For many Canadians a trip to Mexico in the winter is like a pilgrimage to the holy land where god is this big bright yellow thing that shines in the sky. Some claim to have a deep faith in all that is bright and any talk of anything that smacks of ridicule of this far off land or its people should be written off as ignorance or the inability to adapt.
A number of years ago when I was single and in my fifties I would occasionally get into conversations on the net about Mexico and inevitably I would be told that to truly understand Mexico one had to stay away from big resorts and find more out of the way places where the locals were more natural (whatever that means) and hadn’t been influenced as much by the Yankee dollar.
My usual response to the above was that if one is really interested in rather simple people there are some blue haired old ladies and farmers in rural Saskatchewan that they could be introduced to. Try taking local transportation in Mexico and you will find that the locals don’t offer up the same smiles that they do when they are trying to extract some cash from you by selling you something or hopefully expecting a tip.
One thing that has always irked me when travelling is condescending tourists. We are all people and some of us have been luckier than others as to where we were born and raised. There is nothing cute about being poor and having to work 6 days a week at some lousy job that is leading nowhere.
I have been to Mexico over a dozen times. Linda has been there 6 times in the last 6 years and I have been 5 times in the same period. (The other year we went to the Dominican Republic.) We always stay at resorts because we like to lie around the swimming pool. Linda always has a book on the go and I am more inclined to have my headphones on while watching the passing parade. The rooms are always very nice and the food and booze is included.
We try not to over complicate things. We aren’t archeologists. We aren’t writing a book on socioeconomics. More than anything else we are in Mexico to break up the long days of winter on Vancouver Island where we live that offer us very little sunshine or bright colours.
This year we chose a resort that is part of the Bahia Principe chain. The resort is located on Mayan Riviera about an hour and a half south of Cancun by car. It is actually 3 resorts and as a guest you have access to all of the amenities provided by each resort, Coba where we stayed, Akumal and Tulum.
|Walk to lobby and dining room.|
After getting off the plane in Cancun, we found ourselves in an extended van along with two other couples from BC being driven to our destination and we arrived at about 7 p.m. in the evening. The first thing we noticed was the giant thatched roof above the reception area. It was about 4 stories high and quite impressive. We were offered a couple of margaritas while we were signing in. We were told that a lock for our room safe would be 5 bucks a day.
|Coba main lobby entrance.|
We found our room and within a few minutes our luggage arrived. We slipped into out tropical duds and made our way to the buffet dining room. We were told that there was a Mexican show that night that cost something like 15 bucks and took a pass. It was one of those been there, done that, kind of things.
One of the things I learned a long time ago about travelling to Mexico is to roll with the punches. It isn’t Canada. The warm weather and usually sunny skies far and away make up for any minor inconveniences.
For most of the first two days at the resort the skies were cloudy and there were some showers. We spent a bit of time at the pool in those two days and took a ride over to the beach. The resorts have a capacity of something like 6,000 people altogether (maybe more). There are close to 2,600 rooms.
On our 2nd night we saw an excellent group of musicians that included a singer who was kind of an Amy Winehouse clone. An older duffer was out on the dance floor with his younger girlfriend and a stubby French Canadian guy with a cowboy hat couldn’t help himself and joined them as a threesome. The old duffer seemed to put up with it good naturedly. Later when the couple was seated the French Canadian guy asked the woman to dance with him alone. He kind of looked like he was pushing the envelope and not long after the couple departed. The singer said the band would be back the next night but they were MIA when we went back the next evening.
On the 3rd night we spent part of the evening in a quiet lounge at another of the resorts. A Latin singer and organist were the entertainment and they were quite good. They did tunes like The Girl From Ipanema. We ran into some people from Vancouver Island at the lounge.
I know that there are many who like the music that is played at Mexican resorts but I am not one of them. It starts about 12 noon around the bigger pools and runs until about 11 p.m. near to the main lobby. Mostly it is a kind of driving beat with shades of disco and 1990s techno pop. Mindless crap mostly suited towards twenty somethings. In between the music the Mexican DJ is often screaming. We are told that we are simply not hip if we don’t turn up that night at some disco or other. Sometimes we would be exhorted to join in a game of “bolleyball” at the pool.
Most resorts have an “adult” or “quiet” pool where you can get away from the noise and quietly read a book without distraction if you care to. Not at this place. For starters the “adult” or “quiet” pool had an ice cream machine. From time to time a parent could be heard screaming at their kid(s) from across the pool. It may just be me but I am not fussy about seeing babies in diapers in swimming pools. I don’t care how much chlorine is in the water.
By 8 a.m. pretty well all of the lounging chairs around the pools had been reserved for the day with a book or beach towel placed upon them denoting that they were not available. After that the best you could hope for is to stretch out on the grass or try to marry up a pair of single chairs if you can find them and drag one of them over to the other. There are signs all over the place saying you can't reserve a chair but nobody pays any attention.
|One of the pools in early morning.|
Other than walking, the way to get from one place to another in a resort as big as this is to take a “train” which is basically like a larger golf cart pulling trailers with bench seats. The is a big sign on the trailers warning drunks of the dos and don’ts and absolving the resort of any responsibility should an accident occur.
