After several months of planning our much needed summer vacation, the day finally came.
On June 11th at 1 am our plane departed from Tijuana to Cancun. A red-eye, non-stop flight that I had mentally prepared myself and the kids for. And I say mentally because I am a very light sleeper. So the idea of sitting on the middle seat (I was the buffer between the kids to avoid any possibility of a fight), with the miserable 2 inch recline that the tight rows allow in planes these days for 4 hours, was discouraging to say the least.
I am sure many will agree that the worst part of traveling is the one to two hour wait at the airport, the annoying security lines, and especially those 20 minutes while you have taken your seat, but others are still trying to figure out where they are going, or placing their bags in the overhead compartment with their butt on your face, or fighting with the flight attendant because their seat number is duplicated. Or having to unbuckle your seat and get out and start over because the guy on the window seat was late. To make it worse, usually the A/C is not on while boarding so all kinds of human scents and sounds float in the air. By then you either start to regret ever considering the trip or you close your eyes, stick your earbuds in and pretend you are there all alone.
I can be a little bit of a Germophobic so I feel truly grossed out in planes and airports sometimes. I was going to include swimming pools too (yuk) but I was headed to Cancun! I had to take the Germophobia out of my mind!
Needless to say, I got no sleep at all. But the flight was very smooth and felt short. Four hours later we landed at the Cancun Airport, groggy, with our backs aching and terrible morning breath: mints can’t do miracles! It was only 8 am.
Being closer to 50 years old than to 40 now, and accepting the hard cold truth that my body doesn’t look that young anymore, I had packed a one piece swimming suit so I wouldn’t have to worry about sticking my stomach in, while inhaling and then forgetting to breathe, so my tummy would look flatter. To hell with it! I thought. One piece suits are probably not the coolest item to wear, but I preferred breathing. A bikini made it to my suitcase “just in case” I dared, or just in case the humidity and heat made wearing the one piece feel like a sausage casing.
After arriving at the hotel, we had an exquisite breakfast, buffet style. The kids were amazed with a real honey comb that was displayed to provide the Honey, no jars. I told the kids “you won’t see this very often in the US , do you?”. My Mexican pride started to kick in. Honey Comb @ Breakfast Buffet
I was amazed myself just by the beauty, color and sweetness of the fruit, the sweet breads and the freshly made Mexican brunch items, such as tamales, sopes and chilaquiles. I inquired to a waiter about the sweet breads containing nuts: my son is severely allergic. Ten minutes later a (very) short man with a tall white chef’s hat came out and introduced himself as Felix, the pastry chef. His forehead was covered in beads of sweat, which was a beautiful indicator that he spend his time mixing, kneading, decorating and filling pastries and a sad indicator that the kitchen where he probably had been since 4 am was very hot. Still, he had a smile on his face as he walked me and my son (a whole foot taller than him) through the pastry table and pointed out which breads to stay away from. I thanked him and walked back to my table with Felix’s smile now on my face. It was contagious.
I think the idea of a whole week without cooking or doing dishes also had something to do with my early morning smile.
My husband and I commented on how service in Mexico, especially in the Hospitality Industry is so much warmer and accommodating than in the US. How servers will NOT bring you the check unless you ask for it. How they will serve with an attitude that makes you feel welcome and important. How they go the extra mile to get you what you want even if it means combining 3 dishes into one, because your ridiculous diet requires it. This is not always the case – of course; rude waiters can be found across borders and beyond, but generally speaking, the way salaries and tips are managed in Mexico, encourages the Industry employees to earn their monetary rewards, call it bonuses, tips, gratuities with more enthusiasm.
I believe that is why Mexico if one of the top destinations for travelers across the world. Not just the beauty of our country, but the warmth and friendliness of the hospitality services play a huge factor as well.
After breakfast we toured the hotel for a short while. It was very noticeable that 90% of the guests were from the US or Europe.
The School year in Mexico was not over yet, so most Mexicans start travelling later in June.
I am not going to say anything rude here. I will just say I saw enough women of all ages and sizes with such confidence carrying their bodies around in tight swim suits, with a self-assurance that many women would be happy to have a fraction of. So I went wild and dug my bikini out of my suit case on day 1!
At home we don’t own a pool and our neighborhood doesn’t have a community pool either, so the kids were really enjoying the huge pool at the hotel. I enjoyed watching them play just as much as they did swimming.
