Mexico: Part II. WTF, Walmart?

We're not big travelers, as most of you have probably surmised. I can count the number of times I've actually been out of the United States on one hand. In fact, I could count the number of times I've been out of the States on one of Mickey Mouse's hands, and still have one fat, white finger left over. So, yeah. We don't get out much.

Believe it or not, the first thing I did before we unpacked anything was to give the room the once-over for bed bugs. I can hear your collective eye-rolls from here. Shut it. You can laugh, but ever since Nessa brought them home from a 5-star hotel last month, I've been doing some research, and I've come to the conclusion that it's not paranoia. If there's one thing you don't want to bring home to your house, it's these little bastards. They are very much like quarter-inch-long vampires. And I'm talking about the old-school scary-assed vampires, not the new sparkly emo ones with the fucked-up hair and the feelings.

Getting rid of a bedbug infestation will more than likely cost you thousands of dollars and a little bit of your soul, neither of which I can spare.

I don't want to get off on too much of a tangent here, but the parallels are obvious: They are immune to most everything, they only come out at night, they feed almost exclusively on the blood of humans, and they can live for 6-8 months without a meal. Also, the most efficient way to kill them is by exposing them to temperatures over 120 degrees. I imagine a tiny stake to the thorax would work too, but it would be very time-consuming. Anyway, the room looked amazingly clean.

After the settling in, the first order of business was to find the ocean, and the second order of business was to figure out the booze situation. We walked out to the beach and took a quick look, and then since we figured the ocean would probably be there for a bit, we turned our attention to the important stuff. We had two bottles of rum from the airport, which was a good start, but since we aren't hardcore enough to drink Bacardi straight from the bottle, we wanted to take a trip to Walmart for some fruit juices and miscellaneous munchies. We also wanted to pick up a cooler since the place we were staying didn't have refrigerators in the rooms.

We walked out to the lobby and grabbed a cab to Walmart. Our cab driver was great and very friendly. When we got there, we asked him if we could pay him to stay put while we ran in to pick up a few things, since we had no idea where we were and we weren't sure if cabs regularly hung out at Walmart or not. I gave him 50 pesos for the ride out, and he said he'd wait. I figured we'd be in and out in five to ten minutes, but that was before we walked into the place. Or "glided in," I should say.

I'm not exactly sure why, but to get into this store, you had to sort of walk under it, and then get on an upward-slanted moving walkway that takes you to the store level. It was like an escalator only without all the pesky stairs. I assume that's so you could take your shopping carts on it.

We have a Walmart about 20 minutes from our house, and although I don't make a habit of going there, I can assure you it's nothing like this one.

They certainly did know their turistas here though, because the first thing we saw when we walked in was a ten-foot-tall stack of styrofoam coolers. The place was a madhouse. And by that I don't mean it was crammed full of people, even though it was. I mean it looked like it had been organized by an actual inmate of an actual insane asylum. There were so many displays that you didn't know where to look first. People handing out samples of food and drinks, kids running around -- It was a little like a street bazaar inside a building. I half expected to see a clown walking down the aisle on his hands.

Like any busy retail establishment with too many customers and not enough help, there was shit all over the place, but I kind of got the feeling that it was probably always like that. Kid's toys, bathing suits, and discarded packages of meat sitting on top of tables filled with bottles of Absolute vodka; Soft drinks and chips left with the lawn chairs and tires. Rum, Tequila and power tools sitting next to a display of fresh mangoes. It was totally surreal. We ran up and down the aisles until we found the juices -- we grabbed some orange, cranberry and pineapple, then went looking for some tonic water and a bag of pretzels or chips.

It was actually harder than it sounds, because everything looks kind of familiar, yet it's just different enough so half the time you're not exactly sure what you're looking at. You feel like you're in one of those movies where you go back in time and step on a bug and when you get back to your present time, everything is just a little....off. I found myself looking at the pictures on the packages, and scanning the shelves for familiar logos -- just trying to find something I recognized. (Hooray for Zucaritas, featuring Antonio El Tigre.)

Wandering around looking at pictures on stuff reminded me of something funny that happened when I worked for a small supermarket chain. An Asian guy who barely spoke English brought back a gallon can of Crisco, and he kept pointing at the outside of the can, and saying "MONEY BACK! MONEY BACK!" It took me a while to understand what he was getting at, but it turns out he was bringing it back because when he had opened it, he had been surprised to find it contained greasy white paste instead of the succulent fried chicken pictured on the outside of the can. I felt a little like that guy.

