Cooling Our Heels in Cancun

So you have three days to spend in Cancun. What do you do with them? Most people who come here just head straight to the Hotel Zone, the tourist area along the beaches. But our AirBnB was more in the heart of the city; and while we certainly had an interest in seeing the beach (especially if it would offer us a chance to take a dip), we also wanted to experience the “real” Cancun.

What we learned, however, is that there really isn’t much there there. Because contrary to what you’d expect, the beachside resorts came first, and then the city sprang up to support it. Consequently, there is no Old Town here, no historic attractions, no folk tradition to speak of. Yes, there are locals living their lifestyle; but the whole city still seems to exist to cater to tourists.

There is even the ubiquitous Wal-Mart supplying things that are hard to find anywhere else, as well as stuff nobody really needs; and it’s a major hub for the local transit system. And our strolls led us to an open-air mall that had essentially the same retail outlets you’d find back in the States. For our groceries, we discovered a pretty good supermarket called Soriano, which is by far the best supermarket chain we’ve found in Mexico yet.

One place we wanted to check out was Mercado 28, an open air bazaar for local crafts and goods. So we sauntered down there, as it wasn’t very far away from us. We didn’t last long, however, because the vendors can sniff gringo blood a mile away, and as soon as you approach, they’re on you like sharks, trying to get you to let go of as many of your pesos as possible. It was impossible to just browse in peace, so we soon gave up on the idea of getting any kind of sense of just what merchandise was being offered, and went on our way.

Okay, so sooner or later, we had to get to the beach. Unsure whether we’d be able to access the waves without paying a fee (which we didn’t intend to do), we wore clothing that could serve as either beachwear or streetwear, packed some towels and lunch, and caught the bus. On the way to the bus stop, we observed a couple of street performers, one dressed as a mime, doing their schtick right in the middle of an intersection as the cars stopped at a red light. They would rush out, the non-mime would stoop, and the mime would stand on his back and juggle for a bit, then they would get down and solicit donations — all before the light changed. Fortunately, it was a busy intersection with a long red light. Even so, it was really a case of entertainers going to extremes to make a buck.

In fact, just about every bus we rode had a singer on it, easing down the aisles and crooning for change. One such chanteur had the lyrics on his phone as he performed. This type of act seems to be a standard occurrence on city transit here. In fact, the bus driver made a stop just to pick up one such singer, with whom he seemed to be quite familiar.

After arriving in the Zona Hoteleria, we got off the bus at what seemed like an opportune enough location: the Mayan Museum. But there was no way to even see, much less access, the beach at any point nearby. Only endless stretches of mega-hotels blocking our view and our path. So after walking a bit, we decided to get back on the bus the other way, and get off in what seemed a more promising part of the “strip”. Contrary to what we had understood upon asking the previous driver, the next driver did not accept our transfer from that bus, and we had to pay a new fare.

Getting off again, we saw some more interesting shops and restaurants, but still no magic pathway to the beach. Wandering back off the street a little at one point, we stumbled upon Cancun’s own “historic ruins”, a building with “Cancun” embossed on it, that seems to date back to the era of the city’s founding (which was in 1970). But we still have no idea what function it once served.

Then at last we happened on what we were looking for: a way to the beach! And what a beach it was. The finest sand and the clearest water we’d seen since the Bahamas. And it wasn’t too cold for swimming in December. As we were enjoying our discovery, we noticed a few members of the Guardia Nacional, heavily armed, patrolling the strand. Later we learned that only the day before, someone had fired a gun several times on one of these beaches. According to reports about the bizarre incident, 5 men on jet skis and wearing military garb started firing into the air. Then they beached, changed into civilian clothes and ran away. Insert big head scratch here. Anyway, it’s very sad to see this kind of thing happening at a popular family vacation spot. This sounds more like something that would happen in the U.S.

Having refreshed ourselves and dried off, we began walking on the beach, back toward the direction home. In some areas, the beach was far less crowded than the spot from which we had come — sometimes almost deserted. Playa Tortuga Beach, which we’d heard recommended, seemed like an especially pleasant spot to get away from it all. Soon enough, we came to the more densely frequented locations again, including one with bars and a bungee jumping platform. Time to get out of the sand and catch a bus home.

We have Cancuned.

Dec. 7-9, 2021 – Cancun, Mexico

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