It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One

March 4, 2024
Today´s Paper

March 4, 2024

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One

TULUM, México – Four years ago, a groundbreaking independent documentary titled “The Dark Side of Tulum,” scripted and directed by the visionary Naomi Rey Appel, embarked on a profound exploration of Tulum, Mexico – a paradisiacal haven veiled in beauty yet tainted by the shadows of betrayal. Today, more than four years hence, the same enigmatic issues continue to plague Tulum, some even escalating, presenting an ever more pressing challenge to confront.

As we delve into the mesmerizing narrative spun by “The Dark Side of Tulum,” we are beckoned to an era when Tulum’s allure lay in the simplicity of candlelit evenings, evoking a sense of wonder and intrigue. For Naomi Rey Appel, a New York-native and documentary virtuoso, Tulum’s untamed allure proved irresistible, drawing her back to this ethereal locale time and again. Captivated by the arresting landscapes, lush jungles, and deserted beaches, Appel’s environmental conscience was kindled, intertwining her fate with that of Tulum’s fragile ecosystem.

The core premise of “The Dark Side of Tulum” stemmed from Appel’s unwavering devotion to environmentalism, sowed by her upbringing amidst nature-loving kin. Her academic pursuits in environmental studies and international journalism only served to amplify her mission – to reveal the concealed threats silently creeping upon Tulum’s natural marvels.

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
Photo: @thedarksideoftulum

With adept storytelling, the documentary unraveled the bitter truth concealed beneath Tulum’s postcard-perfect façade. The region’s increasing popularity as a tourist hotspot gave rise to rapid, unchecked development, encroaching upon pristine jungles and precious habitats. The consequences were dire, as a massive landfill leached hazardous substances into once-pristine waters and inadequate water treatment facilities struggled to cope.

Four years later, the echoes of Appel’s documentary reverberate with undiminished resonance. The very issues she sought to illuminate persist, casting a shadow over Tulum’s idyllic landscape. While some steps have been taken to address the challenges, many of them continue to loom, unresolved and exacerbated by the passage of time.

“The Dark Side of Tulum” serves as a cautionary tale, a timely reminder that paradise can unravel in the face of apathy and neglect. However, it also beckons as a clarion call for change. Within its poignant narrative lies the blueprint for a resilient and sustainable Tulum, one that honors its past and embraces a future where environmental conservation takes center stage.

As we revisit this documentary in the present, we find ourselves at a crossroads – where Tulum’s destiny hangs in the balance. It is incumbent upon all who cherish this earthly Eden to heed its profound message, to unite as stewards of nature, and to ensure that the legacy of Tulum endures, a testament to the harmonious coexistence of humanity and the environment.

Appel’s Quest: Unveiling the Environmental Crisis Threatening Tulum’s Paradise

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
Director Naomi Rey Appel. Photo: @thedarksideoftulum

In a world of constant comforts and conveniences, there exist moments that transcend the ordinary, where the allure of the unknown beckons us to explore. Naomi Rey Appel, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker hailing from the bustling streets of New York, found her calling in the captivating charm of Tulum, Mexico. As the moonlit shadows danced with candlelight, she knew she had stumbled upon something extraordinary that would forever captivate her heart.

Tulum, a chic coastal town nestled on the Yucatan Peninsula’s Caribbean shores, may have once been an unassuming haven, but its serenity has been threatened by an impending ecological crisis. Appel’s journey began almost a decade ago when she first set foot on the pristine sands of Tulum. From the outset, the absence of electricity seemed daunting, yet it was precisely this rustic simplicity that lured her in. “Tulum provides everything that you need,” she attests, reflecting on that fateful visit that would shape her destiny.

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
Director Naomi Rey Appel.

Her passion for environmentalism, instilled during idyllic family camping trips far from urban chaos, courses through her veins. With her father’s involvement in renewable energy and her family’s deep appreciation for nature and science, Appel’s desire to confront harsh realities and shed light on ecological issues became her unwavering mission.

Graduating with degrees in environmental studies and international journalism, Appel’s conviction to present the truth was unwavering. “Some may choose blissful ignorance, but I prefer unvarnished reality,” she asserts, determined to expose the concealed aspects of Tulum’s unsustainable tourism industry.

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
Director Naomi Rey Appel.

Tulum’s transformation from a hidden gem to a tourist hotspot left an indelible impression on Appel during her teenage years. Subsequently, she found herself returning to the town, at times making it her temporary home. Her role as a tour guide enabled her to share her deep love for the land, enlightening visitors about its natural wonders.

However, as the tide of tourists surged, Appel witnessed the dark side of Tulum’s popularity. The tourism industry’s unsustainable practices, coupled with misinformation provided to visitors, sparked her indignation. It was then that she decided to champion a cause that could potentially save Tulum’s ecological heritage.

