To the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, on the Caribbean Sea. Builders’ trucks rumble along the roads leading to the dirt strip that serves as the main thoroughfare from Tankah Bay in Tulum down to the Chunyaxché Lagoon, its mangroves full of rare orchids. Jeovany, a 36-year-old security guard, listens in his shed to Radio Turquesa, broadcasting out of Cancún. Ads for the lottery, and Edith Márquez singing about infidelity. He tells me that Turquesa’s news bulletins are the only ones worth listening to. “We are losing the jungle here,” he shrugs, “but we need the jobs. Local people don’t like it, but the local government agreed it.”
Depending on who you ask, Tulum is either an eco-heaven for the vegan wives of NYC hedge-funders (one of the spas is run by Jim Morrison’s old shaman) or in the middle of (as the Mexican human rights activist Lydia Cacho put it recently) “a war between corrupt local politicians and local people”. A large area of land here is being developed into condos for American retirees, and Radio Turquesa was one of the few stations to mention, at least, the forced eviction last year of local people from their jungle homes using armed guards with no written authority. Not that the station is questing, exactly, as happy to discuss land rights as it is “la persecución de un cocodrilo a un antílope” in a stretch of mangrove – camcorderishly delighted that the antelope survived the confrontation.
Ninety per cent of homes and hotels along the beach don’t even have mains electricity: everything is run from generators, the internet heat-wavishly slow, the radios mostly battery operated. No car will pass without one blaring, no shop or home isn’t listening to something – Pirata FM, XHCBJ, Radio Chan. But mostly Turquesa, especially as the afternoon begins to deepen. The music of Julio Iglesias and Alejandro Sanz. Then a 3pm snack from a stall selling nothing but a range of condoms called Prudence and boxes of the sunset-fleshed pantin fruit. Jeovany the security guard, near-comatose after a four-track stretch of Banda Los Recoditos singing about clingy wives and drunk-passionate girlfriends, has one piece of advice as I get up to leave: “Be careful of the scorpions.”
This article appears in the 14 Jun 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Britain on the brink