I’m sitting in a palapa in the village of Xache, about two hours from my home in Tulum, Mexico. I’m making corn tortillas over a wood fire in the company of two Mayan women. My efforts are unimpressive, but I persevere. My reward is their smiles and encouragement.
We have come to Xache to deliver a handmade bookcase built by my husband Thomas, a builder and master carpenter, to the local bilingual Spanish-Mayan school. Currently the school’s library is nothing but a jumble of books on a dirt-floor. With the aid of bookshelves, we hope to begin organizing the collection.
How did I get from Falls Village, Connecticut, and New York City to Xache…?
About 15 years ago, Thomas and I came to Tulum on vacation. We fell so in love with the beach, the sleepy town, and its proximity to the United States that we returned every year after. We were still years from retirement, but each time that we came back for our annual April vacation, we mused on the possibility of making Tulum our retirement home.
On one of our trips we looked at some real estate in town. One property in a small complex of duplex apartments with a community pool seemed OK—until we realized that right next to us were barking dogs, unfinished houses, and garbage… We decided against the condo but were then turned on to Los Árboles, a new “green” development in the jungle.
Thomas, a country boy at heart, jumped at the opportunity to trek through snake-laden jungle while, I, the New York City girl, recoiled in horror.
But he persuaded me to take the plunge. We walked through jungle on barely-defined roads until we reached A5, the lot we now own. It took great imagination to envision a home on the site, but, after many discussions and a fair number of arguments, we decided to commit. We bought in 2007, took possession in 2008, and started construction in 2010. We have been living in our beautiful hacienda home for the past three years.
Los Árboles is a sustainable community within a 1,500-acre virgin and old-growth jungle and wildlife preserve. It is pure, beautiful, natural, and peaceful.
Each owner can build on only 5% of their 5-acre lot, to ensure that the flora and fauna will not be disturbed. And, although we are solar and off the grid, we enjoy the modern conveniences of electronics, Internet, telephones, pools, and even dishwashers. The difference is that we are conscious of how much energy we choose to use and therefore can limit our carbon footprint.
Tulum is a magical place. Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and Latin Americans have relocated here—many of them retirees. But we are also noticing younger people coming to reinvent themselves or invest in new businesses. New restaurants and hotels are springing up monthly. Our town is in the midst of what I often think of as the gold rush… a time to explore, invest, and redefine.
Tulum has become one of the premier tourist destinations in the world, and while that can be a pain during high season, the commerce sustains our local population.
If you are planning to relocate, I suggest that you live here for a few months before taking the leap. It will give you time to take in the initial culture shock and decide if this is the place for you. I also recommend you start studying Spanish before you come. Although many people here speak English, I feel that it’s a foreigner’s responsibility to speak at least a bit of the local language. And, practically speaking, it makes getting around so much easier.
Those of us living in Los Árboles enjoy the luxury of peace and tranquility of the jungle some 12.5 kilometers from Tulum’s center. If a beach day is in order in the high season, but we find the beach road swollen with visitors, we come back to our little piece of heaven. And we are far from alone here—our forest is filled with toucans, spider monkeys, a plethora of birds, agoutis, bats, coatis, turkeys, foxes, squirrels, and yes, on occasion, even a reclusive jaguar. For nature-lovers and bird-watchers, this is the place to be.
We have a beach community, a tourist community, a jungle community, and close to my heart, a Mayan community, where I am privileged to do most of my volunteer work.
At Los Árboles we’re proud to have a charitable association committee attached to our homeowners association. A portion of our annual dues funds grants to help the local community. As president of this committee, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to impact our community through educational, environmental, health, and community programs.
Our current volunteer projects include supporting a local Save the Children center (where I volunteer teaching English), an English-language program at a local public primary school (teaching third graders and sponsoring workshops), and a year-long environmental program with the primary school of our neighboring village, Macario Gómez. We are also funding an escuelita (community center) in Macario where kids come after school to read, learn English, do arts and crafts, science projects, and study literature.
There is so much to do here every day… I wake up to the sound of the birds calling and take a nature walk among the paths in Los Árboles… have lunch at the beach… swim in one of the many cenotes… visit Mayan ruins and the nearby cities of Vallodolid and Mérida… take a yoga class or workout at the gym… take Spanish or cooking lessons… or just lie by the community pool and soak in the sunshine and magic of Tulum…