Playa del Carmen & Cozumel

Playa del Carmen and Cozumel Side Trip. We had an extra day before many guests would arrive to start our wedding week and decided to go exploring. An early AM breakfast and we were out the door on a taxi to Playacar palace – another in the Palace resort chain. Our concierge had given us the tip that the ferry to Cozumel from Playa del Carmen would fill up and we should try to get a ticket as early as possible. That meant a 5am wake up call on our wedding vacation!

Playa del Carmen

It was nice to see another Palace resorts – second breakfast at an all inclusive was even better! Got to love those bracelets of power! Playacar palace is tastefully decorated and most people were asleep by the time we got there. Playa del Carmen on the other hand seemed very tourist-y -even in the morning hours before anyone woke up. Nothing was open and we didn’t loiter. Just took some photos, did some entertaining people watching and moved on.

Ferry to Cozumel

The ferry to Cozumel was a quick affair. Buy your tickets, wait in line, get on the boat. 30-60 minutes later and you’re there. I love being out on any body of water and this trip was no exception. Motoring along through the Gulf of Mexico we could see cruise ships docked. Those things are massive! I think together the two of them were bigger than the island itself! I’ve never been on a cruise ship so I’m not sure if it would be any fun or not. I do assume that they have plenty to do if it rains though.

The weather didn’t improve but it wasn’t yet raining so we decided to walk the mile or so to Cozumel Palace (yet another of the Palace resorts). Getting off the ferry the hawkers surround you. Take a taxi! Sign up for scuba! Take this tour! Rent this Jeep. They come at you from all sides. We just pushed on.

Cozumel Palace

Our concierge told us we could snorkel from the back of Cozumel Palace. We thought about upping the ante and taking scuba lessons. Sadly, it was off-and-on raining with huge wind gusts and not-so-warm out so no scuba for us! We debated a few other options but put off by the commercialism we saw on our December 2008 Mexico trip, we decided against it. A few rum & cokes, snacks, and board games later the sun had come out enough for us to warm up playing ping pong. Snorkeling came soon after…. deep, warm, clear water with some fish. Nice but not spectacular. The day completed with lunch and with frequent trips to the swim up bar, of course. A pretty nice day.

Soon it was time for our walk back to the ferry. We checked out a few stores where the keepers and their minions followed us up and down every aisle. They must have trouble with American thieves we thought. Nothing was particularly good or interesting and so we bought a few sodas and off we went back to the mainland.

I think Cozumel and Play del Carmen would be a lot of fun on a warm, sunny day. As it was, we didn’t get that experience. Good time, just not spectacular. I was able to add a push pin to my Google Adventure Map and now we know what Cozumel has to offer.

Notes from the Wedding

The wedding was absolutely spectacular. Everything we could have hoped for and more. After all, how often is it that you get to transform a 5 star resort into a freshman dorm reunion? The wedding itself has already been rehashed to no end and everyone who we would share photos with should have already got them via Facebook. (If not, let me know.) I don’t know that I’m entirely comfortable posting those pics here on this space but I’ll post a few. Since people have been wondering how it went, here’s a recap.

Grown Up Spring Break

We left before sunrise Sunday after a blizzard paralyzed Charlotte and much of the rest of the East Coast Friday night and Saturday morning. The schedule was intentionally set so we could spend as much time with our friends and family as possible. (Don’t you hate those weddings where you only see the bride and groom for 5 minutes in a welcoming line?) Jen and I arrived nearly week before the ceremony in order to try to spend as much time partying and adventuring with our friends as possible. It really worked out! It was like grown up spring break!

The week started out rainy but still found a lot to do – namely a side trip to Cozumel and Playa del Carmen!

Reality of Wedding Planning

I know I’ve written before that sometimes you don’t get exactly what you expect in an all-inclusive resort. That is certainly true at Aventura. You get different answers on different days from different people. While the overall experience is excellent its the little perks, extras, and bonuses that you were counting on that are subject to interpretation. Your mileage may vary.

