My Excellent Mexico Adventure

Three days after our wedding, B. and I woke up at an ungodly hour to catch a 6am flight to Mexico for our honeymoon. We packed only light summer clothing and I pointedly placed my umbrella on the bench by the door saying “I won’t be needing YOU for a while”. This is what they call foreshadowing.

Several uneventful hours later (apart from enjoying The Savages on the airplane), we arrived in a super long customs line. Eventually, we made it through, rendezvoused with our ride (who was NOT at the exit holding a sign with our names on it as I’d hoped. When’s it gonna be MY turn?!) and we were on our way to our resort, Puerto Aventuras, which lies along the coast about an hour south of Cancun.

Halfway there it started raining. We asked our driver if he’d heard a weather report. He said it would rain a little every day but not to worry, it would clear up. Perhaps he didn’t understand the question.

palm treeWe arrived at our resort and checked in. I had been practicing rudimentary Spanish for several months before the trip off and on. In real life situations, it turns out that I am good at asking questions, but terrible at understanding the answers. Luckily, as with everywhere in the world, most everyone speaks a little English. And we got to be the Ugly Americans. Though most everyone was really nice about it.

They informed us that every evening, we could place our order for our complementary continental breakfast, and that the following morning, it would be placed into our Magic Box at the requested time. I’m not one for fairy tales, but the prospect of magic breakfast was certainly exciting.

After that, they showed us to our room. B. hadn’t asked the honeymoon suite pecifically, but he did mention that we were newlyweds and it appears that they hooked us up. We had a selection of oils (for a fee) and a private deck with jacuzzi. We planned to make good use of the latter.

We freshened up and ventured out into the resort in search of food. There were many restaurants to choose from in the surprisingly deserted resort, so the restaurants hosts competitively tried to lure us into their place. You could not just quietly examine the menu. The host point to menu items and ask how you felt about them. You needed to make snappy decisions or they would be made for you. We settled on a place with an authentic but marginally vegetarian-friendly menu. Several minutes into the meal, I realized I was getting bitten by mosquitoes.

Now there are SOME mosquitoes in Washington, but they aren’t bad. On a camping trip, I usually get one or two bites but nothing significant. By the end of our meal, I had 15 bites on ONE leg and several bites in other locations. They swelled up quickly. We made a b-line to the pharmacia where I promptly purchased hydrocortisone (luckily, the word is hydrocortisona en espanol) and a bottle of OFF. The bites got really bad over the next several days, swelling to record sizes and keeping me awake at night with the itching. I’d hate to think what would have become of my poor legs had I not nipped that situation in the bud.

After dinner, we strolled around and then purchased some booze for which to bring back to the jacuzzi. It was still raining a bit, but we were able to enjoy ourselves in the sheer decadence of it all.

WEDNESDAY

We rented a car to drive to the Mayan Ruins of Tulum. We got what seemed like a good price for a National Lampoon’s European Vacation style clunker. Luckily, B. knows how to drive manual. Sort of. The price included insurance but we had to sign a waver saying that water damage wasn’t covered. This is probably because the guys had looked at a weather report. We hadn’t.

mexican rainAs we pulled out of the parking lot, it began to rain again. By the time we were on the highway, it was pouring. Even without extreme weather conditions, driving in Mexico is a bit of a challenge. The speed limit fluctuates 20km every 100 meters or so. At some points, they will raise the speed limit to 100km and then place an unmarked speed bump just past the sign, providing uninitiated motorists with a little Dukes of Hazard moment. At this point, the roads started to flood a little bit and B. had to change lanes to avoid the lakes which were forming.

In the Tulum parking lot, we were approached by a man selling ponchos. We were still hoping it would stop raining so we weren’t desperate enough to pay the 70 pesos each he was asking for. “For the lady” he argued. We said no thank you. “This is a better deal than what you’ll get in there,” he said, gesturing toward the retail area. We said no again. He rooted around in his bag and pulled out a cheaper poncho. “40 pesos”. I looked skeptical. “I’ll give you 20,” I ventured. “I can’t do it,” he said. We started to walk away. “50 pesos for 2,” he countered. We took them. I have never been much of a bargainer so talking a guy down that much was a big deal for me. It apparently helps to not really want what they are selling. We didn’t know how much worse it was going to get.

