I’m sitting in the shade gazing at the beautiful ruins of Tulum and trying to discourage a hungry iguana from eating my mango.These not-so-small critters are everywhere in Tulum!
In the distance a group of women start singing and laughing in Spanish. I smile at my friend Bowie. We just met yesterday while staying at the same hostel in Merida and decided to travel together. (This is one of my favorite parts of traveling, finding random people to travel with who become fast friends). She is from Hong Kong but her enthusiasm and love of the Mayan culture is contagious. “I want to go over there,” she says and points to the singing women. We gather our belongings and meander over, standing outside of their circle as they finish another song. Bowie tells them in Spanish that she has really enjoyed their singing and they perform an encore just for us. “Now it’s your turn!” they insist.
My friend Bowie watching two girls play “patty-cake” at the ruins.
I watch with a big grin on my face as my friend begins singing quietly in Cantonese. The crowd listens respectfully and all applaud when she’s done. Hugs are exchanged, photos are taken, and I am grateful to be witness to such a happy occasion. These are the moments I live for when I am traveling – cultural exchange in its purest form. The warmth and openness I feel now among these women makes all of the weariness and effort of travel worth every second. Stereotypes, labels, and borders all disappear in an instant of spontaneous fun.
My friend Bowie and I soaking up some sun in Tulum!
My world is shrinking and expanding in a flurry of moments like this. Each person I meet, each place I see gives me a broader understanding of the universe and a wider perspective of my place in it. I am constantly reminded of how small I am, of how little I know, how much I have yet to learn and do and see.
Staring at ancient ruins always puts me in my place.
We walk away from the group of women and continue taking in the breathtaking scenery of Tulum. “These are very happy ruins!” my friend comments. I couldn’t agree more. What an amazing place to be reminded of how connected we are to each other. I am grateful for the transformative power of song, for the ability of a smile to cross every language barrier, and for the reminder that we are not so different or unique that we cannot share and laugh and love as one. Happy ruins indeed.
Have you experienced an unexpected moment of cultural exchange similar to this one? What’s surprised you the most or given you the most perspective when meeting someone from another culture?