The wedding planning was entirely different because…

  • Very little to worry about – all inclusive really came through.
  • Gorgeous resort – we were happy we convinced 45 guests to come.
  • Room: huge bed, jacuzzi in the room, bottle of v!no, full bar and stocked fridge – for everyone, not just the wedding couple!
  • Affordable – we received a ton of credits due to how many nights our collective group booked. That went towards other wedding items.
  • Tons of activities.
    Couples played tennis, group water volleyball, water aerobics, video games, or just lounged and drank. There were side trips to Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, ceynotes, Tulum, and more. Some people even got to go ziplining in the jungle! Others made use of the work out facilities and / or the spas. Snorkeling, ping pong, and card games.
  • Wedding prep – you get to sample every dessert!
  • Awesome wedding coordinator!! The whole process was so easy and affordable! Highly recommend it!!

Random Entertaining Events

Every wedding has its stories, and these are only a part but they paint the picture:

Jen and I only knew what day it was by who is there. (aka – Leo & Amber are here so it must be Tuesday!)

Power failure! We lost power to the resort (and a large part of Mexico, it seems) the day before the wedding. Turns out the state had planned this outage well in advance. Good thing the generators turned on! Water purifiers made the cut on ‘essential systems’ but blenders did not. Only ‘on the rocks’ margaritas for 24 hours! Glad our wedding wasn’t that day!

Jen’s parents sat through the timeshare info session. We wanted no part of losing the pool time but they were able to trade in their timeshares for 4 X’s the time, less costs, and other benefits. Go parents-in-laws!

Karaoke! So many disparate parts of the group sang solo and some of the girls created a kick line while a gentleman sang “New York, NY.”

Rain on Friday? Not a problem! What would a return to Spring Break be without drinking card games. With free beer. In a lobby of a 5 star resort. With an audience.

Hitting the club on Friday night after the rehearsal dinner by way of party bus. Yes, we took a free intra hotel diesel bus to shuttle ourselves 1/12th of a mile. But it was great. When we ascended the stairs to the 2nd floor to find the club, we encountered a donkey. One girl screamed. Others took pictures in full bandito gear. Thus was born the legend of Senor Mustachio!

The Wedding Day

Of course we were here for a reason. Beyond the above mentioned parties, that is.

We started our wedding morning with a Spa treatment. That was good. I think I’m normally pretty calm but very early that morning I snapped awake. Returning to sleep was impossible. So was the thought of eating anything. A full spa complete with free hour massage goes a long way in soothing wedding nerves.

After that it was back to hard work of drinking, volleyball, and toying with the emotions of the staff:

Staff: “Sirs, would you like to come join us in the other pool for water aerobics?”
Ted: ‘What time does that start?” (I knew the time it started and the time it was now.)
Staff: “At 1pm.” (It was already 1:15pm)
Ted: “No can do. I have to be at a wedding at 1.”
Staff: “Sir, that is not possible! You’ll be late!!”
Ted: “Not at all. They can’t possibly start without me. I’m the groom.”
Staff: “Sir! You must go!!”
Ted: “You’re right. I am thirsty! Who else wants to swim up to the bar?”

Ceremony:

The ceremony started with the entire entourage at a private gazebo on the northern most part of the property. Guests were seated and nuclear family relatives walked down the aisle before Jen arrived. I stood at the altar waiting while a 7 man Mariachi band played. We had elected to have a few slight alterations to a ceremony that fit our style. The first was a family-orientation by the processional and we asked our siblings and their significant others to stand by us at the altar eschewing the normal best man / maid of honor, bridesmaids and groomsmen things.

“And the Horse You Rode in On”

A horse drawn carriage arrived dropping Jen off and her father off. He walked her to me and gave her away. The civil ceremony in lieu of a religious one fit our personalities (and my beliefs) and we stood facing our guests. I never understood why you wouldn’t face your guests.

The mariachis played, we were married, and fireworks shot off in the background. How many wedding do you know that had fireworks? Exactly. The entire party left and formed a circle that we were introduced to complete with champagne toasts and, at the insistence of our mariachi friends, my impression of a Mexican hat dance. (In the video I look like a wounded chicken.)

After-Pre–Party
Before we took the traditional wedding photos we tried to take photos with everyone. I can’t imagine why you would invite people to a wedding and then not be in pictures with them. It’s a group celebration, right? Well, put the group in the photos! And we did. Once that was over everyone went over to our post ceremony / pre-reception cocktail hour (yeah, we like to party!) while Jen and I took a few more photos just the two of us alone by a Mexican sunset by the cerulean seas of the Caribbean.