We decided to grab something to eat and see if the rain let up. B. got the fish tacos and I had some quesadillas which were filled with a string-cheese like substance, not melted. They were good but unrecognizable as quesadillas. When we’d finished eating, it was still raining, but we decided to forge onward anyway. We put on our plastic bags and ventured into Tulum.

tulumTulum was a really cool beach-front city which B. likened to a college campus. I love that ancient Mayan architecture. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let you climb on much. This is probably a good thing in terms of preservation, but damnit, how I wanted to climb those steps. It was a bit tricky keeping my camera dry, but we managed to take a few pictures.

On our way back to the car, we stopped at the bathroom. It was then that the skies began to DUMP rain. This was a thunderstorm. It was raining with a vengeance and we had about a half mile walk back to the car. Our plastic bags could not help us now. The most important thing was that my camera remained dry, so I took off my bag and covered my purse with it. I clutched the bundle inside my sweatshirt and we stepped out from under the shelter of the bathroom. 10 seconds later, we were soaked to the bone. We couldn’t have been any wetter if we’d jumped into the ocean. This was the classic honeymoon tale. “We went somewhere tropical and it rained every day”. It was only our second day but we had just come from the rainiest damned city in the U.S. We wanted sun.

I was worried about the drive back to the hotel. The highways were definitely flooding. We had to drive through a couple of large puddles. I recalled the waver we’d signed. I didn’t know how much water constituted a flood and the car definitely seemed to struggle at some points. But we made it back. We had the car till the next morning. We peeled off our wet clothes and then headed out to dinner. The rain had lightened again but we thought it prudent to quest for an umbrella.

Umbrella in hand, we drove into Playa Del Carmen, the nearest tourist town to our resort. We wanted to check it out even though the highlight, according to the brochures, was “good shopping”. We are not shoppers. But we did find a cigar store and a liquor store. You know, the important things. And then we went on the hunt for some flan. This proved more difficult.

As in the resort, people stood outside their restaurants trying to entice people in with their menus. We checked out a few but no one seemed to have desserts. We talked to a man named Ignacio for a while and he pointed out his dessert menu. They had several varieties of crepes but they also had tres leches which is delicious AND Mexican so we went on up.

After sitting down and ordering our drinks, the waiter asked what we wanted to eat. “Solo postres” I said. “Tres leches”. “No tres leches,” he informed us. He tried to sell us on the crepes. “?No te gusta?” he asked. I tried to explain to him that this was not the point. We can get crepes any old time. We want Mexican deserts. “Flan is for me,” he said. “Crepes are for you”. We finished our drinks and took the flan hunt elsewhere.

We managed to ignore most of the vendors and folks trying to stop us and sell us something but one particularly relentless American guy kept asking us “harmless” questions and somehow coerced us into talking to him. He asked us if we were on our honeymoon and how long we’d been there and what we’d planned to do with the remainder of the trip. He asked if we were going to XCaret or Xel Ha (2 park type places) and we said we’d been thinking about it. He said he could help us get some free passes to one of these places if we came inside to talk to him. “10-15 minutes tops,” he said. We looked at each other, sighed, and went inside.

He told us his name was Alan. I distrusted him immediately because he reminded me of a fratty business major. He was trying way too hard to relate to us and to “speak on the level”. And then we learned why. He was setting up appointments for time share presentations. In exchange for sitting through a 90 minute presentation (following a free breakfast), he could get us some freebies including a bottle of tequila (“You guys like tequila?”), two free t-shirts (snore) and two free passes to Xel Ha or XCaret. “It’s so simple. The presentation starts at breakfast so just eat as long as you can. I’ll take you from and back to your hotel and at the end I’ll be waiting with your free gifts.” We’d never heard of the company or the resort (Sandos) so we thought it over. But B. mentioned that some other friends of ours had sat through a time share presentation and got some free stuff and said it was mildly annoying but otherwise fine. So even though I suspected we were going to get kidnapped and raped, we agreed. To seal the deal, B. gave Alan $20 that would be “refunded” at the end. Alan would meet us the next morning at our resorts front gate since he would not be allowed inside. Then he recommended a flan destination.

