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


  1. Love the story. Thanks for the phone number. Don't care for the bugs. Not sure what that means for our trip to Cancun.

  2. 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.

    -- hahaha that made me crack up!

  3. Ohhhh the first thing I thought of when I saw the pic of the roof was, "Oh shit....those are ALWAYS filled with bugs!"

    Live and learn....and never skip the pre-travel vaccinations.

  4. Dayna2:00 AM

    Note to Self...Do NOT read this blog before bed ever again.

    Should be a nice long, sleepless night tonight. Thanks JV, I owe you.

  5. hahaha I grew up in Northern Alberta near a massive amount of tarsands. We were invaded by those nasty big ass bugs for half the year. The pinch and bite and get all tangled in your hair *shudder*. I will have nightmares of the clicking sound they make when they fly for the rest of my life.

  6. Just to make you really paranoid, look at the wiki for Chagas disease, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chagas_disease

    It is transmitted by a beetle that lives in palapa roofs and drops on sleepers during the night. They call it a kissing bug or a palapa bug.

    Glad you had a good time down here, it's funny to read what someone from the north notices - the cart escalators at grocery stores like WalMart - that I no longer notice.

    ps. resorts spray their palapa roofs to kill the bugs, although they obviously missed one in your room, there wouldn't be any kissing bugs there.

  7. Jonna, holy shit. It was that EXACT bug. I'm hyperventilating now. We found 3 of them over the course of the week.

  8. Nice blog....well done.

  9. Arghh...My hearties and I wud hav drunk the rum straight, pillaged the store and burned down the bugs. And ye call yerself a pirate. Argh..

  10. I'm staying with a friend right now (in exotic NE Ohio) and though my room does not have the pretty palapa roof, it too is infested with bugs - lady bugs. On the whole, as much as I'd like to see Mexico one day, I'll take lady bugs over your beetles any day!

  11. Anonymous9:30 AM

    I am a new follower. Enjoyed reading your blog. Will come around again

  12. Becky9:41 AM

    I'm cracking up over the tapeworm comment. When my husband and I were in college he had a bit of a bottomless pit when it came to eating (despite the fact that he's skinny as a rail!) My friend used to say he had a tapeworm and we named him TIMMY!

  13. I hear you on the bed bugs. For 3 years I was terrified of getting bed bugs. People thought I was insane to even think about it. I found one when I was moving and it made an otherwise cheap move cost $8k. When I talked to people about my situation they would inevitably tell me about fleas or cockroaches. Shut up. Please. I don't want to hear it. I would rather have fleas and cockroaches and mice and a handful of other things over bed bugs. And no one really believes until you have to deal with it. I, on the other hand, almost felt justified. SEE! SEE! There is a reason I was so worried. Now I have half the people in my office freaked out over them. :-)

  14. Awesome...keep em coming. The only time I go to Walmart is when Im in Mexico, because it is such a trip. Did you see the crazy bakery they have in those things...crazy. Its fun to take a tray and load up on all the Mexican pasteries and take them back to your room for bfast. Boo on the Beetle. The only Beetle Id like grabbing my face might be the mid 60s era George Harrison.

  15. Fun and funny post. The bugs would freak me out but other than that, I love Mexico. We used to stay down in Rosarita or Ensenada periodically but I now live on the East Coast so...Good to hear a trip to Playa del Carmen & surrounding area is not troubled with all the stuff going on at the border. First visit to your blog, courtesy Blogs of Note.

  16. I love your commentary. I'm going to Playa in 25 days (not that I'm counting or anything) and now have the name of a cab driver.

  17. Anonymous4:16 PM

    I'm very sad I didn't get to meet you while you were here...and after I've done nothing for you all this time!

    Love seeing my town through your eyes!

    Best, Heather (from Playa.info)

  18. Hahahahaha, love it! When you were describing the bed bugs I kinda wondered if you'd scream like a girl if you came across any cockroaches, esp flying ones ........ and then I read on to hear about that bug. Now c'mon, fess up ........ did you go to sleep hiding under the covers/sheet after that happened? :D

  19. Anonymous5:41 PM

    When I went to Mexico (Ixtapa), the ocean tried to kill me. It was awesome in a "Oh my God, please shoot me, I swallowed water and am now going to die a horrible painful death." Really glad there were no bugs.

  20. Bed bugs, oh my! I've slept in a lot of hotel rooms (that sounds far more salacious than the boring reality)and never once thought about bed bugs. Think you've just given me a brand new phobia.

    Great post by the way.

  21. LOL - fantastic. Reminds me of our honeymoon in Aruba where after much arguing and asking about bus schedules in trying to get back to our hotel at high noon in the heat, we boarded our bus, only to have it stop, oh let's call it 200 meters from the station, and the driver pointed at us that this was our stop. Stupid us, we got off, and walked the next several miles. In flip flops.

  22. Jamie8:16 PM

    Mexican Wal-Mart is the best! I'd way rather go there than any Wal-Mart in my homestate. Can we say ghetto?!

