While drifting around the Yucatan it occurred to a girl called Jade from Essex, who I had met at a hostel in Tulum, and myself that we should give couch surfing a go. To be precise I believe the idea occurred to us while hanging upside down twisted in ariel silks suspended from palm trees above soft white sand at Poc Na Hostel on Isla de Mujeres.
From our hammocks, while sipping cocktails, we trawled through potential couches. We heard back from a 32 year old man called Gerard who lived in Akumal. Akumal is a beach village between Playa del Carmen and Tulum that is well known for the quantity of turtles that you can see there. Gerard was born in Monterey, had 21 positive feedbacks and had lived in Crimea when the war broke out. So on a Saturday afternoon at the end of May Jade and I hopped on a boat off of Isla de Mujeres and made our way down to Akumal.
We were kicked out of the collectivo on the side of a motorway next to a rusting pedestrian bridge. We stumbled up the slip road to a crumbling little town. The beach in Akumal is beautiful, modern and touristy. Across the road in the dirty main town everyone stared at us and giggled. We asked directions to Gerard’s house and discovered it was 4 kilometres away. We found ourselves a pizza café that had no pizza and logged onto their wifi.
After 2 hours of talking to the owner, a jolly Mexican man who showed us videos of free diving, we heard from Gerard. He had got the days mixed up and was, ironically, in Isla de Mujeres selling mezcal to a pub . He said he’d be back later and in the mean time we were told to head to the beach where his housemate, Alex, was waiting for us in a restaurant.
We lurked outside the al fresco restaurant wondering who Alex was. After a few minutes a dark haired man in his late twenties wandered over and greeted us. We sat in the restaurant with Alex and his friend Jose who had food on the way. The boys chattered in Spanish as we awkwardly scanned the menu. We were starving, but the prices were obscene. The waiter cottoned on to what we were thinking and thought we were hilarious – “of course”, he laughed, the boys would pay. We would learn over the following weeks that in Mexico, despite most protestation, the boys always pay.
We skipped over the sea food and ordered some burgers, because we didn’t truly believe we wouldn’t be footing the bill. We were quizzed by Alex and Jose. The two men hadn’t heard of couch surfing before and the found the whole concept alien and ridiculous. They couldn’t believe that we would stay at the houses of complete strangers. As a Mexican man would tell us a few weeks later, Europeans seem to be able to forge friendships in minutes, in Mexico friendships take far longer. The Mexican man would tell us that when in Mexico you must beware as you just don’t know who you might meet.
After a gorgeous burger and fresh lemonade, the boys insisted on paying a bill which seemed to have missed off all the food and half the drinks. We learnt that Mexican prices and tourist prices are two very different things.
Clutching onto a crate of beer, we sped to our new home in Alex’s pickup truck. The truck turned off the highway in the middle of nowhere. We drove up a dirt track through dense jungle and were told to watch out for jaguars. Jade and I exchanged wide-eyed glances as we turned off the dirt track through some big wooden gate. I turned to Jade, what have we got ourselves into?
to be continued…