Unmasking the Eco-Illusion

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
Photo: @thedarksideoftulum

Tulum, Mexico, a coastal gem seducing travelers with its “hippie version” charm, boasts an alluring mirage of eco-friendliness and sustainable utopia. Dubbed the antidote to the bustling, party-fueled atmosphere of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, this serene escape has captivated a wave of visitors, ranging from the young and adventurous to families seeking a verdant retreat. Prominent among the footprints along its sandy beach road are the ubiquitous signs, emblazoned with the promising words “eco” and “green,” beckoning travelers with an invitation to cherish nature’s wonders without compromising their conscience.

Yet, beneath the veneer of a conscientious paradise lies a startling revelation. The “eco” labels, for all their charisma, often amount to little more than clever marketing tactics. Tulum’s staggering growth has outpaced its ability to enforce effective regulations, paving the way for unchecked development. Merely thirty years ago, the settlement counted a humble population of 500. Today, the number has soared to nearly 35,000, while an annual pilgrimage of over two million tourists graces its shores. Regrettably, the environmental perils of this popularity have been underestimated.

In a cruel twist of fate, the very energy driving this enchanting enclave forward bears a dark secret. Diesel generators hum incessantly, channeling their life force into powering Tulum’s aspirations. But at what cost? Unbeknownst to many visitors, the freshwater river system languishes under the burden of untreated sewage. A precarious dichotomy exists – the very essence of the place that draws tourists is the same force jeopardizing its ecological integrity.

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
Photo: @thedarksideoftulum

Moreover, a haunting sight lies merely miles away from the opulent beachfront resorts, where privileged guests spend upwards of $500 per night for an indulgent escape. A massive landfill, like a colossal monolith, receives tons upon tons of discarded waste, with mountains of refuse moldering upon the pristine jungle floor. The juxtaposition of natural beauty and human waste paints a distressing portrait, with the fragile ecosystem bearing the brunt of the irresponsibility.

Unyielding in her conviction that Tulum’s future can be redefined, visionary environmentalist Appel finds herself grappling with the perplexing paradox. Tulum’s soaring popularity comes on the wings of its untouched splendor, which casts an enchanting spell upon the wanderlust-stricken hearts. And yet, the very beneficiaries of this allure fail to grasp the importance of safeguarding it for posterity. Appel echoes a poignant truth, “Tulum’s charm is in its unspoiled nature; neglecting its preservation is a betrayal of our responsibility to the earth and its inhabitants.”

With unwavering dedication, Appel spearheads a diverse team of passionate environmentalists and artists hailing from different corners of the globe. Their collaborative endeavor: a powerful documentary exposing the reality of Tulum’s vulnerability and revealing the untapped potential for transformative change. “Our message is clear,” Appel asserts resolutely, “there are myriad sustainable solutions available; the key is the willingness to embrace them. We possess the knowledge; now, we must summon the courage to act.”

The Dark Side of Tulum

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
Photo: @thedarksideoftulum

In the pursuit of crafting a compelling documentary, Appel and her dedicated team are diligently working towards completion by year-end, garnering a devoted following on social media along the way. Embracing the outpouring of positivity, Appel expresses her heartfelt appreciation for the resonance their project has found with the masses. However, they are not impervious to critics, particularly those who cast doubt on their noble intentions, taking issue with the film’s bold title, “The Dark Side.” Undeterred, Appel recognizes the peculiar phenomenon wherein people seem more distressed by mere words and titles than by the real environmental havoc that plagues our planet.

The documentary orbits around a diverse ensemble of individuals, a melange of locals and expatriates alike, united in their shared mission to safeguard Tulum’s pristine natural ecosystem while nurturing a flourishing tourism industry, which constitutes their very livelihoods.

At the documentary’s heart lies Olmo Torres-Talamante, occupying a central role and serving as the scientific beacon for Appel and her accomplished production team. Hailing originally from Mexico City, Torres-Talamante has cast his lot with Tulum, making it his beloved abode and fiercely safeguarding its prosperity. As a Mexican biologist, he has dedicated the past 15 years to the comprehensive study of Tulum’s enigmatic cenotes – the profound, natural sinkholes that grant access to an ancient subterranean river.

The film deftly positions these cenotes as a pivotal attraction for tourists while highlighting their intricate ecosystem. Alas, Torres-Talamante’s gnawing concern stems from the area’s faulty infrastructure, leading to the direct seepage of sewage into the freshwater aquifer. The ominous implications are clear, as Torres-Talamante cautions, drawing parallels to the previous mismanaged development and pollution that befell Cancun and Playa del Carmen – colossal tourist destinations further down the peninsula from Tulum.