After a while a server came carrying around Ice cream bars in a variety of flavors, these were the authentic Mexican “Paletas Heladas”, ice cream bars in the US. My mouth watered just looking at the tray. I quickly picked a Coconut one and enjoyed every bite so much, I almost went to grab another. When I reached out for my wallet the guy said, “They are complimentary”. I thought…What? Free ? In Cancun? Can I have three?
But I didn’t. I am on “sugar control mode. After lunch another guy came with Fruit kabobs, delicious, fresh and chilled, also complimentary. These are the small details that make a difference from one hotel to another. This was at the Coral Beach Hotel.
Next morning, I went to the gym, I needed a good workout if I wanted to continue wearing the one bikini I had, and eating all the delicious things I knew I would eat that week. So I got up early, quietly got dressed, and exercised for a good hour. Afterward, I went to wash up to the ladies locker rooms at the gym and as I was leaving, I discovered that inside the Gym there was a full complementary bar of fruit, juices, whole grain (disguised as healthy) pastries and….COFFEE!!!!!! Seriously? I just worked my butt off on the stationary bike and now this?
But again, I behaved and just had a tall glass of Green Juice, lots of good strong Mexican coffee and lots of water.
That afternoon we moved to the hotel where we would stay for the next 5 nights. We purchased a Time Share about 5 years ago (despite all the warnings from friends and family of not getting even close to a Time Share sales person) . We chose Cancun as the Home location. It is a nice Property that is just under 10 years old and is very well located.
The next day we spent it all at our hotel just relaxing and swimming both at the pool and at the beach.
The color of the Caribbean Sea seemed to lure you in. A turquoise color than no paint can match. The water was crystal clear and with the perfect temperature to be cool and refreshing and warm at the same time.
I mostly relaxed and read a book I started the same day our trip started. (1)
Reading became a bit of a challenge because I was distracted by all the things around me, so close: I observed all the young American teenagers still traveling with their parents, especially girls, with bikinis that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. It made me wonder, is that bikini too small because it is from last summer and the girl doesn’t realize it doesn’t fit anymore? Or is it that uncool to have your whole butt covered these days? Or…do they sell the fabric by the square inch and that’s all she could afford?
My husband even commented one day and said, please don’t ever let our daughter wear a bikini like that, ok?
Our daughter -11- was wearing a cute blue one piece swim suit with silver pineapples all over. If this wasn’t girly enough, it had one little bow on each side. I wondered, how long until she stops wearing these cute one piece suits and wants to wear those “other ones”. I could perfectly visualize me and her, arguing about swimming suites in the years to come.
Well, I did feel old that day. Old and conservative look a school librarian.
Older women were included in this “daring” group too. I also wondered if there was a Who has the biggest boobs contest somewhere. I have nothing against big ones, but there is a point where it all falls into the grotesque category-in my opinion. My kids were not blind to all this. My son gave me looks now and then and couldn’t help but smile or giggle. They really got to see it all: G strings, girls (European I guess) with no tops, teenagers with tiny triangles they call bikinis, gay guys hugging each other at the pool. No inhibitions whatsoever. And I am fine with that.
They need to learn that there is more than their hometown out there, and more than the US in this world. Other cultures, tastes and likes. Deal with it and respect it.
Other cute little kids, American too, would walk along with their parents by the pool to the Towel Booths and show off their little bit of Spanish they knew to the Mexican pool staff.
– “How many towels? “
-“Treis porfavor”. The proud mom would encourage their girl to say… I loved it.
I have personally met people that don’t seem to feel the need to get out of the US to see other beaches, try other food, learn another language and see how others live. I will never understand it, never. So to see American families travel to another country with little children, where a different language is spoken and a different currency is needed puts a smile on my face. It is educational to say the least. Too bad some people don’t see it this way.
There was a DJ at the pool most of the day, so that made reading a bit hard as well. The entertainment Staff was always trying to accommodate the interests and likes of the crowd, so they played mostly music in English and played trivia games that were geared 100% to Americans.
One afternoon, I guess the DJ got tired of Pop Music (as was I) and started playing Latin music.
It made me want to dance, and I realized I didn’t remember the last time I went dancing. L
The hit song Despacito (Luis Fonsi) started playing and I thought it was almost comical that absolutely no one reacted. No one moved to the beat of the song, no one danced or even mouthed the words.
Clearly they had no idea what the song was. The discouraged DJ let the song end and went back to Katy Perry and Justin Beiber to which at least a dozen teenagers where singing nearby.
