Here's my take on it: Mexico is a pretty big place, so saying you're afraid to go to Playa Del Carmen because of the violence in Ciudad Juarez is like saying you're afraid to visit Washington, DC because you've heard there's been a lot of drug-related gang violence in Dallas, Texas. Seriously, they are that far from each other. Also, Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, and Akumal are all on the Yucatan peninsula, and don't share a border with the US. No border = no easy smuggling route. I know Cancun has it's problems, but so does NYC. Anyway, enough of my ranting. Has it been established that I hate the media? Good.
That said, here's the first installment of our Mexican adventures.
The flight out was non-eventful. That fact alone should have scared us. Me flying somewhere is usually a complete disaster, and because this time it wasn't, some deep alarm bells should have been going off inside my brain. I should have been on guard. I should have known that payback would be coming.
We landed in Cancun, and the lines were crazy. The first thing I noticed was that the entire airport looked like Abercrombie and Fitch drank too much and threw up. The place was crawling with college students on spring break. The duty-free liquor store in the airport was doing its best to keep them all on their best behavior by giving away free samples of rum and tequila, so we stopped in and bought a couple of bottles.
Once we were through customs, we ran the gauntlet of taxi drivers asking us where we were going and if we needed a ride, and we found the guy holding a placard with our last name on it. He said, "Hi, my name is Juan. Follow me to my car. Do you want to stop on the way for a drink?" I was relieved that he spoke English. We declined the drink offer, and jumped into his van.
The month before we left, I started listening to "How to speak Spanish" recordings in my car on the way to and from work. I knew that almost everyone in the touristy areas would speak some English, but I wanted to be a little prepared. At the very least, I wanted to be able to recognize and respond to few phrases. How are you, I am fine, Please, thank you, where's the bathroom, how much for your women, please don't kill me, that sort of thing.
About ten minutes out from the airport, I realized I forgot to hit an ATM machine to get some pesos. So I asked, "Is there an ATM on the way?" Unfortunately, Juan had pretty much exhausted his English with his initial speech, and since I didn't need a bathroom, I had exhausted my Spanish. I mimed putting a card in a slot and said "Dollares to Pesos?" and he said, "Ahhhh....7-11?" and Juan and I were bonding. At the 7-11, I headed right for the ATM machine. The place was full of local working men, and I could tell that I was the whitest thing that had been in there in a really long time. I mean, there's regular old "white people white," and then there's "IT guy white." It's not a pretty sight. I got some pesos from the ATM, picked up some pretzels and a red bull, and then did the stupid tourist thing of not giving the clerk enough money the first time.
The ride to the hotel wasn't too bad, but it was our first experience with this particular sign:
Topes are the devil's own speed bumps and you do not glide lightly over them. Most of them consist of a gully on either side of a platform, or staggered metal lumps the size of half-coconuts. These things are ridiculous, and they seemed to just pop up in random places. Picture driving along at about fifty on a 4-lane highway, and suddenly there's a freaking speed bump from hell that causes everyone to suddenly slam on their brakes and drive like a bunch of 90-year-old Asian women with bad eyesight. And you have to slow down for these things, because if you didn't, and hit one at anything over 10 miles per hour, you would immediately shit your own kidneys. They are that bad.
Along the way to our hotel, my wife was asking me about some of the phrases I had learned from the audio lessons. I told her how to say "How are you?" and "good morning" and "good afternoon" and "thank you" and a few other phrases I had memorized. The last minute lessons worked out well for her. Her first conversation in Spanish went something like this:
Hotel Clerk: ¡Hola! ¿Cómo está?
My wife: (flustered) Gracias?
After I told her she had responded to the question "Hi, how are you?" with "Thank you," she decided that she was going to say "Gracias" as a response to everything from then on. Her theory was that you can never go wrong with "thank you," even when it's completely out of context. It seemed to work.
Luckily, almost everyone there did speak at least some English, and it was enough for us to get by. We did finally get used to saying Thank you, please, and hello in Spanish, so at least everyone knew we were trying.
After we checked in, the bellman took us to our room, which was in the cheap section, but still only about a 2 minute walk to the beach. After he unlocked our door and put our bags inside, he took two hammocks out of the closet and hung them on our porch for us. They were glorious.
After he left, we decided that we wanted our very first picture together in Mexico to be sitting on our porch in one of our very own personal hammocks. I sat in the hammock and my wife set up the camera for the picture. The timer on her camera gave her about eight seconds to push the button, and then run around the table and join me in the hammock. The resulting picture is one of our favorites from the trip, so I wanted to share it with you all:
Yes, we're very photogenic.
Stayed tuned for parts 2-6. Things get better.