Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My Vacation Experience in Cancun

My second day back to work I could hear the waves, smell the salt and feel the sun on my head and in my eyes as I sat in my office cubicle. It was almost perfect recall of being in Cancun. Then there were the uneven, irregular surfaces of the patched sea walls and coral islands filling my brain and making me weave a bit in my chair. God, but it was lovely. Being all-inclusive had something to do with it, too. No worries.

The Hotetur Beach Paradise is one of the Mexican Hotetur chain. When I told various assistants where it was, I had to use a lot of variations on Beach Paradise, Hotetur, Beach Paradise Hotetur, and Hotetur Beach Paradise. At the airport they called it by it's old name and the pre-Wilma sign is still solidly there and all lit up. It was definitely the cleanest hotel I ever visited. I didn't think about how much work went into that until I began to notice how the floors were never littered or how the glass in the elevator was never smeared and the lobby windows were always clean. My mother sat in the lobby once and watched a fallen tissue. Within ten minutes after it was dropped a security man picked it up followed by a maintenance man who brought a mop and bucket and washed the floor. Yet none of this was oppressive or invasive.

The food was as good as in any fine restaurant in the US. There was a lot of variety. The servers were always friendly and ready to help in any way. Once they learned my mother preferred the window tables they brought her there every time. If one wasn't available, they took us to a table as close to the windows as possible with a view unobstructed by pillars. The windows filled the top half of the outer wall so really you could sit anywhere and look out.

The buffets were well stocked and never ran out of anything. One of my mother's favorites was having the cook make a fresh fruit drink to order in the blender. My favorite was Yasmina (some kind of fruit drink - don't know the spelling) which I wish I had discovered sooner.

The beach was lovely and directly at the edge of the hotel. There were stairs down to the water but that wasn't a problem for me or anyone else I could see. I suspect the height of the hotel was probably for protection. After Wilma only half of the beach is left. The wind blew almost constantly, but, unlike on Ocracoke, it didn't send sand into my eyes. How is that? Do they make special rules about the wind in Cancun?

We did some shopping and got a massage. Then we went snorkeling on the world's second largest reef. I overhead a man calling it "a real Mexican experience." We ended up with Reef Adventures in a small boat that seated 15. Before they let us in we had to sit in the restaurant area and get a lecture on the fragility of the reef and how protected it was and not to touch it - ever. We also got out flippers and snorkel equipment at that time.

Once we were all equipped we got into the boat. Then came the Mexican part. The engine wouldn't start. The other passengers were taking it calmly but I don't think they understood the ominous sound that told me the battery was two more attempts from dying. When a turn of the key brought no sound at all, the captain had his brother, Julio, swim over to a nearby boat, lift the battery and carry it over his head to us. This battery was definitely dead. Now the captain, Jerry (his professional name, I'm sure) removed the cover on the outboard. Still no panic from the others. I prepared myself mentally for returning to shore. I heard one woman saying, "It is what it is." Jerry tried a joke, "It's not far. You can swim!" Some of us laughed.

Returning to the engine (muttering "impossible" under his breath), Jerry pulled out the fuse. Aha! Julio was dispatched to procure a new one. My mother felt sorry for Julio having to keep jumping into the water but I envied him. The new fuse didn't work so another man appeared with yet another fuse. This one worked and (after getting Julio back on board) we left. A 10 minute ride brought us to the first part of the reef. Julio jumped in with a white life preserver and we were instructed to follow him. This was more difficult than it appeared as the current was strong and there were about 4 other boat loads of snorkelers in the area (all with their own "flag" - one a deflated white ball). I ended joining another tour at one point but soon was put straight. After 40 minutes of fabulous views of fish and coral we were called back on board (those of us still out). We moved to another part of the reef and I was glad to see ours was the only boat there. All the snorkelers had made the fish skittish at the first location.

Julio jumped over again holding his white preserver. Everyone just sat there. I was fully kitted up and ready to go so I jumped. I later learned that one woman didn't make it past the first few minutes at the first stop claiming her mask leaked (my mother suspected she wasn't interested to begin with but just came with her partner). Another lasted about 10 minutes and kept repeating she had been in a wedding with bad shoes and had blisters on her toes. Three more followed me but I wasn't aware of them. Having lost Julio the first time I was determined to keep up this time. There was no current in this area so it was much easier. Also, I became good friends with my flippers and could zoom along without thinking about them. In fact, they worked better when I didn't think about them.

Julio pulled up a conch so we could look at it. It was retracted and the part I could see looked like a dark, red snail but worth seeing anyway. He also pointed out a fish disguised as the sea bed by shooing it around. And he showed us some interesting fish lurking in the holes of the coral.

The trip back to shore was uneventful. Lunch was not quite the all-you-can-eat buffet that was advertised. But I didn't care. There was a black bean mash, fresh homemade flour tortillas, fish in poblano sauce (guessing) and other Mexican food accoutrements. I suppose we could have made pigs of ourselves but the servers looked like they needed the food a whole lot more than we did and everyone was careful not to take very much. There was beer (and other things) for drinking. I believe Sol tastes much better in Mexico than it does anywhere else.

The last day my mother and I took the bus back to a shop at Market 28 in downtown Cancun. We had seen it previously on the shopping tour. Mistake. We should have called a tour guide to drive us. The Market 28 bus stopped 3 blocks from the market. Market 28 is huge. I think it covers at least four city blocks and has four official entrances. Unfortunately, after asking three people the way we ended up at the wrong entrance. It was so hot we had to take a break in an Oxxo convenience store with a bottle of cold water. Fortunately we found the right entrance and the shop pretty quickly and made our purchases. At that point, my mother was ready to pay any price the taxi driver asked but we weren't that heat crazed. Before getting in we agreed on $14, or rather he said "$14" and she said, "Okay!" The taxi drivers were actually quite well organized. The cab was uncluttered and the air conditioning was terrific. The queue was organized and an administrator of some type showed us to our cab.

At 4 am we woke up to a guy who couldn't be bothered to do a damn thing for us. Roberto. Avoid him if you visit this hotel. All he's interested in is the hotel's high speed internet access and cutting off arm bands.

The airport at 5:30 am is full of birds. I thought at first that there were loudspeakers blaring some kind of jungle sound track. Then I realized that the trees were full of birds all chirping as loudly as they possibly could. I was amazed. Since our box lunches from the hotel were like some elementary school nightmare (white bread with crusts cut off, three layers of bread and a couple of slices of ham and cheese) we ditched them for fresh pastries and hot coffee at the cafe before the security check point. Nice cafe.

I'm not going to share the whole security plane trip thing. But I must tell you that you can't tell from my passport that I'm back in the USA. Weird.

I'm thinking of driving to Virginia Beach this weekend to get another hit of salt water and snorkeling. But the $800 I just paid to get my car fixed may be a slight barrier. oh well. .. I did have this really great week.