Every trip has them… those moments when something goes a little awry or something unexpected happens that may not seem all that funny or amusing at the time, but provides a good story to be laughed at later.
Yes, I definitely had some of these moments while in Mexico.
In fact, I didn’t even make it out of the Cancun airport before my misadventures began…
After not-so patiently waiting to make it through the massive customs line which included overhearing all kinds of “what are we gonna do at the resort” talk among my fellow English-speaking compatriots, I was super eager to once again use my basic Spanish that I hadn’t used since South America two full years ago.
I go up to the ADO bus counter, I forget the phrase for “buy a ticket” so I start with a basic “hola, como estas?”. Then I try to ask for the next bus. He asks if I know any Spanish, I enthusiastically say “si, poquito” (yes, a little bit), he just shakes his head and says “no, no”. Damn.
I exit the airport (with my bus ticket) knowing I have a few hours to kill before my bus leaves. I find the cafe next to the airport with all local patrons (mostly airport workers) in there, no gringos. Great, I think, I can chill here for a bit, use the wifi, get a cold drink… I order my lemonade, and while waiting for it, realize there’s no wifi.
My cold refreshing-looking lemonade arrives, I pay for it, then realize that I’ve just arrived in Mexico and I’m staring down at this liquid with ice cubes in it, wondering if the cafe has used tap water to make it.
Every single thing I’ve read about Mexico, even coming from seasoned travelers, has indicated to NOT drink the tap water.
My travel anxiety comes out in full swing now, I grab my stuff, throw my pack on, take the tiniest sip from the cup, ya know, just to show the cafe people that I’m not that paranoid stupid American that won’t drink from a cup with ice. But the truth is, is that, I very much am for that moment! I take the lemonade that I’ve just paid $4 for, walk out of the cafe, and throw the full cup away in the nearest trash bin that’s out of the view of the cafe patrons.
Note: Later that night I find out that nearly all restaurants in Mexico only use bottled water for everything, including ice. I’m told that even the local Mexicans won’t drink their own tap water.
Now I’m still thirsty and have time to kill at the airport before my bus leaves. I wander into one of the stores in the departures terminal in search of juice. My pack knocks over one of the pens from a souvenir rack. And not just any pen, a full-on fat glitter pen. With a floating turtle in it.
The store worker immediately comes over and just says “damaged” even though I did not see any damage whatsoever. She charges me for it. Rather than try to argue in Spanish, I pay for the $7 pen and my juice, and now I’m the not-quite-so-proud owner of this pen! Woohoo!
Later that night when I’m in bed, all ready to journal about my first crazy 10 hours in Mexico when my favorite pen (no, not the glitter one I was forced to buy earlier) falls through that crack that’s between the wall and the bottom bunk bed and ends up on the ground, unreachable by hand.
I try to move the heavy bunk bed, impossible. It’s at the furthest point possible from my reach any way I go about it. I spend about 30 minutes in various awkward positions, using various props to retrieve my beloved pen. Finally, flinging my jacket at it while half-way crawled underneath the bed does the trick to move it into a reachable position.
And thus concludes my first evening in Mexico. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.
Phew…. Onto to Day 2… Yes, that was all just the first day!!!
I’m walking along the beach back to my hostel after a fun-filled day in Playa, but I don’t know exactly how to get back because my hostel is in a unique location, inland past the “all-inclusive” resorts that hug the beach. I easily sneak into one resort to pee. I pass by one of their outdoor buffets. Wow, what another world!
The sun is setting now, and the sky is looking quite magical.
I continue along the beach and then head into the last resort on that stretch, thinking I can get back that way.
“Bracelet?”, the stout Mexican in his all-white uniform asks as I wash the sand off my feet off at the faucet. I obviously don’t have one since I’m not staying there, but play dumb a little bit and try to explain that I’m lost (all in Spanish, this dude doesn’t know any English). I understand his response, “solo privado”, only private road. I beg him to let me through, “por favor!”, I plead. He doesn’t budge. Back to the now eerily dark beach I go.
