“You must visit Lise and Virginia’s house in Paamul,” said several Paamulites when they learned of my interest in wildlife, especially raccoons and coatimundis. “All kinds of jungle birds and animals come to their backdoor.”
It was their house that intrigued me most. On the outside it was like all the others in this small community of 400 people, a palapa house, its roof covered with drooping thatch on all sides. Beside it, their trailer was also covered with a roof of thatch. Aswas Sue, their neighbour’s trailer. Not that you’d recognize them as trailers or caravans as RVs were called in my youth spent in one in Australia. I walked through an arched door into Sue’s home and it was as luxurious as a Victorian parlour.
Sue Urquhat who has written a history of Paalum described how the community has evolved from a coconut plantation to a seasonal campsite for divers, treasure hunters, adventurers and other snowbirds (mostly from Canada or America). Today’s mix of seasonal and permanent residents live in RVs, permanent houses, or both. They own their buildings but lease their land from a Mexican called Pepe.
It was as recently as 1981 when the first camper came to Paalum, an American dentist who parked on the beach. He told the owners of the land he would bring six more campers if there were serviced lots. The community has grown steadily since then and now boasts a lowkey hotel, an open air restaurant and a dive shop.
Its charm for me lies in its colourful houses roofed with thatch that look as if they come from the page of a children’s storybook. It wasn’t always the way.
At first, campers were only allowed to put up a shade palapa over the door side of their RV, later when one trailer roof leaked, the owner was allowed to cover the whole RV roof with thatch, then everyone wanted a full roof trailer palapa. And now the permanent houses have thatch roofs too.
I was attracted to Lise and Virginia’s thatch roofed house and trailer before I had even been invited to visit them. They were instantly welcoming.
Colourful squares of painted tiles make a rug, complete with tassels, at their front door. Stone circles painted with colourful flowers are stepping stones that lure you to their back door. And in between amid the palms and tropical plants is a welcoming wonderland of words and images to lift the spirit. “Good Vibes” “Don’t postpone joy” “Be kind” “Not all who wander are lost” and the one that sums up the girls’ exuberance – “Life is good.”
Wooden steps and branch railings led me seamlessly to exquisite and intimate balconies overlooking the jungle. No doors or windows separated us from the feeling of being one with the wilderness. Curtains were strings of coloured beads and shells. A carved owl, wings outspread, eyes piercing, hung from the ceiling. Another owl with tattered feathers that merged with the strings of a well used broom sat on the balcony railings, staring into the jungle above the blue painted barbecue. And then, a reminder of Canada, a colourful wooden moose with purple antlers stalked one of the trails through the trees.
Meanwhile, some of the living denizens of the forest scampered or slunk, flew or hopped to the house. Sleek brown agoutis with piercing eyes picking up scraps with dainty fingers. Cautious coatimundis creeping through the trees like bandits. Noisy black grackles strutting amid the agoutis like royalty. Yucultan jays superbly robed in dazzling blue.
I was ecstatic.