company) will succeed in putting the South coast on the grid. They know that if this happens, developers will be right behind. Land prices will skyrocket, owners will sell out, speculators will snap up miles of beach front, and this area will become another Cancún. No matter how lightly we tread, Laura and I are damaging this fragile place. Multiply our impact by the thousands of visitors who come here, and it’s clear that this section of coast is on its way to becoming the sterile strand that we see along the pacific Ocean in Southern California—even if the power lines don’t come. Better see it while it lasts...