In no uncertain terms, Torres-Talamante stresses the magnitude of this river system, likening it to the iconic “Mount Everest and the Amazon.” Tulum and its environs host the world’s largest network of subterranean rivers, and this interconnected web extends to the ocean, disseminating contamination on a global scale. Notably, just off the coast thrives the world’s second-largest coral reef, underscoring the interconnectedness of all these delicate ecosystems, and placing their collective fate in peril.

The solutions

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
Photo: @thedarksideoftulum

Amidst the sun-kissed splendor and ancient allure of Tulum, an environmental symphony unfolds, chronicling a stark reality of beauty endangered, wildlife imperiled, and a fragile ecosystem on the precipice of collapse. Appel’s groundbreaking documentary, an epic odyssey through the intricate tapestry of this Mexican paradise, delves deep into the symbiotic relationship between humanity and nature and casts an unyielding spotlight on the desecration we perpetrate upon the land we love.

In a courageous move to propel the narrative of change, Appel and her visionary team endeavor to unveil a pantheon of solutions, like brilliant constellations strewn across the Tulum sky, to the most pressing issues that plague this resplendent Eden. These innovative propositions, intertwined with a flourishing tourism industry, mandate a profound paradigm shift and financial backing of unprecedented proportions.

Foremost among these visionary solutions are the integration of compostable toilets and onsite wastewater treatment plants. With an ingenious design philosophy, these marvels are nimble enough to grace a backyard oasis, yet robust enough to cater to boutique hotels, offering a much-needed antidote to the area’s escalating sewage conundrum.

The waste conundrum looms large in Tulum’s troubled present. Faced with an escalating deluge of refuse, the region is compelled to rethink its approach to waste management. The documentary’s clarion call is for large-scale composting and efficient recycling programs, bold undertakings that currently remain lamentably absent. On any given day, an average Mexican citizen is burdened with the onus of one kilogram of solid waste; this weighty dilemma multiplies two-fold or three-fold for the average Tulum resident, largely due to the voracious appetite of the thriving tourism industry.

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
Photo: @thedarksideoftulum

A symphony of engines roars across the Tulum horizon, propelling an army of diesel generators that play an ominous role in the symphony of progress. However, Appel’s cinematic tapestry embraces the shimmering vision of cleaner, greener alternatives, like solar micro-grids, now poised to shape Tulum’s energy landscape. Embracing these futuristic solutions, the documentary crafts an intriguing tableau of promise, illuminating an inspiring alternative—waste-to-energy conversion—where carbon-based materials metamorphose into liquid gold. This transformative process not only vanquishes the energy crisis but also leaves the wasteland narrative in its luminous wake. Appel herself exudes palpable excitement as she shares, “With this revolutionary technology, we behold not just renewable fuel but also the power to transmute excess trash into invaluable clean energy. An astonishing win-win!”

Bearing witness to the ecosystem’s agonizing plight and proposing hopeful panaceas is just the prologue to the monumental task at hand. Akin to a soaring oratorio of environmental awakening, Appel’s magnum opus resounds with a clarion call for tighter regulations and a fierce battle against corruption within the municipality. The shadows of discontent darken the ethereal aura of Tulum’s natural magnificence, but the director insists that adherence to prevailing norms would have staved off much of the present plight. Nevertheless, the strident march towards progress and prosperity persists; a harmonious symphony can emerge only when mankind embraces the wilderness, collaborating with its enigmatic denizens, in a symphony of coexistence.

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One

The director’s passion for change is contagious, radiating like the celestial bodies that adorn the Tulum firmament. Through captivating drone footage, the documentary peels away the layers of Tulum’s dichotomy, revealing landfills and sewage leaching surreptitiously into groundwater, an ecological dirge that demands immediate redress. The solutions on offer, resonant with realism and buoyed by resolute determination, no longer appear as distant beacons but tangible guides to a better future.

“Tulum possesses a trove of resources, the financial wherewithal, and international camaraderie to metamorphose into a sanctuary of ecological purity,” Appel declares, her voice brimming with conviction. The moment of reckoning has arrived, and Tulum must shed its allegorical cocoon to emerge as a butterfly of sustainability. Her rallying cry pierces the veil of inertia, urging us all to transform aspirations into actions. No more hollow promises, no more procrastination—today, we craft the dream of a sustainable Tulum.

In this resplendent mosaic of cinematic truth, we find solace in the knowledge that, as fellow stewards of our fragile planet, we share a common fear: the ruination of our Earth beyond repair. Yet, this documentary, with its visionary solutions and unyielding resolve, kindles a spark of hope that flickers in the darkest corners of uncertainty. As the credits roll, we emerge with renewed faith in our collective ability to resurrect the Eden we so cherish.

The Documentary

It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make One
It’s Time to Stop Talking About a Sustainable Tulum and Actually Make OneEN