Sometimes Life Pays You Back Ten-Fold

I believe that places are made up of people, which is why I am also turned off by lists of how-many-countries-I’ve-visited. I don’t believe in places alone -  I believe in people. I believe that places should be experienced through people and the people - locals who know their places by heart, they are the ones we should allow ourselves to experience with and learn from.

On my way to Las Coloradas, the pink lake in Yucatán, México, I arrived in the small town of Tizimín, north of Valladolíd, México around 7.00pm – it was dark, the air was heavy and sticky and I was hungry and tired...

I didn’t have a place to sleep that night, so I asked the taxi driver to take me to a cheap hotel or "posada".

We drove for what felt like too long in such a small town, I remember thinking where the heck are we going...just as I was thinking this, he stopped the car and dropped me off at a place called ‘La Quinta Hotel’, in the outskirts of the small town.

It was a horrible "hotel", not recommendable. They didn’t have any of the cheapest rooms made up, so the boy told me I could stay in a 300$ MXN room for 250$MXN, I said ok, thank you - the room didn’t seem much of an upgrade, but whatever it was just for one night, I’ve done worse.

I took a taxi back into town to get cash and to have dinner and look around. I was so happy to get out of Isla Holbox, although picturesque and chill, it is such a tourist place filled with people like myself I really questioned what I was actually doing there, so arriving in Tizimín and being “on my own” so to speak, in the sense that I didn’t see any people like myself, foreigners, made me happy for some reason.

After taking out cash, I decided to buy popcorn and sit in the park and look at people - embrace the moment, just like I did so many times in Cuba in various little parks, this little place reminded me of my travels in Cuba, where kids were playing in the streets, men, women, grandmothers and hardworking locals selling all kinds of stuff everywhere, I loved it, it made me feel alive.

I spotted the van from afar, it was full of stickers from all these South- and Latin American countries, WOW, what is this? - I walked over to talk to the people standing there selling bracelets and jewlery and I started talking to Javier, he told me that he and his girlfriend Melissa had traveled all the way from Argentina in their combi van for the past two years, hence the many stickers. They called themselves Soñé Que Viajaba - I dreamt that I was traveling - awesome name, I thought.

Soñé Que Viajaba, check out their instagram  @sonequeviajaba  for updates on their amazing travels.

Soñé Que Viajaba, check out their instagram @sonequeviajaba for updates on their amazing travels.

I told Javier about my plans to go to Las Coloradas to see the pink lake and that I was planning to take the bus the next day at 6.30 am, as it was the only early bus that would go all the way to Las Coloradas. Then Javier told me that they had just spent the day with Vanessa, a local woman living in Las Coloradas, which is actually a small village, with her husband and two sons. He said that I could get her whatsapp number and write her, perhaps I could stay with her and she could show me around...?

Hola Vanessa, soy Ulla, puedo venir a tu casa en Las Coloradas mañana? Hi Vanessa, this is Ulla, can I come stay at your house tomorrow?

She replied: Sure, I will wait for you tomorrow, I have the red scooter.


I went to bed that night, happy, excited and I didn't mind the smell, nor the mosquitoes.

I was starting to feel a bit annoyed by their constant infatuation with each others ears...after 1,5 hours of sitting next to a young couple, cuddling and kissing, like only newlyweds do, I was thrilled to pass the bridge with the sign ‘Las Coloradas’.

As soon as I got off the bus, I spotted the red scooter, well it wasn’t really a scooter, but more like a mini scooter-van, the body had been cut off from its head and placed to the left in a steel frame and the body was replaced by a red plastic chair, one of those garden chairs.

I threw down my luggage and said: Hola, Vanessa? Soy Ulla, mucho gusto! Hi Vanessa, I'm Ulla, nice to meet you!

She drove me 10 meters to her house, I thought, lol - why didn’t she just come walking, but ok whatever…she told me: Bienvenida, Welcome and opened the door to a room, that had no bed, but there was a hammock, great I thought, I had just uttered my sincere thoughts about probably never being able to sleep in a hammock, so I took it as a sign of fate, better try later than never.