Golf carts took us from the cocktail party to the reception. Did I say wedding reception? It was actually a roast. Of me. Luckily the DJs surprised me with a gift – a CD burned with everyone’s best tidings, well-wishes, and orchestrated Ted-slams. I’ll treasure it forever.

The End

The next day we had a group breakfast but people had already started going home and the realization that we would soon return to a life filled not with volleyball, poolside drinks, and snorkeling. The Snowpocalyspe in the US made this something to take seriously. We filled our day with lounging, thanking those who had come and preparing to watch the Superbowl sans commercials on a 2 story projection screen in the lobby. Note: all inclusive drinks and 5 star food is the way all football affairs should be organized.

We killed the night by taking our remaining friends, the leftovers of the wedding cake, and complementary bottles of champagne and wine to our favorite lobby and reminisced. We would travel to Rio the next day for a honeymoon. But that’s a story for another time. This was one fantastic wedding. Thanks to all whom made it possible!

Our 2008 Mayan Christmas Adventure

Here’s a quick overview of our 2008 Christmas adventure in Mexico. Since our February wedding will be held at the same hotel we stayed at during that trip – Aventura Spa Palace, I thought I’d make an overview of our last trip there. Hopefully you’ll see what made us enjoy it and want to come back.

Click on the links for more in-depth accounts of each. Click on the links by the accompanying images for our photos and descriptions of each place. More information will surely be added as I remember it! I also included the guidebook we used and some study materials I liked. If you can think of anything I left out, please add it in the comments below!

Day 1: Cancun

Jen and I flew into Cancun a day earlier than what our Aventura reservations called for. It was much cheaper to fly out of Charlotte on a Thursday night and stay in Cancun for a day than to fly out on Saturday morning. I know, I know, how stressful, right? Such a pain to have to go on vacation a day early.

Day 2: Adventura – Where James Bond Would Vacation

Mom and Dad had been telling us about this hotel for years but we never really believed them. It should have dawned on me that any place Dad chose to go to, willingly, multiple times had to have great service. I just didn’t believe them.

Why didn’t I just listen to my parents sooner?

Other Days

To be honest, the rest of my Christmas week is sort of clouded in a rum-induced haze. Here are a few of the trips we did in between sunbathing, playing poolside volleyball, kayaking, and eating ourselves silly at the hotel.

Tulum

You can about the history of Tulum here. For me, it was a great chance to wander around ruins – my first since returning from Israel in March of 2008 AND to go swimming in the Caribbean sea -something made exceedingly difficult by the hotels on the Yucatan for some reason.

Now, until the end of my days I can talk about going swimming with my brother and father alongside Mayan ruins on Christmas!

Chitzen Itza

Again, Chitzen Itza has a long and storied history. More on that here. We decided to forgo the free tourist bus and instead rent our own car and make our own way to the iconic Mayan pyramid. Like they say, getting there is half the adventure. We drove through many villages and the city of Merida along the way.

Coba

We visited Coba on the return trip from Chitzen Itza. This is a far less visited city than Chitzen Itza and on a direct path from there en route to Tulum. It gave me better insight on to what the Mayans were all about plus you could climb on things! You can really get a sense of the jungle from on top of these giant pyramids! This was my favorite site that I visited in Mexico. More on Coba’s history here.

Xpu-Ha

Xpu Ha is a jungle-themed hotel owned by the Palace group – the same people running the hotel where we stayed, Aventura. The great thing about this was that intra-hotel transfers were free as were all of our food, entertainment, activities, and of course drinks.

Stuff that Helped

I didn’t really study up on Mexico like I have done before my other trips. Still, there were a few items that helped me out along the way.

Lonely Planet Guide to the Yucatan

Lonely planet does a good job finding places for the young and adventurous. The history overviews in this book beat the hell out of what passed for education in my 8th grade American Studies book. And the cultural overviews gave me a pretty solid grounding in what was going on around me. The Yucatan (Regional Guide) really influenced our choices on going to Chitzen Itza, Tulum, and Coba and I hope to use it again this year when we visit Isla de Mujeres and any ceynotes that we decide to scuba dive in. Of course we didn’t check the hotel listings but the book gets 2 thumbs up!

The Other 1492: Ferdinand, Isabella, and the Making of an Empire

I love the Teaching Company. They just make great stuff. For those who don’t know, they get the world’s best professors teaching their favorite course and then tape them. It must be what college was like for liberal arts majors; you just sit and learn about stuff you are interested in. Awesome.