During the week we visited 2 ecological parks. One of them, Xplor and Xcaret.
Xplor is for the adventurous. It has more Zip lines than I could count, there is also underground rivers that you can swim in and Amphibian buggies you can drive on paths that go through caves, slushy muddy waters and a dried-out jungle. The Zip lines were a lot of fun, but my favorite part was swimming in those cold rivers through caves with beautiful stalactites. It is mostly in the dark that you swim, so the experience was very new and a bit scary for the kids. The depth was between 6.5 and 7 feet, so while everyone was swimming, my husband was walking J. And the kids decided to tag along, holding on to his life preserving vest, they looked like a train going along the river.
A buffet lunch was included in the admission, and honestly I did not expect much. When the word buffet is in the sentence, it has an immediate sense of downgrade for me. But I was very pleasantly surprised. The facility that served lunch for the adventurous that extremely large. It had plenty of food for the hundreds of hungry zipliners and it was organized in a way that you could avoid crowds and lines.
The seating –on the other hand- was designed for you to eat fast and leave, allowing for quick table rotation: picnic style seating, it also felt like a German Beer-fest.
They had everything from Hamburgers and hotdogs for tourists who refused to try anything else, to Mexican traditional dishes, and lots, lots of seafood.
I loved that everything in this park screams NATURE COMES FIRST. The buildings and structures are built around the trees, as opposed to chopping down trees to build. This tree caught my attention, it was right in the center of the restroom area, but it was intact.
No one chickened out and no one got hurt, so that day was fun and successful. Except for the part where I left my son in charge of a bag with gifts I had just purchased while I took my daughter to shower. When I came back, he was on his phone playing and the bag was gone. I was furious to put it mildly. Again, I was disappointed at the human race. Why would someone just take something that is not theirs? UUGGHH!!
The next day we went to Xcaret. This ecological park offers a variety of animal exhibits (Aviary, Butterfly pavilion and an Aquarium) but also portrays the Mayan Culture in different exhibits and shows.
There are swimming and snorkeling areas, and hammocks too if you just want to relax.
There is a Mayan Cemetery, built in a spiral form with 365 tombs, 7 levels and 52 steps to go up and down (all elements of a Calendar).
The food, which you could choose from 6 or 7 restaurants, was –again- very good. Since no one in my home eats seafood (my son occasionally), I ate a lot of seafood that week.
These 2 parks were in the Riviera Maya, not in Cancun, so we had to rent a small car to get there both times. Several years ago in Cancun, I got pulled over by a cop and got a speeding ticket. So this time I was very careful to avoid one.
I drove all the way to the parks (about 70 miles) and back at the allowed speed limit. And I swear, I was the slowest car in the Yucatan Peninsula. I felt ridiculous and everyone gave me a look, and maybe not the finger because there were kids in the car, but seriously! The speed limit was ridiculously slow. Anyway, mission accomplished: I got us to the parks and back, twice, with no ticket. If I was going to get a ticket, it could have been for going so slow.
The nights were a bit slowed because the heat, the sun and the parks made us very tired.
When we packed for this trip, I asked (almost demanded) that the kids brought a book they liked. So on a couple of occasions, after dinner, the four of us would lay in bed and just read. No phones, no TV, just read. We call it Book Club time. I was in disbelief, in a good way.
One night we went out to a superb steak house called Cambalache. It was the one time we all got dressed up and wore something other than flip flops. Everything was excellent, the place is new. The Architecture and décor were very chic and modern. The service, as usual, extraordinary. And the steaks, oh my…
This was not a “kids meal” type of place, so my daughter, who absolutely loves steak (like her Dad) had some of his Rib eye. I had salmon, “from Norway” the server had said. I don’t know much about fish but I will say this. Salmon from Norway and Salmon from Alaska are almost like different species. It was the best salmon I have ever had, period. My son, who thinks chewing meat is too much work, had pasta. This year we have mostly said goodbye to the kids menu and watched our children grow with the increasing appetites of the pre-teen years, as well as tastes buds that are clearly maturing. Slowly- but surely.
We are definitely going back to this restaurant. I was so pleased, I posted a review about it on Yelp when I got back to the hotel.
The last day at Cancun, we planned to spend it relaxing by the pool or beach. I swam for a while with my husband at the beach. The kids refused. I felt it was a waste to spend all week in a pool and not get into the warm, clear water of the Caribbean. Pools you can have everywhere, the Caribbean, no!
