It was amazing. We had spaced out so much that we had forgotten what day it was. Since there was no phone in our place, we went down the street to an office that had a tourist phone. We all quickly figured out what we were going to do.
We flew on Allegro Airlines, a charter thing whose primary purpose is to fly vacationers to and from vacation sites. It turned out that flights between San Francisco and Cancun only happened on Mondays and Fridays. That was it. And we'd missed the Monday flight. And there were no refunds, but you could reschedule for $50. So we all had to choose: either stay another 4 days, or forfeit the ticket and fly back on some other airline.
One way or another, we could not stay in the same room anymore, so we packed up and got in the car and headed off to the Cancun airport, still rather stunned. Jim had to get back so he groveled with some other airline and headed off to Miami and ended up taking some flight home the next morning.
Meryle and I decided to stay. I had no real christmas plans, so this was actually a good thing. I had to make four phone calls that were critical. We decided to go to Play Del Carmen and find a place to stay.
The rest of the day was spent groveling to hotels for a room, doing those phone calls, and just trying to handle everything else, like the fact that we needed more cash and clothes washed and stuff.
Finally we managed to line up places to stay, but it was pretty piecemeal. Two days before christmas, there was almost no open rooms in the city. We finally managed to line up three places for the four nights we had left.
There were two kinds of phones you'd see. "Tourist Phones" looked like phone booth phones but without any slot for money or anything. You were expected to have a credit card or something. A big sign on the top says what to do to reach an "international" operator who spoke english and asked where you wanted to call, with the assumption that it was somewhere in the US.
They also had phone card machines; the standard kind of phone booth you'll find all over mexico I guess. The phone cards are creditcard size cards that actually are mostly plastic. On one side is a pad 1/2" square of gold contacts, maybe a half dozen or more. The chip itself is just behind that pad (i ripped one apart later). The whole rest of the card is just plastic. You buy the cards at different kinds of stores and use them till they run out. Using the last few pesos on a card was difficult or impossible because you can't start a phone call with a short card, but supposedly you could run off the end of one card and on to another one in the middle of a long phone call.
The whole time I was having flashbacks to this time when I was in Greece. We had all just graduated from Cornell, me and my two classmates, and we were touring Europe. Spending a few days in each city, we had no real plans when we wandered onto this secluded beach on the island of Corfu. Sleeping on the beach, eating at the restaurants, hanging out with the eurotrash kids, living on something like $5 or $10 a day, I and my classmates found ourselves staying there, perhaps, way too long.
And I had this fantasy. Our friends and family are there, they flew to Corfu. They've got pictures of us. In picture frames. They wander around, looking for us. They go to everyone they meet, they point to the picture and ask, have you seen them? Most people don't know. Some people direct them to the beach. Finally you see one of the restaurants on the beach, the kind that sells stuff over the counter too. Three burnouts are sitting in chairs in front of the restaurant, straw sunhats covering their faces. Our friends just walk past the burnouts, and talk to the man behind the counter. Yes, yes, I've seen them. They're right here. He goes and wakes the burnouts up, and it turns out that it's me and my two classmates. We stayed so long, we just didn't go back, and we assimilated into the tropical scene.
Then I had another memory, this one was a Tom Waits song that Greg plays for me sometimes. "Frank's Wild Years". This guy has a wife and dog and a house in the burbs. Car. Lawn mower. Whatever. Then one day he just sets fire to it and watches it burn down from a chair across the street, laughing, drinking a beer.
So I found myself thinking about this. Person goes on vacation and never comes back. What does it look like back home? Well, the first thing that happens is that oops, I missed my flight back! Ho ho, silly me.
Oh, no, I won't be flying back tomorrow. Oh, no, not tomorrow. Can't fly back until Friday, yeah, that's what the airline said. Oh, it's OK, surely I'll be back on Friday, that's when the next plane leaves.
So then what does it look like? Well, one way or another, the flight on Friday never happens. Somehow, the person just never gets on the plane.
