January 30th, 2019
Today is my last day in Mexico. I leave for Cancun from Playa del Carmen via bus around 1pm and then fly out of Cancun at 5pm. I’ll have brunch with my friend that I've been staying with at a vendor down the street that we’ve eaten at a couple times before.
Two days ago I swam in Azul. I think that’s what the place was called. It’s a ways out of town. It cost about eight bucks to swim there, which isn’t a bad deal considering the snorkelling was decent, even better than the much more expensive snorkelling trip I took to the island of Cozumel.
|Spending an entire day on a crowded bus with a guide that never shut his mouth. What could possibly go wrong?|
I didn’t see any sea turtles though, which is a bit of a bummer. They’re the main draw of the area. There was quite a bit of coral (still the bland grey colour) and a lot of fishy activity in the water. That was neat to see. After I swam, I sat on the beach and visited with an older couple from Wisconsin. It’s always nice to chat with fellow cheesehead Packer fans. When I left, I offered up my snorkel gear to a couple of Mexican gals sunbathing nearby. I even managed to used the correct Spanish to communicate what I wanted to say and they were happy to take my snorkel gear off my hands. It felt good to give a gift free of charge and also to speak coherently to strangers in another language.
|The most interesting thing about the two hour stop we made before heading to Chichen Itza: watching ants carry leaves. Seriously.|
Yesterday was Chichen Itza, also known as gong show day. I got up at 6:15am and waited for a collectivo transport but there wasn’t any coming so I took my first taxi since I’ve been here. I didn’t get dropped off at the exact spot I needed to get to because I didn’t know how to say the intersection in Spanish. I got dropped off at Wal-Mart and sprinted to where I thought I was supposed to go . . . and then I got lost. Downtown Playa at 7:30am is almost unrecognizable from how it is the rest of the day. The streets were deserted and storefronts were shuttered. It was a ghost town. The guy who sold me the tour said he’d be there at his stand and the shuttle would pick me up there. He wasn’t there. I frantically called the company that I bought the ticket and got an answering machine. Then I found a young Danish couple waiting at a nearby intersection and asked them if they were going to Chichen Itza. They were, so I waited with them. A van came and picked us up. We got taken to a tourist office and then waited an hour to leave on a bus. It was very frustrating, considering I got up early only to wait on a bus for an hour before it even left. We made numerous stops for no particular reason and then were dropped off for our buffet lunch. We had to wait another hour for lunch to be ready so we pissed our time away in a vacant parking lot. Hell of a way to spend a day. I passed the time by socializing with the friendly Danish couple, showing them my luchador Lego minifigure and praising their country for producing my favourite toy.
|Thank God for Danish folk and their creativity. And the Mayans too, I guess.|
When we finally got our lunch, it was subpar and we had to pay extra for drinks, which usually means alcohol. Nope. They were charging $4 bucks Canadian for a bottle of water. I was seeing that this tour organization was a gong show. Everyone from the servers to the guy handing out paper towels in the bathroom expected tips too. Nope. Not from me.
|I've got my eye on you, observatory!|
When we finally made it to Chichen Itza, we had two hours to look around, which included a half hour of waiting to get inside. There was an English tour guide that we waited for when we got inside. He was decent, and once again, like everything on most tours, wanted more money in tips. After the tour, we had a total of 30 minutes to explore Chichen Itza and then the bus departed. I ran from one end to the other snapping pics quickly so I could see everything. I don’t even know if I saw it all. Most people didn’t even make it to the observatory and many of the ruins on the opposite side of the main site. I actually found a trinket I wanted to buy from a vendor of a quartz panther but didn’t have time to haggle so had to let it go. The whole thing was a very frustrating experience.
I finally made it to Chichen Itza and had a whole 30 seconds to explore the place.
Next we went to a deep, circular cinote a few kilometres away. Once I got changed into my swimming shorts and locked away my belongings (I don’t trust a bus full of strangers not to swipe my wallet and phone while going for a dip), I was able to do a few cliff dives from inside the underground freshwater cave. It was a unique-looking location, as if someone had taken a 50-metre drill in diametre (or more, or less, I’m terrible at estimating the size of things) and dug deep into the earth. Slippery steps led down to the pool and drips of water splattered down from the few openings in the ceiling, besides the main, massive circle up top. The water was refreshing and it was fun to get the adrenaline going by jumping in from high up.
|It's a long way down.|
We only had an hour at the cinote, minus the time spent changing, waiting for a locker, and changing again, so I got a good 15 minutes of swimming in.
|I said a quick prayer near this impressive looking church.|
Next we stopped at an old colonial town with various brightly coloured buildings and an impressive relic of a church just outside the main town square. The square had a fountain in the centre, a few patches of grass with trees throughout and vendors selling treats every few feet. This too would’ve been a cool place to go exploring. Unfortunately, we only had a half hour to explore this colourful old town (are you sensing the trend of the day yet?). I ordered tacos at a restaurant right by where the tour bus parked as well as a bunch of caramel churros for dessert. It was all delicious and made me wish all the more that I could wander the streets to see what else I could find within.
|Tacos and churros with caramel, the dinner of champions.|
After we got back on the bus, our guide rattled on his spiel for even more time until finally shaking us down for—guess what—more tips. Since I was terribly disappointed in the tour’s organizational capacity, I had no qualms about blasting up my iPod and closing my eyes, pretending to sleep.
