-A Writer's Reflection

My experiments in Mexico

Waking up in a foreign country with no plans for your day is exciting. Yes, I did that. I went to Mexico in December 2016, specifically to Yucatán peninsula. Sunday night I reached Cancun almost by midnight, as my flight was late. I did not know what I was going to do for next 8 days there, except I had four days in Cancun and four in Valladolid. At the end of those eight days, I wished I never came back from Mexico.

Monday, the first morning and the second day of the trip, I woke up with confidence of throwing my Spanish at everyone I would meet. My room was on fifth floor. I woke up late around 9 am and luckily, the breakfast hours were 7-11. I rode one of the three small elevators down to the ground floor. The elevator was small enough where presence of second person would make me feel intrusive. Reaching ground floor, I ate wonderful nachos, spicy fried potatoes in addition to regular continental breakfast. 

A Mexican lady stepped into elevator while I was going back to my room. I visualized a conversation in my head, ‘Hello. Good morning. Nice to meet you.’ I said, “Hola. Buenos Dias.” The lady smiled and said, “Buenos Dias. Como estas?” I smiled in my head, patted my back for successful initiation of Spanish conversation, and followed up, “Bien. Enchanté.” Smile was replaced with a shock on her face as if I just cursed her. My confidence went downhill. I received a second chance only an hour later in the same elevator, while I was on my way out. An old man greeted me, as I entered the elevator, “Buenos Dias.” I smiled and replied, “Buenos Dias. Enchanté.” The exact same reaction appeared on the old man’s face, shock!

How often you mess up and have no idea! I had no idea why people did not like my perfect Spanish. I took a taxi to Cancun bus station and took a bus to Tulum. While in Tulum, I bought a day pass to one of the resorts near the Tulum Ruins. In the resort, I boarded a speedboat with a large American family for snorkeling. I started talking to few of them. Then I heard a weird conversation. A lady in the family started talking to the driver of the boat in the middle of the ocean before going for snorkeling. She said, “Hola. Como estas?”. The driver replied, “Bien.” The lady asked, “Como te llamas?” The driver replied, “Paco.” Against all odds the lady said, “Enchanté.” I laughed and thought, ‘Look at that lady, mixing up her languages!’ Oops! I did the same in the morning. I understood the shocking looks on my morning listeners. I was mixing French with Spanish and they were clueless. Coincidence! Six hours later, a lady made the same mistake. I laughed ridiculously and realized my mistake. A mistake made due to learning multiple languages at the same time and having half knowledge about them.

Three Mexican states are on the Yucatan peninsula. I went to two of them – Quintana Roo and Yucatan - during my visit. These two states had rich Mayan heritage with many Mayan cities one could visit even today. Tulum is one of the popular Mayan archeological and heritage sites. A two and a half hour bus ride from Cancun and then 20 minutes taxi ride from bus station dropped me in the area of Tulum ruins. As expected of any tourist site, around Tulum ruins a lot of hustle was visible - Few restaurants and many small booths by different resorts to attract tourists. All the booths looked same, like official tourist information counters. I realized they were not official tourist information booths in the hindsight. Even though their appearances were a little misleading, all the counters provided correct information. I signed up for a day at the resort including entry to the ruins, snorkeling and a photo shoot of ruins from the ocean.

While buying my day pass, I talked to the sales manager at the counter and he explained complicated travel route from the booth to the ruins, ruins’ exit, and a long walk to the left of the exit to reach the resort. The entire map and setting were difficult to comprehend. In addition, I had a little distrust as to give all money up front and not able to find the resort or the right person in the resort. Being a good sales manager, the man at the counter sensed my anxiety from my questions. To assure me, he confidently said, “Find Paco and tell him Escobar send you.” My eyes widened and my heart skipped a bit of remote possibility of meeting Escobar. My mind quickly said, “Rubbish!” Although Pablo Escobar must had someone named Paco in his gang, he died more than twenty years ago. The sales manager’s name anti-climactically turned out to be Mario Escobar.

The Mayan world was not one big kingdom or state. Unusually, each city in Mayan world was an independent kingdom. Tulum was no exception. Another Mayan city I visited was Chichen Itza. Having named one of the modern wonders of the world – The Chichen Itza pyramid – Chichen Itza was easily the most visited Mayan city. Many of the well-known Mayan ruins were well controlled by Government-private partnerships. Many Mayan cities are yet to be explored, only a few of the explored  are tourist worthy. Forests have grown over many of the Mayan ruins and it would be a different adventure to explore non-touristic unexplored Mayan world. The adventure I did not take, but I would like to in future.