    I loved going there when we were in Manzanillo. I was wondering if all the MEX wally-worlds had those escalator entrance/exit set-ups.

  23. KMarie8:55 PM

    The visual of the beetle incident had me cracking up! But really, I'm laughing with you, not at you.

  24. For future travels how does one check for bed bugs? Do you actually see them in the matress? I saw a story on mattresses being sold with them but I had to turn it off. I hope this story gets better and you had a great time!

  25. Awesome story. I honeymooned in Playa and never thought about the whole bed bug situation, but now I either have to drink enough rum so that I don't worry about it (and the beetles, sheesh!) or always wonder if I'm going to be some six-legged beastie's midnight snack.

    Ahh, I think I'll take the rum.

  26. Awww Johnny--I'm not a fan when they latch to anything, much less the face. Sheesh---heebie jeebie time! Yech!

  27. Anonymous11:09 PM

    I found your blog on blogs of note, and seriously this is the best blog I have ever read! You are my new blog mentor!

  28. omg, omg, omg... the bug thing did NOT happen...

    love playa, hope to go back this summer... can't wait to read more

    and, uh, i think someone wants to do some kind of interview with you...

    --Char (from playa. info)

  29. Dammit, I had replies to all these comments written, and blogger erased almost all of them.

    Kmarie, it's ok to laugh at me. Or with me. Either way is good.

    Jae, yeah, I don't like bugs on my face.

    Tgoette, rum *does* help. Good advice.

    Lowermain, don't expect to much. That way you are rarely disappointed.

    Char, I want to go back already. It was in the 30's here this week.

  30. Too funny ~ what else can happen?? I have learned to NEVER ask that question!!

  31. Dude. You are a "Blog of Note!"

    Hell, you have been in my book for a year anyway.

    Just wanted to say congratulations! You're a hero!

  32. Anonymous1:12 PM

    My eyes are watering from all the giggling.

    Were you actually staying at a hotel that didn't provide you with all you could drink anyway? When we got there, we had bottles of alcohol and mixers IN OUR ROOM, plus everything at any bar in the hotel was free.

  33. Trav, I have my cape on order.

    Shine, no, we didn't go for the all inclusive. We were looking for a more stripped down experience, and this hotel seemed to be a nice compromise. I wanted to at least know I was in another country. That said, however, I could really live without getting chagas disease from some fucking face-beetle.

  34. Yeah, I probably should have warned you that you had a better chance of bringing back diabetes than bedbugs.

  35. Beetle face-hugger, lol!

  36. please tell me you didn't drink the water...

  37. Beautiful blogger

  38. I almost feel like most walmarts have that exact feel to them. Bananas hanging with the hotwheel cars, abandoned piles of childrens clothes in the freezer section. I have to say though, I've never met a Walmart with an upward airport conveyor belt. Sounds like something that needs to be installed in US Walmarts.

    Hilarious story so far.

  39. Because of those bugs, I'll never go to Mexico.


  40. Oh man I was planning on going to Mexico this summer - now I'm thinking is that a horrible idea? How do you even check for bedbugs?? Funny (and scary!) stuff!

  41. Anonymous3:22 PM

    Actually, there are very few bugs in Mexico. I've lived here for a couple of years. You can actually leave your windows open at night with a light on inside and no bugs will fly in. Have never seen a "face-sucking" bug or a scorpion for that matter.

  42. Yes, bedbugs are little vampire bastards that are VERY hard to kill.

    Been to Mexico once. Good food.

  43. Mary's right -- there were few bugs, other than mosquitoes...and those damned palapa beetles. I'll go back. You have a better chance of seeing bedbugs in NYC than mexico,all things considered.

  44. Anonymous8:27 PM

    When I first moved to Mexico I used to check my slippers for scorpions every morning before putting them on. Then our inlaws said they have lived here all their lives and never saw a scorpion. Shows how the hype can get to you.

  45. I still think you should have stopped by our house - we're bug free - Granted we'll have cancer in a couple of years due to massive amounts of bub-bomb spray - but it's better than sleeping with Mexican Bugs. BIG BUGS :D

  46. And How is Timmy do, nowadays?

  47. Anonymous4:59 AM

    Holy crap bed bugs are crazy! I had no idea.


    Two things stick out from reading the above...

    "All bedbugs mate via a process termed traumatic insemination.[11][12][13] Instead of inserting their genitalia into the female's reproductive tract as is typical in copulation, males instead pierce females with hypodermic genitalia and ejaculate into the body cavity."


    "Some domestic cases have escalated to extreme levels, causing residents to label the infestations "house herpes"."


  48. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Interesting trip you had so far. The one time I was in Mexico, my folks drove to Ensenada with us kids, I think it was 1960, and we had a camping trailer. I don't recall much, except my brother and I smuggled back some cherry bombs. They cost one peso each (8 cents US).

    That was before inflation went nuts down there, so am curious what they would fetch nowadays.