For the past 6 years or so, I have been traveling to Tulum, Mexico, what used to be the Yucatan’s best kept secret that is now on the radar as one of the best places to vacation. Most of my time is spent right smack dab in the middle of the Mayan Jungle in an area called Aldea Zama. This area is Mexico’s version of a planned community where literally, Mayan construction workers “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Aldea Zama is located 15 minutes by rickety bike from some of the most beautiful beaches along the Caribbean Sea (no, not the Gulf of Mexico, which, by nautical maps ends just at Cancun) and also 10-15 minutes by the same rickety bike from the pueblo or “city of” Tulum proper.
When I say “SMACK DAB IN THE MIDDLE OF THE JUNGLE” … I mean it.
Thick, lush underbrush, trees, and foliage of various kinds line the topography from pueblo to beachfront. And in its density lives indigenous spider monkeys, agouti, yellow bellied flycatcher birds who sing loudly all day long, iguanas the size of small dogs, butterflies galore, the vibrant feathered, long tailed quetzal bird, beetles, bats and more!
I love all things about this tropical world … the coastal cuisine, the amazing climate, the beautiful fruits, flowers and foliage, the Mayan people and their heritage. I understand that I don’t really “belong” here — with my blonde hair, blue eyes, lighter skin tone and primarily my lack of Spanish communication skills. (I’m working on that one!!)
But there is ONE PLACE in Tulum I feel completely at home.
Most of you know I am a gym rat. I love the gym. I don’t trade time in the gym for outdoor activity. If anything, I combine the two. If I were to have to choose … I naturally default to time in the gym as my first choice. I love the gym vibe, the square footage filled with equipment, the motivation, the potential just waiting to happen, and yes, even the smell. I am at home in the gym.
I am unapologetically a GYM RAT.
Proud of it.
Wouldn’t have it any other way.
My little rat self feeds off of the energy that feels like sparks of electricity in the gym. I slink from machine to machine, gobbling up all the yummy goodness those machines can offer me in the way of a challenge. One can often spot me hunkered down in a corner surrounded by various pieces of equipment doing some sort of crazy “Cirque de Soleil” movement pattern hoping not to attract too much attention. (Hence, the corner).
I love it. I breathe it in and it is oxygen to my soul. (One must ask if perhaps I am a bit melodramatic to which I answer YES and ALWAYS).
My gym rat mind was blown to smithereens when I heard there was a – no kidding – JUNGLE GYM … in Tulum. A gym that looks to be owned by Fred Flintstone, himself, and that sits …
As if Tulum weren’t paradise enough.
I may not be able to speak fluent Spanish, but THIS — THIS speaks my gym rat language!!
My former client and friend, Beth, and I decide to take the somewhat treacherous bike ride along the pitted “paved” road down to the beach from Aldea Zama to check out this famous Flintstone gym. Always up for a challenge and an adventure, the two of us feel like kids going to a candy store. We wake early in the morning, retrieve our bikes that include a lovely basket and bell on the handlebars and make our way with hopes to meet Fred and Wilma, straight up.
Hot and sweaty already … just from the rigorous ride and the morning sun rising with each pedal stroke, we park the bikes, chaining them to two palm trees in a shady spot of sand. “Is this for real right now?” I just can’t believe it — any of it. That we are here in one of my favorite places on earth, biking for transportation, and walking the sandy path to a gym where Bam Bam with his dinosaur bone club could suddenly materialize. My melodramatic rat brain is going full throttle and I can barely contain myself.
We walk about a football field’s distance along the beach to get to the entrance. There are a few people dressed in gym apparel walking ahead of us and I’m sure their hearts MUST be beating as fast as mine. I try to settle myself down but the excitement feels as if it will bubble over at any minute.
How can I feel like I’m coming home to a place I’ve never been ?
We arrive just as the “doors” (there are no real doors) are opening for the day. I spot some swag that I will most certainly purchase before we leave. Cost means nothing at this point.
It is all I expect … and then some! To be honest, I was hoping not to set my expectations too high because
- This gym is located outdoors in a humid, salty climate.
- It’s name is JUNGLE gym. That must mean it’s equipment is rigged and could be unsafe.
- If things are made of wood, will I get splinters?
- Could it be a “real” gym if it is located on the beach?
I have known for quite some time that there is no real need for the sleek, fancy, resort-like gyms. Lifting is lifting. 50 pounds of concrete and 50 pounds of dumbbells weigh the exact same. The lifting of that 50 pounds is what counts! I have a studio space … completely outfitted out of my home. In some aspects, though it is very professional, it is RAW. I have created cable lines, have attached anchors to walls and strung pulleys from one anchor to the next. I have creatively thought out my space and love its freestyle approach — its appeal to those who get kicks out of lifting heavy things and putting down heavy things. I don’t need big fancy machines to get that kind of raw work accomplished. I don’t need a resort gym, filled with resort stuff. I and my clients are at the gym to DO THE HEAVY LIFTING. That’s it.
Every aspect of this neanderthal-age gym is thoughtfully and creatively designed. Rocks and stones are its weight room tools. Dumbbells are made of large pieces of wood. Ropes are the pulleys with net baskets holding rocks as its added weight. Wooden benches sit in the sand. Large mirrors framed in beautiful wood casings line one wall. The ocean breeze is constant in the gym’s open air concept. A thatch roof and bamboo sticks encase the joint, yet somehow no one feels hemmed in at all.
Beth and I truly feel like wide eyed children looking at all the goodies on the shelf inside a grand candy store. We stand bemused at first, pinching ourselves. Is this for real?
We spend an hour — lifting weights to our utter delight, covering all 5 muscle groups of the upper body. We finish with some squats and deadlifts mainly because we want to try out the Flintstone barbells.
We finish with that swag purchase — ballcaps and tank tops — and begin our trek in the sand back to the rickety bikes and the anticipation of the slightly sketchy ride back to Aldea Zama.
It was fun. It was real.
It was REAL FUN!
Tulum Jungle Gym … I applaud you and look forward to NEXT TIME and will also be waiting with baited breath for the opening of your new facility in the pueblo.
Until next time and from one gym rat to another I say,