From Isla Mujeres, we traveled by ferry and by boat to Playa del Carmen, which is allegedly the fastest-growing city in Latin America. It may have been bigger than it was five years ago, but my memory of the people served me well. The throngs of tourists are mainly beautiful people; plenty of Eurotrash, the vast majority with bronzed and toned bodies covered in impossibly elegant beach attire. I can stand about two days of shameless people-watching before it starts to do a number on my self-esteem, so that's how long we stayed. My plan was to put us at the epicenter of New Year's festivities - mission accomplished.
We rolled in on December 30 and checked into our stunningly gorgeous hotel. It was a splurge, because it was the only place I could find that didn't require us to stay for a full week. The rooms opened onto a quiet courtyard filled with jungle vegetation. At the center was a candlelit pool full of romantic nooks, and next to that a little Mayan steam hut. Each room had a little patio with a hammock on it, and inside the rooms had vaulted palapa ceilings, brightly colored walls, mini-bars, the works.
We took it easy the first day. All of the tourist action centers along Quinta, which is a 20-block pedestrian road, lined with stores, restaurants, bars, hotels, spas, and dive shops. The vast majority of the businesses were high-end European stores or American fast food, but there was plenty of local color in the cuisine and the second-story bars. We sat and people-watched all through lunch, then walked along the beach. There was a massive DJ dance party happening in the sand, but it was mid-afternoon, and I came to the realization that most people look godawful trying to dance in bathing suits. Moves that guys could pull off in baggy jeans make them look spastic in trunks , and women at their best move like cranked out hippies. We fled.
Strolling the boulevard for dinner that night, we ran into Susan of Milky Way karaoke fame. Weird! She must be the only person I know who I didn't mention my trip to. Never expected to see anyone I knew in a million years. And it was even more unlikely our running into each other because in comparing itineraries, it seemed like we had planned entirely opposite trips. That just made it feel more serendipitous.
That first night we walked up and down looking for where the party was at and it eluded us. We walked into half a dozen clubs that looked gorgeous from the outside, and got inside to discover the dance floor was filled with seating. I couldn't believe that nightlife in Playa consisted of standing around talking in thousand dollar outfits. We did attempt one actual nightclub with ropes and bouncers and everything, but entry was $40, "$20 for bitches." So we spent some time at this rooftop bar crammed with people. There was a swimming pool next to the bar, and against the wall of an adjacent building they were projecting silent Mexican wrestling movies from the '20's. Aesthetically beautiful, but unfriendly. Phil went to the bar to try to get drinks and I waited. In a full 30 minutes, the bartender never served him and no one spoke a word to me, so we split for home.
Maybe it was karmic payback for the cold welcome, but New Year's Eve was unstoppably awesome.
After breakfast and beach time, we headed back to the hotel and got picked up for our jungle zip-line tour. The tour was pretty awesome - the clientele so profoundly stupid, we were laughing about them for days.
It was a party of 10. The mothers and daughters pile into our van and spend 15 straight minutes talking inanely about shoes and when they were going to get their hair braided on the beach. Now, this is a tour that goes through a tropical rain forest and involves an optional ATV ride which they all took, zip lines through the trees, and a swim in cave at the bottom of a steep, mossy ladder. And the girls are complaining that their snowy white sneakers are going to get ruined. Uh, yes. Yes they are.
When we arrive at the place to get our gear, one of the mothers says, "do y'all have any plastic bags?" The guide looks at her quizzically. "We CHave dees garbaj bags . . ." She says, "no, fer their sneakers." He stares at her, dumbfounded. "Que?" Congratulations, lady, y'all have outdumbed every American this poor man has ever seen.
But wait! We were not yet acquainted with the menfolk, all of considerable girth. Captain Douchebag himself was the first to speak. Throughout the day he would stun and amuse us with fart- and pissing-in-the-pool jokes that were absolutely blood-curdling in their obviousness, but first he warmed the room with some ignorant American jokes. He weighed probably around 275. His brother/cousin/brother-cousin was likely pushing 300.
"Hey, is that zip-line gonna hold El Lardo over there? I'm afraid that El Rope-o is going to El Break-o. He's a little El Graaand-o if you know what I mean." I don't think a day passed afterwards without Phil riffing off this, eg. "I'm going to take El Grando Dumpo in El Bathroom-o."
Quite satisfied, we went home for our usual post-dinner siesta, which usually takes about an hour and a half. Three hours later it was 11:40pm and I sat bolt upright in bed. Holy Crap! It's almost midnight! Get up!
Ugh, are you *sure* you want to get up?
I was somehow tired to the point of retardation and sleeping felt sooo good, but I said, well, we should at least see if these tickets are worth anything.
By 11:45 we were looking pretty and out the door. By 11:55 we had managed to squeeze our way through 2,000 people in 5 blocks (think: Mardi Gras) and had made it to the club. There was a line, but miraculously we flashed the tickets and they bumped us right in.
Thank fucking God. It was so incredibly awesome. There was a DJ by the door flanked by projection screens and loads of people dancing in the sand to trippy techno. We pushed on and Phil discovered a side bar where mostly only waitstaff were getting drinks. Drinks in hand by 11:57. We considered staying put, but I said, well, let's see if that other DJ is any good. Once we passed the wall of sound where the two DJs were colliding, we discovered that he was indeed very, very good. In the middle of the dance floor, making out - 12:00 am, January 1, 2008.
We had an amazing time. We danced for hours and watched the moon rise over the ocean. The DJ played awesome sets where the songs flowed seamlessly, and he flipped genres at just the right time. He played a kick-ass hip-hop set, later an old school hip-hop set which drove the crowd wild. His rock set started with YMCA, flowing into Sweet Child of Mine, You Shook Me All Night Long, Are You Gonna Go My Way, Smells Like Teen Spirit and ended with Hey Ya; a set truly greater than the sum of its parts.
There was a point in the night around 3am where we took a breather and climbed to the top of this tower where a third DJ was playing some chill stuff, and there were clusters of beach couches and low tables, and we sat and looked up and down the beach at all the competing parties. This is like, the best New Year's EVER, Phil said. Yup, no contest. And we almost slept through it! How awesome are we?