We were freed and attempted to find the flan that shady Alan recommended. If he was right about the flan, perhaps it would prove his authenticity. We found the place he suggested, called Los Rancheros. There was a mariachi band playing on the stairs, blocking the way up. The man out front asked if we wanted to come in for dinner. “Solo postres,” I said. “No postres ahora,” he responded. We glanced up into the balcony. There was no one in the restaurant. I don’t know why they wouldn’t let us buy some flan. I guess they were waiting for P-Diddy and his posse to show up and drop a lot of cash.

But then, at the end of the line, we found a SECOND Los Rancheros. And they HAD FLAN TO SELL! We briefly had to sit next to a group of loud, drunk Americans and one, mortified 12-year-old girl, but they were on their way out. The rest of the evening was spent in peace with our flan and margaritas, speculating about what fate would befall us the next morning.

THURSDAY

We decided to play it safe and not bring anything with us other than the photo IDs (NOT our passports) and one credit card as Alan instructed. This would “prove we are U.S. citizens” and have a line of credit. All part of our con with our new buddy Alan to scam some company out of free gifts.

We were to meet Alan at the gate after we dropped off our rental car. But his supervisor had called us in our room to tell us he was running late. But then Alan himself called back saying he’d arrived earlier than expected and was outside. We said we’d see him in a minute but we had to drop off the rental car. On our way out, we didn’t see him at the gate. We went to the pump across the parking lot to fill up the tank. 2 gallons of gas came to 180 pesos which was obviously a rip off but in Mexico, they don’t post the gas prices anywhere. We suspect they make the prices up based on the customer. But that’s not all. They also tried the old Bill Switch on B. He gave them a 200 peso bill and they switched his rumpled note with a crisp 20 peso bill, claiming he didn’t give them enough. Neither of us were paying keen attention, but B. was certain the picture had changed and, since we didn’t bring anything with us, we didn’t have any other cash. We mumbled something about looking for an ATM and drove off. They shouted after us but, when we pulled in across the lot, they didn’t attempt to follow us, further confirming the scam. This put us both a little on edge, as did the fact that Alan wasn’t at the gate.

We got a ride back to our hotel from the car rental folks but still couldn’t find Alan. He wasn’t at the gate or the front desk. B. talked to the front desk lady to see if anyone was looking for us and she said he was. Already things are sketchy. I go to the room to use el bano. When I get back there is still no sign of him, but we wait a bit longer. Finally he shows up. We get into a big van (yikes! at least there are windows!) with Alan and the driver. Apparently, getting into our resort isn’t as difficult as Alan expected.

At his pitch meeting, he’d given us two choices. We could go to the big resort near Playa Del Carmen, 20 minutes away, or we could go to a smaller version of it 5 minutes away. We’d said we wanted to go to the closer one so we could get on with our day. But after we’d driven for 10 minutes, I realized he was taking us to the big one. Or at least that was the best case scenario…

We finally pulled into the resort. He dropped us off our front and checked us in with a woman who took down our DL info, checked out our credit cards (but covered up the numbers at her request) and asked us what we did for a living. Then she disappeared and came back with a guy named Eric. Eric was going to give us the presentation. I assumed he was taking us first to breakfast as Alan had promised. But instead he sat us down in a loungey area, made small talk, and then asked us a lot of questions about our travel tendencies. The 90 minutes had started and we didn’t have any pancakes.

