Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mexico 2017 - Where are the taxis?

I started the first morning of my vacation with Walking Club. This is when all the ambitious people get up at daybreak and go for an early morning walk. I left sometime after 7 and walked west on our street. Beyond our complex was half a kilometer of jungle and brush and pretty much every inch of it had garbage thrown upon it. This is one sign that you have reached Latin America – lots of garbage tossed around. Some of it must have been quite fresh because the smell in spots was atrocious, so I held my breath and walked faster through these odorous patches.

When I returned everybody else was up and we put together a breakfast of fried eggs, flavour-packed mini bananas, habanero sauce, grapes and cheese, all delicious. Although there was only one bathroom, after breakfast we all managed to shower and clean up without stepping on each other or getting any full frontals.

We decided to spend the first day of 2017 on the beach in Playa del Carmen. Now our apartment was about 5 kilometers away from the beach, so public transport was the name of the game, and we were assured by Mom and Rick that the main street near the apartments was always full of taxis, collectivos and busses so getting downtown was never a problem. Mom’s neighbour Jose offered to load his car with passengers and give us a lift to the beach so half of us jumped in and rest of us – Rick, Randy, Ana and I walked to the street to hail a cab. I knew Rick and Randy had it all under control as they had been here so long they were practically locals. So we took up a spot on the corner and started waving for a taxi. A few drove by but they were all full. Then a few dozen drove by and they were all full. Then a nice looking Mexican couple walked up to our corner, swiped the spot ahead of us, and immediately flagged down a free taxi. Well that was lucky, I thought. A few more full taxis drove on by. Then a young girl walked up and again took the spot ahead of us. What the hell kind of protocol is this, I wondered? I looked at Rick and he seemed cool, then I looked at Randy and he was giving the Mexican girl the stink eye, but she was ignoring him. After a few minutes a free taxi pulled up and picked up the Mexican girl. Also, across the street another group of people got a taxi. So Ana and I decided to get smart and we crossed the street and grabbed pole position right on the corner. Ten more taxis passed by, all full, and Randy and Rick were now three spots down from the corner as more Mexicans started arriving and each displacing the other from the good spot. As Ana and I watched, two groups jumped on busses, leaving Randy and Rick in the prized corner position. But then a Mexican hoochie mamma wearing a short skirt and half a shirt walked right up and stole the spot, and there was simply no way our boys were going to get a taxi before that girl.  So Ana and I crossed back over, as our side of the street was completely dry, and walked way up the block to try and scoop everybody. Our plan seemed to be working, as we were now first in line, but all the damn taxis were full. I even walked across the street to the Oxxo convenience store and tried recruiting the taxi parked there, to no avail. I walked back over to Ana, and I was getting pretty thirsty by this time as the sun was hot, so imagine my delight when I noticed a full, capped beer sitting in the grass right beside a power transformer.

“Look! Free beer!” I exclaimed as I was bending over to pick up the bottle.

“No!” Ana said, “It’s a trap! Think about it – who would leave a free beer sitting on the sidewalk?”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s possible, like maybe a happy 2017 present from somebody?”

“Don’t touch it, bad idea.”

I decided she was probably right, but now I was really desperate as there were no empty taxis passing by at all, although there were plenty of busses. We walked back over to Randy and Rick, who were still standing there like a couple of chumps.

“This is useless. What’s going on?” I asked.

“It has never taken us this long to get a cab, not even close,” Randy replied.

“Why don’t we just catch a bus, most of them say Centro on them so I’m sure they go downtown,” Ana suggested.

“Nope,” said Rick, “Don’t take them busses, too hard to figure them out.” We found our later that last year Rick tried taking a bus to the grocery store to buy meat and spent three hours riding around Playa del Carmen with his bag of steak because he didn’t know where he was and couldn’t remember where he lived.

So we decided we might as well start walking and Ana and I headed in the direction where the scent of ocean water seemed to be coming from. Rick was sticking to his guns and refused to walk. Randy wasn’t convinced of our plan, but he did start slowly walking, not wanting to ditch Rick but still wanting to do...something. At that moment, Jose pulled up in his car right beside Rick, and was wondering what the hell we were doing all spread out on the street like that.

