Capital of spice
Some tedious immigration checking at Cuba, a cheap flight, and armed with 3 boxes of habanos later, we were in the city of Cancun, Mexico. Well not quite yet in Cancun, as what followed was a thorough search of my bags for taxable goods and a heated argument in English and Spanish that ensued between the customs officials and I over the number of habanos I had brought into the country. A fine of $90 later, I was reunited with my precious habanos and off we went on the ADO bus to explore the city of Cancun which we were soon to call ‘Cancun, United States’.
Chapter 1: El Estados Unidos en Mexico
Now half the western world and the two of us were well acquainted with the infamous reputation Cancun has as the ‘springbreakers backyard’ for the ‘merican kids. What we didn’t know was that the ‘springbreakers’ season seems to linger on well past spring break to the other months of the year, which results in a big chunk of the city’s waterfront properties being converted to 5 star hotels to house ’em holiday maker North Americans in an ‘all inclusive’ deal.
Well, we shameless decided to jump on the bandwagon (with a legitimate reason) as we had 2 of our mates – Ganesh and Amit fly in from North America and with the rich boys having reserved a plush room at the Westin, we decided to avail. Attired in our signature backpacker rainbow pants and looking fairlz unkempt, we arrived into the Westin where we would spend the next 4 nights basking in luxury. Somewhere in between all that laughing, puffing at habanos, and shaking a leg at the showground of Coco Bongo and Senor Frogs, we visited Isla Mujeres and the Mayan ruins at Tulum. We shall remember Cancun as the city where tourists invite themselves to be fooled into paying exorbitant prices for any service, and where we along with our mates, fell well into that trap. Law of the averages hits even the best!
To get away from the tourist trap that is Cancun, we headed to the tranquil colonial city of Valladolid where we had 2 peaceful days swimming in cenotes and visiting the beautiful but inappropriately managed ruins of Chichen-Itza.
Chapter 2: The real Mexico finally stands up
We left Mexico to travel through Belize and Guatemala and re-entered through the state of Chiapas 3 weeks later. From the blazing hot temperatures in Guatemala we were finally in for some relief in the city of San Cristobal. A pretty little city with a huge vegetable market, we spent 3 days at ‘Casa de Elisa’, a B&B run by a Mexican family who rent out the 3 spare rooms in their family. Staying in a family home for 3 nights almost made us forget that we were staying in a hotel, as Elisa and her partner Arturo made everyone at home..feel at home!s We visited the famous canyon Sumidero during our stay, the view from the top being quite rewarding.
We then made our way further east towards the city of Oaxaca where we couchsurfed with our most elderly hosts thus far – a 65 year old Canadian couple who had retired into the mountains in this picturesque city that resembled most of a western European city than a Latin American city with its vast square flooded with
restaurants catering to your holiday tourist. During our stay, we visited the Monte Alban ruins atop the mountain via a backdoor path that we hiked from our hosts’ house. A good 40 minute climb, it was well worth the free entry into the ruins whereupon reaching, I unleashed the Gangnam!
However the highlight of our time in Oaxaca was stay with Patricia, Don and their 4 large, gorgeous dogs – Cathy, Annie, Wednesday and Frankie. We were treated to delicious meals each night by Pat and spent most of our days playing with the canines in their large front yard. Don kept himself busy with his carpentry and kept us entertained with his sharp wit whilst Patricia enthralled both of them with her throughly researched dishes. If there a manner we would have liked to retire, it would have been this – a beautiful house by the mountains, with a large, fully equipped kitchen and plenty of dogs. Sheer joy!
Chapter 3: Modern Mexico
We were reunited with our mates that we made during our Uyuni trip in Bolivia – Carooo and Ale in their city, Puebla. We were staying with Caroo’s energetic, extremely hospitable parents who treated us as one of the children in the family. Carroo is a bundle of energy, who always has plenty of chat about and it was evident where those genes were from – her mom! A vivacious, talkative women herself, given that Caro was busy with her final exams, she took the initiative to drive us around town, this in spite of having a 1 year old baby girl! Apart from this she cooked us mouth watering traditional Mexican dishes for breakfast and dinner daily. Nothing but admiration and respect for this woman who I had started addressing ‘mamma’ during the tenure of our stay.
Another family gifted, with heavy hearts we made our way back to Cancun where we spent our last night in Latin America raking up a feast with yet another warm Mexican family, symbolic of what our last 6 months in Latin America has been – warm, generous, extremely amicable people in places that reflect paradise where exotic, delicious dishes await. Latinos – I’ll be back.
What not to miss
– if you had flown into Mexico, retain the boarding pass and the entry card. It will save you the departure tax
– if you didn’t fly to into Mexico, you’ll have an extra white paper attached to your entry card to signify you entered by land. Simply take it off whilst check in to your flight out of Mexico or whilst leaving by land. Note: this method is known to work only 60% of the times, but for the adventurous backpacker, it’s well worth the shot. The worst that can happen is you pay the departure tax