Ridin' the Riviera... in Mexico
Leaving Cancun is a relief, a reminder that trees and forests still exist. And fortunately, it doesn't take long for the noise and pollution to disappear. Making my way to the village of San Juan, I'm thankful for the mountain bike: the dirt, rock, and pothole heaven would have eaten a lightweight road bike alive. And though 1987's Hurricane Gilbert had knocked out a large swath of this forest, it's coming back; the fresh smell of newly regrown trees fills my senses. The rainforest, though hardly of Amazonian standard, provides thick tree and shrub growth.
I ditch my bike and hike into San Juan's Mayan village, where 1,000 residents work and play. Talk about a difference: Unlike the kids in Cancun who shoved margarita coupons at me, the Mayans greet me with silent poses.
Mayans have inhabited this tiny village for centuries, the forest acting as home and provider, and shielding them from big-city development. It's a world set apart: The Mayans routinely deal with the "outside" world, yet they still speak their ancient tongue and rely on the nature-based traditions that bring the rain forest to life. They burn leaves, dirt, and plants to create charcoal. They cook over an open fire, harvest gum, honey, and other resources. There is a hint of capitalism here, but just a hint, in the form of a modest shack where they sell handmade trinkets and honey. Though the Mayans sell to the occasional visitor, it doesn't look like a Mayan Starbucks will be opening anytime soon.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication