One year camparigirl and I headed off to Mexico for our annual holiday. I don’t remember which one of us had chosen it, but I know that we were both thrilled. We loved the food, the music, the culture – but when we landed, were horrified by Cancun. This was before it had become Spring Break Central, but already the peninsula was dotted by high-rise hotels, places called “Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville”, and Burger King. We rented a jeep, checked out of our hotel and headed into the jungle.
And it rained, man, how it rained. Angry, deluging, vortexes of storms that threw water at us from all directions – making roads impassable and growing mould on our clothes overnight. The jeep had been put together from bits of other jeeps, so the canopy barely stretched over us, only one headlight worked and the wipers were clearly from a Mini. At one point Claudia was hanging out of the driver window, desperately trying to clear the windscreen as I peered past her – steering blind down a jungle path. It was growing dark and stopping wasn’t a safe option – the windows didn’t wind up and if we hadn’t been robbed, we would have drowned.
We would stop each night at a succession of posadas (hotels or inns … and I use those terms lightly) – trying to rent rooms. And would be accepted or refused depending on the (inevitably female) owner’s perception of us. If she felt the men of the house may be tempted by Claudia’s Italian glamour, we got a curt rebuffal. If she believed my story that we were missionaries, we got a couple of wire cots or matresses in a cinder block garage. And homemade tacos for dinner.
That jungle is impenetrable. And it does scary stuff to your body. One morning we were horrified to find our wrists and ankles had swollen to three times normal size, we could barely bend them. The guard at the local park of ruins assured us it was normal: “Humedad” he told us, humidity, would go back to “normale” in a couple of hours. By the time we got out we were exhausted and headed gladly for the beach, and a hotel with sand floors.
We had the time of our lives, and would go back and do it all over again. But the Yucatan Peninsula is a giant theme park now. Rows of super-expensive hotels have commandeered the shore line. It’s all about dressing for cocktails and $500 dollar dinners: my idea of holiday hell. I can barely stretch to a kikkoi and flip flops. But I would consider it if Jorge Pardo invited us to stay.
Pardo’s house is a sprawling series of buildings, structures, pools, and gardens built on 740 acres of land, deep in the Northern Yucatán jungle. Painstakingly rebuilt over six years, Tecoh incorporates the ruins of a 17th-century hacienda that made rope, until synthetics wiped out the global market for agave fiber and plunged the surrounding villages into decline. The project was funded by banking billionaire Roberto Hernández and his wife, Claudia Madrazo, who for some time had been buying and preserving haciendas in the Yucatán, with the goal of protecting Mayan culture.
Which, Pardo has done beautifully. Somehow the renowned artist and architect and has managed to combine Mayan culture and modern design in gorgeous style: rows of hammocks hang above a blue tiled floor. Classic mexican lamps hand in tiers under origami-like ceilings: lighting as the sun moves across the site. Pardo even brings the jungle in through open doors and windows and into the estate’s numerous water features. A terrarium at the bottom of one the swimming pools looks like a shimmering oval when you peer over it, but underwater, the swimmer can see plants growing beneath the glass.
I’m less about touring these days, and more about finding one place to stay and taking day trips from there. Tecoh is built about 40 mins from Merida, a great city. There’s plenty to do around it. And (for some bizarre reason) I love the sol et lumiere shows at Chichen-Itza and Tulum. Nothing better to kick back and watch the spectacle after a few, Jimmy Buffett-free, frozen margaritas.