Jose whisked us downtown at high speed and dropped us off in the same place he dropped the others. We were shocked when we saw all of them still there, but they had spread out the beach chairs and were patiently waiting for us. We explained our failed cabbing attempt as we gathered all our things and walked down to the beach. The beach was very nice, but was also right in the heart of downtown, close to the ferry terminal for boats to Cozumel, so there were people everywhere. We got settled in front of Wawa’s, one of many restaurants there. Finally, we were on the beach so I laid back and soaked some of that glorious sun into my white, dried out, Canadian exoskeleton. The first day on the beach you always feel like a real knob because you’re so white so it’s important to get good and burned so you can peel away that terrible layer of winter skin and start tanning some fresh stuff.

Ana, her mom and I went for a long walk on the beach to check out our surroundings. We found a long line of bars and restaurants and many, many people – some of which looked like leftovers from the New Year's Eve party last night. A young couple, mostly dressed, were sleeping on beach chairs and looked like they had been there for a while. The other guy we saw wasn't as particular with his choice of overnight accommodation and was face down in the sand, asleep and getting scorched by the hot sun. I pointed to him and said to Maria, "Hey, that's what I used to do all the time before I met Ana!" She thought I was joking.

After a while thick sheets of dark clouds gathered and the menacing blackness drove us inside the restaurant. We ordered up a bucket of beers and some lunch items. After an unusually long wait the food arrived –Ana and I shared some decent shrimp tacos and the rest had Mexican chili fries and burgers. The food was more expensive than I was expecting, but then we were eating in a beachside restaurant right downtown so that should not have been a surprise.

We went for a stroll along 5th Avenue, which is a bustling pedestrian street that runs for twenty blocks and is packed with stores selling everything a tourist may need from diamonds to lucha libre wresting masks to bottles of tequila to cigars. The majority are junky tourist shops, but there are also some traditional and authentic Mexican stores such as Old Navy, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks and Hugo Boss. I really liked when a parade of cruise ship passengers passed by Magnus, John and I as we were sitting on the steps of a shop waiting for the girls. They each had a giant number stuck to their shirt and at the head of the pack was a loud-mouthed guide holding up a large sign with this same number, so they wouldn’t get mixed in with some other cruise ship potty parade.

We returned to the beach for a little while, but by this time it was insanely packed and the horrifyingly over-tanned, speedoed, extensively tattooed and dread-locked Quebecer couple that had been laying in the direct sun all day in front of us looked like they might have died because they hadn’t moved for ages, and we didn’t want to go through any police interrogation so we got the hell out of there.

We taxied back to the hotel (no trouble at all this time, besides getting ripped off on price) and got settled around the pool at Mom’s place. We met a friend of theirs named George and his girlfriend Grit and heard some incredible sailing stories. Over a span of three years he and various different crew members had sailed his 2010 50 foot Hunter sailboat from Vancouver down to Central America, across the Pacific, through the Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Australia and all the way up to Langkawi, Malaysia where it was currently located. He was still trying to figure out which route to take the boat next, and had learned that the most recent innovation in the sailing world was to hire a sniper (usually around $20 grand) to join you on your boat as you travelled through pirate waters. These guys are typically ex-military and are experts at pinging off pirates if they get too close. For some strange reason, Ana thought this would be an excellent retirement gig for us. I guess it does offer excellent working conditions and great pay, as long as you don’t mind murdering Somali bandits.

They recounted another amazing story where they were caught in a storm in Thailand and while on watch Grit spotted a man in the water floating on a small piece of wreckage. She could hardly believe her eyes as they were in huge seas in the middle of nowhere. After several attempts they managed to get him out of the water and on board. He was close to death, but fortunately for him Grit is a nurse and was able stabilize him while they got him to safety. He was a Burmese fisherman and had been floating for three days; his face was completely cracked open from the sunburn and the little ocean fish had eaten the flesh away from his Achilles tendon, leaving the white, stringy fibre completely exposed. They ended up transferring him over to the Thai coast guard and saw in the news several days later that the coast guard had taken full credit for the rescue!

We had all the leftovers from the previous night for dinner at Mom’s, and while we were there the neighbours Jose and Soani invited Ana and I out for drinks. So we sent the old folks and kids home and then joined our new friends at a local drinkeria called Azul. We orders beers and wine and had an amazing time talking about all the great things travellers like to talk about. They are Venezuelan but had only recently moved to Mexico to live, after spending nearly 15 years living and working in the UK, so they spoke English perfectly. They told us about what it was like living in Mexico and their reasons for making such a move. It is always so invigorating to meet people who are not afraid of make big changes in their lives and taking a chance on something new.

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