Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Travel Diary ~ A TRIP TO CANCUN ~ Cancun is very much like Miami Beach on drugs

Here’s my Cancun Travel Diary, thought you’d like to see it!

My initial impression of Cancun, the Mexican resort in the Yucatan peninsula, was that it was very much like Miami Beach on drugs.  On the outward coast of the peninsula facing into the Atlantic Ocean, Cancun is the mainland town with a large lagoon and a great strip of beach on the other side of the lagoon.  Very much like a miniature version of Miami and the large bay that separates it from the long peninsula of Miami Beach.

I was in Cancun, meeting up with Mr. C., who made a much longer trip up from deep down in South America’s tip. Winter is approaching there and he wanted to go somewhere the sun was shining and swimming in the ocean was possible. Hence Cancun.  I have relatives who own property in nearby Playa Del Carmen so I knew a little about it.  What I didn’t know was that all the other guests would be from Wichita and St. Louis and Minneapolis and that they would all be forty pounds overweight.

Cancun calls the long peninsula of oceanfront The Hotel Zone and well may it be called that.  There must be at least twenty very big hotels along that beach.  Most of them representing major hotel chains.  We stayed at the Sandos Exquisite Beach Experience Resort.  Which actually was one of the nicest hotels in that long chain of caravansaries.  And it was all paid for by my American Express travel points!  True.  I had piled up a lot of points and my very deft assistant, Reniel Diaz, wangled the entire holiday on points.

I had never really done anything like this before.  Everything at the hotel was paid for in one fell swoop.   All the meals, all the drinks, all the room service, the room, all was prepaid.  A red band was fastened about your wrist and you signed in and the rest was gratis.  You didn’t have to search the prices on the dinner menu.  Or check out the wine list.  Have what you want.  You have already paid.  It was kind of swell to just relax and sail through.  And since we weren’t in a city or town, there were no restaurants or cafes or shops to go to across the street.  Just a drugstore.

I say that Cancun was like Miami Beach on drugs because of the other guests.  I had never really ever been in a hotel with this kind of mix before.  Firstly were the younger group.  Not just out of college, maybe 25 to 30 years of age.  Unmarried, sort of semi-attractive guys behaving like fraternity brothers on the loose.  And quite good-looking slender women who behaved wildly but I think were there to separate one of these men from the herd.  This crowd used their prepaid status to drink heavily almost all of the time.  Champagne at breakfast, wine at lunch and lots of tequila at the bar after dinner. In that bar there was non-stop entertainment in the evening with a D.J. and lots of games where people had to try to build a house of cards, balance things on their chin, etc.

At about ten in the evening the other side of the guest list emerged in the bar.  These were older couples heading towards sixty and maybe already beyond.  The couple usually consisted of a male who stepped heavily forward, something like a battleship being herded out to sea by a small tug.  The small tug was the wife who circled around, heading her spouse this way or that.  It struck me with both groups that Americans are almost always ill at ease in public.  The younger group behaving in a kind of frantic way I believe they felt appropriate for their “wild and crazy” single young adult image.  The older group much more contained but again all very similar to one another, all exchanging banalities, all drinking very heavily until they woozily oozed towards the elevators sometime after midnight.  I also noticed the older couples never touched each other in a fond or familiar way.  They were ill at ease with each other too.  I only visited the bar a few times.  Mr. C. loves to watch North Americans and sat in a corner nursing a Coca-Cola for several hours each evening while I slept.  And slept and slept.  I love sleeping and these hotel excursions are no exception.

I had one big question which was never satisfactorily explained.  How did these young people afford the three hundred or four hundred dollars a night room rate?  Mr. C. thought they were all the children of the older crowd.  I was not so sure.  I did not see them eating together or mingling at the pool.

Mixed in this mob were a certain number of foreigners.  There were Asians.  Quite a few.  Some families with grandparents, parents and quite a few children.  Overhearing them talk I was surprised to hear they were speaking Portuguese.  Inquiring of friends in the hotel management, they reported, that these Asians were from Brazil.  Asian families have been established in Brazil for quite some time and if they were from the southern part of that country, winter could be approaching there too, too.  Hence up to the tropics in Cancun.

 And there were clutches of Asian young women, three or four together and one group of three very beautiful girls from somewhere in the Near East.  Saudi Arabia somewhere.  The young Asian women got really drunk in the bar every night and the little group of Near Eastern beauties reveled in not wearing burkas and had beautiful bathing suits, sarongs, short shorts, t-shirts, you name it.  They seemed quite young and it surprised me that they were here, very evidently not husband hunting but truly more to just show off their fashionable beauty.  Perhaps before it disappears from public view in some place like Bahrain.  The Asian women too may have just been having a high old time before they too, were sentenced to arranged marriages and family responsibilities and role playing.  I noticed these groups were not at all ill at ease in public.  They ate, swam, spirited about with much pleasure and obviously weren’t wondering what other people thought about them.

Mr. C., being dashing and very sociable, soon made friends with the quite beautiful woman who was the manager of the hotel and her handsome second-in-command.  He told them he was my bodyguard, which immediately gave me a great deal of allure in the eyes of the management, who were constantly inquiring if I was happy.  If I am with Mr. C. I would be fine in the Sahara desert, so all went well.

The high point of the Cancun visit was out trip to Chichen Itza, the Mayan city some two and a half hours to the west of Cancun in the center of the Yucatan.

What I began to understand as we headed west in a small tour group is that the Yucatan Peninsula is one big swamp.  The Mayans had to build rock roads some ten feet above the level of this swamp, which is true today for more recent road builders. Today’s roads sail along above the swamp grass, low bushes and small trees below the level of the car wheels and road edge.

