I was late getting to my mom's house the morning I left for the big Mexico adventure, as I always am when being on time is important. I drove to mom's house, picked her up, then drove the rest of the way to the airport. She, as she always does, takes care of the car while I'm away and picks me up when I come back in town. Every time we do this, it reminds me that I'm 33 and my mom is still my most reliable ride to the airport. And my emergency contact. And the person most worried that I would be kidnapped (clearly, no reason to worry about that one).
KF and I were dressed in sensible shoes and traveling clothes that made us among the less attractive females in our age category hanging around the airport. I mean, it was spring break time for a lot of people and the number of early twenty-something Paris Hilton wannabes in the airport made me want to hurl, but it definitely reminded me that I'm no Paris Hilton. We didn't fake and bake before the trip, we weren't wearing short shorts or cute shoes. Or makeup... KF started saying that she felt frumpy. I joined in, and dubbed myself lumpy. It made us giggle. The adventures of Frumpy and Lumpy. I think we could make a new Disney Channel show...
Other than my large bottle of sunscreen being confiscated from my carry-on (d'oh!), the flight down was mostly uneventful. Some minor turbulence. No one else in the row, so KF and I got to sprawl out (delightful). We had to circle Miami for an hour or so because of rain. I'm hoping that when the pilot said "rain" he meant "crazy wicked thunderstorms" because if we were delayed an hour for a sprinkle, I'm going to have second thoughts about riding American Airlines again.
We actually arrived in Cancun 5 minutes before we left Miami. Let's do the time warp again! Something about daylight savings time. Mexico didn't play with the U.S. when we decided to buck the system and celebrate daylight savings a month earlier than the rest of the world. It was a good thing too, because it took forever to reach our final destination that day, Isla Mujeres, and we needed the extra hour.
I picked Isla Mujeres (Island of the Women) as a start point for several reasons: the guides seemed to agree that it was tourist friendly, but not overly touristy; it was small enough to explore completely without being distracted by other stuff; and I figured that our chances of being smuggled off the island by ransom seeking drug lords was pretty small. But my god, it was a pain in the ass to get to.
We were both terribly confused at the airport. There seemed to be buses going everywhere, but we couldn't find a bus that went to the Cancun bus station downtown. Shouldn't that be the easiest bust to find? We went back and forth from the terminal to the buses, to the terminal, to the buses talking to this person, not quite understanding, talking to another person, definitely not understanding until we finally figured out that we needed to be at Terminal 2. Uh, yeah. And we would get there how, exactly?
Ah, weird little van shuttle bus driven by a Mexican with a death wish. For me.
At Terminal Dos, we were able to purchase tickets to get to the downtown Cancun bus station. I was pretty proud of us. In Mexico for a couple hours and we had already mastered public transit. So we thought.
My Moon guidebook told us to catch the R-1 bus from the Cancun bus terminal to the Port; but it referred to the Port by the wrong name. No one we asked had any idea what we were talking about when we asked about the Port we thought we needed to go to. We would say the name (I forget what it was) and then they would say "Port Juarez". And we would say, "No, Port whatchamacallit". And they would shrug their shoulders and move on. By this time it was getting dark and I was getting a little panicky. I'm in the middle of downtown Cancun with everything I've brought with me on my back, I have no idea how to get to our destination, I'm hungry and thirsty, and neither of us could make a decision about what to do.
Finally, we decided that Port Juarez must be where we needed to be and someone directed us down the block and across the street to catch the R-1 or R-13. There were a zillion buses and combis, stopping, slowing down, staring at us, moving on... I felt fairly exposed and definitely foreign, but felt just a tiny bit safer than I would have normally though - we were standing in front of one of the biggest McDonald's I have ever seen. I felt like I could hide there if I really needed to. Or at least drown my sorrows and fears in a McFlurry.
After probably a half hour or so of standing on the street, our bus finally came. It got us to the Port with no incident (we did really need to be at Port Juarez. Moon led us astray, and not for the last time). You'll be happy to know that there was another McDonald's at the ferry port, but I resisted the McFlurry urge. There was also a bathroom (thank god). We got on the ferry to Isla Mujeres as dark settled in and sat on top letting the wind blow our hair ratty. I was exhausted, but we still had to figure out where the hostel was.
And that took forever.
It was dark. The streets weren't terribly well marked, and the hostel was actually down a dead-end/beach access. We were right next to it several times, but it didn't look like anything - just a wall. I don't know what I was looking for exactly, but this wasn't it. It probably took us about 45 minutes of walking around to figure it out.
You know that sinking feeling you get when you realize that you might have signed yourself up for something you convinced yourself you could handle, but really can't? An actual pit in your stomach, with a bit of nausea? I had it. The sinking feeling, just like the sinking feeling I got my first year at band camp, or at grad school when I was told I'd be teaching the first semester (they lied!).
We checked in at the front window and were given keys, and bedding. Two white sheets and a pillowcase; for which we had to pay a fairly substantial deposit. If they had taken my wallet and belt away it would have felt just like being at the county jail. We were able to pay our $8.50 a night plus bedding deposit on VISA; despite many attempts for the rest of the trip, I was only able to use plastic two other times: for one dinner and the rental car.
To get to the room, we had to navigate through the common area/bar where the young hippie types were playing cards and drinking cheap beer, then through another hang-out area, then to a small corridor. We opened the door to our room and my stomach sank even further. The room was a small walkway, with beds built into the stucco walls, kinda like a sleeping car on the train. It was an 8-person room. No one was in there when we walked in, but there were 4 or 5 backpacks lying about, and stuff on the other beds. The room had two tiny little sinks, and a tiny shower as well.
I couldn't believe that this was how I was going to start my vacation. Sleeping in a stucco hole, with no air circulation.
I checked the mattress and ceiling for bed bugs. A blog post somewhere had warned of bed bugs at Poc-Na, but there was no evidence of anything suspect. I "made" the bed to the best of my ability, as did KF, and then we got the hell out of there to look for food. I thought it would be bearable if I had a couple beers in me.
Isla Mujeres has a touristy section and one street that is pedestrian only, where the gringos go. We went there because we had no idea where else to go but we discovered other, better places later. The touristy street was mostly restaurants, with several gift and convenience store type places sprinkled in. It was our first experience in Mexico solicitation; something we would become very good at fending off through the trip, but we didn't know what to make of it at the time. "Chicas, you want good food? Come!" "Pizza, senoritas?" "Margarita, senoritas?" It just didn't stop as we walked down the street. It was really unnerving. Also a bit unnerving were the number of pizza and Italian joints. Hello? If I wanted Italian food, I would have gone to Italy, thank you very much! But, I didn't know how to say that in Spanish, so I settled for "no, gracias."
We eventually found a place; I had some veggie fajitas, KF had something that had meat in it. We drank several beers, of the Leon persuasion. Leon beer? Whatever, it was fine. It was cold. It had alcohol in it. Good enough for me.
We headed back to the hostel and slunk into the room. We were still the only people around the room, but things had heated up quite nicely in the bar/common area. Some sort of band was playing. LOUD. Until really late (like 1, 2 am?) But, sleeping with a fat guy with sleep apnea for almost a year taught me at least one thing: always bring earplugs. Which I did. Some for me; some for KF. And so, with the earplugs and the beer, I fell asleep on my really uncomfortable, thin mattress in my little second story hole.
To be continued...