For me this course was more a bridge of our 2006 trip to Spain. There, we got a sense of Imperial Spain. This video series began with the reconquest of Spain and the discovery of the new world. Professor Ruiz does an excellent job of presenting history in an all-encompassing manner explaining how events would be seen by multiple cultural groups. Very enlightening.

Maya Riviera Wedding – February 2010

2009 was awesome. It will live on forever in our hearts. But it’s time to let it pass. We will never recapture the glory that was there. Appreciate it for what it was, and let’s move on. We’re moving on to our wedding in Mexico. And I’m incredibly excited for this one.

The wedding will be at the Adventura Spa Palace Hotel. We chose Adventura because my parents have been several times and it made such an impression on us. Don’t confuse Adventura in the Mayan Riviera with the spring break legends you’ve heard of Cancun. You can read my recounting our first day in Cancun here. Contrast that with my first impressions of Adventura here.

The hotel is great, but there is only so long you can sit and do nothing in perfect weather as people wait on you hand and foot. We chose this hotel for it’s ease of access, sheer comfort, and for all of the available entertainment options.

Here’s a list of outside adventures you can do that come free with your hotel stay:

Some Available Activities

Chitzen Itza

Adventura offers a formulaic guided bus tour of Chitzen Itza. Matt, Christina, Jen and I decided to try this one on our own (read about that, here.)

If you aren’t up for renting your own jeep and driving into the heart of Mexican darkness with nothing but your inoperable iPhone, then take this tour. It is the iconic symbol of the Yucatan and worth seeing at least once. Watch out for the Topes along the way!

Wet n Wild

The 4 of us did this one. It’s a water park where they serve drinks. I will definitely be doing this again if for no other reason to enjoy the lazy river while Matt & Christina win the dance competition.

Tulum

Adventura offers a tour to Tulum. It’s an archaeological park on top with a pretty awesome beach below. No matter if you like Mayan ruins, or clean, clear ocean without lifeguards, go here. Tulum has both.

You can read about our trip to Tulum here.

Coba

We visited Coba as part of our own jeep tour but Palace offers a bus tour to Coba as well. This is the amazingly tall pyramid. For a time as she stood on the top, Jen was actually the highest point in Mexico. It is entirely unsupervised fun. You can rent bikes and go through partially excavated remains of a pretty important nexus city. Want to walk around ball courts where people were summarily executed, come here? By the way, look out for the gators in the swamp. They’re known to eat children. My favorite part of last year’s trip. I’d do it again.

Zip Line

Didn’t do the zipline tour last time. Will this time around. Looks fun. Plus, you can fill your backpack with all the drinks you can carry from your room.

Ek Balam / Valladoid

Have not done the Ek Balam trip yet. But you know I’m a sucker for ancient buildings. The Valldoid trip might be entertaining as well.

Other Tours

There are other tours. They cost money. I was really disappointed with the snorkeling tour. The snorkeling was free. The hemisphere’s largest living organism, the coral reef looks to be about dead. It was a tourist trap to get you to pay to hang glide, ride horses, atvs, etc. It felt slimy and after a few hours of waiting for a cab, we went back to the awesomeness of the hotel. Luckily, that tour operator’s website is long dead.

Other Palace Hotels

You get free admission & everything else when you visit other Palace resorts.

Xpu-Ha

I had a great time at Xpu Ha. It’s a jungle theme and they have monkeys, gators, deer, etc along side their grass huts. This is where I snorkeled in the estuary (first time since boy scout camp) and saw some pretty big fish. Lots of fun.

There are also other places within a cab ride of fun stuff to do. Matt tried to search for the true Mexico-the one with authentic food and no tourist. We were told to head north through Merida and on over to Tabasco country. Sounds like a great road trip to me, but not likely something I will be doing this trip. If you go, pick me up a hammock.

One other thing I would strongly consider would be cave diving in those ceynotes. Did you know those ceynotes are the remnants of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs? Thanks to Discovery channel for that one. Either way, what could possibly go wrong cave diving in limestone caverns in Mexico a few days before your wedding?

Things to do at the hotel other than sit in the sun and drink all day

  • Eat – tons of 5 star restaurants.
  • Kareoke
  • Gym – preferably before the tequila.
  • Rock Climb
  • Scuba Certified (costs, but you can do it)
  • Tennis
  • Multiple hot tubs the size of pools
  • Watch the super bowl!