Then, I thought about what I had. A job I had resigned from, and a contract that said I had to keep on working. A house. A girlfriend who could move to mexico, too. A chunk of money that would last a long time in mexico.
And I made a point to Meryle that it was really really important that we make the plane on Friday. We had to wake up extra early to make the plane. Somehow for her it didn't seem to be such an issue.
Playa del Carmen is the only place I've ever seen with speed bumps on a highway. You're driving along and all of a sudden thump thump there's these metal speed bumps. Probably they put it there because that intersection is a zoo of cars stopping, bus passengers walking around, trucks taking off, bike riders, etc.
When we first went there we saw them starting to construct a Domino's Pizza right on the corner with the highway. By the time we left it was constructed and looked like it was ready for business. That's how fast the town is growing.
One time I was driving down Juarez (the main drag into town). At various intersections were police officers playing the part of traffic lights. There were no traffic lights in the town. They make you start or stop sometimes for seemingly random reasons. One time we had one who wouldn't let us go. Finally he directed us to the side of the road where he tried to explain to us that we had been going too fast. (Meryle was translating from italian.) Oh, if I write up a ticket, it'll be 300 pesos and we'll have to go down to the station and it'll be a big hassle. Or we could just give him 100 pesos and it would all be over. We took the low price option. I guess it was a "bribe". But you know I did the same thing with a trooper in Illinois one time. Maybe that was a bribe too.
[actual cenotes we saw had no exposed pool; the entire pool was inside the cave like the one you see in the back of this photo.]
One of the things I wanted to do was to dive in a cenote. The cenotes seem to come in different sizes and shapes. We drove down and found this one place that we called "four cenotes". For fifteen pesos (two bucks) you could go in and see all four of them. They were all pretty small, but they had fish in them. There wasn't much light; hey, they're CAVES, waddya expect?
I actually started snorkeling in one of them. It was a little bit strange, swimming in a pond that was in a cave. The water was crystal clear, and was freshwater of course. I tried to swim out to where it opened up to the rest of the underwater caves, but all you saw in the floor was big craggly rocks, and there was a limit to how close to that I wanted to get. My fins were pointless because it was so small; I just wore Tevas.
They didn't seem to have any connection to the rest of the caves underground, although I didn't check in all possible places.
These were on the inland side of the freeway, just before Cenote Azul.
[Apparently there seems to be two Cenote Azul's; the other one is way further south, near Costera Bacalar.
Azul means "blue" in spanish.]
So after that I had my fill and we went to the other side of the highway to a beach named Xpu-Ha. Xpu-Ha is pronounced shpoo-ha, mayan x's are pronounced like sh. There was still some sun so we hung out.
Later on as it was getting dark, we wanted to eat. It was Christmas day, and not too many places were open, but someone directed us to this one place.
It was basically a dive bar. Except you envision an urban dive bar as a building that's enclosed. This was a bar on the beach; no walls or anything. There was a handful of burnout mexicans on the other side of the bar sucking on beers. I guess this is it.
"Do you serve food? Comida por favor?" They didn't even have a menu. The guy listed off from memory what they had. Basically, it was seafood (mariscos in spanish). You know these guys go out in the boat and catch fish, and here it is, totally fresh. But that's the only thing they have on the menu.
Meanwhile, Meryle wanted a hamburger. Can't take her anywhere.
We ended up getting three plates of food, and I ended up eating like all of it. It was SOO GREAT, it was so fresh! I loved it. It was a bit rustic, like the shrimp still had the shells and legs and stuff, but it was well worth it. These guys would barbecue it up in the back room, and every so often you'd see one of them walking around with a big fish hanging off of each hand.
On the other side of the bar was this group of three other tourists, scandinavian guys that Meryle was flirting with. They were eating Ceviche (marinated raw fish) and Meryle tried some. Meryle! (She had razzed me the day before about a taco I had gotten from a street vendor that had some sort of lettuce in it.)
So I was picking these little tasty shrimps out of their shells and someone said to look at the moon, and in fact the moon was rising, a full moon.
