South by Southwest

Two Linden Hills ladies put down roots on Mexico's Riviera Maya

PAA MUL, MEXICO - 

Speeding south down the highway that runs the length of Mexico's Yucatn Peninsula, just past the sprawling tourist town of Playa del Carmen, one may be forgiven for disregarding the large sign announcing &#8220Paa Mul,” or the half-paved scrap of road venturing into the rough tangle of marshy jungle that dominates the landscape from Cancun to the Belizean border.

Down that road, however, lies the Caribbean coast and a unique community of vacationers and ex-patriots staying for days or forever in the entrenched trailer homes that surround the wave-swept half-moon bay. Paa Mul is the kind of place that brings to mind those laid-back Corona commercials. (In fact, one was filmed there last September.)

Among the snowbirds and retirees, one will find two women with ties to Linden Hills, which each calls home for part of the year.

The daughter of an archeologist, Lyda Puleston spent much of her childhood in the Mayan lands of Yucatn and Belize. Now, six months out of the year, Puleston raises her 4-year-old son Castor in the culture and climate she has come to love.

Meanwhile, a double degree in Spanish and marketing led Amy Adams to Mexico, where she found a career in business and a husband in Jose Martin, whose family has been at Paa Mul for more than a century. The longtime civil servant's 2008 bid for the mayorship of the area's long, coastal municipality could make Adams &#8220First Lady” of the Riviera Maya.

Each woman followed a different path to Paa Mul, where they formed a friendship that ultimately led Adams and her family to Linden Hills.

Jose Martin's family settled the land around Paa Mul's small cove at the end of the 19th century. Nearly 100 years later, a man from Texas rolled up in his RV and asked if he could stay.

Today, the community includes 220 trailer spaces and 30 deluxe hotel and cabaa suites oriented around the bay and each other like a campground. Many of the trailers - like their full-time, ex-pat residents - are there for good. The huge RVs look more like houses that grew naturally beneath the thatched-roof palapas that cover outdoor kitchens and common areas. At Paa Mul's center are the open-air restaurant, pool and dive shop.

At the bay's north end sits the Adams de Martin home, a long, double-domed house from which the living room, study and two bedrooms open onto a beachside patio and the sea. Adams and Martin built the house in stages, adding rooms for their daughters, 5-year-old Samantha and Annabella, who is 2. (A third, a boy, will be arriving this spring.) The couple also built a church for the 60-100 worshippers in the community.

For Adams, the road to this idyllic setting began 13 years ago, when she was studying at the University of Yucatn in Mrida (about four hours west of Cancun.) On a beach trip to Playa del Carmen, Adams met Martin, then the vice president of the area chamber of commerce. A year later, Adams was working as director of public relations at a large residential and tourism development, and she moved to Paa Mul. The two married four years later.

&#8220It coincided with my goals of wanting to work internationally,” said Adams. &#8220The falling in love thing was just perfect.”

Adams now owns Caf Sasta (Mayan for &#8220sunrise” or &#8220daybreak”), a coffee shop on Playa del Carmen's pedestrian tourist drag. The caf grew from a one-woman business: Adams, selling home-roasted beans from a basket.

Her husband's political aspirations could add to her roles as businesswoman and mother. As first lady, Adams would hold a salaried position, working on educational, social and welfare issues. She has begun a charity to raise money and books for Playa del Carmen's public library and, should Martin win, she hopes to capitalize on her international connections, perhaps with a sister-city relationship with the Twin Cities. &#8220I know so many people [in Minnesota and the U.S.] who are willing to help,” she said.

Adams has established a personal back-and-forth, as well. The family rents a home in Linden Hills, where they spend summers and the holidays. (The two-room duplex is closer quarters than their coastal home, however, especially in winter.)

It was Puleston who inspired the move to Linden Hills, said Adams. &#8220We really wanted a neighborhood feeling and enjoyed where [Puleston] lived,” she said. &#8220We absolutely love the area.”

Though Paa Mul is home, Adams does miss things about Minneapolis: seasons, activities for her and the children, or the convenience of being able to run to the super market (the nearest is a 20-minute drive into traffic-choked Playa del Carmen.)

&#8220As much as I feel like my life is [in Paa Mul], I miss being with my family, and things that are my things. Although I've been here 13 years, it's hard to separate what's mine.”

As for the future, the couple leaves it open. &#8220We've talked about, after the mayorship, maybe going to Minneapolis,” said Adams. &#8220Try that for a few years.”

Her husband winced at the prospect of a full Minnesota winter. &#8220I know it's going to be hard,” he said. &#8220She doesn't think so.”

&#8220I don't know what it would be like,” said Adams. &#8220Maybe I would be like, by mid-January: ‘Honey, I can't do this.' I don't know.”

As a child, Lyda Puleston spent as much or more time in the land of the Maya than she did in her native Twin Cities. In the 1950's, her father, an archeologist, had helped excavate Tikal in Guatemala (the grand-daddy of Mayan ruins). His later work in Belize and Mexico provided Puleston with an alternative upbringing that she now cherishes.

&#8220We lived in a hut with no electricity, no running water, kerosene lamps and mosquito screens,” she said. &#8220We would live in Belize in the summer and Minneapolis in the winter, if you can believe it.”

Now, Puleston and her son Castor do the opposite. &#8220We got it right,” she said.

In 1995, Puleston resumed her southerly migrations after a decade of life in the cities. In 1999, she and her husband brought to Paa Mul the mobile-home-sized trailer that she and Castor now winter in. (Sadly, Puleston's husband passed away while she was pregnant, in 2003.)

The Puleston place features an outdoor kitchen and patio, where Castor can play and Puleston can entertain guests (like her nine relatives this past January) or work remotely on her laptop, using Paa Mul's wireless internet. (Puleston owns several apartment buildings in south Minneapolis, as well as the Linden Hills house where she and Castor live from May to October.)

&#8220We're outside all day,” she said.

In addition to the paradisiacal climate, Puleston enjoys Paa-Mul's close-knit community. &#8220People are just around each other all day. We walk across to someone's house and have a cup of coffee.” Adams and Puleston's kids play together, strengthening the bond between the two mothers.

Paa Mul's many retirees provide a pool of virtual grandparents. &#8220They love [Castor],” said Puleston. &#8220He'll come around the corner with a banana and peanut butter sandwich in his hand.”

When asked which place is home, Puleston replied: &#8220Wherever we are,” and she declined to compare the two.

&#8220[In Linden Hills], I have great neighbors,” she said. &#8220I have the best neighborhood, the best city. But this is something just very different.”

Puleston agreed. &#8220Look around,” she said, motioning to the palm-lined beach and the ocean beyond, both bright in the Mexican sun. &#8220What's not to love?”

Southwest Journal contributing writer Jeremy Stratton edits The Bridge community newspaper.