When The Princess’s friends invited us to their destination wedding in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, over Thanksgiving weekend, our only concern was how fast we could say “Si!”
We bought our tickets, booked our hotel, and gladly forfeited turkey and pumpkin pie this year as we left behind the cold DC nights for the Mayan Riviera.
Here is my journal.Day One
An ominous beginning – while waiting to board our flight at BWI, we see a bird flying around inside the terminal. I feed it a granola bar.
We connect in Mexico City, where no one rushes for anything, magazines cost 70 pesos
($7), and you can smoke in the main terminal. We ate airline food that would have even embarrassed Taco Bell.
We land in Cancun after 6 hours of flying and catch a bus to Playa del Carmen. We soak in the Mayan sun and walk along the Caribbean beach as a startling fact dawns on the both of us -- this place is a tourist trap. Everything is overpriced, there are more gringos
than Mexicans, and the main strip (5th Avenue) boasts such local “tiendas”
as Burger King, Haagen Dazs, and 7-11, which they DON’T call Siete-Once
. We decide the only way to escape this Disney-fied Mexican town is to get really drunk.
We grab dinner at an airy restaurant called Las Brisas. Antonio, our server, brings me the best shot of tequila I’ve ever had and I wonder how it can taste so awful in the U.S. Later that evening, we visit the bride and groom and their families, drink some cheap beer, and go to sleep early.Day Two
We wake up early and take advantage of the Blue Parrot’s continental breakfast in a veranda on the beach. We decide to escape the confines of 5th Avenue and explore the grittier parts of Playa del Carmen, which, based on our limited field research, consists of a Wal-Mart and a huge supermarket store called Mega Pelican. At least, we think that’s what it’s called since the sign says Mega and has a drawing of a pelican.
After some walking, we grab some empanadas
at a small lunch dive called Adrian’s. This $6 meal proves to be La Princesa’s favorite and quite the memorable one for me since they had Coke in a glass bottle, a reminder of my childhood in Argentina.
With the November sun high above and hotter than we expected, we hit the beach. Despite the MANY exposed boobies we see, it is NOT a topless beach, a detail which doesn’t seem to bother anyone with half a bikini on. I am, obviously, pleased by this fact until I realize that most of the women going topless really shouldn’t be. One woman” looks like a man and I almost call her senor
The Caribbean Sea is a crystal aquamarine color that reminds me of my first car, a teal-colored, salvaged ’89 Hyundai Excel. The water is warm, the sand is soothing, and the breasts are flying. I buy La Princesa a Coco Loco, a coconut filled with rum, vodka, tequila, and dog’s blood. At least I THINK it was dog’s blood because it was pretty damn strong and lives up to its name of making us crazy drunk.Day Three
The sidewalks are crammed with turistas
and incredibly aggressive vendors, many of whom mistake us for honeymooners. Some are outwardly surprised by my amazing Spanish-speaking skills and ask me where I learned it. Responses of “Soy Argentino”
are greeted with laughter and well-meaning teasing.
We hit the beach again and negotiate a fair price to go snorkeling. La Princesa goes on the catamaran with me and a couple of newfound friends, Bo and Adam. We are led by Pancho, a seasoned and well-tanned guide who tells us he’s been taking tourists snorkeling for 10 years and often finds crates of Columbian cocaine ditched on the waters. The coral reefs are amazing but I am distracted by my desire to NOT be impaled on their sharp edges.
After a long afternoon siesta
, we attend the main event Carmel and Emiliano’s beach wedding. The officiant reminds me of Latka from the 70s TV show Taxi as he repeatedly tells Jesus “Thank you very much”. He also asks the crowd if he can get a “whoop, whoop” for the couple and proves to everyone that marijuana is not hard to come by in Mexico.
The sun sets and we hit the open bar, downing Sol cerevezas and margaritas. We meet up with some acquaintances that La Princesa knows and befriend some new people. The reception starts in the early evening and after some more drinking and a buffet dinner, the dancing begins. Not sure what year we’re in, we dance the Electric Slide and the Macarena, the dance steps of which come back to me a little too easily. A toothless wedding crasher scares the maid of honor. The bride gets food poisoning and spends the next two days throwing up in her suite.Day Four
We wake up early and meet up with our new best friends Bo and Karen for a daytrip to see the Mayan ruins in Tulum and Coba. We rent a VW Pointer (yeah, we’d never heard of it, either) and make our way south. My excitement at the realization that I’m driving a manual car in Mexico quickly gives way to an amazing amount of concentration as every car flies by me despite the 100 KPH signs. The roadways are not exactly littered with information but there are signs everywhere telling cars to slow down because our “families await us” and that “after an accident nothing is the same”.
Instead of speed bumps, the Mexican highways are covered with well-hidden speed ropes and speed launching pads, one of which I saw too late and sent our little VW Pointer flying through the air like in the Dukes of Hazard.
Tulum is pretty cool but the ruins are in a well-manicured park swarming with tourists. We sightsee for some time and head down to the beach. After lunch, we drive west to Coba where the ruins are stunning. We hike through the forested area, find the imposing Pyramid of Nohoch Mul, and climb to the summit, where we have the most incredible view of the Yucatan Peninsula.
This is the moment I had been craving since getting to Mexico -- high above the forest, soaking in the sun stretching toward the horizon, I forget the annoying tourists, the job I’ll have to go back to in less than two days, the world below. I sit by the edge of the pyramid with my arm around La Princesa and can just feel the goodness of the moment.Day Five
We pack our bags, now heavier because of La Princesa’s souvenirs. We check out, catch the bus, and make our way back to Cancun for our long flight home. “This is our last hot sun for a while,” La Princesa says as we walk into the airport, “soak it in.” We land in BWI at 11pm, where I replace my shorts with jeans, my short-sleeve linen shirt with a coat. The Customs officer stamps my passport and welcomes me home. “Gracias,”
P.S. For more photos of our trip, check out my Flickr album