Meryle wandered off to the beach to see the moon. So I was eating happily away, next thing I knew, there was hardly anyone at the bar, like everyone had gone to check out the moon. I didn't have any cash, I was depending on Meryle, so I was sortof stranded at the bar, not knowing what to do. Finally I just slipped away and went back to the car and got some cash and paid them.
Then I started looking for Meryle. I went up and down the beach a few times, but she was nowhere to be found. I was starting to get scared, seeing the last time I saw her, three guys followed her off to the beach. I went back to the bar and the mexicans who worked there figured out I was looking for her and told me to walk in this direction up the beach, but I had already been up that way. Finally I figured it out - there was another place open that christmas day, and I went there and sure enough, Meryle was there, doing shots with the scandinavian guys. Being the designated driver, I couldn't really follow suit, so we ended up driving back to Playa del Carmen and agreed to meet them at their hotel. Tequila strikes again; next thing I knew we all woke up the next morning.
On the north end, people said, there's a lagoon that you can go snorkeling at.
So we went north and as we got there, some other people told us the story: walk for 15 minutes on sharp rocks and you'll be there. We did and it was actually fabulous. Here was this lagoon, the size of a very large swimming pool, surrounded on all sides by rock, except for an outlet to the ocean, where waves would come through. It was about 10 feet deep all around. Most of the bottom was bare sand. But the edges were some of the most interesting rocks and fish I had seen.
You could actually do a sort of cave diving; not actually caves but overhanging rock that you can dive under. The rocks that you stand on that surround the lagoon are actually overhangs. The nooks and crannies you can swim into and through are limited only by your courage and the abrasive resiliance of your skin. I had nothing on but a bathing suit, but I still had a great time. I'd swim under an overhang until I could see where the sand met the rock, then I'd look up and there would be all this rock above me and stalagtites hanging down and then I'd get scared and swim out. This one place I swam under, it turned out, it didn't stop, it was a cave that went to another lagoon. Way beyond my ability to go through there, especially holding my breath.
One of the interesting things about swimming in these lagoons is that you can see where the saltwater and the freshwater are mixing. It gets blurry under water. Actually it's more like heat rising on a hot day, except underwater. If you look carefully at it, you can see the swirls characteristic of mixing liquids. And, in different places in the crevices, there were pockets of seawater with freshwater over them. Or vice versa, couldn't tell. There wasn't just one place where this mixing happened; there were varying concentrations all over the lagoon.
So Meryle was tired early and went to bed. I stayed up and promised I wouldn't be out late.
I walked into town. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, but I thought that I'd like one more shot of fresh mariscos. It was getting late and rather improbable.
So I was walking along and all of a sudden I looked into a store, and to my surprise, there was Dylan, talking with the clerk (or whoever). We ended up sitting around having a beer at the next place which, for some reason, still served food and I got my fix of mariscos, I think some sort of fish, sitting at a sidewalk cafe table.
So we ended up talking and talking. It started raining and we went to the bar because it had a roof.
He told me all these stories about how he was bisexual and he came back to Playa this time and this woman Margo wouldn't give him a room, and it was all because of last time, when he showed up with a couple that he was with, and Margo got all freaked out because she was catholic and....
We started walking, toward the edge of town, and down to this beach that I had been at with Meryle. He told me about his accident, something with a car, and he had neurological damage, so this was like his second life.
He told me about some realestate deal in LA that he participated in and lost like $8 million. If this was true then maybe he's not a phony, but it was hard to tell. He told me he knew the guy who built one of the hotels we stayed at (the one with the air conditioning). I couldn't really punch holes in his story, except that it seemed a bit far fetched.
I told him that I had to go, I had to catch the plane in the morning. Had to. Had to wake up at 6am in order to make the flight.
He was telling me that I should stay. What did I have to go back for? And, you know, I didn't have a good answer. A job I had resigned from, and a contract that said I had to keep on working. A house. A girlfriend who could move to mexico, too. A chunk of money that would last a long time in mexico. It was really creepy having this feeling that maybe I could just toss it to the wind and miss the plane tomorrow.
But I didn't.