People come from all over the world to the Mayan Riviera. There are a lot of Europeans and lots of Russians. The men seem partial to wearing speedos. Although the resort is on the Caribbean Sea, Canadians and Americans, who are the majority of the guests, come from both eastern and western regions of those countries. If you are into people watching this is the place to be.
The first thing you would probably notice is that many of the guests are really, really fat. (I am carrying some extra pounds myself.) I am talking about extra fat. It is as if every huge person from back home somehow managed to scrape up the cash for a trip south in the dead of winter to air the old body out.
The resort is family oriented which means there are kids of all ages around. At night in the lobby you can see the glow coming off of lap top screens and hand held devises, many of them being used by teenagers and kids even younger. Also by a number of adults. You don’t see a lot of family vacation bonding going on.
Most tourists are pretty friendly and capable of a short conversation which always includes the question “Where are you from?” A few are a waste of time trying to talk to perhaps because they are just anal or maybe distrustful in sea of humans.
You can kind of break the hotel guests down into groups. There are the Mexican cowboy hat types who can’t get enough of the watered down booze and who often like to party. There are the young fashionistas who are up date in the latest trends. Young gals in their twenties with short skirts ready for the disco and guys with leg tattoos and yellow sun glasses perched on their foreheads. There are the “first timers” who are totally blown away with Mexico and are of varying ages. You see people who have come down to attend a wedding on the beach. There are a few mothers who have had their young daughters hair dyed blonde and made into corn rows and you might be kind of tempted to tell the mothers that their kids just aren’t that special. Most people staying at the resort are over 60 years of age. If not Mexico now when?
Many French Canadians love the tropics. They tend to be cliquey and remain within their comfort zone. It is like they have transported their Quebec culture with them. Often if you try to engage them in conversation you find that they have little curiosity about English speaking people and make you struggle with the little French you know instead of speaking English which a lot of them know. Not the most sophisticated travellers I have met.
Most American tourists are fine. Occasionally you run into one who thinks the world revolves around the US.
The best conversation we had with a fellow tourist was with a gal in her late 20s from Toronto. Somehow I missed out on the fact that she was topless when we first parked ourselves next to her. Linda told me later. She told us that she had a black boyfriend from Nigeria and sure enough he turned up about a ½ hour into our chat. The gal was telling us that she was hoping to buy a condo back home and that she needed some more cash for the down payment. I suggested that her boyfriend might kick in and he rolled his eyes. It was kind of funny.
The tourists who really amaze me are the old gaffers. Some are hobbling. Between all of the noise and the extremely hot sun, and probably being on medication, somehow they manage to make it back to the plane home without having to be rushed to a hospital. Some of them look like they are just happy to be anywhere at this point in life.
Mexican Resort Food
The giant buffet in the giant dining room is hardly an advertisement for world hunger. Plates are stacked three times a day often with only half the food eaten. Bacon, which is deepfried is clearly the breakfast favourite. Mexicans have made an art form out of destroying the taste of food. A little bit of cilantro goes a long way if you know what I mean. Meat is usually doctored with some kind of spices and is often tough to chew. Seafood is a lost cause. Shrimp are mushy and overcooked. You need a chainsaw to cut through what is inside shellfish.
I found that I had to take 2 tours through the buffet area before putting something on my plate. Fresh fruit is always a good idea to keep the system flowing. It is hard to totally destroy pasta. Peanut butter on toast works. Some of the deserts were OK and they had really good ice cream. I never went near a hamburger or hot dog.
It is a bit of an adventure going to the buffet. Some butt in line if they see some food that has possibilities. Many are oblivious to others around them and it is surprising that there aren’t more broken plates on the floor.
The resort staff in the dining room are desperate for tips and you can tell that they are more than a bit disingenuous with their smiles. Often they tend to run around in a panic instead of logically going about their duties. Ask for a spoon and you might get it 10 minutes later. Ask for a drink and it could arrive within minutes.
Part of the deal at the resort is that you could choose 3 so called “ala carte” restaurants to have dinner at. We only chose one, a Japanese place called The Mikado. (I never was much of a Gilbert & Sullivan fan….never mind if you don’t get the connection.) We were led into a room that had seats that surrounded a grill. Our fellow diners were all French Canadians, a group of three couples and a small child with an ipod, and an older couple who sat beside us that were from Quebec who never mumbled a word during dinner. The worldly French Canadians stuck with spoons and forks and knives. I’m not sure if they took the chopsticks home as souvenirs.
We tried to engage the French Canadians in a bit of conversation even mentioning that I was born in Montreal but that went nowhere and they resumed chatting to one another in French. I have pretty well given up on French Canadians. The sashimi was surprisingly OK as was the soup. The chef turned up and did his act of spinning the cooking utensils around in the air. Nothing that appeared that dangerous but a decent act just the same. Some rice and fresh vegetables were spread out on the grill followed by pieces of fish, chicken, and beef. The latter out were portioned into chunks which made them look like stew meat. Did I mention that not a soul who worked in the place was Japanese? I passed on the prawns knowing that they were just going to be recooked. I also took a pass on the “mystery” fish. The chicken and beef were kind of passable by Mexican standards. I am glad that we didn’t bother with the other 2 ala carte restaurant meals.