He showed us a sample condo, the pool area, and the lounge for “members only”. It was all nice enough, I suppose. We pretended to be considering everything seriously. And then he took us into a cabana area full of couples and sales people. There were 3 cold beverages waiting for us. They looked like Mai Tais (!) but they were actually just juice. I guess this was our breakfast.

Eric talked to us a bit more and then his “manager”, Bobby, came over and gave us the hard sell. It was here that we learned what the real deal was (or at least the perceived deal). They weren’t selling time shares. They were selling “weeks of vacation” at “any of their resort locations around the world” apart from THIS one. This one we would give up so they could sell it to other suckers like ourselves. That is how we “help them with marketing”. That is how they can “give us such a great deal”. But the catch is that we have to agree to their terms that very day. If we sign their contract and agree to fork over $15K to them (“A lawyer will come over and go over the contract with you”) we must sign something saying we refused the deal and cannot be offered it again for 2 years. There were all kinds of other perks to “sweeten” the deal: Yacht memberships, Golf memberships, Spa memberships. But a jedi wants not these things and we tried explaining that to them when the time came, but they didn’t get it.

time share presentation“It’s not much money. Look how great this deal is!” We didn’t know these people, B. said. We’d never heard of them. We didn’t have time to google them and do research. “You can use our internet” they said. But we didn’t want to spend all day researching when on vacation, we told them. “But the YACHT membership! The GOLF membership! We will give you FIVE weeks of vacation then.” They were missing the point. Or at least the perceived point that B. was trying to make, apart from the real point which was that we were just there for the free shit. There was no way we would ever feel comfortable forking over that much money to strangers in a pressure situation. They were getting frustrated with us. “SIX WEEKS of vacation” they said. Let’s forget the fact that neither of us even HAVE six weeks of vacation a year. As we talked, all around us alarms were going off. Bottles of champagne were being opened. Bobby pointed this out. “These people don’t have any problems with it,” he said. So what? The world is full of suckers.

“Alright,” he said and got up. We thought perhaps we was going to do whatever needed to be done to get us out of there. He returned with another guy who had another offer. We said no to that guy. He returned with ANOTHER guy with another offer. We said no to him. We had definitely been there longer than 90 minutes and we were getting fucking grumpy. Everyone was. They were super pissed at us for not buying.

FINALLY, they brought out the waiver for us to sign saying we were passing up the deal of a lifetime. Thank god. Eric brought us back to the lobby. Along the way he asked us why we’d agreed to come in the first place. We owned up that it was for the free shit. He explained that people like Alan get paid $300 for every couple they bring in, regardless of whether or not a sale ultimately occurs. So they tell them all sorts of lies to get them there. They promise them freebies and it costs the company money when the people don’t buy. I felt a little bad for Eric. He was obviously getting boned in the deal. It was costing HIM money. He said he would bet us $100 that Alan would not be there to pick us up. We declined the bet saying that should he be right, we would need that $100 to get back to our hotel. “Well, then I will make the bet with myself,’ he said. “In my head, I make $100 today”.

Eric said he would still get us our free shit and he would arrange for a ride for us. But he looked so sad. He has a tough job. He was right, though. Alan was not there. Alan is a little bitch. But at least he didn’t mug or rape us.

Furthermore, our free passes were actually just a coupon. But they gave us cash. And a SMALL bottle of tequila. And two crappy t-shirts. And the ride back. It was a learning experience for everyone involved. Except for Alan.

Back at the hotel, we spent the rest of the day hanging out on the beach. The sun had finally come out. We could finally break out the sun block.

FRIDAY

We slept in a bit and then munched on our Magic Box breakfast before arranging a ride to one of the parks. We were still on the fence about which one. Ultimately, we decided on XCaret because Alan had HIGHLY recommended Xel Ha. I think it was a good decision.