That’s it! We look forward to hanging out with the people who are coming. We’ll miss everyone who isn’t.

Any questions? Suggestions? Leave them in the box below!

Chitzen Itza

There’s a lot you can read about Chitzen Itza. The pyramid itself is a spectacular tourist draw and the iconic image of the Yucatan Peninsula. So much can be said about the heritage, history, and cultural impact of this long-lost city. This article isn’t about any of those things. It’s about 4 fools and a quick, off the beaten path adventure.

We rented a car from Adventura Palace early in the AM an quickly ventured off the ranch. Boy do things change when you are no longer on hotel property. The guys with the Uzis don’t care so much about or for your Bracelet of Power.

I’ve already mentioned that the interstates in Mexico are what country roads are in the States. Their country roads are what our jungles would be. If we had jungles.

We drove south past armed checkpoints of the Mexican army checking cars for drug smuggling. Alongside the north south route you can see hotels popping up every so often and then some supporting villages. Actually, villages is too strong a word. Let’s call them dwellings. If that’s where the hotel staff lives, I have no idea how they can be so nice to us the visiting tourists.

Eventually we came to an intersection of sorts and headed due West into the jungle. Zipping by in our rented Jeep you can see breaks in the jungle brush that act as driveways. Sometimes a carton or a plastic jug will be upended on a stick marking the entrance way to a dwelling. Glancing into the jungle dwellings you begin to wonder if you could live like that. Are you tough enough? That reminded me of our Tulum guide’s quip about the Mayan supermarket; it’s the jungle. He related that people living there thought the idea of being so dependent on others for food was insanity. They may have a point.

We headed for the town of Merida, passing kilometers of jungle and more army checkpoints along the way. The road led directly into villages and towns along the way. Giant Topes, or speed bumps ensured you slowed your roll. That affords time for you to see village life as well as time for the villagers to see you and present their goods. These goods are all the same across the entire route. Obviously more expensive at the hotel and at the airport, I imagine there is some factory somewhere that spits these things out and it’s up to the villagers to weave stories about them being hand made.

Reaching Merida, what our guide book lists as a ‘sleepy’ little town, we look around for lunch. The road had simply stopped and turned into a mini city full of one-way roads, houses, shops, schools and mess of one-way streets. We had some confusion as a jeep of armed…were they militia? the welcoming committee? army? …. we didn’t know… started to follow us. They followed us up one way streets, down others. That ended any inclination to explore ‘sleepy little Merida.’ We eventually lost them, or they lost interest in us and we continued on to Chitzen Itza.

Coba

Coba is a ruined Mayan city set in the middle of the jungle. And as is typical of Mexico, there are no safety precautions whatsoever. A phenomenally fun time, in a sort of running with scissors kind of way!

We rolled into Coba on our way back from our Jeep side excursion to Chitzen Itza. Coba is another ancient Mayan city abandoned after the fall of that civilization. It stood directly on a trading route stretching from Chitzen Itza to Tulum. I remember there being several lakes in the region that supported the city. What is important here are not the lakes but the alligators in them. You can walk right up to the alligators. In fact, when we drove in, I saw a young mother and her toddler walking out to a pier on one of those lakes….. perhaps to feed the alligators? No idea.

After paying a fee, we were allowed into the park. The park is a massive network of dirt paths with tons of ruins interspersing them. Even with the minimal amount of archaeology training I have I could tell that the paths were bulldozed to make it easy for tourists to walk from one ‘big ruin’ to the other. The idea here, as it is in much of Mexico, wasn’t to preserve, understand, or learn from the past as it is to make a tourist buck. And that’s a shame. This by no means is limited to only Mexico. Most of the world does this. Remember, you vote with your dollars. Contribute to a dig site and you’ll get science. Visit these tourist traps and you’ll get more tourist traps. I’m pretty guilty of voting the wrong way here myself.

The Coba park is massive and winding. Bikes are offered for rent but we didn’t lease any. We should have as we spent way too much time walking around with sunset coming in.

There are a bunch of great sites in Coba. Basically, this is a collection of massive mound builders. Giant, multi-story towers dot the landscape and you’re allowed to crawl all over them. It’s fantastic! Couple chipped limestone with dense jungle growth and you’ve got scenes from Tomb Raider! It’s hard not to envision yourself being Indiana while climbing up these behemoths or running through the ‘death handball’ courts of the Maya. Remember, this is Mexico! Nothing is off limits!

