Cancun 2015
 
 
When I flew into Puerto Vallarta years back, I couldn't find anywhere to collect the passport stamp. So I left. This time in Cancun, there was an immigration line and then a customs line. (They'll have to add an agricultural inspection if they want to catch up with Australia, though.) The immigration guy asked about my hotel, then told me it'd been torn down. (It had been. He just didn't know about the new one they built.) Was going to get a taxi from the airport to the hotel, about US$12. No cabs allowed at arrivals. Without a reservation, a shuttle would cost $68. So I decided to walk around to arrivals. Turns out fencing and planting and turnstiles require a 180 around the outer circumference of the airport. So I got ripped off immediately upon arrival, there's still a Mexico. (In Puerto Vallarta, they airport currency exchange short-changed me.)

Immigration people: Mexico uses a two-part form like the US I-90, Their way of dealing with the exit problem is that the airline won't let you on board unless the return part is stapled to your ticket.
 
The reason the hotel cost $95 vs. $295 for the others, I found, was that it was halfway between the airport and town. Getting to the beach takes an hour by bus. There's a lagoon between the hotel and beach that you have to circumnavigate. The hotel had, however, a great view of the beach (see below). I didn't really care, I'm not a big beach person. But I kept thinking, why did I come here when I could have just gone to Costa Mesa? See, there's the Volvo dealership, and across the street's the plastic surgery clinic, and everybody's Mexican. The first few days I slept though about half the day--I do that when I first relax. But when I got into town, I had to admit I was in Mexico.

I got to the hotel at 1:30. Checkin is at 3. Nominally.  It slipped an hour every hour until 5:30. Another guy had been there since 11. The front desk guy was frustrated. He kept calling the housekeeping manager, who would release no room until all of them were done. Everybody was frustrated, so he comped us--a drink. Mine ended up being fresh watermelon juice, which was good but not the dinner it should have been.
And in case you get sick, there's chemo and a linear accelerator colocated with the hotel. You don't even have to go outside.
Said road in front of the hotel, looking south toward the airport. Looking north toward town is the same--no intersection in sight. So to get across you have to scramble across 8 lanes. The generous medians made it possible. There's very little in the area, as you can see. Three blocks away there's a little plaza with a Starbucks, Italian pastry shop, decent sushi (Hawaii-sized portions), a falafel place, and an equal number of empty storefronts. The hotel dining room was Appleby's-class, so I walked back and forth a few times a day.

I ate breakfast at the hotel though, it was included. The staff had really minimal English. Encountered the same in Europe--the middle class is fluent, but people with tourist service jobs have a 100-word vocabulary. I made the waiter's day when I apologized for my sub-fluent Spanish instead of busting his balls about his English. He threw his hands in the air in delight.) But about 80% of people seem to just assume you speak Spanish. If you come from LA, chances are that you do.

The sushi place has oreo tempura. I couldn't bring myself.
 
You can probably see the dog. All I could see was a flea--scuzzy body with a hole in the back, eyes and antennae. No sand fleas? There was a dumpy hobbit-sized security guard inside I kept trying not to step on. Eventually I broke down and asked her, "Es una pluga?" "No, es un perro," she whispered.  So I went outside and started and stared until I saw the dog.  Then I cracked up and so did everyone inside. (Brett asked how I knew the word for flea. Decades ago Luis and I were driving to San Diego and he happened to comment on the Las Pulgas offramp.)
The Italian pastry place had something called Torta Abuela, so I had to try that. Everything was first rate. However, I have to question the authenticity because my aunt Juanita never made these. She made beef stew.
Traffic circle commemorating the last battle of the civil war, where Gen. Maximillian was milkshaked. You know, I've had a few Spanish courses and in every one of them, batido is milkshake. I've even asked for them that way and got nary a blink in response. So off to the dictionary. Turns out the primary meaning is "beaten". (Do you beat a milkshake? Reminds me of Iron and Silk where a Chinese student translated it as "milk trembles".)
Took a taxi downtown. I'd left a foot of snow behind in Virginia, and here was another foot of...oh, gypsum. This is from the middle-class part of downtown. Then there was the tacky part that looked kinda like Norfolk. When I was ready to head back at night, I tried cab after cab and everyone had a whining excuse for not going. Finally I realized that the problem was, once they left the el centro, they probably would not get paid to drive back. So I asked a bus if he was going down Rt. 28. He was.

Actually, he wasn't. In Mexico, it's rude to say you don't know, and he hadn't really picked up on the question. We went on and on. The posh downtown got tacky. The tacky cheapo stores turned into I'm-not-getting-off-here barrio. The street lights gave out. A block had been closed for a street fair.  I REALLY wanted pictures of all this--but it was dark and I was inside a moving bus and it wasn't happening. Eventually, the barrio turned into deserted crumbling residences with no doors and heaps of construction rubble on the sidewalks. It was late, I was hungry, so I carefully quizzed the driver again.  He had me get out and transfer to another line, which took me back to el centro. There was no way to get home but walking. Turned out to be a 45-minute walk through nothing particularly dangerous, so from then on, that's how I got into town, saving MX$40 each time. (The Mexican dollar replaced the peso years back during a currency crisis. No one will take the old currency any more. But everyone still says peso.)

If I go back--and I would--I'm going to take that route at twilight and get  pictures.
Clever sign award - "Do you really want to put yourself in his place?"
If you stay on the bus long enough, you get to the miles-long stretch of beaches. I got off at Playa Delfines, one of the world's great beaches. Looking south.
Looking north, you can see the beach going on and on and lined with endless megaresorts. Public beaches occur every mile or so where there's a break in the resorts.
Across the road from the beach is the lagoon with the hotel on the far side. You know what? I really didn't get enough pictures this trip. I'll cover the rest the next time.
Frog eggs on a leaf at the lagoon.
Here's one of those enormous all-inclusive resorts that hog most of the beachfront. Useful fact: In Mexico, you have a right to get to the beach. Resorts may not want you walking through the hotel and property, but they can't stop you. If Mexico still had a dictator (me), these things would be piles of rubble by tomorrow.
The most expensive restaurant in town is a Basque place. But the best food is at Peter's. Here's hickory-smoked salmon on top of mashed potatoes with just enough chipotle not to overwhelm the vegetables, each of which is cooked to perfection despite the different cooking times. The hickory had to be from a real fire--never tasted anything quite like it. For dessert, home-made almond ice cream over chocolate sauce with straberries and candided walnuts. Turns out Peter was somebody in Maastricht before emigrating to Mexico. He has clippings up about his awards in Denmark. He stopped by mid-meal to say hi. Wouldn't have thought $60 a ripoff in the US. The total came to US$27.
 
Back at the airport, I made someone else's day. The taxi charged US$15. I gave him a 20. He tried to make US change and didn't have it. Then he made accurate Mexican change. I was impressed at this honesty and dumped todo mis pesos on him. That came to less than US$20, but he couldn't believe I was doing it. After all, I couldn't spend them at home. The last time I'd stashed Mexican currency at home, they switched currencies so I couldn't use it. And I'm sure he needed it more than I did.