As the plane descended, it was clear from the air that this was indeed another world; one I was eager to see with my own eyes as opposed to the controlled electronic agenda-driven snapshots we are inundated with in the States.
We engaged in non-stop chatter into Cancun, but I found my attention span compromised by the scenes outside the window. One of the things that grabbed my attention almost immediately, aside from the lack of order on the roadways, was the glaring lack of regulation. There were people living beneath tarps and in flimsy wooden shacks along side the road on the edge of Cancun but to me the poverty was less shocking than the fact that they were permitted to do that! I remember seeing the same thing in various tent cities in places like Fresno, except that in the US these embarrassing capitalist warts are swept out of sight--under bridges and behind train tracks. Here, it's out in the open and is inescapable. My first 30-minute bus ride was also was my first subtle nudge in what would be a long, steady reminder to question our imposed and skewed definition of "freedom".
In the short term, Tuesday night's plan was simple:
- Bus to Cancun
The hostel Chris had checked us into was quite close to the bus station as well as 2-4 listed above. Since hostels in the US aren't hostels as much as overpriced, pretentious hotels, I had never stayed in one. Ours was 110 pesos a night (about $9.25), and our dormitory was shared with three other people: a middle-aged Canadian, a young French student and her Spanish boyfriend. The bathroom took some getting used to as well as it was unisex--including the showers.
Before long, we were sitting at a sidewalk cafe drinking Corona's, eating nachos, and chatting with Jose, a local sitting at the next table who spontaneously decided to invite himself over to join us. He spoke English, had been drinking all day, and was lamenting splitting with his wife. We had a great time, along with a predictably great many 100-peso Coronita buckets. Too many, in fact. Added to the tequila shots, they made for an expensive, partially blacked-out night.
Thursday became getaway day and after a trip to Walmart and a bank to exchange dollars for pesos, we were off to the bus station for a ride down the Caribbean coast to a beautiful, memorable, and fateful date with Tulum...
Fun Fact: Upon my visit to the bank, I learned exactly how much the US bank where I'd bought pesos had (surprise!) raped me. I received nearly a full peso-per-dollar better rate in Mexico. The only nuisance was being required to provide the bank with a copy of my passport, but it's well worth it.