But I didn’t push it. The currents and waves were strong, there was actually a red flag by the Lifeguard Booth. The water felt like it was trying to tangle up your ankles and pull you in hard, like claiming all the swimmers as its own.
It was quite a workout to swim in there just for 15 minutes or so. My daughter settled for a ziplock bag full of white soft sand and some shells I collected for her. She recreated the beach in a small mason glass jar that today sits by her bathroom sink. My son only knows that there are Great White sharks in California beaches that have attacked surfers and that –according to him- it can also happen in Cancun.
That last day I was almost sad, not because I was going back home the next day; back to reality, to working, to cleaning and cooking, to ending arguments and fights between the kids, to sitting most of the day either at my desk or in my car; but sad because this time, Cancun reminded me so much about my teenage years and my 20’s. When I was as young as the girls by the pool, when I went out to party and dance every single night. When my life was about school and friends and fun. When I could walk for miles touring or clubbing without backaches or foot aches. When I travelled with my siblings and my parents.
This trip made me look back and reflect and feel nostalgia, for my friends, the ones I don’t see anymore. Nostalgia for the healthy body I had then, for my Dad. It reminded me too of 3 years ago, when we invited my Mom to Cancun and I helped her inside the pool and she enjoyed it so much it brought tears to the back of my throat.
That afternoon, my sister in Law forwarded a message that –in a nutshell- said we should enjoy our children as much as possible while they are still with us, living with us, wanting to travel with us without rolling their eyes at the thought of spending time with the family.
So I thought, what am I doing here feeling sad by the pool in this paradise?. I can be sad and nostalgic tomorrow. I put my book and my sadness away and jumped in the pool with the kids. We swam, played catch with a water polo ball we took and watched my daughter do gymnastics in the pool. Even my husband joined us for a while as we played “Monkey in the Middle” and had a lot of fun.
Later that afternoon, my son noticed a group of people (kids and adults) playing beach volleyball. He watched them for a long time as we stood by the edge of the infinity pool that overlooks the ocean.
“I wish I could play with them”, he said.
“Go ask if you can join them! They clearly don’t know each other, they are form different families or groups ” . Sometimes it is painful to see how shy he is; how he is shelled up and will not speak up or even ask the staff for help or directions to the bathroom. It is something I don’t get, but my husband always helps me understand and deal with, because he was just like that as a child.
Considering it was our last afternoon and I saw in his eyes how he really wanted to play, I offered him $100 Dlls (yes, One Hundred Dollars) if he went down to the beach and ask if he could join the game. He looked at me in disbelief and I explained that I was offering so much because I knew he wouldn’t do it.
“I know you, so there, the offer stands” I said. “And you have to actually play, and serve and all, not just stand there”- I added.
About twenty painful minutes later of watching him take baby steps towards the Volleyball net, I watched as he approached one of the male adults, exchanged some words and then patiently waited to be called once a new game started.
My jaw dropped –for real- as I saw my ever-so-shy and introverted son, entering the game with a group of 15 strangers or so. When his turn to serve came, he asked someone else to do it, and the second time around he actually served. The ball made it perfectly to the other side of the net. It took me a while to take it all in. He had never played volleyball.
My daughter and I cheered for him all the way form the pool, yelling his name while he turned occasionally at us with a look that said “Mom, please stop that”.
The game ended, he came back to the pool standing 2 inches taller than before. I told him how proud I was of him. The best $100.00 spent that week!
So that is how our summer started. There are no trips planned for the rest of the summer, so it will feel a bit long for the kids.
I am looking forward to switching to -and staying in- summer relaxation mode while it lasts. To enjoy our home, stay cool in this desert heat and watch the kids grow an inch or two before they start middle school – together this time!
For now, Happy 4th of July everyone!
- DIASPORA, by Gerardo Cardenas. Ediciones Vaso Roto.
This is a book that is comprised of 25 stories written by Authors of Hispanic descent or Latin themselves that are immigrants in the United States. Even though the stories are fictional, they have an underlying sense of reality in them. As an immigrant myself, I enjoyed this book very much. It made me cry and laugh too. I could say it is mostly an easy ready, but because the authors use Spanish from Mexico, Peru, Spain, Cuba and Bolivia – among others- the text becomes very deep and it pulls you in to interpret or even research some of the words that can be alien to your own Spanish. I highly recommend it to anyone that enjoys short stories and has empathy or even a slight interest in the experiences and feelings of an immigrant in the US.