The best part of Coba is the BIG, BIG, @#$ing BIG mound at the end. You can see some of the pictures I attached. It looks big from the ground but looks can be deceptive. It’s !@#$ing massive!!! You can climb up the temple, but don’t get too close to the sides! There are no guide rails and you will fall hundreds of feet to your doom.

Craziness!

Tulum

Some times I talk about building a resume for life. In short, that means having a bunch of experiences that shape your personality to a calibration that make you a unique and totally ‘you’ you. The set of event that you participate in, when described or set to paper, identify your soul the way a fingerprint marks you to the scene of a crime. This excursion, while short and sweet, was one of those for me.

I can now turn to my family and say ‘Remember that time we went for a swim below the castles and cliffs of the Maya at Tulum on Christmas Day?’ That was pretty awesome.

We took the Adventura Spa Palace tour bus from the hotel in the early morning and set out south. The ruins are not the best preserved in the world – after my training digging in Israel I could tell that some portions were patched up and moved around for tourist convenience. Still, Tulum was one of the first port cities that Spanish travelers (conquistadors, missionaries, explorers – call them what you will) saw of Mayan culture (you know, before they destroyed it). And it is exciting to try to replicate what they saw, and in turn what the Maya saw, hundreds of years ago in your mind’s eye.

The real highlight of Tulum wasn’t so much the ruins but the chance to walk down to the dramatic coastline and swim in the ocean with my family. Beautiful warm water + stunning scenery == good times that I’ll never forget.

After swimming we returned to the bus and were herded like animals to the slaughter to a crafts shop. That’s why I prefer going on my own rather than buses. You control your adventure. Not guides receiving craft shop sale kickbacks.

Xpu-Ha

This is a continuation of my 2008 Mexico Christmas Adventure. You can find a bunch of the other posts in this series in the links below this article.

Palace Resorts has many hotels. The Adventura Spa Palace, where I stayed in 2008, and where my wedding will be in 2010 is but one. It is an adults-only resort; nice for when you want to be away from the little screaming ones.

Xpu-Ha Palace is another Palace resort. It has a jungle theme that you can see in the pictures below. Complete with a full !@#$ing zoo. I mean, where else can you look at a monkey on your right, an alligator on your left, and then go snorkeling in an estuary 20 yards away?

Oh, and everything is of course free with your Bracelet of Power.

Where James Bond Would Vacation

“This is where James Bond would vacation.”

That was my impression of Adventura Spa Palace my first morning there. The sun had just rise. Dawn comes at an earlier time in the Mayan Riviera than it does on the American East Coast. Lucky for me, that meant an hour or two of solitude before my fiance or most other patrons awoke. I made my way from my room (anywhere else it would be called a suite) to the rocky Caribbean shore to collect my thoughts and welcome the morning.

After snapping a few pictures of sunrises in between palm trees in my iPhone and reading a chapter or two I headed for breakfast. The morning meal was a complete extravagance. You walk up to the hostess, show your wristband of power, and are seated in a gracious setting. A waiter comes to take your order, another pulls out your chair, another lays a napkin on your lap, while another asks you if you would like a coffee, some juices, or perhaps a mimosa or a screwdriver or a bloody Mary. Yes! Yes I believe I will have all of these things! It is, after all, just past 8am and I’ve yet to have any kind of alcohol… at least since 5 hours before, that is. My vodka to blood ratio must be getting low.

This is the place James Bond would vacation.

At about this time a waiter informs you about the various cooks they have positioned on the perimeter of the restaurant. Dutiful sentinels looking out, marking that line to ensure you have quite the satisfying breakfast. They can make just about anything you wish. The waiter also mentions the various buffets… as if you hadn’t noticed the glistening tables piled high with all sorts of manner of things the wealthy must eat for breakfast. Fucking phenomenal. And it’s all paid for, courtesy of the Bracelet of Power.

As I finish a breakfast over a few more chapters of my book, my fiance arrives for her breakfast. Can I believe how awesome this place is? Yes, yes I can. Will I stay with her while she eats? Yes, yes I will. And while I’m at it, the hobbit in me demands I have a second breakfast (and then a third when the rest of my family arrives.) Damn, it’s hard work rocking a power bracelet.