Because I am pretty sure it's required by Mexican law, I also grabbed a bottle of vodka and some limes from the massive alcohol display in the front of the store. As we were deciding which line would be the fastest, I realized that there was one extremely long line with about 50 people in it, and a half-dozen short lines. Then I realized the long line was long for a very good reason: It was the only one in which you could purchase cigarettes and booze. As my dad used to tell me, nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

At this point I figured we already owed our cabbie about 500 pesos, assuming he was still actually waiting for us. I half-suspected that he'd probably just packed it in and left us there because we were taking so long, but I really didn't want to leave the vodka behind. We had bonded a little, this bottle of vodka and I, since vodka in Spanish is still spelled "vodka" and I could get behind that.

When we finally glided out of the store like we were descending from heaven, we saw our cab driver waiting for us at the bottom of the escalator. I think he was getting a little worried that he might have missed us. I was glad he waited, but was concerned that I might not have enough money to actually pay the guy.

He brought us back to the hotel, and when I asked him how much, he laughed and said, "50 pesos." I said no, and gave him a hundred, and even that was a bargain, considering how long we had made him wait outside. (His name was Eliel, and he was awesome. His English was very good, and if you're ever in Playa Del Carmen, his phone number is 9841330594, taxi 1307.)

We dumped everything in our room, and then I went to the hotel bar and grabbed a bag of ice for 35 pesos, and life was good. We headed back to the bar for 2-for-1 happy hour, and then went to dinner at the hotel's restaurant. The dinner was included, and the first night was the only night it wasn't buffet-style. They offered a choice of steak or fish. I ordered my steak medium well, and my wife ordered the fish. My steak was closer to beef tartare than to medium well, but I ate it anyway because I was hungry. Long story short, I've named my tapeworm Timmy. After dinner, we went back to our room to make few drinks from our new stash.

We wanted some Vodka tonics, but discovered that the only thing we didn't remember to buy was a knife to cut the limes. I felt funny about going to the bar and asking him to cut up my limes for me, so I started looking around the room for something I could use. The only sharp thing I could find was the top to the rum bottle, so I did this:

I twisted the top into the lime until a little lime plug popped out.

Yes, I am the Mcguyver of mixed drinks. I don't know what the housekeeper made of all the swiss cheese limes laying about, but I'm sure she's seen stranger things.

Our first day of vacation was officially over, and we were beat, so we decided to turn in since it was closing in on midnight. Our room was on the top floor, and so had the official "palapa roof." Here's a shot of it:

We both like to read a bit before going to sleep, so we were just lying there with the reading lamps on, enjoying the ocean breeze and the peace and quiet.

The next thing I know, some kind of weird looking, big-assed beetle dropped onto my face and latched on. I immediately flipped out, and jumped up out of bed and started slapping at my head while my wife stared at me like I'd completely lost my mind. Normally, I'm fine with big bugs, and I think they're kind of cool, however I've discovered that I don't like it when they grab my face.

So much for the pre-sleep relaxation. I quickly turned off my light because I figured that was probably what had attracted the beetle in the first place, and if there were any more waiting to drop in for a visit I didn't want to encourage them.

It was OK though, because the next day was our first beach day, and I wanted to sleep in a little. That wasn't going to happen, but I didn't know it at the time.

continue to part 3


You're going to Mexico? Are you nuts?

I heard that sentence at least a half-dozen times before we left. I think the media is slashing the tires of Mexican tourism, and it's kind of a bummer. This was our first trip there, so we had no idea what to expect, but I had heard great things about the Riviera Maya, and the price was right.

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.



I'm finally back from Mexico and just wanted to stop in, open the doors and windows and air this place out a little.

I'm collecting my thoughts, checking my notes (yes, I have notes and yes, my wife just shakes her head and wonders why the hell she married me...) and since today was my first day back to work after being reamed with a dried-out corn cob by US Airways, I'm just going to say that the trip itself was fantastic, we had a great time and we managed to completely avoid running afoul of the drug cartel. Suffice to say, I didn't even have to yell "Donde esta el baño!" at anyone, so I consider the trip a success.

I'm downloading the pictures as we speak. All in all, it's good to get away, but it's also really good to get home. I managed to get my lazy ass out of bed for sunrise on the last day:

There's a funny story about that (which I'll share with you all shortly) but in the meantime, it's back to the grind.


You can't fix stupidity.

At least that's what I've always believed. Apparently if you're IBM, anything is possible.

In a completely unrelated event, we were watching the end of Hitch the other night because it was on. In the dramatic and romantic scene where Kevin James is running down the street after the love of his life yelling "Allegra! Allegra!" my wife loves it when I yell back, "Claritin! Nasonex!"

Yes, watching television with me is hard work sometimes.