XCaret is awesome. It’s a zoo, museum and natural water park all rolled into one. Best of all, you can drink beer at any time.

xcaret

We did a jungle cruise which, unlike the one at Disney Land, was in the actual jungle. We saw loads of animals including pumas, jaguars, crocodiles, manatees and monkeys. There were iguanas everywhere. They are as ubiquitous as pigeons are here. We sat on the beach, got to climb (finally) on some ruins and saw a Mayan graveyard. We also swam the underground river which wraps around the park. It was a really fun day.

xcaret

SATURDAY

We spent the day around the resort, lounging on the beach and checking email by the pool. At mid-day we went snorkeling. It was really nice but I had a bit of a mishap out on the reef. Some water got into my tube and I started to choke. I needed to stop and catch my breath but but I was stuck in the middle of the reef. I tried to stand (which I know you’re not supposed to do but it was me or the reef) and the waves kept pushing me around, scraping my legs up. Eventually I was able to calm down and breath and swim off the reef. I walked the rest of the way back in. The water was shallow enough to do so which is fortunate. In the future I think I’d better stick to kayak/snorkel combos. I’m not in good enough shape to swim in the ocean for a long time without a break.

That evening we went to dinner, where we noticed that the resort was actually starting to fill up and then we relaxed in the hotel room. Around 11, the front desk brought us a complimentary bottle of champagne. This was probably the only night I managed to get drunk which is pretty amazing for me and Mexico. I guess something about Seattle brings out the binge drinker in me.

SUNDAY

quesadillasWe had a nice lunch with an ocean view and I munched on some amazing quesadillas. Then we hopped in the cab and started the long journey home, which was made longer by flight delays and an incident at customs. I know realize the full extent of my naivety but even though I’m aware of the Cuban trade embargo, I thought that only applied to bringing goods in and out of the U.S. with the intent to sell. I have never tried to buy a Cuban cigar before and all I know of them are in movies where rich dudes offer people Cubans. I thought it would be perfectly fine to buy a couple as a gift and bring them back. We weren’t SELLING them. It wasn’t trade. It was a souvenir. Apparently, this is not the case. At all. And despite having paid $9 each for the cigars, they ripped them up in front of me and made B. sign something. It would have been so easy to smuggle them. But we were honest and we paid the price. What a stupid rule.

It took us a total of 15 hours door to door. It was good to be home.

Pictorial accompaniment is here.

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5 Comments

  1. A friend of mine just emailed me one of your articles from a while back. I read that one a few more. Really enjoy your blog. Thanks

  2. Wow, your honeymoon was actually worse than mine was! :)

    Lesson learned: never go where the tourists go, even when you want to relax. They don’t call them tourist “traps” for nothing: you’re constantly being marketed to, treated like a consumer and not like a human being. That’s what Waikiki is like too. But it sounds like you saw some nice, semi-unspoiled sights anyway.

    And I guess everybody has to experience the timeshare (or whatever) sales experience once (and hopefully ONLY once) in their lives. I accompanied a friend maybe 20 years ago to one that promised free trips to Lake Tahoe just for showing up. (Everybody technically got a 2-night stay in some Tahoe motel of unconfirmed quality, but they still had to pay for themselves to get there.) It was the same deal: smarmy jerks telling us “This is no hard sell” even as they hard-sold us, then bringing in the big guns at the end when my friend kept saying no. Then the big gun doing his damnedest to guilt trip us and make us feel like total assholes for turning down this amazing offer, and walking away as if he was our minister dad and we had just told him we were gay.

    And don’t feel sad for “Eric” – I’m sure his sob story was just more bullshit, geared at making you feel sorry for him and thus buying his scam.

  3. Hehe. Well, sales presentation fiasco and rain storm aside, I actually had a pretty great time. XCaret was really cool. That day alone made the trip worthwhile. But I have definitely learned my lesson on sales presentations. No matter how good the freebies sound, they are not worth the trouble.

  4. I’m just sad we have to wait 2 years before getting another sales presentation. I love to dash peoples hopes and dreams. The free gifts were just icing.

  5. We don’t have to wait 2 years to dash SOMEONE’S hopes and dreams. Just those of another employee of Sandos Resort. Let’s be sure to inflict our nefarious deeds on some poor unsuspecting Italian salesperson.


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