Major ruins like Tulum and Chichen Itza have been restored and preserved as complete cities. One would need a ticket to enter and explore the ruins. The ruins had different buildings, a stone base being common among all of them. I will discuss the ruins in a separate blog. I noticed a few characteristics at the ruins, however. Two top most were cleanliness and orderly chaos. The ruins were well maintained. Entry and exit points of the original cities were preserved. Instructions and details about the ruins were a little scarce, but it did not decrease the grandeur of them. Chichen Itza had small vendors – hundreds of them – scattered inside the ruins. They were shouting, attracting customers, bargaining and everything chaotic that went with the tourists. On the other hand, the ruins were still clean, not a single piece of garbage. Despite many vendors and not visible signs of an elaborate system of them following specific rules and regulations, everything was in order. There were absolutely no obstacles in witnessing the majestic beauty of the ruins. I have lived my life in two countries with opposite view on rules and order: United State and India. In the United States, one can not apply common sense and everyone follows rules like slaves. On the opposite end, in India the most popular rule is ‘Rules are meant to be broken.’ Mexico was pleasantly balanced between those two extremes. There were minimum rules and regulations and common sense was prevailing.
I also met a smart salesman in Chichen Itza selling souvenirs, Mayan masks, clothes, artifacts, instruments and lots of other merchandise. While I was walking away from Chichen Itza pyramid, a Mexican boy walked up to me and said, “Namaste.” The 12-year-old boy spoke only Spanish, but catchphrases in many other languages. He was able to get my attention and that of many others. I ignored him at first, but he followed me and asked, “Are you not Namaste?” He could not even say ‘from India’, as he did not know other phrases in English. I stopped looked at his merchandise, talked a little with my limited Spanish and started walking. Unperturbed he found a couple and followed up with “Are you Ni Hau?”, rightly guessing the couple to be Chinese and getting their attention. I ended up buying a lot from Chichen Itza. 
I had numerous other pleasant experiences while in Mexico. Be it a moped ride through island of Isla Mujeres – not isla de mujeres or speedboat and snorkeling in Tulum. Isla Mujeres was the east most land of Mexico. A cliff in southern end of the island receives the first sunray of Mexico every morning. The cliff was called Acantilado de Amanecer or simply the cliff of the dawn. This southern tip of the island had small area of Mayan ruins, nothing compared to Tulum. However, at the end of the ruins, hidden stairs led down to cliffs. A small walkway around the cliffs presented a violent side of the Caribbean Sea. Forceful waves and elaborate cliff structures extending off the island into the sea produced soulful music and large water splashes. I spent an hour in that area just admiring natural music and force. If you ever visit that island, cliff of the dawn is the must place to visit.
In complete contrast, north end of the Isla Mujeres had beaches with calm clear water. Playa Norte beach had the cleanest and bluest water I had ever seen. Standing neck dip in the sea, I could see my feet at the bottom. Playa Norte, the north beach of Isla Mujeres is popular for its picturesque sunset and rightly so. I used my waterproof camera to stand in the water and shoot sunset with boats, blue water and Sun. The pictures were as good as a dreamy painting. Playa Norte was truly a wonder of its own at the Sunset. Boats and Yachts passing by, blue calm water reflecting dying sunlight and color changing horizons were perfect foils to majestic sunset. 
Overall, Yucatan Peninsula in southeast Mexico not only had beautiful beaches and rich Mayan history, but good public transport, food and safety. It was incredible to see order without stringent rules and guidelines. Mexico is ill famous for its drug related crime. However, those are in other parts of Mexico. On the Yucatan Peninsula, all I witnessed was good life, good food and friendly people. A word about people there: their major source of income is tourists. They interact with tourist all day, as taxi drivers, hotel receptionist, guides, waiters, tour operators, merchants and in many more forms, but at the end of the day they go back to their life, their own world separated from crazy tourists and visitors. That is the reason they still live their life freely and on their own terms. Of all the places I have been to, I witnessed the most balanced life there. Another area of concern I had at the start of the trip was language. In Cancun everyone spoke English in some capacity. However, I hardly spent any time in Cancun. The farther I was from Cancun, the less English I encountered. In fact, the apartment I was living in Valladolid had no English speaking staff. Still I survived, not because my Spanish was great, but the people were willing to communicate.

Getting out of routine is always great. Getting a different perspective of life is even better. I achieved both by visiting Mexico. Washington, DC, as a city, has a unique power to make its inhabitant believe that there is only one way to life. My experiments in Mexico proved Washington, DC wrong. There are many more ways to life and some, perhaps better.
My experiments in Mexico My experiments in Mexico Reviewed by Mihir on 2:59:00 AM Rating: 5

2 comments:

  1. Sounds like a fun trip Mihir!. I am Jealous you travel so much! haha

    ReplyDelete