These roads are in many places built upon the Mayan roads which were built with slave labor as long as a thousand years ago perhaps more. The mind boggles at the effort to bring rock, probably on men’s backs, from many miles away.  This idea becomes even more difficult to comprehend when one arrives at Chichen Itza the city itself.  The foundations of the entire city are built on this same rock in a giant square.  On this square there is a huge pyramid, great lengths of sculptured wall, a number of lower but still very large stone buildings.  The Mayan culture was anything but primitive.  The stone work is beautifully chiseled, the very large stones of the pyramid and walls and buildings built with great craft, smoothly fitting together.  The pyramid has great flights of steps running up it, dizzying to think of climbing and now forbidden to tourists.  There were workmen up on the terraces that lift and set back, lift and set back all the way up to the pinnacle where sacrifices were conducted.

  The Mayans did not have the wheel or metal.  Stone was cut with flint.  Evidently the great stones were brought rolling them on tree trunks, as the Greeks and Romans did.  As with the Great Wall of China, the work effort is hard to comprehend.

There was also a very large playing field where the origin of soccer began.  The soccer goal however is a circle of stone high on each sidewall.  And another difference; the losing captain was executed.  Really made you want to win.

The Mayan calendar was only 260 days long (this was the tropics with no real seasons passing) and they reached high levels of astronomical understanding, studying the skies with great intensity and calculation.  Their culture was one of violence and death on every hand.  They believed everything was alive and at the same time did not value life highly.  Also at Chichen Itza is one of the giant sink holes where young women were sacrificed annually to the rain gods, as their lives depended on rain as there were few water sources such as rivers, even though they lived in a swamp.  I did learn that if you happened to survive being thrown into a sinkhole as a sacrifice (swam to the side and clung to it?) you were allowed to live.

The Mayans had a curious history in that they would create large cities which would thrive form some centuries and then suddenly be abandoned.  Or the population would die in large numbers.  Something historians are unsure about.  And then another large city would grow up in yet another part of Mexico.  All these cities were lost in jungle overgrowth by the mid-nineteenth century.  The Spanish had destroyed those that were still existence when they arrived in the sixteenth century.  The great city of the Mayan kings on its island in a lake is now sunk beneath contemporary Mexico City.  Although most of the cities have been discovered and partially restored there still remain many square miles of Mayan cities lost in the jungle, yet to be explored and restored.

 I read a good deal about their culture and others in South America.  I want to go see the Nasca Lines in Peru, where the early tribes drew great figures in the sandy desert which can only be seen from the air.  There are no mountains.  The figures sometimes overlap which indicates they were done at different times and depict birds, monkeys, different other animals and are sometimes just shapes.  Historians have no explanation how they were able to draw these accurate designs in the sand on a gigantic scale and why they were done.  I like to think they were done so others out in space could see what resident animals on earth looked like.  There are no figures of humans of course because we came from outer space.  I love this thinking.  So contradictory to scientific thought.  Come on! Explain this stuff to me.

 Mr. C. and I made several exploratory trips to shopping malls on the way to the city and one day went to a very large small in the city of Cancun on the mainland.  A huge mall with every amenity and most of the shops that we would have in the United States.  As I walked through the great food courts where restaurants line the outer edges and a horde of tables and chairs hold the tribe that comes there to eat are in the center.  The food court is designed to trap you as you pass from one side of the mall to the other.  It is all very thoroughly thought out.  It occurred to me, “This is the future.”  As with everything being on your computer or i-phone, your real world will all be pulled together in one place and you will just move from one shop to the other, all exactly like any other mall you might visit.  Will young people in the future revolt against all this sameness someday and start to want to grow their own food, make their own clothes, read and write instead of always being an onlooker to a life that is created for them by other people to see and feel?  None of this would exist if it wasn’t what humans wanted.  It’s not being forced upon them.  Curious, curious, curious.

One thing I noticed was that in the shops the sizes were smaller, none for someone as tall as I am.  The Mexicans are not as big as the people of the United States, which of course I true in Europe also.  All the time I lived in France I was always one size too big for the clothes.  My French clothes were always made for me.

I just finished reading the remnants of an autobiography by Marsden Hartley, an American artist who was given a grant to work in Mexico in the 1920s.  He did not like it and was actually frightened by it.  He felt it was a country of volcanoes and earthquakes and mystery and that the Mayan culture was the only one that was generic to the topography.  Which gave me the idea that cultures are frequently the outgrowth of the area of the world they rise from.  The Mediterranean gave birth to cultures that loved living and were tolerant of others.  Life was much easier there.  The further north, the more people depended upon each other, they were concerned about what the neighbors thought.  Hence Germany, England, the foundations of our own country.  Hartley felt the Spanish invasion of Mexico and the destruction of the Mayan culture left the country with a very artificial governing class, trying to be like Europe in a country that had few physical similarities.  I thought this was very interesting.  There is something violent underlying the Mexican world as we see it today with the drug gangs, the murders, the inability of the government to really control the corruption.  They just don’t value human life as much as we do.  All those celebrations with skulls all over the place.

Even spending most of our time with the Middle Western overweight as we did in Cancun, I still came away with some feeling of what Mexico is truly like and its great differences from other worlds I visited.  South America is so near and yet so unknown to most North Americans.  It will be very important in this century with Brazil becoming a world power.  The one thing they don’t do is have a lot of wars.  That’s a step in the right direction.

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