I walk about 2-3 resorts back towards where I came from, then ask for directions at a dive shop. I immediately recognize the Dutch accent of the worker there, and breathe a sigh of relief knowing I should get some clear English direction. I’m directed to yet another resort up the beach that will have an access path to the road.
I wind my way through the rows of lounge chairs that belong to the resort that supposedly marks my escape from the dark beach. My feet are sandy and still a bit wet from the previous resort encounter, but there is no water faucet here to rinse them off – apparently didn’t make it to the “inclusion” list of this resort!
I glance in at the resort restaurant, observing the scene for a moment, before a resort worker approaches me. This time, there’s no confusion or language barrier, he directs me to the road access path, and my sandy feet crunch their way to freedom from “resort-landia”.
Once on the road, I realize I have to walk past all the grand entrances to the resorts that I had passed earlier on the beach… my usual good sense of direction has failed me on my second day in Mexico!
I end up backtracking almost the entire way. There was never a shortcut way to get from the beach to the hostel afterall. Haha! Oh well! It provided me with an adventure and an outsider-peeking-in perspective of the all inclusive affair.
Last but not least, my arrival into the “big city” of Merida a few days later was not without a bit of a challenge, again of the directional type!
I knew my hostel was located on the main plaza. And I knew the bus station was within walking distance of the plaza. Why take a taxi when it’s light out and I’m ready to walk after sitting on a bus for a few hours?
I walk with purpose past the taxi drivers congregated in front of the station, and find myself at an intersection with a hotel across the street. Perfect. Surely they’ll have a map I can look at to get my bearings.
I ask for a map and directions to the main plaza. The not-so-friendly woman at the front desk gives me a map and points in the direction I must go, on the physical map and in the air, pointing to the right of the intersection.
I step outside and look to the right. Looks like a normal and safe neighborhood in Mexico. I breathe in the fresh air, readjust my pack, and with a smile on my face, start walking. I’m happy to be in a new place and in full-on explore mood.
I walk with a brisk pace, keeping my head up, staying aware of my surroundings. I notice I’m the only gringa around, I say a cheery “hola” to a few locals that I pass by. A couple hand in hand, a few kids on bikes, a smiling older guy. I notice a sign that says this is the colonial district, perfect, because the plaza is right in the center of the colonial district, I think. But I start noticing fewer and fewer people and more and more residential houses instead of shops.
The sky is a brilliant red-orange as the sun sets.
I start looking around for church steeples, every main plaza in Mexico has a church. I see one to my left getting farther away as I keep walking in the same direction that I was pointed to before.
I consult my map at the next intersection with actual street numbers. The Merida street grid is a confusing assortment of numbers for street names.
Oh shit. It appears that I have walked off the map.
After 30 minutes of walking in the same direction on the same street, I turn around 180 degrees and spot the church steeple again. I walk towards it zig zagging my way past blocks of pastel-painted houses. I eventually find it on my map, but it’s not where the main plaza is. It’s getting dark, but I don’t feel unsafe.
I notice two older friendly-looking women chatting with each other, brooms in hand, and I stop to ask them for direction to the plaza. Thankfully, they speak slowly with me, and with lots of hand pointing, I confirm that I was originally walking in the exact opposite direction of the plaza. We laugh together and after many “gracias’s”, I’m on my way again, laughing to myself, but also quite ready to just be at my hostel at this point.
I end up back at the bus station, 45 minutes after my bus originally pulled in, and set off once again into the dark streets of Merida. After just a few blocks of walking in the right direction, I’m in the midst of the hustle and bustle of downtown. I spot the church that marks one end of the plaza, and am relieved to finally find my hostel shortly after entering the plaza.
I love exploring towns by walking. Even if it’s 30 minutes in the wrong direction!
Yup, I definitely chuckle at these stories now (yes, even as I write them out), and hopefully, you have too.
The important thing that I remember is that each of these misadventures was in fact, an adventure, a lesson learned, a travel memory that I add to my growing collection.
So… that one time in Mexico…
For a full summary of my Mexico trip, check out this post!