|What a colourful little town. Too bad I only had a half hour to explore.|
When we got back to Playa, it was already past 9pm. I knew the collectivos didn’t run much in the later hours (or the earlier ones, as I found out in the morning) so I felt fortunate to find one quickly and made my way back to the apartment. When I got there, the woman at the gate didn’t recognize me (I usually came back before dark so the other guard typically recognizes one of the few foreigners residing inside). She asked me a few questions and I managed to convince her with my charming smile and broken Spanish that I wasn’t there to break into anyone’s home. By 9:30pm, I was back inside the sanctuary of the apartment and thoroughly exhausted. I couldn’t tell you how many kilometres I’ve walked this past week and a half, but my calves are telling me it’s a little more than I aught to. I cracked open a couple cold ones after my shower and took some time to peel dead skin off my back.
|I peeled off most of the skin on my back by this point, but there's still plenty of flakes to go.|
There were a few cool things about the trip to Chichen Itza, but there were many times I wished I’d just hung back at the apartment and sipped a couple cervasas while lounging in the pool at his apartment complex. I was stoked when I saw his place had a pool, but because of my ambitious nature to jump at every chance for adventure and exploration, I never got around to swimming in the pool. Oh well. Live and learn. Had I not taken the day trip, I may be typing that I wished I would’ve gone. Oh well. Such is life.
I’m here at the airport reflecting on my time in Mexico while trying to digest the three quesadillas, three enchiladas and two litres of strawberry and watermelon shakes that I had with my friend. I might have overdone it with my last Mexican meal. As Becky would say, “Whoopsies!”
|One of my favourite photos I took was at the Mayan Museum in Cancun. I don't know what that thing is but we're both doing our best to smile for the camera.|
I had a lot of fun and adventure on this trip. My main priority when travelling, or doing anything in life, is managing my health. For the most part, I felt well throughout the trip. I never ran into a sick day where I was tethered to the toilet or stranded in bed blowing my nose red from aggravated allergies. That alone makes any week a decent one. When I think about all the amazing food I ate and things I got to see and do, I feel fortunate and thankful. I never know when or if I’ll ever get to do another trip like this so I try not to take anything for granted and enjoy the moment while it lasts. My mom and dad made this whole thing possible by using some of their air miles to provide airfare. They also babysat Augustus for some of the time so Becky could go to work in my absence. Becky’s mom Julie was watching the little guy for the majority of the time and that was very much appreciated. I wouldn’t have been able to do this trip without staying with my friend either. He didn’t charge me anything for staying with him so I tried to show my appreciation by buying breakfast or dinner for him when we hung out together.
I don’t think I spent a lot of money while I was here, and the funny thing is that the days I spent the most money were probably my least favourite. Chichen Itza and my snorkelling trip to Cozumel were the most expensive day trips I took and they were underwhelming. Likewise with food, the most expensive restaurants or items on the menu are by no means the best tasting. Thankfully, through reading blogs beforehand and following my friend's advice, I managed to avoid lousy places and hit most of the best ones. That’s not to say you can see stuff without paying anything. Transportation always costs something. I paid for collectivos or gave my friend gas money when we went on trips together. And my two favourite days, climbing Coba ruins and swimming underground in Rio Secreto, each cost a bit of money as well, so this isn’t to say that the best things in life are free, per say. I guess what I’m saying that the old adage, “You get what you pay for,” isn’t necessarily true. At least not in Mexico.
Some of the lasting images I’ll take with me in my mind that I can’t show you with my camera were onboard the collectivos. 25 people crammed into a van without seatbelts while the driver counts change and texts is truly something else. It’s not the way I’d want to commute to work every day, but it gave me an appreciation for how most of these people live.
|There's a lot going on inside these collectivos.|
I saw a woman holding onto her toddler daughter in her arms while the child fell asleep, dropping a pink stuffed animal horse to the floor. This roused the little girl awake for a moment. Once the stuffie had been returned to the girl by a fellow commuter, the little girl passed out again. The mother pulled her daughter close and whispered into her ear while she drifted off to sleep. It was a sweet moment.
When the collectivos get full, people stand hunched over in the centre of the vehicle while holding onto a bar that runs along the ceiling. A man with a boy no bigger than Augustus stood with one leg out in front of the other while balancing his son on his knee and holding him with one arm while holding onto the ceiling bar with the other. It looked precarious. It’s worth noting that while in transit, the sliding door to the collectivo opens and closes with the movement of the vehicle, meaning that if you aren’t careful, you could fall out of the vehicle at any time. This father had his back to the open door while clutching the child close to his chest. You’d think the guy would be nervous. Nope. He smiled brightly to his boy and whispered happy things to him, readjusting his position as needed. I marvelled at his positive disposition.
I find it tempting, as I expect most of us do from time to time, to often look at life in terms of what we don’t have, what we want. In these moments in the collectivo, I saw genuine love and appreciation in a situation that many of us would be none too happy to be in.
No vehicle. No seatbelt for a child. Instead, just love.
|One of the many restaurants that I ate delicious tacos: El Fogon.|
I came to Mexico not only for adventure and to escape a depressing Canadian winter (although this season hasn’t been nearly as bad as the last two), but to experience Mexican culture. By skipping out on a resort (my limited funds notwithstanding), I managed to immerse myself with the people and problem solve through broken Spanish and hand gestures. Don’t get me wrong, it would’ve been an entirely different experience had I not had my friend to guide me along the way. That helped immensely. But if you ever get the chance to come here and tread a little off the beaten path, it’s worth it.