When: November 2008 (5 Days)
|The Infinity Pool & Beyond at ME by Mel
I’ve probably lost the more colorful details to time and memory. But here’s a short account of my first time in Mexico.
I visited Cancun with my sister and a close friend during the 2008 Thanksgiving. We were cautious and a little reluctant of going to Cancun because of its strong association with spring break. But any reservations we had about finding a remixed spring-break version of Cancun flew out of the window the minute we stepped into our swanky hotel, Me by Melia. We joked that the hotel wasn’t meant for single girls with no beaus. It’s flamboyant design, colors, abundance of flimsy fabric and a very generous sprinkling of outdoor beds, coupled with the kind of music and staff (read: hot; young; doable) you’d find at a Sex & The City party, made it ripe for, excuse the brutality, mating.
Because we were visiting during a low-tourist month, we were spared the torture that came in-built with these fashion-y hotels . (Although, Sunday morning saw throngs of hot, wealthy Mexican men and their girl-friends frolic in and around the Infinity Pool at the hotel)
There are three things that stand out to me about my time in Mexico:
1) Our trip to Chichen Itza – I insisted on this two hour trip outside of Cancun. The idea of being so close to one of the world’s old wonders tickled me pink. And also because baking on the beach is definitely not my idea of a vacation. What struck me most about Cancun was its organized tourism. I understand that perhaps the seasoned traveler might not want the organization and might actually prefer a slightly more rugged, “authentic” experience. But for three single girls, we couldn’t have asked for a safer city to vacation in.
|ChichenItza a shoddy photo, but the structure is quite magnificent.
We booked our trip to Chichen Itza with our American Express Concierge the night before. (Some other time, I will write about the joys of traveling with an American Express umbrella)
At 8am the next morning, a bus picked us up below our hotel and took us to a central meeting point where hundreds of tourists from other hotels on the strip were convened. Around 9am, the tour operators began dividing us by our destination and assigned us our bus number. It took us about two hours to get to Chichen Itza. On our way, we made a forty-minute stop at a Cenote. (Cenote / Sinkhole is an under-ground water pool) We weren’t carrying our swimsuits so we wandered around the Cenote instead of jumping into the pool with some of the other tourists. But I remember a distinct feeling of coolness and general well-being wrap around me when we stepped into the cave that housed the Cenote. We people-watched for a little while – mostly little kids who without a care in the world nose-dived into the crystal clear waters of the Cenote and lapped around happily in the waters.
After a quick lunch (limited vegetarian choices; and a tepid “Mayan” dance performance) we made it to the ruins around 1pm. Chichen Itza is breathtaking. That Mayan warriors and poets walked on the same dirt roads I was standing on left me bewildered. Our guide narrated stories of the Mayan culture and what I loved most about his narration was his emphasis on the fact that the Mayans were like any other civilization. It’s reputation as being one of the most advanced, magically endowed and intelligent civilizations was true for almost all others, according to our guide. He said, just like in our society, the Mayan’s had their top doctors, top economists, top leaders – but it also had regular folks that whose only concern were the daily bread. He was clearly upset at popular culture’s depiction of the Mayan culture.
The mid-afternoon sun on the bland, dessert-like terrain was scorching. We wandered around in search for shade and napped on a lonely tuft of cool grass we found. Unfortunately for us, the officials had stopped allowing tourists to climb the ruins only a few months ago to preserve them. So we could only admire, not touch. We flirted a bit with the rules but were too chicken to break them.
The grounds were also infested with barefoot, snotty-nosed children selling cheap cotton hand-kerchiefs with Mayan motifs. In an uncharacteristic wave of kindness, we decided to buy one of the kids an ice-cream. But he bought five other friends, and we end up buying ice-cream for them all. I was both ashamed and happy – the scene isn’t any different at tourist destinations in India and I’d be hard-pressed to entertain them there. I suppose I excused myself because they were Mexican.
2) Snorkeling with the fishes – Done with our history lesson for the trip, the next day we rented a motor-boat and followed our guide twenty miles into the middle of the ocean. We parked our boat, put on oxygen masks and flappy fins on our feet. And when it was time to jump into the ocean, we hesitated. (Not my sister though – she was already paddling around in the water, her head submerged, tickling the fishies) I am scared of water and not a confident swimmer – at all. At our guide’s insistence (and then tough love) I finally jumped but began screaming the minute I realized that there was no security of ground beneath my feet. We were a good thirty feet above ground. But as I realized that I wasn’t sinking, I felt bravado return into my body. Adrenaline pulsed through me and I felt invincible.
Underwater, a muffled silence enveloped me. The fishes were moving in perfect synchronicity and the corals swayed as if their every move had been orchestrated to the last detail. I felt coltish when a fish grazed past me and I jumped every time I felt its slippery, cold scaly skin on my bare legs. It was fantastically weird.
On our return trip, I manned our little motor-boat and relished the power buzzing through me, propelling the boat forward. There are no signals and roads on the oceans, and if you are lucky, no traffic either. I zig-zagged as I pleased, leaving behind bold tendrils of white waves in my wake. It was a power-trip like no other. Back at the hangar, we changed out of our wet swim-suits, showered and taxied back home.
|Our scrumptious Thai Dinner -two nights in a row!
3) Thai food! (yes!) – Dining in Cancun was one of most surprising and delightful experiences we had. Twice in a row, we ended up at the same Thai restaurant by the ocean. It’s alfresco dining reminded me of Bombay. And it was hands down, the best Thai food I have ever had. (Even better than Jaiya Thai in NYC!) On our last night though, against the wishes of our concierge, we ventured out into the “city” for a taste of authentic Mexico. (Btw, there is no such thing as authentic Mexico in Cancun) Downtown Cancun was a square mile of cacophony of typical bars, strip malls and tourist shops. We ventured into what could be the dollar store version of Cancun – it was larger than the ground floor of Macy’s on 34th street. Although we didn’t buy anything, Mexicans have a flair for making cheeky souvenirs.
And that was our very PG-13 trip to Cancun! I could bore you with the ins-and-outs; how to get there and back; and other details, but that’s frankly, not very interesting to write about so you’ll just have to rely on Google and Tripadvisor