Lifestyle, Travel

Travel Chronicles: Cancun, Mexico.

So, that was me ‘worshipping’ at the Temple of Kukulcán at Chichén Itzá, Mexico.

If you look closely at the top of the pyramid, you will see the feathered serpent god Kukulcán slithering down the steps. He was coming to bestow a chieftaincy title on me. Onirespect of Ile Kukulcán.

Kidding. You won’t see squat. There’s only one God and He sent His son Jesus to die for us.

But you can’t go to Cancun without going up to Chichén Itzá. I know, it’s a touristy thing to do. But mi gente, we were turistas.

One more trip to a Spanish country and I’ll be whistling in Spanish.

We’ll get back to Chichén Itzá shortly. First, Cancun.

Oh, I can get used to Cancun.

I have a love-hate relationship with any body of water. But Cancun put me at ease. The powdery-sand beaches. The sparkling turquoise waters. The promise of a million tacos and toothsome enchiladas. Oh yea, I can get used to Cancun.

Right from the Cancun International Airport, Mrs Alade’s mood brightened. The Arrivals area was clean, modern and efficient. The border control officers were courteous and professional, a stark contrast to our experience in Havana.

But once you clear Immigration and Customs, it is bedlam. You are besieged by a deluge of salespeople offering you time shares, tour packages and car rentals. Outside are taxi hawks crooning in your ears. These dudes can charge you between $80 – $100 for the 20-minute ride to the Hotel Zone. The ride costs no more than $35 in a private shuttle. If you are sharing the shuttle with other travellers, it’ll be around $15 per rider. I’d pre-booked our hotel transfer before arrival. I’d read and watched so much about Cancun, I could run for Mayor.

Let me tell you a hustle Mrs. Alade fell for.

While we were waiting for our hotel transfer, Mrs. Alade thought she’d cool her heels at Air Margaritaville, a bar outside the Arrivals area. I chose to stand around and look out for our shuttle. As an Agege boy, I’ve developed finely tuned nostrils for sniffing out a bad deal or a rip-off. And that Air Margaritaville place smelled more like Mugville. But Mrs. Alade is not from the streets like I am. She sat in a comfy chair and ordered a pina colada. It was $45. Excluding tip. Tipping is big deal in Mexico.

$45 for a middling pina colada! She was gobsmacked.

That’s what happens when you don’t take cues from your husband.

When we were in Miami, against my advice, she had also made us go into this cute little ice cream parlour on Ocean Drive. She ordered the smallest ice cream serving for one. It was $19.50. She said the ice cream was nice.

What will be nice is if you pay for the ice cream yourself!

But I digress. Back to Cancun.

Getting into Mexico was simple. Unlike Cuba, I didn’t have to write to the United Nations about where and how to get a Mexican tourist visa. As a Nigerian citizen, you need a visa to visit Mexico. But getting the visa is easy. You apply to the Mexico Embassy in Abuja in person, and if all goes well, the visa is issued the same day. But we didn’t need to apply for a visa. Because if you have a US visa (of any type) or a Schengen, UK, Canada or Japan visa, you do not need a visa to visit Mexico. Just buy your plane ticket and you’ll be por favor-ing in no time.

Now, we could have flown directly from Havana to Cancun – a 1hr 45m hop. But the only direct flight was at 8:30 pm and on the poorly reviewed Mexican airline Aeromar. Call me cowardly, but I didn’t fancy a night flight between two third-world countries over the Caribbean Sea on an airline people thought was crap. I read reviews a lot. I once bought a bicycle for my daughter that had a terrible review but hoped the buy would turn out right. It didn’t. It broke on the first day of riding. So, I decided to be safe than sorry. We opted to fly back to Miami and from Miami fly to Cancun.

Hotel Zone or Downtown Cancun?

What is special about Cancun anyway?

You mean apart from forgetting all your worries and being inspired to blow money you may or may not have?

Cancun exists for tourists. Yea, I know that’s probably a discrediting thing to say about the nice and hardworking Mexicans living there. Sure, ordinary Mexicans live and work in the city long before hotels and resorts sprang up. But ordinary Mexicans also live and work in Hidalgo del Parral. Nobody waxes lyrical about Hidalgo del Parra. Mexico is all jungles and scorching land. Not Cancun. It’s on the Caribbean shores. On waters with delightful shades of blue where you can snorkel with turtles. Right from its mother’s womb, Cancun knew what it wanted to be.

Cancun is divided into two areas: the Zona Hotelera or Hotel Zone, and Downtown Cancun or El Centro.