The famous red scooter

The famous red scooter

Vanessa was waiting outside on her red scooter with Carlos her husband, they were ready to leave, Vamos? I said: Where - oh yes, to the pink lake!  Almost forgetting why I came. It was past noon and of course we needed to go now, Javier and Melissa had told me that the best time to take pictures of the lake was around noon, as the sun would be high on the sky and the clouds would reflect in the water.

It’s really pink!

It’s really pink!

The lake was literally down the road, another 10, ok maybe 50 meters down the sand road and there was a wide open space and a lake – I could sense a hint of pink hues, but I clearly remember thinking, oh I don’t really see any pink lake, maybe it’s not really that pink after all, but as we got closer and Vanessa and Carlos took me to the edge of the lake, I could see it up close and get a real sense of its true color and I tell ‘’s pink all right! Very pink indeed. I was not disappointed.

This little lake is so beautiful and for a self-proclaimed pink lover, like myself, this is the most beautiful (and peculiar) view ever!

Las Coloradas, Yucatan.

Las Coloradas, Yucatan.

I remember Vanessa asking me, before leaving the house, if I had water? I said yeah, thinking, that’s nice of her to ask…but standing there by the pink lake, I instantly knew why, I was thirsty, damn thirsty and my lips were salty. I decided to touch the salt, which looked and felt more like a slush ice or piece of ice, only it was pure salt. I had to wash my hands, careful not to stain my clothes  and when I decided to get in the water, not all in, but just dip my feet, I could feel the itch and the burn instantly.

Have to touch that pink water!

Have to touch that pink water!

Vanessa told me that they had actually started prohibiting people from “swimming” or getting in the water after watching this video from Expert Vagabond from Las Coloradas, Mexico (I recommend that you watch it to get a good sense of the area, as he has a drone!) The video shows him and his girlfriend anna.everywhere swimming in the pink water. I remember watching that exact video thinking wow, that's so cool, would love to try it, but as I was standing there at the lake, I though, JESUS how the heck did they swim around in the water like that, it is so salty and thick and stingy, one toe dip and it almost feels like the lake is sucking you in, and the sting, oh my GOD, you guys, I have no idea how you did it! :)

After the lakes, Vanessa said, let’s go look at the flamingoes and they drove me about 15-20 mins East, towards El Cuyo to find the best spot for watching flamingoes, the landscape was so beautiful.

Salt lagoons in Las Coloradas, Mexico

Salt lagoons in Las Coloradas, Mexico

We couldn’t get close enough to watch the flamingoes upclose, but I could see them from afar. I read somewhere that flamingoes eat 12 hours a day and that you have to be careful not to scare them, otherwise they might break their neck, I actually saw one dead flamingo close to the pink lake, I wonder what happened...

Pink flamingoes in Las Coloradas

Pink flamingoes in Las Coloradas

Vamos a la Laguna? La Laguna? I said? Yes Vanessa said, the only lagoon I had been to was Laguna de Bacalar, a 60 km wide lagoon with fresh water in Quintana Roo, South of Tulúm, so I couldn’t exactly imagine a lagoon here in these dry salt lands, but there it was, the water was so salty that I could float in the water. The ground was kinda muddy though, just like in Bacalar, I’m not a big fan of that, so I didn’t stay in long, Vanessa looked at me and laughed, she said, mejor la playa? Better go to the beach? I nodded, she could tell from my face!

It’s amazing how quickly you can connect with a complete stranger

I had only met this woman, Vanessa a few hours ago and it already felt like we had known each other for years.

She said let's go get a Mayan bath instead on the beach? Ehm..a what?

The traditional Mayan Bath

The traditional Mayan Bath

Apparently this is mud from the bottom of the salt lagoons, the Maya people use this to clean their skin and open their pores, you apply it all over your body (if you like) let it dry and then jump in the water and your skin will be smooth as a baby's butt. Trust me, it's worth the try!

The beach in Las Coloradas is probably one of the most virgin, natural, beautiful beaches I have ever seen, and the best thing, there was not a single person in sight, well, except for Vanessa and Carlos, I kept asking, pero porque no hay nadie aquí? How come there is nobody here? Vanessa said, más tarde vienen, they’re coming later. I thought to myself, I can’t believe this, there is nobody here, this beach just continues and continues this is so incredible.