You can’t smoke in the resort rooms, in the lobby, or the dining room, or on transportation. Other than that the resort is kind of a smoker’s paradise and I smoke. It kind of felt like the old days when you could smoke on a plane or walk around puffing on a butt in a supermarket.
I haven’t seen so many smokers in one place in years. You would see people coming out of the dining room with a smoke and a lighter in one hand ready to puff away. I saw an old guy smoking while he pushed his wife in a wheelchair.
Back in Canada you would probably be verbally assaulted if you displayed your smoking habit so openly. At the Bahia Principe any dislike for smokers was camouflaged. Not a place for brave anti-smokers to voice their opinions.
Fending off the hucksters.
There were two entrances to the dining room at Coba. One had a number of steps that led directly into the dining room and the other was an entrance way off of the main lobby. The latter had a number of time share and condo sales booths that you had to pass in the corridor. You were free game if you chose this route. The standard plan is to keep walking and ignore the hucksters. I got a few chuckles from them one day when I asked them if they would be interested in buying a condo in Victoria, BC.
A couple of good looking young Mexican gals patrolled the edge of the lobby. They weren’t your typical looking dining room staff. A few “kills” on selling condos and they could make a damned good living. Neither gal made eye contact with one another. I think the deal was that they couldn’t harass the guests but if someone engaged them at all…..that’s another story.
One morning, we were sitting out in the sun having a coffee (and a smoke) when we were approached by a dignified looking middle aged Mexican gent. He started to go into a pitch about some “privileged club” and Linda cut him off and told him we were in the middle of a conversation. Having spent most of my life in sales I, apparently, am more amused by sales BS than Linda. The guy asked us if we were Americans and when we told him he weren’t he went into a 5 point rant about rotten Americans including some court stuff. My guess is he had an ex-wife in the US who had sued his pants off.
If you like noise and lots of it, this is the resort to go to. Turn on the TV and almost every Mexican commercial involves screaming or loud voices. The announcers all sound like they were trained to do American tractor pull events. Make the voice deep and drag the word out slowly. “Waaaaaaaarner Brothers”.
All Mexican all-inclusives have a pool DJ and you can pretty well count on hearing “Oooha Ooh” at least 10 times a day. That sound ranks right up there with “In the hole” on golf broadcasts on US TV. I’m not big on guns but…
Directly across from our room was a fenced off area where they were building a kid’s water park. The fence was covered by some green fabric so it was hard to see what was going on. Every morning at 7:30 p.m. the chainsaws, circular saws, and hammers would get going. It went on all day. Aside from the DJ yelling at the activity pool from about 12:00 a.m. to about 4 p.m. there was also some dancing or entertainment going on near the reception area from about 7:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. 5 year old kids dancing in the dark with strobe lights is not cute and probably the last place a single person wants to be.
The resort management, in their wisdom or lack of same, made a decision at some point that nobody would care if construction on the new water park went on to 10:30 at night possibly figuring that nobody would care when noise was already coming from the nightly deal near the reception area.
One morning at about 7:00 a.m., I could hear a kid crying and screaming from one of the complexes nearby. It wasn’t exactly the sound of morning birds whistling and chirping.
And then there was the one of the coffee cups in our room that had a chip in it. It was there for 7 days which made me wonder if they used one of our used towels to clean it.
All in all I don’t think the management could give a rat’s ass about any discomfort they put their customers through. It seems to be all about the money and moving the herds in and out.
When I got back to BC I read some of the reviews on the resort. One person wrote about finding mold in their room at the sister club across the highway by the golf course. Another wrote about stepping on a spider and all the little baby spiders running around the room.
The water at the beach is crystal clear and schools of fish swim by. There are a number of pretty looking birds (orange, yellow, red) that make their homes at the resort. It is quite common to see long tailed critters that look a bit like racoons. You see iguanas everywhere and the occasional gecko. One morning we saw a creature that looked like it was part of the pig family. The grounds are well manicured and you can tell that you are right next to the jungle.
|Ring tailed varmints.|
I had been to the Mayan ruins at Tulum about 15 years ago when I stayed in Cancun. Back then you could climb the steps of the pyramid but not anymore. Our hotel liaison person didn’t recommend Tulum as a place to see and suggested other ruins possibly because of a kick back. The going rate from the resort to Tulum and back was 75 bucks a head. Linda and I have never been adverse to taking public transportation in Mexico (it kind of gives you a local feel) and our trip to Tulum ended up costing us a total of 24 bucks for both of us including the entrance fee and transportation.
Did I have a good time? Yes I did. As I said earlier I always roll with the punches when in Mexico. I will be 66 in a few months and spending a week in Mexico and people watching along with the natural and unnatural beauty of the area is enough to break up months of grey skies in the winter on Vancouver Island. I’ve always liked an adventure.
Would I go again? Definitely not! Next year we’re going to Maui where things are a lot more peaceful.