This is Cancun

Day 1 Cancun

The flight to Cancun was nothing special. The same kind of boarding you expect from USAir. Just throw in some passport shenanigans for fun-ski. Total travel time is nothing at all. 3 hours for us. Write some notes, read some books, do a crossword puzzle and you’re there. The waiting room for Paradise, though we didn’t know it yet.

We had a layover day in Cancun because the cost of a hotel + a Friday morning flight was significantly less expensive than the Saturday morning version. Ho, Hum, burn another vacation day en Mexico. Que dolor!

Customs was a cinch, much more relaxed than getting back into the States. Negotiating a taxi to the hotel was a supreme pain in the ass but we managed to do it. Next stop, the Mecca of Spring Break – minus the Spring Breakers, of course. A short ride later and we’re at the hotel. It’s nice. The other guests are boorish to put it politely. Drunken mid westerners, Texas bodybuilding lesbians, and all sorts of chatty Mexicans on holiday from the capital of Mexico city. Man this would be a nice place if they all would just shut up and stop acting drunk! Ah well, at least the sun is warm (hey, there’s a snow for the record books back in the U.S. at this point) and we did prove that their drinks do have alcohol in them. The Caribbean sea is an amazing blue – or is that azul? And the sand feels wonderful between my white pasty toes. I’m a million miles away from my job. So what there were no raises this year? I have a job and I’m in Mexico while unemployment is climbing past 10% So far, so good.

It’s time for dinner once the sun sets and we stupidly opt for the buffet. We choose poorly. The buffet sucks. The dinner entertainment is billed as ‘authentic Mexi-Caribbean dance.’ Fuck. If any of these costumes were worn back in the day by real Mayans, then I’m a virginal sacrifice. Can you say ‘exploited indigenous peoples?’ This hotel sure could. While tight, tanned and toned bodies writhe and sway to the syncopated beats echoing from the ‘authentic Mayan synthesizer’ other hotel staff set up a gauntlet of mass-produced (can I say ‘authentic’ again?) tourist souvenir trinkets. Watching a gaggle of 50 and over Ohio-ans stare at the dancer’s hips, I start to get the feeling that everything is for sale here. Did I just sign up for a week of this shit? Still, it’s better than a snowstorm, and I’m lucky to be here.

What I didn’t know at the time was how amazing the next few days were about to become.

We wake up early the next day and catch a taxi back to the airport to meet my brother and his girlfriend. They just took a red eye from Los Angeles to a Mexico City layover to here. And their flight was delayed a few hours. Recounting sitting in a stinking Air Mexico flight on the tarmac in what these world travelers regard as the foulest smelling city in the whole world (yes, that beat out Staten Island by their count), they are in no mood to play. Luckily, Paradise Resorts has arranged for a free, private taxi to take the 4 of us the 90 mins south to Adventura.

Our taxista is a genial older gentleman who lets us practice our Spanish with him. He’s delighted we know so much. Actually, he’s delighted that my brother is damn near fluent in Mexican. Of the 8 or so languages his girlfriend speaks, Spanish in not one of them (so she claims). My fiance and I get along OK with our preschool-level of conversation. For the first time I feel like we are in a different culture, a different country. After getting a refresher course on the language talking about weather, time, and the location of things, the conversation really picks up. For 90 minutes we talk about how life is here, what he does, and where he has lived, and what life is like here.

Driving south away from Cancun and all of it’s Spring Break-iness, the road starts to surprise me. Our iPhone / Google maps show our road in the thickness of an Interstate. The further we get from the smell of late night hook ups, and ‘what happens in Cancun, stays in Cancun’ the more the sites begin to change. There are shops all along the side of the road. Towards the coast you can see some hotels and some, for lack of a better word, I’ll call them villages. On the Western side, you see jungle. Real !@#$ing jungle. And there are people living in it. Crazy.

Once again distance does it’s trick. I’m now a million miles away from ‘authentic Mayan’ dancers and drunk mid westerners (does that mean I’m now 2 million away from work?) and I am loving it. All of our dispositions are greatly enhanced when he tells us we are traveling to paradise in hotel form. By the time we get there it seems all possibilities are open. And indeed, they are, for as we surrender our luggage to the hotel’s foot soldiers, the concierge directs us to check in. We are about to receive the Bracelets of power and all the privileges that come with it. Life is good.