Mother nature in her own true beauty and splendor indeed!

Playa Las Coloradas

Playa Las Coloradas

Vanessa said: Vamos a comer pescado? Let’s go eat fish? She had mentioned pescado fresco, fresh fish when I first got off the bus and so did Melissa, the Argetinian girl, so I thought, yeah of course, but where? It turned out that Carlos, Vanessa's husband, had gone fishing just the day before and had caught 33 fish, so when we came home, Vanessa chopped up some onions, tomatoes and cilantro, squeezed some lemons and served it with freshly fried fish, eyes, head and all, it was beyond delicious!!!

Fresh fish of some unknown kind.

Fresh fish of some unknown kind.

Later that afternoon, Vanessa told me, vamos, I said where? She said, vamos a ver el atardecer? The sunset? I said? Yes let’s go, but it’s only 4.30 pm I thought, but ok, vamos. In Quintana Roo, the sun sets around 6.45, so I though 4.30 was kind of early, but apparently in Yucatan and Las Coloradas they’re one hour behind and I hadn’t even noticed.

Again, we went on the red scooter and ventured out into the salty afternoon breeze, we came to a spot perched above a small hill were the birds come to eat and sing like crazy, the best spot to watch the sunset, it’s just a bit further out than the salt factory, but you have to drive on the other road, not the concrete road, but the sand road, that way you can watch the sun set into the lakes, with the birds singing and the last rays of sunshine hitting your face.

Amazing sunset views in Las Coloradas

Amazing sunset views in Las Coloradas

As soon as the sun went down, Vanessa and Carlos took me back to the lake and the photogenic spot by the pink lake or the part of the lake that’s accessible.

Here we watched the MOST AMAZING SUNSET I have ever watched in my entire life, the sky soaked in all kinds of shades of pink, red, orange, yellow and blue and the lake likewise – again it is mother nature in her full splendor!

Pink and very golden sunset in Las Coloradas

Pink and very golden sunset in Las Coloradas

After that, we came home, we were all quiet, silent as if we had to soak in the beauty we had all just witnessed or perhaps just tired from the day of experiencing beauty in various hues and shades.

I came back home, to my “new home” for the night, happy, full, content - full of excitement, impressions, full of happiness of seeing and experiencing such true beauty through the eyes of local people, who clearly love their home more than anything and I admired their passion, their simple lifestyle and hospitality.

Vanessa and Carlos left the scooter to their son, it was actually his scooter as he is handicapped and can not walk well, so he uses this custom made scooter as his legs, I was so grateful for borrowing his legs for the day.

We sat outside in the street, front door open, enjoying the evening breeze, it was dark, the dogs and the kids were playing next to us and we had pan dulce for dinner, which was basically the sweet bread stuffed with cream and dulche de leche from the convenience store, I offered to pay, but Vanessa rejected. I savoured every bite, thankful for this day and for getting to know these wonderful people.

Vanessa told me, ya está, tu hamáca está lista….there you go, you hammock is ready. She taught me how to sleep in the hammock.  I said to her: Vale bien, pero quiero saber una cosa, I want to know one thing, she looked at me awating my next sentence: Como se hace el amor en la hamáca? How do you make love in a hammock?

She burst out laughing and then went to tell her husband and sons about my silly question…I think it made her smile.

I went to sleep in my hamáca, closed my eyes and fell asleep instantly, rocked to sleep like a baby, grateful for this day and for not planning, for not worrying too much about when, how and just surrendering to the unknown and living the moment. I uttered, thank you Vanessa and Carlos for an unforgettable 12 hours so far in Las Coloradas, I couldn’t be happier.

Woke up later that night around 2.30am, not because I couldn’t sleep in the hammock, but because the local dogs outside decided to have a botellon - a street party or discussion, but they kept me awake from 2.30am untill 5am when Vanessa woke me up, vamos a ver el amanecer, ya es tarde. Let’s go watch the sunrise, it’s already late…

As soon as I stepped outside, I saw the sun rising above the palm trees all lined up neatly along the only main village street and I remember thinking, wow, the sun does not wait for you to to get out of bed, too bad I didn’t get up earlier – luckily the sun rises again tomorrow - I won't miss it then!

