Usually, when I'm making hotel reservations if I even bother to at all, I stick to my trusty guide book. But traveling to the Yucatan in the peak season and without owning a land line, I was forced to book every night months in advance, and I was restricted to places with internet access, which rendered Let's Go just about useless.
Quickly exhausting the hotels I could count on to occupy an actual physical space larger than an untraceable PO box, we booked five different places and hoped for the best. Two were through a booking website that only took a small deposit for each hotel - an amount too negligible to go to small claims court, but quite profitable if they screw enough people out of $10 a pop. A third place required us to wire the entire amount through Western Union, which would also be a genius way to make your money disappear forever.
It was thoughts like these that would wake me up in the middle of the night and have me sweating bullets. Phil had sweetly and ever so blindly placed all of his faith in me and I was really dreading what appeared to be imminent homelessness and I was afraid that A) something would go horribly wrong and he would want to kill me, or more likely, B) that he would be so wonderful at handling every disaster that I would become a complete basket case.
Well, rest easy, gentle reader! Everything went off without a hitch. I even got a call back from the Mexican car service we desperately needed since we were arriving at midnight - they reached me as I was strapping on my backpack and heading out the door. Nice to know we wouldn't be raped - physically or economically - on our arrival.
Our driver was there with his little "Liz Doran" sign written in sharpie pen. I have always wanted one of those little signs to be about me! It's nice to feel money, even if only for a millisecond. It was 2 am and I asked the guy if we were his last run and we were. Then I asked him when his day started. "5 am." We tipped him well, for what little it's worth.
The theme of our first 24 hours was This is Why We're Not Spending Any Time in Cancun. The hotel was serviceable but unremarkable, until we tried to use our key to get back into our room in the morning. Apparently the battery died in the card reader. Weird! you'd think, How often does that happen? The answer is probably "frequently" since our handyman had a jerryrigged hook he stuck under the door and up to the door handle.
Our first meal was delicious, but we were seated outdoors in front of an intersection with cars coming right at us. Cancun is pretty filthy and run down, except where it's beautiful, astronomically expensive and overrun with Americans puking their way through spring break, or Americans too terrified to leave the all-inclusive reservation. So we got the hell out as planned.
Our cab ride reminded Phil of Crazy Taxi - a video game where you were supposed to race around town picking up fares and killing without remorse. It made me wonder if my health insurance extends out of the country and if it includes expatriation of remains.
15 minutes later, we were a world away on Isla Mujeres:
The island is a little shabby, but the buildings are colorful and charming, the locals mostly cater to the tourists or work as fishermen, and the tourists are mainly chill Americans and Mexicans on vacation.
We quickly got into our own chill routine; getting up and running in the morning sunshine, eating a nice big meal, spending a few hours on the beach, going for walks around town, a lengthy happy hour, big dinner, siesta, then heading out to find nightlife when it got cooler. On our very first day we headed over to a beachside bar with swings, and made friends with this guy Mark who was there with his whole family for a destination wedding. By evening we felt like we knew 50% of the island's population, which was cool because we were constantly running into people who knew our names. And Mark's little daughters were adorable and sang me happy birthday a couple days later.
The club we went to at night was gorgeous and I wish I could have taken it home with me. You walked in and the front room had a tall palapa roof and pool tables, and several chairs built like giant thrones out of polished driftwood that looked like root systems. Behind that bar was a second room with a series of benches, tables and nooks all built out of rounded concrete. Beyond that room was the deck which was maybe 10 feet from the ocean, with two-person swings, an incredible breeze, and the moon shining on the open ocean. Inside the club were these massive lanterns made out of leather with holes punched in them, and when the wind blew them they had the effect of langorous disco balls. And the best part was the dance floor, which was a courtyard under the open sky. We were dancing with the wind in our hair, palm trees swaying and stars shining above us. Incredible. It was probably a situation a lot like that where dancing was invented in the first place - you just can't help yourself.
But it was impossible to stress in a place as gorgeous as this spa. You walked on a path of stones set in a little moat, slid a heavy wooden door to the side and stepped into a wide courtyard, shaded by palms and vine arbors. In the center was a sunken living room, and beyond that a pool that spilled out over a cliff overlooking the ocean. I sat and watched the sun begin to set, with fingers of light streaming down through the clouds, an orange glow over the water, and little sailboats gliding along in the distance. It looked like a scene out of What Dreams May Come.
I hauled ass and made it back in half the time. My last heroic accomplishment as a 28 year old!
And the next day I had the bestest birthday ever: Woke up to prezzies, went for a quick run, then had this fantastic breakfast:
Luxuriated on the beach:
And spent hours with ladies' hands all over me at the spa. Afterwards, we stumbled next door to the fanciest restaurant on the island, which was infested with kittens, and had the most gorgeous view. We watched the sun set and the lights come up on Cancun (see Figure A).
After dinner we walked to the cabs waiting at the entrance. Now, I have to say, I was really pleased with my Spanish on this trip. I studied it in school, but apart from my last trip to Spain four years ago, I've kept it on the shelf. I was thrilled to find it exactly as I'd left it. I dunno - I don't have a very extensive vocabulary, but somehow I was just On, like what little I do know was always right on the tip of my tongue. I've got enough to cover all the predictable tourist situations, and I do fine cobbling together conversations in Spanglish and mime. And I catch the gist of more than I can say.
So we ask the cabbie what the fare will be. He quotes us a price that's slightly steeper than the one we were charged coming out. I translate it for Phil, which leads the guy to believe that we don't speak any Spanish. I kind of make a face, since they're trying to fleece us a bit, but we're like, ok, sure. As we're getting into the cab, he's saying goodbye to his buddies and I'm not really paying attention, until I hear the word "strega" and then the word "maldito."
Uh, Phil, I think they just called me a witch . . . and they called you a . . . little bad one? I was only partly right; el maldito means damned one. Although a few days later, we were on a bus with an English movie subtitled in Spanish, and I got to see another translation of maldito. I turned to Phil and said, oh, wait, no, the called you a little fucker! Alright, so maybe we weren't the most popular kids on Isla Mujeres, but on the whole, she really treated us right.