The Hotel Zone is a narrow 22.5 km strip on the Caribbean shores. It is dotted with hotels, resorts, villas, waterfront restaurants, nightlife and other attractions. It is the Cancun that 23 million tourists visited in 2019. It is the Cancun 25 million people will visit by the end of 2022.

Our hotel was in the Hotel Zone, the Beachscape Kin Ha Villa & Suites. Not too shabby. It claims to have the best natural beach in the whole of Cancun. It may well have. The beach was powdery white sand and crystal turquoise. No dangerous undertow. No churning waves. Our one-bedroom suite overlooked the blue calmness only 40 meters away. I walk about two kilometres every morning on the beach, the clear water caressing my feet and darting back. Oh yea, I’m loving it in Mehico!

Downtown Cancun or El Centro (City Centre) is where the locals live. The real deal. The hotels here are cheaper and it is where you stay if you want to experience authentic Mexican living. This is where you’ll find the Walmarts, the iHops, and McDonald’s. It is also where you should go to buy souvenirs and eat inexpensive authentic Mexican meals. We booked a one-night stay in Downtown Cancun just to see what the place was like. It was a decent hotel. But I didn’t come all the way to Cancun to do decent. It is the Hotel Zone for me.

Beaches in Cancun

Strictly speaking, all beaches in Cancun are public (federal property). However, the beaches in the Hotel Zone have been appropriated by the numerous hotels, resorts and villas that line them. Each section of the beach now “belongs” to the hotel behind it. On paper, you can walk through any hotel lobby and onto the beach. The hotels that allow that might require a minimum purchase of beverages. And you can’t use the beach umbrellas, chairs or loungers for free. But not to worry. There are over 11 public beaches in Cancun. You can check them out here.

Getting around in Cancun.

Now, if Elon Musk or Bill Gates ever became broke, it’ll be because they took taxis in Cancun. In Mexico, you don’t need to join the Sinaloa Cartel to be rich. You only need to be a taxi driver in Cancun. The taxi drivers reason that if you are a tourist, you must have money and are entitled to rummage in your pocket.

How expensive are the taxis?

So, one day, Mrs. Alade sent me to get some groceries. I walked to the Chedraui Supermarket about three hundred meters from the hotel. It was a short walking distance. I’d planned on walking back. But the sun in Mexico is scorching and I was toting groceries in both hands. I decided to take a taxi.

The taxi driver asked me to pay MX$200 pesos ($20). I baulked. He then reduced it to $15. No, can’t do. Adiós amigo.

There was a bus stop across the road. I recalled our airport shuttle driver told us we can get up and down the Hotel Zone for $1 on designated buses. I decided to give the bus a try. I waited alongside godly Mexicans. A few seconds later the bus arrived. I got in. It was $1 and it dropped me in front of my hotel less than a minute later.

$1.

Needless to say, I never took a registered taxi in Cancun.

There is Uber in Mexico. But in Cancun, Uber drivers are endangered species. They are frequently assaulted by taxi drivers. All the Uber I took were so secretive, they wouldn’t come into the hotel to pick me up. They’ll park outside the hotel or mall and ask me to get into the car as if I was an acquaintance or a friend. On a few occasions, I had to walk a few blocks to get into the Uber. It protects the driver from being seen by the taxi drivers and molested.

The police are no help. They look away. One of the Uber drivers told me the taxi union and the police break bread together.

Look, I understand that taxi drivers have families to feed. But consumers are being gouged. Monopoly only serves the interest of the monopoliser.

So, beware if you want to take Uber in Cancun. If you don’t like intrigue and subterfuge, just fork out for the shylock taxis. Or you can get around like most locals do: on the bus. The R2 bus for the Hotel Zone and the R1 for beyond. It’s clean and safe. And it is $1.

But Cancun is fun. In the Hotel Zone, tourists struggle to keep their clothes on. Bikinis and beach shorts everywhere. Even in supermarkets. I thought about going around only in my beach shorts too. But I didn’t want to scare the children.

Souvenirs and Mercado 28.

Well, I couldn’t go to Mexico and not bring home souvenirs. For me, that was a sombrero, a poncho, some glow-in-the-night ghoulish t-shirts and a Mayan hand-crafted leather backpack. And of course, tequila. This is the spiritual home of the tequila. Mexicans consider poor tequila a national affront.

The place to get souvenirs in Cancun is Mercado 28 or Market 28, in Downtown Cancun.