I guess, the sun does not wait for you to get out of bed and neither does life - we're lucky because the sun always rises again - but one day we will wake up and we can't get out of bed, so I think we better not miss this opportunity today - whaterver it may be!

A bit of pocket philosophy in the early hours writing this...

We jumped on the scooter and headed towards the lagoon, East, to see the sunrise and it was FREEEZING cold, I remember thinking the exact same survival mode thoughts as I did in Bacalar when I went on a morning sunrise SUP (stand up paddle) tour and in Cuba when I went on a sunrise hike in Los Aquaticos – this is so true, in all aspects of life - all the prettiest things in this world includes some kind of suffering – and it is usually worth the pain and I was right - once again - it was worth it.

Sunrise in Playa Las Coloradas

Sunrise in Playa Las Coloradas

I thought to myself, there you go Ulla, there is the reason why this place is called Las Coloradas, because it is not just pink out there, it is 100 shades of pink, orange, blue, turquoise, red, yellow, green, grey and white, believe it or not!

Unforgettable Las Coloradas!

Finally, when we came back to the village, Vanessa, looked at me and said, vamos a desayunar? Let's go for breakfast? Her cousin runs a small breakfast business, where they sell empanadas and panuchos, so she took me to try out the freshly made panucho later that day and after that I went for a nap in my hammock, peaceful, full stomach, grateful and happy as a baby.

Panucho for breakfast

Panucho for breakfast

Sometimes, when we don't expect anything from people nor places and just embrace the moment, life pays us back ten-fold - and that goes for all aspects of life.

Had I played the safe card, I would have probably ended up going to Río Lagartos, the nearest town 12 kms away towards Tizimín, because it was the only place where I could find accommodation online and then I would have probably booked an expensive tour to Las Coloradas, I wouldn’t have stayed in Vanessa and Carlos’s house, I wouldn’t have seen the sunset nor the sunrise, I wouldn’t have eaten fresh fish nor homemade panuchos and I wouldn’t have tried sleeping in a hammock nor made new friends and precious memories for life!

Las Colorados, is a picturesque pink lake to most people, but it is also a place filed with immense natural beauty and genuine hospitality and curiosity from its people, locals - individuals with hearts, hopes, dreams and passions - the purest form of entrepreneurial spirit  you will ever see.

This was so incredibly amazing and exactly the kind of local experience that I am always advocating. I came from Isla Holbox, which was so touristed and crowded with people like myself, I didn't even care to mingle with the locals, here I am sleeping in a Mayan hammock eating their amazing fried fish, learning about their lives and witnessing their happiness and simple living. These people are so freaking happy, they reminded me of Cuba, places like Viñales and Trinidad and Remedios. Places that I absolutely loved!

The thing is, when places become oversaturated with things to do and tourist tours and such, the ever growing capitalist machine kicks in and people figure out how to make money, so the real motivation is lost, the real desire to show off your place and your daily life and your life is lost and that is so sad, which is why I am  - and always will advocate local experiential travels.

I didn't FEEL anything inside when going on a three island boat trip with people like myself at Isla Holbox, I mean it was pretty and all, but it was mostly small talk, like where are you from, where are you going next, can you take my picture, thanks, enjoy your holiday kinda conversation, then goodbye, see ya never.

I especially dislike those typical tourist trips, a good example being going to see Maya Beach in Koh Phi Phi, (I know that's a bad example) Or going on a red sightseeing bus my point is, when I travel, I want to be moved that is essentially why I travel, I want to be able to write home and tell my friends and family about these amazing people that I've met and how they live and their secret places.

I believe that places are made up of people, which is why I am also turned off by lists of how-many-countries-I've-visited. I don't believe in places alone - I believe in people. I believe that places should be experienced through people and the people - locals who know their places by heart, they are the ones we should allow ourselves to experience with and learn from.

That being said, I urge you to try and venture beyond places and to seek out local experiences with locals and LEARN from these individuals - truly experience and not just observe.