There are shops that sell souvenirs in the Hotel Zone. But expectedly, they are expensive and the choice is limited. What you need to do is to head to Downtown Cancun, to Mercado 28. Take the R2 bus that plies the Hotel Zone ($1) and tell the driver your stop is Mercado 28. He’ll drop you off at a bus stop called Mercado 28.

But beware! At the bus stop, there are lots of shops selling souvenirs. But this is not Mercado 28. Many tourists have taken this array of shops to be Mercado 28 and have bought souvenirs there at high prices. Me, I’d read a lot about Cancun to know the real Mercado 28 was just a few minutes’ walk from the bus stop. It has Mercado 28 written boldly on the wall. I knew what to look out for. I told you, I can run for Mayor of Cancun.

But alas! The glow-in-dark t-shirts do not glow in the dark but glow only under certain coloured lights. So be warned. But I like the ghoulish tees enough to rock them without the glow. I’ll wear them to church for Communion Service.

Food court at Mercado 28

Chichén Itzá

Right. Chichén Itzá

Do you guys remember the Mel Gibson flick Apocalypto? That was the Mayan people. And the city of the marauding warriors? That could have been Chichén Itzá.

The Mayan people and civilization included several city-states that extended all the way to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize. Chichén Itzá was one of the biggest and more prosperous cities. It dates back to 400 AD. In 1998, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and voted as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ in a 2007 global survey.

Mexico may have some amazing beaches. But it also has some great archaeological sites. Chichén Itzá sits at the top of the pile and is still an active archaeological site. The fact that it is 193 miles from the tourist Cancun makes it one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. We had to see it.

We went on a group tour. The tour bus picked us up in front of the hotel at 5:30 am. Yea, you heard right. 5:30 am. They needed to make the rounds to pick up other tourists at their hotels. Then make a short excursion to the 16th-century town of Valladolid. Then stop over at a Mayan settlement for lunch and some Mayan crafts, and then hit Chichén Itzá. On our way back, we’ll visit a cenote for a quick swim. As the crow flies, Chichén Itzá is a 2:30hr-drive from Cancun.

Valladolid

Now, let me warn you: Chichén Itzá is hot! I mean, this is right in the middle of the Yucatan Peninsula. Please go along with sunblock (sunscreen lotion) or a small umbrella. And dress light and comfortably. Sneakers and sandals are your best friend. You can of course wear your stiletto or oxfords if you want. You’ll probably die and you’ll be buried in the bushes.

Right. See those two old lovely people above? Rodolfo and Flavia. They are an Argentine couple. We met at a cenote close to Chichén Itza.

Flavia came over to where Mrs. Alade and I were sitting and began touching Mrs. Alade’s skin! She ran her fingers over her thigh and arm, speaking Spanish. What in the world! Then she beckoned to her husband. Rodolfo came over with a big smile. Flavia touched Mrs. Alade’s cheeks fondly. She touched my cheeks too.

Normally, I should have been incensed at this invasion of my space and uninvited stroking of my extremely alluring skin. But I didn’t sense disrespect or inappropriateness from these two people. Rather, there was some warmth and affection about them. Some love and respect towards us. Rodolfo was hesitant and shy at first. But Flavia had no care in the world. She was just oohing and aahing.

Turned out they were admiring our skin! Flavia was telling her husband Rodolfo how beautiful and smooth Mrs. Alade’s skin was. She wished she had such skin. She wished she was young again. The couple were in their mid-sixties. They’d been married close to forty years.

Rodolfo knew only a few words and expressions in English. So we communicated through Google Translate. He told me that their children had left home and he and Flavia were just travelling some. He told me that if we were ever in Buenos Aires, we need not pay for a hotel. They have rooms to spare and would love to host us. We exchanged numbers and got into our respective tour buses.

That’s why I like travelling. You meet the most amazing people.

Of course, they might be serial killers. But I don’t care. If I ever was in Buenos Aires, I’m calling up these beautiful people.

There ends the account of our Mexican trip. I’m remiss we didn’t make the short trip to Tulum. But I’m defo coming back to Cancun. I must. I have accounts to settle in the Caribbean.

And oh, here’s the birthday girl once again!

Mrs. Alade and her Mayan-calendar leather backpack at a cenote

 

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3 thoughts on “Travel Chronicles: Cancun, Mexico.

  1. Dee says:

    Lovely, humorous and detailed account of your experience, thanks for sharing. Your souvenir outfit is amazing and your birthday girl is stunning! My sisters visited Cancun a couple of years ago and loved it. They did the things you described and also went diving in a cenote. I can’t wait to visit too.

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